September has always been my favorite month. The grimy, relentless sauna that is New York City in August finally lifts and we can almost always count on a solid week (or more) of impossibly sunny low-humidity days that I consider my personal obligation — as happy repentance for all the above griping — to spend entirely outdoors. My best memories are from Septembers; this may sound weird, but I remember going to work on the morning that nobody knew yet would be 9/11 and thinking it was as clear-skied and gorgeous out as a day could ever be. Two years later, I met my husband on that day. Six years and a few days after that, we met our baby boy, and I distinctly remember checking into the hospital on a hot summer day and checking out three days later when it was unquestionably fall, disoriented.
One of the things I’ve first-world struggled with since the beginning of this incubation period is a lack of appetite. Of course, there’s the glib side of me — great for managing weight gain! why “eat for two” if you can eat for half?! — but mostly, it’s a bummer. I thought that after the first trimester nausea passed, I’d be good to go and yes, I’m back to eating regular meals, but my enthusiasm has only returned in short bursts. Sure, I’ve shamelessly consumed all matter of crispy eggs with soy sauce, sesame oil and chile flakes (flipped only long enough to keep the food police at bay, or so I tell you). I will eat almost any green vegetable roasted to a blistering crisp with olive oil and salt and finished with lemon juice. Speaking of lemons, we go through homemade, barely sweet lemonade by the half-carafe. And some cravings are even fun; for example, “the baby wants ribs” was a text I sent out to friends a few weeks ago while led to a great deck party. But do you know when I sat down with my plate after an afternoon of carefully preparing three glorious racks of ribs, I could only eat one? It’s rather grim for a so-called food writer to go through life unmotivated by hunger and cravings, to have become a person who shrugs and says “Meh, whatever you want to eat is fine.” I don’t even know me.
For someone who has, at best, only moderate interest in eating all things zucchini and summer squash, this site’s archives tell different story. I mean, how about a torte, some fritters, zucchini bread or zucchini bread pancakes? Maybe a rice gratin, crisps or my favorite 5-minute side dish is more your speed? The 40-plus recipes from previous summers would make you think I jump for joy when the inevitable August glut of green and yellow piles at the Greenmarkets; instead, I approach them warily.
Every time I make an Ottolenghi recipe, I become convinced that he has finally lost his mind. Really, turmeric, black sesame seeds and parmesan together? Three tablespoons of fresh oregano? A full half-cup of tahini? And as my anxiety grows — you see, I, too, understand the bubble of time, ingredients and trust that we invest into new recipes, which, when popped, leads to the kind of frustration that can only be righted with a scalding review — I wonder if this will be it, the day I finally make an Ottolenghi recipe that’s just plain off. And, without fail, we sit down to something so spectacular in a way I hadn’t even considered before, I’m in awe of his talent and relieved that I ignored every instinct not to follow his recipe faithfully.
Sometimes, I think the internet is trying to tell me something. Well, most days, many things, such as why nobody should ever, ever click on a certain VMA performance (which is like begging me to click, only for me to run away with my hands over my eyes. Why would you do that to me, internet?!), why this lady should be all of our new heroes, the effect of mirrors in grocery carts and also maybe where tiramisu comes from? So much stuff, people. But sometimes, the message is a little more pointed, such as the time a few weeks ago I was checking out a tres leches cake recipe for research on a likeminded popsicle and the sidebar suggested that maybe I might consider making zucchini crisps instead?
I have a long history of spectacular tomato tart failures. There was the one that enchanted me on TV a decade ago, with a parmesan crust, bacon, fine breadcrumbs and roasted garlic, that — several hours of work later — ended up tasting metallic and clashy against the acidic tomatoes. There was the tomato tarte tatin flop from a fancy French chef, for which I have only myself to blame. And two summers ago, there was an heirloom tomato galette, with colors like a rainbow, that fell apart before we ate it. The problem more often than not is a basic one: tomatoes are very wet and tart crusts need to stay fairly dry. But this has never stopped me from trying again, and I’m glad, because it led me to this.
As promised, I am here to aid you with you midsummer afternoon’s zucchini nightmare, er, bounty. But please, just because I try to help people who weren’t wary enough of friends bearing baskets of zucchini doesn’t mean that I should be mistaken for someone who never lets zucchini expire on her watch. I went away for the weekend and left my last haul to meet a terrible end in my kitchen. Let this gratin be my zucchini repentance.