It’s about a fifteen minute walk to the local library, and I make that trip at least once a week. The short distance is a blessing since we are a one-car family now, and that car is only around for me on the weekends, when the library is closed. Not being able to get to the library easily would be reason enough to move--its location was one of the first things I researched when we first came to Cambridge. You are never far from civilization if a library is near. That, and a supermarket. Books and food, not necessarily in that order, are all one needs to survive.
It’s a way of making contact with someone else’s imagination after a day that’s all too real.
Reading is grist. Reading is bliss. -- Nora Ephron
The local library in my home town was close enough for me to walk to, and that walk would fill me with great anticipation. I can’t really say that I had an unhappy childhood, but there were many times when I was more than grateful to become lost in someone else’s story, rather than focus on what was going on in my own. Reading then, as now, was a huge escape. Those were the days before I was able to research and reserve my books online, so I never knew what great discoveries would be awaiting me once I got to the front desk. My absolute favorite time to go was right before summer vacation. I would load up on as many books as possible--usually twice as many as was permitted during the rest of the year--and happily, albeit lumberingly, trudge home with my treasures. Regardless of how overloaded my arms were, I often still had enough energy to stop and pick some flowers for my mom from some poor unsuspecting neighbor’s garden. I realize now how wrong that was, but back then, surprising my mom trumped all bad behavior.
It will almost be fifty-two times that I’ve made the walk to the Cambridge library (well, 104 times, if you count both ways), as it’s been almost a year since “the big move.” I’ve learned a lot about the neighborhood during those walks--in the rain, the snow, and now in the extreme heat. The houses I pass are typical to this neighborhood. Shingled row houses, lined up like Revolutionary soldiers. Some have been renovated, but most have not. Colors ranging from cream to pale green to weathered grey. They are unobtrusive and no-nonsense--just like the New Englanders who built them, I assume. These are not the Cambridge homes that proclaim their pedigree on brass placques nailed over the porch. No "c.1629 or "c.1788" here, just the remnants of holidays past with dried-out wreaths and wooden Pilgrims guarding the front door; bits and pieces of Americana. Pumpkins that sat next to shovels and sleds during the winter withered and caved in upon themselves, and have been replaced with newly potted plants and red, white, and blue “Welcome” signs. Here and there an American flag flutters as the wind kicks up.
It is hot, very hot, and the only sound in the otherwise quiet street is the soft clanking of the window air conditioners; sputtering out water out from below, obviously being taxed to the hilt. Unlike the modern hi-rises and refurbished brick factories that now house the many biotech firms in the area, these houses have not yet been updated with central air. They are the symbols of the old neighborhood, not the new one that is dotted with restaurants and cafes that charge four dollars for a latte and ten for baked eggs. I carry the books in the crook of my elbow. They are cumbersome, and slide around on the little pool of perspiration that has collected there. I switch them from one arm to the other; wipe, and switch back.
The gardens I pass now, unlike the ones from my childhood library jaunts, do not have many flowers. The winters here are harsh, and the growing season is short. There are other streets in the area that are more colorful and picturesque, but this is the only route I follow. Its familiarity has eased the feeling of rootlessness I felt when I first set out on my walks.
Last week I have spotted some activity in a garden or two. The delicate tendrils and large leaves of some zucchini plants had popped into view. Back in California, similar plants have already yielded many bushels of the green squash, but here they are just becoming part of the scenery. As is often the case with zucchini, there will eventually be more than enough to feed the neighborhood.
The recipe below, from one of my favorite bakeries in San Francisco, will be a delicious way to use up some of the bounty.The first time I ever tasted Zucchini Bread was during a pot luck luncheon many years ago. I was an assistant editor at the time, and our department would have these luncheons intermittently. We didn't have a name for it then, but it was a definitely a team-building activity. I remember being wowed by this bread which tasted more like a cake, but also remember it being very, very sweet. (Perhaps that had to do with the heavy dose of chocolate chips spread throughout.) My tea cake is light and lovely, with just a hint of sweetness. I changed things up a bit by substituting apricot preserves for orange marmalade, but feel free to add whichever jam you prefer. I have been experimenting with various types of flours lately and substituted some spelt flour as well. I think it lends a subtle, nutty flavor, but still produces a moist and tender crumb. It's perfect for a New England summer, and goes great with a tall glass of iced tea...and a good book.
Vegetables are a must on a diet.
I suggest carrot cake, zucchini bread, and pumpkin pie.
Jim Davis, "Garfield"
Zucchini and Apricot Preserves Tea Cake
Adapted from Tartine
1 & 3/4 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (9 1/2 oz.)
1 cup spelt flour (4 3/4 oz.)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 tsp. nutmeg
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 large eggs
3 1/2 cups grated zucchini (about 3 medium)
3/4 cup apricot preserves
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Lightly oil and flour the bottom and sides of two 9-by-5-inch loaf pans. Line the pans with parchment paper.
Preheat the oven to 175°C.
Sift together the flours, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
In another bowl, beat together the eggs, oil, buttermilk, sugar, and preserves until combined. Add the zucchini and mix again until combined. Add the flour mixture and mix just until combined. Add the nuts and mix just until incorporated.
Divide the batter evenly between the two prepared loaf pans and sprinkle the tops with the chocolate pieces. Press them down gently, and then run the back of a teaspoon down the top center of each cake. Bake until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 to 70 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, and then invert onto the rack. Turn right side up, and let cool completely. Serve at room temperature. This cake is very moist and will keep, well wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.