Around the World With a Vagabond

Compensation: A Lesson in Cooking March 5, 2011

Filed under: Compensate: A Lesson in Cooking,Stories For My Brother — christynichols @ 11:33 am
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This is a “How Not To” post in cooking. Usually, when I cook, it’s either because I am trying to please someone else or I am avoiding other tasks.


Some cookbooks or websites offer wanna-be bakers and cooks like me (kinda) possible ways to compensate if one key ingredient from a recipe is missing from the cupboard.  For instance, what to do if a recipe calls for eggs, and there are none in the fridge.


Unfortunately for my food, and those I who I intend to feed, I usually forget to research this when I am short an ingredient, and so I make it up as I go along.  I compensate.


A few years ago, I wanted to reward my brother for changing the oil in my car.  So I made him no-bake cookies, a tasty combination of peanut butter, chocolate, and oats – his favorite!


This should have been fail-safe, as the name of the cookie indicates – no baking is needed: Mix. Set. Serve. Easy.


Except for on this day, I happened to not have as much peanut butter as the recipe called for, so I just doubled up (tripled-up?) up on using regular butter. I compensated.


I remember being in the doorway, my brother walking from the driveway towards the front door, a little greasy and tired, and probably looking forward to a treat.  I was ready with my cookies, very proud to have accomplished another kitchen feat, and that we could come to such a friendly agreement.


Have you ever had a mouthful of butter with oats? Neither had my brother.  He projectile-spat the homemade thank-you cookies all over my mother’s front porch and lawn, while I stood there, the plate of cookies in my hand and dismay on my face.


I don’t know that we’ve ever had the same kind of agreement since.


I still try to cook to please, though.


My roommates have grown gigantasaurus zucchinisaurs in their garden.  So tonight, left all alone, I decided to chop and grate one of the beasts into a yummy, homemade, garden zucchini soup for all of us to enjoy.


Because the zucchini were so large, I tripled the recipe.  Took me a lifetime to grate just one of them.  Then, I added the garlic, and 6 or so cups of stock and waited for the boil.  While I waited, I realized that I had forgotten that with soups, if the recipe is doubled, the amount of stock water isn’t.   Too much water = horrible watery soups.


I looked at the boiling, spattering pot of green.  It was a bubbling swamp – a very watery, bubbling swamp.


I had added far too much water to my grated zucchini.




Instead of boiling for the suggested 7 minutes, I decided that the more it boiled, the thicker the soup would get, so I let the pot boil and plop all over the stove top for 25 minutes while I trawled through Facebook.


What happened after boiling for all that time?   It was still watery. And the flavor seemed to have vaporized.


If I had thick cream, I would have added it to the pot; however, all I had to compensate for the cream was yogurt, and . . . . . I don’t know.  I just didn’t want to do that to my yogurt.


So, scoop by scoop, I added the boiled zucchini to a food processer and spun it into oblivion. I tried to drain the water from the scoops of green as I did so.   I took one of those big spoons that have the holes in them so I could scoop, drain, spin, scoop drain, spin.


This also was taking a lifetime, so I tried to just drain the whole pot into the sink at once so I could get through the scooping and spinning part faster. Instead of using a colander, I used the lid of the pot as I tipped the batch into the sink to drain out the excess water.


It was kind of heavy, but it held . . . . . .it held . . . . . . .. it held . . . . . .and then it slipped.  About half of the remaining batch splashed and spattered down the sink, transforming the sink into steaming green.


I didn’t even care at this point.


A few more scoops and spins of the rest of the boiled garden veg, and  . .tada! I had a hot soupy pot of flavorless green.




To compensate for the flavor that I had boiled out to compensate for the excess stock water I had poured too much of, I then took from the spice rack something labeled “Mixed Herbs”.


I don’t know what herbs are mixed in there, but I added about  . .1/2 cup?  I don’t know. I just opened the cap, and dumped the flavor into my swamp-in-a-pot.


Then, I spooned myself a bowl, and, tada again!!! Zucchini Soup!!!


Tastes just like watery herbs. Dinner?


A before and after picture of my garden zucchini.



How I Remember Camping January 31, 2011

Filed under: How I Remember Camping,Stories For My Brother — christynichols @ 4:57 am
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Camping was pretty much the only kind of family vacation we ever took when I was growing up. Sometimes we took a long drive to visit a long distance relative, but mostly, we packed a family of five into a small pick-up truck with a shell, filled the truck bed with sleeping bags, mosquito repellant, and powdered milk, and headed to a campground several hours away.


The car ride was long and pretty boring. The slug-bug game was usually a good one to start with, trying to be the first to spot a VW bug. That lasted only until two of us would simultaneously shout “SLUG BUG!!!” and then start fighting over who got the point until dad started shouting at us to stop shouting. Then there was no more Slug Bug game. Only dirty glares between us three, cramped in the back seat plotting vengeance and hating the camping trip already.


It was a very tight squeeze for such a long ride to whichever mountain we were headed to. There was always mayhem if someone felt sick, or if someone farted. One time my little brother sneezed, and he sneezed mightily. He caught it in his hand, but not quite, as green slime oozed between his hands and stringed away from his nose. I remember his black baseball hat and his expression both of shame and 8-year-old curiosity. With one glance I was heaving and gagging against the opposite window. To this day, I don’t think I have ever been so disgusted with someone’s sneeze.


But anyway, the camping trips were just that. Squished and squirming in the back seat, setting up campsite, eating undercooked burgers, sitting in drippy tents, and slapping at biting bugs. We hiked some, I know, and that was pretty good. But I remember having to wash the pots in cold water at some spigot a good march away. I hated that. There was the rocky ground our sleeping bags were placed on, and someone always farted in the tightly sealed tent. Usually my unapologetic sister. That was back when she was 11, but I still don’t think she’s sorry.


My sister and my brother and I are very good friends now, but I don’t think we were always friends growing up. We rarely did things that friends do. We usually told on each other, rather than cover. We fought over food, rather than shared. Lord, we fought over food.


Actually, I think whenever we reunite, there’s always a bicker only siblings would ignite, fueled with child-like ferocity – usually because one of us has cheated at a board game.


Somehow, though, through the bickering and the squirming of our growing-up years, all the forced vacations, and wildlife we never actually caught a glimpse of, we all grew up to love the outdoors, and outings with each other. Hikes, camping, walking – we still do it and we all love it.


Only now, we have more room in our cars and we pack more food.


And soon we’ll take our own squirming kids.


Why I Will Live to be 100 October 26, 2010

Filed under: Stories For My Brother,Why I Will Live to Be 100 — christynichols @ 12:18 am
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People have always told me that it’s important to have goals.  Most of the time they were talking about securing a spouse and a house, and probably a good job.  At the moment, I have none of those things, and am nowhere near achieving them, so I have a different goal.


It’s always better to have goals that you are already accidentally half-way to reaching anyway, to help boost confidence and keep a positive feeling. I regularly drink green tea, drink red wine, eat my salads, and indulge in honey.  And I yoga.


These are all good healthy things to do in moderation, and after I thought about what good they were all for, I came to one conclusion that ultimately gave me my life goal:


I am going to live to be 100.


And, I am going to keep living my life in such a way that when I am old and have lost my mind, my glasses, and my teeth, I can keep myself entertained by reliving vicariously through my own youth.


My unwillingness to give up any of the above and an uncannily ferocious determination to light 100 candles will ensure that I make it to that birthday.


No matter how much my purple veiny hand shakes, I will light every damn one of those candles myself. You know how old people can be inanely insistent. That will be me.


Yes, I will live to be 100, and the Vit C Eye Cream I use will save me from looking so horribly offensive as so many centurions do.


And I don’t plan on looking a day over  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .50.


Just to make sure reaching the age of 100 was feasible, I calculated my natural life span by taking a quick survey on My results said I would live to 94.


I thought that was a bit shit . . . . to come so close and fall short by only a couple of years. I could live longer, the website’s feedback said, if I increased calcium and flossed.


Okay.  But there’s only so much yogurt I can eat a day, and milk hurts my brain, unless it’s in coffee.


When I do have yogurt, it’s always mixed with honey, so I Googled honey in hopes that it would help me add half a dozen years or so.


Honey is one of my favorite things to eat. It is one of the best things ever in the world, and I was so happy when Google revealed that honey is an anti-oxidant AND it helps absorb calcium! Yay! No brittle bones! So I can keep eating it! Honey makes me happy, and I know I am not alone in this.


Last year, I met a bee man in Savannah who was also a big fan of honey, and its role in human life expectancy, but in a slightly different way.


I was in this historic city lined with broken-brick streets and black mossy trees wandering down streets and through courtyards when I came across the Honey Store.


It might have been named something else entirely, but in my memory, the outside of the Honey Store was bright yellow, almost glowing, and irresistibly beckoning.


Inside was unlike anything one might expect in a honey store. Usually, such shops are lined with shelves full of jars shaped like bear heads glistening with the sweet stuff.


Here, there were giant mock beehives! Yes.  Made of linen. Or cotton, I don’t know, but the entire inside of the store was decorated as if for children. It was awesome.


But what was even better than fake giant beehives was the long white counter because along this long white counter stood a long line of people.  The Honey Store was giving away free samples of their special honey!!


I know there is so much more about Savannah to remember, but it’s the personal little experiences that make a place memorable.  I was so happy with the yellow and the giant pretend-hives, I giddily took my place in line.


Behind me, was the bee man.


I can’t remember how the conversation started with the bee man. You may have been picturing a guy in a large bumblebee suit, but that’s not why this guy is called the bee man.  He was a bee scientist. Cue the lab coat.


In fact, I am not too sure what the bee man looked like because I imagine his face completely shrouded in a swarm of honeybees. I think he was gawky.


The bee man was an animated fellow. He told me his job is to save the dying honeybees from a virus. And from exhaustion. And malnourishment. The bee man had been stung 400 times in the last 6 months. The bee man told me he does not need to wear a space suit in a lab because the bees know his scent. Because of this, he told me, he rarely showers.


I don’t have a very strong sense of smell, so I don’t remember being offended by any odor. I do remember wondering how come he was still stung 400 times if the bees knew his scent?


But he was super excited and buzzing with energy. The bee man was soon to be leaving to do research in Africa (or maybe it was Australia?).  He was going to save the honey bees through his research, and as a result, save humanity. The human food supply is dependent on bee pollination, and he was a would-be bee-hero.


I picture him in Africa or Australia, poking at bee parts, sticky-honey fingers, face hidden from a swarm of buzzing bees that has attached itself in one teeming hum to his face.


The bee-man was going to save us all from extinction by starvation.


I wonder how he got on.


If I am going to live to be 100, I am going to need my honey.