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The Best - and Perhaps Last - Cat Toy You'll Ever Buy

Leather_spider
A handmade cat toy. Image courtesy DementedDesignsShop on Etsy.

By Lisa Brunette

Let me introduce you to what we around the farmhouse like to call "the leather spider." Now, Chaco has typically been pretty hard on any toy I've ever brought home, usually breaking it the same day the toy arrives. It's rare that any make it past a few days of play. But I don't actually blame Chaco for this; he's just doing what cats do. The problem is, like too many things these days, most cat toys are cheaply made out of low-quality materials. They ain't built to last. 

Chaco's life changed for the better, however, the day our handmade leather spider arrived. It's lasted not hours, not days, not weeks, but MONTHS. Yep, that's right. I ordered it back in February, and it's still good as new. Good. As. Freakin'. NEW. Take that, cheap world of things!

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Chaco action shot!

The toy is handmade, the "spider" part fashioned out of leather. The wand is wood, and then there's a string made out of sturdy nylon, with a vinyl cap. Usually with a "thing-on-a-string" toy like this, it seriously takes hours if not minutes for Chaco to rip the thing off the string. But this one's still intact after more than six months of frequent play.

It's high-quality, and I think because the "spider" part is leather, it approximates real prey better than most cat toys. While Chaco has often grown bored with other toys, this one he never tires of, and he asks for it pretty much every day, by sitting next to the closet where we keep it and looking up at it, then us, longingly.

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Image courtesy DementedDesignsShop on Etsy.

Now the leather spider probably costs more than the typical cat deelibob you'd find hanging in the big box store, but add up all the deelibobs you buy each year, replacing them when they constantly break, and I guarantee you this one's a better buy all around at USD 13. Besides, you're supporting a small, independent maker of fine quality things when you purchase the toy from Etsy.

You're also supporting this blog and its free content. Cat in the Flock might receive a commission from qualifying purchases of this cat toy. We are happy to turn you onto "the leather spider" and find it actually kind of satisfying to rave about it here. It's a product we personally love, and so does Chaco!

We wish you and your cat hours of ceaseless joy.

Chaco_play2

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Last Year's Peculiar Potato Problem


Last Year's Peculiar Potato Problem

Potato_1
Part of last year's potato harvest.

By Anthony Valterra

Let me tell you a weird story about our cat. We had some problems with water seeping through our basement walls. When this happens, the water is muddy. Even if you clean it up, it leaves a very fine silt behind. One place that ended up having a pretty thick layer was behind the furnace. It was out of the way and hard to get to, so it just sort of built up. We fixed our gutters and created a water garden in the backyard. Our roof runoff fills some drums, and then when they overflow, it runs out to the water garden, as does a French drain to draw water away from the basement. After we did that, we haven't had any problems with water in the basement. But that silt just set back there getting dryer and dryer. One day I realized I had not needed to clean the cat's litter box in a while. He seemed OK. He wasn't lethargic. I thought, "Maybe that silly cat is pooping somewhere other than in his litter." I looked and looked and looked and finally found a nice pile of poop behind the furnace in that lovely soft silt. Well, I guess you can't really blame the cat. The silt is a soft as down, and the furnace makes that spot nice and warm. But still I had to clean up the cat poop and then clean up the silt. The cat went back to his litter box, and all was well.

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I ams what I ams, says the cat.

Now I tell you that story so I can tell you this one. We dug up our potatoes last year and had an OK crop. We really don't know that much about growing potatoes, so the soil was probably not the best. We planted on ground that the previous year had been lawn. I read that there is a pest that lives well in lawn and also loves potatoes. So, a lot of our potatoes had suffered a bit. But we planted a good variety, and some came through OK. It makes you realize how important it is not to monocrop when you are trying to grow organically. Anyway, we had enough potatoes to fill a few 5-gallon buckets and felt that we had not grown enough to carry us through winter but certainly enough to reduce our potato purchases. But how do you store potatoes?

Sadly, I should know this. I grew up with parents who backyard-farmed. My dad still grows corn, potatoes, tomatoes, etc. I should have paid attention growing up, but I didn't. I was too busy reading the latest adventures of Daredevil, Batman, or the X-Men. I had zero interest in gardening. So I started reading various blogs trying to figure out the best way to do it. It is surprising how many ways there are to do a thing. I might write a blog post about storing potatoes and put it in a form that would have helped me. Maybe it will help others.

Potato_2
Into the bucket.

The method we ended up going with was to put the potatoes in a 5-gallon bucket in a layer. Then cover them with sand. Then another layer of potatoes and then another layer of sand until the bucket is mostly full. We read that the sand should be damp but not wet. That was likely a mistake. We think that that might make sense if you are in very dry environment, but it made our potatoes soften. I think this year we will cure them and then try the egg carton method (put the potatoes in egg cartons). We will try to keep the potatoes as cool as possible in the basement without going below 48 degrees. Likely it won't be cold enough for maximum life, but we will see how we do.

Potato_3
Little did these potatoes know what fate awaited them.

But last year it was the sand-in-the-bucket method. One day I realized I had not needed to clean the cat's litter box in a while. He seemed OK. He wasn't lethargic. I thought, "Maybe that silly cat is pooping somewhere other than in his litter." I looked and looked and looked and... I'll bet you know where this is going. Yep, he was POOPING IN OUR POTATOES. If I didn't love the little beast, I might have strangled him. He was pooping and peeing in the buckets and had done a terrific job of getting all the potatoes well desecrated. After a very short debate, we dumped them all.

Potato_5
The best-laid plans...

And that, dear readers, is how we lost our potato crop last year. I'm sure there is some deeper moral or philosophical lesson to be gleaned from all this. But I'm hornswoggled if I know what it is.

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Why 'Cat in the Flock'?

Cat in the Flock LIFESTYLE w_CAT 2020

A cat in the middle of a flock of birds can be a threat... or not, if the cat puts its teeth and claws away and just watches. It's an apt metaphor for our role as beings in the middle of nature: We can either choose to stow our claws and teeth or bare them, threateningly. Anthony and Lisa also know that much of what you'll read out there about home, garden, and health is based on rampant consumerism, and it's neither good for you nor the planet, and that goes for a lot of so-called eco-friendly pursuits. So we think of Cat in the Flock as "lifestyle with teeth," seriously cutting against that trend.

And we recognize that people are, frankly, natural predators. We take and use and exploit, rarely giving back. But we want to encourage a greater harmony with all things, to ask our fellow humans to join us in treading more lightly, and to work toward greater independence, sustainability, and self-sufficiency in the process. As we sit quietly amidst the tempting flock, we invite you to do the same. Read more about our project on the About page.

Cat in the Flcok Banner 2.0


How to Shop Like a Pro at Estate Sales

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Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels.

By Anthony Lee

Editor's note: We're thrilled to bring you guest blogger Anthony Lee, owner of Yard Sale Radar. Yard Sale Radar is a hobbyist-owned business that takes the hassle out of finding or advertising yard and estate sales. The website runs like an app and allows people to search for garage/yard/estate sales based on their locations or with a zip code. Save time and money by easily posting your listing and appear to anyone searching their listings for a yard sale in your area.

If you love the thrill of the hunt that comes with thrifting and yard sales but aren’t visiting any estate sales, you are missing out on an opportunity for amazing vintage finds. Estate sales are like yard sales, but instead of just browsing items they’ve set out on their driveway, you’re perusing through the entire property. They’re usually held for a number of unfortunate reasons. Sometimes the sellers have a need to downsize, or the owners may have passed away. Be that as it may, estate sales provide a unique opportunity for people to walk through a home and find really interesting, affordable goods. Lucky for you, we’ve got some great tips to make sure you go through your first estate sale like a seasoned pro. 

Planning Ahead

First things first, planning ahead is essential. This is especially important if you’re going to visit more than one estate sale in a day. There are some amazing resources for estate sale enthusiasts that make preparing your itinerary a breeze. Yard Sale Radar provides tons of information about America’s top estate and yard sale cities like Denver, Seattle, D.C., and more. Our site allows you to find estate sales in any given zip code. We suggest finding the sales you want to go to in your area of preference, plugging them into Google Maps, and planning your trip a day ahead. Try to get there 30-minutes earlier than the sale begins so you can get first dibs.

Remember, cash is king. Professionally managed estate sales are more likely to accept different payment methods such as credit and debit cards. However, most sales operate on a cash-only basis. Having cash on hand may also give you some negotiating leverage for snagging an item on the spot. So definitely plan a stop at the ATM on the way to your first sale. 

Estate sales are also not baby-proofed. These homes likely have stairs, sharp corners, hard floors, and fragile items throughout, so it’s probably best to leave your two- and four-legged little ones at home.

Pro-tip: In addition to the items within them, many of these properties are for sale (sometimes for epic prices). If you are interested in the property, too, see if they have a listing online. Usually, they’ll have photos of the home, and you can use this as a guide to where the items you desire may reside within the home.

Dress the Part

If you’re on the hunt for clothing items, make sure you wear something that makes it easy to try things on and bring your own bag. For instance, sandals so you can easily slip them on and off to try on shoes or shorts and tank tops so you can slip clothes right over for easy try-on’s. Make sure your shoes are comfortable if you plan on visiting several estate sales in one day. These properties are often large and require lots of walking or waiting outside. As for bags, the most common go-tos are Ikea’s hefty, blue totes. These are great to pile in items at estate sales. If planning on purchasing furniture or larger items, don’t forget to pack your measuring tape. 

Getting There

The driveway is usually reserved for sale workers, so make sure you park in the designated area. (If needed, you can pull up your car to load it later). If you see a line of people waiting outside, walk over to the front door to ask a worker how the estate sale is organized. You may have to put your name on a list or take a number and wait. If there’s no line at all, you are welcome to walk right in. 

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Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko from Pexels.

Time to Shop

Kindness goes a long way. Try to make friends with the workers or people running the sale. They can give you great tips and great deals. If you are searching for something specific, like jewelry, high-end bags, or vintage clothing, kindly ask one of them if there is a designated area for those items. Certain items are sometimes sorted into their own sections. Otherwise, go straight to where you think those items might be. 

Remember that estate sales are sometimes being held for unfortunate or tragic reasons. It’s important to remain respectful and compassionate during your visit. This was once someone’s home, and owners may be grieving or have emotional ties to items being sold, so keep that in mind when you’re walking through their homes and handling each item. 

Don’t skip the places you think might have the least desirable items. You can find unexpected gems in unlikely parts of the house like the basement and even utility rooms. Always remember to scan the patio and yard for planters, plants, and patio decor. Everything is fair game unless marked otherwise. 

Don’t rush. Before checking out, take your time doing one more pass through the entire house. You never know what you are going to miss, especially on tables cluttered with items. 

Estate sales are no-refund, as-is sales, so inspect your items carefully. If you’re purchasing electronics, don’t make the rookie mistake of forgetting to test them beforehand. 

Negotiate

The first day of the estate sale always has the most merchandise, but the last day always has the best deals. If you like multiple items, you can try to bargain for some amazing bundle discounts. Always be courteous, don’t haggle, and ask discreetly, “Is this the best price?” or “Do you negotiate?” If you’re rude to estate sale organizers, they can ban you from future sales so think twice before you bicker with them.

Have Fun

Whether you’re looking to upgrade your wardrobe with vintage designer pieces or make your eclectic home decor dreams come true, estate sales are one of the most underrated places for collecting unique and rare finds. You never know what you’re going to uncover. Happy hunting!

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Once You Bake Your Own Sourdough Pizza Crust, You're Ruined for All Other Pizza

Sourdough_pizza2
One of our recent triumphs, baked on a pizza stone.

By Lisa Brunette

Now that I've explained how to make your own sourdough culture, argued for why baking this way is totally the move, and showed you how to bake a basic bread loaf, it's time for the coup de grace: pizza dough.

Your own sourdough pizza crust will be just that, a crust made from flour, water, and salt, with yeast and bacteria from the sourdough starter. It will not contain added chemical substances or highly processed foodstuffs to make it move more efficiently through industrial machines, to artificially soften or rise better, or to "taste" more palatable after all the nutrients have been stripped away, like every convenience pizza you've ever had delivered, eaten in a restaurant, or heated up from a box.

But making pizza dough is actually easier than making bread. You can create a batch ahead of time, freeze it, and then you've got several balls of dough that just need defrosting before you roll them out for your Friday night pizza.

Step 1: Mix the Dough

  • Start with a full activated culture that's already gone through a culture proof, as described in step 1 here in my instructions for making bread.
  • Mix together the culture, 7 c (980 g) flour, 2 1/2 c (600 ml) water, and 1 1/2 tsp salt in a mixing bowl.
  • Knead it for 30 minutes to develop the gluten. I turn it out on a floured surface for this, as kneading it in the bowl is just too awkward.

A note about flour: I've used both unbleached all-purpose white flour and whole wheat flour, as well as a mix of both. You might have to add more water for whole wheat, something you can sense if the dough is too hard and thick instead of a nice doughy mound you can easily knead. For pizza, you can also use pastry flour. In all cases, I prefer organic, non-GMO if I can get it.

Sourdough16
Here I am in my natural habitat, kneading dough.

Step 2: Proof the Dough

  • Next, put the dough back into the bowl, cover it, and proof for just 4 hours at around 80°F (or 27°C). In the winter, I've set the bowl on a heating register to keep it warm, and that works well. In spring, I use the same Himalayan salt-lamp nightlight method I use for proofing cultures, as described in my post on how to make bread, and this works great, too.
Sourdough17
A ball of pizza dough at the start of its first proof.

Step 3: Punch and Proof Again

  • The dough will have risen. Next comes my favorite part: You punch the dough with your fist to knock it back. This move makes you feel like a baking boss!
  • Then divide it into 6 equally sized balls, arrange these on a baking sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and proof for another 4 hours at room temperature.

They'll rise again, forming 6 nice, puffy dough balls. You can use these to make 6 pizzas right away, or freeze 5 for later. I wrap them individually in plastic wrap and then store them in a repurposed mineral salt bag in our basement freezer. 

Sourdough_pizza

The bag is perfect because it's stiff, and the dough balls get held in place like you see above until they can fully freeze. To defrost, just take a ball out of the freezer before you head to work in the morning, and by the time you get home, it's ready.

Step 4: Form the Pizza

Next comes getting the pizza into that classic pizza pie shape. If you bake it on a pizza stone, the stone will need to be preheated, so you'll definitely want to proof instead on a peel or other surface. Sprinkle the proofing surface with coarse-ground flour, semolina, or regular flour to keep it from sticking when you transfer it to the stone. This is really important! We've had quite a few mishaps when the dough stuck to the surface of our cutting board. But if you're baking it on a metal pizza round or cookie sheet, go ahead and form it there. 

  • Press the dough ball with the heel of your hand to flatten it. 
  • Keep pressing until a ridge forms on the edge.
  • Hold the ridge in both hands, lift the dough, and let its weight stretch the crust.
  • Turn, press, and pull until you have a 10-inch circle of crust.
  • Let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour for a final proof.
Pizza dough rolled out
We form the pizza on this peel, sprinkled with coarse-ground whole wheat.

I highly recommend baking it on a pizza stone, like this vintage Pampered Chef stoneware pizza round for sale on the Etsy shop Nonna's Kitchen Table. The pizza never sticks to the stone, it cooks the pizza evenly, and there's little cleanup afterward.

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Image courtesy Nonna's Kitchen Table.

The baking stone gives you a perfect crust bottom, to rival any restaurant. To alleviate the problem with transferring the pizza to the stone, though, we've purchased this awesome peel from the Etsy shop Ziruma. It's a beautiful piece to display in your home kitchen, with its (sustainably harvested) teakwood grain and manta ray shape.

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Image courtesy Ziruma.

Step 5: Bake!

  • Transfer the pizza to the stone or other baking surface, add toppings, and bake for 7-9 minutes at 500°F (260°C).
  • When the edges turn brown, it's ready!
Toppings going on
Pizza toppings going on. This one had garlic scapes, onions, oregano, and mushrooms from our garden, as well as uncured bacon from a local source.

I promise you'll be ruined for all other pizza once you taste your own homemade sourdough crust. And your body will love you for avoiding all that extra food gick in the commercial pizzas.

Finished pizza
The finished pizza.
Slicing pizza
The crispy crust slices easily.

 

Pizza bottom
Here you can see the bottom is done perfectly.

 

Note: This post contains Etsy affiliate links. If you purchase using the links, Cat in the Flock might earn a commission.

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