I do not appreciate the smugness of the meteorologist when he smiles while saying that the combination of temps in the mid-90s and 60-70% humidity this week is going to feel “quite oppressive.” I don’t need to feel like I’m being mocked by someone who, I can only imagine, has central air when its ten in the morning and I’m gross and sweaty from doing nothing but sitting on the couch and watching the news. Especially when I know that today is just the beginning of a whole week of these “quite oppressive” conditions.
I do not handle heat well. It makes me cranky and very short-tempered. It makes me think a myriad of unsavory things. It makes it difficult if not impossible to do the things I like–knitting, baking, sleeping with sheets and a comforter. Thus, I am thankful to live in a place where I can expect reasonably mild summer temperatures most of the season and I (mostly) accept these inevitable weeks in July and August when everything just gets rather miserable for way too long. We were lucky enough to borrow a window AC unit from friends which we put in our bedroom so we’ll at least be able to sleep, and I intend to cope by seeking refuge in air conditioned spaces for the next couple of days. (Working at the library has never sounded so appealing!) When I start to get really frustrated, I will even recall the summer my family ended up tent-camping for almost two weeks during a heat wave, only to have our campsite basically washed away by a serious thunderstorm that offered a day or so of (albeit damp) relief before we hit up Six Flags outside of Chicago on the hottest day of the year. I will remember my brother puking on the park pavement from the heat and be damn glad that I’m at least not in that moment. But, Mr. Smug Meteorologist, I will not welcome this “quite oppressive” heat with open arms.
When I caught wind of this week’s forecast this past Friday, I capitalized on what I knew would be the last reasonable baking day for awhile and made some zucchini bread. (This is, of course, not the bread I spoke of in my last post. But there will be plenty of time to talk about that other bread since I am definitely not turning the oven on this week.) Zucchini bread reminds me of coffee fellowship after church, which is probably why I’ve never made it before Friday. Coffee fellowship is, afterall, an experience filled with perplexing baking mysteries. Like how do you create something so dry you feel like you’re choking when you eat it? Or how is it possible for something to taste delicious until the moment you swallow and find yourself suffering from a strong aftertaste of mothballs? Or what possesses people to adopt bizzaro techniques like “baking” in their microwaves? And why do people seem to think that adding nuts to everything somehow mitigates the dissatisfying effects of their poor baking? Are people intentionally aiming for a perfectally freezer-burnt result when they bring in crap they baked eight months earlier? Finally, why when there is a ton of food leftover (because no one wants to eat it) do people assume that the pastor and his family will be all too happy to take it home by the plateful?
There has probably been more than one loaf of zucchini bread, reduced to crumbly little half-slices stacked up on a plastic-wrapped paper plate, that has gone straight from our car to the trash can. There have probably also been decent zucchini bread specimens that I’ve eaten during coffee fellowship, but apparently not enough for me to cultivate a deep appreciation for it as a child. But I had a zucchini and a single baking day left at my disposal, so zucchini bread seemed appropriate. It turned out to be a good choice.
I think I’ve finally gained enough critical distance from all the mucked-up quick breads of my youth to start appreciating them for everything they have to offer. They are, indeed, quick and easy to make, and satisfying pretty much any time of the day. They are typically humble enough to be made with things that you already have on hand, and they have all the homey appeal of a good comfort food. Plus, the fact that you can use so many things as feature ingredients (zucchini, pumpkin, apples, all kinds of berries, etc.) makes quick breads a kind of trans-seasonal food.
I once brought banana bread into a class I was teaching and was disappointed to find that none of my students were interested, even though I knew without a doubt that it was damn good stuff. Ultimately, it took one student who was both generally fearless and continually looking for ways to be a kind of class favorite to be willing to try it, and I think he probably ate three pieces before he was able to convince other people that they should have some. I don’t know what all the hesitance was about. I’m pretty sure they weren’t worried I would poison them. Maybe it’s because they didn’t think they would like it. Maybe it was because they didn’t come from the kind of tiny, rural midwestern towns I grew up in where it seems like people are constantly turning things into breads. Maybe they too had choked down more then enough dry quick breads to last them a lifetime and feared that mine would be the same. Maybe college freshman just have irrational fears of eating in front of each other. I’m not really sure. What I do know is that my days of under-appreciating the humble deliciousness of quick breads is over. The problem now is deciding what kind of bread I’d like to make next . . .
Zucchini Bread (From the Better Homes and Gardens 75th Anniversary Ed. Cookbook)
- 1 1/2 c all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 beaten egg
- 1 c sugar
- 1 c finely shredded, unpeeled zucchini (I got a little over a cup from one medium sized zucchini)
- 1/4 c cooking oil
- 1/2 c chopped walnuts or pecans (I omitted the nuts altogether)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8×4 loaf pan. Combine flour, cinnamon, baking soda, salt, baking powder and nutmeg in a medium bowl.
2. In another bowl, combine the egg, sugar, zucchini, and oil. Add the zucchini mixture to the flour mixture and stir until just combined. If using nuts, fold them into the batter. Pour batter into the loaf pan.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 55 minutes (mine only took 45 minutes) or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove from pan and allow bread to cool completely. Wrap the loaf in plastic wrap and let it sit overnight before slicing.