Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cocoon or Chrysalis?

Last fall my kids drug me out to their little playhouse.  They were nearly peeing their pants in excitement.  They had found some sort of cocoon or chrysalis hanging from the roof.  It was skillfully tucked away where there was little chance of it being found or damaged by the average predator.  Of course, my kids are better than the average predator.  Is that something to say with genuine pride or as a joke?  I'm not sure yet.  What kind of predators do those things have anyway?  Well, like any good mother, I gingerly detached the poor thing, put it in a jar with some twigs and a few leaves and put it on our kitchen counter.  I also punched a bunch of holes in the lid, just in case those things need to breathe.

One week went by and then two and nothing happened.  As chance would have it, we took a little field trip to Butterfly Pavilion with some friends.  The place is just what it sounds like, a huge enclosed butterfly garden.  There are butterflies from all over the world flitting around and even a board with at least a hundred chrysalis waiting for butterflies to, not so gracefully, emerge.  I decided to ask an expert about our little science experiment.  Mind you, this expert was the stereotypical bug guy; wire thin, slightly hunched over, coke-bottle glasses, and even a wandering eye for good measure.  I'm not making fun, but the mere appearance of this man was a problem for me.  I wear every thought that goes through my head on my face, so I needed to do a serious pep talk with myself before approaching him.  I'm glad that I did approach him as he seemed grateful for a chance to share information about a subject that was obviously dear to his heart.  I explained what we had found and how we were "storing" it, and asked if he knew what it might be and how to care for it.  His face momentarily projected horror, (so I'm not the only one) he then seemed to collect himself and went on to answer my question with great enthusiasm.  While the answer I got was vague and filled with unrelated entomological details, I left feeling like I knew what I was doing.  Thinking back, I'm not quite sure how I got any information out of that verbal transaction, but what I was able to gleen from a 15 minute lecture was that some insects, especially moths, spend the whole winter metamorphosing and then "hatch" in the spring.  I was also told that I should superglue it's butt to the lid of the jar.  Something about needing to let it's wings dry out before they touched anything.  Dutifully, and with rubber gloves, I did indeed superglue it to the lid of the jar. 

We spent the whole winter watching and anticipating, eagerly awaiting whatever was inside.  About three weeks ago it opened up and, within the course of about three days, spit out six larvae which then in turn hardened into little bean-like cocoons.  I will admit to being a little grossed out, but my kids were absolutely beside themselves with excitement.  Rather than dumping the whole lot out, I agreed to keep it awhile longer.  Well, a few days ago, our patience and perseverence was rewarded.  We are now the proud parents of six house flies.  Really, there are no words.

I had thought to celebrate the hatching of our flies with some sort of "en papillote" kind of meal, but once I got down to planning it, I just couldn't come up with anything that didn't make my stomach do flip flops.  I think the meals themselves were fine, it's just that I actually got to watch one of the flies squirm out of it's little cocoon, and that's what I pictured every time I envisioned opening up any kind food package.  Ew.  Instead, we made use of our leftover mashed potatoes and some brocolli that didn't have many days left before becoming fodder for the compost heap.  Brocolli and Cheese Soup and Potato Pancakes for dinner! 

I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to reinforce Abby's cheese grating lesson from a few weeks ago.  I opened our cheese drawer to find that we only had a small chunk of cheddar.  I ended up pulling out every little scrap of cheese we had left.  So there she was with grater in hand, and a pile of assorted cheeses which included three Babybells.  She gave me a look that was oozing the sarcasm she's not yet able to put into words.  I had no real defense since I would have given myself the same look.  I just turned to get Eli started on the potatoes.  We already had about two cups of leftover mashed potatoes, so all we really needed to do was add an egg, about 1/4 cup flour and some seasoning.  I had a small panic attack when I watched him dump what seemed like an enormous amount of garlic powder into the mix.  That stuff comes out of the jar really fast!  He then mixed it all together by simultaneously moving the bowl and the fork in opposing circles.  Extremely scary and impressive to watch.  I had to just tell myself that if the whole thing ended up on the floor, then it was a sign that he had put in too much garlic powder and it would have been inedible anyway.

When I turned back to Abby and the cheese I had to secretly laugh a little.  The grater, cutting board, table and floor were littered with little crumbles of cheese.  My poor girl looked at me and asked, "Can I stop now?"  I would have said something about a job well done, but was too close to laughing out loud, so I just moved her over to the stove to sweat the onions.  After a few minutes of stirring the onions she started to complain about being too hot.  I was beginning to see that this lesson was not going to be as successful as I had hoped.  I didn't have it in me to fight the good fight, so I let her go play while I finished up. 

I've never made a cheese soup before, and the recipe I used wasn't very good.  It had me cook the brocolli with the onions and some chicken stock.  Once the brocolli was tender I hit it with my immersion blender and then added the cheese to the hot liquid.  The cheese melted but didn't really blend in, so I dumped in a little cream.  It still wasn't quite right.  I learned awhile ago that if you're in a pinch and need a roux quickly, you can microwave the flour and butter together.  It actually works pretty well, so I added some of this nuked roux to my soup.  It wasn't great, but it was as good as it was going to get.  In truth, the soup was edible but pretty much a failure.  The potato pancakes are a piece of cake.  You just drop a dollop of the potato mixture into some hot oil, flatten it out a bit and after it has browned, flip it over.  When it's browned on both sides it's done.  I eat them with sour cream, and my kids eat them with -- you guessed it, ketchup.

We released the last of our flies this morning.  I've noticed that it takes quite awhile for them to be able to use their wings, but for these last ones I just couldn't wait.  I'm pretty sure my kids felt the same about those flies as they would have a beautiful butterfly.  I'll admit to being intrigued, but I'm amongst the masses who find flies disgusting.  Like my soup, that cocoon didn't turn out the way I wanted, and I was ready to be done and move on to capturing caterpillars.  We all said a heart-felt goodbye and turned to go inside.  I looked back to make sure Jonah was coming just in time to see him slam his foot down on top of that last fly.  He looked at me with a mischievious sparkle in his eye and a huge grin and said, "I 'quish 'im!"  If I wasn't so afraid of how the other two would react to the murder of their beloved fly, I would have high-fived him right then and there!

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