This time of year has always made me wistful, because for most of my elementary school years I absolutely LOVED school and couldn’t wait to get back. I still think I can smell pencil shavings in the air when the first week of September rolls around. Along with my memories of my own return to school, my brain goes back the year of 2012, when was just incredibly, indescribably difficult to do the “back to school” thing. My stepson was about to enter his senior year. A short few weeks before, his dad passed away suddenly. I had no idea what to do with a kid whose appetite was gigantic and whose grief was equally bottomless. Along with just making sure that we were alive each day, I had to do these ridiculous things that I couldn’t believe I had to make an effort at: Sleeping. Talking. Moving. Most especially, there was eating. I had to feed me, and I had to feed the kid. And suddenly he was going back to school and I realized that I was insanely out of my depth in a way that I had never even thought about.
I’d never packed his lunch before. His dad was always the lunch packer. It was a duty that he relished, and guarded (I apparently couldn’t make a very good peanut butter sandwich!), and he performed the office with seriousness. He himself was disconnected from his parents at an early age, sent to boarding school without a packed lunch, without much explanation, and from how I took it, without a lot of care. My husband always wanted his son to know that he cared about all the things, the big and the little. He packed his lunch every day, sent him off to school with a backpack with a banana, a sandwich, some chips, and love.
I literally prayed to my saints that morning, St. Lawrence (the actual patron saint of chefs) and St. Julia (Child, because of course); this is a rare thing for me to do as a lazy Unitarian, but I needed all the strength I could muster. I woke up early and made the first thing I had cooked since my husband died. We had zucchini because it was the season, and chocolate because we were never once without some. I made them because I needed something, and that was to give my kiddo something with love in it. I needed him to be nourished by some kindness.
I’m telling you all of this because, I don’t know, I think everyone could use some kindness, and everyone could stand to offer some. I cook. Other people do other things. I cook because I want people to know they are loved and thought about. You are thought about. You are loved. You are worth some time and effort. You. You are. Okay.
Chocolate Zucchini Mini Cupcakes
Based on a recipe by Saveur magazine, 1998.
- 2 medium zucchini, grated and well drained (about 2 cups)
- 8 Tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2-3/4 cups AP flour
- ¼ cup Pernigotti cocoa
- 1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- ½ cup rice bran oil
- 2 eggs
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- ½ cup buttermilk or acidulated whole milk (7 Tbsp. milk plus 1 Tbsp. cider vinegar)
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Line a mini-muffin tin with 24 paper muffin cups. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt together into a mixing bowl and set aside.
Beat together the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric or stand mixer on medium speed until fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Add oil, beating well. Beat in one egg at a time, add vanilla, reduce speed to low and beat in flour mixture and buttermilk in 3 alternating batches. Stir in zucchini.
Pour batter into prepared mini-muffin tins until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Invert onto a rack to cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar. Serves 6-8.