I first shoplifted when I was four.
The crime took place at Jitney Jungle, the grocery store in Jackson, Mississippi where my mother bought our weekly groceries. I remember tailing behind the cart at the checkout, running my hand along the rows of chocolate bars as my mom put the groceries on the conveyor belt. I settled my hand on a forbidden pack of grape Hubba Bubba bubble gum just as she looked down, shaking her head. But soon she was busy again, and I seized the moment.
It was the late ‘70’s, so I rode home, seatbeltless amongst the brown paper grocery bags in the back of our baby-blue station wagon. It was the perfect spot to quietly stuff all five pieces of gum into my mouth before my mother pulled into our driveway. I chewed until my cheeks ballooned and my skin began to resemble Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’s Violet Beauregarde. I chewed when the back door of the car popped open. I chewed as my mother pulled the bags out of the back and brought them into the house, two by two, until all that was left was me. I chewed as she put her hands on her hips, eyebrows furrowed, and asked, “Lindsay, what’s in your mouth?” I chewed as she reached for my ankles as I scissor-kicked my way into the back seat. I knew I was in trouble, so why not suck this moment dry.
It’s now years later and items at the cash are still my weak spot. In fact just the other day I caught myself wanting to run my hands along the baskets of berries at the checkout of my local farmer’s market. Thankfully I now have the agency (and morality) to pay for food myself, so I added a pint of strawberries to the basket and settled up. But on the way out, I spotted a vat of homeless zucchini on the ground, marked with a FREE sign. I liberated a few and put them in my basket. It was a legal move, but the action felt shameful, the kind of shame I felt when my mother marched me back to Jitney Jungle that day. But they were free, they were huge and they were plentiful, so I called upon my ‘let’s suck this moment dry’ attitude, and made the most of those zucchinis.
I began with a salad. Using the skinniest zucchini and a horizontal peeler, I made zucchini ribbons and piled them into a bowl. Inspired by my new Carter’s Cookbook, I sprinkled the ribbons with sea salt and left them to sit for a 10 minutes or so, before adding some vinegar, fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon and its zest. I layered them on top of toast topped with a mixture of greek yogurt, feta and cracked pepper, and finished it off with a few microgreens from the back of the fridge.
Then, I made a chocolate cake. I wanted it to be more rich and chocolatey than zucchini forward and healthy, so I went for this recipe, but instead of using cake pans, I opted for two loaf pans for ease of sharing (gifting half a circle of cake always feels awkward). I substituted chopped dark chocolate for chocolate chips, and sprinkled the top with icing sugar instead of icing. I love this cake.
While the cake was baking, my mother-in-law entered the kitchen, spotted the still plentiful pile of zucchini, and said, “Why not use the cake mix in the cupboard and see if you can add grated zucchini to it?” She used to always make a great chocolate cake from a mix that was embellished with a melange of secret ingredients. The kitchen was already covered in bits of grated zucchini, why not carry on? So I added a few cups of zucchini to her chocolate cake mix, used sour cream instead of water, an extra egg for good measure and lots of chopped chocolate. It worked. The grated zucchini, as always, melted away into the cake. I added rich chocolate icing (see below) and a scattering of blackberries foraged from the neighbour’s garden (again, shoplifting).
That night, fuelled by healthy ribbons of zucchini, we had a cake-off. I knew too much and chose ‘homemade’. The little ones, they loved the cake with the icing. If there’s one thing I know, kids will choose fake, even if it involves stealing. It’s just the way it is.
‘Kid’s Choice’ Chocolate Zucchini Cake
1 chocolate cake mix
1 cup (250ml) sour cream
½ cup (125ml) vegetable oil
2 cups grated zucchini (I used large holes of the box grater)
1 cup (150g) chopped dark chocolate
Grease 2 x 8 inch round cake pans, or a 13×9 inch baking dish.
Combine cake mix, sour cream, eggs, vegetable oil and grated zucchini. Whisk together for 2 minutes, then stir in chopped chocolate. Spoon into prepared cake pans and bake for 25 minutes, or until tester comes out clean – ( basically just follow the back of the box 🙂 Cool in pans for 10 minutes before inverting cakes onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
For the Icing:
1 cup butter, at room temperature
3 ½ cups confectioners (icing) sugar, sifted
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
2-3 tablespoons cold, leftover coffee (or milk)
Splash of vanilla
Using an eclectic mixer, beat butter until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add icing sugar, cocoa, coffee (or milk) and vanilla and continue to beat over low speed until incorporated. If mixture is too dry, add another splash of liquid. If it’s too wet, add (about ¼ cup) more icing sugar.
Cover and refrigerate icing until using. When ready to use, beat again until smooth.