Is your servicemember sick of MREs? Over instant coffee overseas? Ready to eat something approximating actual food again? Salvation is nigh! We've figured out how to eat like - well, like humans - in the badlands, the barracks, and everywhere in between.
All of this is out of desperation. We're foodies. There's no way around it. And for my Marine Corps husband, there's no way around the long stretches of trainings and deployments that take him away from his real kitchen (with its gleaming counter tops* and gorgeous appliances**) and force him into some desolate foodie-failling place, obliging him to become super inventive with supper.
Luckily, we train our servicemembers to be creative thinkers. And that's good since we really don't want our favorite people eating the bad MREs every day for a year.
So after years of extremely careful experiments and trial-and-error testing***, we've finally figured out what every serviceman's rack needs to be a functioning kitchenette. The ins, the outs, the appliances, the spices, the care packages, the general can-do attitude and, of course, a healthy appetite: We've mastered the lay of the land and you should too.
And a good galley kitchenette starts with a hungry servicemember and a few simple (and cheap) appliances.
I feel like, at some basic level, all these outposts and in-garrison barracks should probably have (and maybe do) the same fire safety regulations of your average college dorm, but given the profundity of hot plates floating around, that apparently isn't the case. The incredible hot plate, purveyor of endless delicacies (when compared to the offerings of MRE's), seems to be everywhere. And if it's not in your servicemember's hands yet, it should be.
Rice cookers are key to eating well on deployments. Here, Bill threw together canned chicken, peppers, and tomatoes with a few tasty spices, stewed them in his rice cooker, added a grain, and ta-da! A real meal - even in Afghanistan.
What your servicemember needs to survive the culinary sandbox:The hot plate - especially when combined with a small frying pan - can make magic out of canned-anything, a gift from the culinary gods when combined with the postal service's flat-rate boxes. Canned tomatoes and canned jalapeños tossed in a frying pan with some black beans, a little garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin is great with some shipping-friendly chorizo and tortilla chips as nachos in a box. You could even send crunchy taco shells and call it tacos in a box.
The frying pan/hot plate combination is amazing when it comes to livening up canned goods. One of our family favorites is a can of garbanzo beans (chick peas) drained and tossed with some olive oil and the glorious middle eastern spice ras al hanout. If you cook them until they're nearly charred, they are a phenomenal snack, not to mention a delicious source of protein.
A frying pan is also brilliant when uses in conjunction with that most under appreciated kitchen appliance, the rice cooker. For twenty dollars, you can acquire a rice cooker that can turn deployment meals into something worth eating. Rice cookers will make, in no particular order: pasta, eggs, steamed anything, quinoa, couscous, oatmeal, grits, beans, and, of course, rice.
Take your average care package: baked goods and candies, right? Imagine substituting those with a box of farfalle pasta, a jar of tomato sauce, a can of mushrooms, and a round of wax-wrapped cheese (it's shippable! And it's real cheese!). Suddenly, dinner isn't a lukewarm rehydrated mess. It's a glorious pasta with a delicious mushroom bolognese! The possibilities are endless.
The rice cooker and frying pan are also dangerous in combination. Think: Fried rice. A little rice cooker rice, some canned vegetables chopped up, a little soy sauce, egg if you can get your hands on it... Ta-da! Real, delicious food. No MRE can stand up to that.
The hot plate and the rice cooker cover the basics, but no military kitchenette would be complete without a French press. Coffee isn't just a delicious, warm-you-up drink, it's a way of life. And it's never more necessary than when your ability to keep your eyes open on yet another exhausting morning depends on it. MRE coffee is subpar. But with a French press, your servicemember can make his favorite coffee wherever he is. (And with Amazon Prime, it's super easy to send it in bulk.) Heat up the water for the coffee on the hot plate or in the rice cooker, and then, even where warm showers are non existent and everyday luxuries are few and far between, that delicious nectar of the gods can be ever present.
For that, every servicemember will thank you.
Arm your guy with more than just pop tarts and jolly ranchers. It's time for us to put MREs where they belong (and I am pretty confident that's not your belly) and enter the world of the galley gourmet. Delicious food, no matter where you are.
What are your tricks for good food on deployment?
* Uhh... smudge-filled, really, but hey. I can dream about "gleaming." And maybe one day I'll get around to it. ** See previous: Maybe they'll be gorgeous again one day? Whatever, workhorse. *** I.e., We ate a lot. It was delicious.