The seed for my zucchini bread story sprouted while we were on vacation in Lake Placid last month. I was dozing in and out of sleep on a massage table at our hotel’s spa, seeking relief for my aching limbs after a four-hour trek to the top of Cascade Mountain and back.
I must have been dreaming about food because I woke up and started talking to Mike, the masseuse, about growing herbs and vegetables. I told him that I had pots of basil, rosemary, mint, parsley, and thyme on my deck.
“Plus, I’ve got a couple of cherry tomato plants that are growing like crazy. I’ve harvested dozens of tomatoes already,” I said, proud of my horticultural skills.
As it turned out, Mike’s garden put me to shame. Apparently he was growing peppers, eggplants, cucumbers and carrots in his backyard.
“In fact, I brought in five zucchinis today in the hopes of giving them away. Do you want one?” he asked.
Is that a little weird to ask a client? Plus, on a practical level I still had six days left of vacation before going home. But on the other hand, there was a refrigerator back in my room.
“Sure,” I said, and then promptly returned to my trance-like state as he finished the massage. Afterward, I gathered my belongings and looked for Mike to give him a tip.
Turning a corner, I saw him, zucchini in hand. “Here it is,” he said.
This was not your average zucchini. Granted, it was dark green. But it was four or five pounds, about ten inches long and five inches in diameter at its widest. “Oh,” I said to myself, “I’m glad my husband’s not around to see this.
I took the zucchini and quickly stuffed it in my purse. When I got back, Bob was lying on the leather couch in the sitting room of our suite, reading the newspaper.
“How was your massage?” he asked, not looking up.
“I had a male masseuse,” I said.
“That’s nice,” Bob said, eyes still glued to the paper.
Feeling like I wanted a little attention, I said, “Uh huh, and I got a ‘happy ending,’ too.”
That’s when he looked up and saw me holding the oversized squash. “Laura, how did you end up with that?”
We had a good laugh and then I stuck the zucchini in the refrigerator of our efficiency kitchen and forgot about it until it was time to head to our second destination, Manchester, VT. I packed the zucchini in my beach bag, sandwiched between several bottles of cold, bottled water so it would remain cool during our trip. Along the way, we stopped at a dairy farm near Manchester and bought a half dozen raw milk Gouda cheeses that I planned on giving to friends as gifts when we returned. I threw them into my beach bag with the zucchini and cold waters.
Our room at the Equinox hotel in Manchester was small but beautifully decorated, overlooking the quaint town below. Bob and I started unpacking our suitcases. I looked around for the honor bar, wanting to store our food in its refrigerator. It wasn’t in the mahogany wardrobe or in the matching chest of drawers. In fact, it didn’t seem to be anyplace. This could be a problem, I thought, imagining four days of smelly cheese and rotting zucchini.
Desperate, I called the front desk and asked the receptionist if there was a mini-fridge available. Wah-lah! One was waiting for us in our room when we returned from dinner.
Well, the zucchini made it safely through our stay in Vermont and our car ride back to New York. Then it sat in my garage refrigerator for another few days until I could think of a reason to use it. The occasion turned out to be a Shiva call for the father of one of Bob’s employees. As an added bonus, I could bring a loaf to book club later in the week. The format, I decided, would be zucchini bread.
My mission was to cram the healthiest ingredients possible into the bread, combining a few recipes I found online. My shopping list included a banana, applesauce, walnuts, golden raisins, and some whole wheat pastry flour (FYI, much finer than regular whole wheat flour, resulting in a lighter, fluffier end product). Not to mention the star of the show, the zucchini, which was still sitting in my refrigerator.
I peeled the skin off the squash and quartered it and cut out the seeds. When I put the pieces into the food processor, I couldn’t believe I ended up with over four cups of grated zucchini, and I only needed two – that was one supersized vegetable!
I peeled the banana and mashed it with a fork. After beating some eggs, I added the other “healthy” ingredients, plus some baking basics – vanilla, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. I cut the oil in half and substituted applesauce in its stead, which I often do when baking sweets.
The recipe made two loaves of zucchini bread, which baked perfectly and turned a golden brown on top in about 50 minutes. I cut off a corner slice of the bread after it had cooled to see how it turned out. I couldn’t see or taste the zucchini, but the vanilla, cinnamon and raisins proffered a pleasantly sweet taste, the walnut added a little texture, and the banana definitely contributed to the moist interior of the bread.
Now, a normal person would have been happy, but not the Inspired Chef. I still had two more cups of grated zucchini in the refrigerator and couldn’t stand to see it go to waste. The solution? I decided I had to make more zucchini bread, but a slightly more sinful version the second time around. The next day, I found a recipe for chocolate chip zucchini bread on cooks.com. It had the same basic ingredients, but instead of banana, raisins and walnuts, there were semi-sweet chocolate chips. I did my usual healthy substitutions – two parts white flour to one part whole wheat pastry flour, and cut the oil in half by using applesauce – but there was no denying this would be a much richer zucchini bread.
Again, the bread baked to golden perfection, but this time a taste test revealed a denser, much sweeter flavor. But no complaints, especially from Bob, who is a chocolate man at heart. By then it was late and I was tired. I told him that was going to be the only “happy ending” he would get that night.
½ cup applesauce
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tsps. vanilla
1 ½ cups sugar
1 banana, mashed
2 cups white flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup walnuts, chopped
1 cup golden raisins
Beat eggs and then add the applesauce, oil, vanilla, sugar, grated zucchini and mashed banana. Mix together and add other ingredients. Pour into two well-greased and floured loaf pans. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.
CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCHINI BREAD
3 cups flour (I used two cups white flour and one cup whole wheat pastry flour)
½ cup white sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
2 cups grated zucchini
¾ cup oil (I used ½ applesauce, ½ oil)
3 tsp. vanilla
6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips
Mix all dry ingredients together. Then mix eggs, oil, applesauce, vanilla and zucchini in a separate large bowl. Add dry ingredients to wet mixture and mix well. Add chocolate chips.
Grease two loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes.