Weeks into the season and they have not lost their magic. A rash when I pick them, from fingertip to shoulder (next time, every time, I swear I will remember long sleeves and gloves), and still my heart goes pitter-pat. I laughed right along here, and even so, I would eat them every day.
What, you may ask, does zucchini have to do with senseless acts of violence all over the headlines? Maybe you were not going to ask that. I have been asking it, though. Why natter on to however many of you are listening about this nice little this or that nice little that in my nice little life, when people are killing people in movie theaters and market squares and on battlefields?
Many years ago, my husband and I went to work for a few months in an area that was very poor and very rural and the poorest and most isolated of the people there had very little in the way of resources other than a group of very dedicated nuns who had opened a clinic and community center, and with whom we worked. When our few months were up, we thought about staying. We had seen a lot while we were there, and one of the things we had seen was a miserable lot of miserably neglected dog and cats. We could stay here, we thought, and open an animal shelter. It would be a few years before someone formally taught me the principle of non-duplication of services in non-profit communities, but even so I could see we had identified something no one else was attending to.
No, no, said the nuns. There are too many other fish to fry here. Bigger issues. More pressing things that need attention. It seemed to me and my husband that cultivating the basic humanity involved in looking after--rather than ignoring or neglecting or abusing--animals was part of the picture. How could it not help with the other undeniably pressing issues? But we deferred. We took one dog, and we went home.
A few years later, to the dog's dismay, we had a baby. She was born in a hospital, and the only other mom on the ward with me was a girl about 17. I struggled mightily to get breastfeeding going and got great support from the nurses. "You're so good to keep trying!" the girl called out to me at some point from across the room, over the noise of the "Getting To Know Your Baby" video that the nurses had left running on a loop at the foot of her bed. "I tried once," she said, "but I couldn't get the hang of it." I asked the nurses why they didn't do the same cheerleading for her as they were doing for me. "Oh, we're so worried about basic care and bonding," they said, "that we didn't want to complicate matters."
Again I had that spooky feeling you get when it seems either the rest of the world is missing something, or you are. I thought of that girl again and again as the baby, the boobs and I worked out our differences in the weeks that followed. Kind of a boob-led seminar in connecting to your baby. That girl was robbed, man.
Which leads us, natch, to pickled zucchini. What food has to do with violence, or with animal abuse, or with anything else it may seem entirely unrelated to to, is its elemental importance. We eat to live. When we do it at Burger Doodle and eat alone in the car, we are one kind of alive, but we do have options beyond that. I am not so confused that I think everyone can go pull a zucchini if they really want to, or that if only they did, they would refuse to stand by while assault rifles were easier for the bulk of the citizenry to access than organic produce. But caring about your own access to food that is safe and good is a doorway. Pretty soon you care where it comes from, and you care about who grew it, and who picked it, and the soil underneath it. You care about the rest of the world having access to it. You connect, and connection undermines the willingness to cause pain to another. It blurs battle lines and borders. It's worth a try.
Or that is what I tell myself, anyway.
josh's pickled zucchini
Another non-recipe recipe. More of a method. I cut the zucchini into 3-inch logs, set them on end, and sliced them about a quarter of an inch thick, but you could cut them any old way that pleases you. Salt the slices liberally and set aside for at least half an hour. An impressive amount of liquid will emerge. Drain the slices of this liquid, rinse them briefly, and pat them down. Now toss them with a good splash of rice vinegar, and a bit of fresh herbs--thyme is delicious, and so is mint. A case can be made for basil. Maybe we want to get a little heat in there with some chile flakes. Maybe we want a little lemon zest (we usually do).
Let them sit like this for at least a few hours, or even better about 8-12 in the fridge, stirring when you think of it. What emerges is a whole new texture, and totally addictive.