In 1993, Palo Alto Animal Services received a phone call in which an anonymous person reported a missing pet: a huge, fast, aggressive and highly venomous Black Mamba snake. Basically, unless you carry antivenom in your lunchbox, there's about a 100% chance a bite will kill you. Clearly, black mambas are not cuddly pets. The phone tree went into immediate effect, calling to warn parents to drive their children to school rather than let them walk. Some schools even roped off areas. Since I knew that black mambas have a particular affinity for little girls, I was terrified. I remember being in the backseat of the carpool Volvo, peering into every bush we passed, expecting a giant snake to lurch out (like this). I think we were on lockdown the rest of the afternoon but eventually the scare faded when people realized that a) black mambas wouldn't survive long without a climate like Kenya's, b) it's pretty hard to obtain and keep a pet black mamba in the US, and c) the whole thing was probably a hoax. Someone made "I survived the Black Mamba" t-shirts. It ended up being a joke for anyone that remembers it. Nonetheless, the idea that dangerous animals would "invade" our suburbia can be unnerving.
Slightly less of a joke, because much more real than the mamba, are the mountain lions that sometimes take a short jaunt down from the hills to visit our backyards. I think usually they are just checking out the real estate values (they seem to prefer Atherton, wouldn't you?) but now and then they attack someone. In 2004, when the police shot a skinny mountain lion that was hiding out in a residential tree there was quite an uproar. Judging from the comments in the paper every time there's a sighting reported, having to share property with wild animals captivates our imagination and kindles our fears: "Are the mountain lions on our turf or are we on theirs? Are they trying to tell us something? One ate a goat--is that a sign? Have they newly developed a taste for human flesh? Or have they liked eating us all along? Do they like eating us better when we are shrink-wrapped in spandex biking gear?"
Wild beasts are the 4th plague on Egypt and the idea of wild animal mauling is still alarming...unless the animals are made of marzipan.
Marzipan is a traditional Passover confection in some parts of the world. You can buy it, of course, but it's simple to make at home. It is one of my absolute favorite treats and unlike the meringue in my earlier post, it is easy to model. If you're not like me and aren't equipped with a hedgehog cookie cutter (how did I end up the kind of person who has a hedgehog cookie cutter?) you can shape marzipan any way you like with your hands.
I originally tried painting my wild beasts...
but didn't like where that was going, so covered them in chocolate instead (could that have been the solution for all my failed art?) rrrRRROOOoooaaarr!
Marzipan Wild Beasts
- 200 g blanched almonds (first healthcare, then weights & measures?!)
- 175 g powdered sugar (FYI some powdered sugar has cornstarch. If that's an issue for you, you can process some granulated sugar in the food processor until fine.)
- 1 egg white
- few drops of almond extract
- pinch of salt
Grind the almonds in a food processor until very very fine, stirring now and then to make sure it's even.
Add in the sugar and process. Then add in the egg white, extract, and salt and pulse until a lump of dough forms. Sprinkle a work surface with powdered sugar and knead the marzipan for a minute or so until smooth and easy to work with. Either roll out into a sheet about 1/2-1 cm thick and cut with cookie cutters or a knife, or model by hand. Let dry out for an hour before painting, icing or dipping in chocolate. Then keep in a covered container.