Wednesday, November 9, 2011

In Memory of Baby

Recently, a community outreach (spay and neuter education) position at a local animal shelter in the city opened up, and I decided to apply. This gave me the opportunity to sit down and write a cover letter that explains how my passion for animals began. I've decided to share this story with you, because I believe that it is a story worth telling. The events written below are a true tale of my life.

I grew up on a small farm in rural Texas, and I can’t remember a time in my life when we didn’t have dogs. They were my constant companions and best friends. But I also grew up in a lower-income family that didn’t believe in spaying and neutered. I’ve seen a lot of birth for someone my age…but also a lot of death.

One traumatic experience in particular became the eye-opening moment when I dedicated myself to animal rescue. As a young teenager, I had a terrier mix named Baby. Baby was gentle and affectionate, playful and loyal. Baby had several large and successful litters (most of which were eventually carted to the pound against my wishes). During Baby’s third litter, though, a puppy got stuck in the birth canal. As she struggled in the front yard, obviously in pain, I pleaded with my father to take her to the vet, but money was tight; we couldn’t afford it. I wasn’t even allowed to hold her while she suffered and died that day, but was instead sent off to school in tears. Baby was only two years old.

Not long after that, I got my first job, discovered the wonderful, local, low-cost vet clinic, and used my own money to spay and neuter most of our remaining dogs. My life changed with Baby, and the lives of every dog I have cared for since were changed by her, although they may not know it. I educated myself, and then my family. I helped my sister get her Australian Shepherd spayed. During college, I went on to volunteer at the local humane society, and after my move to Oklahoma, I have continued to encourage and educate others on making the right decisions for their pets, and help them find ways to do so in our struggling economy. My love of animals was learned early, but my passion for saving them was born through experience. It is an experience that drives me, and which I feel is worth sharing with others. I know for a fact that I will spend the rest of my life working with animal rescue in some capacity. It won’t always be easy, but every effort is worth it, because every animal is worth it.

This is a situation that I am certain happens over and over in low-income communities. I don't blame my parents for Baby's death (this was shortly after my parents' divorce, as I was living with my retired father who supported us on just his pensions and benefits, and the situation was pretty effed up) - I blame the lack of education. Would things have played out differently had my family understood that there were low-cost options? Maybe. We'll never know. What I do know is that Baby's death affected me deeply, and fanned the flame that had already been building in me for pet rescue. And even though she is gone now and may not know it, her death has helped me advocate and save many pets' lives. This is something I know in my heart I will continue to do, whether I can do it through the backing of a successful humane society, or whether I must plunge steadily ahead, making a path on my own.

If you live in the Oklahoma City area and need assistance spaying and neutering your pets, I encourage you to contact the below organizations before it is too late. They can help your pet live a longer, happier life with you - and that's what we hope for, for every pet.

Update 2011-Nov-15: I received a message from the Humane Society regarding my application, but she is currently out of town the beginning of this week, so we haven't been able to schedule an interview. Fingers crossed, though!

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Lazy Girl's Guide to Baking - Pumpkin Pie #1

In case anyone was living under a rock lately, Halloween was a week ago. I don't do much to celebrate Halloween anymore, other than hunting around the beginning of November for clearanced holiday candy (my cravings for M&Ms lately have rivaled those of a pregnant woman's). I LOVE making elaborate costumes, but they're often so time-intensive that I only do it if I have somewhere really awesome to show them off. This year was a bit dull, but I had Jason buy me a few pumpkins to carve, since it's been a few years since I indulged in that particular pleasure, and he totally didn't take me to pick apples like I've bugged him every autumn since I moved up here, so he owed me one. Here are the results of a Saturday afternoon:

This is Reginald. His mouth was a total pain. I just couldn't figure out exactly how to get it right and went through several different attempts which culminated into this. I'm super pleased with how he turned out. Definitely one of my finer jack-o-lanterns.

This is the colonel. He is less exciting than Reginald, in part because I was getting freaking tired at this point. In retrospect, I should have just shaved the rind for his beard and made his mouth the cut-out, and he lasted all of a day before he was collapsing in on himself. Oh well, now I know.

As enticement for Jason to let me have this bit of fun when I already have a to-do list a mile long, I told him I would save the "guts" and make some tasty pumpkin treats for him. Jason can't say no to tasty pumpkin treats.

With the help from a blog post by a friend of mine (check it out here), I learned how to get the most from my pumpkin and puree the meat for later baking. And let me tell is a FREAKING PAIN. But I feel my efforts were worth it. So much so that when we saw pumpkins on sale at Walmart on Halloween evening, we bought four more. Go ahead and shake your head at me. I'm still not completely finished pureeing it all, but I suspect by the end of it, we'll have at least three or four GALLONS of pumpkin puree. We've already started passing it along to family members.

I know, I know. I call this the Lazy Girl's Guide to Baking, and there's nothing lazy about making your own pumpkin puree when you can just go to the supermarket and buy a can. But let me tell you, fresh pumpkin tastes SO MUCH BETTER than the canned stuff. Even lazy girls have to admit that some things are just worth the effort.

Now that I have enough pumpkin to last me at least until next Halloween, I'm ready to go on a baking spree, and I decided to start with a classic: pumpkin pie. I don't have any particular recipe for pumpkin pie that I feel especially passionate about, so I've decided to have a bit of fun with this: I'm going to use a different recipe for each pie I make, and see where it gets me. It should be a fun little challenge to play with, and should keep me interested enough that I won't get bored making the same pie over and over and over.

I made the first pie on Saturday, and instead of turning to the interwebs to kick things off, I dug out an old recipe book that my dad gave me before he died, when he was to the point that he could no longer eat solids and had no need for cookbooks. This particular book has no cover, so I'm not exactly sure where it came from, but I'm fairly positive it is a church cookbook. It originated in Longview, TX, my hometown, which makes it a special cookbook for me.

Here is a picture of the recipe itself:

And here is what it looks like after I modified it:

Pumpkin Pie

3 cups real pumpkin puree
1 cup brown sugar (mixed light and dark, because mine was all mixed up in the same tub lol)
2 1/2 tsps pumpkin pie spice (see, I really am lazy)
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1 Tbsp melted butter
2/3 cup milk (skim is what we had)

Of course, all those measurements are approximate. I am in no way a stickler when it comes to exact measurements. I used measuring cups/spoons so I get it close, but if I happen to throw in slightly less than a cup of brown sugar, or if my cups of pumpkin happen to be heaping, I just shrug and keep going.

The pumpkin was the most challenging thing to get right. Check out that recipe - 1 large c. pumpkin? At first I thought that meant a heaping cup, but if you read the recipe, it states that one large CAN of pumpkin makes three pies, which brought up the question: how big is a large can of pumpkin? Particularly since this cookbook was probably made in the 50s or 60s. Who knows if a large can of pumpkin now was the same size as a large can back then? So basically was I did was start with one cup of pumpkin puree, add all the other ingredients, mix it up, and then continue to add pumpkin until the batter tasted right and was the right consistency (it needs to be fairly thick). From my estimation, three cups was about right.

Now, as I've mentioned before, I'm a lazy baker. I don't like making pie crusts. They take too long, and mine tend to come out tasting like oil. Yuck. So I cheated and made this pie with a graham cracker crust, as we have several boxes of graham crackers that need to be used up. To do this, you just crush enough graham crackers to get a cup and a half of crumbs, add 1/4 cup sugar and approx 6 tablespoons of melted butter, mix it well, and press it into your pie plate. Nom nom nom.

You can pre-bake it if you like....I was lazy and didn't, but I'm wondering if I ought have, as the bottom crust was pretty moist as an end result. I don't know if pre-baking it will help it keep its crunch or not, but I'll probably give it a try with the next pie and see.

I suppose it's a testament to the tastiness of this pie that I didn't even get a picture of it after it baked. Jason and I had half of it gone by Sunday morning, and the rest we shared with his family. I was pleased with it, and everyone else seemed to enjoy it, so pumpkin pie #1 was a win.

I haven't decided what recipe to use for pumpkin pie #2, but I expect it will get baked today or tomorrow. Feel free to make suggestions!

For the record, I'm trying to get in the habit of using Twitter more than Facebook. I'll still be around on FB, but I suspect a lot of my posts will be routed through Twitter so that I can encourage more followers over there. Everyone loves my hilarious statuses, so be sure to check it out: