Thursday, September 23, 2010

Zucchini Season

Fall is upon us - the season known for longer nights, cooler mornings, and garden bounty. This time of year, if the motion light goes off in the wee hours it is more likely my neighbor, Peter, than a would be prowler. He dashes around at dawn in his striped bathrobe, leaving grocery bags of zucchini at the door, like May baskets. Our own garden history with zucchini is decidedly mixed. This year, we seem to have just about the right amount though I am reluctant to publish that information, because, well if the word gets out to Peter and he shows up in his bathrobe, I will have more than enough.

With the advent of my new planter boxes that run the along the back of the deck next to the house, I turned the raised bed over to Fred to grow dahlias, with the request that he plant squash around the perimeter. Winter squash seems to benefit from running out along the warm river rocks between the raised bed and the deck. Fred and I are not of one mind when it comes to squash – I love it, especially winter varieties, like Butternut and Delicata. He tolerates it but prefers the summer types, like spaghetti squash, which in past years has been the dominant crop. I have little patience with spaghetti squash, so most of it ends up in the compost pile.

This summer, only four squash plants made it into production mode – all of them zucchini. One produces the slim green variety routinely sold in the grocery store and the others are bulbous and variegated. They are extremely fast growers; what at first light is about the size of my fist morphs into garden clogs by dinner time.

I didn’t grow up with zucchini. My parents, particularly my father who was in charge of planting, didn’t believe in growing something that had to be “doctored up” in order to be “gotten down.” In later years, once they no longer had a garden of their own but relied on the bounty of their neighbors, they discovered that zucchini could be used to make “watermelon pickles,” and they preserved great quantities of the stuff despite the fact that the only time a jar made it off the shelf was at Thanksgiving.

I suspect that there are more recipes for what to do with zucchini than just about any other vegetable. For one thing, if you have any you generally have a lot. Further, no matter how dedicated one might be to eating their veggies, there is a limit to how much a family can consume in one sitting, raw or otherwise. A favorite recipe of mine, Pasticcio di Zucchini, was given to me by my friend, Diane, who is equally gifted in the kitchen and the garden. Thinly sliced squash and tomato are layered in a dish with mozzarella cheese, fresh herbs, and bread crumbs and then bound together with a few beaten eggs. One week in August, I prepared this a half a dozen times, for home consumption as well as sharing at neighborhood potlucks. It is versatile; equally good hot or cold, it can be served as the entry or as an hors’doeuvre.

Rainy days are often baking days for me and since we have had quite a bit of rain lately, the bread pans and muffin tins have been in constant use. In the past couple of weeks, I have produced several loaves of zucchini/carrot bread with whole wheat flour and bran, at least four dozen zucchini/pineapple muffins, and three loaves of zucchini/chocolate bread. I confess that I had to overcome some bias no doubt acquired in my childhood to try out that recipe. Chocolate is something to be found in cookies, pudding and cake but not in bread! Well, I am glad that I finally loosened up on this as the results are great. I confess that I am not all the way cured of my bias as the other day I served some to my neighbor and called it ‘cake.’

My all time favorite zucchini recipe, however, is for zucchini patties, found in Volume II of Joan Moody’s cookbook, Pantry Patter, published in 1978. For many years, Joan wrote a weekly column in the Daily Olympian called “Joan’s Pantry Patter.” The hallmark of most of her recipes is that they are easy to follow and rely upon ingredients that are readily available. If she did include something exotic, like “slivered almonds” she always suggested a low cost substitute or gave permission to leave it out entirely. Her cookie recipes routinely produce 8 – 10 dozen while her casseroles are hearty and flavorful, and come with an admonition to make two - one to bake now and one to freeze for later.

Joan died a few years ago, after what is often referred to in the obituaries to as a valiant battle with cancer. Certainly if cancer could be driven off by sheer force of will, Joan would be here today. As it was, she experienced many periods of remission during which time she seemingly bounced back to her characteristic high level of performance. When I contemplate the legacies that a person might leave for family and friends, a series of great recipes is pretty hard to beat.

Zucchini Patties

The following proportions make four patties about three inches in diameter. I generally cook these in a small electric frying pan, but any frying pan would work equally well.


1 cup grated zucchini

1 cup coarsely crumbled crackers. (Use crumbled saltines, not prepared bread or cracker crumbs.)

2 tablespoons chopped onion

1 beaten egg

½ teas salt

Garlic to taste

½ cup parmesan cheese

Oil for skillet (2 tablespoons)

Directions: Heat skillet with oil on medium heat. Combine all ingredients in bowl. Spoon into the hot oil and pat out flat. After 2 -3 minutes, check to see if underside is brown. If so, turn patties and cook until brown. Sometimes I turn these a couple of times, particularly if I have the skillet at a lower temperature. We think these go well with just about anything. Last night I served them with pork medallions and mushrooms to rave reviews.

There you have it. Next time the motion light goes off, just relax and go back to sleep, knowing that you can fix Zucchini patties for supper!

Friday, September 10, 2010

A Scary Place

A couple of days ago, I went where no man has dared to go before, at least no man in this house. Well, to be honest, no woman either. I got behind the clothes dryer!

For several weeks, months actually, I had noticed that whenever I had the dryer on, the temperature in the room rose to levels required for an egg incubator. It occurred to me that I might do well to get some fertilized eggs and hatch out a clutch of chicks in on the washing machine. Well, it was a passing thought; off the table before it really got traction.

Of course, I had peered over the back of the dryer to see if it was venting to the outside and it looked okay. I even asked “Mr. Fixit” if he would check it out, explaining that sometimes it got so hot in the room that the smoke alarm came on. “Looks fine to me.” He pronounced following his inspection. With this cursory investigation behind me, I felt justified in mentioning it to an electrician who had come out to give me an estimate on a small rewiring project in the living room. He promised to thoroughly examine it when he came back in a few days and I began to fantasize about a new dryer.

Barley eats in the laundry room. A week ago, after I fed him, I turned the dryer on, shut the door, and then wandered outside where I became engaged in a conversation with my neighbor Kim. By the time I made it back into the house, Barley was barking frantically while the smoke alarm did its thing – emitting an insistent cacophony, at once irritating and frightening.

Having stressed out the dog, I was now galvanized to get serious with this dryer situation. I explored some more exotic explanations for what might be ailing my dryer – a faulty thermostat as an example. Finally, I concluded that the most obvious explanation was that the machine wasn’t properly venting. First I tackled cleaning out the vent from the outside and replaced the existing trap with a piece of panty hose. Then I moved inside. I pulled the dryer all the way out from the wall and discovered that the duct tape was not doing its job. Appearances are so unreliable.

What a scary place the backside of a clothes dryer is, particularly one that has been the final resting place for bleach bottle lids, clothes pins, gum wrappers and old tooth brushes, all cocooned in enough dryer lint to fill an ottoman. This odd collection of detritus can be understood only if one accepts that my laundry room/pantry is the place of last refuge for many items that originally lived someplace else in the house. We don’t brush our teeth in the laundry room but I never throw away a used tooth brush because they are the perfect tool for reaming out crud filled crevices. Of course, as long as they are hanging out under the dryer, the crud continues to accumulate. Regrettably, none of the mates to the solo socks that I am holding onto made an appearance.

Once I shimmied under the utility sink, cleaned off the floor and the back of the dryer, it was clear that there was a gaping wound in the duct tape, allowing heat and lint to escape into the room at large. I cleaned it out, found a wire spring loop to put over the pipe and the outside vent, and then wrapped new duct tape around the connection. I moved the dryer back in place, put in a load of towels, set the dial for “heavy duty/all cotton” and watched with some trepidation to see if my “fix” would hold.

Well it did and the accomplishment made me giddy! Buoyed by my success, the next day I moved the piano away from the wall in the living room. It was so dark back there that I needed a flash light to really appreciate the collective horror the move revealed. What kind of slob lives here, I asked myself as I probed with the vacuum cleaner, sucking up dead Christmas cactus blossoms, fly carcasses, tooth picks, and other stuff I didn’t bother to catalogue. Now I peek behind the piano whenever I go into the living room and, when I sit down to play, I am convinced that it even sounds better, though that may be the product of an over active imagination coupled with my “exceptional hearing.”

There are other scary places just waiting for my attack, I am on a roll now and plan to tackle a few more before the winter lethargy sets in and the motivation is lost. I have to watch myself, however, as cleaning behind the piano is the very sort of task I tend to take on when I know that guests are on the way and what I really should be doing is plumping up the sofa pillows and clearing off the coffee table. Still, I live by the motto to “do it now” because even though the mess will be there tomorrow, I know that the impetus is ephemeral.

Be advised. If you come to see me, don’t take offense if I entertain you in the pantry or seat you behind the piano. Right now, they just happen to be the most pristine places in the house. On the other hand, if you show up and can’t find me, try looking under the sink. It’s next on the list for reconnaissance.