My mom had two cookbooks, a handful of food magazines, and a white plastic file box crammed with recipe cutting that she kept in the cabinet next to the stove. From this store she made dinner for three kids and my dad every night of the week while working full-time. She’d often do it while working more than full-time.
I learned to cook from watching her. She saw that I was interested and able, and started putting me in charge of preheating the oven for chicken or shredding beef for tacos when I was about 13. Our meals were rarely glamorous, but they were tasty, nutritional, and quick. We sat around the table talking about our days while we ate, and could only be excused when we had eaten enough.
Once in a while, when she had time and a willing audience, she’d experiment. In the summers we’d make pizza dough and grill pizzas, every person choosing their own toppings. (I always chose every possible vegetable and bacon.) I still make her corn and black bean salsa for potlucks. It was never that she didn’t like cooking, but that it was often the last thing on the list after a busy day. She took care of us in so many ways, and cooking was only one of them.
I have, at last count, thirty cookbooks. I make money by cooking for people. I’m not scared to spend an hour or more making dinner. Cooking is something I love, a way that I share myself with people. I know that a lot of people who love to cook feel the same way. But there are also days when I do not have the energy to devote lots of time and effort to making sure I get fed. And then I look back at my mom’s example, and take inspiration from her- fajitas, chili, mac and cheese. My mom knew a good thing when she found it.
And every summer, when she had more time, she would make zucchini bread. It was lightly sweetened, filled with nuts, and a treat that we could all agree upon. We kids liked it because it was sweet and tasted like cake. She liked it because it was low in sugar and we were eating vegetables for a snack. She made it from one of the recipes that she had shoved in her recipe box, and although years ago I copied many recipes down from there, her zucchini bread was not one of them. Instead, when I got a craving, I had to scour my cookbook selection to find a zucchini bread recipe. And what a find I got.
And so in late summer, I used the zucchini my garden is still producing to make zucchini bread. The taste is buttery and tender, despite their being no butter in the dough. The spice is warming and comforting, and the bread has just enough firmness to create a delicious contrast between the crust and the center. It’s excellent as breakfast, a snack, or dessert, and may remind you of getting a treat some lucky summer afternoon from your overworked and underappreciated mom.
Spiced Zucchini Bread
lightly adapted from The Northern Heartland Kitchen by Beth Dooley
The adaptions I made were minor- I substituted vegetable oil for coconut oil and allspice for nutmeg. If you wanted to gild the lily, you could toast the walnuts, but I think they’re delicious ungilded.
Makes 2 loaves
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup coconut oil
2 cups cane sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups grated zucchini (about 1 large)
Preheat the oven to 325. Grease and flour two loaf pans. Set aside.
In a large bowl whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder, salt and nuts.
In a medium bowl whisk together the eggs, oil, sugar, and vanilla until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the zucchini. Turn the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix until everything is just combined. Divide the batter between the two prepared pans.
Bake the bread until it is firm, golden, and a toothpick comes out clean, about 60-70 minutes. Cool the bread loafs in their pan on a cooling rack for about 10 minutes, then invert the pans and remove the bread. Continue to cool with the bread right side up.