It all began with a recipe in my vegetarian cookbook which called for pine nuts. I'd never had a pine nut before, but I had seen whole articles devoted to the food in Cooking Light Magazine, so I figured it would be worth a try.

I knew they had been available at my local HEB in the bulk foods section, so the next time I was grocery shopping, I looked for them, but pine nuts were not to be found in any of the large plastic canisters. I thought maybe they were out, which was a good sign: pine nuts are so good that they sell out faster than the Cajun party mix. Definitely a positive sign.

Every time I was out for groceries, I'd keep my eyes peeled for the elusive "nut," but the bin was always empty.

Then last week, I was excited to find them in stock, but less excited to see how much they cost. I scooped up about a cup (just to try them out) - a cup that cost me almost $5.00. But I knew they would be worth it. An entire article had been devoted to them after all.

And they were imported - it said so in nice neat type on the bin - from China. I assumed that was why they were so costly. That, and they were fancy-schmancy.

When I brought them home, Ronak asked, "What's this?" And I explained that they were for a special recipe I was excited about. He looked dubious. I put the seeds in the cupboard for later.

And while I was getting a snack of peanuts, I spied the bag of pine nuts and thought I'd sample a few.

They tasted like: pine. It was as if I were snacking on a Christmas tree. I like the scent of pine trees, but I wasn't sure I wanted that aroma in my mouth. I thought I might rethink that recipe. Well, maybe they'd be better cooked.

I forgot all about the pine nuts and went about my weekend, having fun with my family. I cooked up some pineapple fried rice with cashews for Sunday dinner. I was disappointed that it tasted off. I thought, maybe I should have put in more curry powder, maybe the serrano pepper wasn't very hot, maybe there were too many green onions. I apologized to Ronak. "I don't know what's wrong with it," I said.

I had a slice of raisin bread as a snack later that night, and I was appalled at how bitter it tasted. I worried that I had gotten a bad batch of bread and wasn't sure if I should eat any more of it. Maybe the cinnamon content was on the high side and the sugar was on the low side. Maybe it just tasted odd after a bowl of chocolate ice cream.

Then this morning, I wanted to ask Ronak if he'd put any sugar in the tea. And the raisin bread seemed to taste worse than the night before. I asked Ronak to try some of the bread. He confirmed that it was a little bitter. "But it always tastes like that," he told me. I wondered what was going on.

I have a mind that won't let such questions rest. I remembered that I had seen something in a House episode where a patient had a bitter taste in their mouth. But which episode? What horrible disease did that character have, what terrible fate befell them?

I had to get to a computer.

Luckily I didn't do my search on House episodes or I might have scared myself into an ambulance (anxiety attack).

I searched for "symptom bitter taste," and I found to my surprise that pine nuts, expensive fancy recipe ingredient pine nuts, were the culprit.

As it says on Wikipedia:

"The eating of pine nuts can cause serious taste disturbances, developing 1-3 days after consumption and lasting for days or weeks. A bitter, metallic taste is described. In general, a minority of pine nuts on the market present this problem. Though very unpleasant, there does not seem to be a real health concern."

So, I have to ask, why don't pine nuts come with warnings?! Because eating has become fairly intolerable for me. Nothing like a bitter aftertaste following every bite of food with no way to clean the palate. (Even water is bitter. And air.)

And the bitterness seems to be getting stronger and stronger. I only ate 3 seeds! How long is this going to last? I'm not sure I could bear weeks (although it might be helpful in losing some of the remaining baby weight).

So, why is this considered a tasty addition to recipes? I don't think any one meal is worth weeks and weeks of terrible tasting foods and beverages.

And again, why no warning?! Although, reading on into the Wikipedia article, I found that the "imported from China" might have been a warning if I weren't a pine nut newbie. An experienced pine nut chef would know that: "This phenomenon was first described in a scientific paper in 2001...Some of the pine nuts involved were imported from China."

China, huh? Suddenly I am thinking about lead paint on toys and melamine in dog food. And my heart is racing again.

Luckily I continue reading and see that: "No contamination with pesticide residues or heavy metals was found."

That's a relief, but doesn't help me eat, drink, or breathe without gagging.

I don't think I'm going to subject us to that "special recipe" now. Maybe pine nuts are okay if they are cooked. Maybe they are okay if they aren't imported from China. But who wants to risk that lasting bitter taste?

Not me. (Ugh. I just inhaled again.)

We're buying mostly Earth's Best organic baby food for our little guy. It tastes better than a lot of other brands and it doesn't have pesticides.

I made a few attempts at making my own organic baby food with mixed results. He was a big fan of my carrots with applesauce and my butternut squash-apple blend, but I was stuck with tupperwares full of carrots-zucchini and a few other veggie mixes, and that was discouraging.

(Even the carrots-applesauce was only a hit because I ate it with him. A finger-full for me, a finger-full for him.)

More discouraging was the time I was in the middle of steaming up a batch of carrots-apples when I was distracted by various and sundry baby emergencies: teething pain, snotty nose, missing Daddy pain, poopy diaper, more snot. By the time I got back to my pot, the water had completely evaporated, and everything had that lovely burnt sugar smell from the scorched apple juice that had dripped into the bottom of the pan. I tasted the carrots myself, hoping they were still edible, but the burnt sugar flavor had permeated everything in the pot. And I didn't think my son wanted three days of that flavor. (You know, to check for allergies to carrot flambe.)

That was the last time I tried making my own baby food. Since then, I have satisfied my culinary urges by mixing a little cinnamon in his Apples, apple juice in his Prune Oatmeal, and Carrots in his Apple Apricot.

There isn't too much point in exploring the art of baby food making at this point, when he's ten months old with five teeth, and starting to eat off our dinner plates.

So, in the meantime, to round out his meals, we buy Earth's Best. At first, we bought them at HEB and Whole Foods, but at 99 cents a bottle, that was expensive. Babies R Us charges about the same amount. We discovered that Target has them 14-20 cents cheaper, depending on the flavor, but they don't sell some of the blends like Prune Oatmeal.

Our little fellow also likes Gerber's organic Apple Sweet Potato, but sadly, it's one of the only ones we can buy from Gerber, because they pack most of their organic baby foods in #7 plastic tubs. (I don't understand why they go to the trouble of putting pesticide-free food in plastic that leaches chemicals. For more about harmful plastics.)

Anyway, that leaves us with mainly Earth's Best at the moment - until our little guy has tried each and every Indian spice individually for three days, so he can eat what we are eating without any concern of allergies. ;-) Let's see... cumin, coriander, turmeric, fenugreek, fennel, aesofoetida, ginger, garlic, cayenne pepper, garam masala... Yeah, that shouldn't take long.

In 2007, we moved to Austin, Texas. It wasn't an easy transition, and this blog chronicled our painfully slow adaptation to Texas life: finding our favorite foods at the grocery store, combating homesickness, figuring out the road system, trying out new restaurants, enjoying festivals and wildflowers and bats.

Then in 2008, we had a baby, and that changed our view of life, including our view of Austin. So the blog had to change too.

Now, we will write about this area from the perspective of new parents: where we buy organic baby food, what parks are fun for babies, which exterminator is taking care of our scorpion problem.

You know, the usual parental concerns.

Today the bugman was back again. Tis the season. Spring, when the flowers bloom, the birds sing, and the spiders and scorpions come crawling in. And when we call our bug people.

Yes, we have people. They come every other month and spray some nontoxic barrier around the foundation of our house - usually on a rainy day (although they swear that doesn't make a difference).

The barrier is supposed to keep out the critters. It's also supposed to be composed of the most nontoxic stuff ever. Whenever the bugman comes to spray the inside of the house, he assures me it's safe, it's used in daycares, it's used in his own home and he has kids (with three eyes mind you, but other than that I'm sure they are perfectly healthy), it's like baking soda (well, I've never heard of anyone dying from too much baking soda and it might have the added benefit of eliminating pesky household odors), it's toxic to the critters but not too humans (ohhhhh, like kryptonite for bugs), it's tasty on waffles when you are out of baking soda (okay, maybe he didn't actually say that).

But seriously, how can the stuff kill, murder, extinguish the life from a bad old poisonous scorpion and not be even the teeniest, weeniest harmful to humans? Are scorpions really from the planet Krypton? Or maybe they are more closely related to vampires? Baking soda, garlic. Both kitchen staples. Something to think about.

Regardless, we had to call the bugman because we were starting to see spiders, and of course, then spider bites on me (because I attract everything with a mandible).

And then, we found a small, harmless bug on the baby. But harmless or not, it shouldn't be there. We have a service, a kryptonite shield, a bug-toxic baking soda boundary. A six-legged shadow shouldn't fall upon our baby, never mind an actual insect. That's what we pay for.

So the call was made, the bugman cometh, and the baby and I tooketh a walk until the completely nontoxic spray dissipateth.

Call me crazy, but if I can smell something funky in the air, I don't want to breathe it in - or use it in my waffles.

August 13th, Ronak entered the downstairs bathroom. Then, he ran out, grabbed the camera, and called for me to come and see. "Is it dangerous?" I asked. "Not now" was his response. I did go and see, and what I saw made me head to the internet to find an exterminator. It was the last straw.

When we first moved into the house, we were visited by hopeful exterminating companies, eager to earn our business. They asked if we'd seen any pests. Besides the ones standing on our steps, hawking their wares, we didn't think so. They told us, "Just wait. You will." We wondered if that was a veiled threat.

Sure, we saw the occasional spider, but what house didn't have a spider or two. We weren't concerned. Then we began seeing centipedes traversing our kitchen. Ronak wasn't happy, but I still wasn't concerned. Crickets appeared in the garage and waited by the door, hoping to sneak into the house. I chased them back out. I still wasn't concerned. Wasps started building nests on the patio. I wasn't surprised. Wasps do that. I wasn't happy, but I wasn't too concerned.

Then, when we returned from the hospital in the middle of July, we found ourselves in the middle of an ant infestation. They were in the bedrooms, the bathrooms, the loft, the kitchen. If they had stayed on the floor, I might not have been too concerned. But they marched into my bed and bit me while I was sleeping. (I guess I smelled like food.) That was going too far. We declared war.

Ronak and Brian bought Terro ant traps and placed them in strategic locations. And we saw fewer and fewer ants each day. We thought we had won.

But then, a few weeks later, they came back again in new locations. So we placed new traps. And again, they disappeared. So we stopped being concerned.

Brian mentioned he saw what might have been a black widow spider in the garage while we were in the hospital. We thought that might be a concern.

photograph by Brian Parker

Then, at the beginning of August, Ronak was working in the yard. I came out to help him, and I was bitten between my toes. There was a burning. Then two of my toes went numb. My foot began swelling. I was very concerned. I hadn't seen what had bitten me and there were some scary possibilities in Texas.

I hit the internet, investigating brown recluse spiders, scorpions, and other biting critters. But I couldn't see the bite marks, because there was so much redness and swelling, so I was having trouble narrowing down the suspects with just vague allergic symptoms. I was getting scared.

Ronak was doubtful that it was a scorpion. He said scorpions were found in deserts, not in yards with sprinklers.

I told him the only time I had ever seen a scorpion was in a bathroom sink in Georgia, so it was possible.

Possible, but not the current perpetrator, we found out for sure two days later, as the swelling began to go down and the bite marks became visible and perfectly matched the ones we had seen in internet pictures of fire ant bites. Even my puffy foot was a match. I was not pleased.

It took four days for my foot to return to normal. And that was the day Ronak ran into the bathroom, camera in hand, to take a photo of the currently harmless...


...scorpion who had taken a dive into our toilet bowl. That was the last straw.

I knew how the scorpion had gotten in our toilet. I'd read all about it online when I was trying to figure out what had bitten me.

They drop from ceiling vents - which are often located above toilets. They come inside houses because they are attracted to the air conditioning and the water. They are difficult to see and blend in with beige carpet. (We have beige carpet.) They come out at night and often hide in piles of clothes by day. (I had a pile of hand-me-downs in the middle of the living room floor just arrived from New York.) They are dangerous to babies. (I have a baby.) Cats are immune to their sting and kill them. (I considered getting a cat.)

A cat would kill the spiders, the scorpion, maybe some ants. Sure I'm allergic to cats, but I'd rather have runny eyes and a sniffly nose than bites all over my body. Not to mention my baby's.

But a cat would be a lot of work. And I'd need to find the time to pick out the cat and take care of the cat. And I barely had time and energy to take a shower.

While I deliberated, I checked the vents when I used the bathroom. I tiptoed across the beige carpet. And I left that pile of clothes right where it was in the middle of the living room floor.

And then I hit the internet and found a nontoxic (to humans) pest control company and gave them a call and made an appointment to rid my home of the spiders, the ants, the scorpions, and whatever else might be lurking in the beige carpet.

And now we are on a bimonthly plan to make sure the pests stay out in the yard where they can only attack me when I'm gardening.

Yeah, I got careless yesterday, while watering the oak tree. Thought I'd pull a few weeds. And now I have four more fire ant bites - two on my fingers and two on my palm. (I should buy stock in Benadryl.)

I was lucky. If you had seen the number of swarming ants, you would think so too.

So, now we have an understanding. I stay away from the gardening, they stay out of the house. And Ronak does all the gardening, because he apparently is not allergic to fire ant bites. (They don't even phase him, and he has had many more bites than I have.)

Hey, I didn't need to garden anyway. I barely have the time and energy to take a shower.

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In 2007, we moved to Austin, and this blog chronicled our adaptation to Texas life: festivals, wildflowers, and bats - oh my! Then we had a baby, and that changed everything, so now, we blog about where to buy organic food, what parks are fun for babies, which exterminator is taking care of our scorpion problem. (You know, the usual parental concerns.)


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