October 24, 2011

Quick polenta, spiders and smoke alarms, dog on the couch

Here we are in the final week of mofo, and so far I've managed to stick to a weekly theme, and post every weekday. My theme this week, should I choose to follow it, is stories and videos about animal-human interactions. And I will get to that, in a way, before I finish today's post, but not in the way I originally planned. So what, right? Sometime things don't go as planned.

Until two years ago, I never lived in a house with a microwave — by choice. There was one at work that I sometimes used, but my cooking was basically done on a stove or in an oven. I was a little afraid of the effect of microwaves on food energy — and on me. When we moved to Seattle, the rental house had a microwave, and I used it sometimes to reheat food, but I rarely cooked anything in it. Occasionally I'd experiment with potatoes or cupcakes, but not very often. The house we bought has a microwave, too, and I find myself using it more often because it does things like cook a potato in five minutes so I can use it in a recipe, or make oatmeal in a bowl — no pot needed. Recently I discovered I can cook polenta in five minutes and have it for breakfast.

I use 1/4 cup of coarse polenta, some nooch, a few grains of kosher pink salt and 1 cup of water. Put the ingredients into an over-sized bowl, stir, and cook for five minutes for a soft, creamy breakfast cereal. After it's cooked, I embellish it with raw pumpkin seeds, and maybe dried fruit, or as I did today, raw cashews, pumpkin seeds and calamata olives. (I use an over-sized bowl so the cereal won't splatter the oven.) Do you have any qualms about microwave cooking?

Spiders and smoke alarms

Photographed next to the front door. The round body part is about 1/2" in diameter.

I'm not sure this qualifies as a heartwarming animal story, but I'm about to give you some very useful information. Did you know a spider can set off a smoke alarm? Neither did I until the wee hours of Sunday morning when our piercingly loud alarms went off. There was no smoke and no sign of fire anywhere.

Outside the dining room window.

When the alarm was removed from the ceiling, a small spider fell out, and subsequent searching on the Internet revealed that smoke alarms should be cleaned regularly with compressed air to remove dust and spiders, because, duh, they can cause the alarms to malfunction. Why a smoke alarm will mistake a spider or dust for smoke is confusing to me, but trust me, it can.

It worries me a little that my first reaction to the smoke alarm isn't to vacate the premises, it's to make it stop. I suppose if we smelled smoke or felt any danger we'd get out and call 911 — at least I hope so.

Dog on the couch

In lieu of a heartwarming animal story, I leave you with this, though I'm sure all of your dogs and kitties are allowed on the couch.


  1. Who knew spiders could get into smoke alarms!

    I love the comic! Bubbles the rabbit isn't much of a jumper so she never goes on any furniture. Maybe I should build some tiny rabbit size steps? :)

  2. Ha! Funny about that smoke alarm. It may not be the best idea, but I've dismantled ours. The ceilings are too high for me to get to the alarm and I'm very sensitive to noise so the sound going off is really upsetting. I'd panic more from the noise than from a sense of impending danger...
    Cute cartoon, too. My cat is allowed pretty damn well anywhere; I can't tell her otherwise.

  3. You are *much* braver than I am to get so close to that spider to take that picture! I am such a baby...I really really really dislike bugs and insects!


  4. That's a pretty spider, and a large one, too! I had no idea that they could make smoke alarms go off....

  5. Nanette,
    Exactly, who knew? I love the comic, too! My dog is allowed on the sofa but she's too old to get up there on her own, poor baby.

    When the alarms were going off, believe me I wanted to disable them. Our ceiling are more than nine feet and the husband needed a ladder to reach it. It was 3:30 a.m. I don't think I can reach it even with a ladder.

    I don't like spiders at all but I had my camera to protect me. :D

    The one that made the alarm go off was pretty small and nondescript — just a plain old beige thing.

  6. Funny story with the spider...I'm sure you could've done w/o being awakened that way though. You know how you're supposed to test fire alarms every so often to make sure the battery isn't dead? And since the ceilings are quite high and hard to reach, maybe you could train some spiders to do that for you. I wonder how they hear things? That must have been super loud for the little guy.

    I like the idea of polenta for breakfast, but I do not like microwaves. I've never had one; they just seem unnatural. My mom has one that she uses mostly for thawing out frozen leftovers and the like...it is handy in that way I suppose...still don't like them though.

  7. Rose,
    It may be funny now, but it sure wasn't funny at the time. I was wondering about the spider's hearing, too. The sound was piercing — way too loud.

    I don't like microwaves either but I'm using mine occasionally anyway. I'm glad to know there are other people who mistrust them because sometimes I think maybe I'm just being weird.

  8. I can forgive the unsightly up-close & personal images of the spiders only because your fire alarm story had me cracking up. If only the alert were a little more, "excuse me, something is wrong; you might want to check it out," and less, "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA; if you listen to this noise for more than 3 minutes, you will abandon your own personal safety in an effort to simply make it cease." Could be a million dollar idea?

  9. One more thing, cupcakes in the microwave?

  10. Abby,
    I agree, but as someone pointed out to me today, if you're not home, one of the neighbors might hear the alarm and call 911. After the first three-burst alarm, I was screaming "make it stop. make it stop." Of course a ladder was required. It was not a pretty sight. Perhaps you can invent a more refined alarm with an outdoor speaker that says, "This house is on fire. Please call 911. Thank you."

    Surely you didn't miss the microwave instant cupcake craze? But try not to think about it until after the cleanse, then you can make one. They're not as good as real cupcakes, but not bad when you really need a cupcake fast. Here's a link: http://bit.ly/LvCuW but don't look until Nov. 1!

  11. Yummy looking polenta! I mainly use the microwave to reheat and sometimes to cook a potato or yam quickly. But baking in the oven is definitely tastier. Convenience over time I suppose. No idea spiders can set off a smoke alarm, although that is a rather large spider. Cute cartoon! :-)

  12. I know what you mean - when our alarm starts beeping in the middle of the night, I just hope my husband will get up quickly to make it stop.

    Very interesting that you put olives in your breakfast cereal. I mean, it's polenta so it clearly makes sense. I have gotten so much better the past couple of years mixing foods that I don't think should "go together."

    We use our microwave a lot, but I don't think people are crazy at all for not using one. I wish I could stop using one, but I don't know if I have it in me. When we were building our house, I had this dream to not put in a microwave and instead custom fit everything to a more raw approach - dehydrator, etc. We didn't do it, though.

  13. I used to use a microwave all the time until about a year and a half ago. I try not to use them much anymore.

    That's interesting about the spider in the smoke alarm.

    You know....I think my dog stays on the couch more than I do! :O)

  14. Chow vegan,
    The spider that tripped the alarm was actually small and boring — and didn't stick around to be photographed, not that I would have taken its picture at 3:30 a.m.

    I use the microwave pretty much like you do. And to sanitize kitchen sponges.

    I know what you mean about olives for breakfast, but it was so good I did it again today.

    Now that I've started using the microwave, it would be hard to just ignore it. It's so big and obvious in the kitchen. I never missed it when I didn't have one, but I've kind of gotten used to having it, though it still worries me. I like your kitchen idea.

    I'll have to start reading about microwaves again to see what the current (negative) thinking is.

  15. Yay! You posted the polenta recipe you told me about! Yum. I don't have a microwave but I really enjoyed reading "Charlotte's Smoke Alarm". Great cartoon.

  16. What a cool spider, Andrea. We have them everywhere right now. There's been a giant one on our living room ceiling for a week, not sure what's she's up to, but now I figure she's probably sizing up the smoke alarm.


  17. That's a female jewel spider, I think. If it is it should have three little nubs or "points" on the back of its body. They start out little, like other spiders, so you don't really notice them, but all summer long they grow and grow until by fall they look like yours, and can make some spectacularly large webs (and catch spectacularly large insects; I've seen them take down grasshoppers and large moths). It's by your front door because they love the light--it attracts their food. But quite harmless to people and actually very shy.

    I use my microwave much as you do--for cooking oatmeal, heating soymilk for lattes, thawing stuff, etc., very handy, but have never tried polenta--maybe today for breakfast! But I don't really trust it for cooking anything more complex than that...

  18. GiGi,
    Charlotte lowered a silk thread and ran under my bed after the smoke alarm was removed and handed to me. Haven't seen her since.

    If she decides to take up residence in the alarm, and it goes off, I want to know about it!

    Thanks for the ID, I was wondering what it was and couldn't find one on the Internet. I'll look again. I don't remember if it had three points, and I only had my phone camera with me so the photo is a little fuzzy, but I kind of think I see points.

  19. What a great breakfast idea, Andrea! This might just become my new rut.

  20. Trina,
    It might be my next one, too. I'm kind of missing the hot breakfasts I traded for my current grapefruit start to the day.


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