Friday, October 11, 2013

Home Invasions and the Exxon Valdez

This blog is disgusting. You’ve already suspected that, but now you have proof. Insects in the kitchen are not an appealing topic - but this cautionary tale has a happy ending.

A few days ago, as I grabbed some penne from the kitchen cupboard, I found a single black insect at the top of the plastic bag in which it was stored. As nothing else was visible, I thought I might pick it out and boil the penne, as usual. But then I saw what was at the bottom of the bag - a writhing mass of meal bugs (cue scary music), each ⅓-inch long - so many that there weren
’t any spaces between them. Clearly, their raison d’être and battle plan was the invasion of my kitchen

Well! The sole reason why they hadn’t done that, was that I’d kept the plastic bag inside a solid plastic container with an airtight lid. A lidded glass container would have done every bit as well, if not better.

Id bought this penne in the bulk food section of my supermarket as a cost-saving measure. I often buy grains this way - not to buy a huge amount, but to buy a small one, to keep foods I don’t often use fresh and to avoid having to buy a larger, pre-packaged quantity. I usually date what I buy: I’d stored the penne in my cupboard for only a month, so the bugs would have come from the bulk bin at the grocery store. 

Cross-contamination is always a concern when you buy from an open bin rather than a gravity-fed container. There are usually no problems - none that we shoppers see, anyway! But bulk bins are like the girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead: When she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was horrid.

The unopened plastic bag immediately went into the kitchen trash, and the trash immediately went into a dumpster. Problem solved! Unable to escape the tightly sealed, solid-sided container that was their prison, the bugs hadn’t invaded any other foods. (Thanks, Batman! Won’t you stick around? No! I’m off to save Gotham!)

An insect infestation can invade your entire kitchen. It is a nightmare. I’ve learned that through hard experience.

A few years ago. I found the most beautiful bottle - large, flat, and ovoid, with a cork top. Seeing its decorative possibilities, I incorporated it into the design of my then-country kitchen. I filled it with dried oatmeal, wisely pouring paraffin wax around the edge of the cork to ensure a tight seal. Tying raffia at its neck, I placed it beside the other decorative items at the top of the kitchen cupboards, where it looked gorgeous for five long years. 

But then ... Trouble in paradise! I began noticing tiny moths in my kitchen, and tiny eggs on my walls. Initially, I couldn’t find the source, and assumed they were entering from outside. One day, while dusting above the cupboards, I saw something white and translucent wriggling in my beautiful jar. 

Granary bugs that had lain dormant in the oatmeal for years had finally sprung to life, gnawing through or finding a small hole in the paraffin to escape the prison of the jar. There were hundreds of them, each about the size of a puffy grain of rice. 

Naturally, I did exactly what any mature adult would do -  screamed in panicked, high-pitched tones. Joining me in the chorus was my also-mature daughter. After we’d composed ourselves (and quite a few new arias), we carefully took the jar from its high perch, throwing it and its contents into a large garbage bag, which went directly into a dumpster. 

Then I washed down the walls, killed the flying bugs, threw out most of my grain products, and began buying solid-sided containers with airtight lids. I will never decorate with oatmeal again. 

I have a friend who thinks nothing of sifting black bugs from flour and carrying on. I have another who stores her flour in the deep freeze. Both live in hot climates, where bugs are a fact of life. I don’t know which method is preferable, but I do not want bugs in my kitchen. The message: Store shelf-stable foods in solid, airtight containers. 

Now, a more pleasant topic. If youve ever faced the messy boil-over of a too-full pot, you’ll find this product a great help. Once again, I’ll qualify these comments by saying that I do not write paid or solicited reviews and that this one comes straight from experience. 

On the advice of a chef, Ron recently bought the floppy silicone gadget below. The registered trademark says Kuhn Rikon Kochblume. It is nothing short of a wonder, for it is a spill-stopper and splatter guard. Made of silicone, it fits over the top of a bubbling pot as a slightly floppy concave covering. From an over-filled soup pot to the largest vat of potatoes, nothing will boil over to mess the top of your stove.

No more boil-overs! No more mess!

As the heat and steam rise, the top of the Kochblume rises, too, becoming convex and releasing the steam through several silicone vents (Now do be a Dollink and thumb through a dictionary to find “concave and “convex”, so I won’t be the only person who has trouble trying to remember which is which).

It sounds complicated, looks simple, and works amazingly well. Ron paid about $20 for this miraculous device, which certainly does the trick in stopping saucepans from bubbling over. It comes in three sizes and in several colors, and is available from smart retailers or from

Ron bought two spill-stoppers ...

... One for every outfit! See how artfully this
green one sets off my dressing gown! 

Because my spills tend to be Exxon Valdez-sized, Ron bought a large one and a medium-sized one, for good measure. You already know what this mature woman does as she stands helplessly by, so Ron usually does the clean-up, which he does not enjoy but to his credit, does anyway. 

To see how awful a major boil-over can be, see the Index under Beverages: Angelina Jolie Invents Ginger Ale. I guarantee youll be horrified and will rush to find one of these gadgets. You’ll also think I’m a nincompoop - a word that’s fallen out of use these days. Dash to the dictionary for that word, too. Let’s hope you can’t find it.


  1. Nicole, we had the same invasion about the same time...and as your neighbours, I think it may have been a result of something from deep, down below. We had to throw out every piece of pasta, cereal, grains and even newly purchased bread would only last a day. It was gross.

    1. Ah, Mike! Yes, you are our neighbors! As the penne invasion was restricted to the container in which I'd stored it, and no other foods were affected, I'm pretty sure the bugs originated in the pasta itself or from the bulk foods bin of the grocery store. Your letter is yet another example of why all grains should be stored in solid plastic or glass with tight-fitting lids. I keep bread in the freezer for the same reason. Now if you'd please tell me how to get rid of fruit flies … xox Nicole


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