There are some things you don’t question or plan for. They’re the things that just happen, that unfold throughout the day or week or month. The things we don’t always document or discuss because they don’t really seem important enough, but that — all the same — so often bring us together in one way or another. Patterns or obsessions or phases. Late-night online shoe shopping. Permission to nap at odd hours. Spontaneous cell-phone photo exchanges. Maybe you can relate. Maybe lately you’ve been doing something similar. As you do. As we do.Maybe you’ve spent into the double-digits (ouch) for 4 heirloom tomatoes because they’re beautiful and it’s summer and they taste like August and it seemed like a good idea at the time.
Maybe you make friends with the mailman. Learn his name. Admit that you stalk him and then sheepishly take it back when he looks at you funny. You didn’t mean it that way. You just like mail. Regardless, he will, undoubtedly, take very good care of your outgoing letters. This is always a good thing.
Maybe you find creative ways to feel close to loved ones who live far away. This could involve exchanging frequent foot photos. Somehow, this makes you both feel much closer.
Maybe you brave sunburns and play hooky for a dear friend’s mid-week birthday.
Or try to pretend you don’t have an addiction to a certain brand of shoes (I love you, Tom’s).
You admit to yourself that you’re getting old and can no longer drink four glasses of wine and feel like a perky cheerleader the next morning. Heck, perhaps you admit to yourself that you never really felt much like a perky cheerleader in the first place.
Sometimes you may sit and admire the early evening light inside your apartment. Then before you know it, you’ll begin taking early evening naps in said apartment.
Maybe you write lists of restaurants you want to try. Like this one in San Francisco for brunch. Or this one in Oakland. Or this one, too. Also remind yourself to go see this museum exhibit before it leaves.
And if you’re anything like me, you make zucchini bread when you simply have too much zucchini to stare at. Maybe you like adding chocolate to a recipe whenever you can. Maybe you like to have a guarantee that there is something special waiting in the kitchen to accompany your morning coffee. Because as the week goes on, things can get harried. Good breakfast intentions are replaced, in my case, with no breakfast at all or handfuls of granola on the way out the door. But this week is different. I got into the kitchen. As you do. And for this recipe you’re going to want to as well. Let’s.
This bread is a mish-mash of inspiration from a family recipe I often make along with a smidge of Lottie + Doof’s Zucchini Cake and Seven Spoons’ Chocolate Zucchini Bread. There are bits I like from each of these recipes, so I ultimately joined them to make a rather perfect, not-too-sweet zucchini bread with a very likeable, craggy top. It’s lightly scented with good cocoa, studded with toasty walnuts and cocoa nibs, and strewn throughout are bits of summer zucchini. With your favorite icing or a light glaze, this could even tread lightly into cake territory. For now though, I’m keeping mine for the mornings.
This recipe’s perfect for summer baking because you don’t need a mixer or electric beaters; you can do everything with a good, old-fashioned wooden spoon. Do use a nice dark cocoa powder–it’ll make a difference in flavor here. And if you’d rather use chunks of chocolate or chocolate chips instead of cocoa nibs, go right ahead. Or just leave them out altogether.
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Generously grease two loaf pans (9 inches by 5 inches) with butter (or cooking spray, if you’d prefer).
Toast the walnuts: on a baking sheet, spread them out and bake until golden brown and fragrant, 10-12 minutes. Cool and then chop finely.
In a medium bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and spices into a medium bowl. Add the cocoa nibs and chopped walnuts at the end and set aside. In a large bowl, stir together the eggs, olive oil, sugar, and vanilla. Add the grated zucchini at the end and stir until just combined with a wooden spoon or spatula.
Combine the wet and dry ingredients, divide the batter into two prepared bread pans and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick or tester comes out clean. Cool for 20 minutes. Slice and serve.
Winter Soups and Stews
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Last weekend it was so windy – apocalyptically stormy, you could say – that our tent at the farmers market was uprooted by gusts of wind that were not messing around. I wasn't there, but apparently despite being heavily weighted down and with four customers holding onto each corner, it quite literally blew down the block. Sam, from across town, was reporting trees falling on every block and traffic lights out across the city. The next morning on a walk with Oliver around Green Lake, we were met with that same biting wind and ended up retreating for a hot chocolate instead. 'Tis the season in Seattle: we all get a little giddy and ahead of ourselves when we spot the cherry blossoms and daffodils, and I always trick myself into thinking that with the start of daylight savings time, summer must be right around the corner. In truth, before we had Oliver, we'd often travel somewhere sunny for a little mood boost around this time of year. When I moved from California, many friends – other (empathetic) 'expats' now living in the Pacific Northwest – recommended this: if you know what's good for you, they'd all say, go find the sun in February or March, and we would follow that advice faaaaaithfully. But with a baby, this just isn't where our priorities are this year, and I've found myself relying on other antics like buying out of season strawberries, drinking white wine with dinner, buying a new pair of sandals that likely will not see the light of day for the next two months, and making big, colorful pots of feel good, springy soup. Let's not kid ourselves: Cherry blossoms or not, Seattle's no Palm Springs when it gets down to bathing in the sunlight. But if you step outside onto your little porch, smell the honeysuckle blooming, take notice of the longer, lighter days and think about how you simply can't wait to see your baby crawling around on the sand when it's warm enough to stroll down to the beach, it starts looking better in its own light.
We returned home from San Francisco on New Years Eve just in time for dinner, and craving greens -- or anything other than baked goods and pizza (ohhhh San Francisco, how I love your bakeries. And citrus. And winter sunshine). Instead of driving straight home, we stopped at our co-op where I ran in for some arugula, an avocado, a bottle of Prosecco, and for the checkout guys to not-so-subtly mock the outlook of our New Years Eve: rousing party, eh? They looked to be in their mid-twenties and I figured I probably looked ancient to them, sad even. But really, there wasn't much sad (or rousing, to be fair) about our evening: putting Oliver to bed, opening up holiday cards and hanging them in the kitchen, and toasting the New Year with arugula, half a quesadilla and sparkling wine. It wasn't lavish. But it's what we both needed. (Or at least what we had to work with.) Since then, I've been more inspired to cook lots of "real" food versus all of the treats and appetizers and snacks the holidays always bring on. I made Julia Turshen's curried red lentils for the millionth time, a wintry whole grain salad with tuna and fennel, roasted potatoes, and this simple green minestrone that I've taken for lunch this week. Determined to fit as many seasonal vegetables into a bowl as humanly possible, I spooned a colorful pesto on top, as much for the reminder of warmer days to come as for the accent in the soup (and for the enjoyment later of slathering the leftover pesto on crusty bread).
One of the things I wanted to accomplish before really returning to work in earnest was to print some of our honeymoon photos and get them into an album. This project has taken far longer than expected as I find myself daydreaming about the craggy streets of Naples and meeting up with our friends Mataio and Jessica for a late night slice of pizza which we ate sitting on the sidewalk before embarking on an aimless but wonderful stroll of the city. There are photos of our balcony by the sea, most with tanned limbs, sandy sandals and a Campari and soda gracing the periphery of the frame. There was the little grocery store up the hill from our apartment on the Amalfi Coast that had the sweetest, tiniest strawberries and the best yogurt in little glass jars. Tomatoes drying in the sun, Aperol spritzes and salty peanuts before dinner at the bar across from the church square where all the neighborhood kids played kickball. As I sit here typing this now, photos remain scattered on my desk and it's likely they may not make it into the proper slots in the album anytime soon. Of course, they have me dreaming of sunshine and long days with little agenda, but they also have me thinking about the simplicity of our meals in Italy and how truly easy it was to eat well. Coincidentally, a few days ago Rachel Roddy's lusty new cookbook (can we call it lusty?!), My Kitchen in Rome, arrived at our doorstep. Clearly it was time to set the photos aside and get into the kitchen.
And suddenly, it's fall. I find that realization always comes not so much with the dates on the calendar as it does the leaves on the ground, the first crank of the heat in the morning, the dusky light on the way home from an evening run. Because we were gone on the train for nearly a week, I feel like fall happened here in Seattle during that very time. I left town eating tomatoes and corn and returned to find squashes and pumpkins in the market. It was that quick. And so, it only seemed fitting that I make this soup, one that has graced the fall table of each and every apartment (and now house) I've ever lived. In fact, I'm surprised that I hadn't yet made it for you here, and delighted to share it with you today.