A long weekend in the city is something. It’s long. It’s quiet. But the heat has broken (why do we say broken? Did it break our spirits? Did it break itself?), finally. There was a wind when I woke up on Sunday, sweet and forgiving against my skin.
Because of that cool wind, I rediscovered cooking and baking.
Turned on the radio, settling in. Ruth Reichl, editor of Gourmet Magazine, was being interviewed by Eleanor Wachtel on CBC’s Writers and Company, talking about her mother’s manic cooking, her own growth into foodie-ism, and a Thanksgiving dinner in a collective house in the 70’s, created almost entirely from dumpster finds.
As I listened, I made a peach-blueberry crisp for a dinner party that night. Local blueberries and peaches created a complementary sour and sweet yin-yang. As Reichl unspooled her stories I got inspired to do more food writing, but don’t know how or when, exactly. And I thought about how I am always searching for the perfect crisp recipe. Rebar Cookbook‘s is good but not yet, quite, perfection.
On Monday, the heat returned, a wall of toxic, chemical rays. But for some mad reason I really wanted to stick to the day’s culinary project: a huge mo-fo zuchinni, pilfered from the Guitar Player’s garden. I was working on course prep all day, and I needed a good meal to look forward to. The plan was to stuff the giant vegetable for dinner, 1970’s hippie-style. There’s a recipe in Joy of Cooking that worked for me before, but I decided to use Moosewood‘s classic recipe for more protein and more oomph.
On the way back from the corner store I thought about how stuffed zuchinni was one of the first dishes I ever mastered. Yes, it was the 70’s. I was a high school student. I’d met some girl who’d been hospitalized for anorexia, at the Children’s Hospital where I’d had a summer job. Sometime in the fall, after she’d been released, I invited her to my parents’ house for dinner. My parents and five siblings were not invited (I have no idea where they all went!) I served those stuffed zuchinnis quite formally, in the dining room. They were as fat as she was thin. I was fascinated by the girl. I think I felt sorry for her. I had never heard of anorexia before. In my family we all loved food unabashedly. Eating disorders made no sense to me, and it was as though I wanted to stuff her. I was sure that if I made her a huge, delicious vegetarian meal, she’d never want to be hungry again.
Back in the present, the heat had not abated by early evening, when I put the stuffed monster-zuchinni into the oven. The Guitar Player and I bickered over the wisdom of doubling the temperature in the kitchen on such a night.
The end result was an interesting trip back to 70’s vegetarian cuisine. A flat, salty taste. A mushy, glutenous mouthfeel. It was satisfying, I thought, and it did feel healthy – you don’t eat too much of such a thing, and the high water content from all the vegetables passes easily through your body. It wasn’t great.
I’m not sure it was stuffed zuchinni that convinced my long-ago eating-disordered friend to love food (and herself) again. But maybe it’s the syntax of culinary expression – its rules of engagement, its arrangement of caring gestures – that is even more important than the food itself.
The Guitar Player and I were relieved when it finally came time to watch Hell’s Kitchen and finish off the last of the fruit crisp, with its twenty-first century resolution of flavours, its high contrast of soft and crisp, its variety of grains, and its unabashed richness.
It’s zuchinni season! Do you have a favourite way of cooking, roasting, grilling, stuffing (or baking with) zuchinni?