The first thing you have to know about me is that I’m a city girl exiled to the suburbs. I’m much more comfortable in a concrete environment with mass transit than the land of malls and minivans. The second thing you need to know about me is that I have two black thumbs. With few exceptions, plants see me coming and commit suicide rather than suffer a prolonged death at my hands.
Heaven knows, I’ve tried to develop a green thumb, but I swear there’s a conspiracy in the Garden State. Whatever I don’t kill, the squirrels devour. Along the squirrel grapevine the word is out; my address is passed from varmint to varmint. They hold conventions in my driveway and feast on whatever I dare to plant, leaving my neighbors’ gardens full of flowers and produce.
One day I arrived home to find what looked like cloves of garlic scattered all over my front porch. On closer inspection, I discovered they were the remains of the spring bulbs I had planted the day before. Every single bulb had been dug up, and while I was running errands, the squirrels had been throwing an all-you-can-eat party on my porch.
Another morning I looked out my kitchen window to find a squirrel perched on my gas grill, a green tomato between his thieving paws. I went outside to shoo the little bugger away and check my two tomato plants that the day before had been loaded with green tomatoes. Every single tomato had been yanked from the vine, chomped a few times, then discarded in the dirt.
After years of gardening frustration I finally discovered the one plant that seems to be both Lois proof and squirrel proof -- zucchini. The first time I planted zucchini, I made the mistake of planting three, figuring that if the garden gods were smiling down on me, one might survive. All three not only survived but thrived. And that’s a heck of a lot of zucchini. Zucchini is the gift that keeps on giving. And giving. And giving. And giving.
The strange thing about zucchini is its rate of growth. In the morning it’s the size of your pinkie finger, and by evening it’s big enough to feed your teenager’s football team. There are only so many ways you can disguise a zucchini and fool your family into believing they’re eating something other than those green things taking over the backyard. So that first year I wound up giving away a lot of zucchini.
Ever since then, I only plant one zucchini each spring. Still, I have a bumper crop of zucchini from early summer to late fall and continue to give away almost as much as I serve. But I’ve become very adept at zucchini camouflage. You wouldn’t believe the dishes I hide zucchini in. Remember the scene in Forest Gump where Bubba rattles off all those different ways to cook shrimp? I now have just as many ways to serve up zucchini. Here’s one of my favorites that even the most vegetable-hating kid will enjoy:
CHERRY CHOCOLATE CHIP ZUCCHINI MUFFINS
3 cups flour
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups grated zucchini
¾ cup vegetable oil
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
¾ cup chocolate chips
½ cup dried cherries
Beat eggs, then stir in oil and vanilla. Mix all dry ingredients together, then add gradually to egg mixture, mixing until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips and cherries. Coat muffin tins with non-stick spray. Fill tins 3/4 full. Bake 15 - 20 minutes at 350 degrees.
New Jersey is known for its Jersey tomatoes. I’d love to be able to grow my own instead of having to resort to the supermarket. It would also make a nice break from zucchini. If you’ve got a sure-fire way to keep the squirrels at bay, I’d love to know your secret.