Memories of Baking


I made zucchini bread today.


This was not out of the ordinary. I make zucchini bread often due to the dark green squash’s ubiquitousness. If you or your neighbor has ever planted zucchini then you’re familiar with just how much one single plant can produce. Late nights in the muggy days of summer in the midwest are known to produce ding-dong-ditch bags of zucchini on the doorstep from neighbors and friends who had no idea that one zucchini plant already will give them too much zucchini, and they therefore planted two, and are now are facing the ultimate overabundance.

I bake zucchini bread for my husband. It’s his favorite, and I find baking meditative. I also love how it makes the house smell.

I can nearly automate baking, with the food processor and electric mixer at the ready, yet I make this by hand. I’ve been using Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for eleven years, since she first published it. It’s our favorite, my go-to, one I’ve bookmarked and written down on index cards stained with flour and oil.

I start by getting everything in place and pull out zucchini, dark green and freshly washed. I choose two and cut the end off of them both. They smell almost bitter and loamy - a fragrance of summer brought out either by sugar and spice in bread, or salt and oil in savory recipes.

They’re among my favorite vegetables (though I’ll argue the squash is a fruit - it has seeds).

The oven is preheating and I pull out the box grater I bought nine years ago when my husband and I lived in the two-story townhouse in Cincinnati. It was our second apartment, but first as just the two of us. We painted that apartment because we could. The living room was brick red and the kitchen a shade of pale vanilla bean. I had too little counter space in that galley-style kitchen and often found myself wiping flecks of green off the walls when I made this sweet bread, speckles on cream-colored walls.

I work slowly today, the house quiet. It’s naptime for my son, and save for the whisper of the zucchini passing over the grater, the house is still. I could play music, but today it’s me and the bread I’m baking as the oven beeps to tell me it’s finally hot enough

I eyeball the zucchini. When it looks like I have two cups, I measure in sugar from the glass jar I bought when we lived in the townhouse. We didn’t have a pantry, so I visited Lowe’s with a friend of mine and we put metal shelving, black, like what you would find in a garage, in the breakfast nook area of the kitchen. I bought jars for my sugar and flour not too long after, in hopes of containing the dust. The mouths of the jars are too narrow, and the measuring cup scrapes over and over as I scoop out  sugar to pour over the zucchini.

I pour in the oil and mix everything together, and the zucchini macerates and takes on a glistening sheen. The eggs I crack in are brown with hard shells and golden yellow yolks. They remind me of the summer I was sixteen and a friend gave me a dozen eggs from her backyard chickens. I drove home delicately, with those eggs perched on the front seat of my mom’s Ford Aerostar. I wanted the eggs to make it home safe and sound.

Warm vanilla comes next - probably my favorite flavor for both it’s complexity and nuance. Undetectable in the bread, it adds the home-y flavor that quick breads are known for.

Once the wet ingredients are together, I start adding dry. Baking soda and powder. Salt and cinnamon. I think of cinnamon as how a house should smell. I think of the first time I baked in the house we bought in Kentucky, with the golden wood floors and arched doorways, the house filling with the smell of sweet cinnamon as the bread rose in the oven.

Today, as the spice sits on my wet ingredients, its warmth evokes the memory of the first time I had red hot candy,  and it was almost too spicy. Once combined with the vanilla and other ingredients it will lose its heat and add nuance to what is a simple breakfast bread. I give the cinnamon a quick mix to incorporate it into the wet ingredients and it starts to smell like holiday baking on this warm spring day.

Before adding flour, I reach for an apron. I live by a simple motto in the kitchen: when you think you need an apron, put one on. This is one of my favorites: blue with ice cream trucks on it. It was made by one of my best friends and matches one that is toddler-sized. My son calls these our mail truck aprons, and I am not one to argue that.

I slowly add flour to the bowl. I realize as I pour in the first cup that it’s too small. It’s my favorite bowl, one I reach for every time I don’t use the mixer. It’s pale green, heavy plastic, and has a handle and a spout. It was a gift from my best friend’s mother the day my husband and I moved into our first apartment as young college graduates with barely any dishes to our name. She opened her home to me between the time when I started my full-time job and the day we were able to move into our apartment. Her joy in bringing me bright touches for our bare apartment brightens my memory every time I use the bowl. It’s made it through three moves since that day, and I’ll be sad when one day it meets its demise.

The too-small bowl forces me to go slowly as I stir in the flour. The green-flecked batter is lumpy when I’m done, smelling of sweet - not hot - cinnamon. It pours almost too easily into two metal bread pans and I slide it into the oven, metal clanking on metal just in time for the little one to awake from his nap and slide into my arms, hot breath on my shoulder, soft hair beneath my chin.

For an hour we snuggle and share chips on the couch, the sun filling the living room with light. I think about how far we’ve come since that first bare apartment and the second townhouse with the tiny kitchen. When the timer dings our house smells like home, and when I turn out the bread to cool, I think of all the memories in the making. All because of green-flecked cinnamon sweet bread.