Most of us never saw combat, but we are shell shocked, nonetheless.
We were stationed in paradise but spent our days in a dim, flickering fluorescent-lit sea of gray cubicles and mildewy carpets, the recirculated atmosphere tense and often hostile.
The office was a minefield fueled by intense competition for advancement and the power struggles amongst the leaders of the various civilian and military factions, all warring for control of the mission for their own political gains, and we were both the soldiers and the ammunition in their battles.
Our mission was dire, and sometimes tragic, but due to the nature of it we could not discuss our troubles for relief, and the trauma of it took its toll. I watched my friends’ spirits break over time, their footsteps grew heavier, the light in their eyes fading with each passing week.
So, every Monday morning for a couple years I would carry a few dozen cupcakes down the ¼ mile of asbestos-lined tunnel to provide a sugary distraction.
We started calling it “cupcake Mondays” and it was the highlight of my week.
This recipe was one of my very first and quickly became one of my most highly requested, especially in the fall: pumpkin chocolate chip with cinnamon buttercream.
Ingredients for about 18 cupcakes:
1 cup pumpkin puree (either canned or fresh)
¼ cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar, packed
11⁄3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
Pinch of salt
2⁄3 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line your cupcake tins with paper liners.
Mix your melted butter, brown sugar, vanilla, milk, eggs, oil and pumpkin puree until smooth.
Sift together your flour, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt.
Add the dry ingredients to the wet and fold together until just combined.
Fold in your chocolate chips.
Portion the batter into the cups filling ¾ to the top.
Bake for 22 minutes, rotating halfway, until the tops are firm and springy.
For the buttercream:
½ cup room-temperature unsalted butter
2½ cups powdered sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons heavy cream
With the paddle attachment whip the butter until the color lightens slightly.
Drop the speed to the lowest setting and very slowly add half the powdered sugar.
Add the cream and cinnamon.
Add in the second half of the powdered sugar.
When all the sugar has been incorporated, kick the speed up to high and whip for 3-5 minutes until the buttercream is light and fluffy.
Wait until the cupcakes have cooled completely before frosting or your buttercream will melt.
Store finished cakes in the refrigerator.
When people think of Veterans Day they think of combat veterans, and they of course deserve our admiration, thanks and respect on this and every day of the year, but the reality is the vast majority of service members and veterans fill support roles like I did.
They are the mail clerks, yeoman, corpsman, translators, cooks, etc. who keep the missions running at home and abroad.
I remember them as friends.
The sweet blonde girl from Wisconsin who would sing Disney songs with my sister and me, the wild child who came back from leave in Ireland with blue hair and crazy stories, the California girl who knew all my pop culture references, and, of course, the salty and sarcastic Army Sgt. who pretended to be tough but was a caring and dedicated mentor.
I only wish I could share these cupcakes with them again to thank them for their service and the blessing of their camaraderie in our unique battlefield.
Tressa Dale is a U.S. Navy veteran and culinary and pastry school graduate from Anchorage. She currently lives in Nikiski with her husband, 1-year-old son and two black cats.