Liberty and Beth…

Ok, Yeah, we are an equine sanctuary, with a bunch of critters, all pets, all loved, all special.  So, why in the world would Beth want to have a horse all of her own?  Well, because she has the horse chromosome, of course.  She will need a critter that’s partnered with her or she won’t be totally complete.  We really get that since we suffer the same genetic issue.  When our friends went to Horse Plus to pick up a gaited horse for Darell, Laura went along, invited Beth, and told her they were taking a 4 horse trailer.  The rest is history.  Beth asked/announced that she wanted to get a riding horse for herself that she could “ride everyday”.  She said she wanted to pick one out for herself and that she would know when she found the right one.  How could we argue with that?  Liberty, a beautiful 18 year old Q-horse mare, met Beth, asked her to take her home, and that was that.  After riding her a little and petting her a lot, Liberty was loaded up and on the way to Home At Last.  They got in a little after dark.  Beth walked her down, since driving that truck and trailer rig on our roads didn’t make much sense.  Liberty spent the night in with the frontyard  bunch. Beth needed to “check on her” last night before turning in and again, first thing, this morning.  We have a few chores to get to this morning, but Beth has planned to ride this afternoon.  I suspect we’ll see her off with no more than a bare back pad and a halter with a couple of lead ropes.  We’re not partial to tack here.  Liberty was letting Beth know, as Beth shared with us, that a bit was not her favorite.  So many of these old horses are well beyond needing much of a cue to get on with it, and we’re always amused by folks that think tack has much to do with getting in charge of their critter anyway.  We’re happy for Beth and Liberty.  Beth says a name change is in order and Liberty will have a special name that she and Beth agree on and that’s as it should be too.  There’s a lot to smile about here on the sanctuary.  This surely counts as one of em.  Jim

Equine Sense of Smell…

It’s pretty hard to overstate just how well developed the sense of smell is in equines.  That big old nose has enough scent sensitive tissue lining that if it were all unfolded it would completely cover the horse.  Wowsers!  Beyond that, the horse is endowed with a secondary scent sensing organ.  The vomeronasal or Jacobsen’s organ, about 12 centimeters long, is in the roof of the critter’s mouth.  The horse laugh or properly labeled “flehmen behavior” is really a sampling of the airborne scents, pheromones in particular.  The word  “flehmen” translates to “testing” in English..  The Jacobsen’s organ is thought to help stallions locate mare’s that are in season, but also can detect predators, herdmates, (including us), and a whole range of other scents.  Those big old nostrils and the vomeronasal organ lead very directly to the olfactory bulbs of the horse’s brain.  These bulbs are located at the front of the brain, and unlike most of the brain’s functional areas, don’t cross link.  Left nostril goes to left bulb, right nostril to the right.  It is believed that a horse’s sense of smell is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 times more sensitive than ours.  Don’t know about you, but that’s a big enough number that I have a hard time imagining having a nose like that.  These critters are immersed in the scents that surround them 24/7/365.  And that close link to their brain makes them very reactive to smells that concern or interest them.  Without getting too anthropomorphic, our sense of smell is closely linked to our lymbic system.  That is the structural part of our brain that’s tasked with emotions and is closely linked to memory.  Olfactory memory is quickly and deeply formed.  That sure seems to follow suit with our equine friends.  Horses are noted for having incredible memories and they sure can be emotional at times.  It’s hard to say just how far away they can identify our personal and particular scent, but you can bet it’s a long ways, Maybe a quarter of a mile or so.  A  horse’s sense of smell appears to never take a break.  They seem to be ever aware of the sea of odors around them and their ability to sort out very tiny traces of particular smells is amazing.  Ever try to “hide” some meds in their sweet mix?  Ever stick a “secret carrot” in your pocket?  We sometimes see horses examine or explore something new in their experience by getting a good whiff of it.  Sometimes there’ll be a flehmen right afterwards as that scent is brought to the Jacobsen’s organ for cateloging and storage in the memory banks.  When we introduce new tack or accessories to the gear a horse will be around it’s a good idea to let them get familiar with it.  They will almost always put their nose on it.  To visit an underlying theme of this group of essays, horses are taking in a lot of information through their senses all of the time.  This is a process that is highly integrated among the senses.  What this information tells them gives them a mental perception of the world around them and affects their behaviors.  We are a pitiful and lesser being when it comes to the sensory skills they possess.  Their sense of smell is on a scale it would be very hard for us to grasp.  Their world is not like ours.  It’s really easy to forget that.  It’s really easy to misunderstand that they have a reality shaped by senses that create perceptions we are totally unaware of and will never be able to be aware of.  When I consider this with my big old frontal lobes, I am continually and profoundly appreciative of just how wonderful these creatures are.  That they will put up with us, even like us, is something very special.  Wouldn’t want to be in a world that didn’t have equines.   Jim

Equine Hearing…

Next time you have a minute, take a real good look at your horse’s ears.  They’re called pinnae by vets, because they’re referring to the external part that we see on top of our critter’s head.  The entire ear is made up of more internal structures, both middle and inner ear parts, but we’re just simple horse folks so ears will do.  If that’s not enough, since we’re talking about hearing here, horses acquire sound information with their teeth, jaw, and hooves as well as their ears.  Sounds are pretty important to ’em.  With this complex acquisition equipment, they can gather a wide range of sounds at frequencies both higher and lower than we can and at far greater ranges.  They can hear some sounds that are miles away.  They can detect high frequency sounds that are generated by predators walking in dried grasses and leaves.  We may hear rustling sounds, they hear much more.  As they’re grazing,  their teeth respond to low frequency paw paddings as a predator walks.  These “vibrations” are transmitted through the jaw and into the middle ear.  Their hooves are very sensitive to low frequency noise vibrations.  Their hearing has greater acuity than ours.  Like their eyes, their ears can and do operate both independently and in concert.  They can swivel each of their ears a full 180 degrees in different directions, more than any other domestic animal.  They can process incoming sounds from each ear independently and simultaneously.  When something peaks their attention, they can home in on the direction by using both ears.  I guess you could say they’re good listeners.  As horses age, their hearing diminishes much as ours does.  Older horses in a herd become more dependent on the younger members to hear the sounds of danger.  This has some effect on the herd’s behavior. They may be good listeners, but most of the time, we talk too much when we’re around them.  Their listening agenda does not make room for idle chatter.  Like most prey animals, particularly large prey animals, they’re a quiet lot.  They don’t like the masking and confusion of sounds that the wind brings.  Loud noises are frightening, (and I’ll bet painful).  They don’t like surprises and auditory surprises are especially likely to get you involved in a traveling circus.  Since we just visited equine vision in the last essay, let me restate that horses use all of their senses in an integrated and orchestrated fashion.  They focus and refocus and sweep and re-sweep the inputs from their world.  They don’t differentiate inputs the way these essays might inadvertently suggest.  The sights and sounds and smells and tastes and sensations they receive are organic and holistic.  Next time you’re having a conversation with your critter think about all the ways your sounds have come to him or her.  Your footsteps, the gate opening and closing, your truck door closing, your voice and your breathing, the rustle of your coat and jeans, and probably much more all have been noted.  That ear tipped your way, first to listen, and then to share a mood or emotion.  Horses ears are very expressive and a good way to judge what’s on their mind.  From curious interest, to outright disgust, their ears say it all.  Anger and aggression, Oh yeah.  Ears pinned flat-not a happy place going on.  Might be good to respect that. The tone of your voice is important and well understood by horses.  Reassurance and confidence, fear or anger and frustration, they get it and react to it.  It’s not just what you say, but how you say.  Your determined footsteps, with that halter in your hand  maybe sounds a little different from the casual approach with a carrot in your pocket.  They hear you!   As I’ve said many times, we are way too talkative for our critters.  At least we can learn to say the right things in the right way.  That non-verbal language thing doesn’t mean sounds don’t count.  Everything we do or think about doing when we’re around these remarkable animals counts.  Intent, what we are about and what we mean to do, is a real key and it’s completely on us.  Big responsibility.  Big opportunity to get it right or screw it up.  Thank goodness they like our kind and forgive us for being what we are.  It’s always good to just go love on ’em.  It’s good for us and good for them and they sure deserve it.  Jim

Equine Vision

Horses have the largest eyes of land animals.  Their eye color can vary widely.  The horse’s eye is structured in three layers.  The eyeball is slightly flattened fore to aft.  They have a third eyelid and a well developed tear duct system.  Their eyes are placed to the sides of their head, but can still accomodate  binocular forward vision.  (More on this later)  They have bichromatic color vision.  The two types of cone cells they have allow them to see greens and yellows as well as the black, white, and grays from the rod cells.  They have a higher ratio of rod cells which give them good night vision and they can detect motion very well, even in low light.  They have a structure like a cat’s eye which also enhances night vision.  They are generally far sighted, having about 20/30 vision.  Their visual accuity is not as sharp as ours.  They have the ability to process visual input from each eye independently and simultaneously.  This is something we struggle to do.  They do enjoy good binocular vision, with fusion of both images and good depth perception when they have their heads up and are looking forward.  They are subject to “glare” blindness when going from subdued light to bright light.  Their eyes are slow to adjust from near point to far point and generally are focused at far point.  The closer the object the less well focused it will be until the eye accomodates.  At times, the critter will turn and tilt it’s head to compensate and try to gain better focus.  There is a great deal more technical information about the structure of their eyes and the research continues.  Their visual world is different from ours.  When these inputs from the visual light spectrum arrive at the equine brain’s visual processing structure the horse’s mind comes into play.  What they see, or perceive visually, affects their behavior.  A lot of a horse’s behavior is hardwired into their DNA.  These evolved behaviors are the result of being herd/prey animals.  I’ve often said, there are no reflective horses.  Philosophical discussions about lions resulted in getting eaten.  Their mind tells them there are no do-overs, no micro-seconds to waste.  We’ve all seen this impulsive, rapid response to things that are unexpected or possible threats.  We work to desensitize them and to trust our judgement beyond their instincts.  Thank goodness their DNA includes herd behaviors and the willingness to follow a leader.  So here’s a word picture to consider:  Out on a grassy plain, a small group of equines is grazing.  They are particularly “nervous” because there’s a breeze and the rustling of the dry grass interferes with their hearing and downwind scents are hard to pick out.  Their eyes, above the grass tops (because of their elongated nose, and thus the curb in their jaws) are in full monocular, dual image, far point, detect all motion mode.  Each individual accepts that the herd’s survival depends on them to be at their very best in alerting to threats.  The youngsters, owning DNA from tens of thousands of years of evolution, are also learning from the behavior of their elder herd mates.  This is serious business.  That peaceful “grazing thing” is an illusion, a mis-reading, a disconnect from what their world is about.  (At the watering hole, even more so.)  It’s not only a matter of what they see, but what they are trying to see.  Their mind is leaning forward in a state of situational awareness honed to a very find edge.  Their perceptions are being updated in tiny little moments of time.  The herd must be able to react more quickly than the time it takes for a predator to cover that last few yards that the hunter’s well practiced stalking has left for the final charge.  (It’s kind of like defensive driving in really horrible traffic is for us)  They are able to overcome this state of mind and attend to our issues and wants because they can learn to trust us.  Break that trust, throw them a surprise, put them in an unfamiliar situation with the “horrible blue tarp” or the errant wave of hat or rope, and you’re right back out on the plains and in the flight for life moment.  They will protect the herd.  They are reacting not simply to save themselves, but you too.  You usually just don’t get it.  You don’t thank them and praise them for that spot-on threat alert.  You react like this was a terrible thing to do and should never be repeated. I marvel at how well they put up with our ignorance.  They see what their mind is constantly asking them the see.  Those that didn’t, weren’t around to make more horses.  When we assume the leadership role, they must trust us to see and to “preserve” the herd.  Big responsibility, that.  Go love on your critters.  They really deserve it and you’ll both enjoy it!  Jim

The Senses Of Equines…

This essay is intended to set the context for the next half dozen blogs.  Each of these will address a particular sense, for example, the first will discuss equine’s vision and visual physiology.  I’m going at this task by parsing out the different senses because it’s a convenient way to sort out the information.  Here’s the problem with going at it this way:  Horses, like other higher order critters, have integrated sensory abilities.  Their perceptions and the way that their mind addresses them is holistic and global.  They absorb inputs as a whole, not piecemeal.  And to make this all the more complicated, these sensory inputs are interactive and prioritized in a myraid of permutations.  (Are you liking all those big fancy words?)  A simpler way to say all of this is: Horses sense the world they’re in the way horses do that.  When we look at how they see and what they see, we still have a long ways to go get at what they perceive and how their minds react to the input.  I hope you will bear that in mind as these next few blogs are presented.  Just because we have a better idea of what a horse sees doesn’t tell us much about what they think of what they see.  In our partnership with em, what’s on their minds is a pretty important issue.  Knowing more about their senses can be helpful, but nothing will ever replace just spending a lot of time with em.  They are kind and generous about sharing with us, but we have to pay attention and listen carefully to what they’re telling us.  So with that preface, I’ll speak to equine vision and their visual equipment.  Please participate with these essays by adding comments or insights or examples from your experiences.  This should be fun!  Jim

Getting A Sense Of It…

The senses: vision, hearing, smell, taste, touch and how they are recorded and interpreted by the brain, combined with some genetics and experiences create perception.  It’s through the senses that critters, including our kind, come to know the physical world and in the mystery of sentience, how to feel about it, and react to it, and interact with all those things inside and outside of their own body.  In higher orders of sentience, there’s even conscious choice, much more complex than reflex.  We start to have notions of free will and judgement.  That “feeling” part of perceptions grows into emotions and combines with all of the above and ultimately, organically, almost incomprehensibly, a unique personality presents itself.  The sights and sounds, smells and tastes, the texture and temperature and pleasure and pain of touch fill the brain’s memory banks and constantly add new information.  These inputs are filtered through the genetic mandates of survival.  Critters are what they are.  A horse can only respond to it’s senses like a horse.  We suffer the same limitation.  We are forever anthropomorphic.  Our senses cannot get past our genetics.  We will be always be human, can never be canine or feline or equine or any other “ine”.  It’s the way of it.  So when I undertake the task of describing and in some ways trying to define the perceptions that horses form about the world and how it shapes their mind, I must put a huge disclaimer on the effort.  Warning:  This is a human interpretation!  It was not written by a horse!  It could never be written by a horse!  And therein lies the problem!  Anthropomorphism abounds and is inescapable.  Us “anthros”, with our big frontal lobes, outsmart ourselves all the time.  Horses clearly get that they are horses and take in the world as presented.  We, with our intellectual egos, try to “get into the head” of other species.  Early on that probably had to do with survival, you know “the hunted and hunter” deal.  But eventually it evolved into knowing and using other species to our own ends, not just killing and eating them, and trying to understand them helped.  I deeply believe any success we’ve had with that is more a testament to the other specie’s abilities to put up with us than to any great insight and brilliance we brought to the game.  Part of our anthropomorphism is our recurrent inability to recognize it.  The old “camera trying to take a picture of itself” canard.  I think this tiring preface is necessary because this series of blogs is intended to help increase understanding, not just throw out a bunch of information.  As you perceive this input, I hope I can influence the context and the meaning with which you receive it.  Anyway, that’s what all of this blathering was about.  So,  Let’s consider the equines senses.  The model I like to use  to form a mental analogy is the Aegis Destroyer.  This is the fleet warship tasked with detecting threats as early as possible at the greatest possible range.  The role every horse has with the herd.  The time gained by this may save the fleet.  Failure to detect threats can be disasterous.  Always on the alert.  Always sweeping and re-sweeping the horizons.  Attentive and focused, even when relaxed.  On watch.  To carry out the task, the ship is equipped with a sophisticated array of sensory devices.  These have been tuned, and honed and refined to be as effective as possible.  They are task adapted.  They shape the operation of the ship.  Now consider that a horse is many, many times more complex than the most complicated machine man has ever made.  The brain of a horse regularly and unremarkably  performs tasks no man-made computer can even approach.  The sensory array they bring into play is incredibly capable.  Their ability to interpret and respond to the inputs so great as to be profound.  Their “intuition” beyond our simple science’s ability to grasp or analyse or replicate.  We may know the raw information of perceptions, but we don’t and may never know the mind that uses it.  It’s a good thing our species enjoys a big ego, or we could just as well give up and forget the whole thing.  But that’s not us.  Oh No!  We’ll figure this out,  We’ll get to being “horse whisperers” and “learn their culture” and know em.  Thank goodness for their willingness to put up with us.  Thanks to a generous Creator that imbued them with the capacity to like and accept our kind.  Our success with them, our partnership, is a reflection of what they have given to us, not much about what we have accomplished. The tiny bit we have learned, the very small understanding we have of them has been enough to get by.  They have filled in the blanks for us. I write the following blogs with a humble heart and with a deep appreciation for these magnificent creatures I have spent a lifetime getting to know.  Jim

Eating Critter Free…

Well, I’ll get after this topic one more time and then try to use some posts on our page from time to time.  I’ve noticed that the number of folks that read these blogs about eating vegies and not critters is pretty low and I get that.  Many folks would rather have this “literary” effort aimed at telling about the sanctuary residents and I get that, too.  Hope the blogs on this topic have been helpful to those that requested em.  Had Jim H. over for dinner last night.  He’s continuing to help me with the ’72 flatbed and it’s slow going cause we’re waiting for parts, but it gives us some time together and while he’s here he visits with his horses.  We’re keeping them here for a little while.  I made stacked enchiladas and Spanish rice for dinner.  Corn tortillas, filling made of sweet onion, red bell pepper, mushrooms, and fresh spinach, with a rich enchilada sauce all spiced up and slightly tangy.  This is a hearty meal.  It’s a little slow to prepare, but it cooks in the oven and the rice is a snap.   We serve it over shredded romaine lettuce and  cabbage.  This gives a little garnish and this underlayment of salad tastes great with the salsa and enchilada sauce as an incidental dressing.  This is a good time for some imitation sour cream and to try out some of the non-dairy based cheeses, but you don’t need them to have a perfectly fine meal.  A great salsa is always welcomed.  Last night’s was a black bean and corn salsa, well laced with cilantro and mild peppers in a tangy tomato sauce with some lime. Cooking, for me, is part getting stuff on the table to eat and part self-expression.  I guess I never got over playing with my food.  A few things that help with that part of cooking is having the right tools.  Around 35 years ago (Wow, that long?) I made a Koa cutting board.  It’s from a big old plank and I put a little salad oil on it now and then to preserve it.  I have a great French knife.  Lovely steel, good solid handle, and it holds a very good edge.  I just choke up on the blade for most of the trimming and paring.  Sometimes, a lot of times, the old cutting board and my favorite knife get the entire meal prepared with no additional equipment.  I’m fussy about pots and pans.  I don’t have a “matched chef grade, metallurgic, ceramic, lifetime coated and induction friendly” set, suitable for hanging and or framing.  I have my old favorites, tried and true.  Got a bunch of mix and match lids that fit and work.  The thing for me is that how you cook food matters.  It affects the flavor and texture and you have to know the pot or pan and the stove to be able to accurately predict how things will progress.  I can’t tell you how many cooking utensils I’ve looked at, bought because they looked “good” and then sent on to yard sales and thrift stores because they weren’t right.  For me, it really is “trial and error”.  Once I find one that works, I keep em till they’re just worn out.  Some are timeless, especially the heavy cast iron or very heavy stainless steel ones.  Others did real well and lasted a few years.  Frying pans, for me, get warped and the oil puddles up in the dents and low spots.  Sauce pans seem to have the same fate unless they have thick bottoms.  That’s the end of the line.  So, when you make up your mind to stop eating the flesh of other living things and to not use animal products that are derived from brutal and cruel industries, you could consider rethinking what cooking is about too.  I have fun with it.  I don’t get all serious and gourmet about it, but I like it to taste good and be healthy.  Cooking, shopping, being in the kitchen, getting a meal up and serving it, it’s all good!  Trying new things and new methods and new recipes is fun and the very worst that happens is the dogs and chickens have an unplanned treat and we open a few cans and laugh at the disaster.  Doesn’t happen often, but around here it’s part of the deal.   Jim

“Talkin” With Your Horse…

Here’s something to ponder:  The second your horse sees you, the conversation has begun.  They are attuned to read everything about the critters around them, including us, all of the time.  Some of what they respond to is pretty obvious, but most of it is really subtle and nuanced in ways our kind is incapable of perceiving.   The best we can do is know that they can and do sense all kinds of things that we don’t and give em credit for it.  The implication here is that we’re saying a lot that we’re not aware of saying and the only way we have of knowing that we’ve said it is by the actions or reactions of the horse.  When I say that it’s always on us and never on the horse as far as communications are concerned, I guess I’m speaking to this issue.  Our best and most effective accomodation  for this reality is to make sure our intent is clear to ourselves first, and then to the critter.  Our state of mind really counts.  If you’re in an emotional swamp, they’re gonna know it and react to it.  You can’t hide it from them and to try is a fool’s game.  Anger?  Frustration?  Heavy handed domination?  Well, good luck with that!  I actually tell myself, in English not some sorry attempt to speak “horse”, what I want the horse to learn or do.  I tell them as clearly as I can.  I try to break the task down and visualize it, to see them doing what I want and to share that with them.  Speaking it aloud isn’t necessary.  Horses don’t make a lot of verbalizations.  I do talk, but it’s for me and to help with my limitations.  Horses seem willing to put up with all the twolegged talking but I’ll bet they’d ask us to quiet down if they could.  Yelling and using harsh and abusive language and tones?  Really stupid!  They immediately go into the “something’s way wrong” mode and learning ceases.  A horse that has his/her mind on being scared and leaving the country is not focused on the task at hand.  Keep acting that way around em and they’ll see you as pain in the rump, not a worthy leader and teacher.  And, they’d be right.  They usually are.  I’ll say things to em like, “No, I’m not here to try to teach something, just fixing the water pipe”, or “Yeh, I have a halter in my hand, but it’s not for you”, or “Settle your mind, it’s time to go to work”.  They knew it before I said it, but it makes me feel better to put the words out there.  The take-away here is this:  Your intent is important!  Your state of mind is important!  Your emotional condition is important!  They will know all of these things the moment they see you.  If those issues aren’t OK, you’re going to have a tough time teaching them or  working with them.  They heard you the first time and they believed it when they heard it.  It’s how they are.  It’s part of what I love about em.  Jim

Beans, Lentils, Barley, Rice…

In the Winter, we eat a lot of soups.  Rich, thick, hardy soups, filled with vegies and legumes and grains.  Some of my favorite spices and herbs include garlic powder and onion powder (note: not salt, powder), cumen, oregano, basil (both fresh and dried), chile powder (we like the mild variety), fresh ground pepper (both black and white pepper corns), sea salt (very limited amounts), and nutritional yeast.  I’ve mentioned a brown gravy mix that’s vegan and really good.  Sometimes a little dark brown sugar is needed for some dishes.  The darker and less refined, the better.  We like soy based bacon bits.  They get used to add that nice smokey bacony  flavor and no piggies have to get slaughtered.  Pasta can richen up a soup and add hardiness.  Orzo is neat for that, but we also like rotelli or penne pasta.  Small and large shell pasta is good too.  We use pastas that are not made with eggs.  It tastes great and is way better for you.  There’s a whole bunch of different rices and it’s fun to see what they taste like.  Same with onions.  They range from hot and with a bite, to sweet and mild.  Leaks are really good.  We like soups with root vegies like potatoes and carrots.  Like to use cruciforms, broccoli, cabbage, some other the Asian cabbages like boc-choy and napa cabbage.  I like to put corn and diced tomatoes in soups.  If you want to thicken up a soup try using instant mashed potatoes and, of course, corn starch is an old stand-by.  Once you get comfortable with preparing it, tofu makes a nice addition.  Often, I’ll add fresh spinach to a soup and I like to use celery and mushrooms.  I’ve found it’s better to not get totally carried away and just throw everything in a pot.  The flavors get blurred and become indistinctive.  I like to carmelize the onions, potatoes, and mushrooms.  If I’m using bell peppers, carmelize them, too.  This step adds a very nice rich flavor to the soup’s base.  So, as a rule of thumb, I make  the beginnings of a soup base with some diced or chopped onions.  It’s fun to choose which type, Walla Walla Sweet?  Red?  Tangy White?.  Some potatoes, diced or sliced.  I vary the size as it affects the texture of the soup.  Mushroom?  Bells?  These go into my cast iron soup pot with two or three dollops of vegetable oil.  Not too much or it will slime out your base vegies!  When this beginning is lovely and brown and carmelized, I slowly add some water and work the pot liquor off the sides and bottom of the pot.  A lot of flavor comes from this product of carmelization. Next, I’ll add the cut, cubed, diced, ( your choice and fun to vary) root vegies and celery.  I like to kitchen cut these (on a diagonal and them maybe halved on the long axis)  I wash em well but don’t peel em.  This is also the time to add the bacon bits to flavor, maybe two or three tablespoons full for a large pot of soup.  Add water to bring the pot up to 1/2 to 2/3 full.  You can add more bacon bits later if you need more of that flavor.  Cabbages, corn, tomatoes, and the like go after the base is simmering along.  Now is the time to add structural ingredients like rice, grains, and legumes.  (I always pre-soak dried beans and have them cooked ahead of time.  Hard tough beans can ruin a soup and, although the dogs celebrate with gusto, it puts me somewhere other than my happy place.)  Add more water to around 3/4 of a pot or a little more and let that simmer along.  Rice and barley are great, but make sure they have the time to get fully cooked.  So now, you’re on the home stretch.  Add your spices and herbs.  Add any pasta you’re going to want.( orzo is an exception, and I always add it early on as it’s slow to cook}  Add the fresh spinach if that’s part of the deal. Check, stir and simmer.  Make sure the pasta is done to a soup consistency.  I don’t like al dente pasta in soup.  I like it soft cooked.  If you need to add more herbs and spices, do that in time to let it simmer a bit.  It’s good to let the soup sit and rest for 30 minutes or so before serving it.  Just cover it and let it be.  When you’re ready to serve, give it stir or three, put out some tasty bread with a good thick crust, the pepper mill and some sea salt and call em to dinner or supper.  We’re on a ranch, Soups are great because they can do double duty and cut down on cooking time.  Once for dinner (lunch, for you city types) and again for supper (again, dinner for you city people)  Depending on any number of things, I’ll often top the soup with dumplings for supper.  Mmmm.   Recipes?  No, it’s more like. What do I have and how will it go together?  Have I done this before?  Well, let’s see how it works.  If I use canned vegies, I always drain them well.  The liquid they can them with will really affect the flavor and make it hard to predict the way the spices and herbs will work.  A lot of times, the canning liquid is pretty salty.  Vegies?  I always opt first for fresh.  Second choice is frozen.  Lastly, canned.  It can be fun to use dried vegies, but learn how to reconstitute em.  I don’t like throwing them in the pot and hoping it works out.  The dogs always vote for the untried experiments.  Jim

A Sanctuary Kind of Diet…

We don’t eat critters.  It’s hard to get it to work in your mind and heart to save ’em and then kill ’em and eat ’em.  Our friend Tawnee says, “You don’t eat your friends”.  And she’s right, of course.  So much wisdom from this remarkable young lady!  Well, anyway, since we don’t/won’t eat critters, we have to eat something.  Eating has been a lifelong addiction.  We are vegetarian/vegan in our dietary choices.  The animal products that come from the dairy industry create their own Hell on Earth for critters and it’s hard to be a part of that too.  Vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds and meat substitutes provide a very rich selection to choose from when putting a menu together.  There’s really no food type or style that’s outside the realm of possibility.  Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Comfort food, tradition American, you can make any of it and it will taste really good.  There’s some very tasty and user friendly dairy substitutes.  For those that “can’t” give up cheese, no worries!  There are great alternatives.  Do you have to look for these alternatives?  Yeah, a little and in some really rural areas they can be harder to find.  We try never to be “food snobs”.  One of the things that you find is that some folks want to be offended because they think you’re just trying to be morally superior and somehow “new-age, hippy like, and weird.   Oh Well, can’t please everyone.  You’ll learn to read labels.  You’ll get used to knowing what’s in your food.  You’ll be thoughtful about where you eat out and what you order.  We choose not to decline invites to friends and mostly they are comfortable respecting our choices.  We try to make sure they feel we respect theirs.  I have to say, though, it’s hard to not share the health benefits that come from getting meat and dairy out of your diet.  And with friends, people you like and care about, it’s even harder to not want them to feel better and live a healthier life.  There’s that line between being a friend and a food snob.  It’s a tough one.  I would say, the first step to not eating meat is to simply come to the decision that you’re not going to do that.  Don’t buy it when you shop.  Don’t order it when you eat out.  Don’t plan for it in your meals.  Second, start finding meat substitutes you like.  Vegie burgers, with all the fixings, and good homemade garlic oven fries make a great lunch.  Get some really good pickles.  Try some different condiments,  fancy mustard or BBQ sauces.  Fresh lettuce (We like romaine), red onions, big pretty tomato slices,  beautiful sesame or sour dough buns.  You will enjoy this hamburger a lot.  It will taste good and look good, and if you’re like me, you’ll eat two of ’em.  It takes a little effort to learn how to prepare meat substitutes, so follow the directions that are on the package.  Cooking them improperly will not get a good result and these food products are not very forgiving if you cook them wrong.  If you don’t get it right the first time, don’t give up.  It took me awhile to shift gears.  I had to get the right griddle, find the right heat, get the timing down, learn to cover them for the last part of the cooking time, stuff like that.  This is do-able!  You can and will get good at it.  You’ll find new favorites.  We like a brown gravy mix, which is vegan, and goes over mashed potatoes like….mmmm, mmmm, mmmm!  Love putting artichoke hearts and good olives in a fresh salad of romaine, thin sliced sweet onions, tomatoes, and croutons!  Anyway, I’ll put in some menu ideas, a few recipes, and cite some sources, but there are a ton of ’em out there.  I’d say, go to the library or a used book store and just haul off and get a couple of vegetarian or vegan cook books and fix some dishes that look good to you.  I have always loved to cook.  I found this transition to be fun, and I laughed at my disasters.  The dogs are always rooting for a failure.  The chickens consider my mistakes to be the making of party!  Someone always wins!   Jim