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Would You Like Your Snails Salted?

Blog Post #39

escargot-on-a-plate

Escargot or Babbaluci

My nine-year-old grandson recently told me he couldn’t wait until he could try pouring salt on a snail. I fear I’m to blame for this reckless desire. I once told him how, as children, my sister and I had explored the chemical reaction and scientific wonder of salting live snails. We did it in the name of Science, for isn’t the spirit of inquiry—isn’t downright curiosity—the basis of all science? A child’s mind is curiosity itself. We had heard an intriguing hypothesis about the effect of salt on a snail, and we performed the experiment to prove or disprove it. So fascinating was it, we experimented more than once, just to see the foaming, frothy miracle occur.

snail-trail

A Snail’s Trails

Snails were in abundance in our area when I was a child, leaving their slimy little trails all over the sidewalks and lawn around our home. We stepped with caution across the dichondra that was our lawn, maneuvering as through an arcade game avoiding all the little round spiral hazards. If by accident, the sole of one’s avatar foot came in contact with these hazards, the result would be a terrible crunching sound, and goosh splattering all over said avatar.

La Puente House Jan 1956 b

The ivy was newly planted around the border of the lawn in this photo taken in 1956. After it filled in it became inundated with snails.

Even before the salt experiments, Karen and I were harbingers of destruction to the poor snails inhabiting the ivy in our yard. Shod with flip-flops we tramped through the ivy just to hear that crunching sound so reminiscent of the satisfying snap of crisp fall leaves. I don’t know what we imagined made that sound, but it never occurred to us that each crunch was a tiny life, crushed away by five- and seven-year-old giants. One day our mother saw us and put a stop to it. She told us what was hidden beneath the ivy, and didn’t want the slime tracked through the  house, or her ivy smashed. (No doubt the hearty ivy better survived our stomping than those poor, unsuspecting snails.)

english-ivy-r

It’s been decades since I’ve seen a snail traversing our yard. I don’t know where they all went. They seem to have packed up their tiny camper shells and moved on to greener pastures.  Or the real story may hearken back to those experimental days when we came in to grab a salt shaker from the kitchen and our mother wanted to know what we were going to do with it. We dragged her out to the sidewalk to show her, expecting her to be “wowed” just as we were. But she wasn’t wowed. She showed sympathy for those poor little creatures in the face of our rank brutality, convincing me I shouldn’t do such a thing like that again. Sometime after this speech, she went to the garage, got the snail bait, and scattered  it all over the yard. Like them or not, snails are notorious for eating and destroying garden flowers and crops (things immensely valued by my mother). They are, in most cases, considered pests, and though my mother had a tender heart for all living creatures, she did not welcome them, favoring the lives of her garden plants more.

Corrys-Slug-And-Snail-Death-300x300

This leads to other scientific questions: Which would a snail consider to be worse? Salting—a rapid death by osmosis and dehydration? Or a slow demise by poisoning? Science will never be able to accurately answer this question, since it requires interviewing a snail.

Even though she thought salting them was inhumane, my mother really wasn’t crazy about snails. Once, when I was five or six, my grandparents (both of whom were born and reared in Sicily, and could barely speak English) came to visit our Southern California home from Detroit, where they lived out their later years.  Apparently, my grandmother thought to do a great favor for my mother. Wandering in the garden for some time, she at last returned through the back door of the kitchen. Though I was quite young, I will never forget the expression on my mother’s face when she saw her best Wearever pot in my Grandmother’s hand, filled to the brim with mucus-y, tentacled snails slowly slithering over the rim, and leaving disgusting trails of slime crisscrossing every square inch of the pot . (It was a sight I have never forgotten!) Grandmother was going to cook them for dinner. My poor mother. It was clear that repulsion followed hot on the heels of shock. In addition to accosting her delicate senses, how could my mother, (though 100% Sicilian, yet unable to utter a single word of Italian herself ) nicely tell her non-English-speaking mother-in-law, that Escargot (Babbaluci in Sicilian) was NOT happening in her kitchen using these revolting snails and her best cooking pot?

18674326-live-edible-snails-in-a-brown-basket

The snails in my mother’s pot looked something like this.

 

I think my father was there and handled that uncomfortable conversation, explaining that snail bait had been spread throughout the yard in an attempt to eradicate these little calcium carbonate delicacies, and it wouldn’t be safe to eat them. It seems those garden variety snails (Helix aspersa) might have been first class for cooking had they not been exposed to poison.

The looming question became who would clean the pot? Certainly not my mother! (Thankfully, I was too little.) After some unlucky person (who, in fact, probably was my mother) did the initial cleaning and escorting of escargot from the pot, I suspect my mother put said pot through a rigorous disinfecting.

snail-kid-14018726

Fast forward four decades or more. I am sitting in an elementary school classroom in Colorado. Teachers had ordered, through a science catalog or some such, some long awaited specimens for the children to study. I happened to be acting as an aid in the classroom the day the surprise specimens arrived.  I watched with rapt attention as the children’s excitement increased. Would it be some rare butterfly or chrysalis? An ant farm? I was completely surprised when, placed on the tables in front of the children, (with strict instructions as to how to handle—or not handle—them) were none other than humble garden snails (Helix aspersa), just like the ones we had so conscientiously exterminated from two of our home gardens.

garden-snail_200-623x200

Helix aspersa

(Suddenly, I thought I could account for the exodus of a multitude of snails from our neighborhood. Perhaps some enterprising person gathered them up and sold them as scientific specimens, and perhaps as food stuff, gleaning sheer profit for his efforts.)

The children did not experiment with the effect of salt on live snails, although in the interest of science, I thought the children might find it extremely intriguing and informative. I thought about mentioning it, but, first of all, it was not my place, and secondly, I knew it would have the same effect as it did on me, my sister, and my nine-year-old grandson. It would create an intense desire to perform a scientific experiment and observe the results. I didn’t want to be responsible for the destruction of those expensive specimens, even in the name of science, so I kept quiet.

(I did find myself asking the air, “You paid for these?”) Maybe when all scientific observation was over, the teachers were planning an extraordinary feast.

I have never salted a snail since my mother encouraged me against it. While I recognize that many a gourmet (or Italian grandmother) relishes snails (Escargot or Babbaluci) as a delicacy, I sincerely hope I don’t meet them in my garden or on my plate from this time henceforward.

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My First Blog Post EVER!

End Piece

© May 19, 2016

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you, dear Friends, for reading.

 

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Sand

Blog Post #24

Illustration by Jessie Wilcox Smith
 
There’s a new toy in stores these days. What is it, you ask? Why, it’s sand! Yes, that’s right…sand. As in “a loose granular substance…” familiar to most toddlers and preschool children. This new toy has a special, engaging and “smart” sounding  name: *“Waba Fun Kinetic Sand. TM
ki·net·ic
kəˈnedik/
adjective
1.    of, relating to, or resulting from motion.
o   (of a work of art) depending on movement for its effect.
sand
sand/
noun
1.a loose granular substance, typically pale yellowish brown, resulting from the
   erosion of siliceous and other rocks and forming a major constituent of
   beaches, riverbeds, the seabed, and deserts.
  
 
Why call it kinetic sand? The definition of kinetic has to do with movement and motion, attributes that directly relate to this product. Here are its selling points as quoted from Waba Fun Kinetic Sand’sTM ad on Amazon:
   ·       Sand in Motion!
   ·       Great for Developmental skills and Learning Minds!
   ·       Bring the beach indoors! Sand stays clumped
   ·       Won’t Spread all over.
 

I saw this sand in an open display at the checkout counter of an Aaron Brothers store. Of course, I had to touch it and see what was so special about this kind of sand. I have to admit, I didn’t want to stop playing with it. It felt soft, cool and squishy between my fingers. It did clump together as promised and was just fun to squeeze and mold. I was tempted to buy some …but then, I remembered.

 
 
I remembered that the bane of my existence is, in fact, sand!  Not Kinetic Sand, mind you, but sand just the same—the garden variety that you find in the average sandbox, such as the one in our backyard.
Here are the reasons why sand is the bane of my existence:
·           Sand in motion!
·           Great for developmental skills, and learning minds (which is why we always have a sandbox in our backyard)
·           Brings the beach indoors! Sand stays clumped (when wet)
·           Spreads ALL OVER!
I will elaborate.


I’m not sure why, but when I was growing up, a preferred picnic item for family outings was often cold fried chicken. Although, it tastes good, cold chicken is also greasy and messy. Once you’ve handled cold chicken, your hands are irreversibly sticky. Napkins do little to help the situation—leaving small, torn pieces of greasy paper stuck to your fingers. On more than one occasion, my mother packed wonderful picnic lunches that took half the day to prepare. During my early years, many of them included cold chicken legs, thighs, wings, and breasts to devour at the point of starvation after a busy morning playing at the beach.

by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Little children know how to make the most of a day at the beach—dodging waves, wading and splashing in the foamy seawater, collecting seashells, building castles and digging holes in the sand. 

by Jessie Wilcox Smith


Inevitably, sand is involved in each of these activities. In fact, there is no avoiding it, even if you want to. Like cold chicken, beach sand has the particular attribute of being sticky. It sticks to your legs and feet, to your hands and arms, between your fingers and toes, and all through your hair and scalp. It clings to your wet swimsuit, or your dry swimsuit. It sticks to your beach towel and lines the bottom, sides and pockets of your tote bag. In other words, it sticks to everything!  

Our grandson wears sand well!

It seems reasonable then, that it would also be on your lunch. And it was. If eating sticky cold chicken wasn’t enough to wreak havoc at a picnic on the lawn, add a little beach sand and you have a perfect combination of sticky and icky. Fried chicken often has a nice crispy crunch, but that is nothing to the crunch of sand in every bite.  I lost my taste for cold fried chicken while on a beach picnic about 55 years ago….and that has definitely stuck!

by Jessie Wilcox Smith

A significant illustration of sand in motion occurred when I was a teen. Occasionally, our family visited friends who had a wonderful beach house in Malibu (which, I only recently learned, was swept away by the weather, erosion and the sea). When my brother, sister and I were young, our friends’ house stood with its toes touching the threshold of the Pacific Ocean and included its own private beach. Karen and I went out in our denim, two-piece swimsuits to sunbathe, while Craig romped and played in the ocean. Anyone who knows anything about swimsuits will know that denim is not the fabric of choice for wading or swimming, being heavy, cumbersome, and having a tendency to sag and stretch out when wet. But these were such cute, nautical-looking suits, we both (“Bobsey Twins” that we were) got the same style. Karen and I mostly refrained from getting wet, since we were “cool” teenagers too concerned about messing up our hair than having fun in the water. (Besides, getting wet meant wrestling with, and trying our utmost to keep on those denim suits.) 

1960s Malibu beach house similar to the one our friends had

We felt self-important and at leisure to lounge about on such a private beach. As time passed, the tide pursued its normal routine: “coming in.” The water gradually sneaked up the beach until it pulled its sneakiest prank of all: invading our dry lounging area. With the lapping of each unsuspecting wave, it deposited about two pounds of sand in each of our suits. We cast aside our “coolness” in an attempt to rid ourselves of the excess scratchy, saggy, weighted burden by dipping our lower halves into the water, but to no avail. Each succeeding dip only deposited more of that loathsome sand. I am grateful we were on a private beach, away from public humiliation and scrutiny. I felt as if I was dragging a dumbbell in my swimsuit bottom, and, no doubt, resembled a baby with a too-full diaper. Removing the sand must have been traumatic to the point of amnesia, for I honestly can’t remember how we got the sand out without creating a trail into the bathroom packed with enough sand to drive a mule train over.

This aptly illustrates bringing the beach indoors, sand clumping when wet, as well as sand in motion. If you get one “benefit,” you get all.

 

Fast-forward several years and you’ll find my husband, Brad, building a sandbox for our young children for the first time.  In those days, when our finances were meager, we purchased the lower grades of sand that had a coarser texture than beach sand.  The children enjoyed hours of digging, playing and even school activities in those early sandboxes. Very little of it came in the house, because of the coarse composition.

A few of our grandchildren in the sandbox
Fast-forward a few more years, and you’ll still find Brad building sandboxes, but for our grandchildren. Finances having improved over the years, Brad decided to get premium-grade beach sand for the latest of these sandboxes. Now we come to the real reason sand is the bane of my existence! Not only do we have thirteen grandchildren—most of whom are still of sandbox playing ages,—but we also have dozens of grandnieces and grandnephews who visit from time to time, who also love to play in the sand. This is all well, and good, except for the beneficial properties of sand mentioned earlier:
·           Sand in motion!
·           Great for developmental skills, and learning minds
·           Brings the beach indoors! Sand stays clumped (when wet)
·           Spreads ALL OVER!

It’s difficult to restrict children from playing in a sandbox when it is great for their development and learning minds. But many have been the times when I have done just that—especially when they want to play in it just after I’ve cleaned and mopped the floors, for, as has been scientifically proven, when a child approaches sand in any form, it magnetically attracts to the child, adhering to every square inch of his or her body and clothes. Then, upon entering a house, it’s as if the magnetic switch automatically shuts down, and the sand all falls off, creating deposits only rivaled by the Nile Delta. 

Buried Princesses
Recently, some of our grandchildren were here for a visit. They spent a good portion of their days playing in the sandbox. One evening, just as the sun was setting, and it was beginning to rain, my granddaughter informed me that she had forgotten to bring in the brand new plastic princess dolls we had given them for Christmas. (Unlike other toys, these could be taken outside, with the stipulation that they come in at the end of the day). “Where are they? Can’t you quickly run out and bring them in before the rain comes down harder?” I asked. Her reply, “They’re in the sandbox. Buried. They all died.” I thought about insisting my granddaughter go after the dolls, but I quickly settled on a different option. Picturing sticky, clumping sand which would most assuredly have been caked on her clothes, shoes and body, I put on my coat with the hood and went out to collect the dead dolls without uttering another word. Digging with a plastic toy rake, I found five of the six interred dolls. (After a month and a half, the sixth still remains at large in her sandy grave.) I still had to deal with sticky, clumping sand, but it was on my shoes and hands, which makes a world of difference.

Missing Princess
During the summer, when some of the children are here, they can disappear for hours at a time in the cool, shady spot on the side of the house where the sandbox is. If I crack the bathroom window open, I can hear them pretending and imagining all sorts of situations only children can conceive of. It’s at those times, that I truly appreciate the benefit of sand.

by Jessie Wilcox Smith

Still, if we ever build another sandbox, I’m determined that it is composed of at least 75% gravel.

 

And who knows? I may even break down one of these days and buy some Waba Fun Kinetic SandTM….for me to play with!
 
© February 10, 2015
*This post is not intended as an advertisement for Kinetic Sand, Aaron Brothers, or for Disney My First Mini Princess dolls. Just telling it like it is.