Sunday, September 21, 2014

Unhinged by Dermanyssus gallinae and in love with Bon Appetit

chicken house of horrors
Where have I been? I've been cleaning.

 Mostly, I've been cleaning and cleaning and cleaning the chicken house where a few weeks ago we discovered an almost biblical plague of red mites living in the walls by day and feeding on the hens by night. If you're squeamish, scroll down to the next picture.

The chicken saga is an integral part of the blog so I feel compelled to share, but I haven't exactly been aching to write about this horror show, the hours of sluicing the coop with Clorox and watching the unsettled mites swarm out of the woodwork, the compulsive strewing of every surface with diatomaceous earth and picking scores of arachnids the size of this . off of my arm and showering multiple times in a day and worrying that these bugs will somehow come to infest our human home. And then there was the unforgettable morning last week when Owen, who'd come straight from feeding the chickens, was kicked out of the dentist's office because some mites on his T-shirt found their way onto the chair. The hygienist wouldn't even have noticed if he hadn't pointed them out, but I don't blame the dentist for asking us to reschedule. Later they left a message saying they'd consulted an exterminator, which was an overreaction and thoroughly mortifying. I'm not sure I can show my face there again. Do you know any good dentists in southern Marin County?

 I've been so rattled by the whole mite situation, so creeped out, obsessed, and frustrated that I'm ready to condemn the coop and call it a day with the chickens, but Owen says, "We can beat the mites, Mom, we can do it!"

 We shall see. Enough about that.

 Compared to cleaning the chicken coop, cleaning the pantry has been a pleasure.
must go
A few weeks ago, I bought concord grapes to make sherbet, but couldn't find the ascorbic acid, which I use in my grape sherbet. I searched and searched and ended up paying $14 for a new jar. Several days later I found the old ascorbic acid right there in the pantry, hidden behind, I don't remember exactly what, but let us say a bottle of expired hoisin sauce, an unwanted box of strawberry Jell-O, and a few dozen splits of dessert wine inherited from my mother.

This kind of nonsense happens all the time and I decided it must stop. I took everything old or oldish that I didn't know what to do with out of the pantry to use up.

 At least they can be friends.
A number of boring dishes (Jell-O, pumpkin bread) have resulted from the pantry project, but also some strange, fantastic meals, all thanks to my new love, Bon Appetit, which I picked up one morning while waiting in the lobby of the vet's office.

I hadn't looked at the magazine in years and don't know whether it's dramatically improved or whether I'm just seeing it with new eyes, but when the receptionist finally ended her phone call, I flourished the copy of Bon Appetit and said:  "I have to subscribe to this!" I wasn't even hinting and she said, "Oh, take that. No one here wants it."

 It was as if the September 2014 issue had been written for me and my pantry. That night, I made the pork sausage with coconut-chile sauce and lychees, a recipe I never would have considered if I hadn't been trying to get rid of expired coconut milk and a can of lychees. It sounds bizarre, but is the most fabulous thing I've cooked in ages. Easy, too. There's so much going on in this dish -- salty bits of pork, creamy coconut, crunchy peanuts, fiery pepper, herb, lime. But the critical element is the lychee, which adds juice, sweetness, and a wonderfully fleshy textural element. You must try this. Here are my suggested amendments:

-serve it on rice
-you can substitute any small hot chile for habanero
-you don't need 1/2 cup of oil to brown the pork -- I'd go with 1/4 or 1/3 cup
-unnecessary to cool the coconut milk
-if you don't have shichimi togarashi just skip it or improvise with some other red pepper (flakes, a little cayenne)

The next night I made crushed cucumbers with lime pickle and coconut milk, another intriguing dish from Bon Appetit that enabled me to move one of two jars of lime pickle from the pantry to the refrigerator. (Everyone should have such a stimulating hobby.) Cucumbers aren't the sexiest vegetable, but that lime pickle-coconut sauce was unique and delicious and a creative cook could easily find other applications.

The recipe for chestnut coffee cake, which Bon Appetit took from Nico Osteria in Chicago, used up a small sack of Chinese roasted chestnuts that had been hanging around the pantry forever. The cake was lovely, although, as is always the case with streusel-topped confections, I wished it was streusel all the way through.

The tuna melts? Solidly good. Two aging cans of tuna gone, plus some bread-and-butter pickles, which have been lurking in the fridge for years. We don't eat a lot of bread-and-butter pickles.


I also made some odd, wonderful anise-almond meringues, which made a tiny dent in my egg white collection. They're chalky-gooey in the way of ordinary meringues, but taste like licorice. I have to say, though, that the sprinkling of anise seeds made me think of red mites. I may need an exterminator for my psyche.

Back tomorrow. I have a plan!

33 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you are writing again! But I had no idea those mites were anything but a nuisance. Every spring they invade the building where I work, and until this moment I have just tolerated them until they went away. The worst they every did was leave a red streak as I mooshed their tiny bodies in an effort to brush them off the papers I was grading.

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    1. Further research (about 10 seconds on Wikipedia) reveals that I am annoyed by clover mites, not threatened by chicken mites.I am so sorry, and I wish you and Owen success in your battle.

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    2. Thank you. We need your good wishes. We'd made progress, but my visit to the coop today was not cheering.

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  2. I have been thoroughly loving Bon Appetit for the last few years. The recipes are well tested and they always work as they should, which goes a long way in my books. They tend to be my go-to for recipes now, alongside the Joy of Cooking (as ever).

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    1. I made another recipe from BA tonight -- excellent. I'm very excited to have a new magazine in my life.

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    2. You may have a more adventurous palate, but these two recipes are on repeat at my house:
      http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/pasta-with-chorizo-and-chickpeas
      http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/parmesan-roasted-cauliflower

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  3. This kinda reminds me and my then school age children and HEAD lice!!! Head lice do not cause disease and except for the scratching are not really dangerous. However the creepiness factor became a dominate force in my life. I washed everything, bombed the car, dry cleaned coats, vacuumed once a day for months and had all furniture that had cushions professionally cleaned. And then I did it all agin, many times. You have my sympathy and I hope you destroy all the mites.

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    1. Exactly. They're very similar to lice in their emotional effect. Ants. . .not the same at all.

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  4. So glad you're back!!!

    I feel the same about BA. When Conde Nast{y} folded Gourmet, they switched everyone to BA instead, and I immediately canceled my subscription and asked for a refund. I was quoted in the New York Times as one of the disgruntled former patrons who refused to change, citing my interaction with BA as "Not a learning experience." I picked it up a few months ago while I was killing time leafing through the food magazines and the airport and was very impressed. They must have gone through some big changes in the past few years.

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    1. I went back and read that article -- you were the lead! I felt exactly as you did. I was very surprised at how consistently good this issue of Bon Appetit was and have, in fact, subscribed.

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  5. I agree, Bon Appétit has been great lately. I can't say the same for Food & Wine, which is really disappointing. I think it's so cool that you made these amazing meals in order not to waste food. Way to go! By the way, I tried to send you a message on facebook because I couldn't find a way to contact you here - I have a question about an interview. Can you shoot me a line at sabziblog @ gmail . com? Thanks!

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    1. I didn't see any messages on Facebook -- I'll send you a note.

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  6. I am intrigued to hear you are enjoying the new Bon Appetit. I was a subscriber for years, then found in 2012-2013 that I was recycling my issues without having made any of the dishes or enjoyed any of the content. More than that I hated the new, younger voice of the magazine -- and I am only 40. Maybe I'll give it another whirl.

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    1. It's pretty young, the voice and attitude -- and the layout is busy. But the recipes are so good.

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  7. Oh, Jennifer, I am so sorry that you are dealing with bird mites. I don't know how harmful they are, but I can identify entirely with the creeped out factor. I think it's so creepy because you can't see them. I have dealt with an infestation, but not with this particular mite. It will take a while for you to stop thinking about it, but you will.
    I started taking BA recently myself. I think the recipes are hit and miss, but some of them are real keepers. I need to clean out my pantry, so maybe your efforts will inspire me, maybe......

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    1. Thanks, Beckster. It's been awful, much more awful than it should be.

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  8. So, anyway, did the chickens survive?

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    1. The chickens are doing great. It's probably my imagination, but they seem happier since we treated the house with diatomaceous earth.

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  9. So glad you're back -- I've missed you and been wondering about dropping you a line to see if all was well. Glad to see you're "OK" and back with us.

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    1. Oh, that's sweet. Thank you. Yes, all is well.

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  10. Our pantry is a lot like this. We're particularly bad about buying new bottles of rarely used stuff. I think we have 4 partially used bottles of oyster sauce, at least 6 tubes of wasabi (hubby claims you need a fresh one for each dinner party), and so many different kinds of vinegar! I want to play that game from the "Splendid Table" radio show where we choose 3 random ingredients from the pantry and the host has to make up a recipe on the spot. I wonder if that would make for a good dinner party.

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    1. I love that game idea. Oyster sauce is a big problem for me as well. Maybe I'll tackle that in a week or two. I could winnow it down to one bottle in fridge, one in reserve.

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  11. Oh dear. Don't go read the NYT article from last weekend about pigeon mites.

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    1. Unfortunately, I stumbled across it last night. Even the crossword couldn't take my mind off of that story.

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  12. I'm also a fan of the "new" Bon Appetite. My favorite recent recipe is this lamb stir fry: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/lamb-stir-fry-with-pomegranate-and-yogurt They have some good people developing recipes there these days! I've bookmarked that sausage dish to try.

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    1. That's so funny, I put a post-it on that very recipe when I went through my library copies the other night. I'll try it as soon as I see my first pomegranate.


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    2. I am sure the pomegrante is a wonderful touch, but I just make it without it. I bet the food stylist added it on the photo shoot "for color". :)

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  13. I completely sympathize with the horror of infestation. I grew up in the north, where insects usually stayed outside where they belonged. If you had ants, it was because you left food lying around. Now living in a southern state, I have had ants in every house I've lived in, for no reason at all, other than that they want to build a colony under my bathroom sink or in my mailbox. I never had to use Frontline on my dogs until moving here. Now I know much more about fleas and ticks, and how to de-flea a house, than I ever wanted to think about.

    The latest ant invasion this past spring led me to clear out my pantry. Very satisfying to find an interesting use at last for all those things bought because they looked interesting. Glad you've found a kind of therapy to take your mind off the mites. The chestnut coffee cake recipe sounds especially intriguing.

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