Respecting the sensitivity and intelligence of animals

As I walked through Earl Warren Showgrounds today, taking my usual shortcut on my 3-mile walk, I was stopped by a family in an SUV who had a couple of questions about the Fiesta rodeo, a longstanding tradition in Santa Barbara that's featured during our Old Spanish Days festivities.

"How is the rodeo?" they asked. "Is it suitable for children?" And... "Is it violent?"

If you know me at all, including the fact that I've been a vegetarian for 24 years, I think you know how I answered. I believe that:

1) Animals (especially mammals) are feeling, thinking, intelligent creatures that suffer physical and emotional pain.

2) People dominating animals for entertainment is harmful to both the animals and to the onlookers, as the audience becomes desensitized to the sufffering of animals. (Yes, yes, I know people still do these activities on ranches. Fine. That doesn't make it okay with me as entertainment.)

I was honest with the family about my feelings regarding the rodeo. I told them that I don't agree with rodeos, that I believe animals are harmed in the process and that I didn't feel that it was suitable for children. But no, there's no blood and gore. This satisfied them and they pressed on to look for a parking spot.

Because this is the Yay Life! blog and not the "Rodeos are a bummer" blog, I thought I would celebrate the intelligence and sensitivity of animals by sharing some interesting links with you.

From the Psychology Today blog: Animals and Emotions

From National Geographic: Minds of Their Own

When Elephants Weep: The Emotional Lives of Animals

From the New York Times: Can we see our hypocrisy to animals?

Cambridge Declaration of Consciousness

I was originally saddened while passing through Earl Warren, walking past all the rodeo horses and other animals who might suffer harm during this event. I was then surprised and grateful for the opportunity to talk to this one family and share my thoughts on rodeo and the effects on the animals pressed into service for what I consider to be an inhumane sport. They seemed thoughtful, and I hope that they'll think about what I shared and do more exploring for themselves.


Quinoa salad with halloumi cheese

One of my favorite heavenly summer meals -- once tomatoes come back to the farmers market: Quinoa!

I dress it with lemon, garlic oil, fresh parsley and mint, and toss it with fresh tomatoes, steamed green beans, red pepper, zucchini (and whatever other fresh spring and summer veggies look good. Then I brown some halloumi in a skillet and place on top.

Perfect mix of savory, sweet, salty, herby and garlicky.

To make quinoa meals even quicker, I'll cook up a big batch in the rice cooker and freeze in zip-top bags in 1-cup portion sizes.

Then it's easy to toss quinoa into anything: chili, spaghetti, salad, casseroles, etc.

You'll find halloumi in the cheese department of specialty and natural foods stores. It's salty and squeaky with a thread of mint, and as you can see from the picture, it browns instead of melts when you grill or saute it. Yum.


Feeling alive in February

Every time I complete my three-mile walk, whether it's to the post office on my more productive days, or through the nearby Samarkand neighborhood on my contemplative days, I wonder why I make it so hard for myself.

It's always a struggle to get into my workout clothes and get out the door, yet the minute I'm outside, I'm overcome with the sights and sounds of LIFE.

I can't help but smile (for reals) as I walk along the roadside, catching sight of a Black Phoebe on the edge of a dumpster, disappearing as he dives in for a gnat, then reappearing and landing. Dive and land. Dive and land.

I pass through the showgrounds and marvel at the shiny coats of the weekend guests munching their hay, and I inhale the unmistakable scent of "horse." There are cones set up in the showgrounds parking lot and a number of motorcycle cops standing around waiting for someone to start riding. There's a guy who brings his dogs to play on the lawn. He always leaves his motor running...

Now that it's February, I start to see signs of spring: The purple flowers of ceanothus, lavender and rosemary are in full bloom, and the rose bushes are starting to bud. The almond trees are covered in delicate white blossoms (at least they are in Samarkand -- the one in our backyard doesn't flower as our House Finches consider the buds a delicacy).

The sky is clear and "Santa Barbara blue." The sun is warm but there's enough of a breeze to refresh me as I trudge up and down the hills.

Acorn Woodpeckers pack the top of a tall palm tree, making me impatient to see them at my feeder again. Maybe next month?

I pass a man pushing a baby stroller, a woman walking her dog and a couple walking their cat. Seriously.

A tiny white dog yaps from behind a gate, inquisitive and bossy. A white cat leaps from behind a bush and bolts into the next yard. Was it me? Knowing cats, probably not.

A desert landscape planted with succulents sports a tiny plastic dinosaur among the scenery. I keep meaning to pick up some toy dinosaurs and secretly add to the display.

Seniors roll balls at the lawn bowling club, gardeners whack weeds or sit on the curb with sandwiches and water bottles.

A flying insect of some sort loses its bearings and plows into my leg. Not sure who's more startled.

A flock of crows takes off at my approach, and I hope I didn't disturb their meal for long.

There's a lemon tree with yellow leaves -- not enough nitrogen? There are vivid freshly-planted annuals in the yards of the overachievers. Doors and windows are propped open for fresh air. A surfboard rests against a porch railing.

There is LIFE everywhere. I see it, feel it, smell it, hear it. When the occasional bug flies into my mouth, I taste it, too. My heart is pumping. My skin is damp with sweat. My breathing is heavy. My body feels alive.

I could stay in the house and stare at my computer screen all day. Which I frequently do.

Or I could go outside and feel ALIVE. Which I don't do enough!


5-Way Cincinnati Chili - low-FODMAP style!

This image, from Sustainably, Kaity, will suffice until I take my own pic!
We're having friends over for the Super Bowl, and my goal is to make a low-FODMAP meal that appeals to all. This chili is killer - a little sweet, very spicy, and deliciously savory.

My version of 5-Way Cincinnati Chili (adapted from One-Dish Vegetarian Meals) uses tempeh instead of beans and Quorn grounds instead of soy crumbles, plus cheddar cheese and green onions as toppings. And of course, it's served over wheat-free spaghetti! This version serves 2.

2 T garlic oil
1/2 - 1 tsp mild chile powder (or as much as you can handle)
1/2 - 1 tsp ground cinnamon (more is better)
1/2 tsp ground paprika
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 15-ounce can tomatoes, chopped or pureed, depending on how much texture you like
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon maple sugar or brown sugar
3 oz. Quorn grounds
3 oz. tempeh (Westsoy crumbles into individual beans, which adds nice texture)
4 oz. wheat-free spaghetti (Tinkyada's cooks up into nice and plump strands)
Grated cheddar, for garnish
Chopped green onion tops, for garnish
Lactose-free sour cream or yogurt, to tame excess heat

Heat the oil in a pot over medium heat. Add the spices and stir briefly until fragrant and simmering. Add the tomatoes, water, vinegar, sugar, Quorn and tempeh, and simmer for about 15 minutes, or as long as it takes your spaghetti to cook.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in a pot of boiling salted water until al dente.

When spaghetti and chili are done, either serve chili over spaghetti, or toss them together and serve, with desired toppings.


Spicy Sweet Potato Dip (aka Mock Bean Dip)

Spicy Sweet Potato Dip (aka Mock Bean Dip) (Low FODMAP) – Makes 4 servings

I created this dip as a substitute for the traditional canned bean dip that I love so much with salty corn chips.


1/2 medium sweet potato, peeled, cubed and boiled until soft

1 medium Russet potato, peeled, cubed and boiled until soft

1 tsp cumin + ¼ tsp chile powder, heated in 2 T garlic oil until fragrant

1 T light vinegar, like rice vinegar

1-2 tsp Tabasco or other hot sauce with vinegar (or more to taste)

Salt (smoked salt is really good) and pepper to taste


Stir sweet potato and potato into spice oil and stir until warmed through and coated with spices.

Mash potatoes until smooth and creamy with salt, pepper and Tabasco to taste. Adjust seasonings as desired. The salt and vinegar are critical to the flavor of this dip if you're looking to recreate the flavor of canned bean dip.

Add more garlic oil if consistency is too dry and more vinegar for more acidity.

Serve with corn chips.


Chocolate Cornmeal Rum Cake

For my low-FODMAP friends!

Chocolate Cornmeal Rum Cake

1 lb bittersweet chocolate
8 oz butter
11 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup fine cornmeal
1/4 cup dark rum (or flavored liqueur like Chambord or Grand Marnier if you're not eating low-FODMAP)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Line a 10" round pan with parchment paper. Do not oil or spray the pan.

Melt chocolate and butter over double boiler and set aside.

Beat 11 yolks with 1/2 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy. Fold the yolk mixture into the melted chocolate mixture.

Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.

Fold the beaten whites into the chocolate/yolk mixture, then fold in cornmeal and rum.

Bake for 45-50 minutes in a water bath until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.