Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Reclaiming the kitchen, Part Two: The Infestation

I was in denial at first. When I opened the cabinet and a moth flew out, I was convinced it had somehow gotten blown off-course and accidentally ended up trapped in the cabinet. Alone. Without a single mothy friend.

Of course, deep down I knew. The single-moth-theory has the same credibility as the single-mouse-theory. Bad things come in groups. There's never just one ant or cockroach or mouse or moth or neo-con. Once you have one, you can count on an infestation.

In my apartment-renting experience, I have been mercifully spared cockroaches, ants and termites. But I have suffered from mice, the moths that eat your sweaters, the moths that eat your oatmeal, tiny gnats that swarm up from the sink drain in August, fruit flies, and even once, god help me, rats. Or rat. Actually, I believe that may have been the one case of a lone pest. I had just moved into an old house across the road from a stream, and when the landlord was finally convinced that I really, truly had seen a rat - no, not a mouse, a rat, damnit! - he set out poison, the rat was found dead in the basement, and I was bothered no more. But that's beside the point. What I'm saying is that I am no stranger to pestilence. And, while the ick factor and the I'm-going-to-stand-on-this-chair-and-scream-like-Lucille-Ball-until-someone-kills-that-thing factor are far lower with pantry moths than with rodents or even swarms of fruit flies, the fact is that pantry moths have it on everyone for tenaciousness. Getting rid of the things is hell.

First off, you have to throw out food. A lot of food.
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(Why did I have three containers of oatmeal? I have no idea.) I find the tastes of pantry moths strange to say the least. I understand their fondness for oatmeal and popcorn. But Penzey's Northwoods Fire Seasoning? Isn't that a little hot for mothy palates? Several bags of good pasta and a couple boxes of cheap pasta were ignored, despite being open and available. But one particular bag of wide noodles was full of the little buggers. They didn't get into the wild rice, but they did get into the chocolate. They apparently love lapsang souchong tea, but not green tea or red zinger. I don't understand.

After you throw everything out, you have to wipe down every surface with a bleach solution and hope to kill off some of the eggs. Of course, you won't get them all. Some will be lurking somewhere, ready to come back and make Pantry Moth: Resurrection.

Since I had to clean out the pantry anyway, I decided it was time to do some other maintenance as well. Summer is a time of pantry-neglect - while vegetables and fruits are ripe and fresh, who thinks to restock canned goods? But then you end up not having the tomato paste that would liven up the dressing for the pasta salad or the capers you need for the tartar sauce for those crab cakes. So I wanted to do an inventory. Also, I had some stuff that was, um, old. Really old. There was a bottle of fish sauce three years past its sell-by date - which is bad enough, but it was also one of TWO bottles of fish sauce, which I use so rarely each one had only an ounce or so missing. Okay, away with the moth-infested and the ancient. Wipe down all the jars and cans. Vacuum inside. Lay some contact paper over the thirty-year-old unfinished plywood shelving. Then restock. Voila!
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(Not the whole of my dry good back-stock, of course, but the main center of the operation. Baking is a satellite cabinet.)

In case you're wondering what I consider pantry essentials (and I would love to know what other people consider pantry essentials), I'll tell you:
Canned tomatoes, whole and diced
Canned and tubes of tomato paste
Chicken broth (for when I run out of frozen homemade)
Marinated artichoke hearts
Jars of roasted peppers
Cans of coconut milk
Cans of tuna (for sandwiches)
Jars of good tuna in oil (for salads and pasta)
Cans of smoked sardines
Cans of salmon (for desperation dinners)
Chickpeas, white beans, black beans
Chipotle peppers in adobe sauce
A good array of vinegars
A few premade sauces/marinades (I always have a couple around, like the Carribean hot sauce sold at crafts fairs by a local woman and the local maple syrup and fig sauce I picked up somewhere - good when you lack imagination or time)
Rice, wild rice, steel-cut and rolled oats, kasha
Pasta and lots of it
Vegetable oil, olive oil, toasted sesame oil, and those fantastic Boyajian citrus oils
Soy sauce, fish sauce
Honey, maple syrup
Peanut butter
And of course, all the baking stuff - sugars, flours, baking soda, etc. Spices, extracts. Cocoa, condensed milk, tapioca, cornstarch. Molasses.

Them's the basics. I also have a lot of odds and ends in my pantry, as I discovered while cleaning it out: a can of haggis (a gift from someone, and not meant as a joke, believe it or not), a bottle of birch syrup (so intriguing, but what do I do with it?), two cans of escargot, a tiny container of plum paste, a huge jar of Russian plum butter (I do love plums), a jar of chestnuts, a bottle of key lime juice.

I figure someday there's going to be a disaster of some kind - the avian flu pandemic or just a really big Nor'easter - and I will be sitting pretty. Admittedly, I'll have to figure out how to make a dish out of chestnuts, escargot and coconut milk, but I'm sure I'm up to the task.


stefanie said...

Birch syrup equals birch beer; add sparkling water and smile as it helps you beat the heat.

Tse Wei said...

Welcome back to the land of the e-living, by the way! We missed you!