Travel Tips Learned While Baking Cookies
On our current tour of Egypt, some members of our group asked for home-baked cookies. We were sailing up the Nile aboard a private cruise ship, the Afandina, so I asked our chef to take care of it. Since individual requests happen often (everything from raw food to vegetarian meals to a personalized birthday cake) I was surprised when chef demurred, explaining that he was no baker.
I am acting as “Julie the Cruise Director,” and it’s my first job to make all our guests happy so I ended up baking six dozen cookies for the group. While I was baking, I realized there were valuable lessons that apply to traveling anywhere outside your comfort zone. Enjoy my lessons (one for each dozen cookies), and apply them to your own travel experiences. The recipe and a video of the cookie-baking process are at the bottom.
1. Be ready to jump at an unexpected opportunity
While it wasn’t how I planned to spend an evening, baking cookies on the Nile is something very few people can say they did, and the rewards kept coming as people commented about how delicious they were every time they popped another one into their mouths. Whether it’s visiting the home of a local, seeing a site that’s off the beaten path, or getting to cook in a foreign kitchen, take a chance and you might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome.
2. Be flexible
Gas marks in Celsius. No measuring spoons or cups. Hazelnuts instead of walnuts. Oversized raisins. No such thing as chocolate chips. The list of adjustments I had to be willing to make was surprisingly long for such a short cookie recipe. Keeping your sense of humor and remaining flexible is key to traveling, and remembering that you are in a new environment will help you get a handle on your feelings of discomfort. Maybe it’s not what you’re used to, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be flexible and still have a great experience.
3. Make what’s available work
When I first walked into the kitchen of our lovely cruise ship, I expected it to be well-stocked with cooking utensils since, after all, the crew turns out three gorgeous meals a day. Instead, there wasn’t a single wooden spoon or a bowl large enough to mix my batter in. Plus there was an industrial oven that measured everything in Celsius. What’s a mediocre baker to do? Make it work for you. We used a large stew pot instead of a bowl, and Chef mixed the batter with his hands (sharing tips such as combining the batter just until it’s uniform will keep the dough tender). Instead of doing everything myself, I had an array of helpers ready to chop, mix, and clean. Perhaps on your journey you thought you would have air conditioning or clean towels daily or fresh milk in your coffee, but instead that’s not how they do it where you’re visiting. Be ready to substitute or adjust, and you will have a better time of it all the way around.
4. Don’t be afraid to give up control
The chef is the chief of his kitchen. He has an assistant chef, and there were also helpers galore who had baked cookies before; all had their own ideas about what was best. I had to take several deep breaths and, again, keep my sense of humor. I realized at one point I was on the verge of snapping orders at the guy whose kitchen I was in and backed off. I love being in control, but sometimes, especially when you travel, you just aren’t. Remember to pick your battles. Whether it’s the flight attendant, the gate agent, the taxi driver, or your own tour leader, be ready to release control and allow someone else to take over.
5. It’s the journey, not the outcome
Whether the cookies had turned out or not, it’s the holiday season and for some of our guests, this was the only baking they were going to get to do this Christmas. We all are in such a rush to get to the finish line we often forget to stop and enjoy the journey along the way. By giving yourself permission to live only in the present moment and stop worrying about the outcome, you will have a better travel experience. Each minute is your vacation, and you want more than a few photos to remember it. Slowing down also gives you better retention of your trip.
6. Sometimes “good enough” is perfect
Although I was practically baking without a recipe, at least one with which I was familiar, I wanted my cookies to be perfect. About halfway through, I realized that everyone would appreciate the effort no matter what, even if the result had been rocks. The cookies actually turned out delicious, though the industrial oven made them a little too crisp. You’re on vacation, you’re traveling, let your hair down and have the experience, have the strange, exotic surprise, and don’t worry if it’s not exactly what you planned or hoped for. It is what it is. What if you didn’t judge it, but instead allowed it to be “good enough”? That can be enough to make it perfect.
Sailing the Nile Cookies
Preheat oven to 350˚F, or gas mark 180˚C
A) 2 cups sugar (1/3 kilo)
1 cup butter (1/4 kilo)
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
B) Large pinch of salt
1 teaspoon baking powder (OR ½ teaspoon baking powder + ½ teaspoon baking soda)
4 cups flour (2/3 kilo) (OR 2 cups flour (1/3 kilo) + 2 cups oatmeal (1/3 kilo)
Chocolate chips (or well-chopped chocolate)
Raisins (chopped if too large)
Coarsely chopped hazelnuts
1) Beat together “A” ingredients until smooth
2) Mix together “B” ingredients
3) Add “B” to “A,” then divide batter and add different mix-ins, as desired
4) Form rounded spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet. Mash flat with tines of fork. Bake approximately 10 to 15 minutes, depending on how many cookie sheets you have and how well the oven holds its temperature. Cookies should be lightly brown but still tender to the touch.
Thanks to Zoe Serious and Michelle E. for the base recipe info!