One day last year I was sitting in my kitchen at 5:00 pm checking email while dinner was cooking. The house was quiet and I had a disconcerting realization: no one needed me. Each of my four children was in their own “cave,” doing homework (I hoped), while simultaneously surfing YouTube (unfortunately) and video chatting with friends (perhaps about homework?).
My job had shifted from being the pilot who transported everyone everywhere, from being asked to fulfill every need, to just making sure everyone was busy doing what he or she was supposed to be doing. My job description had shifted from flying the planes to directing them. I had become an air-traffic controller. I had to make sure the planes were clean, fueled, de-iced and fully stocked. I supplied the flight plan while they just had to periodically call in their location and status. Sometimes the planes would fly off for a few hours, sometimes for days and then for weeks in the summer, when they are parked in Camp Ramah’s hangar in Palmer, Massachusetts. There the planes get a tune up socially, athletically and Judaically.
I soon learned the best way to bring in the planes: homemade desserts. When the planes are at the airport in their separate hangars, nothing brings the pilots into the control tower faster than chocolate desserts, such as the Chocolate, Zucchini and Walnut Muffins below. The pilots sit around the tower and discuss each version of the muffins. Are they sweet enough? Do they need more or less walnuts? Their input has always been valuable. They also discuss their trips, where they are going next, whether they found a better route they want to share or give support to a fellow pilot who got a little lost on their last flight. Sometimes they even want to paint their planes a new color and I assist with that too.
When they are properly fueled, the planes go off again. As my daughter prepares to go to college next year, I accept that it is time for her to direct her plane to a new airport. She is ready. She has gone through the pilot training program and graduated with honors.
Soon the planes are ready to fly off again. They submit new flight plans for approval. I fill out the paperwork and I stand in the control tower and watch the jets go off on their separate ways, marveling at how independent they are. Off they go, until the next batch of muffins.
Chocolate, Zucchini and Walnut Muffins
makes 18 muffins
These muffins are healthy enough for breakfast. They have whole grain flour, a vegetable and protein from the walnuts. You really do not even have to tell anyone that there is zucchini inside as they will never know; the zucchini strands melt into the batter when baked and just add moistness to the muffins.
1 1/3 cups white whole-wheat flour
1 ½ cups sugar
1 cup dark unsweetened cocoa
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup orange juice (no pulp)
1/3 cup canola oil
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup boiling water
¾ cup shredded zucchini (from about 6 ounces zucchini), unpeeled, shredded on the small holes of a box grater
1 ½ cups walnut halves, chopped into ½ inch pieces, and ¼ cup chopped walnuts separated out to sprinkle on top
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place paper cups in muffin tins for 17 muffins.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the orange juice, oil, vanilla, eggs, and boiling water and first stir with a silicone spatula (so water does not splatter) and then use the mixer to mix for one minute, until everything is thoroughly combined, scraping down the bowl as needed. Add the shredded zucchini and mix in well to distribute. Add the walnuts and mix in.
Use a 1/3 cup measuring cup to scoop up batter and divide among the 18 cups, filling no more than ¾ full. Bake for 30 - 33 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Let cool for 10 minutes in the pan and then turn muffins out onto a rack to cool to room temperature. Store covered at room temperature for up to 5 days or freeze for up to three months.