A Staple Fall Recipe: Zucchini Bread

zucchini bread in pan

I don’t remember when I realized that I hadn’t baked or eaten zucchini bread in quite some time. But it was within the past couple of months. After that, I wanted some. So when my mom and I visited a farm stand, I was looking for zucchini. And I found it!

Next, the search began for a recipe. The very old recipe I had didn’t seem appealing anymore. Many of the recipes in more recent cookbooks all had a chocolate focus, which I didn’t want. So I searched online and found a recipe on Sally’s Baking Addiction.

It’s rare that I follow a recipe exactly. This time was no exception. When I adapted the recipe, I decided to use all brown sugar and used half the amount of oil and substituted ricotta cheese for the rest. I wanted some extra protein and that’s why I used ricotta cheese. You could also try yogurt or switch up the type of oil. I added nuts for more protein as well. You could use chocolate chips, raisins or other dried fruit. Dates or dried cranberries would be good too.

In case you haven’t used any of my recipes yet and aren’t familiar with my way of baking and cooking, I believe that recipes are merely a guide. In other words, the directions given below for how to combine the ingredients isn’t set in stone. Stir them in the order that you may prefer. This was easiest for me.

Likewise, your oven is different from mine and may run hotter or cooler, so the time needed will vary. You can also use this recipe for muffins. Based on the original recipe and my muffin baking experience, bake muffins for about 20 minutes at the same temperature.

Sally’s recipe has good bones and is perfect for adapting. For example, you could use half the amount of zucchini and use finely chopped apple for the other half or similarly wet fruit or vegetable, like pear, pumpkin or squash.

My version is below. Let me know if you try it!

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Zucchini Bread (Makes 1 loaf)

INGREDIENTS:

1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 medium zucchini (shredded, about 1 cup)
1 egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup brown sugar
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

INSTRUCTIONS:

Set oven to 350℉. Either grease and flour a loaf pan or line with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, combine olive oil and ricotta cheese. Stir in zucchini. Mix in vanilla extract and brown sugar. Stir in cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, baking soda and baking powder.

Add flour and combine. Do not stir too much. Stir in nuts.

Pour mixture into prepared pan. Bake for around 55 – 65 minutes. Test by sticking a toothpick into the center. It’s done when it comes out clean.

Let cool for about 10 minutes. Sometimes I speed cool by sticking the pan straight into the freezer or fridge on a trivet. This bread is nice served warm, so don’t cool too long.

Enjoy!

The Best Of New England

New England scene showing pumpkins and a field with haystacks

My mom and I recently went to a farm stand. It was so perfectly New England in late summer moving into fall. The pumpkins, stacks of hay, freshly picked vegetables and fruits remind me of the beauty in Massachusetts.

Given the levels of trauma and sadness happening in this country on a daily basis, any degree of serenity and peace I can find is a much needed gift. So with this roundup post, I’m celebrating some the best of things in New England.

Best Drive-In Movies

Going to drive-in movies is a thing again because of the pandemic. I remember going a few times when I was very young and having a blast. Fodor’s Travel lists ten of the best drive-in movie theaters around the country and three of them are in New England. With chilly weather here, it’s the perfect social distanced activity.

#3 Sunset Drive-In – Colchester, VT

#2 Mansfield Drive-In – Mansfield, CT

#1 Wellfleet Drive-In Theater – Wellflett, MA

Best Places To Live

As a third generation New Englander, I’m definitely biased, but there are many good things about living here. People travel here from all over the world to attend school. Whether you love ’em or hate ’em, our sports teams are some of the best. We have world class hospitals and medical care, which is especially important right now. Five places in New England made Money magazine’s list of the 50 best places to live in America.

#37  Salem, NH

#28  Chesire, CT

#26  Braintree, MA

#14  Chelmsford, MA

#12  South Windsor, CT

Best Craft Distilleries

Rhode Island Spirits, located in Pawtucket, came in third in USA Today’s list of the ten best new craft distilleries.  They sell organic and gluten free gins, vodkas and liqueurs. This reminds me of the great time I had touring a rum distillery with my father.

Best Pizza

The Daily Meal recently declared the top 101 pizza places in the United States. Several New England pizza places made the cut. Connecticut has the most places on the list of the New England states and beats the entire country with the number one spot. Mystic Pizza is arguably Connecticut’s most well-know pizzeria and the movie by the same name helped launch Julia Robert into stardom. Back in January 2019, Playbill wrote that Melissa Etheridge was working on the score to a stage adaptation of the movie. Despite the fame of the pizza shop, it’s not on the list.

#90 Micucci Grocery – Portland, ME

#86 Slab – Portland, ME

#67 Al Forno, Providence, RI

#47 BAR – New Haven, CT

#45 Zuppardi’s Apizza – West Haven, CT

#43 Colony Grill – Stamford, CT

#40 Tilton House of Pizza – Tilton, NH

#25 Galleria Umberto – Boston, MA

#16 Modern Apizza – New Haven, CT

#9 Sally’s Apizza– New Haven, CT

#7 Santarpio’s – East Boston, MA

#1 Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana – New Haven, CT

Best Scents

I can’t claim that these are the best scented candles, but I like the idea of them. The brand is called Homesick and the scents are supposed to remind you of a place.

Scent is a big thing for me, so I was thrilled when I was invited to take a smell walk in Boston. That walk focused on scent was one of the coolest things that I’ve done as a blogger.

The Boston candle is described as “Fall days spent wandering the cobblestone streets. Notes of spiced tea with clove and orange capture the City on a Hill.”

There are a few more city candles and state candles too. I think these would make a great gift. To wind up this roundup, here are the descriptions of the scents for each of the New England states.

Connecticut: “Warm-baked pies fragrant of nutmeg, clove and lemon. Eucalyptus and oakmoss evoke memories of brisk fall afternoons spent outside.”

Maine: “Reminiscent of wild Maine blueberries and lavender fields. Woody notes of cedarwood and patchouli balanced with a floral bouquet.”

Massachusetts: “Apple cider, simmering coffee, and just-baked donuts. Sweet hints of tonka bean are balanced by spicy cinnamon and a touch of fragrant clove.”

New Hampshire: “Cozy up with a cup of hot apple cider. Autumn days spent outside with views of foliage and the sweet smell of vanilla in the air.”

Rhode Island: “An afternoon on the Cliff Walk with hot apple cider and cozy sweaters to keep warm. The rolling tides carry the sweet and spicy scents of fall.”

Vermont: “Vibrant foliage covers the rolling hills of the Green Mountain State. Scents of cinnamon and apple pie blend with decadent maple syrup.”

What do you think? Do these scents represent the best of New England? And just because you might like it, here’s a cider donut locator. It doesn’t get much more New England than that.

Indoor Garden: Growing Celery

celery growing in small jar of water

My relationship with celery varies over time. When I’m going through a soup making phase, I tend to buy more. Then I usually never make enough soup and some (or most!) of it goes to waste.

After that, I stop buying celery. Then a year later, I read a random article about the million health benefits of celery and wonder why I never have it in the house. So I buy some, cut up some sticks and remember how I hate that it’s so stringy. I plan to use it in some tuna or something and two months later I have to throw it all away, because it’s gone bad. This is the celery story of my life.

In other words, I need to keep just a small amount of celery at home and not much more. Over the past few months, during quarantine, I’ve been eating more celery — chopping it up and putting it into green salads. It’s so strange how when I eat it plain or even with something on it, it tastes bland and the stringy nature of it annoys me. But eating it as part of a salad adds a lot of flavor and a wonderful crunch. I love it!

During this time, I saw a blog post on making kitchen scrap gardens and how easily I could grow celery indoors in a small jar. So about five days ago, I cut the stalks off and put the root in some water. Look at all the growth in the picture above! In two weeks or so, I will probably have a small harvest. Yay!

Most likely the harvest update won’t be on this blog. So follow me on Instagram, where I document my plant parent adventures, and see how my garden continues to grow.

*Updated 8/13/2020* I harvested and it was delicious!

Finding Flour: Where & Why

Bread has been vital to human survival for more than 10,000 years. Flour combined with water makes a dough for cooking over a fire or baked in an oven. These simple ingredients have sustained people for a long time. That is to say, flour may subconsciously signal life. Now finding flour has become a national obsession.

Since the pandemic began, people seem to have latched onto the idea that having enough flour is essential. Even for people who never baked at home before, so it’s not particularly logical. But nevertheless, many have latched on so tightly to this idea, that there have been flour shortages in stores for months. People are baking like crazy.

In the age of COVID-19, in many ways we are literally in survival mode and behaving on instinct. There is something primal about flour. Maybe in our subconscious, we as a species know that if we have flour we can survive. Also kneading dough is soothing — like a meditation.

Over the last week especially, as police brutally killed Black people, it felt like an attack on my spirit. I’ve gasped for air and felt pain in my neck. It’s times like this that I need to find ways to stay calm. That familiar combination of flour and water brings me back to myself.

I’ve baked cinnamon bread, scones, cookies and cake. I had a decent amount of flour at home to begin with, but then started to run low and didn’t see all-purpose flour on store shelves for weeks, so I bought cake flour to tide me over.

Because I wasn’t sure how long this flour shortage would last, I decided that sourcing locally and online would be the best option and also help support local business. Thankfully I’m now well-stocked with flour.

Below is a list of New England area mills with freshly milled flour, cornmeal and more ready to ship directly to you!

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One Mighty Mill (Lynn, MA)

Ground Up Grain (Hadley, MA)

Maine Grains (Skowhegan, ME)

Gray’s Grist Mill (Westport, MA)

Plimoth Grist Mill (Plymouth, MA)

Kenyon’s Grist Mill (West Kingston, RI)

The Dinner Club Is Back!

Back in 2010, a small group of my friends started a dinner club. I’m so glad that I was already blogging at that point, so I can look back at the history of our gatherings.

Below is a quick summary for me, but also so our current group can look back at what we did before. If you’re interested in putting together your own dinner club, this post might be a guideline for you as well. For the last iteration of the dinner club, we picked a celebrity chef and cooked their recipes.

It’s also interesting to see what we planned for each dinner versus what actually happened. Which you can see if you click on the links and read the posts.

November 9, 2010 – Paula Deen

December 28, 2010 – Rachel Ray

March 22, 2011 – Ina Garten aka Barefoot Contessa

February 9, 2011 – Wolfgang Puck

May 19, 2011 – Ming Tsai

June 25, 2011 – Marcus Samuelsson

August 31, 2011 – Jamie Oliver

March 1, 2012 – Bobby Flay

March 17, 2012 – Emeril Lagasse

May 3, 2012 – B. Smith

November 2, 2013 – Dinner Club 2.0

The dates are the dates of the blog posts, not the actual days of the dinners. But they give an idea of the frequency of the dinners. Looking back, I can see how life got in the way. But we still had a great time and all of us who were part of the original group look back fondly at those gatherings. Such fun times!

I’m so happy that we’ve resumed the dinners to start the new decade. The first dinner was in January. Unfortunately I was really sick, so I missed it.

The second dinner was this past Saturday, on leap day. Since it was Black History Month, we picked soul food as a theme. The food was so good and I’m still enjoying the leftovers!

For dessert, I made banana pudding. It was my first time making it and I really enjoyed the process. It was delicious too!

My aunt, who passed away a few years ago, was the one in our family who always made banana pudding and introduced me to the dessert. I thought a lot about her as I was making it. My mom was the one who suggested that I make it and I’m so glad that she did.

For our next dinner club, we decided to pay tribute to B. Smith, who just passed away, by cooking her recipes. Looking back at the old dinner club posts, I saw that she was also our last celebrity chef. We’ve come full circle.

At dinner this Saturday, one of the new members mentioned that she had heard that one of the reasons that we started the club was because regular gatherings make people happier. I had forgotten, but said it sounded like something that I said.

In the Wolfgang Puck dinner post, I found that I had written about gatherings and happiness. Author Dan Buettner had said that being part of a once a month club where you must show up in person, has the same happiness impact as doubling your income. Life experiences and social interaction increase happiness.

I wrote about it back then and believe it even more years later. Here’s hoping that the gatherings continue!