Like David Attenborough in the kitchen …


I thought I was running a pretty tight ship these days when it comes to keeping the mice at bay …

Everything edible in tight-sealing plastic containers; or other wise stashed in mouse-proof cupboard, the door of which is always kept closed.

Remove paper from other cupboards, too.

Rubbish bin always closed when not in use.

Sweep floor after zealous cooking sessions.

But still, there have been telltale blurs of movement in the peripheral vision.

Gnawed packages when vigilance has momentarily lapsed.

And the telltale signs of poo.

While I’d previously thought the kitchen table was an unmousey haven where a more relaxed attitude could prevail, the critters have discovered the foodie potential there, as well.

So I line up the kitchen chairs against one of the walls – and well away from the table.

Surely that’d stop them from gaining access to the table?

That night, trying to get to sleep, I hear definite sounds of mousey voraciousness, ripping and attacking.

I get up to check the table’s contents. All seems OK, so it’s a mystery.

Back to bed and more fossicking sounds.

This time, I put on clothes and turn on the hall light so the kitchen is lit, but dimly so.

I grab a kitchen chair, sit and wait.

But not for long.

Within about five minutes, out they come.

Skittering across the floor.

And straight up the table legs.

Like tiny mountaineer monkeys.

I’m sitting a few feet away.

I feel like David Attenborough.

The unfolding spectacle is fascinating.

They’re kinda jittery, darting here and there on the table and the floor. The three of them seem preoccupied with their own missions, though they stop for a chat when crossing paths.

As a species, these common mice are obviously successful survivors.

But as individuals, the three at play before me seem dimwitted and myopic.

No wonder they’re such easy pickings for any feline with a semblance of patience!

One of them seems to have dibs on a particular plastic container.

It’s old and thin – I’ve had it for years, it being full of crackers at present.

His pals mosey over to see what he’s up to then go their own ways.

He hops on to it and heads straight for the hole he’s gnawed in the lid.


But instead of trying to widen the hole so he can get right inside and have a full-on cracker party, he merely sticks head through and desperately tries to fang any cracker within reach.

Arse up and tail twitching, it’s a comical sight.

Into the rubbish bin go the container and its cracker contents.

And the cardboard box of drinking chocolate that has a corner missing.

And the kiwifruit with a big hole in it.

They don’t seem to like bananas, pears or mandarins.

I’ve always assumed that because our house is so old and creaky, the mousey access points so plentiful, that the key to keeping rodents at bay is leaving them nothing to eat.

But I’ve stoppered up what seems to be the main access hole and things have improved dramatically, so maybe the house is more secure, mice-wise, than I figured.

Dal-ing, may I check your pulse?


Until very recently, the happily growing number of years we have spent in our current abode have found us – well, me actually – falling into slothful habits when it comes to food storage.

Thus it became routine when a new bag of pulses, beans, lentils were acquired from one of the Indian groceries in Barkley St, to fling the opened bag in a corner of our kitchen where it joined many others.

I was a little more careful with grains – rice and oats and so on.

But still, it was a sloppy look and it had to end.

The mice made sure of it.

I was finally spurred into action one recent night when I heard, while trying to fall asleep, a bunch of the little buggers obviously not just eating … but having a grand old time, a real party, as well.

I found four of them, immobilised and trembling with fear, behind one of our chopping boards.

They looked small and pitiful. But I knew, too, they were the party animals I had heard, for they were all wearing shades.

I did what I could that night, vowing to get some food container action going at the first possible opportunity – probably on the coming weekend.

In the ensuing few days I discovered, however, that while mice may prefer other goodies, when push comes to a shortage of yummy grains, they will indeed consume pulses.

In this case, they turned to a bag – yes, an opened bag – of those small, dark chick peas.

They were dragging them out of the bag, shelling them with paws or teeth and scarfing the innards.

The dark shells were washing up in the benchtop corner.

The resultant detritus reminded me of a bar near where I used to stay In New Orleans, in the days when I travelled there regularly.

O’Henry’s was not the sort of place in which me or my Crescent City friends frequented, it having none of the funky music or food we were into. It was a sort of burger ‘n’ beer place, and I only recall spending time there to watch major league sports events.

What they did offer patrons was an unlimited supply of peanuts in the shell, consumed in vast quantities along with equally vast quantities of beer. The peanuts were, of course, pristine but the shells were salted – meaning thirsts were inflamed.

By closing time, the shells were damn near ankle-deep throughout.

Happily, our storage woes were solved in a single stroke by Peter from Yoyo’s Milkbar, who provided us with two boxes of plastic containers that formerly housed Gum Balls.

I read somewhere a while ago that archaeologists examining ancient human remains can tell whether any given corpse is from the upper classes or the peasant class simply by amount of meat (in the former case) or pulses (in the latter) they have eaten.

We eat meat, but we’d like to think we keep the pulse count up very high.

Of course, it’s the norm that peasant/working class food traditions sometimes work their way up the, ahem, food chain.

Hence the ongoing use of puy lentils in some of your pricier restaurants.

Our minimal exposure to such food – and the use of lentils and other pulses therein – leaves us no doubt that for us such food is a bit flaky and unfulfilling when compared, say, to the recent foul meddammes I had at Al-Alamy.

Nor does it do the job, or have the same oomph, as the many pulse-based dishes we make at home.

We have red beans and rice, New Orleans style, made with a ham hock, ham bone, bacon bones or – at the very least – bacon fat.

We have southern-style backeyed peas the same way. Nice and smoky even without the porky bits!

We use red beans, too, in dal makhani with black lentils, channa dal and perfumed with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger, garlic and chilli powder.

We have all sorts of other dals, using mung dal and many other varieties, most often with roasted cumin seeds, ginger, lemon juice, fresh green chillis and fistfuls of fresh coriander.

White beans – sometimes canned – go into minestrone and other thick soups and stews.

Ever since reading many years ago a very evocative passage in a crime book set in the Florida Everglades describing a simple lentil soup/stew heady with cumin, I have been trying to recreate the same.

With only limited success, it has to be said, as the more roasted ground cumin I use, the more bitter becomes the flavour. Generally speaking, Bennie likes the results more than his father.

But my most recent pulse project involved the simplest, and in many ways best, concoction of all, the result of a little ongoing whisper in the back of my mind banging on like a mantra: “Red lentil soup, red lentil soup, red lentil soup …”

Onion, garlic in olive oil, throw in a mashed can of good tomatoes, a cup of red lentils, water, salt, freshly ground pepper.

So simple, so very tasty – with a tangy flavour attained without the use of lemon juice – and so incredibly cheap.

We love our pulses!