Roasted Summer Vegetables with Tomatoes, Basil and Pasta

Zucchini or summer squash, sweet corn, bell peppers and red onion

I scooped up a piece of zucchini with my fork. “I feel like a lot has changed.”

Roo looked up from his plate. “What are you talking about?”

“I saw a child today; thirteen, maybe fifteen-”

“So you saw a teenager.”

“A child,” I reiterated, setting down my fork, “who was walking in front of me at Fenway and I could see her butt.  Hanging out of her shorts.”

“Like her pants were falling down?”

“Like they were so short, that I wanted to hug her and give her my yoga pants.”

“You do realize you sound about eighty five right now.”

I picked up my water glass and took a sip. “That’s kind of my point. I mean, when did I become so conservative?”

“You’re really asking me this.”

“I know! But I can’t remember caring about how short a girl’s shorts were when I was in my twenties. I don’t think I even noticed what children were wearing.”

“Well, we all change. It’s part of growing up.”

“I guess.” I said, fumbling with my napkin. “Like, when I was in college I didn’t eat carbs.”

“What?”

“I know. This,” I said, tilting my pasta dish towards Roo, “is delicious. Why would I give that up?”

“But I thought you drank Natty Ice in school.”

“Correction, The Beast.”

“So you didn’t eat carbs, but you drank beer?”

“I know, totally logical, right?”

Roo laughed, “I am so glad we all change.”

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Chocolate Zucchini Cake with Dark Chocolate Icing

There are a lot of things I’m terrible at.

I’m awkward when meeting someone for the first time; saying what immediately pops into my mind. “Oh, you’re from Arizona? Does that mean you grew up with crystals and learning about energy fields?”

Every other driver is ‘Dude’ when I’m behind the wheel (especially when the try to cut me off). “Dude…Dude…Dude! Were you even looking?!”

And general housekeeping is beyond me.  I rarely (if ever) vacuum, I hate doing the dishes, and I can’t fold a fitted sheet.  Seriously, those elasticated corners? Worse than figuring out a rubix cube.

Right now you’re thinking Roo is one lucky guy, right?

But I can make cake.

Really good chocolate cake.

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Zucchini Cake with Dried Cranberries and Dark Chocolate

It finally happened.

I turned 30 over the weekend.

In all fairness it was probably one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.  Roo planned the entire evening in advance; letting me know that there was going to be a party, but who was coming, and where we’d be going, was going to be a surprise.

At first I thought this would drive me crazy as I’m a total control freak, but you know what?  It was lovely to have someone other than myself plan my birthday party.  No one else had ever done that for me before (except my mother, when I was a child), and it was kind of great.

We spent most of the actual day in bed.  We watched the sparrows who have taken over our front porch, come back and forth with bits of twine, flying up into the cracks of wood, making nests for future generations of home invaders.

I made a lazy breakfast around noon – eggs over easy, fried bacon, and toasted everything bagels with chive and bacon cream cheese.  It was exactly what I needed.  In fact, Roo commented that we hadn’t had a “fatty breakfast” like that in ages.  And it’s true.  When he told me his cholesterol results months ago, I went into “heart healthy” overdrive.  Cakes were to be made with eggs whites and olive oil.  Steak was no longer allowed in our household.  And butter went into permanent hibernation in our freezer.  I don’t know exactly how much damage I did to his arteries from that breakfast this weekend, but it was my 30th.  I think I was allowed to be a little selfish, and Roo never argued.  Killing with kindness indeed.

The day after my birthday however, was probably one of the worst “day afters” I’ve had since I’ve lived in Ireland.  I again spent most of the day in bed, but it was to spoon my pillow and vow that I would never let my so-called-friends order shots for me called, “blueberry pancake” or “the homecoming” ever again.  And what’s really strange is that when you’re feeling like that, you want nothing but the fattiest, greasiest meal to “cure” you.

When I was finally able to sit upright, Roo asked me what I wanted for dinner.  I replied, “A Whopper, with cheese.”  Thankfully he convinced me to come up with something better.  We ended up ordering steak and cheese subs from Moogy’s.  Oh, and there were curly fries. And chive fries. Oh, chive fries.

But with that weekend of utter indulgence, I needed to get us back on track with food items that weren’t deep fried or may have been named “Bessie” the week before.  We went back to our normal routine, having oven roasted fish and lots of braised kale this evening.  And like clockwork, when House came on – which I always insist we watch – I grew antsy and went back to the kitchen to work on something to make for tea when I would come home after work this week.

This cake is one of my favorites.  It’s made with egg whites and olive oil and we haven’t missed all that butter that’s traditionally made with its cousin, banana bread.  It’s also easy to substitute a lot of the mix-ins for whatever you like. I’ve even thrown in shredded coconut.  Dried cranberries and dark chocolate are my favorites, but you could go with chopped nuts, or maybe some dried cherries.  If you try something else, please let me know!

Adapted From Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

3 egg whites (you can also use 3 large eggs)

1 1/2 cups of sugar (this yields a not too sweet cake, if you’d a sweeter cake use 2 cups)

1 cup of olive oil

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

3 cups of grated zucchini (you can use 2 cups, I just tend to grab two large zucchini and grate it all, which usually comes to about 3 cups)

2 cups all purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour (if you don’t have whole wheat flour, you can use 3 cups all purpose for the total flour used)

3 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

2 cups dried cranberries (I love dried cranberries that plump up in cake, if you’re not that much of a fan, use a cup)

1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (I use Ghiradelli 60% cacao)

Equipment

9″ cake pan

Food processor or hand grater

Two large bowls

Spatula

Whisk

Parchment paper, or butter and flour to grease your cake pan

Place the oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 350F.  Line the cake pan with parchment paper, or butter and flour the cake pan.  I highly recommend the parchment paper as it’s easy clean up.  I have not made this recipe using butter and flour, so I can’t say whether or not the cake will get stuck in the pan.  With parchment, it’s lifts right out.

With a food processor or a hand grater, grate the zucchini until you have 2 -3 cups worth.  If you have two giant zucchini, and end up with 3 cups, it’s safe to use all 3, as I have in the past.  If you only end up with 2 cups, it’ll be just as delicious.  Set aside.

Mix the egg whites and sugar.  Add the oil and then the vanilla extract.  It will look like an oily mess at first, but keep going, it’ll eventually come together.  Take your spatula and be sure the scrape the bowl.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour(s), cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt with a whisk.  Add the cranberries and dark chocolate.  Stir to combine.

Add the zucchini to the wet ingredients.  If it freaks you out to not squeeze out the excess liquid from the zucchini, then by all means, squeeze away.  If there’s anything to be learned from me, is that I’m lazy.  And thankfully lucky because the cake always turns out great without doing anything to the zucchini after grating.  Stir the zucchini in to combine.  Take your spatula and scrape the bowl.

In increments, add the dry ingredients to the wet.  I usually add the dry to the wet in two parts, but go with what you’re comfortable with.  I add the dry ingredients, then stir until they’re just combined, and then add the second half, and stir till combined again.  Again, take your spatula and scrape the bowl to ensure that all ingredients (ie there isn’t a wet pool underneath everything else at the bottom of your bowl) are combined.

Fill the cake pan with the batter.  Place into the oven and bake for 45 – 55 minutes.  For me, the cake is fully baked at the 50 minute marker.  But our oven is a bit small and runs rather hot.  Around 45 minutes, check with a chopstick, toothpick, or even a knife, to see if the cake is done.  There should be a little bit of crumb hanging on, but not actual wet batter when you remove it from the cake.  Check every three – five minutes until the cake is done as you do not want to over bake this cake.

As usual, I can never wait for the cake to cool for me to eat it.  I’ve cut into it when it’s hot, and it’s delicious.  It’s also delicious the next day.  And the next.  If you’re a purist and must wait till it’s cooled, do so on a wire rack.  Or devour immediately.  Those who do, never judge.