Critter Control

Sammy was a stray, part Siamese cat that Mom brought home from school one day.  When we got him, his tail was broken and he was a little jumpy so I think his previous life was rough.  He had some particularly non-Siamese habits indicative of life on the streets.  He was a little lax with his hygiene and would eat anything he could sink his teeth into.  He managed to maintain his Siamese sense of entitlement and complete rejection of  rules made by mere mortals.  This is to say that he pretty much did whatever he pleased and showed no remorse when someone busted him for his bad behavior.  Our other cat, Misty, only scratched the couch when she thought we weren’t looking and zipped away when she heard someone yell at her to stop.  Sammy would just look at us, narrow his eyes a bit and continue scratching until we got close.  He didn’t even bother to run away unless someone chased him.

The vandalism was annoying, but it was his consumption habits that got him into trouble.  As I said, he’d eat anything and he completely ignored all prohibitions about jumping on the cabinet or table.  In his world, any unguarded food was open game.  Most cats would go after chicken or meat if they thought they could get away with it but Sammy would go after loaves of bread, packages of rolls, cheese, whatever.  And he wouldn’t just eat one piece of anything, he’d take bites out of the middle, sometimes sampling each individual piece.  We had to put the bread in the refrigerator and guard any food we planned to serve keep him out of it.

This sort of vigilance is hard to maintain, and every so often, he’d score some prime human food.  Most notable, he destroyed a freshly baked pecan pie.  Mom had baked it for a church potluck and had set it on the table to cool while she got dressed.  Sammy found it before she got around to putting it up.  He ate the whole pecans out of the middle, leaving noticeable indentations where the pecans used to be.

Our family has always opposed animal cruelty so discipline was usually pretty lax — startling yells, squirts from a spray bottle, that sort of thing.  But when Sammy snacked on the pecan pie, Mom declared war.  We brought in the hot shot (aka cattle prod) from the barn and the next time she caught him on the table, she zapped him. You should have seen him fly!  And that did the trick.  He’d still jump on the table or the cabinet, but all you had to do was make buzzing noises that sounded like the hot shot and he’d scram.

In retrospect, I don’t think I’d advocate this as a disciplinary method for cats.  We didn’t think about this at the time.  I’d worry that the voltage might cause a heart attack.

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Green Eggs and Ham

Green Eggs and Ham

The Magic of Dr. Seuss

When I was a child, my parents had to bribe me with bedtime stories to get me to go to bed.  I had a small library of books but my favorite book was Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.  According to family lore, I requested this book every night.  I imagine that my parents grew to loathe Sam-I-Am.


The morning after the night before…. My father was usually in charge of breakfast and he loved to make eggs.  He liked to fry them.  He liked to poach them.  And most of all, he liked to scramble them.  Given my attachment to the book, Green Eggs and Ham, it would be reasonable to assume that I liked eggs and ham.  I did not.  I did not like them, not in the house, not with a mouse, not in a box, not with a fox. I simply despised them.

This was terribly inconvenient because my parents had a rule that I was not allowed to leave the table until I finished my meal.  Our breakfast table, on egg days, was a battlefield.  I tried everything I could think of to avoid ingesting them.  I pouted.  I cried.  I stared down the eggs for hours.  I wished we had an indoor dog who would happily eat my eggs.  Once I even tried sneaking them into the trash can but got caught before the garbage went out.  The scene that ensued was not nice.  The end result is that nothing worked and I usually had to drown my eggs in ketchup.

Warped Humor

Inspiration.  I don’t know about your dad, but when my dad got inspired in the kitchen, the results were often somewhere between questionable and horrifying.  And at some point, Dad got inspired.  We had company visiting from out-of-town.  We also had ham.  You can probably see where this is going, but I’ll fill in the dots anyway.  Somehow, Dad thought it would be funny to make green eggs and ham for me for breakfast.  The other adults – the enemies – thought it was a riot.  I was mortified.  Eggs in general were bad enough, but green eggs, with a side of ham.  Well it was just too much.  And to add insult to injury, he’d poached them so it didn’t even work to cover them in ketchup.  I had to look at the ghastly green things I was eating.


I imagine that Dad thought that this would  convince me that like Sam-I-Am’s ill-fated target, I would fall in love with green eggs and ham.  Or perhaps he just wanted to sever my attachment to the book.  Neither worked.  I simply became more resolute in my hatred of eggs and to this day, I still love to recite Green Eggs and Ham.

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Recipe Guinea Pigs

Ever seen a recipe that grabs your interest but also carries the potential to be a culinary disaster?  You can hear the adventurous part of yourself egging you on, “Go on!  Try it!  How bad can it be?”  But the practical side of yourself usually comes back with, “But what if it’s dreadful?  With all those starving children in China, you can’t just throw it out and you’ll be stuck eating it for at least a week.  Besides, you don’t want to serve this to your family or or friends if doesn’t work out.”

If you’re like me, no matter how loud your adventurous voice is, your practical voice is always louder and has more to say.  So you’re left either throwing caution to the wind and hoping for the best or never trying something new.  That is unless you find a way to experiment without the usual consequences……

My mom was a master at this.  She’d find a recipe in a magazine or cookbook that looked exciting but iffy and just go for it.  The key was she never made it for us or for a dinner party.  She’d wait until the next potluck and sneak it in.  The Methodist church we belonged to had lots of potlucks, so she had lots of opportunities to test new recipes.

The obvious question you might have is, “Didn’t she worry about what people would think if the recipe turned out bad?”  I asked her that myself.  She smiled at me and told me that she didn’t really worry about it.  She never wrote her name on the dish, so if it didn’t turn out, no one had to know.  She only fessed up to bringing the mystery dish if people raved about it.  Either way, we were spared from ghastly left overs.

If you’re not Methodist, fear not, there are lots of other ways to have other people try out risky recipes.  If your office has a break-room or lounge, you can leave the dish in the middle of the table marked as “Open game” or “Please eat me” and it will probably disappear, especially if you are a teacher, social worker or nurse.

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The Ultimate Carb Buster

Before the Adkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, and the Zone Diet, my grandfather discovered the ultimate low carb diet.  He had Diabetes and was supposed to avoid sugar and simple carbohydrates.  In some ways, he followed the standard protocol.  He avoided high carb foods like bread, watermelon and potatoes.  He drank Diet Dr. Pepper instead of regular Dr. Pepper.  And he never ate dessert — at least not at the table.

Skipping dessert at the table is the key to my grandfather’s Carb Busting diet.  My grandfather never ate dessert at the table.  This is no small feat when the dessert in question is pecan pie.  He loved pecan pie and I don’t think I can remember a holiday gathering that didn’t include at least one.

Someone would slice the pie and ask who wanted a slice.  My grandfather would remind us that he couldn’t eat it and pass the slices along.  Then, while everyone else was wallowing in the misery of overindulgence, my grandfather would sneak into the kitchen and eat pie over the kitchen sink. This happened every holiday and not once did my grandfather have issues with his blood sugar shooting through the roof.  The obvious conclusion is that there are no carbs in pecan pie as long as you eat it over the sink.  I imagine the same is true for cheesecake.

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Addicted: Take Two

Addicted:  Take Two

In retrospect, I realize that my plunge into addiction to dehydrating started as a child.  I remember seeing a package of sundried tomatoes in the store.  I wanted to try them but my mother refused to buy them, no doubt because they cost a fortune.  That only made me want them more.  She also refused to buy chocolate covered ants, but somehow, being blocked from eating ants didn’t seem as frustrating.

I was intrigued by the idea of drying tomatoes in the sun.  We lived in the Southern most part of Texas and it got hot in the summers.  We also had a had a tin roofed barn and I figured that if it was hot just walking around, the tin roof got even hotter – hot enough to make my own sundried tomatoes.

I made a “sundrying” tray by nailing chicken wire to a wooden frame.  I cut some tomatoes in half and put them on the tray.  I threw a few lemon, orange and grapefruit slices on the tray for good measure and put the tray up on the roof of the barn and waited.

The experiment didn’t work so well.  Nothing really dried.  I hadn’t calculated the effect of humidity on my efforts and summers in South Texas are not just hot, they are humid.  Second, the fruit attracted bugs.  Even the thought of insects crawling on my fruit made them unappealing.  Still, these early efforts must have simmered in my system, waiting for an effort to bloom into a full blown obsession.

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I never thought it would happen to me. It never even occurred to me that a person could get addicted to dehydrating. I was oblivious to the tell tale signs of an addiction when I saw my neighbors’ eyes gleam as they pulled out rolls of dehydrated tomato paste to put in the soup we were making. They said they’d gotten the dehydrator to make meal pouches they could fix when they were back packing. At the time, I thought they were just excited to have a use for the leftovers. I missed the significance of the fact that they had little jars of dehydrated vegetables and herbs stacked in rows on their kitchen counter.

And then Marie left her husband. She was in trying to rebuild her life without him. She’d moved, planted a garden and gotten a dog. She’d also bought a food dehydrator. She’s actually the one who gave me the first glimpse of dehydrating in action. She’d invited my partner and me over to see her new bachelorette pad. During kitchen segment of the tour or her house, she showed us package after package of fruits and vegetables she’d dehydrated. We thought she’d just gotten a little carried away with a new hobby, like people do when they take up knitting or photography. That was until we got to the living room.

Instead of the usual chips, dip and salsa appetizer plate, she had a platter full of dehydrated fruit and another of dehydrated vegetables. I didn’t quite know what to say, so I asked her about dehydrating. Her eyes gleamed like my neighbors’ had when they pulled out the rolls of tomato paste. She all but dragged me into the kitchen to see her dehydrator in action, and the stock pile of what she was going to dehydrate next. The fact that she already had enough dehydrated produce to feed a small army didn’t seem to faze her. In that moment, I knew she’d crossed the line from recreational dehydrating to dehydration addiction.

Ten years passed before I got a dehydrator of my own. We had a garden. The cherry and grape tomatoes were all ripening at once and I couldn’t bear to see them rot. And someone told me how to make flax seed crackers in a dehydrator. That sealed it. I found a dehydrator on that was cheap and got good reviews. Within a week, I was dehydrating tomatoes and making flax seed crackers. Then, I put it to use on our surplus of zucchini, peppers, kale, raspberries, blueberries, and peaches. I played with marinades and seasonings. Soon, just about anything in the kitchen was open game: snow peas, bananas, garlic, onions, eggplant. Within a month, I was dehydrating 24/7, just like Marie! My father started joking that one day Jen would disappear and he’d find me, eyes gleaming, hovered over the dehydrator, looking at a tiny, shriveled version of Jen. This is when I knew…. I’d gotten hooked.

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How To Get Rid of Unwanted Dinner Guests and Other Pests

I grew up in the country, so not many people just “dropped by” my house, unannounced.  Even when gas was less than a dollar a gallon, people called before they made the drive.  When people did drop by out of the blue, it was a big deal.   When I moved into my first house, I believed the same rules applied even though I lived in town and relatively close to everyone I knew.  So when Steve, my boyfriend at the time, started showing up unannounced almost every night at dinner time, I thought, “Yea!  He’s falling for me.”  If the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach, I was determined to make sure that hook got set.

My focus on winning Steve’s heart made me oblivious to the fact that he always showed up empty handed and never helped cook or wash up.  It was actually my roommate, Terrie, who pointed out this pattern.  Looking at things from this perspective, my “Yea!” shifted to an “Ugh.”

Confrontation would have been the obvious step but I was a Southern woman and we simply did not do such things.  So I took the subtle approach.  I encouraged him to join me in the kitchen and handed him knives and things to cut.  He just started showing up a little later or brought paper work to do while I cooked.  I told him about the rule my family had when I was growing up:  “He who cooks the fishes doesn’t have to wash the dishes.”  He said it was a good thing I never cooked fish.  I even started making things the average person would have shunned like liver and salsa tacos and stir fried squid.  Turns out, salsa goes pretty well with liver and stir fried squid is actually good.

It was Terrie who figured out how to drive him away from our table.  Her family had a ranch and one night at dinner she told us about helping to castrate the calves.  I grew up on a farm so this seemed like normal meal time conversation to me.  For Steve, not so much.  He went pale.  This only enticed her to be more graphic. When she figured out that she could make him get queasy, she began sprinkling tales from the lab (she was a biology major) into every dinner conversation.  Still, queasy or not, Steve kept dropping by.

It was the mouse that finally did it.

Terrie had a pet snake, Em, that she kept in a glass cage in the living room. One night Terrie thought it would be cool to feed Em while we were eating dinner.  She dropped a mouse into Em’s cage and we sat transfixed as Em “hunted it down” (no big feat in a small cage), wrapped her mouth around it and swallowed it.  You could actually see the lump that had been the mouse move down her body, shrinking as it moved along.  Steve turned white and put his fork down.  I can’t remember if he finished eating or not, but he did stop dropping by unannounced and even took me out to eat a few times.

Boyfriends aren’t the only thing that snakes can get rid of.

When Terrie and I first moved in together, someone gave her a pair of finches.  Where Em was a quiet, non-intrusive pet, the finches were loud, obnoxious, and messy.  They squabbled  at each other all the time.  Living with them was like living with an old married couple that had grown to hate each other.  The female seemed to nag at the male and the male retaliated by pecking her.  They were miserable to be around.  I fantasized about setting them free.

And then one day, I came home to silence!  The female finch was missing and the male sat eerily still on his perch.  Em lounged in her cage looking a little bloated.  Terrie never admitted that she’d committed “finchiside” but when the male finch disappeared, I saw a feather in Em’s cage.  In retrospect, I guess it’s a good thing Terrie and I got along.

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