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Anyone who knows me knows that I love to bake. It was only a matter of time before my love of baked sweets met my love of still life painting! I’ve wanted to paint pretty cakes for a long time, and I finally got around to baking up a batch of beautiful red velvet cupcakes with the intention of making adorable still life paintings with them.

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Here are my first two cupcake paintings! They are currently available here and here. Check out my other paintings for sale at my Etsy shop, ArtworkbyBob!

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I’m contemplating what I should bake next… maybe a pumpkin pie? Or a layer cake? Decisions, decisions…

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I found myself in the reptile house at the San Diego Zoo a few days ago, which is a part of the zoo that I don’t usually venture into. I might have to make visiting the snakes and lizards more of a priority from now on, however, because they were a lot of fun to photograph. Here are just a few pics from that day.

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Two jaguar cubs, one male and one female, were born to mother Nindiri on April 26, 2012. They were allowed to go outside for the first time a little over a week ago:

Awwwwww… I know. So cute. I love these guys. But we also need a few pics of Mom:

From looking at my previous cooking posts, you might get the impression that I subsist off of bonbons and sugar-coated peanut butter balls. I really don’t. In fact, my diet consists mostly of vegetables, fruit, nuts and yogurt. I don’t eat meat, or eggs, or cheese. You probably think this sounds horrible. It’s not. To prove it, I dare you to try this recipe for Moroccan cauliflower. It might just make you want to go veggie! (and if not, you can always just eat it as a side dish for your bloody, T-bone steak.)

Moroccan cauliflower

Moroccan cauliflower

This recipe began, as it often does, with someone else’s recipe. Originally, this dish came from Paula Wolfert’s amazing book, The Food of Morocco.

Not only is this book filled with delicious veggie recipes, it has tons of beautiful photographs (and a description of how to make Moroccan pot brownies. You can try that for dessert!)

Here is the recipe with my modifications:

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cauliflower, divided into florets

2 tsp. sugar

1 can diced tomatoes

1 tsp sweet paprika + 1 tsp smoked paprika

1 1/2 tsp. cumin seeds

1 tsp. kosher salt

4 garlic cloves

2 tbsp. chopped parsley

1 tsp. lemon zest

procedure:

1. Heat the oil in a 10-inch skillet over medium-low heat. Add the cauliflower and sugar, cover with a tight-fitting lid and head for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and continue cooking, uncovered, until the moisture in the pan has evaporated and the cauliflower is slightly browned.

pan frying the cauliflower

pan frying the cauliflower

2. Add tomatoes and paprika. continue cooking for 5 more minutes.

3. Crush cumin seeds, garlic and salt in a mortar (yes, I do it this way. I’m sure the food police will not arrest you if you use a mini food processor or something.) Add to the skillet and cook, uncovered until the moisure is evaporated (20 minutes)

grind the cumin before adding the garlic and salt

grind the cumin before adding the garlic and salt

4. Stir in lemon zest and parsley. Devour with your face.

My version is different from the original (it’s called “Marak of Cauliflower with Tomatoes and Olives” in the book) in a few ways. First off, The original recipe called for “2 ripe or canned tomatoes, peeled, halved, seeded, chopped, and drained.” That seems like a lot of steps. Using canned tomatoes would cut down on some of the work (have you ever tried to peel a ripe, fresh tomato? Bitch, please.) Canned tomatoes still pose a problem, however, because you only need two. So you’re going to open an entire can of whole tomatoes and only use two? Now, really. Who does that? My rule for tomatoes is to use the whole can, always. None of this save-half-for-later bullshit. Throw it all in there!

Paprika!

Paprika!

Second is the paprika. The original just called for two teaspoons of sweet paprika. I replaced one of those with smoked paprika because I love that smoky flavor. It goes really well with cumin. If you don’t have smoked paprika, a drop or two of liquid smoke would probably do the trick. If you don’t have liquid smoke either, then I just don’t know how to help you. Sorry.

A few other things: I skipped the lemon juice Wolfert calls for and just use zest instead because that’s what I like. (I use a microplane grater to zest lemons.) She also calls for preserved lemon. Do you keep preserved lemons around? No. Neither do I. Notice the original title of this dish mentioned olives. I’m not that into olives. There is also a mysterious last step that involves letting the cauliflower sit for 30 minutes after cooking (yeah. right.)

Now, about those pot brownies…

moroccan brownies

Moroccan brownies! Like the hat?

Okay, so they’re not actually brownies. I’ve never tried this (no, really) but here’s what it says:

Place 1 pound of Smen (Cooked and Salted Butter) in a casserole with plenty of water and about 3 cups stalks, seeds, and leaves of kif (Cannabis). Bring to a boil let it simmer for 2 hours, then carefully strain it into a large, deep roasting pan. Then, throw away the stalks, seeds, and leaves and let the butter cool and rise to the top in the refrigerator overnight. Then place the butter in the casserole with 1 pound chopped dates, cinnamon, 1 tablespoon aniseed, 1/2 cup dark, heavy honey, and 1/2 cup each ground almonds and walnuts (these proportions are from The Hashish Cookbook). Then cook all this together until it gets very thick, bubbly and brown. Add some orange flower water and ras el hanout to taste. Pack the majoun in clean jars.

*eat with care! enjoy and play fun music for hours of fun!

There you go: a healthy, vegan veggie dish and a mind-altering dessert — a complete meal! My job here is done.

The Hippopotamus is one of those animals that I usually skip over when I go to the Zoo. It’s not that the Hippo is not a cool animal; it’s just that the hippos are usually asleep in a pile in the corner of their exhibit. This was not the case today: I saw the mother hippo and her baby play together for about 20 minutes:

I’ll admit it: I kinda forgot about Father’s Day. Only kinda. Saturday morning I slapped my forehead and said “dammit I forgot to get Dad something!” Luckily my dad is particularly easy to get gifts for, and usually, his gifts involve some kind of food. My dad happens to be a big fan of See’s peanut brittle, so I decided to try making a homemade version for him.

Brittle, of course, is candy. Candy involves making sugar syrup (one or more kinds of sugar melted with water.) Sugar syrup is the base of all different kinds of candies: fudge, taffy, caramel, nougat, as well as hard candies such as brittle. The difference is the temperature to which the sugar syrup is heated. Different temperatures yield different hardnesses, as you can see here.

cooking peanut brittle!

cooking peanut brittle!

I used this recipe, and for once I didn’t modify it much. I’m not new to candy making; in fact, I make chocolate fudge for the neighbors every year (that recipe, by the way, is a family secret.) Candy is a science, however, so I’d rather not tinker with a new recipe the first time I make it. The only thing I changed was the peanuts. I could not find raw peanuts, so I went ahead and used dry roasted and lightly salted peanuts. I also poured all of the brittle onto a single baking sheet rather than two. It was hard to spread out and set up pretty fast.

peanut brittle cooling

peanut brittle cooling on a baking sheet – smells so good!

Sweets of any kind go fast in this house; I just barely managed a few snaps of the final product before much of it was devoured:

This brittle is not too hard and it’s absolutely loaded with peanuts so it kind of crumbles in your mouth. Surprisingly enough, it’s actually not too sweet; cooking the sugar for so long allows it to develop some deeper, more complex flavors. So, rather than just tasting like sugar, the brittle tastes nutty and buttery. It’s also easy to make, and if you pack it in a decorative tin, it makes a great gift! Happy Fathers Day, everybody!

Another week, another trip to the San Diego Zoo (the best zoo in the world, according to Newt Gringrich).

When I visit the zoo, one of my first stops is often to see the bears. They are several different kinds:

This is the Andean Bear. He like to pace back and forth in his enclosure a lot, but when he settles down it’s hard to imagine that he could possibly be dangerous. He looks just like a lazy dog.

andean bear at the san diego zoo

andean bear at the san diego zoo

There are also two grizzly bears. They’re brothers named Scout and Montana. I’ve seen them wrestle before, which was amazing. They can move very quickly when they feel like it. Today, Scout and Montana were in a much more mellow kind of mood.

grizzly bear at the san diego zoo

grizzly bear at the san diego zoo

Scout and Montana, grizzly bear brothers at the San Diego Zoo

Scout and Montana, grizzly bear brothers at the San Diego Zoo

And, of course, there is my favorite bear. The sloth bear, Kenny. Kenny is my favorite because he is basically a dog. If you yell his name he’ll come out to see what’s going on. If you yell his name and run back and forth in front of his enclosure, he will actually run along with you. He’ll even sit up sometimes if I jump up and down long enough.

Kenny the sloth bear at the San Diego Zoo

Kenny the sloth bear at the San Diego Zoo

Kenny the sloth bear at the San Diego Zoo

Kenny the sloth bear at the San Diego Zoo