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.


Getting to know you... Jay

Photo by Justin Watts
Here's an update on our backyard bird community, since the last time I wrote six months ago. We've now gone through our first spring in this house and we're into summer, and the bird landscape has changed as well.

Since the last bird list, we've had sightings of so many beautiful birds: Acorn Woodpecker, Northern Mockingbird, House Finch, Spotted Towhee, Nutmeg Mannikin, Purple Finch, Common Yellowthroat, Oak Titmouse, Hooded Oriole, Cedar Waxwing, Band-Tailed Pigeon, Eurasian Collared Dove, Black-Headed Grosbeak, and Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher. You can see what these critters look like on my Pinterest backyard bird board.

But my favorite birdwatching right now is the Scrub Jay family.

About ten days ago, we discovered that we had fledgling jays in the yard, babies that had recently left the nest.

We've been feeding peanuts to the parents for some time, but didn't realize they were a family unit until the juveniles appeared.

As I said in my previous bird post, I had never been particularly interested in birds, and even seeing so many colorful visitors to the yard felt more like an exercise in collecting and categorizing than in getting to know the birds.

But the jays have changed all that. Watching the adults choose burial sites for their peanuts has been entertaining, sure. But watching the youngsters learn the ropes of being a bird is amazing. As corvids (the family that jays and crows belong to) are known for their intelligence and curiosity, the baby jays don't disappoint.

They chase the towhees and sometimes forage with them.

They pick up everything they find on the ground, sometimes trying to bury it, sometimes calling loudly for someone to come see their discovery. They've already developed the habit of hiding treasures under leaves, but sometimes the leaf itself is the treasure.

They steal from each other.

They can't figure out how to land in the bird feeder because of their size and still awkward flight ability, so they occasionally fall out.

One sits on a branch under the sock feeder, reaching up with its beak and trying to determine how to get the seeds without actually clinging to it like the finches do.

One juvenile came flying out of a bush the other day with something stuck all over its face, maybe leaves and spider webs? He rolled on the ground, he scratched, he flapped. The parent jay stood by, watching, then shoved some food into the baby's mouth and took off. Not exactly the most helpful act, but later the youngster returned with a clean face.

They sun themselves in the garden, lying on one side, fluffed up, wings out, with mouths hanging open. Sometimes they sleep on the sunny branch of a tree.

They scream for food, and occasionally I'm in the right place at the right time to see one flapping its wings and opening its mouth to receive a snack from the parent (they're almost as big as the full-grown jays, but will still be fed by them for another few weeks).

First bird to discover the new birdbath: baby jay. And he splashed and drank like it was the best thing ever. Sibling jay was a little more cautious.

The baby jays are no different from any kittens I've ever known. They play, they hunt, they explore, they learn and they become more and more like their parents every day.

I'm a little sad for the time when they're grown and their lives become all about work -- just like us human grownups. Jays tend to live in family groups for a couple of years until the juveniles are adults and ready to mate. And even then, they may stay nearby and raise *their* families.

I feel honored to be a part of the lives of these wild creatures. The parents still come for their peanuts and the babies follow. Maybe someday soon the babies will come for peanuts of their own!


Music for walking

My current favorite form of exercise is walking. I have two particular routes I take from my house, both about three miles round trip. There's just the right mix of hills and flats so I get nice and sweaty and strong.

One route is my practical, errand-running route. I can get the mail, go to the bank and pick up small items at the grocery store that fit into my backpack. The other route goes in and around a neighborhood where every house on every street seems to have either a lush garden or a drought-tolerant native plantscape. Either way, most of the gardens on my route are beautiful and inspiring.

Both routes have strenuous sections, but the garden route is the one I take when I want to get into a more meditative mood. Here's a song that fits perfectly my garden-walking mood. How can you not feel good listening to "Feeling Good?" My fave: the Adam Lambert version (lyrics are below). I posted it on Yay Life! before, but I thought enough time had passed to post it again!

View on YouTube

Feeling Good lyrics

Birds flying high
You know how I feel
Sun in the sky
You know how I feel
Reeds driftin' on by
You know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good

Fish in the sea
You know how I feel
River running free
You know how I feel
Blossom in the tree
You know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
And I'm feeling good

Dragonfly out in the sun you know what I mean, don't you know
Butterflies all havin' fun you know what I mean
Sleep in peace when the day is done
And this old world is a new world
And a bold world
For me

Stars when you shine
You know how I feel
Scent of the pine
You know how I feel
Yeah freedom is mine
You know how I feel
It's a new dawn
It's a new day
It's a new life
For me
For me
For me

And I'm feeling
I'm feeling
I'm feeling


Stop wasting food - use a fridge triage box!

Sorry for the blurry pic, but you get the idea...
How much food do you throw away? If you're like me (or at least how I was before), probably a lot. I have a tendency to over-buy at the farmers market, for one thing. All that produce looks so delicious! Then I forget about it, or only use part of it.

Also, hubby works in the specialty foods industry, which means he is constantly bringing home samples. Everything from breads and crackers to sauces and spreads, ice creams, chips, veggie burgers, drinks, pasta and grains, dressings and dips... you get the picture. We may open a sample, but never get around to finishing it, and if it's perishable, that's a lot of food waste.

So I was super excited to read this article about something called a "fridge triage box." I love the name, and I love the concept.

The idea is to put a box or container of some sort in a highly visible spot in your fridge. Right in front, so you can't miss it. Into this box goes every perishable item that has been opened and needs to be eaten.

My white board where I track my produce
Those giant jars of pasta sauce that languish in the back corners of the refrigerator after one use? Put 'em in the triage box! That deli salad you had for lunch but couldn't finish? Triage box! That package of deli meats or hot dogs (in my case, vegetarian faux meats or the inevitable half-package of tofu) you opened last week? Put it in the triage box and EAT it!

I'm enjoying seeing what's at the top of the list for my meals. Sometimes it's not even an opened package, but one that is unopened and nearing its expiration date. The triage box is a great way to eliminate (or at least reduce) my food waste, and I do believe it's working, though I don't have scientific research to back it up.

I'm also using a small white board on the fridge to track what produce I pick up each week, so I can see what I have without having to paw through the produce drawers. This has been beneficial in keeping me from wasting food.

Is this something that would work for you? Have you tried this before? I'd love to hear your experience!


Doing it for the right reasons

These crazy steps get steeper as they get higher
I woke up last Sunday and very gingerly got out of bed. I expected sore feet, an aching back, and stiff quads. The previous night I had spent a couple of hours dancing (sometimes vigorously) to The English Beat. I had moved my body in ways it had forgotten and lost a couple of gallons of sweat.

It was a fabulous night, like being back in college, but I was certain I would suffer the next day. Just the fact that the band didn't start playing until after 10 p.m. was a warning sign.

So I was pleasantly surprised to discover that, except for suffering from minor dehydration and less than a full night's sleep, I felt darn good. No pain, no soreness. Just the memory of a fun concert with friends.

And it occurred to me that maybe my workouts were to thank for my easy recovery.

I don't work out as much as I should or as much as I would like, but I try to get in a combination of climbing stadium stairs at Santa Barbara City College and a heart-pumping and hilly 3-mile walk a couple times a week.

Sometimes I am not sure what my goals are for working out. Yes, I'd like to drop ten pounds. Yes, I'd like to keep my cholesterol and triglycerides in check. Yes, I like the endorphins that keep stress at bay. And yes, I hope to reap the physical benefits of stronger bones and cardiovascular fitness.

But I don't feel strongly enough about any of those things to get myself out the door more than three times a week, or else I would be doing it.

Then it occurred to me that what I really want from exercise is the ability to live my life the way I want to live it. I want to do what I want to do and go where I want to go, without hobbling around in pain, or worse, avoiding activities altogether.

If I go to San Francisco, I want to be able to walk up and down hills. If I go to a festival, craft show or fair, I'd like to be able to stand on my feet for hours at a time. If I go to a concert, I want to be able to rock out! There are many other instances that come to mind where having energy and endurance are necessary in my life. Public speaking, for example!

So really, exercise serves one main purpose for me: to allow me to live my life. All the other benefits are welcome and happen without any extra thought, but if I were to focus on those results, I would be exercising for the wrong reasons. At least the wrong reasons for me.