Cooking Adventures: “What’s In My Kitchen?” Soup


Your soup probably won’t look like this. You don’t have this lovely lady’s kitchen!


This isn’t so much a recipe as a framework, because soup should not be a meal you have to go out and buy ingredients for (provided, of course, you have more than ramen in your kitchen!). When I make soup, I use whatever ingredients I have available at the time. It’s a great way to use up miscellaneous ingredients that might be hard to assemble into a full meal otherwise.

Here’s the framework I use:


“What’s In My Kitchen?” Soup

  1. Stock pot! If you don’t feel like making ALL THE SOUP, use a regular saucepan instead. Alternatively, use a crock pot. If you leave things to cook for longer and use less liquid, you’ll end up with stew.
  2. Liquid: generally water, milk, or some form of broth. I make my own broth by simmering chicken and steak bones with vegetable scraps (onion and carrot skins or other bits that you wouldn’t want to eat on their own, but which still have plenty of nutrients) in water with a bit of vinegar for 12-24 hours. Making your own broth gives a much tastier and more nutrient-dense result than storebought varieties, and it’s cheaper too.
  3. Protein: anything goes here. Chicken, beef, sausage, bacon, pig snout…this can also be a good way to use organ meats, if you don’t know how to cook them on their own. They’re much less scary as part of a mixture like this. If you don’t want to use meat, try dried beans or lentils instead – though you’ll probably want to soak them first so they finish cooking at the same time as everything else.
  4. Vegetable: well, what’s in your kitchen? I usually keep onions, garlic, carrots, and potatoes stocked, which is a good start. Root vegetables like turnips or parsnips work great, as well as green beans or peas, or leafy greens like kale or bok choy. When to add the ingredients is determined by their hardness. Root vegetables can be added at the beginning, while leafy greens should only cook for a few minutes right before you serve the soup.
  5. Carbs: this isn’t required, but can be nice for adding more bulk to your soup. Options include rice, barley, or quinoa. These grains are generally unexciting on their own, but in combination with the soup they can combine really well.
  6. Seasoning: I always enjoy this part. One of my favorite memories of learning to cook with my parents was making burgers with my dad. We’d add the ground beef, bread crumbs, and an egg, and then stand in front of the spice rack pulling out whatever looked interesting at the time. For a start, I’d recommend salt! One of my other memories is always having to add salt to my mom’s soups, because she was of the opinion that 1 Tbsp was plenty for a pot 🙂
    Otherwise, have fun with it. Use your nose to find out what works for the particular combination you have in the pot. Possibilities include pepper (black, white, or cayenne), red pepper flakes, curry powder, oregano, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, basil…the list goes on. If you want to use fresh herbs, add them near the end of your cook time so they retain their flavor.

So, you’ve gathered all your ingredients. Turn on the heat and let things simmer until the vegetables and meat are all cooked through. Congratulations! You have now accomplished soup.



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Free Ebook Sources

I am a voracious reader, and have a definite problem when it comes to books: I acquire them more quickly than I can read them. This leads to an overstuffed bookshelf, and an e-reader full of even more options, many of which I’ll never get to. I hold out hope, however, that I will one day read all the books! The inconvenience of reality has not managed to remove this desire…along with the desire to learn all the languages and do all the things.

If you do not have this problem (or if you do and are perfectly happy to keep striving for it!), there are a number of sources for e-books that make a great alternative to overflowing bookshelves. Here are a few sites to check out:


Project Gutenberg is a huge database of books that are out of copyright, which have been digitized and uploaded for free use by anyone. They have some 46,000 books available, made possible through the work of some very dedicated volunteers. If you somehow run out of reading material here, either you’re spectacularly picky or you’re not human. I use this site frequently to get classics (and one day I shall read them!).

Open Library is an enormous project dedicated to creating a web page for every book ever published. It is open source and community-edited, and is part of the non-profit Internet Archive, which has the even more lofty goal of creating an archive space for the entire Internet, and all the knowledge contained in it. Books are available to read online or in many downloadable formats, and the site also includes links for borrowing or purchasing. My method: click random links until you get to a book! It’s the closest you can get to wandering through the stacks in a physical library.

TUEBL is another source for ebooks to download. I’ve found this site very fruitful for finding more modern books. As a warning, the site doesn’t have the best design: make sure the download link you click is the actual link, and not an ad. TUEBL has also started a new Women in Tech project to help women to learn to code. With the knowledge that their user base is 80% women, they wanted to help get more women into the technology industries. So, they have partnered with the education program OneMonth to start learning to code, and to help them get access to jobs in the industry through their business network.


There are many more sites to check out; these are merely the ones I use most often. Enjoy, and find lots of new reading material! You have no excuse to run out of books this way…


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New Word Wednesday: zoon

Happy Wednesday, and here is your word for the day, courtesy of an online Scrabble dictionary:


zoon noun

  • an animal developed from a fertilized egg
one of the distinct individuals that join to form a compound of colonial animal; a zooid (such as coral)

From Greek ζώον (zòon) meaning animal or living being; plural ζώα (zòa) 




zoon intransitive verb
to fly with a humming or buzzing sound

Used mainly in the Southern U.S.

Example: “That mosquito zooned around my head all night; I didn’t sleep a bit!”


So, two forms of a word, with two different pronunciations, and very different origins. Definitions for this word were somewhat sparse online (not even in the OED!), but it still counts for Scrabble, and everyone knows that’s the important part. Go impress people with your obscure word knowledge!


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Cooking Adventures: Sauerkraut

Happy Monday, and happy Autumn Equinox! As the weather changes, it gets harder to remember to eat fresh vegetables. Remember to listen to your body: it knows what you need to eat more than you do. As an example, I was making mulled cider this weekend and using citrus fruits. When I licked the lemon juice off my fingers and immediately thought “yeah, I could go for a lemon right about now…” that was a good sign I was missing Vitamin C!

One tasty way to get Vitamin C during the winter is with lacto-fermented vegetables, such as sauerkraut. It’s ridiculously easy to make and I guarantee you’ll make a tastier version than the ones you buy in the store.



This hardly counts as a recipe at all, honestly. Make it the way sounds good to you: add other vegetables, use different herbs and flavors, ferment it for a longer or shorter time…you’ll be the one eating it, follow your taste buds!

Start with a cabbage, chopped into small pieces. Add other vegetables if you like: onions, carrots, garlic, or radishes, for instance. Chop everything up, put it into a bowl, and add sea salt. You’ll want a fair bit: the salt acts to draw moisture out of the vegetables, so they effectively sit in their own juice. Mix the veggies and salt with your hands, then let it sit for a while, until moisture starts to collect in the bottom of the bowl. At this point you can add other seasonings, such as caraway, thyme, oregano, or red pepper flakes (my personal favorite!)

Get a mason jar (or a pickling jar if you’re feeling fancy!), preferably with a wide mouth. Start adding the mixture to the jar in layers, pushing down the vegetables each time so they pack densely. As you pack, you’ll notice the liquid starts coming up to cover the vegetables. If you get to the top of the jar and the veggies are not submerged, add some water to cover them. This is key for lactic acid fermentation: the bacteria involved like an anaerobic environment, without any oxygen, so it’s important for the vegetables to remain under the water. Otherwise, mold can grow (note if you do get mold, it’s not a disaster: just skim it off the top and make sure everything else is submerged).

Get a rock, glass plate, or container of water to push down on the top of the vegetables to keep them submerged. Then, put your jar on the counter and wait! You might see bubbles forming in the jar: that’s a sign that fermentation is going on and the bacteria are producing carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Taste the sauerkraut every few days until it tastes good to you. Then, you can stop the fermentation by putting the jar in the fridge.


And that’s it! Feel free to experiment with other vegetables and seasonings. Fermentation is one of the easiest kitchen experiments to do: it takes very little set up and the results are delicious. Enjoy your sauerkraut this winter!


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Noor Inayat Khan: the Spy Princess

Over the last week, I’ve been learning a ton about an amazing woman named Noor Inayat Khan. She was the first female radio operator sent into Nazi-occupied France by the Special Operations Executive, a covert British operation formed to “set Europe ablaze” by supporting Resistance actions in the country, gathering intelligence, and sabotaging Nazi activities. Despite being a profound pacifist who considered telling the truth to be of the highest importance, Noor survived in Paris for four months when the average radio operator there lasted a mere six weeks. She resisted torture, made several escape attempts, and left a profound effect on everyone she met.


Noor was born in Russia in 1914 to an Indian Sufi mystic father and an American mother and spent her childhood moving from place to place as her father followed his calling. She spent time in Russia, England, France, and India, but considered France to be her true home. Her family’s household was famously tolerant of all faiths, and filled with music. Noor was always considered a dreamy child, writing poetry for her mother and brother on their birthdays, and later writing children’s books, often with themes of love and heroic sacrifice. When she was 13, her father died suddenly, and her mother fell into a deep depression. It fell to Noor to handle household matters and help raise her younger siblings.

When World War II broke out, Noor and her family just managed to escape France before the country surrendered to the Nazis. They moved to England, and Noor volunteered for the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAF) and began training to be a radio operator. Despite her pacifist beliefs, she knew she couldn’t stay back and help from a safe spot: she was driven to do as much as she could to help the war effort. She believed that a pacifist could fight if she weren’t doing it from a place of hate, and that sometimes it was required to fight in order to achieve peace.

Noor made some waves during training! She threw herself into her studies and learned quickly, but when she interviewed for a WAAF commission, she surprised the interviewers with her outspoken beliefs on Indian independence. She stated (because of course she would tell the truth, even when it was inconvenient!) that while she would fight for Britain during the war, she believed very strongly in the cause of Indian independence, and if it came to a fight, she would be on India’s side. She hoped, however, that if enough Indians helped the British during the war, it would make a better case for independence.


Unsurprisingly, she didn’t get the commission. She was, however, tapped shortly after for a position with SOE, who were looking for people who could speak French like the natives. SOE desperately needed radio operators in France to  coordinate their actions, and it was essential that they could blend in with no trace of an accent and no British mannerisms. Trainees were even monitored to make sure that, if they talked in their sleep, it was in French!

During her interview for the SOE, her superiors had reservations about using Noor as an agent, when she seemed so spectacularly unsuited to be a spy. However, radio operators were in short supply, and Noor was willing and determined to succeed in this role, so she began training.

Noor progressed quickly through her training, and though she was a skilled radio operator, she could clearly use some work in the “spy” part of the job: lying to people, standing up to interrogation, and close-combat fighting. On the one hand, she was clearly not suitable for the job; on the other hand, her superiors continually supported her and trusted that when it counted, she would be able to step up.


And step up she did: within days of her arrival in Paris in June 1943, the Gestapo infiltrated SOE’s network there and arrested almost all the agents in the city and surrounding area. Noor was left as the only British agent in the field. She had the opportunity to flee to London, but refused, because she knew she was needed in Paris. Despite her poor performance as a spy during training, she remained on the run in the city for the next four months, dying her hair and changing her location constantly, and working to rebuild the SOE’s network. She did the work of six radio operators during this time, and was instrumental in the escape of 30 Allied airmen shot down in France. Throughout this, Noor remained amazingly cheerful, thanking her superiors for the opportunity to help and staying optimistic.

She was finally betrayed in October 1943, just days before her planned departure to London, and captured by the Gestapo, though she went down fighting her captor viciously: he described her as “a tigress”. On being taken to the house the Gestapo were using as a prison for captured agents, she requested a bath and escaped through the bathroom window. She was recaptured almost immediately, but soon after that she planned and executed another escape with two other prisoners, which was foiled by an Allied air raid. After that Noor was transferred to a prison in Germany and kept shackled hand and foot – though she made yet another escape attempt during the transfer!

She was kept in the prison for 10 months, during which she was kept on a starvation diet and never allowed to be unchained. She was beaten and kept in solitary confinement, but throughout this time she still managed to communicate with several other prisoners by scratching messages on the bottom of the bowls in which food was served. She never cooperated with the Gestapo, and never revealed anything to them – not even her name.

Finally in September 1944, Noor was sent to Dachau with three other female agents, where she was beaten mercilessly, and then shot. The last thing she said before she died was “LibertĂ©”.


Noor Inayat Khan amazes me. She was completely unsuited for the job: an author of children’s books, a Muslim pacifist, and stubbornly honest, she survived longer than anyone could have thought possible and never broke during interrogation. When her entire network collapsed around her, she made the decision to stay, and did a truly spectacular job. She made a deep impression on everyone she met: during his post-war interrogation, when the head of the Gestapo in Paris was told about her death, he apparently broke down in tears. Noor’s determination, idealism, and commitment to her values at the cost of her life are astonishing and inspirational. I’m happy to have found her.



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Thanks to the Management class at Aegis Consulting for inspiration in finding this fantastic woman! My main source was the book “Spy Princess: The Life of Noor Inayat Khan”.

New Word Wednesday: malapropism

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week. Apparently I’m on a “word about words” kick lately…


malapropism noun

  • the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with an amusing effect

Example: “dance a flamingo” instead of a “flamenco”, referring to a person as a “suppository of knowledge” instead of a “repository”

Origin: mid 19th century, from the name of the character Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan’s play The Rivals (1775). Originally from French mal à propos “inappropriate”.


This would be fun to play with: insert some malapropisms into normal speech and see if anyone catches you! I’d do it in this post if I could think of any example at all…


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Adventures Abroad: Travel Hacking

I went to Spain in June!


If you reacted to that statement with the thought, “I wish I could do that…” you really can do that. I promise. What’s stopping you from traveling? The usual culprits are money and time. Time…well, that’s in short supply for everyone, but having money to travel doesn’t mean you need to be rich. Ever heard of travel hacking?

The idea is this: credit card companies are willing to give out a lot of rewards for the honor of having you as a customer. They bank (ha!) on you running up a balance and not paying it off each month, so they can charge you boatloads of interest. Pay the balance on time, however, and instead it can be a nifty way to get some really good perks. For example, Chase has a credit card which earns you one United Airlines mile for every dollar you spend. This is a good start, but buying a plane ticket can easily cost upwards of 50,000 miles, and that will take you quite a while. So, people look for shortcuts, known as travel hacking: the fine art of maximizing your rewards in order to earn free flights as quickly as possible.

For example, that same Chase card gives a 50,000 mile sign-up bonus if you hit the spending goal within the first few months of having the card. That’s enough for a flight right there! This is the card I’ve been using lately, and I’ve earned over 100,000 miles since I opened the card late last year.

With a few credit cards like this opened, the sign-up bonuses add up quickly. A good breakdown of the available travel credit cards and how to choose the best one for you can be found at Things to look out for when picking a card include: a large sign-up bonus with a low spending minimum, how many points you earn per dollar spent (usually 1:1, though some cards give you more), low annual fees (it’s easy to spend more on annual fees than you would save, if you don’t fly often!), and no foreign transaction fees. Also, make sure the card you get allows you to transfer points into the miles you need: no use getting the United card if you only fly American Airlines!

If you’re really bored, you can sign up to take surveys for miles: it’s tedious, but does add up over time. United Airlines has programs with and The sooner you start with these programs, the sooner you can be pleasantly surprised by the amount you’ve earned! In addition, airlines have shopping programs, where you go through their website when making purchases online and earn several miles per dollar you spend (for United, the site is Finally, you can earn bonus miles by eating at restaurants who have partnered with the airlines, found at

There are lots of other tips: people who make travel hacking an art try to avoid spending money if it doesn’t help them earn miles in some way. A quick search online will reveal myriad websites dedicated to finding the best and easiest ways to get free flights. My favorite resources are: Nomadic Matt (, a travel blogger; and The Points Guy (, a very thorough site with credit card reviews and a ton of other information for maximizing your rewards, gaining elite status, and getting the most out of your miles. Here is an excellent guide to getting started:

The idea behind travel hacking is that travel should not be unobtainable, and that you can in fact get a plane ticket without it costing you a limb or two. So, next time you hear about someone’s travel plans and think “I wish I could do that…” take some steps to do it for real. The only issue at that point is finding the time to travel, and unfortunately no one’s covered “time hacking” yet…



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2+2 = 5

My mom has had a piece of paper hanging up next to her desk for years now, saying:

2+2 = 5*

*For very large values of 2

It never made sense to me until recently, when I actually thought to look it up (shock!). Obviously, 2+2 is 4, not 5: 2 is a constant and can’t have a different value. It’s actually a joke, playing on the ideas of rounding and estimating. Say your calculator is set to show numbers to zero decimal places, so it only displays a whole number. Then if you entered 2.48 the calculator would display it as 2. If you add 2.47 (which would also only show as 2) to that, the actual answer is 4.95, which the calculator will round to and display as 5. So, 2+2=5 for large enough values of 2!

The joke is also a reminder about being aware of these rounding errors in real life. Engineers deal with this a lot, which is why we tend to approximate π as 3.14 (or 3 if we’re being really lazy!). Any number in real life has to be estimated: at some point, the measurement has to be cut off. The danger comes in rounding all your numbers, then doing the calculation, because this can lead to a final answer that is quite far away from the one you should have come up with. Rounding errors compound surprisingly quickly, and it’s something to be aware of.

In school, we usually got around this issue by storing all the values in our calculator (to however many digits it could handle) and only rounding the final answer. This usually ensured we were as close as possible to the right answer. In real life, that’s not always an option, which is when you need to start tracking significant figures. A scale that weighs to 0.1lb can’t be used to estimate to the 0.01 of a pound: it’s only accurate to the first decimal place. So, if you’re adding that weight to the weight from a scale that is accurate to 0.01lb, you still have to keep your final answer to the 0.1lb, because you can’t use more significant figures than your least accurate measurement. This ensures you’re not incorporating rounding errors into the math.

So, a very nerdy joke with a good reminder about the difficulties about existing in the real world!

What’s your favorite nerdy joke? Even better if it comes with a lesson!


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New Word Wednesday – homoeosemant

Happy Wednesday! Here’s your new word for the week, one which can be used to describe other words!


Homoeosemant noun

  • a word that has a similar meaning to another, but not quite. Also known as semi-synonyms.

Examples: consider the differences between ask, question, probe, enquire, interview, and interrogate.

Origin: the prefix “homoe-” comes from the Ancient Greek ὅμοιος (homoios, “of like kind”, “similar”).


Compare this to synonyms (homosemants, maybe?), which have the same meaning to each other. This word covers the more subtle differences between words – the differences that won’t show up in a thesaurus. For a native speaker, these words have different meanings: you wouldn’t interrogate your mom on what time dinner will be, for example – but for someone not as familiar with a language, it can be easy to use the wrong term. Figuring out which homoeosemant should be used in which context is a matter of trial-and-error, study, and often talking to a native! Otherwise you’ll answer the phone in a Spanish speaking country and not know whether to say “Hola”, “Diga”, “Bueno”, “Oigo”, “AlĂł”…

Enjoy your new word!


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Idea Generation Techniques

I’m working for an innovation consulting group now, so the question of where ideas come from has been on my mind lately. I’ve had some opportunities to see these methods formalized before, both in a conference I attended during college, and in a Design for Six Sigma course I took last year. In both these areas, it was emphasized that brainstorming is a really inefficient method for idea generation, once the process is actually quantified (usually in terms of ideas per minute). The human mind works best when it can generate connections between different concepts, and use those connections to make new ideas. So, these formalized methods try to help people generate new ideas by giving them a framework they can use to make those connections. Here are the methods:


Brutethink: forces you to see relationships between dissimilar things. This technique will encourage you to see ideas where none existed before.

1) Select a random word (nouns are best). Random words from unrelated contexts are a rich source of connection-making material. The best words are simple and familiar so you can easily visualize the objects they represent.

2) Identify things that are associated with your chosen word. What are its characteristics? What does it do? What does it contain? What words or actions come to mind?

3) Draw connections between your chosen word and its characteristics, and your challenge. Generate ideas from these connections. Develop concepts from your ideas.

For example: select a random word, like “tree”. Things associated with the word (and this is a partial list, of course): trunk, branches, roots, leaves, shade, rake leaves, grow, grain, vertical, needles, swing, prevents erosion, forest, fertilize, water, color, shape, height, colorful, pine cones, seeds, harvest, mill, etc. Then,  you can grab a word from that list and see how it inspires you in the problem you’re trying to solve.


Check Listing: starts with an existing situation and asks, through the use of action words, how you might modify the situation to make it different and better. Or, it can be used as a follow-up to brainstorming, to improve new ideas. Action words to try:

Adapt: What else is this like? What can be copied from something else? What other uses could it be adapted to?
Magnify: Add to it. More time, strength, height, width, duplicate, and exaggerate.
Modify: Change the color, shape, size, weight, texture, or energy source, etc.
Minimize: Subtract, split, condense, reduce, remove, lower, lighten, shrink.
Substitute: What or who else? A different part, ingredient, approach, or process
Rearrange: Interchange components, other patterns, layouts, sequences, direction, speed.
Reverse: Use opposites, transpose, reverse roles and actions.
Combine: Units, purposes, elements, components, ingredients.
Remove: Parts, processes, functions, elements, components.
Other Uses: Are there other functions or purposes to which this can be applied?


Double Reverse / Pain Storming: This creativity technique has us initially reverse our typical thinking, and identify ways to make the situation / challenge worse. Then, it asks us to reverse these ideas, to make things better. Hence, the name Double Reverse. So, if your process is running too slowly, think of ways it could be made to run even more slowly, then reverse those changes to speed it up again. Can any of those changes be applied to the current situation?


TRIZ: Theory of Inventive Problem Solving. A man named Genrich Altshuller, while studying Russian patents, noticed the same principles were used over and over again to solve similar problems. TRIZ is a compilation of the most effective solutions to technical problems, independent of industry.

This is a huge topic and I’ve only seen a small part of it. The tools available are Contradiction Table, Inventive Principles, Separation Principles, Problem Formulation, Ideality / Resources, Function Analysis, and Technology Evolution. Information on all these is available online.

Technical and Physical Contradictions: at the heart of many problems is a contradiction between two requirements. These contradictions can be either: technical, where alternative solutions improve one aspect of the design at the expense of another, or; physical, where the physical state of the object must be in two states at once. An example of a technical contradiction would be power vs. fuel consumption: when one goes up, the other must go down. An example of a physical contradiction would be car suspension: it should be hard, for good handling and control, but also soft, for a comfortable ride. Within each technical contradiction, there is at least one physical contradiction. The idea of using the TRIZ techniques is to avoid having to make these trade-offs by breaking the contradictions. Here is a website to use the technique: you select the type of technical contradiction you’re running into, and it returns principles or techniques to solve the issue.

In addition, to help solve physical contradictions, you can try using the Separation Principles, which are as follows:

1) Separation in Time: a parameter or element of a system is present or absent at different times.
2) Separation in Space: a parameter or element of a system is present or absent in different “spaces” or spatial orientation.
3) Separation in Scale: a parameter or element of a system is present or absent depending on the scale you view it at. Also, between parts of a system and the whole.

Again, TRIZ is a huge topic and could merit a post on its own. From what I’ve seen, it’s a tremendously powerful tool for idea generation and problem solving.


The key thing about idea generation is that creativity is a skill that can be developed with practice. Brainstorming is not the best technique to use, especially if you haven’t had much practice at it (want to get better? Pick a common object and spend five minutes thinking of as many common or off-the-wall uses for it as you can), so these techniques are a great way to jump-start the process and get you and your group thinking in new directions.

In addition, using these techniques forces you to spend a solid amount of time thinking about the problem, instead of spending two minutes on it and declaring it impossible. It does a lot to encourage you to really stretch your brain: have you really thought this through? Is that really the only way to solve the problem?

Have you used any of these techniques? Want to give them a try? Talk about a problem you’re trying to solve!


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