Melissa Dunning measures ingredients for a batch of cookies she is preparing at her home in Kinsman, Ill. Baking so many cookies to send to U.S. troops serving overseas, she buys flour and sugar in 25-pound bags.
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The (Joliet) Herald-News photos / Heidi Litchfield

Melissa Dunning measures ingredients for a batch of cookies she is preparing at her home in Kinsman, Ill. Baking so many cookies to send to U.S. troops serving overseas, she buys flour and sugar in 25-pound bags.

Over there: Dunning keeps troops in treats

By Heidi Litchfield

The (Joliet) Herald-News

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KINSMAN, Ill. – Since August 2013, Melissa Dunning has been on a mission to supply cookies to troops stationed overseas with her brother, Bruce Boling, and her brother-in-law, Jason Dunning.

Jason, from South Wilmington, Ill., is in the Army National Guard and returned from an assignment in Saudi Arabia. Boling, originally from Mazon Ill., is in the Air Force and is deployed to Afghanistan.

For years, each time they were deployed, Dunning would bake cookies and her father, Les Boling, would make the care boxes and pay for the shipment.

Her father died a year and a half ago, and this is their first deployment since his passing.

Now, Dunning is creating and sending the care packages with her children, Amanda, Alexandria and Derek.

“I’m just trying to keep up what daddy would have done,” she said.

This also was the first time her brother and brother-in-law had been deployed at the same time, so she hasn’t stopped baking for months.

Dunning spends hours making chocolate chip, peanut butter, pumpkin chocolate chip, Christmas cutout, cinnamon sugar and no-bake cookies – almost 2,000 cookies – for this deployment alone.

She buys flour and sugar in 25 pound bags, which last her about a month, depending on what cookies she is baking.

With help from friends, Dunning has decorated hundreds of cutout cookies. A batch that recently went out took 21/2 hours just to decorate.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom, thank goodness, or I wouldn’t be able to do this,” she said. “Thank God for friends who help with the decorating; my kids are over the decorating part now.”

Each time Dunning ships out a box, she waits for an email from the men to let her know they arrived.

“I forgot to put peanut butter cookies in one box, and a man serving with Bruce named John Apple commented, ‘What, no peanut butter?’ So, I sent him some in the next batch,” she said.

When that shipment arrived Feb. 4, Dunning got a quick response from Boling via email.

“Wanted to let you know that the box arrived!!!” the email read. “You should have seen the guys standing and waiting to see what there was. lol. The cookies are awesome!! Apple did his little happy dance because of the peanut butter cookies. So after sampling them, we are all at a consensus ... very good!”

She also adds to the care boxes whatever she can find at the store that they need, including beef jerky, Ramen noodles, Folgers singles and anything else that can be microwaved but doesn’t require refrigeration.

“They request Spam and Pop-Tarts, along with anything they can put in their pocket and go with (them),” Dunning said.

Boling has returned from his deployment to Saudi Arabia, but that won’t slow down the baking in Dunning’s house. Her care package shipments have expanded to others from the area.

She recently shipped a box to Deric Punke of Mazon who is in Japan. Her cousin’s son will deploy in June, and boxes will be sent to him as well.

One care box ships with a $2 military discount for $14.85, and Dunning sends at least two out at a time. It is an expense her father used to pay.

“We just make it work,” Dunning said. “They are giving up so much, it’s the least I can do.”

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DESSERT

No-Bake Cookies

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup cocoa

1/2 cup milk

1/4 cup butter

Pinch of salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cut peanut butter

3 cups quick oats

Combine sugar, cocoa, milk and butter in a pan and bring to boil for 1 minute. Add salt and vanilla extract, then add peanut butter and quick oats. Thoroughly combine all ingredients.

Scoop out 1 tablespoon of dough, shape into flattened circle and place on wax paper. Allow to cool.

Yields about 25 to 30 cookies.

Recipe courtesy Melissa Dunning.

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DESSERT

Peanut Butter Cookies

1 cup peanut butter

1 cup sugar

1 egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Thoroughly combine peanut butter and egg. Scoop out dough 1 tablespoon at a time and shape into a ball.

Pour the sugar into a bowl and roll each ball through the sugar to coat all of the outside. Place the ball on a cookie sheet and press down to about 1/2-inch thick with a fork.

Bake for 10 minutes. Place cookies on a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

Yields about 30 cookies.

Cook’s note: These cookies are very fragile.

Recipe courtesy Melissa Dunning.

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DESSERT

Christmas Cutout Cookies

1/2 cup butter

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla

3 cups flour, sifted, plus extra for rolling out dough

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Cream butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well. Add vanilla extract.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour and baking soda. Add to butter and sugar mix and thoroughly combine. Chill in an airtight container for 1 hour in refrigerator.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll dough into sheet about 1/2-inch thick (see cook’s note) on a floured surface and cut out cookies. Bake for 8-10 minutes.

Yields about 90 cookies (see cook’s note).

Cook’s notes: Rolling dough thinner makes a crispier cookie, thicker makes a chewier one. The number of cookies produced varies by how thick the dough is rolled out and the size of the cookie cutter used.

Recipe courtesy Melissa Dunning.