I am sitting in a gray Walmart parking lot, as the sky slowly gets darker and darker. I count at least a dozen other campers and trailers here, so probably this town is a good place to be a tourist. It was certainly beautiful when driving around, despite the gray. I crossed a fantastic bridge, over a huge river that looked green in the foggy light. Then I crossed another bridge. Then another, then another.

Somewhere along the way, I thought, “Wow, how many rivers are there?”

And then I thought, “Duh, I need R in the van, so that I could have said that thought aloud to him for whatever his deadpan response would have been.” Pretty sure the name indicates that there might be three of them. Me driving over what felt like four was probably me getting lost.

I was headed to a beautiful church, one that I believe allows overnight camping in a parking lot behind it, but there was a No Dog sign on the parking lot. Alas. I might have been able to park on the curb of the very pretty river — it really didn’t feel like the kind of place where the police come and tell you to move on — but did I mention the gray? The fog was spooky. Yes, I literally had a lovely parking place on the side of a river that might have been a perfectly good place to spend the night, but I wimped out because the fog made everything just that slight bit surreal that makes you think about monsters rising out of the river. Sometimes my imagination is just too good for me. Or maybe that’s not good for me, I’m not sure which.

Either way, I retreated to Walmart. I was putting together a list of things I need — I know that there are several random things that I’ve been meaning to get, like another coat hook because one of mine broke — when I realized that the Walmart looked closed. Yes! It closed at 5PM. I was once again reminded that I am not in my own country, ha. I know that some Walmarts are not 24-hour, but 5PM? And actually, the reminder should have come from me needing to translate 17:00 back to 5:00. Or maybe from not being able to read any of the words on the sign.

So I have a random story from a while ago that I keep remembering, and I’m going to write it down because ten years from now it will make me smile should I stumble across this blog post. R and I ate well, of course, during the week that he camped with me, because I do eat well. We ate out a few times, too, because that’s definitely one of the pleasures of traveling with company, but I cooked most meals. We didn’t eat anything special, particularly — sausages on the grill with salads, risotto with asparagus, sautéed salmon, eggs and potatoes and blueberry pancakes… just food.

And he complimented it, but he grew up while I was learning to cook. He is the person who got to eat every failed experiment, every lesson learned the hard way, every “oops, maybe not like that,” and so he approaches my food with a little more wariness than the average person I feed. But on one of our last nights together, he said to me, “You really are an incredible cook.”

And I was sooo pleased. So delighted. So just a-glow with pleasure that my hard-earned skill was being acknowledged by my toughest audience.

And then I looked at what we were eating and laughed, and said, “Seriously? We’re having quinoa bowls. Not rocket science. Are you complimenting my vegetable-chopping skills?”

Because I make quinoa bowls ALL the time. It’s practically the TV dinner of my life. Put some salad greens in a bowl, add a couple big spoonfuls of quinoa, top with vegetables of some sort and protein of some sort and a dressing, probably based on Greek yogurt, but varying depending on what’s in the bowl. Sometimes even bottled salad dressing! I love the Simply Lemon vinaigrette. It is not a meal that requires any kind of cooking expertise at all. It’s just tossing a bunch of stuff together. Although I actually don’t even really toss it – I like having the ingredients be more layered.

But he said, “I’m serious. This is the best quinoa I’ve ever tasted.”

And so I went back to being pleased. But I also told him, as I will tell you, that the secret to good quinoa is to toast the grains before cooking them, which in my case means sautéing them in the base of the Instant Pot, with no oil or liquid. He asked how long to saute them and that’s a question to which there is no real answer, because it depends on quantity and the heat of the pan, but the effective answer is “until they smell toasted and nutty and delicious.” He has since made his own first quinoa bowl — he went with olives, feta, and a vinaigrette, and reports success, which adds to my pleasure. The only thing better than being a good cook is teaching someone else to be a good cook, too.

river view

I could have been parked next to this beautiful river for the night. I wonder if it was the graffiti on the rocks, unnoticed at the time, that made me feel unsure? Or maybe it was jut parking right next to a river when it was clearly going to rain? But no, I really just think I was worrying about the Loch Ness monster or some Canadian variant.