Operation Cookie, the bicoastal airlift of home-baked cookies to U.S. troops in the Middle East, is looking for some good volunteers.
But before you head for the kitchen and start hauling out one of Grandma's favorite recipes, remember these cookies are going to the desert and may take several weeks to get there.
Although everyone loves chocolate chip cookies, they aren't the best choice for this mission because the chocolate will melt in the desert heat.
"Bar cookies would be the best bet because you can pack them in a box like you would a sheet cake," says Jean Stewart, a nutritionist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Human Nutrition Information Service.
Many of the home recipes call for butter -- an ingredient that could go rancid under desert conditions -- and Ms. Stewart suggests substituting vegetable shortening or margarine. A stick of butter is equal to 1/2 cup of vegetable shortening. You may want to use the butter-flavored product.
Hugh Bright, a technical expert with the American Institute of Baking in Manhattan, Kan., offered the following advice:
*Good choices include raisin cookies, oatmeal cookies and sugar cookies -- anything that will stay crisp and not get soggy.
*Look for recipes with ingredients that have good keeping qualities -- granulated and powdered sugar, all-purpose shortening made from soy, corn, cottonseed and canola oils.
*Oatmeal, raisins, coconut and chopped peanuts are recommended to add flavor and texture.
*Avoid using butter and peanut butter because of rancidity problems. Syrups, which may hold excess moisture, also should be avoided.
"Be sure to bake the cookies to a crisp texture without burning the bottom," he says.
Some other good advice comes from Mary Glerum, a free-lance writer in Dallas, who has written articles on her experiences of sending cookies to her brother while he was stationed in the Middle East.
"I would say that the most important thing is to go with things that are sturdy -- both the cookies and the container," she says. "If you are willing to invest in plastic airtight containers, it is generally worth the effort because the cookies get there in better shape."
She also has some good packing suggestions:
*Each cookie should be wrapped separately in cellophane or plastic before the cookies are packed in an airtight container.
*Because the Saudis may confiscate any newspapers, use unbuttered popcorn around the containers as a packing material.
*Pack the containers and popcorn inside a heavy-gauge paper box, such as a grocery store box with a lid.
*Seal the package tightly with packing tape, label it with an indelible marker and put strips of clear tape over the address to protect it from the elements.
Sgt. Bill Sankey, chief of public affairs for the 2nd Command Communications Group at Patrick Air Force Base, suggests that Operation Cookie participants include a self-addressed postcard or envelope and stationery so the soldiers can express their thanks for the home effort.
"If you are including anything else, remember the cultural differences," he advises. "If you mail books or magazines, check the contents first. The Saudis won't allow anything showing women's legs or arms. I wouldn't mail them the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue."
East Coast United Parcel Service deliveries should be sent to: Operation Cookie, 179 Evergreen St. N.E., Palm Bay, Fla. 32907. U.S. mail deliveries should be sent to: Operation Cookie, c/o Sub Trek 1, 190 Malabar Road No. 119, Palm Bay West Center, Palm Bay, Fla. 32907.
West Coast deliveries of all kinds should be sent to: Operation Cookie, c/o Stephen Butler, 4874 Palm Ave., La Mesa, Calif. 98041-8312.
The following cookies should hold up well in the desert heat. Hermits, a native New England cookie, were packed in sea chests and taken on long voyages by sailors because they keep so well. This version has been adapted from "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book" (Alfred A. Knopf, $16.95).
Makes about 36 cookies.
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup raisins
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Heat oven to 375 degrees and get out some cookie sheets.
Put the shortening in a large bowl, add the sugar, water, egg, cinnamon and nutmeg. Stir briskly until blended. Mix in the flour, baking soda and salt and beat until smooth. Stir in the raisins and walnuts. Drop by rounded teaspoonsful onto ungreased cookie sheets, leaving 2 inches between the cookies. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden around the edges. Transfer to racks to cool.
Crisp oatmeal cookies
Makes about 60 cookies.
From "The Fannie Farmer Baking Book."
1 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons water
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 cups uncooked oatmeal (not instant)
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 cup raisins
Heat oven to 350 degrees and grease some cookie sheets.
Combine the shortening and sugars and beat until thoroughly blended. Add the eggs, vanilla and water and beat until light and fluffy. Stir together the flour, salt, baking soda and cinnamon. Add to the first mixture and beat until completely mixed. Add the oatmeal, walnuts and raisins and stir until thoroughly blended.
Arrange by rounded teaspoonsful on the greased cookie sheets, placing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten cookies slightly with your wet fingertips into rounds about 1 1/2 inches across and 1/3 inch thick. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the cookies have spread a little and are brown all over.
End of cookiesi