Friday, April 10, 2015

Zucchini Bread and Memories

#HAWMC Day 10:  We’re not all 5 star chefs, but we all need to eat! Tell your readers how to make your favorite dish. Does the recipe hold a good memory for you?  Is it the act of cooking itself that brings you joy, or the people that come together to eat it?  

When I was a kid, my mom invented a game for us called Mixer. Or rather she probably gave an "official" name to an activity that countless other mothers had also shared with their children. Mixer was this: we took every allowable baking ingredient (flour, sugar, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder, spices, water, milk) and mixed them into a bowl however we wanted, and then baked and ate it. They didn't guide our cooking, just let us go to town. Keeping in mind that my brother and I were probably four and five years old at the time, the fact that my parents ate these concoctions and deemed them "delicious" is a testament to their love. 

In the past 30 years, my cooking style hasn't changed much, other than the fact that I now know the ratio of baking soda to flour shouldn't be 10 to 1, or you're going to get some strange looking (and tasting) baked goods. 

I like to cook, I really do. But I'm a vegetarian, and many of my dinners involve things like veggie stir fry with baked tofu or seitan, and that's pretty self explanatory. The majority of my cooking is in one of two forms:  intricately follow a recipe from a book/site/pinterest that I could never duplicate without it, or throw everything in the pan/pot/baking dish and taste as I go along, adjusting and learning from trial and error. There's not much of a middle ground. 

My day to day "recipes" also don't hold much special meaning to me, unless you could general sustenance as special, which I guess it kind of is. Still, they didn't seem like something worthy of a blog post. But to keep to the theme, I did, technically, choose a food that does have a special meaning to me. Then, I googled it and found a version here on All Recipes. (Note: this is not my recipe nor do I know the person that wrote it, but it got 5 stars so why not?). The recipe is for Zucchini Bread. I admit, I've never used this particular recipe, but it seems about right. To duplicate the bread of my memories, I'd suggest adding raisins, if you're a raisin person. If not I'm sure it'll be just fine without it. 

Zucchini bread and I go way back. Probably farther back than Mixer and I do. My Grandma Ventura lived in Buffalo, NY which was, at the closest, about six and a half hours from where I grew up (significantly more when we lived in Georgia, of course). As a child, zucchini bread was synonymous with my grandma, and vice versa. Every time she came to visit us, she'd get off the plane holding loaves of zucchini breadwrapped in foil - I can still picture this exact scene.... it was in the days when you could still meet people at the gates. Going to Buffalo to visit her, we'd leave after my parents got home from work, usually around 6 or 7 PM I suppose, and arrive in the middle of the night. She'd always be wide awake (I was amazed at this, since it was usually 2 or 3 AM by the time we got there) and have zucchini bread and Italian Wedding Soup waiting for us. Sadly the soup was out for me after I became veg at the age of 11. This tradition happened every visit, which was at least Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Year, and Easter every year, from the time I first remember until I was about 17. In college, I wasn't at Grandma's as much, but when we visited each other, it was the same. 

I think I knew when Grandma started to get sick because the zucchini bread and soup stopped. I couldn't imagine she'd break the tradition for any other reason other than that she physically couldn't keep it up. She either wasn't able to remember how to make them, or didn't have the energy. I'm not sure which, as she covered her symptoms up well at first. Probably, it was a combination. Eventually, she couldn't remember what the stove was for.

My Grandmother passed away, seven years later, from stroke induced dementia and Parkinson's. Towards the end, she didn't recognize us and could barely communicate. But we talked to her anyways, telling her stories from the past, hoping to get a glimpse of some recollection, to share happy memories with her. Once, when she seemed to stop recognizing us and communicating all together, we reminded her of our late night arrivals to her house, and how she used to greet us with zucchini bread and wedding soup. She quietly said, "but no soup for Maya, not with the meat." Whether it was a moment of lucidity, or she was more alert than we thought and just couldn't tell us, we'll never know. But in that moment, I realized not only how much those visits, and that zucchini bread (and for everyone else, the soup), meant to us, but how much they must have meant to her. 

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