Cat in a Chicken Run: Reasons to be Awakened at 1:30 a.m.

So, a bit of background…

We have a raw-fed Westie, that greatly enjoys salad, cucumbers, and pretty much will do anything for a tomato.  We even have to spell the word, “tomato.”  And we’re reaching the point where we have to spell the spelling of tomato, which gets very confusing.

And, we have a pair of self-indulgent, sweet, but highly demanding cats, that after packing on the kitty-pounds have been placed on a canned food diet, fed twice a day–first when the first person wakes up in the morning, and it has reached the point where, at the first sound of movement from any bedroom, the incessant caterwauling begins.  I’ve even had to change my alarm tone to try to forestall their demands.  This is highly irritating, but I do admit to being particularly amused by the game of walking obliquely towards the stairs to the basement, and watching them tear down the steps like bats (or cats) out of hell.  The pitter-patter of little feet is not the operative description.

As a result of their weight-loss, however, they are behaving more like cats, but they still think they must be fed.  Often.  Incessantly.  Repeatedly.  And much more than they are going to be getting any time soon.  And perhaps they think we don’t know it, more likely they don’t care, but they leap onto the kitchen counters, the kitchen table, the dining room table,  to forage for food; the tell-tale sound of little cat feet alighting on the kitchen floor is a dead-give-away.  And they are getting more uppity, more bold, and more demanding as they are slimming to actual cat-like proportions.

Finally, we have chickens.  I’m not saying that they are spoiled, but… we toast frozen waffles (organic) for them; we cook rice for them; they get the leftover salads that our dog doesn’t scarff down.  When they hear the back door open, they come a-running.  Or a-waddling.  The sight of a chicken sprinting across yard: tough to describe, harder to forget, and hysterically funny.

Cat, chickens, dog, enough said.

Cat, chickens, dog, enough said.

It’s not unusual to look out the window and see two Welsummers, two Rhode Island Reds, a Westie, and a cat foraging together in the back-yard. I wonder at times if the hens are part of a weird pack, or the dog and cat part of a freaky flock.

Have I mentioned that the cats are getting uppity, bold, and seem to think that all the food in the world is theirs by right?  The male, Simon, in fact, has taken to sneaking into the chicken coop to snack on the bird’s grains.  I’m not entirely sure that Simon is actually aware that he is, indeed, a cat.  I’m not sure he’s a cat.  More like a stomach, with legs.

Anyway, I told you all that, so I could tell you this.

We recently replaced our old chicken coop, and (not that we are spoiling the chickens) attached a covered run for them, so they aren’t always cooped up in the morning, while they not so patiently wait for us to come release them to free-range.

Well, to keep them comfortable and protected from inclement weather, I fashioned together a nifty roof for the chicken run–corrugated UV tinted plastic, so they have a nice amount of shade, and so that their food stays dry in case of rain.  Karen lets them out in the morning, as I leave for work in the pre-dawn; as she works later into the afternoon, I lock them back in at dusk–and thanks to the wheel in the sky keeping turning, dusk is getting later and later.  It’s a beautiful thing.

So, last Saturday, we’re a bit late on the animal feeding game, as the day got away from us (weeding the front yard and then taking a nice walk; love a sunny day).  But, with only a slight delay, and only slightly after their accustomed feeding time, and only slightly after dusk, the dog is fed, the cats are fed, Simon is let out to do a bit of whatever it is that cats do when they are outside, and I lock up the girls.

Hours go by. I let the dog out into the back yard for her evening potty run, expect the cat to come back in. He doesn’t, but that’s okay.

I wait for the dog to come back in–it takes her awhile because she is foraging for snackage; which may, or may not, include chicken poo. I try not to think about it.  Or let her lick my face.

A few more hours go by; no cat. Karen and I retire for the night, still no cat. And a few more hours go by.

One-thirty a.m., the daughter comes to our door; a tiny voice says: “I went to get Simon to come inside, and he didn’t, and I can hear him meowing, and he’s trapped somewhere.”   Karen leaps into action; I move a bit slower, and take some time to look for a flashlight–which by the time I locate and head outside Karen has found Simon.

Who was locked in the chicken coop.

And had been for at least 7 hours.

I’m not sure how I managed to not see him in the chicken run when I locked the girls in.  I’m not sure why he did not meow when the dog went out to go potty; I’m not sure why the dog didn’t bark at the cat locked in the coop.  But what I’d really love is to be a chicken-whisperer so I could know what they thought about it–and the biggest regret that we have is not taking a photo of the cat in the chicken-run… though we prepared for when it happens again.

Because it will.

Simon: chicken-food eater, late-night prowler



Lab-created milk: New from Coca-Cola

I normally stay on top of food news, so I’m surprised I missed this announcement in November.  As if we don’t mess with food enough, we will soon see Coca-Cola’s new lab-created milk Fairlife hitting the market.  Higher in protein and lower in sugars, the milk is essentially “ultra filtered”, then reformulated with different nutritional components.

With the steady decline in the consumption of sugary beverages over the past few years, its no surprise that the company would seek out a way to capitalize on the current market trends.  Unfortunately, many of us already eat more protein than we need (most of us need only 40-70 grams per day), and overconsumption of protein has its own health risks, including leaching of bone minerals.

Read more on this topic at The Washington Post: Why Coca-Cola wants to sell the world expensive “science milk”

After watching that conveyor belt of cows circling around in the video, I think I’ll stick with almond or coconut milk.  If you want to be further disappointed, just google images for the keyword “Fairlife’.  Apparently, sex will make it sell.


Photo Courtesy of Fairlife


Low Carb Sopes – Gluten Free and Grain Free

I’ve missed the taco truck since I’ve gone low carb and grain-free.  Asking for a taco salad at a taco truck can cause much confusion. Apparently, those working at my local taco truck have not heard of such a thing. You’ll have better luck asking for a burrito without a tortilla, but frequently that includes rice.

Forming sopes in muffin cups

Forming sopes in muffin cups

So, inspired by the cauliflower pizza crust we make semi-regularly, I decided to attempt sopes. Sopes (not to be confused with sopas, which are soups) are small masa patties that are piled high with Mexican goodness: beans, meat, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, etc. I decided to make some sort of Mexican concoction with this cauliflower crust recipe.

Using muffin tins seemed like it might work, and I cut parchment into strips, thinking that the crusts could easily be lifted out afterward.  They were cut narrow enough so that there wasn’t too much folding required, but they did stick to the tins in areas where there wasn’t parchment.  Cupcake liners might have worked better, but honesty, when I make these again, I will just make small circular crusts on parchment and not worry about the idea of little cups.

Here’s the basic recipe:  (See for original recipe)

  • 1 small head cauliflower, riced in a food processor or blender.  Cook in microwave for 7-8 minutes, and squeeze out excess liquid via cheese cloth.
  • ½ cup mozzarella cheese shredded (maybe cheddar would have been better?)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • ½ teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • ground black pepper to taste

P1030140After baking the crusts in muffin tins for 10 minutes at 400 (instead of the 15 at 450 that the original recipe calls for), I filled them with shredded chicken cooked with enchilada sauce, and topped with cheese.  These went back into the oven for only another 5 minutes or so, as the chicken was still hot, and all we needed to do was melt the cheese.

These were pretty good, but I’ll need P1030142to adjust.  They weren’t spicy enough for me, but that was my own fault.  Doused with Habanero hot sauce and eaten with a knife and fork, they were good.  Next time, we might top them with fresh jalapeños.

Now, I must say they did not taste like masa, but as a conveyance for Mexican goodness, these will foot the bill.  I think you could pile them high with about anything, and with enough spice, you shouldn’t miss the grains or carbs at all.  I will continue to play with this recipe and hopefully find low carb Mexican food perfection.

My Favorite Cauliflower Crust Pizza: Low Carb, Gluten-free, and Delicious!

I went low carb nearly a year ago.  I guess the best explanation of why, is that I went on a research binge about the relationship between the carbohydrate and sugar-rich diet we enjoy in Western culture, and cancer.  The big C.  Both my parents died of cancer.  What I read was enough to convince me.  I was going to take sugars and refined carbohydrates out of my diet.  Cancer cells require glucose and sugars to survive.  I was going to starve those cancer cells before they could take up a home.

Now, please understand that this is a remarkable feat for a part Sicilian American.  I was raised on bread and pasta.  For most of my life I could not imagine existence without them.  Then there was college, and pizza, and beer.  Why would anyone give up pizza, bread, pasta, and beer?  Once you actually do, you will understand.  I no longer need or crave these things.  I feel well, satisfied, satiated, and like I could skip eating for 2 days if I needed to.  But, that’s another blog post.

So, I’ll get off my soap box and share the best ever gluten-free, low carb pizza crust.  We had it tonight, and it was amazing as it always is. I tend to add a little extra cheese and a second egg to the crust.  It never fails.  Enjoy!

The Iron You: Cauliflower Crust Cheese Pizza

Update: It came to me the other day that I could use this recipe to make sopes.  I will be experimenting with cauliflower crust sopes (instead of masa) for Super Bowl.  I miss my local taco truck since I’ve gone grain-free and low-carb.  Maybe this will fill the void!  If they turn out well, look for a new post!

Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Cauliflower Pizza Crust – just add toppings!

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Weekend Project: An Inexpensive Raised Bed

This time of year, I itch to get out into the garden, and I’ve been dreaming of expanding the available vegetable gardening area for months now.  This past weekend, my boyfriend and I (ok, mostly my boyfriend) constructed a cheap raised bed to partially fill an otherwise useless side yard.

Raised bed built from fence pickets

Raised bed built from fence pickets

Materials we used:

  • 6-foot Cedar fence pickets (rot resistant, and inexpensive):  These were on a coupon special from McLendon’s (Western WA). We bought 6 for this plan at a price of $1.28/each, or a total of $7.68.  
  • 1- 8′ foot 2×4 for corner support and cross-support (non-pressure treated, due to potential food contamination issues)
  • Self-drilling screws (these were the most expensive item aside from the compost/soil)
  • Trim for added stability (we used 1x2s)
  • Compost/topsoil – We used 7 cubic feet of compost and 4 cubic feet of topsoil.

This is a great basic and inexpensive bed to build, and pieces can be pre-cut at your local hardware store.  Using self drilling screws means the only real tool needed is a screw driver (cordless drill with phillips bit) if material is pre-cut.  We assembled it as follows:

The basic instructions:

  • Cut corner supports to 12″ lengths
  • Attach sides, using 2 full length 6′ fence boards for the long sides, and 1 halved 6′ fence board for each of the short sides (1 picket cut into two 3-foot lengths).  We butted our joints leaving the joint on the short sides, so the width of the bed was 36″.
  • For the brace, we used a 3′ length of 2×4 spanning the inside of the bed (will be covered by dirt).  It was screwed to both the upper and lower fence boards to provide support and prevent bowing.
  • To finish, and provide additional stability/warp control, we attached 1×2 trim around the top.  Nothing fancy, but I think it will help to prevent warping.

This was so quick and easy to do, we were tempted to head back to the hardware store and build another, which we may do on another weekend (perhaps a 3×3?).   After a failed attempt at growing pumpkins there last year, I’m excited to potentially put this otherwise unusable piece of lot to good use.

Whole Foods steps up against GMOs. Or do they?

The freedom to eat clean, non-GMO food is a passion of mine.  Not only am I (endearingly?) referred to as the “Crazy Chicken Lady” by the children of my co-workers, I guess I’m also the “Weirdo Food Chick” among my peers.

So, it was with much exuberance when I discovered that Whole Foods finally took a stand with GMOs, yet I was underwhelmed at the timeline of implementation.  This editorial essay from Organic Consumers Association does a good job of summarizing my own views on the topic:

Courtesy my Terra Organics box

Courtesy my Terra Organics box

The Whole Truth about Whole Foods Labeling Policy

Whole Foods is essentially engaging in a public relations tactic, in my opinion.  I-522 has great power behind it in Washington State, and taking a stand without having to take action is convenient for the retailer.  Nice strategy, really.  If I-522 fails, they still have 3 years to implement the labeling requirement and save face, but they’re betting they won’t have to.  If it passes, they look as if they were taking a stand.

I am personally contributing to I-522, and am participating in the boycott of the “No on 37” supporters in California.  Although not convenient, it feels good to send a message with my wallet.  I’ve had to give up some favorite products, but it feels good to eat with a conscience.  If only Big Ag had one.

Organic Consumers Association is a great source of information and has additional resources for those who want to learn about the boycott, the Big Ag companies who own those stealthy ‘natural’ and organic  brands, and the people who want to will sell your health for the sake of the Almighty Dollar.

Planting by Phases of the Moon

As someone who personally feels the effects of the moon (I get very ADD during the New Moon), I’ve always suspected that moon phases had a greater impact on living things than could be easily explained.  After researching when to start seeds indoors, I stumbled across the good ol’ Farmer’s Almanac, and was surprised that they cited the “moon-favorable dates” on their planting chart.  This warranted research.  What was this lunar gardening?

182165473_f08a1edf94_mWe’ve long understood how the moon affects the tides, so it is no wonder that it affects plants, whose main mechanisms for growth are the transport of water and the utilization of sunlight through photosynthesis.  Gardening by moon phase (a component of what is referred to as Biodynamic Gardening) is as old as agriculture itself.  During the New Moon, when the gravitational pull is the greatest, the moon aids in pulling water up toward a seedling’s roots.  Apparently, seeds will absorb the most moisture during the time of the full moon.  Now, for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, there is certainly no shortage of spring moisture.  That said, this technique may not make any visible difference for those where moisture is not an issue.  Our ground is fairly soggy until June most years.  But, for those in areas where spring rain is less abundant, why not give it a try?

From the article Celestial Gardening, Organic

“One backyard gardener who’s convinced is Richard Makowski of River Vale, New Jersey. Makowski says he tried the biodynamic planting calendar a few years ago “for the heck of it”—and saw his winter squash yields triple. “My wife says the vegetables are sweeter,” he says, taking a break from planting a bed at the Pfeiffer garden. “I didn’t even believe this stuff at first. And maybe you don’t have to. But I’ve never met a gardener who isn’t spiritual on some level.”

Unfortunately, I planted my kohlrabi and sweet peas on Saturday, which was a waning moon.  On the bright side, it appears to be a good time to plant trees, so the lilac transplant I have planned for next weekend will be right in sync – as long as it’s still waning.  Wow, I need an app for this!

What I surmised from my brief research stint:

  1. The New Moon is the best time for planting crops that produce seeds outside their fruit (leafy greens, grains, cauliflower, broccoli, etc.)
  2. The second quarter is best for crops whose seeds are formed inside the fruit (tomatoes, beans, peas, etc.)
  3. Mow lawns in the first and second quarters to encourage growth, and in the third and fourth quarters to retard growth.
  4. The 4th quarter is a time for pruning, composting, and general maintenance.  Not good for planting.
  5. Anything that grows primarily above the ground (beans, peas, squash) should get planted in a waxing phase.
  6. Anything that grows primarily below the ground (potatoes, turnips, onions, carrots) should be planted in the waning phase.

Here are a few sites I found intriguing when reading about the topic, which may just encourage you to pursue additional research:

The Gardeners’ Calendar is an interesting site that outlines the 3 moon planting methods, including a 7 day running calendar summarizing what to do, and what not to do.

Farming by the Moon, from the Farmers’ Almanac

Is biodynamic the new organic? – News article from The Telegraph, UK

The challenge that changed my views on food

As I mentioned in a previous post, I eliminated HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) from my family’s diet about 10 years ago.  That was the starting point, and the first big step, but back then, I was still miles away from what I would call a “healthy” diet.  I was still eating those microwavable big-name entrees for lunch at work – the ones where the ingredient list cannot be read without glasses and is 2-3 inches long.  But, if it didn’t have HFCS, I was ok with that.  I’ve come a long way.

The company I work for has a wellness program where employees can earn points throughout the year.  If a certain threshold is reached through completing certain challenges and a variety of other wellness-related activities, the employee earns a discount on their health insurance premiums.  When the program launched (I believe it was 2007), one of the challenges was to form a team and eat as many servings of fruits and vegetables as you could in a month.  Hmm… why not recruit my foodie friends at work and form a team?  I did, and it was life-changing.

The challenge was simple: eat as many fruits and vegetables as you can in a month, logging your servings daily.  There were no other requirements.  Within just a couple of days, I noticed a significant increase in my energy, and the “funk” that I’d regularly feel on an almost daily basis was completely gone. I frequently suffered from headaches, lethargy, and irritability.  These symptoms all subsided.  With the abundance of fruits and vegetables in my diet, there was really no more room for crap.  Truly, I felt amazing.


Vegetables from Terra Organics:

What was strange to me at the time, was that in an attempt to eat as many fruits and vegetables I could, I actually got tired of eating.  I found myself completely satisfied, and cravings disappeared.  I would come home and make dinner, which would consist of a small amount of protein and a huge plate of vegetables, and I would frequently get to the point where I just couldn’t eat another bite, long before my plate was empty.  This was a completely new phenomenon for me.  We tend to fill our meals with dense calories, feel unsatisfied and un-satiated, then succumb to dessert.  For the first time in my life, I felt completely satisfied and left food on my plate.  Now, this is partially because chewing requires energy, and when you’re eating a large amount of food that requires work to eat, you get tired of eating it.  But, after a week or so, I truly grew to be in touch with my hunger, and it stabilized like never before.  I felt balanced.  Finally.

What was more significant to me was that those minor ails I felt daily, the ones I’d become accustomed to feeling that were just a part of life, had completely gone away.  I woke up every day feeling well; feeling healthy.  Was it really this easy?  And how many years did I waste having daily headaches, gastrointestinal pains and upsets, and a general feeling of malaise?

I think I ate somewhere around 280 “servings” (USDA sized) of fruits and vegetables that month, just slightly under 10 per day – significantly more than I had been on my supposedly “healthy” diet, but when you look at what a serving size actually is, it wasn’t that hard to do.  I can easily eat a cup of blueberries a day in August (2 servings).  I discovered that a USDA serving size is generally 1/2 the amount that an enthusiastic eater would desire.

Americans (and increasingly, other cultures) have become accustomed to convenience.  We have designed our lives around 15-minute meals, to the detriment of our health.  Preparing food with whole ingredients is not convenient, but neither are trips to the doctor.

I entered this annual challenge for 3 years in a row, each time renewing my belief that food is what makes us well, but unfortunately, is also what makes us sick.  I’ve also done “the challenge” on my own twice with my boyfriend (one month on the first occasion, and nearly two months on the second), wanting him to experience the difference in his health.  Though I cannot speak for him (maybe he’ll blog about it), he also experienced significant changes.

So here we are… happy, healthy, and viewed by the majority of industrial food consumers as “extremists”. I’m really just trying to eat the way humans were meant to, and in a way not so dissimilar from the way my grandparents ate.  I truly believe that time will tell, and the consequences will be severe.  In another 10-15 years, the largest experiment that has been conducted on humans without their informed consent will finally end.  I have faith.  (And I also feel a GMO post coming on… maybe that’s another day!)

Challenge yourself.