Monday, October 22, 2012

A better mouse trap

About a month ago, I learned that my upstairs neighbors had a run-in with some rodents. They'd caught three mice in a week. Ick. Compulsive kitchen cleaner that I am, I was unperturbed, reassuring myself that this sort of thing would never happen in my kitchen. (Not that I am accusing my friendly upstairs neighbors of being slobs or anything, but they probably don't scour the countertops or floors as much as I do.) Then about three weeks ago, as I was settling into bed, I heard it. Scratching. Distinct and persistent clawing sounds coming from somewhere on the far side of the apartment. I stealthily padded across the carpet to see if I could narrow down the location, but by the time I got to the tiled kitchen, it had stopped.

Two nights later, as I was sitting at the laptop working at the kitchen table, I heard it again. The lights were still on and I was sitting about six feet away from the scritch-scratching. Agh! BRAZEN little bugger, this one was. Still, I didn't get a visual on my uninvited guest.

The next night, as I settled down to do a little reading in bed, I heard something that sounded like a plastic bag rustling. This time I bolted across the apartment wielding a heavy frying pan, sprinting to the kitchen just in time to see a furry intruder scamper out of the small trashcan and disappear behind the counter somewhere. The next morning, I borrowed the electric mouse zapper from my upstairs neighbors, whose furry interloper population seem to have moved down to my place. I set it with a nice, stoneground wheat cracker slathered with organic peanut butter. What mouse wouldn't want that (as a last meal)?

Apparently not this one.

A day or two after that, the little bugger took a bite out of one of the tomatoes I had ripening on the counter. The counter!! Where I knead my sourdough bread! Blech! I scrubbed the counter down, then disinfected it, then scoured it again the next morning just before I started making bread. Then, concerned that maybe some gunk in the mouse trap was blocking the sensor, I scrubbed out the zap trap with an old toothbrush -- finally, something useful that my ex-boyfriend left here -- and put in a stale cracker with some stinky brie rind. That should do it, I congratulated myself. What mouse could resist?


Now, I know it's getting colder and all, and outdoor creatures are in search of a warm, safe place to snuggle up for the winter. And I am an animal lover through and through. I actually capture silverfish and spiders and crickets when I find them in my bathroom, carry them outside, and let them out in the garden. I've made a relative truce with the squirrels and rats that scamper through my garden on occasion. But I cannot abide rodents in my kitchen. This is war.

Today, after lunch and a stop by the bike shop for a new front wheel, dad and I made our way to Logan Hardware to prepare my apartment for a serious anti-rodent offensive. After some debate in the pest aisle, dad suggested that I try out a few different mousetrap models. He and I have a wager on which one will work best. My money's on the covered one (which, incidentally, has a lower probability of Ibti finger damage), while dad stands by the cartoon-style, old school snap trap:

We'll see who's the smart one now, Nibbles....

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Mean people suck

Well, statistically, it was inevitable, I suppose, but this realization didn't make it suck any less to discover, after a lovely dinner with my friends Meredyth and Greg at their Bloomingdale apartment, to find a still locked up Ollie one wheel lighter. I know that things could've been way worse, but I still can't help feeling violated.

I should know better. I do know better. And you can bet your bike lock I will not make that mistake again. Well, as soon as I get myself a new wheel -- it may be a few days before your friendly neighborhood food educator can get around the neighborhood again. (Thankfully this happened after yesterday's DC school garden bike tour -- more on that group riding adventure when I stop being pissed off about the neighborhood wheel stealer. Grrr. It may be a few days.)

Okay, I'll admit it is my own fault for not locking Ollie up as securely as usual. I'm usually so compulsive about that sort of thing. Certainly nobody would be so brazen as to steal a wheel off of a locked bike, I thought, not with folks sitting at outdoor tables at Boundary Stone right across the street. I couldn't get her up against the fenceline fully, and after reflecting on how I'd been to this neighborhood many times over the past few years with no incident, I figured locking Ollie's frame and back wheel to the fence would be enough. The thief could not have missed the "Please don't steal me" sign on Ollie's handlebars, so I wonder: was he illiterate or mean-spirited or both?

Is The Universe trying to tell me something? Perhaps I am too trusting. Maybe it's a concrete reminder that there are many unhappy, unloved people out there who take things of relatively little value to themselves but of critical importance (not to mention sentimental value) to one person -- oh, if they only knew the roads that wheel and I had traversed! -- and I need to protect myself and my loved ones (even the inanimate loved ones) more carefully. Or perhaps after 10,000 miles it's time for a new front wheel and I needed a bit of a cosmic push to shell out the money for one.

But seriously, who steals a wheel? Jerk. At least they got one with a slow-leaking tube....

Thursday, October 18, 2012


You know that scene in A Christmas Story where Ralphie is helping his dad change the flat tire? My morning was kind of like that, only it was me changing a bike tire (and luckily only the houseplants were around to hear the swearing).

Already running about 15 minutes late for this morning's Farm to School cooking demo, I was just getting out the bike pump to top off the air after loading Ollie up with a giant bag of kale and other fixin's for my (now famous) massaged kale salad when I heard that familiar hiss.... Noooo!

This incident marked a personal best: 12 minutes it took me to get Ollie flipped over, unhook the brakes, get her rear wheel off, tube out, check for lingering puncture creators, get the new tube in, pump it up, slide the wheel back on, rehook the brakes, load up, and get out the door. (No time for hand washing!)

I was a pool of sweat, with grease so thick on my hands I had to wash them TWICE before the official group handwashing with the middle schoolers at Capital City Public Charter School, but I made it. And still 10 minutes before I was meant to start. Not too shabby, I'd say.

Monday, October 15, 2012

What's up, butternut?

Winter is almost here. Okay, fine, we're still in mid-October, but it sure felt like winter was setting in during the Hunger Games themed field day and campout at my friend Kristin's farm this Saturday. Each time an inch of me accidentally ventured outside of my sleeping bag I was suddenly jolted back to chilly reality. (The field day, potluck, and camping were a heck of a lot of fun, even with the risk of frostbite.)

Cold weather also means that winter squash season is here. Wouldn't you know that a number of folks I work with at area farmers' markets have been asking their friendly-neighborhood food educator for recipes that use these most delicious of deep yellow and orange cucurbits. Of course, I always have the curried butternut squash soup recipe in my back pocket, but as you can probably guess by now I am always tinkering with ingredients and fiddling with recipes. A few weeks ago at the Bloomingdale farmers' market I was whipping up a few batches of a variation on the veggie alfredo pasta using sauteed delicata squash instead of bok choy (and substituting some cool weather parsley and chives for the summer basil). Then about a week later, while flipping through a copy of Bon Appetit at my parents' house following dad's birthday dinner, I came across a recipe for butternut squash macaroni and cheese... and decided to improve on it a bit.

(Yes, I just said that: "Let me just make this recipe published in an established foodie magazine better.")

I got a little overambitious with the portioning, so I called a couple of friends as I popped the delicious cheese-and-vegetably-pasta goodness into a deep baking dish and into the oven to bake last Monday night. My buddy Jeff showed up with a bottle of white wine an hour later. We barely made a dent in it, even as I sent him off with leftovers. After hearing about the heavenly mix of smoked cheese and garlicky bechamel laden squash the next day, my gentleman friend invited himself over for an impromptu dinner of leftovers on Wednesday evening. I sent Kenton off with leftovers as well, and by Friday I had just two servings left. These last bits were hungrily polished off during the brief lunch break that my co-teacher Sofiya and I had at the end of our week of teaching cooking at E.L. Haynes. (More on that week-long culinary instructional adventure in controlled chaos to come....)

For now, to warm your heart and your belly, I give you (friend tested, paramour approved)
Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese, Improved

  • 16 ounces (a bag or box) whole wheat pasta -- I used shells, but rigatoni, penne, or traditional elbow macaroni would be just as good
  • 1 medium butternut squash -- peeled, seeds removed, and cut into bite-sized chunks (1" or so big)
  • 1 delicata squash -- also peeled, seeds removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 1/2 cups milk -- raw, if you can get it
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 8 ounces (a block) of smoked gruyere cheese, grated -- this comes out to about 2 cups
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic -- peeled and minced
  • 1 leek -- washed well and sliced into thin rounds
  • 1 handful (er, what is that, 1/4 cup?) breadcrumbs
  • 3 spoonfuls of butter


Preheat oven to 425F.

Saute leeks and garlic in a large pot with a spoonful of butter and cook over medium heat until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Add squashes and 2 1/4 cups of milk. Bring to a boil, then quickly lower heat and simmer until squash is tender (15-20 minutes).

Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil the pasta, according to package instructions, until cooked al dente (aka not mushy), then drain and set aside.

Whisk together 2 spoonfuls of butter and the 1/4 cup flour to make a paste, then stir in the remaining 1/4 cup milk and mix the resulting roux into the cooked squash mixture. Use an immersion blender (my preference -- I love that thing!), a food processor, or a regular blender to blend the squash-milk-flour mixture into a thick sauce.

Stir in the cheese and cooked noodles. Spread the whole thing into a large baking dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and pop it into the oven for a little while (20 minutes or so) until the cheese sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are nice and browned.

It is just lovely with a simple tomato salad on the side and a glass of pinot grigio. (Jeff said so.)

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The sacred cow

This past Sunday, I had the good fortune to meet Ms. Sally Fallon (Morell) -- perhaps best known for founding the interesting and at times somewhat extreme Weston A. Price Foundation, but she will always live in my heart as the woman behind the awesome, activisty cookbook, Nourishing Traditions. And for her advocacy around legalizing raw milk -- which in the District is harder to lay one's hands on than hard drugs, apparently -- she is one of my heroes.

Somehow, over the course of the months we spent corresponding by email leading up to the free talk and potluck I was organizing for Slow Food DC, I managed not to gush too much. I refrained from going on embarrassingly about how much I adore that cookbook of hers, with its recipes for fermented foods and the joys of whole grains and unapologetic tirade against modern health trends. I mean, for heaven's sake, the subtitle of the book is "The Cookbook that Challenges Politically Correct Nutrition and the Diet Dictocrats." (Yes, it really says Diet Dictocrats in the title. Love it.) Unfortunately, my introduction of this local celebrity was a little gushy and awkward, but hopefully most folks forgot about that by the time Ms. Fallon got a few slides into her presentation.

Lord, I hate public speaking.

After some history of the research of Dr. Weston A, Price, whose work studying the links between health (specifically dental health) and diet in populations around the world, Sally -- hee, hee, I used her first name -- launched into a diatribe against the vacillating patterns that are the dietary/nutritional recommendations and health scares of our day. One day butter is bad. The next day it's good. Carbs are bad. No, wait, they are the main component of the USDA food pyramid, but a growing number of people can't properly digest contemporary commodity grains. Red meat is bad. Dairy is bad. Raw milk is dangerous. Fruit is too high in sugar. There's e coli on the spinach.... Aaaagh! What the heck are we supposed to think? Or eat??

After trashing processed foods (no arguments here) and maligning a series of new-fangled diets including vegetarianism (hey, though I do love my pastured bacon and grassfed lamb stew there's no need to hate on the veg lovers), Sally got to the meat (har, har) of her argument: we Americans have lost touch with what our bodies need, which is a complete diet that includes healthy fats. Things like lard. Yes. Lard. You know: Evil Ingredient #3, only bumped out of the top two spots by High Fructose Corn Syrup and Arsenic as things we should avoid putting into our bodies according to the folks telling us what to eat these days. Well, the lard from pastured animals is actually good for us. The junk they call lard that comes from animals raised in confinement is not. (For the record, I am not a fan of HFCS nor a proponent of arsenic consumption. I have been known to cook with lard on occasion.)

Now, I take these sorts of ideas, these calls to eat more meat and animal products with a grain of Salt (which, incidentally, is also not an inherently bad ingredient in moderation), and I was a little taken aback with how extreme her views were at times. However, Sally (hee, hee, I just called her Sally again) did have some good points. There are a lot of important nutrients we can get out of eating animal foods -- eggs, milk, butter, cheese, meat, and (though I squirm to think about it) offal -- but we need to raise our animals differently than we have been. Out on pasture, roaming and eating what they would normally eat rather than a steady diet of commodity corn as they're crammed shoulder to shoulder in a windowless cement building. Raising animals slowly, letting them put on weight naturally over time, and as a result having the flavor of the land they are raised on... these are Slow Food principles if I ever heard any. And since it takes so much more time and work to raise animals this way, the quality of the meat would be higher and the higher price of meat would mean that we would eat less of it overall. I imagine at the higher price, too, we would not want to waste any bits of it... including things like liver (which I would welcome my dad to eat my share of since he loves it).

Speaking of appreciating good food, who could turn down something as delectable as the raw milk cheese Ms. Fallon brought from her farm?

Yes, we had much to chew on -- literally and figuratively -- at the potluck that followed, including some of my beet risotto (this batch made with homemade, free-range chicken stock).