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Friday, September 30, 2011

zucchini-chocolate chip muffins

When I was a kid, you brought your teacher two gifts a year -- one at Christmas time and one on the last day of school. I think it cost between $5 and $10, and it was probably usually a box of chocolate, a coffee mug, or some sort of tchotchke or desk item. And the parents were done, and the teachers were appreciated and it was good.

Then the manufacturers got wind of this trend, and they started to capitalize on this trend by making specific "teacher" mugs and pads of paper that say "2 teach + 2 touch lives = 4-ever." They made funny ones and sentimental ones and cute ones and cheesy ones. So the parents went to the stores and bought the teacher-themed gifts and wrapped them up and sent them in. And the parents were happy and the teachers were appreciated and it was good.

Then word got out... maybe teachers don't really need any more mugs. Maybe they want something a little more for themselves and less for the classroom than a cute notepad or a pencil caddy. So the parents went to the stores, and they bought the lotion and the candles and the picture frames. And the teachers were surprised and the parents felt thoughtful and it was good.

And then the parents started to think. Maybe 32 bottles of lotion a year is too many? And maybe she doesn't need every apple-and-cinnamon scented candle there ever was and what exactly does "spring breeze" smell like? MeanwhileStarbucks had invented "global domination" and had opened a store on the corner next to your school and the corner next to your house and inside the grocery store in between, and three more on top of and underneath and alongside all those first Starbucks stores. And the parents bought gift cards and they stuck them in a card and sent them in. And the parents felt that is was convenient and thoughtful and appreciated, and the teachers thought it was useful and a treat, and it was good.

And that's where we are. Which is great, especially because now we don't send in a gift only for Christmas and the end of the school year. We do send in a gift for those days, yes. But we add the teacher's birthday to the mix. We also have "Teacher Appreciation Week." Which is five more days of sending in something or other.

However, five days of Starbucks cards is silly, and she has so many candles they can be seen from space and she really doesn't want your kid's handprint in a frame. She is still washing her own kids' handprints off of her doorways. So, the "teacher appreciation committee" (do you see how far this has gone???) decides on a theme for each day. One day you do indeed get to send in a gift card for Starbucks, and one day you do get to send in a teacher-desk type school supply item -- but make it more glittery or special than the standard crayons and construction paper the school supplies anyway. And for days three, four, and five, you will probably be asked for a flower from your garden, a hand-made card, and a treat for the brunch in the teachers' lounge. It's lovely and manageable and most parents are happy to do something and really this isn't too much and we really truly do appreciate the teachers and we want to show them that.


Have you seen a teacher's lounge during Teacher Appreciation Week? There are so many variations on doughnuts, muffins, coffee cake and cinnamon rolls that there is no room for the teachers to sit and enjoy any of it. The tables are covered and the counters are covered and the stuff is piling up and falling over.

And what do you think happens next? Some gets eaten. The teachers eat and the aides eat and the office staff eats and the custodian eats and the man who stocks the staff room vending machine eats. Then the PTA (the parents who brought the stuff in, remember) are told "Of course come have some! There is so much here! Let's not let it go to waste!"

And after that? It goes stale and it gets tossed. Out. Into the trash.

So every year I say to myself: Self, don't do it. Don't take precious hours to bake something lovely this week. Don't make a beautiful layered coffee cake and send it into the teacher lounge. First of all, it will never be seen among all the rest. Secondly, it won't be eaten. It will take up precious space where a teacher might like to set down a cup of coffee instead. And then later someone will have to throw it away and clean up the crumbs. Just wait a few weeks and do it then. They will be happy to have something a month from now when the long dry days of being back to under-appreciated teachers return.

But then I say to myself: Self, that stinks. If you can't bake a pan of muffins for these people, what is wrong with you? You really want to be the only person in the whole school who does nothing? Maybe if you had done it a month ago, you could skip it now. But even if you send in a note that says you are waiting for a hungrier time, it will just look like an excuse because you forgot to do it. Next year do it ahead. Ahead of time is okay. Late is not.

Every year.

But not this year! For once! I thought. I planned. I did it! I baked muffins for my daughter's grade-level teachers (I can't do the whole school at once. One grade at a time, thank you very much). I baked the muffins, wrote a note letting them know it was a pre-Appreciation Week snack, and really we appreciate them every week, and I sent them in.

Of course, I will still end up baking something during the actual week. I don't want to be the only person in the whole school who does nothing.

Zucchini-Chocolate Chip Muffins
Adapted from the recipe here.

Makes 18 muffins or 36 mini-muffins

3 cups grated zucchini (or summer squash... I actually used a combination)
1 stick butter, softened to room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons baking soda
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350.

In a mixer, combine everything but the chocolate chips, using the paddle attachment. If you prefer, you can mix by hand. I like to let the mixer run on low as I measure and add everything. It feels like multi-tasking. Turn the mixer off once it is all well combined, and stir in the chocolate chips.

Spray non-stick spray into the muffin pans (or use paper liners). Fill the muffin cups almost all the way to the top.

Bake mini-muffins for about 20-25 minutes, regular muffins for 30-35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.