CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait — Sgt. Naslie I. Hutchins’ favorite memories from childhood were created in her grandma Isabel’s kitchen.
“I always got the little ladder that my grandma had by the stove, because I wasn’t tall enough to reach over everything,” Hutchins said. “So I would just grab her little ladder and help her chop onions or tomatoes or cilantro, whatever she needed me to do.”
The human resources specialist, currently deployed here with the 3rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, decided to capture those memories and celebrate her family’s heritage by writing “Azucar y Sazon: A mixed heritage cookbook to you by an Americanized Cuban Argentinian.”
Hutchins published the cookbook independently on Oct. 24, 2021, and the collection of more than 50 recipes went on sale through a major online retailer on Oct. 26, 2021.
“My family used to be a lot closer than they are right now, and a lot of our time spent together was cooking in the kitchen,” the sergeant said. “Now that we’re not so close because we all live in separate states pretty much—any cousins that didn’t go off to college they joined the military and things like that—so this is my way of bringing my family together through the recipes for our children who aren’t growing up in the same environment that we grew up in with all that Hispanic culture.”
The Miami, Florida, native said her family used to come together in the kitchen, where they sang along to Cuban songs and danced while they prepared meals. Hutchins’ mother, Yovana, was a competitive salsa dancer.
The sergeant said her mother, like her grandma, was a powerful mentor in the kitchen.
“My grandma taught me all the main seasonings and she would give me like easy tasks, but my mom, obviously as I got older or even living on my own, I always call my mom first because she’s better at English and putting things in a way that I understand,” she said.
Hutchins said she hatched the idea to write the cookbook on New Year’s Eve in 2018. She said she had returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in mid-December, and had asked her family to come together after Christmas.
“We were eating tamales and everyone was talking about how great the food was, and my mom was like ‘we should open a restaurant one day,’ and I was like, ‘we should write a cookbook,’” Hutchins said.
The sergeant said her family was enthusiastic and provided recommendations of the recipes she should include in the tome.
The finished product, Hutchins said, is a collection of recipes for breakfast foods, appetizers, main dishes, and drink recipes that pay tribute to the Cuban heritage from her mother’s side of the family, and to the Argentinian heritage of her father, Roberto.
“All the grilling recipes are from my dad—I love my dad’s grilling,” the sergeant said. “Argentinians, they know how to throw it down on the grill. They have something slow cooking on the grill for hours before so it’s like all nice and juicy and tender and stuff like that.”
Hutchins said she also included a recipe inspired by her mother-in-law, Tammy.
“My husband’s mom, who is actually like very southern and white … she taught me how to make cowboy beans,” the sergeant said. “It’s been a hit at every party I’ve been to since I’ve been married, so that’s also in the book.”
Hutchins is proud of her accomplishment, but is most pleased about creating something she hopes her three sons—Abel Grant, 6, Abel Liam, 5, and Carter, 4—can make use of in the future.
“I actually wrote about this in the preface, I want my children to be able—because they’re not growing up in that Hispanic culture that I grew up in when I was younger—I want them to be able to once they have their own family, be like ‘I want to make something different for Christmas this year, let me pull up mom’s cookbook,’” Hutchins said. “And then they just pick something out of there and they make it.
“That way they’re following the culture without even having to grow up in it,” she concluded.