Thursday, June 20, 2013

Recipe - Taco Pie!

I've had a few requests for this one so I'm paying attention to how I make it and posting the recipe as a blog..  It's not fancy, it's tasty, it's easy to throw together in about 20 minutes after work, on the table in an hour and it can be adjusted to your personal taste (spicy or mild).  I refer to it as 'taco pie' as kind of a joke to it's very primitive roots and lack of culinary flair.  But hey, it really does taste good!

The basic principle is that you're taking taco meat, putting some salsa on it, topping it with cornbread and baking.  So let's get started:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Step one, always step one, make sure your oven is heating up while you throw the rest of this mess together.

You'll also need a baking dish (5 quarts, approximately 15x10 inches), a medium sized mixing bowl and a large skillet.


Meat Filling:
2 packages ground turkey (I prefer the 93% lean, but you can use any ground meat)
2 packages taco seasoning (you can also make your own, I doctor mine up by adding some garlic and onion)
5 cloves garlic, chopped
1 onion chopped (I prefer sweet or red onions)
3/4 cup of water (or as needed)
optional - 1 can fine diced tomatoes or 1 jar of salsa
optional - 1 can chopped green chili's

1 16 oz jar of salsa

1 large egg
1 1/3 cups of milk or buttermilk
2 cups of self rising cornmeal
1 14.75 oz can of creamed corn

1 cup shredded cheese (you can use more or less to your taste or skip this step altogether.

Browning the meat
brown meat, breaking apart with a spatula.  Add taco seasoning, chopped onion, chopped garlic and water -cook until onions are softened and seasonings are well mixed.  You can also do this with meat straight out of the freezer as I had to do tonight.  My husband seemed to be of the opinion that the freezer is where you store meat and put the meat that was purchased yesterday in the freezer for safe-keeping.  When I use ground meat straight from the freezer I just flop it in the pan, cover it to help it steam through and keep scraping layer after layer off with a spatula.  The tricky part being to not have meat plains ...but a little chopping action with your spatula can help with this.  Using frozen meat will add about 10 minutes to your prep time.  You can also use veggie meat crumbles or my preference would be some nice black beans for your vegetarian friends - although this really isn't a good choice for vegans with the dairy and eggs.
Spread the meat in the pan

Now, spray some non-stick cooking spray or olive oil in your baking dish.  This isn't required, but will help keep the cornbread from sticking. when it comes time to get it out of the pan, but lightly is enough.

Spread the cooked meat mixture into the bottom of the pan.  I typically don't pack it tightly, I just smooth it so the meat mixture is well distributed.

Salsa on top of the meat, don't mix
Top the meat mixture with the jar of salsa (you can use any type you prefer, I like traditional Salsa Verde, I think the green color is a nice contrast to all the yellow and brown of this dish
 - the hotter your salsa, the spicier your dish)

don't over mix your cornbread
Prepare cornbread.  Don't over mix your cornbread as it will make it dry.  Take the self rising cornmeal, one egg and the milk and mix until just blended.  Then add the can of creamed corn.  This is an ingredient that my mother finds horrifying.  Personally, I would not ever eat plain canned creamed corn - but in cornbread it is awesome.  It adds moisture and the right amount of sweetness.  It's a trick I learned from an ex boyfriend (and honestly the only good thing I got out of that relationship).  So please, trust me.  It will make the cornbread nice stuff.  Just do it.  And if you don't and your cornbread is dry, don't come whining to me.

ready for the oven
lightly spread the cornbread, don't mix
Lightly mix the creamed corn into the cornbread mixture and spread over the meat and salsa gently.

Properly cooked cornbread!
Place it into your preheated oven and set the timer for 20 minutes.  When the timer goes off, you'll want to make sure your cornbread is done.  It should be starting to brown and crack on the top.  You can use a smaller / deeper dish to make this, but it will increase your cooking time if the cornbread is thicker.
Sprinkle the cheese across the top

Once the cornbread is cooked through, sprinkle your shredded cheese across the top and place back in the oven to melt the cheese.  When the cheese is melted you'll want to remove the dish from the oven and let it cool and set-up for about 5-10 minutes.  This will make it easier to scoop and neater to serve.

To serve:

Use a large spoon to scoop away a portion of the cornbread with the meat.  Scoop any meat left on the bottom of the pan into the dish.

Finished dish!
Suggested toppings:  Sour cream, sliced green onion, chopped tomatoes, shredded lettuce, salsa, taco sauce, (and my favorite) Chipotle Tabasco - which has a great smoking flavor, not too thick, not too thin.

I like to plate this, as just plopping the pan on the table with fixings really doesn't make for a pretty dish - and you eat with your eyes first!

Surprisingly, leftovers keep fantastically.  The cornbread doesn't get too soggy and yet maintains enough moisture.  Ultimately this is a casserole.  But it's a tasty twist on a casserole, is pretty good for you if you use ground turkey and don't go crazy with the cheese and sour cream.  Reheat it the next day for an easy meal that doesn't taste of leftovers!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Abdicating Responsibility

This terrible news report ended up on my screen yesterday:


Essentially, a homeowner called animal control to complain about a family of cats living in her woodpile.  She told the humane officer that the feral cats were causing a flea problem in her house and that she wanted them removed for the health of her family.  She then reports that the humane officer told her the shelters were full and the cats would go to "kitty heaven". And then he shot the five, 8-10 week old kittens with the woman standing nearby and her children watching from inside.

The children were screaming and crying, the mother cat ran away and was not killed.

Police said that the woman understood that the cats would be euthanized, but said she didn't expect it to happen in her yard.

The Police confirm that the humane officer's actions were appropriate and he will not be disciplined.

As you might imagine, many people are very upset.  Animal lovers are horrified that this would have happened, that these kittens would have been shot with a gun.  Others are horrified that it would happen in the presence of the children.  And still others believe it was the right thing to do.  I've seen comments on the news story threatening the 'humane' officer, but not nearly so many calling out this woman for her role in what happened.

So here are my thoughts:

This woman called animal control to 'take care of' a problem.  She admits freely that she knew the cats would be euthanized (aka, 'killed').  But then, when EXACTLY WHAT SHE KNEW WOULD HAPPEN happens in a way that she didn't like, she is no longer happy.

By talking to the press about how horrible this is and how terrible it was that her children had to see this she is abdicating responsibility for her role in the deaths of these animals.

She has also made it clear that death was her expected outcome and she was okay with that.  She was okay with having someone else solve the problem for her, but then she is unhappy with how that problem is solved.

She feels guilty, but if the officer had taken the cats away and euthanized them somewhere else, that she didn't have to watch it it would have been okay.  If she could have told her children some story about them going to kitty heaven that made it sound like a good thing, if she could have had this happen out of sight and out of mind it still would have been okay that these animals were killed.

And what was her role?  She is entirely responsible.  She called animal control, she called with the intent of having someone else take care of the problem.  She knew the cats would be killed when she called, but she took the easy road.  She didn't contact a rescue group when the kittens were first born or try to socialize them and TNR (Trap Neuter Return) the mom cat so that she wouldn't have any more babies.  She didn't try to TNR the whole family when it got too late.  She also has some bull story about cats in her woodpile getting fleas into her house.  Really?  No other outdoor animals have fleas and live in your woodpile.  Right.

Mind you, I think that shooting animals and calling it 'euthanazia' is wrong.  But we must keep in mind that in this particular county that is legal and acceptable.  The 'humane' officer in this situation did nothing wrong.  I suspect that this guy isn't a very nice guy.  I don't know him but I can tell I wouldn't like him, I can't imagine having a job that required such of me and being okay with it, but again, this is his job and the way in which he carried out HER request followed local guidelines for the extermination of these unwanted animals.  He is simply the messenger.  And we are the crowds that are posting his home address and threatening him and 'killing the messenger'.

I wonder why more people aren't focused on the woman who sent the message?

It disturbs me that she is being portrayed in the news as a victim.  She is not a victim, she's a person who wanted these animals gone, killed if necessary.  She is the person who asked that this be done.

And when the mom cat who got away comes back this fall with a new litter of kittens, what will she do?  Will she call animal control again?  Will this time she demand that they cats and take these cats away before they kill them and solve her problem?  Will someone explain to her that without TNR her problem will never be solved?  Will she ever realize that the blind eye she turns and her unwillingness to accept any sort of responsibility is the bigger part of the problem?

And I wonder if her young children will remember this.  I hope it will make them better stewards of their environment, which yes, does include feral cats.  Perhaps this is the first step to them learning you can't just turn a blind eye, that you have to take responsibility. Responsibility that starts with spaying and neutering the cats and dogs in your care.  I hope, but I doubt it.

If we all made sure our pets were spayed and neutered there would be fewer unwanted pets and fewer killed in shelters.  If we made sure the stray cats in our yard were spayed and neutered there wouldn't be unwanted kittens and we could benefit from some natural pest control and those cats would keep away the wandering ferals.

Volunteering with a rescue I know how people don't take responsibility.  I am now deaf to the strangers that threaten me at adoption events because I tell them I can't take the cats they found and can't keep because they already have two dogs and two cats.  I can't hear them when they tell me that it's MY FAULT that those cats will die, because it's MY FAULT that they have now been forced to take them to the shelter because I wouldn't help.  I just don't hear it anymore, because I know that it's not my fault, it's theirs.

And I will break my back to help the people that help me help them.  The ones that start some vet care, that can bring some kittens inside to a bathroom or dog crate until they can find someone or some rescue group to help out.  The ones that are out there in the rain setting traps to get feral cats spayed and neutered so there will be fewer of these unwanted kittens that plague us all at this time of year.

In 2010 the county I live in, Wake County, NC had the lowest euthanasia rate of any county statewide at a whopping 49%.  But still, that means that almost half of the animals that were surrendered to our local animal shelter died.

But when I think about the 49% that died - the 8,200 dogs and 15,600 cats (more than 7,000 of those feral) euthanized from January 2008 to June 2011, I don't blame the animal control officers that were doing their jobs.  I blame the people that didn't spay and neuter their pets and then looked to someone else (often people like me, volunteers with full time regular jobs) to solve the problem.  I blame the people that want an instant fix, the people that have yelled at me and then said to onlookers that it's my fault they now have to take these cats to the shelter where there's a 49% chance that they will be killed.

Those are the people that need to shoulder this blame.  Not the people our cities and counties have been hired and trained to take care of these 'problems' that most people want a quick fix for.  And if that quick fix comes with a high price, like the death of those unwanted animals, they will pay that price as long as they don't have to bear witness to that death.

So I implore you.  Let's give credit where credit is due.  It's not the messenger.  It's this woman who sent the message (and the hundreds of thousands like her).  These lives were in her hands and she's the one that threw them away.

Monday, June 3, 2013

This weekend we received an adoption application that ended with this comment:

"I apologize but I am not going to have you call my family and friends to see what kind of person I am in order to provide a kitty with a home. This application already asks for to much as it is!"

And while she was pleasant about it, I cannot agree that our application asks for too much as it is.

We ask for:

  1. Contact Info
  2. List of pets you've owned in the last 10 years 
  3. Do you want indoor or outdoor cat?
  4. What is the reason for your this lifestyle choice (indoor / outdoor)?
  5. Why do you want a cat?
  6. What are the ages of the members of your household
  7. Who will be responsible for the care of the cat?
  8. Do you have a vet and if so, their name and contact info
  9. Do you rent or own, if you rent do you have your landlords permission?
  10. Do you plan to move in the next 12 months?
  11. How much time do you have to spend with a new pet?
  12. Are you prepared to provide a home to this cat for 15+ years?
  13. Are there any other animals in the home?
  14. Where will your new cat stay?
  15. Why would you give up your new pet?
  16. How will your pet be cared for when you are out of town?
  17. Would you ever consider declawing your cat, if so under what circumstances?
  18. How much time do you estimate spending with your new cat?
  19. How much do you estimate caring for your new cat will cost?
  20. How often do you think a cat should go to the vet for routine care?
  21. Please provide 3 references

This was the email response I just sent:


Thank you for your application to adopt a cat with us.  Unfortunately we are unable to process or approve your application as submitted.

As you may know, Alley Cats and Angels is an all volunteer rescue.  We believe strongly in our policies and our programs as all of us have full time jobs and spend our nights and weekends working for the rescue.  The references we ask for we do so for everyone and this is standard practice in the rescue community.  In addition to giving us additional insight into people we do not know, these references have provided us a way to get in touch with people that have lost the cat they adopted from us in the past.  References more often than not have resulted in us approving an application that would have otherwise been denied as questions on a piece of paper really can't accurately summarize a person's character.  

Sometimes the references we have received are friends and family, but sometimes they are simply the family vet.

And while I might understand that you would be uncomfortable providing references unless we needed them to approve the application, your comment that you feel that our application already asks too much as it is leads me to believe that don't understand or respect the time and effort that we put into this 'job' that pays nothing in rewards except the satisfaction of a good home.  And the adoption application and our adoption contract is the best tool we have to determine whether people we meet for maybe an hour would be a good home for the cats and kittens that we invest so much in emotionally.  

Please understand that beyond that comment about references you have a very good application and it saddens me that this is an issue to you.  But our adoption contract itself includes requirements that you keep your address updated with us, that you agree to always return the cat to us, not to a shelter or give to another person and that if you violate the contract we have the right to demand the immediate return of the cat.  If you object to providing the information requested on the application I fear that these additional requirements in the contract would also be objectionable to you.

I'm sure you'll provide a great home for a kitty that needs one, but there are many options available to you that do not require an application or adoption contract including the animal shelter and craigslist.  We are emailed about cats and kittens daily that we cannot help because our foster home capability exceeds our requests, but we do the best we can.  With a core group of approximately 25 volunteers we managed to take in 329 needy cats and kittens to our adoption and barn / garden program last year while adopting out 278 and relocating 29 to barn and garden homes.  That's almost 6 cats / kittens placed a weekend.

So that you can perhaps better understand what kind of a commitment our volunteers have made to Alley Cats and Angels and why we don't feel that we ask for too much on our adoption applications I want to tell you about a typical week for me:

My typical week includes two adoption events, scheduled for 1-4 on weekends (we arrive early to set up and often have to stay until 5 or 6 cleaning up from the event or getting through the paperwork of last minute adoptions) in addition to planning the event - which involves contacting each foster home to make sure they bring their kitties to events, getting additional volunteers to sign up for these events, preparing cage cards and making sure the medical records and other supplies are there.  Yesterday after the adoption event we drew blood, ran FeLV/FIV tests and vaccinated 8 kittens after those events.  I respond to several emails about getting cats or kittens  on our waiting list, or about getting cats or kittens brought to us for intake to the program.  I respond to online adoption applications during the week when I can make time at work, I call the Rollins Lab in Raleigh to get necropsy reports on cats and kittens that we took in from terrible situations that died despite our care.  I get to run kittens to the emergency vet at 3am or call with a credit card number when one of our volunteers is stuck in such a heartbreaking situation.  My husband and I scoop the litter pans in our house 3 times a day and administer medicine 2 times a day to kitties that need it.  I track medical supplies and order what we need weekly either online or by calling the manufacturer.  Often once a week I leave work after 7pm and drive to Apex to pick up supplies or drop off adoption paperwork with a volunteer there before returning to my home in North Raleigh and tending to my nightly cat care duties.  At least once a week I end up at a foster home administering vaccines to cats and kittens that need boosters.  I get the right meds to fosters with sick cats and also coordinate with adopters who adopted a cat but need antibiotics for a cat with a cold per our 21 day health guarantee.  On Friday mornings before work I assist one of our partner vets with spay / neuter by filling out rabies vaccines, vaccinating cats, prepping them for surgery and arranging for another volunteer to pick them up prior to the vet closing - and then I head to work for the day.  I figure out which cats need/can be spayed and neutered early in the week and I make those appointments.  I respond to requests for assistance and advice on a daily basis from other volunteers, former adopters and people that have been referred to us for help.

All this and the adoption program is the only one of our 4 programs that I volunteer with.

I also work a 40+ hour a week job where I am the VP of Sales for a small, successful software company.

So, I hope you now have a better understanding of why I don't believe that we ask for too much on our adoption applications and why with the huge investment of time and emotions that goes into each one of our kittens we want to adopt our cats and kittens out to forever homes where we feel 100% secure that we have partnered with someone on a new pet and that the adoption from us is taken very seriously and they respect and understand how very important each and every one of these animals is to us.  And again, in the very brief time we get with each potential adopter we do our best to feel comfortable that we are honoring the commitment we made to each cat or kitten to get them a loving home for their entire life.

The questions we ask are multifaceted.  They help us get an idea of what kind of cat or kitten would be best suited for that particular adopter, we get an idea of the level of commitment they are able and willing to make to that pet (and understand we are under no delusion that most people do not have the commitment level that we do, but we do want them to respect our level of commitment), and finally to get them to think about what it really takes to have a pet and what the costs (emotional and financial) might be and at what point they would no longer be able to keep that pet (I believe that we all have a breaking point, for some people it's urination, for some it's aggression, for some it's some unforeseen life changing event, but we all have them).  

We want to know that if you would call us if you had a behavioral issue before you reached that breaking point so we could instruct you to take the cat to the vet or help with advice on how to make your kitty happier, we want to know that if you developed severe allergies or had to leave the country that you would honor the agreement to return the cat to us instead of surrendering it to the shelter.  

We want to KNOW, to the best of our ability that the cat you adopted from us will live the rest of it's life with someone who would love it as much or more as we do.  And despite the applications and contracts this doesn't always happen.  But those were applications that were complete, with people we approved, talked to, that agreed to our terms.  And if that can happen with an application that was reviewed by our team and approved, we cannot in good conscience approve an application that was incomplete because a potential adopter felt that we were asking too much.

This is a commitment we make to the cats and kittens in our care, to give them no less than 100%, but also to the volunteers that work with us and give us their nights and weekends and the people that come to us asking for help finding a safe and happy home for a kitty they found in a feral colony they are working to TNR or the kitten they rescued after someone tossed it from a car window.

So I hope you can respect our position here and understand why after discussion we have decided that we cannot approve an application where someone had declined to provide references while also indicating that they feel we ask too much already, as we feel we ask far less of our adopters than is asked of us.

Thank you for your interest and your understanding,

Jill Walters
Adoption Counselor | Medical Coordinator | Volunteer