My Son, The Zombie Killer

by Donald Wilson on February 27, 2011


Grandma Bea's Chicken and Rice Soup

With a huge drop in the barometric pressure, a sudden shift to strong winds from the arctic north, and unusually dark and somber cumulonimbus lowering a torrential boom on Los Angeles, I instinctively knew, as we drove home to start our weekend, what Andrew was thinking:  It’s a good night for killing zombies, Xbox style.  I, on the other hand, was thinking Chicken and Rice Vegetable Soup.  Believe it or not, they are very closely related thoughts.  You see, zombies have been on our minds a lot lately.

Over the last five years there have been a couple of constants in getting to know and understand Andrew.  One of these is his frequent cinema graphic zombie nightmares.  Andrew has had these reoccurring dreams of zombie attacks since his mother’s death.  I got initiated into his dream world the very first Friday I brought him home five years ago.   At some point many hours after I put him and myself to bed, a terrified strange boy standing at the side of my bed awakened me.  I’m sure my “Hitchcockian” screams, which gradually subsided with recognition, didn’t help alleviate his fears that night.  Still, he crawled into my bed, told me his dream, and was fast asleep.  I, on the other hand, was the one now immobilized by a night terror of the gravity of my decision to become a dad.

The other constant has been Andrew testing me and every adult in his life to the breaking point.  The “tests” can easily be classified under defiance.  Major or minor, they usually involve some form of doing the opposite of what is asked of him.  During the early years I was put to the test multiple times a day, but my maniacal attention to structure, rules, and consequences eventually wore his psyche down; the behaviors subsided and our home life became bliss.

The problem was that he continued to test the rest of the adults in his life: grandparents, aunts, uncles, close friends, teachers, and Scoutmasters.  These incidents always meant a “kindly chat of concern” and heaps of unsolicited advice on what I should do to fix the problem.

Fortunately, both the defiance and the zombie dreams have dramatically decreased.  So much so that I was shocked to be pulled aside by one of the parents on our soccer team last week for the dreaded “from one dad to another talk.”   Turns out that Andrew had been very disrespectful to the coach.  I was mortified and livid.  I marched Andrew over to make an apology and to my chagrin the coach was completely nonplused by the whole thing.  In fact, he had taken a keen interest in Andrew and assured me that he would have Andrew leading the boys by the end of the All Star season.  I was in shock at how he handled the situation and even wished for a bit of his Zen power.  It was the first time in a while that an adult had attempted to create a bond with Andrew.

That night Andrew had a horrific zombie dream, the first in a long time.  The next morning as we drove to school, Andrew told me his dream and I had an epiphany.  I cautiously asked him if I could interpret his dream.  He assented and I presented him my observation.

“When your mother died,” I started, “you experienced a loss that most people don’t experience until much later in life.   The pain you felt was so great that your sub-conscience decided that it never wanted to go through it again.   In the world of psychology it’s considered a fear of being abandoned.”

I glanced over at him and saw he hadn’t glazed over yet.

“What kids do when they have experienced this kind of pain is to test all the adults in their life by behaving very badly.  You see, if you can treat a person horribly over and over and they still love you, then your subconscious can finally trust that they will really be there for you.”

Another glance sideways proved he was still with me.

“You have been treating everybody in your life as a potential zombie.  A living, breathing being that can cause you great pain because they can die, just like your mom.  And every time you get in trouble for treating an adult badly, you have a zombie dream.  It’s your mind’s attempt to work out whether or not this new person in your life is going to cause you pain or not.”

“That’s very interesting,” Andrew sincerely replied.

“Last night you got in trouble for disrespecting your coach, a man who has treated you with continual respect, even after your bad behavior.  Last night you also had a zombie dream that even included your soccer team.”  I could see the light going on in his head.

“I’m not saying that all people are worthy of your trust, but perhaps it’s time to trust that most people aren’t zombies unless they give you reason to believe otherwise.  I think you should let your coach off the hook and see where this goes before you go in for the next kill.”  Andrew smiled to himself and I knew enough to stop talking.

And the chicken and rice soup?  Well, I realize that coming home everyday, no matter how tired I am or how badly Andrew has behaved, and slow cooking a well-prepared meal has been my super power against turning into a zombie.  It’s my unique way of saying I love you and will be there for you no matter what.

As I worked away in the kitchen last night and heard the sounds of successful zombie attacks coming from the television room, I had an even bigger epiphany.  Until I met Andrew, I was only partially alive.  He had every right to test me and make me prove I wasn’t infected with a zombie virus.  Perhaps I was, but my son, the zombie killer, took care of that and because of him I’m more alive today than ever before.



Chicken and Rice Soup for a Cold and Rainy Day


This is one of the most comforting and delicious chicken soups I have had.  It comes from my best friend’s mother Bea Nuckols, who sadly passed away this year.  Bea had been a dear part of my life for the last 30 years and a great mentor and inspiration for much of what I do in the kitchen.

Bea baked her own bread and this soup was what she would prepare on baking days for the evening’s meal.  Even after her sons went away to college, she would always have a pot of soup and a fresh loaf of bread waiting for them when they would come home during the breaks.   It is also a recipe she used to gather clients when she became a real estate agent back in the 1970s.  She passed out hundreds of fliers that offered a friendly “HELLO” and this recipe for rainy and chilly weather.  She ended her letter by saying:

“I have a good collection of recipes and not only am I a good cook, but I’m a pretty good real estate agent too!   So call me for a recipe, but also call me if you decide to sell your house, or know anyone who does!”

It’s a lovely thought to think of all the people who may have made this recipe last night to warm their families during the storm.   As Andrew says, “This one’s a keeper.”   I know you will agree.

8 to 9 cups chicken broth (left from cooking chicken) See note

¾ cup long or short grain rice

3 medium-sized carrots, sliced 1/8-inch thick

1 1/2 teaspoons thyme, chopped fine (my addition)

6 tablespoons each butter and flour

1 pint half-and-half or milk

About 4 cups cooked chicken meat, shredded or in bite-size pieces

3 ribs of celery, sliced

2 small zucchini, sliced ¼-inch thick  (Don’s note:  You can use any veggi in season. I used asparagus tops last night instead of the zucchini.)

Cooked giblets, chopped (optional)

About ½-cup thinly sliced green onion

Salt and lots of freshly ground pepper to taste

¼-cup minced parsley

In a soup kettle (about 5 quart size), heat the broth to boiling.  Add rice, cover, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.  Add carrots, celery, thyme and zucchini; simmer covered, until vegetables are just tender, about 10 more minutes.

Meanwhile, in another pan melt the butter; blend in flour, and cook, stirring, until bubbly.  Remove from heat and gradually blend in cream or milk, then about a cup of the broth dipped out of the soup kettle.  Heat and stir until it boils and thickens, then stir into the mixture in the soup kettle.  Add the chicken and giblets (if desired), green onion and salt and pepper to taste:  heat quickly, just until heated through.  Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Serves 6 to 8 people


Note:  I printed the recipe as originally given, except where noted.  For chicken stock  I save up backs, necks, and wings from various chicken meals and freeze them until I have enough to make a stock.  Once I have a couple of pounds of bones, I put them in a stock pot with onions, carrots, some celery, a little thyme and parsley, and lots of peppercorns.  I fill the pot with water and let it cook all night on very low flame on the stove top.  In the morning, I turn off the heat and go to work.  When I come home, I strain the broth and either use it or freeze it.

Alternatively, if you are cooking chicken for this soup, you can do so by boiling in low sodium canned stock, an onion, carrots, etc and that will give you a nice soup base as well.


Janet Howard February 28, 2011 at 12:38 am

Thanks for another fabulous story! I so look forward to reading them.

Donald Wilson March 2, 2011 at 6:33 am

You are my number one fan and I love hearing from you!

Lynn Bardugon-Applin March 1, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Hi Don! It’s Doug’s sister, Lynn (aka your newest fan) I look forward to and absolutely LOVE your blog-

And perfect timing with this recipe! We had a very cold, rainy day yesterday here in northern NJ and Grandma Bea’s soup quickly became my dinner-of-choice! LOVED unanimously by all (no small feat) …me, my husband and 3 kids. Thanks Don, for sharing the recipes and especially, for sharing your journey through fatherhood.

Donald Wilson March 2, 2011 at 6:32 am

Hi Lynn,
It’s great to hear from you. I’m so glad your enjoying the blog. It has been a great journey so far with Andrew and I’m loving the process of remembering all the great (and not so great) moments. I love this soup too and it’s getting lots of fans.

Hearing from you reminds me that we have some good Polish recipes that need to get posted. I’m going to have to hit you and your mom up for some to try out!

Penny Tateoka March 28, 2011 at 5:19 am

Don! This “Zombie Killers” piece……and John’s mom’s killer soup…you’re killin me… (I’m sure our John never had a zombie nightmare in his life…..what with a mom like Bea and the soup and the red “you are special” birthday plate) Any rate…I adore this ….and I’ll be sure to make the hearty elixir soup of love, trust, and vegetables.

keep it comin….

Ronda Thomas Farrell January 20, 2012 at 2:18 am

Don– I just found out about your blog and adoption. Out of the loop as I have been, I am finding your blog amazing. Your tales of parenting Andrew are not unlike our parenting challenges with our two little ones from Russia. Coming from a long line of Jacobsen women I too use cooking and the table for family ritual. Thank you for giving me Aunt Bea’s soup recipe. I’ll take any others you have of hers. I can’t wait to read through the rest of your wonderful blog. Keep it coming and give my love to John and Holly.


Gail December 3, 2014 at 2:56 am

Thanks for sharing both – nice!

P.S. So where is my bowl of soup? :o)
Blessings – G

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