ZeMarvelous Miraculous Magic of Dr. Seuss

Scrambled Eggs & Blueberry Bumplings!

Like a lot of humans, zebras begin to discover the pleasures of reading and cooking when we’re very young.

And even before we have close encounters with books and words and kitchens and ingredients, we’ve explored deep within that special place where both reading and cooking come from.

It’s a magical world called Imagination.

Cat-in-the-Hat Witch Pumpkin

One human who knew everything there is to know about magic and imagination was the legendary Dr. Seuss.

Reading any book is pure magic – and reading a Dr. Seuss book is marvelous, miraculous Mega-Magic.

Just think of this: Dr. Seuss used his imagination to write stories, creating wondrous, whimsical worlds where absolutely anything can happen – and actually does.

When you read a Dr. Seuss book, your eyes look at letters on a page and your brain changes all those squiggly lines into words and sentences and ideas.

Dr. Seuss On the Loose with Zebras
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ZePerfect Mardi Gras Celebration

ZeBot New Orleans Mardi Gras

If there’s one thing zebras love, it’s a celebration!

And when it’s Mardi Gras, which is all about local traditions, food, family and friends–well, that makes us so happy that our stripes start to turn colors.

Purple, green and gold, to be exact.
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ZePossibilities of Pumpkins

ZeBot's Pumpkin Patch Buddies

I just made ZeGreatest discovery! You know those orange spheres that are piling up in farmers’ markets and grocery stores? They’re pumpkins! Okay, you probably already knew this, but pumpkins are totally new to me. (Give me a break: I’m a zebra!)

I always figure the best way to find out about something you never knew existed is to do a little detective work. My favorite farmers, food historians and librarians were happy to help out. I even asked a couple of dogs, since if they like something, you KNOW it’s going to be cool.

My buddies Spot and Rover give pumpkins a BIG paws up!

My buddies Spot and Rover give pumpkins a BIG paws up!

I found out that pumpkins are members of the squash-and-gourd family (it’s always fun to have family, don’t you think?). Some people think pumpkins are vegetables, but they’re actually fruits. You can tell because fruits almost always have seeds on the inside (although berries like to be different and have them on the outside). If you’ve ever scooped the squishy guts out of a pumpkin, you know they have LOTS of seeds.

You might think from their bright orange color that pumpkins give you tons of energy — and you’d be right. They’re loaded with natural sweetness and awesome nutrients like beta-carotene, vitamin C, potassium and fiber. Crunchy roasted pumpkin seeds are packed with good-for-you stuff like protein, B vitamins, iron and vitamin E.

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George Washington, ZeFarmer: Exploring ZeCulinary Gardens of Mount Vernon

ZeBot Poses at Mount Vernon

What do kids, zebras and George Washington have in common?

Lots of things!

Vision. Imagination. Ingenuity.

The joyful desire to explore new ideas and discover innovative ways to do things. The belief that anything is possible—and that you can have fun making it happen.

If you’re an American kid, you already know that George Washington was the very first president of the United States.

But did you know he was also called America’s “foremost farmer”?

ZeBot Visionary Farmer

It makes sense, because both being president and a farmer have a lot to do with planting, growing and harvesting—whether you’re talking about seeds or ideas.

George Washington was as innovative and visionary at farming and horticulture as he was at helping to create a country. When he wasn’t busy being president, his primary occupation was being a farmer.

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Chuck Williams Teaches a Zebra ZeWay to Cook!

Chuck & ZeBot-framed“The way to be a good cook? Just cook!” –Chuck Williams

When my friend Chuck Williams told me that being a good cook is something that happens by just cooking, I nodded my head so hard my stripes got all squiggly.

If anyone knows about cooking, it’s Chuck. He’s 100 years old—and cooking is something he’s done ever since he was a kid. Today, Chuck is the author of lots of cookbooks and the founder of a very cool kitchenware store called Williams-Sonoma.

Chuck first started learning to cook back in the early 1900s, when he spent lots of time in the kitchen with his grandmother. In those days, people didn’t have microwave ovens or electric mixers or even many real cookbooks. So how did kids learn to cook?

“I learned to cook by watching my grandmother and listening carefully to everything she said,” Chuck told me .

“I helped her in the kitchen every day. I watched and I listened and I asked questions. One of my favorite things was making pies with her. After she finished trimming the crust, she would give me the scraps and let me try to make my own pie.”

Chuck at Age 12 -ZeBlog

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ZeHunger Challenge

ZeBot Hunger Challenge 2015

Zebras love challenges (including learning to cook and write without the benefit of opposable thumbs). And we’re always hungry for new things—new foods, new friends, new ideas.

So when I heard about the Hunger Challenge, I knew I wanted to give it a try—but in a ZeZillion years, I could never have imagined how powerfully it would help me learn about the world around me.

The Hunger Challenge is a five-day journey initiated by the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank, whose executive director Paul Ash describes it as a special way to “become an advocate for the hungry.”

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ZeCaptiva Coconut Caper

Zebra Beach Picnic on Captiva Golf Course

When it comes to exploring, zebras (like kids) really know how to earn their stripes!

My Uncle Zep (also known as ZeGreat Chef Zepicure) and I got together to spend a whole month exploring a magical island called Captiva, which is just off the west coast of Florida in ZeGulf of Mexico.

The place where we’ve had our ZHQ (zebra headquarters) is called South Seas Island — which was once a big plantation. In the early 1900s, it was one of the world’s largest growers of Key limes!

ZeScoutAbout at Beach

We’ve been roaming ZeBeaches and mangrove forests in search of adventure—and an island fruit that could keep us going strong through all our explorations, which tend to make us super hungry and thirsty. Continue reading

ZeMystery of ZeShoe Pastry

ZeBot and the Shoe Pastries

When my friend Holly told me she was writing a book about Shoe Pastry, I was totally intrigued.

“What kind of shoes would make the best pastry?” I wondered. “And wouldn’t putting shoes in your mouth instead of wearing them on your feet (or in my case, hooves) make you kind of—well, sick?”

How the heck am I going to mix these ingredients?

How the heck am I going to mix these ingredients?

Since I am a zebra who is supposed to know at least a little about human food by now, I didn’t want to ask those questions right away. After all, Holly Herrick is a famous cookbook author.

Instead, I had a great idea!I have another friend named Holly, who happens to be a super-smart Golden Retriever—and spends a lot of time in the kitchen.

I asked her about Shoe Pastry. Holly the Golden Retriever said she’d never tried it, but she’d eaten lots of shoes (including some pretty expensive ones) and they were very tasty.

Meet Holly -- a Golden Retriever with great taste in shoes!

Meet Holly — a Golden Retriever with great taste in shoes!

Still, I wasn’t sure—it just didn’t seem like you could (or even should) turn a shoe into a pastry.

So I had an even better idea: I asked Holly the Famous Cookbook Author if I could interview her about shoe pastry. That way, it would make sense to ask lots of questions (even really silly ones)—so that’s what I did!

Fortunately, right before I interviewed Holly, my friend ZoeBot (who’s super-brainy) suggested we try looking up “choux pastry” (which is French and sounds just like “shoe pastry”).

Shoe Pastry = Choux Pastry (And guess what: they do kind of look like cabbages, but they DON'T taste like them!)

Shoe Pastry = Choux Pastry
(Even though these pastries kind of look like cabbages, they DON’T taste like them!)

Guess what? She was right! It turns out that choux pastry gets its name from the French word for cabbage (choux), which is what the pastry sort of looks like when it’s baked.

Unlike most pastries, choux pastry is made using its own special technique. You start by mixing flour, butter and boiling water, then beating in eggs until you get a sticky, paste-like dough.

When you bake it, the oven’s heat turns the water into steam that puffs the dough into hollow golden pastries that taste AMAZING!

Want to see how it’s done (with hooves)? Watch this video!

Well, now that I knew a little more about the whole mysterious matter, I was ready to interview Holly Herrick, whose brilliant new book is called  “The French Cook: Cream Puffs & Eclairs.”

I'm not really in Holly's super-cool book -- but a zebra can always dream!

I’m not really in Holly’s super-cool book — but a zebra can always dream!

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ZeFamily Legacy of Brioche Pasquier

ZeBot & ZoeBot Have Breakfast at Brioche Pasquier“When someone shares a special family recipe with you, you become part of their family.”

That’s what my friend Hugues Pasquier told me when we shared a breakfast made with the brioche his family has been baking from the same recipe since 1936.

It was true: as my cousin ZoeBot and I savored each buttery golden bite, we felt the Pasquier family’s culinary heritage deep in our stripes.

If you’re an average American kid (or zebra), you may not have ever tried brioche. But in France, kids (and a few lucky zebras) have been eating brioche their whole lives.

Brioche (pronounced bree-oshe) is a French bakery specialty that looks and tastes like a magical cross between a bread and a cake.

Brioche by Chardin, 1763

Food historians say that’s it been a tradition since medieval times, with the recipe becoming richer with butter and eggs as the centuries passed.

Hugues told us that his grandfather Gabriel Pasquier was legendary for the brioche he crafted at his bakery in the tiny village of Les Cerqueux in France’s Loire River Valley.

Gabriel's Bakery

Gabriel’s recipe was unique because he always used two very special ingredients.

One was the family’s own levain, which is a natural sourdough starter that makes brioche (and other baked goods) rise. A starter works pretty much the same way modern yeast does, but it’s an older and more traditional way to leaven baked goods. Continue reading

ZeAmazing Magical Spice Detectives & ZeScience of Taste

ZeGreat Spice Detectives!Do you believe in magic?

That’s what some of my favorite kids and I asking were asking each other the first time we blended our own spices.

When we sprinkled our spices on hot, buttery baked sweet potatoes, the only way we could describe what happened inside our mouths was MAGIC!

But I’m kind of getting ahead of my own stripes by starting in ZeMiddle of my story.

ZeBot Spices for Whole Spice

It all began when I asked my friends Ronit and Shuli Madmone: “What are spices? And why do humans like them so much?”

I thought, considering that they’re experts who own a really cool company called Whole Spice and I’m a just a simple zebra who’s only beginning to explore the world of food, they would have given me a super-simple answer.

But they looked at each other and laughed, “If you really want to understand spices, ZeBot, come to our house.”

It turned out that my questions were the first steps on a journey that would take me into deliciously exciting new worlds.

For a taste of our adventure, please check out the video (below) — then read on!


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ZeGreat Heirloom Tomato Cake

ZeBot Heirloom Tomato CakeSummer is ZePerfect time for celebrations – and all the fresh colors and flavors at ZeFarmer’s Markets make it more fun than ever!

So you can imagine how excited I was to be invited to help host a Farmer’s Market Supper Party with some of the Bay Area’s coolest food bloggers and cookbook authors (links to all ZeRecipes are at the end of this post).

Our mission: to showcase the season’s bounty with a creative vegetarian supper. Everyone was very understanding about my being a novice cook/baker who’s all hooves (and no opposable thumbs) and told me it would be fine if I made up a zebra-friendly dessert.

I figured I’d do what ZeGrandma and ZeMom always taught me: don’t go to a farmer’s market with your stripes totally set on making something in particular.

ZeBot Tomatoes Napa

Instead, have fun wandering around and discovering the day’s freshly harvested treasures, then create a recipe based on what you find.
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Cooking Up ZeComfort in Elle’s Kitchen

ZeBot & Zebras wGrilled Cheese + Tomato Soup

The kitchen is the heart of your home – and home is where your heart is.

My friend Elle taught me this: just the way you can create a home inside your heart for everyone and everything, you can create a kitchen anywhere you want it to be.

In today’s super-fast-paced world, the endless barrage of technology can sometimes make folks feel a little crazy.

But Elle cooked up a special way for technology to bring us together.

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Grace Young & ZeYear of the Zebra

ZeYear of the Zebra

According to an old zebra saying,  friends can make your day—but my friend Grace just made my whole year!

It happened while we were talking about the Chinese New Year—a magical holiday time that falls between mid-January and late-February on the Western (solar) calendar.

Grace with the Ultimate Wok & a Zebra!

Meet Grace, “Poet Laureate of the Wok, Stir-Fry Guru & Wok Evangelist”!


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DIY Kids in ZeKitchen

3 Zebras + 2 Kids

When I first started thinking about cooking, I wondered if a zebra would really be able do it. I mean, having four hooves with no opposable thumbs definitely has its challenges, so I was feeling a tiny bit discouraged.

But then a wise kid named Max told me this, “Just because you’re not cooking now doesn’t mean you CAN’T – it only means you don’t know how yet. After you learn, you can do it yourself. As in: DIY, zebra dude!”

Max Slices Fruit

I realized he was absolutely right! If you want to do something, you just need to learn how to do it – and then you need to actually do it.

At our IACP Kids-in-the-Kitchen event at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, that’s exactly what we did!
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A Christmas Angel’s Recipe for Happiness

Caitlin the Christmas Angel

Giving is something that zebras do as naturally as having stripes: it’s just part of who we are.

This year, I was looking for the most special gift ever: a present for Caitlin, a little girl who is spending her first Christmas as a real live angel.

For almost ten years, Caitlin was a magical kid who lived happily with her family and friends in Pennsylvania.

Caitlin & Family

Caitlin loved to laugh and sing and play and dance.

Sporty Caitlin Collage

She also loved to cook and bake, nourishing all the people she loved with the wonderful treats she created.

Caitlin Bakes Cookies

One of her favorite things to do was bring joy to everyone who knew her. Sharing joy was as natural to Caitlin as stripes are to zebras.

Caitlin, Jakob & the Florida Beach Snowman

Caitlin cheerfully shared her love, laughter, strength and wisdom, even when things got really challenging.

Caitlin Survivor Collage

When she was five years old, Caitlin’s doctors found out that she had brain cancer.

She had to spend a lot of time in hospitals having surgery and treatments to help her tumor go away.

Caitlin & Jakob Collage

When Caitlin grew up, she wanted to be two very special things: a mom and an astronaut. She wanted to make children feel happy, loved and full of energy — and she wanted to fly through shining stars to faraway galaxies.

Tinkerbell & Caitlin

Caitlin loved the colorful magic of fairies and rainbows.

Caitlin's Flowers & Butterflies

She especially loved butterflies, because they had the miraculous power to transform from playful, crawly caterpillars into graceful, majestic creatures who soared among blooming flowers into all the sunlit places where “now” dances into “always” and “forever.”

Butterfly Collage

Last spring, Caitlin transformed from a little girl into a heavenly butterfly angel.

So this Christmas, I got together with my most imaginative friends to come up with the perfect gift for our favorite angel. Since kids and zebras love cookies, we were pretty sure angels would, too.

ZeBot's Magic Baking Buddies

We set out to create the ultimate recipe. The first ingredient was easy: lots of love!

We knew angels and butterflies really like sunny skies, so we decided to make cookies that looked like billowy white clouds.

As we searched through our zillions of cookbooks, we discovered recipes for heavenly cookies called meringues (a French word that’s pronounced “merANGS”).

Meringue cookies start with eggs – perfect for a beginning angel, because eggs are a symbol of bright beginnings and new life. Eggs are also filled with protein, which helps make our muscles strong and minds alert.

ZeBot's Slippery Egg Whites

We also liked the way meringues start with slippery egg whites that transform into fluffy clouds.

ZeBot with fluffy Whipped Egg Whites

What makes them fluffy? Something invisible and essential: air!

Like hope, the invisible air puffs up the egg whites until they almost float right out of the mixing bowl.

ZeBot & The Snowman Measure Sugar

Next, we added sparkly white sugar, which reminded us of shimmering snowflakes and shining crystals of fairy dust.

This would enrich the cookies with all the sweetness of Caitlin – and give everyone who ate our meringues the joyful energy of children and angels.

Now we needed something everyone treasures: imagination.

ZeBot & the Hedgehog Twins Measure Sugar

To make our cookies creative, we switched up our basic recipe to include fun ingredients that reminded us of Caitlin.

ZeBot Scoops Up Coconut

We added vanilla for the creamy sweetness of daydreams. Cocoa for the deep, chocolaty richness of laughter.

Coconut for the balmy happiness of tropical sunshine. Scarlet berries and a few drops of raspberry juice for the swirly pink magic of fairytales.

And tiny chocolate chips because every kid knows that life is better with chocolate!

ZeBot & Snowmen Shape Their Clouds

Using our hooves and paws and hands, we carefully dropped our cookie clouds onto baking sheets, where the warmth of the oven would transform them into light, airy bites of goodness that melted in our mouths like a sweet combination of Christmas snowflakes and summer sunshine.

ZeBot Bakes Clouds

Like all the best wishes, our cookies came true: they were  every bit as heavenly as we hoped they would be.

To celebrate the forever magic of Caitlin, we had a party – inviting everyone who loves cookies and joy and laughter.

Cookie Party!

And when we looked up at the glowing sunset sky, we saw the colors and light that let us know Caitlin loved her cookies, too!

We hope you’ll share Caitlin’s magic (and cookies) with your family and friends, celebrating the happiness of holidays and everydays.

Because love is forever – and every moment is a gift.

Want to see how much fun it is to make Angel Cloud Cookies?

Watch the video!

RECIPE: Caitlin’s Magical Angel Cloud Cookies

Cloud cookies are super-easy to make – and they bring happiness to everyone who makes (and eats) them! They’re also pretty healthy, since they’re made with egg whites (and just enough sugar to make them perfectly sweet). This is a flexible recipe, so feel free to play around with the extra ingredients (including imagination). If you’re a kid, please be sure to get an adult’s help – especially with using the mixer and the oven.

WHAT YOU NEED:

Basics

Lots of love

4 egg whites (click these links for tips on how to separate eggs and how to beat egg whites )

1 cup of granulated white sugar

2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

1/4 tsp. cream of tartar (optional – it makes it a little easier to whip the egg whites, but it’s not absolutely necessary)

Extras:

Vanilla Clouds: 1 extra tsp. vanilla extract

Chocolate Clouds: 1/2 cup cocoa

Chocolate Chip Clouds: 2 cups mini chocolate chips

Chocolate Chocolate Chip Clouds: 1/2 cup cocoa + 2 cups mini chocolate chips

Pink Berry Clouds: 2 cups dried berries (cranberries or cherries) + about 1 Tbsp. pure berry juice for pinkness

Coconut Clouds: 2 cups of dried shredded or flaked  coconut (I like unsweetened, but sweetened is fine too)

WHAT YOU DO:

Read through the whole recipe, then get out all your ingredients and measuring tools.

Make sure your oven racks are evenly spaced (dividing the oven into thirds),  then preheat the oven to 225°F.

Grease (or put some nonstick cooking spray on) two baking sheets – or if you have silicone baking mats (Silpats) or baking parchment, you can use either of those.

IF YOU’RE USING A MIXER:

ZeBot Uses the Mixer

Put the egg whites (and cream of tartar, if you’re using it) in the bowl of an electric mixer that’s fitted with a whisk attachment.

Start by beating the egg whites on low speed, then bring it up to medium speed until the eggs whites get foamy.

Now crank it up to a high speed until the eggs turn white and billowy (soft peaks).

Turn the mixer to medium speed, then add sugar a little at a time until the egg whites are shiny and hold stiff peaks.

IF YOU’RE USING A BOWL & WHISK:

ZeBot's Whisk

Gather up all your energy – whipping egg whites is super-fun, but you’ll need to put plenty of hand/hoof power into it!

Put the egg whites (and cream of tartar, if you’re using it) into a mixing bowl (copper is best, but stainless steel, ceramic, sturdy glass or plastic/melamine are A-OK too). Use your whisk to beat the egg whites until they’re white and billowy (soft peaks).

Keep beating (I TOLD you that you’d need lots of energy), adding sugar a little at a time until the egg whites are shiny and hold stiff peaks.

FOR EITHER OF THE ABOVE METHODS, THE NEXT THING YOU DO IS:

Use a rubber spatula to carefully fold in vanilla and any other extras. Be super-gentle and patient, softly mixing in your ingredients until everything’s all blended together.

Spoon the sweet fluffiness inside your bowl onto the baking sheets, spacing your cookie clouds a couple of inches apart.

ZeBot's Baked Cookies

Bake your cloud cookies for one hour, then turn off the oven and let them cool and get crispy in there for up to one more hour (if you can stand it – if not, you can eat them a few minutes after they’re done baking. I know I always do!).

ZeBot & Santa with Cookies

After the cookies are cool, you can store them in an airtight container until you’re ready to enjoy them. Zebras like to eat them as soon as possible, sharing them with all the humans and other creatures we love most!

ZeBot & Cookie Jars

Please help cure childhood cancer!

To learn more, visit the Pediatric Cancer Foundation.

ZeMambo di Mozzarella di Bufala

Riding High Too!

When zebras think about good food, three things that naturally come to mind are family, friends and sharing.

So I guess it’s only natural that I’d want to share a story about the amazing cheese that starts with milk from my ultra-cool friends: the Ramini Mozzarella Water Buffalo Family.

If you’re a kid (or even a zebra), you’re probably thinking, “What’s so amazing about mozzarella? I mean: I eat it all the time!”

Ramini Mozzarella brings the flavors of Italy to California!

Ramini Mozzarella brings the flavors of Italy to California!

But guess what? Unless you’ve traveled to Italy, I’ll bet you’ve NEVER eaten mozzarella that’s been handmade using rich, creamy milk that comes fresh from the buffalo—or, as the cheese is called in Italian, mozzarella di bufala.

Why would you have to go to Italy? Because authentic mozzarella di bufala is extremely perishable, so just about the only way to enjoy the real thing is to go right to the source.

To learn about authentic mozzarella di bufala, I went right to the source (hint: it wasn't Italy)!

To learn about authentic mozzarella di bufala, I went right to the source (hint: it wasn’t Italy)!

That’s usually Italy, where black water buffalo (different from our American buffalo, which are technically bison) have roamed the hills and fields of the Compania region for about a thousand years.

But thanks to Craig Ramini and his wife Audrey, you don’t have to go to Italy to meet these legendary creatures: you can hang out with them AND try the famous cheese made from their milk, right here in Northern California!

All the water buffalo have rock star names – from Grace Slick, Pat Benatar & Dusty Springfield to Sting and Shakira!

Ramini water buffalo have rock star names – from Grace Slick, Pat Benatar & Dusty Springfield to Sting and Shakira!

To really understand the story of mozzarella di bufala, you need to hear it straight from the water buffalo’s mouth.

Since most of the water buffalo at Ramini Mozzarella are named after famous rock stars, some of my favorite  kids and I got together to make a music video, followed by an exclusive insider interview with three of the water buffalo calves: Sting, Petula and Lulu.

ZEBOT: First of all, could you please explain why mozzarella di bufala is such a huge deal?

STING: Well, dude, we’ve been around it our whole lives, so it’s just everyday food for us—but, of course, we love it! Ditto for buffalo milk. But we were actually kind of surprised that the cheese has become so famous. I mean, we think it’s awesome, but you know, everyone loves their mom’s food!

PETULA (using a hoof to pull up a link on her iPad): Oh, Sting, really: mozzarella di bufala is famous for lots of great reasons!

Here’s what Sam Anderson had to say about it in the New York Times: “Buffalo milk has roughly twice the fat of cow milk, which makes it decadently creamy and flavorful. The good stuff is almost unrealistically soft — it seems like the reason the word ‘mouthfeel’ was invented — with a depth of flavor that makes even the freshest hand-pulled artisanal cow-milk mozzarella taste like glorified string cheese.”

In Italy, mozzarella di bufala has its own special symbol to show it's authentic.

In Italy, mozzarella di bufala has its own special symbol to show it’s authentic.

LULU: Wow, he really does make our moms’ cheese sound amazing—and he’s using a lot of impressive words! Basically, he’s saying that cow’s milk mozzarella has a totally different flavor and texture. Also, not to brag or anything, but buffalo milk is so rich that it gives you a 20% cheese yield from milk—milk from cows only gives you something like 5%.

Whether they're in Italy or California, the calves say there's no place like home!

Whether they’re in Italy or California, the calves say there’s no place like home!

STING: Yeah. In fact, the kind of milk used for mozzarella is so important that, in Italy, they even make the difference super-clear by using different names for the two cheeses.

Mozzarella cheese made from buffalo milk is called mozzarella di bufala (which means “mozzarella from buffalo”), but the same type of cheese made from cow’s milk is called fior di latte (that literally translates “milk flower”—not sure why, maybe because cows like flowers or something).

LULU: When it comes to great cheese, the region where it’s made is also a big deal. In Italy, mozzarella di bufala is mostly made in Campania and Apulia. The Petaluma/Tomales Bay region of California where we live is a famous American cheesemaking area—and it has a Mediterranean climate that’s pretty similar to Italy.

In California, this is how you put the water on a water buffalo!

In California, this is how you put the water on a water buffalo!

STING: Yeah, we water buffalo love it! Sometimes visitors come to the farm and they’re like “Hey, where’s all the water for the water buffalo?”

But because it’s not super-hot here, we don’t need big ponds or lakes to cool off. When it rains, we make our own wallows in the pasture. And when it gets warm, Craig hoses us down—it’s great! We’re also really into the native grasses here, which taste fantastic.

Ramini mozzarella di bufala is made fresh -- just like in Italy!

Ramini mozzarella di bufala is made fresh — just like in Italy!

PETULA: It’s also very important to understand that mozzarella di bufala and other handcrafted local cheeses are an important part of Italian food culture. In Italy, humans go to the neighborhood caseificio (that’s an artisan cheesemaker) just like Americans might visit their favorite corner bakery.

LULU: You see, Craig and Audrey make their mozzarella di bufala fresh every few days—just like cheesemakers do in Italy, where humans know it’s best to enjoy fresh farmstead cheese “di giornata” (the day it’s made).

And, of course, everyone knows that the best cheese starts with the best milk. In order to get the best milk (or any milk at all) from a water buffalo, you REALLY have to know what you’re doing!

Farm Life

Like any kid, Petula knows how important it is to keep moms happy!

ZEBOT: So tell me about the whole dairy thing—is it sort of like milking cows?

PETULA: No way! I mean, some of my best friends are cows, but they have a totally different personality.

Water buffalo aren’t like modern dairy cows, who are more easily intimidated and will do pretty much anything humans want them to. Water buffalo are very independent thinkers. We’re tolerant to a point, but we decide when and how to cooperate.

What are you lookin' at?

What are you lookin’ at?

STING: You need to understand that even though we calves were born here in the U.S, we’re descended from centuries of wild water buffalo, who had to be constantly on the lookout for dangerous predators like hungry tigers.

That means we’re always super-aware of our surroundings—and ready to take off at a moment’s notice, if we have to.

ZEBOT: Yikes! But I thought your family was from Italy—do they have tigers in Italy?

STING: Um, I don’t think so, dude. But you see, even though water buffalo have lived in Italy for ages, we’re originally native to Southeast Asia. And trust me, the tigers there are REALLY wild.

The milking barn is so peaceful, even the cats find it relaxing!

The milking barn is so peaceful, even the cats find it relaxing!

PETULA: Okay, so let me explain how the milking works. Craig and Audrey figured out that the best thing to do is to let our moms’ natural intelligence work in everyone’s favor.

The milking barn and creamery are converted from an old cow dairy—but when Audrey (who’s a super-talented designer and architect) re-designed our milking barn, she worked hard to create a mellow, churchlike atmosphere where we’d all feel really peaceful and comfortable.

STING: And Craig, who used to work in software development, put his creativity to work in designing milking stalls that complement a water buffalo’s psychology.

See, it goes back to the whole predator thing. In order for our moms to produce milk and let it flow, their pituitary glands have to make a special hormone called oxytocin, which creates feelings of bonding, love and trust.

Love is what helps  moms produce oxytocin (this is true for humans, too)!

Love is what helps moms produce oxytocin (this is true for humans, too)!

LULU: But like Sting said before, wild water buffalo originally came from a place where there were lots of dangers, so we don’t naturally produce oxytocin easily, the way cows do.

And we DEFINITELY will not produce it if you try to lock our heads in a metal stanchion to make us stay still during milking.

ZEBOT: Oh, I totally understand—a zebra would never go for that either!

In order to make the  moms feel comfortable, Craig (the Dr. Phil of water buffalo) designed these special stalls.

In order to make the moms feel comfortable, Craig (the Dr. Phil of water buffalo) designed these special stalls.

PETULA: Exactly! So the way it works is that our moms go into the barn to be milked two-by-two in special nose-to-tail stalls designed just for them.

They get to choose their own order, too. Some of them run into the barn. Others are more like, “Hey, he gives us a little bit of hay while we’re waiting out here. So if we’re patient, we could get two meals ’cause he feeds us in there, too!”

If you treat a water buffalo like your best friend, you might even get a ride!

If you treat a water buffalo like your best friend, you might even get a ride!

LULU: Craig says that you need to treat a water buffalo just like you would your best friend. When we feel safe, secure and loved, we cooperate. So he makes sure that during milking time, everything is nice and peaceful. No tractors, no noisy farm work —even the Black Angus cattle next door have to be quiet!

STING: Yup! And since our moms give more milk when we calves are around, we get to hang out in the barn during milking time. Every morning, Craig brings us down from the pasture with these cool colored halters, then lets us chow down on really primo hay. It’s awesome!

You've probably seen a dog lead -- but have you ever seen one for water buffalo?

You’ve probably seen a dog lead — but have you ever seen one for water buffalo?

PETULA: Craig says that when the love is flowing, the milk is, too!

STING: That is so true—and some water buffalo are overflowing with love AND milk. My mom, who’s named Dusty Springfield, is so generous that she shares her milk with all the calves when we’re out in the pasture.

LULU: Yeah, Sting’s mom is the coolest—we calves all call her “the ice cream truck!” But we don’t ask her for anything in the milking barn, because we know that particular milk is the secret to making the world’s best mozzarella. We’re happy to share—we’re so proud of what our moms do!

The water buffalo calves get to nibble from this trough while their moms are being milked.

The water buffalo calves get to nibble from this trough while their moms are being milked.

ZEBOT: Wow, no WONDER water buffalo milk is so famous! So how does it turn into cheese?

PETULA: Well, the first thing is to be super-careful with the milk. Our moms are milked into special buckets, then Craig gently hand-carries the buckets from the barn side of the building to the creamery side.

LULU: This is really different from big cheese factories, where milk that’s been through high-speed pumps has to travel a long way on trucks to get there from the farm. I mean, I get dizzy just thinking about it! Our moms’ milk only has to travel six feet across the breezeway.

Anyone feel like a jug of water buffalo milk?

This jug shows exactly how much milk the water buffalo give — kind of like a giant measuring cup!

STING: So when Craig gets to the creamery, he pours the milk into this big stainless-steel vat that does three really cool things. First, it keeps the milk chilled until Craig is ready to make cheese.

Next, it pasteurizes the milk—that’s a process that takes all the bacteria out—both the good kind and the harmful kind. In the U.S., this is required by law for all fresh cheeses, which means any that are aged less than 60 days.

In order to make great cheese, you need all the traditional tools of the trade  -- including microscopic bacteria (not shown).

In order to make great cheese, you need all the traditional tools of the trade — including microscopic bacteria (not shown).

ZEBOT: But wait: I’ve read a little about cheesemaking—and I thought you NEED the good bacteria.

LULU: Oh, you do. So after the milk is pasteurized and cooled, Craig adds a patented starter that he imports from Italy—this is known as inoculating the milk. So now, the good bacteria in the starter goes to work interacting with the milk, which preps it for making cheese.

PETULA: After a few hours, Craig uses rennet to coagulate the milk (and the special bacteria keeps on working its magic). Next, he cuts the curd into smaller pieces, which increases the surface area and allows the whey to come out of the curd. Craig drains off the whey and uses it to make ricotta cheese.

ZeBot and Petula

While you wait for the curd to ferment, you get to spend quality time with your friends!

STING: At this point, all that patience our moms taught him comes in really handy, because now Craig has to wait about six hours for the curd to ferment.

If you like scientific stuff, this means the alkalinity is getting lower and the acidity is getting higher. In order to stretch the curd to make mozzarella, you’re looking for a perfect Ph window of between 4.85 and 5.00.

ZEBOT: Um, that’s a bit too scientific for this zebra—but stretching the curd sounds like fun!

Wondering what fermented mozzarella curd looks like before it's all stretched and shaped? This is it!

Wondering what fermented mozzarella curd looks like before it’s all stretched and shaped? This is it!

LULU: Oh, don’t worry—we calves don’t understand all the science yet, either. Sting’s just being a show-off and repeating what Craig says. But you’re right: stretching the curd is tons of fun!

ZEBOT: Have you guys ever tried it? Because I’d really like to, but I’m not sure about the whole hoof thing.

STING: Well, we haven’t gotten around to it yet, but I’m sure we could a great job—and so could you. What Craig does is pour almost-boiling water over the curd to melt it so he’ll be able to stretch it, kind of like Silly Putty.

Making mozzarella di bufala is tons of fun!

Making mozzarella di bufala is tons of fun!

PETULA: To make this happen, Craig stirs and kneads the whole steaming mass until it forms an elastic sort of paste that he can stretch into threads without ripping. In Italy, cheesemakers call mozzarella a pasta-filata cheese, which I’m pretty sure means “thread-making.”

LULU: Oh, wait, I want to use some Italian, too! So the next part is where Craig divides the stretchy, slippery curd into equal portions—that technique is called mozzatura and it’s actually what gives mozzarella cheese its name.

STING: Anyway, after that, Craig and Audrey form the mozzarella into balls or braids or whatever other shapes they want, then cool the cheese down a bit so it can be sliced.

And then: it’s ready to eat! I’ve heard cheese-loving humans say that tasting fresh mozzarella di bufala while it’s still warm is as close to heaven as you can get without leaving this Earth!

Fresh mozzarella di bufula is great for picnics by the pasture!

Fresh mozzarella di bufula is great for picnics by the pasture!

ZEBOT: Hey, I heard that: I tried some—and it was so soft and delicate and creamy that it made my stripes tingle! Tasting the cheese made me see why someone would go through all the hard work to make it.

Is that what motivated Craig and Audrey?

PETULA: Well, sure, that was a big part of it. And you know how we told you that love plays such a huge role in a water buffalo’s producing milk? It turns out that’s what helps humans create wonderful things, too.

The secret to happiness?

The secret to happiness?

LULU: Starting Ramini Mozzarella was a huge change (and a huge challenge) for both Craig and Audrey. The way Craig came up with it was to do what he calls a “mind map” of the things that made him the happiest.

STING: Yeah, and he came up with three big ones. First, when Craig was a kid, he always felt happy when he was with his grandfather, who owned an Italian restaurant.

Later, when he visited Africa and was around big animals and adventure, he was happy. And when he worked in high-tech, he worked with super-creative self-starters who were always trying to pull off something new—and that was another ticket to happiness.

This is a picture of pure happiness (which the calves are pretty sure was taken by Audrey).

This is a picture of pure happiness (which the calves are pretty sure was taken by Audrey).

PETULA: And like with so many family recipes, it was love and family that helped all the ingredients come together. Audrey’s food-loving brother and sister-in-law, who lived in Italy, asked why Americans didn’t make mozzarella di bufala.

LULU: Of course, to make it, you need fresh water buffalo milk—and that’s where our water buffalo families came into the picture. And Audrey loves animals and design and Italian food and family and creativity, so she was happy with the whole idea, too!

PETULA: And now, we’re all working together to make the cheese that makes everyone happy. Or, as they say in Italy: That’s amore!

STING: Hey, Lulu and Petula, that sounds like a great idea for another music video—let’s hoof it over to the pasture and get started on our next creative adventure!

If you enjoyed learning about all about farmstead mozzarella from water buffalo, the calves think you might also like to hear what a very special dog detective has to say about truffles in ZeAdventures of a Great Truffle Dog!

Celebrating Julia Child: ZeGreatest Advice for Learning to Cook!

ZeBot & Julia in the Kitchen

“Learn how to cook: try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless  – and above all, have fun.” – Julia Child

That’s my favorite advice from one of my favorite cooks in all of human (and zebraic) history! Even though I’m a zebra who is challenged by learning to cook with hooves,  Julia Child makes me feel confident that I can do it – learning from my mistakes and having fun the whole time.

Who’s Julia Child, you ask? Well, she was a super-nice human who would have been 101 years old today. She didn’t even start cooking until she was a grown-up, but she became one of the most famous food lovers in the whole world, writing lots of cookbooks and starring in what some humans (and zebras) call the best food TV shows ever.

Julia can teach ANYONE to master the art of French cooking – even zebras!

Julia can teach ANYONE to master the art of French cooking – even zebras!

Well, that’s good enough for this zebra! So to celebrate Julia’s birthday, I’ve been busily reading her books – and am pleased to share my top 10 favorite kitchen lessons. I hope they’ll become some of your favorites, too!

1. “Once you have mastered a technique, you hardly need look at a recipe again.”

Well, that makes perfect sense to me! So I’ve been practicing everything from whipping egg whites and cream to kneading bread dough.ZeBot and Julia Whipped Cream

I love the way touching the food (with clean hooves, of course) makes me feel. It seems like magic to feel the billowy clouds of whipped cream – and the velvety dough that gets softer and more willing to help me as I knead it.

(Hooves can have their downside in the kitchen, but they’re GREAT for kneading!)

ZeBot & Julia Dough

2. “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated masterpieces – just good food from fresh ingredients.

Zebras just aren’t fancy, so we’re glad we don’t have to pretend to be. Julia’s taught us that you just need good ingredients. That’s one of many reasons I spend as much time as I can at farmers’ markets learning about fun new vegetables – and the exciting stories behind them.

Zebras are totally into fresh -- check out what I just picked!

Zebras are totally into fresh — check out what I just picked!

3. “When you serve fine, fresh green vegetables, you want them to show off their color.”

Yes ­– exactly! Even though I’m black-and-white myself, I agree: fresh green = super-good.

Go Green ZeBot Asparagus

4. “The perfect vinaigrette is so easy to make that I see no reason whatsoever for bottled dressings.” 

I first learned how to make a vinaigrette at a class with some cool kids in Brooklyn, New York. I was the only zebra there, but no one seemed to mind.  We learned how to mix really good olive oil with different kinds of vinegars and seasonings. Then we tasted our vinaigrettes on lettuce, veggies and fruit. And you know what? Homemade salad dressing is AWESOME!

Julia's right – homemade salad dressings are ZeBest!

Julia’s right – homemade salad dressings are ZeBest!

5. “It behooves us to choose eggs carefully and to treat them right.”

In addition to loving the word “behooves,” zebras think that you should choose EVERYTHING carefully and treat it right – from your eggs to the chickens who are generous enough to lay them for you. We’ve learned that when you’re kind and treat the world with respect, it treats you the same way!

When I visited the French Laundry gardens, this chicken was nice enough to lay an egg just for me!

When I visited the French Laundry gardens, this chicken was nice enough to lay an egg just for me!

6. “Small helpings, no seconds. A little bit of everything. No snacking. And have a good time.”

Julia said this lots of times – but  I heard it from her favorite doctor, a very nice man I met on the beach on this island called Captiva. He told me that this was some of the best advice he’d ever heard about food – so he passed it on to me and to his two grandchildren Max & Lulu (who built me a beautiful sandcastle while their grandfather told his Julia story).

Here's the sandcastle that Julia's story built!

Here’s the sandcastle that Julia’s story built!

7. “It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate – you know someone’s fingers have been all over it.”

Well, yes – or in my case, someone’s hooves. Julia taught me that you eat with your eyes as well as your mouth. When you take the time to make your food look beautiful, it tastes better than ever!

Of course, you don’t want to have your hooves (or fingers) touching a dish that so much you can’t even tell what it is anymore.  Julia believed that, for the ultimate authenticity, the food should be respected and simplicity should reign. But when our hooves HAVE been all over something, zebras always admit it!

Can you tell my hooves have been all over these pears?

Can you tell my hooves have been all over these pears?

8. “…no one is born a great cook, one learns by doing.”

Well, when I read that wisdom (after a few kitchen disasters that I won’t mention right now),  I started nodding my head like crazy and saying, “Well, I heard THAT!” So I’m going to practice and practice and practice until I’ve earned my kitchen stripes!

I'm learning to cook like a pro from Chef Joel at Bottega in the Napa Valley!

I’m learning to cook like a pro from Chef Joel at Bottega in the Napa Valley!

9. “I think careful cooking is love, don’t you? The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a Valentine as you can give.”

I think so, too – on Valentine’s Day or any day. When you cook with love, you’re adding a magical ingredient that transforms any dish into something very special. So remember that when you’re cooking, okay? The secret ingredient is love!

I always feel lucky to discover magical new ingredients!

I always feel lucky to discover magical new ingredients!

One of the best ways to keep learning is to read  cookbooks!

One of the best ways to keep learning is to read cookbooks!

10. “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.”

Zebras are curious by nature – we’re always exploring and trying to figure out how and why things are the way they are. In fact, we’re tremendously interested in everything. So I was very happy to learn that, when it comes to cooking and life, all I need to do is be passionate and keep feeding my interests.

That sounds like tons of fun to me – and I hope it does to you, too!

In fact, I’m going to celebrate Julia’s birthday by having an adventure in the kitchen right NOW.

ZeBot Birthday Candles

Happy 101st Birthday, Julia! Love, ZeBot

SoFAB Encounters of ZeVintage Kind

ZeBot Vintage Bottle Thumbnail

Exploring the world’s culinary curiosities is what zebras love best.

So when my friend Liz Williams, president of the Southern Food and Beverage Museum (SoFAB), invited me to help her with a very important mission, I zoomed across the country faster than you can say “stripes!”

Our meeting place: Crownsville, Maryland. Our mission: to help wrap and box a collection of 2000 beautiful bottles that had been donated to SoFAB by some super-nice humans. After that, Liz and her husband Rick Normand would personally drive the bottles all the way back to the museum, which is in New Orleans (a city famous for its amazing food and beverages).

On a rainy summer afternoon, I gathered with Liz, Rick, and our cooking teacher buddy Sheila Crye at the home of Don and Elaine Fosler. Elaine’s son, David Jones, was our guide — he led us to the special room that had been the home of the bottle collection for decades.

Think this is a lot of bottles? Imagine a WHOLE ROOM filled with cases like this!

Think this is a lot of bottles? Imagine a WHOLE ROOM filled with cases like this!

I wasn’t totally clear on exactly what used to be inside these bottles, since zebras don’t exactly have a lot do with bottles in our ordinary lives. I think it was a potion or something – sort of like in the Harry Potter stories.

For me, the fascination was in the bottles themselves. Liz told me that for humans, an important part of learning about anything is understanding its history and culture (that means society in general). She said the vessels that hold foods and beverages can have as much cultural and historical significance as what’s inside.

I had a great time exploring California history with Father Junípero Serra.

I had a great time exploring California history with Father Junípero Serra.

A vessel can reveal a lot, Liz said. “Early vessels were made of animal skins, then ceramics, then glass. The material a vessel is made of tells us a lot about its place in history. Its shape can reveal its use – and how important the vessel was to the people who used it.”

So what were these bottles made of? Mostly ceramic and glass. And when were they made? The collection includes bottles that were crafted from 1919 to around 2002. Liz said this was especially cool, because the collector actually worked through two centuries – the 20th and 21st.

Another awesome thing: these artistic bottles looked like little statues of just about everything on the planet. There was even one in the shape of a zebra!

This rare striped bottle is my all-time favorite -- can you guess why?

This rare striped bottle is my all-time favorite — can you guess why?

I think there's something fishy about this bottle -- but I can't quite put my hoof on exactly what it is!

I think there’s something fishy about this bottle — but I can’t quite put my hoof on exactly what it is!

It was quite enlightening to discuss life on the savannah with a pair of noble lions.

It was quite enlightening to discuss life on the savannah with a pair of noble lions.

According to Liz, “As our technology advanced to make vessels in certain shapes or to write something important on the vessel, it allowed them to take on even greater meaning. These statue-like bottles are collectibles in their own right, commemorating places, people, creatures and events. They give us another way to record and appreciate history.”

Well, I’ll tell you one thing: carefully wrapping and boxing up thousands of historically important bottles for a museum definitely takes a while. Not light years exactly. But a pretty long time.

Who knew that vintage bottles could teach you all about the human legal system?

Who knew that vintage bottles could teach you all about the human legal system?

My next goal? To strike it rich by traveling back in time to the Gold Rush era!

My next goal? To strike it rich by traveling back in time to the Gold Rush era!

Send in the clowns -- and a zebra!

Send in the clowns — and a zebra!

 

Listening to music from different eras gets me really jazzed!

Listening to music from different eras gets me really jazzed!

As the rain drummed on the roof and trees danced in the summer wind, we listened to music from the eras when the bottles were made. Cole Porter. Buddy Holly. The Beatles. And lots more.

We took a break for pizza — and Liz told stories about SoFAB and all its exciting events and collections. If you want to read about them yourself, just visit the museum’s website.

After dinner, the humans got back to work–and so did I, after a quick nap to recharge my stripes.

I do my best to rest up in between vintage encounters.

I do my best to rest up in between vintage encounters.

And then the moment came when all the cabinets were empty — and boxes were stacked almost to the ceiling. It was a little sad, because the bottles had been here for so long  — and the room looked kind of forlorn.

But the happy part was much more powerful: the collection would be going to a place where anyone who wants to can enjoy its beauty and explore its meanings.

After we were done, David brought out a guitar that looked like it was from a faraway galaxy made up only of music and stars. He played one of my favorite old songs: Stairway to Heaven.

Which seemed exactly right.

ZeBot Guitar

For information about donating cool culinary stuff (including ANY and ALL cookbooks) to the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, please visit southernfood.org.

SoFAB logo

 

A Sweet Striped Surprise for ZeMom & ZeDad

ZeBot & Buddies Mise En Place for Shortbread

In the human world, there are special days to celebrate moms, dads and all the amazing things they do.  Zebras have pretty much the same custom — but because we have so much energy, we try to do something special for our parents every day.

My latest surprise for ZeMom & ZeDad was creating a special hoofmade treat just for them. Because ZeMom is the sweetest zebra ever, I wanted to make her something sweet – preferably with stripes. She’s very big on healthy foods, so that was also a factor. As for ZeDad, well, he’s one of those guys who LOVES any kind of desserts, especially decadent ones with stripes.

The question was: could I make something that was striped, decadent and still reasonably healthy?

I also wanted to be able to use lots and lots of imagination, as I think that is one of the best ingredients ever invented.

Chef Nora can teach anyone to bake--even zebras!

Chef Nora can teach anyone to bake–even zebras!

To get some expert advice, my favorite zebra kitchen pals and I went to visit our pastry chef friend, Nora Tong. If anyone knows how to make the ultimate desserts, she does!

Chef Nora was nice enough to invite me and my buddies to come a class that she was teaching to professional bakers and super-great home bakers from the Bakers Dozen. She was sharing her secrets for making perfect tarts, but she said that we could use our imagination to transform the recipe into almost anything else we wanted—including something striped!

I was wondering whether zebras could make a perfect pastry when it seems we’re all hooves. Chef Nora said, “Of course, you can, ZeBot—anyone can make wonderful pastries. The trick is to use the right recipe, then learn how to make it just the right way.”

Well, in this case, the right recipe had to be super-easy, striped and totally zebraproof. Chef Nora had the perfect one: she said we could turn her super-buttery shortbread tart crust into super-buttery striped shortbread cookies. Those could be the decadent part of our surprise. For the healthy part, she advised us to use even MORE imagination.

Mise en place is a great start that guarantees a happy ending!

Mise en place is a great start that guarantees a happy ending!

But first, we had to learn how to make the shortbread. Chef Nora said the first thing that both zebras and professional bakers need to do is to get out all our ingredients and baking tools, then re-read our recipe to make sure everything is clear.

This is called “mise en place,” which is French for “to put in place.” Why was Chef Nora using a French term? Because LOTS of the world’s great chefs are from France, so other chefs and bakers do this out of tradition.

Mise en place is a great way to make sure that you don’t end up in the middle of preparing your recipe, only to realize that you’re missing an ingredient, forgot a tool or don’t undertand all the steps.

Shortbread dough looks all crumbly before you press it into your baking pan.

Shortbread dough looks all crumbly before you press it into your baking pan.

Next, we learned how to mix a shortbread dough. It’s just the way you’d think you would do it: put all the ingredients in a bowl and mix them up! We used a KitchenAid stand mixer, but you could also use a hand mixer, a big spoon—or even your clean hands (or hooves).

If you want to make chocolate dough, you need to melt chocolate first. Chef Nora showed ZoeBot how to do it on a burner, but she said you can also melt chocolate carefully in the microwave.

By the way, if you’re a kid or a zebra, you ALWAYS need an adult’s help with this–or anything else that involves heat. If you want, you can substitute cocoa powder (which is very healthy and super-chocolaty tasting). This is one of our favorite zebra tricks—you’ll find it in our recipe.

Yum: melted chocolate!

Yum: melted chocolate!

After everything is mixed, you need to know what to do with the dough. Chef Nora said you just take it out of the bowl and gently press it into your baking pan. The dough will look kind of crumbly in the bowl, but it sticks together when you press it into the pan. If you want to make sure your dough doesn’t puff up during baking, you poke it all over with a fork to make little holes. This is called “docking.”

See the little holes in one  tart crust? That's called "docking" and it's the same for cookies.

See the little holes in one tart dough? That’s called “docking”- and you use the same technique for cookie dough.

Then you bake your dough until it turns into a tart crust or cookies or whatever you’re making. If it’s a batch cookies, you cut them into little squares (just like in the photo below), then top them with whatever yummy thing you like best.

That sounded super-easy to us. Now we had to think of something ZeMom-healthy to go with our ZeDad-decadent cookies.

This is what shortbread cookies look like after they're baked.

This is what shortbread cookies look like after they’re baked.

And THIS is what they look like with yummy toppings!

And THIS is what they look like with yummy toppings! Chef Nora topped hers with a mocha cream and fresh berries.

When we got back home, we looked in our refrigerator to see what was in there. We wanted something sweet and creamy and healthy and somehow striped. My cousin ZoeBot had the brilliant idea of mixing up cottage cheese and yogurt and honey and vanilla.We put it in the food processor to make it creamy.

What did we do for stripes?

We love the way super-creamy treats feel in our mouths, so we used a food processor.

We love the way super-creamy treats feel in our mouths, so we used a food processor.

Well, we added cocoa to part of our sweet, creamy stuff. Then we made black and white stripes by layering it all in beautiful tall glasses. ZoeBot reads a lot, so she knew that the striped, creamy, layered desserts are called “parfaits.” Guess what language that is? Yep: French!

And guess what it means? Besides being a dessert, it means “perfect”! And that’s how we knew we’d found the perfect dessert for our parents. They’ve done more than anyone else in the whole universe to make our lives perfect—and also sweet, imaginative, healthy and striped.

This is what being a zebra is all about—and we wish the same for you.

Happy Mother’s and Father’s Day (every day) to parents and kids and zebras (everywhere)!

Hurray for striped cookies and parfaits!

Hurray for striped cookies and parfaits!

 

RECIPE: ZeBot’s Striped Parfait with Shortbread cookies:

A note from ZeBot: Because it’s hoofmade, my dessert shows how much I love my mom and dad. And it really describes them: striped & parfait (French for “perfect”!).

ZeDad’s Super Buttery Shortbread Cookies (adapted from an amazing recipe by Chef Nora Tong)

 What you need:

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 cup melted butter, cooled to room temperature

1 tsp. vanilla

What you do:

Preheat your oven to 350°F.

Mix the flour and sugar in a KitchenAid stand mixer that’s fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the melted butter and vanilla, then mix until everything is combined. (If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can also use a hand-held mixer or a wooden spoon to mix the ingredients).

With clean hands (or hooves), press the dough onto a cookie sheet. It’s okay if the dough seems a little crumbly – just smoosh it all together.

Put the cookie sheet into a pre-heated oven, then bake until the shortbread is a deep golden-brown (this should take about 12-15 minutes).

Let the shortbread cool a bit, then ask an adult to help you cut it into whatever shapes you like – you can use either a pizza cutter or a knife to do this.

Note: If you want zebra stripes on your shortbread, ask an adult to help you melt some semisweet or milk chocolate chips (on the stovetop or in the microwave). Then use a spoon to drizzle the melted chocolate onto your shortbread shapes.

Makes about a dozen small cookies to go with your striped parfaits.

ZeMom’s Super Healthy Zebra-Striped Parfaits

What You Need:

2 cups low-fat cottage cheese

1/2 cup low-fat Greek yogurt

2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup honey

2 tbsp. cocoa

Strawberries for decoration

What You Do:

Put the cottage cheese, yogurt, vanilla and honey into the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Make sure the top of the bowl is on tightly, then push “start” and watch everything spin around until it’s completely mixed and velvety smooth.

Using a big spoon, carefully move half of the creamy mixture into a small mixing bowl (this will be the vanilla part for white stripes). Don’t worry about measuring – it doesn’t have to be EXACTLY half.

Add the cocoa to the fluffy, mixed-up stuff that’s still in the food processor, put the lid on and mix everything up until it’s dark and chocolaty.

To create your parfaits, use a small spoon to make creamy layers of white and chocolate in clear dessert glasses. You can start with either chocolate or vanilla – and make the layers as thick or thin as you want.

Decorate the parfaits with sliced strawberries and some of the shortbread cookies. Make it look really cool!

Makes four small, two medium or one GIANT parfait.

Make a sweet treat for your parents today!

Make a sweet treat for your parents today!

ZeAdventures of a Great Truffle Dog (& his Zebra Apprentice)

ZeBot the Truffle Zebra

There’s something a forest that brings out the adventurer in dogs and zebras alike – and when you add truffles to the scene, the ultimate companion for woodland discoveries is my canine pal, Rico.

What’s a truffle, you ask? Good question! Truffles are a kind of ‘underground mushroom’ that grow on the roots of certain kinds of trees. To a great cook, a truffle is one of the most amazing foods around – and Rico will explain why.

Like many of the world’s great truffle dogs, Rico is a Lagotto Romagnolo – a rare Italian breed that originated with the ancient Etruscans. Rico was born into a distinguished family of truffle hunters in the Sicilian village of Mazara del Vallo, arriving in America as a puppy with a keen nose for exploration. 

This is a painting of one of Rico's ancestors by the famous Italian artist, Guercino.

This is a painting of one of Rico’s ancestors by the famous Italian artist, Guercino.

Like many Sicilians, Rico has an amazing talent for storytelling. He agreed to grant this exclusive zebra interview if he could recount the truffle tales in his own words – read on for our question and answer session!

Rico, do you think a zebra could ever learn to hunt truffles?

 ZeBot, as long as you have a good nose and love treats anything is possible!  You’re on the right track to becoming a truffle-finding zebra.  The best thing is to start  with fresh truffles, like in your picture.

The secret to finding truffles? A great nose!

The secret to finding truffles? A great nose!

How did you first learn to hunt truffles, Rico?

When I was a tiny puppy in Sicily, the only toy I had was a tartufo (that’s Italian for ‘truffle’) sewn into a cloth bag called a borsa.

Mario, my first tartufaio (truffle hunter), started my training by throwing the borsa for me to retrieve – and giving me a treat when I brought it back to him.

When that got really easy, Mario started hiding the borsa so I’d have to search for it with my nose. Next, I learned the secret of being a champion truffle dog: you have to really dig truffles – literally.

Now, when I wanted a treat, I had to sniff out the borsa wherever Mario had buried it. He didn’t make it easy, but it turns out I’ve got a great nose and tireless paws.

These days, I’m a truffle hunting pro who travels all over the world – if there’s a truffle (or even truffle spores) anywhere around, you can count on me to bring you the treasure!

Here's Rico as a puppy in Sicily, learning to hunt truffles from his mom, Gaia.

Here’s Rico as a puppy in Sicily, learning to hunt truffles from his mom, Gaia.

 Can you tell us a little about your work as a truffle dog?

When I was about three months old, I started truffle hunting with my mamma, Gaia – she’s the dog who taught me everything I know. She said the first rule is make il tartufaio look good. Truffle dogs always have to put on a good show, even if there are no truffles.

First, we scent the air for the general vicinity of the truffles, then we sniff out the ground scent to determine their precise location. Next, we scratch the earth to show il tartufaio that we’ve found the exact spot – then we dig until we find the truffle. It’s tempting to eat it like truffle-hunting pigs often do, but we truffle dogs prefer gourmet canine treats.

As you can see, Rico really DIGS truffles!

As you can see, Rico really DIGS truffles!

 Do truffles only grow wild – or can they also be cultivated?

There are indigenous truffles growing wild all around the globe. On the west coast of North America, we have several flavorful varieties that grow all the way from California through parts of British Columbia.  However, to increase the traditional culinary truffle supply, increase their freshness, reduce transportation costs from Europe and help develop green businesses, there are groups throughout the world who plant truffle-infused trees in truffle orchards.

My buddies Robert Chang, MBA and Charles Lafevre, Ph.D. help people who want to start their own truffle orchards — they’d help a zebra, too, if you decide to grow truffles!

Rico & his Sicilian-American tartufaio, Bill, search for wild treasures at the Oregon Truffle Festival

How do growers cultivate truffles?

There are a lot of well-kept secrets to the truffle-orchard trade, but the simplest version imitates nature. Mycologists take a collection of their desired ripe truffles, then make a slurry by placing the truffles and some secret ingredients in a high-tech blender. The slurry is infused on the roots of nascent host trees – usually oak or hazelnut trees. Cultivating a truffle orchard is an extremely complex process, but I’m keeping my paws crossed for all the would-be growers.

Before Rico goes truffle hunting, he gets a good whiff of a fresh truffle!

Before Rico goes truffle hunting, he gets a good whiff of a fresh truffle!

Exactly what is it about truffles that makes them so irresistible?

You might be surprised to learn that the allure of the truffle is not its taste, but its aroma. Truffles actually have a limited flavor, but what they do to food is pure magic. The bouquet is difficult to express in words – people have described truffles as smelling like everything from fresh earth to old socks (which may be why we dogs are so good at finding them).

Even though it’s challenging to find the right descriptors, there’s one thing everyone agrees on: truffles are a rare luxury, like vintage champagne or caviar. In fact, next to saffron, they’re the most expensive food in the world.

What’s the simplest way to use truffles in the kitchen?

The secret is learning to make the most of truffles’ irresistible (and powerful) aroma. This lets you enjoy all sorts of wonderful homemade truffle products without necessarily using the truffle itself – and it’s what many tartufaios do to enjoy these magical tubers without having to give up the profits of selling them.

Rico loves ravioli with scrambled eggs & fresh truffles!

Rico loves ravioli with fresh truffles!

 

Could you tell us how to make truffle-infused foods?

It’s easy – you can ‘truffle’ all kinds of foods (and if you forget to keep your truffles in an airtight container, everything in your refrigerator will taste like truffles). My favorite foods for truffling are eggs, cheese and butter.

Start by cleaning fresh truffles with a mushroom brush under running water, then dry them with a cloth or paper towel. Next, loosely wrap the clean truffles in a paper towel to absorb any extra moisture.

Now make a nest of paper towels in a glass or plastic container with an airtight lid. Gently arrange the freshest organic eggs you can find in the nest, along with fresh butter and/or your favorite soft cheeses. Place the loosely wrapped truffle in the container, be sure the lid is tightly secured – and refrigerate.

Depending upon the size of the container and how generous you are with truffles, you’ll be enjoying truffled eggs, butter and cheese within 24 hours.

One of my all-time favorite truffle dishes is truffle-and-wild mushroom ravioli topped with truffle butter, scrambled truffled eggs and fresh truffles!

Check out the truffles Rico found, right in his own neighborhood!

Check out the truffles Rico found, right in his own neighborhood!

Where are your favorite places to find truffles?

Well, my motto in life and cooking is ‘hanno sempre una zampa avanti,’ which means ‘always have one paw forward.’ So my favorite way to find truffles is simply to go for a walk.

These days, I live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my Sicilian-American tartufaio, Bill Collins. Within 30 yards of our urban home, there’s a tree where I can sniff out truffles the size of a quarter all the way from late fall through mid-spring!

Rico always finds great truffles at the Napa Truffle Festival!

Rico always finds great truffles at the Napa Truffle Festival!

Since I understand that not everyone is an expert at sniffing out local wild truffles, here are some other places to find them:

If you want to be a forager, you can look up indigenous truffles in your area in one of my favorite guidebooks – or join your local mycological society.

For a culinary truffle experience, go to a festival.  My favorite ones on the west coast are the Oregon Truffle Festival and the Napa Truffle Festival. I also love visiting the truffle orchard at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee, where I forage with local plant pathologist, Dr. Tom Michaels.

10 Rico & Friends

What do you like to do when you’re not hunting truffles?

Well, like most dogs, I love to chase tennis balls and play frisbee – but I also help Bill with his other important work. When he’s not being a tartufaio, Bill is a psychologist who works with military veterans returning from overseas – and I’m a certified therapy dog. It’s my job to sit with them, listen to their stories and share my puppyhood teddy bear whenever they need it.

I’m also assisting with studies at the Walter Reed National Medical Center, where researchers are pioneering programs that will find jobs for returning military personnel by teaming them with dogs who do everything from bomb sniffing and search-and-rescue to truffle hunting.

To help promote eco-friendly truffle practices, another favorite pastime is supporting my friends at Northwest Truffle Dogs. If you’d like to learn more about sustainable truffle harvesting (and learning to train your own truffle dog), please check out their program, Hound Found.

Happy truffle-hunting – and buon appetito!

11 Truffle Dog License Plate

In the mood for more doggy fun? Meet my magical canine buddy  Kero (and watch her in action) in The Kero Chronicles!