When I first got married, I didn’t know how to cook. My parents had grown up during the Great Depression and had learned how to manage without a lot of extras. My father was a journalist in the Navy with four children, and it was still difficult for them to make ends meet with such a large family. Our meals were pretty plain – a small portion of meat, starch (usually potatoes in some form) and a canned vegetable. School lunches (we could never afford to buy lunch, and subsidized lunches weren’t available then) consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on white bread and two vanilla wafers. We brought milk in a thermos, which still managed to warm by the time we ate lunch. We never had after school snacks, and we never had dessert after dinner. We were a close knit family, though, as Navy families tend to be. Our parents loved us dearly and we didn’t recognize the fact that we were lacking anything.
I met my husband when I was attending college and he was going through the Navy flight program in Pensacola, FL. I still lived at home and he lived in the bachelor officers’ quarters (BOQ). He had graduated from the US Naval Academy where they had a dining hall that fed them and people that took care of their laundry. Those same amenities were offered at the BOQ, so neither one of us had really lived on our own and neither one of us had learned how to cook.
I still recall the first meal that I prepared for my husband in our tiny rented apartment. I purchased ground beef, kidney beans and chili seasoning and was proud of the pot of chili awaiting him when he returned home from a day of flying. At the time, I didn’t realize that you could enhance a bowl of chili by serving it over rice or by adding grated cheddar, diced onions or sour cream as a topping. I could see a look of doubt on his face, but he never complained.
I have been a Navy wife – recognized as “the toughest job in the Navy” – for over 40 years. During my husband’s Navy career, we moved 29 times and traveled to 24 countries. I’ve enjoyed learning about the history and culture of the places we have visited and sampling the regional cuisine. During our travels and at each of our duty stations, I’ve taken occasional cooking classes and have requested recipes from hostesses and chefs. When my husband was attending the US Naval Test Pilot School, the TPS wives formed a gourmet group that met once a month and hosted a theme dinner. Three or four of the wives would decide on the menu and do the cooking, and they would tally up receipts for food purchases that would be divided among those participating. It was a great way to challenge our culinary skills while enjoying an inexpensive dinner with friends.
When my husband retired from the Navy and accepted a position as an aerospace engineering professor at the US Naval Academy, he suggested I find something to do (I think to keep me out of trouble). Our three children are grown and live out of the area, and I wasn’t working.
“What is your passion?” he asked me.
No one had ever asked me that before. What is my passion? Webster’s Dictionary defines passion as “a strong or extravagant fondness, enthusiasm, or desire for.” I had done a lot of things over the years, but I didn’t think I felt strong enough about anything to label it as my passion. After thinking about his question for a couple of days, I finally decided that I really enjoyed cooking.
“Then, take some cooking classes,” he suggested.
I searched the local newspaper, telephone book and then the internet to find cooking classes offered in Anne Arundel County. Then I discovered the Culinary Arts program at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, MD and began taking classes part time. I was nearly 60 years old and my fellow students were in their late teens and early twenties. I thought I knew how to cook before I started the program, but I realize now that my experiences had only touched the tip of the iceberg.