I’m standing in the middle of the kitchen, assessing the damage. As it often happens when you bake with a small child, it looks like the baking aisle of the grocery store has exploded around us.
But the sweet, spicy smell of cinnamon fills the kitchen, and I look over at Zoey. A flash of flour streaks across her tiny cheek and, as her eyes lock on mine, the batter-covered spoon that she is lifting to her mouth stops in mid-air. Her mouth hangs open in an “o”, knowing I’ve caught her. She has patiently waited while we mixed up all the ingredients for my grandmother’s zucchini bread, and it seems she just can’t wait one more minute.
Because she is 5, she diverts her gaze, most likely assuming if she acts like she wasn’t doing anything, I won’t notice that she was about to take a lick. I smile, thinking of my grandmother, which inevitably always happens when I bake.
While I associated my grandfather with a deck of cards, my grandmother was synonymous with flour, sugar, and Crisco. Visiting them as a child, I’d always hang out in the kitchen with her, hoping she’d let me help as she whipped up something decadent for dessert that night. She’d hand me the mixer or a spoon and let me mix up the batter or dough while she prepped baking pans or put liners in cupcake tins or started a batch of frosting. When I was done, I’d call her over to make sure I did it right, and there she’d be, sidling up next to me and scraping the batter off the edge of a bowl with her finger, extending it toward me so I could have a taste. Before trying it, I’d make sure my parents weren’t around so we could avoid the cautionary tale of what happens when you eat raw egg. “You only live once,” Grandma Bear would say, which was all the prompting I ever needed. The batter was always heavenly.
“Always cook with love… ” – Grandma Bear
I loved being part of those sweet moments with her . . .
Grandma Bear passed away two years ago, but my memories of her, laced with nostalgic sweetness and love, are still very much alive. And now, looking at Zoey, I decide to continue the tradition.
“Well, if you’re going to do it, you better do it right,” I say. I dip my finger into the thick batter and raise it to her lips. Her eyes dance as her tongue darts out and tastes the sweetness of the brown sugar, and she smiles. I think she knows, too, that nothing beats the intoxicating combination of creating something decadent and nourishing and getting to share it with someone you love. Of course, unlike my rebel grandmother, I haven’t put the raw eggs in yet . . .
* * *
Since we have to wait an hour for the bread to bake, we pass the time with music and I share stories of Grandma Bear. Zoey only met her once—when she was about two years old—so the only way that her great-grandmother will be able to live on in Zoey’s heart is if I share the memories I have of my grandmother in my own heart.
Like my memories of her baking.
I tell Zoey how Grandma Bear would keep this zucchini bread in the refrigerator so it would be nice and chilled, and how she’d slice it up thick and spread the top so completely with butter it looked like frosting. Zoey insists we do that once the bread finishes baking. And although it is late, we stay up and and eat slices of this beloved bread slathered with sweet cream butter, and we both fall asleep smiling, our bellies full of homemade goodness and our hearts full of love.
* * *
The next morning, I’m awakened by Zoey climbing into my bed.
“I dreamt about Grandma Bear last night,” she whispers, curling up next to me. “She told me she made this recipe up for me, because zucchini and Zoey both start with Z. She also told me to tell you she said hi. Oh, and she said I could have some of the bread for breakfast, too.”
I kiss the top of her head and pull my sweet child closer. I send up a silent “hello” to my grandmother, who I’m sure is smiling down on us, happy to know she’s still very much alive in the minds and hearts of each and every one of us who loved her (and all of her amazing baked goods).
“Now let’s go get that bread,” I tell Zoey.
“Don’t forget the butter!” she adds.
Because just like Grandma Bear, Zoey has learned that butter—and love—makes everything better.
* * *
Grandma Bear’s Zucchini Bread
2 cups peeled, grated zucchini
3 large eggs
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons vanilla
After squeezing out the excess water from the zucchini, combine above ingredients and mix well. Then add the following 5 ingredients, which have been blended together:
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups flower
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)
Pour into 2 greased loaf pans and bake 1 hour at 350 degrees. Grandma Bear always used to bake hers in 3 small used and cleaned out metal coffee cans. I highly suggest this; there is something so delightful and whimsical about eating a round piece of bread.
*Although the recipe doesn’t call for chocolate chips, our loaves of bread ended up with the sweet addition. Zoey recommends Ghiradelli Mini Semi-Chocolate chips. Note that if you are baking with a child, most of the chips will end up in their mouth instead of the bread, so you might want to purchase two bags.
**In our extensive testing and tasting of this recipe, Zoey has come to the conclusion that the only acceptable way to eat it is with a large slathering of butter that is almost as thick as the bread itself.