Meeting new people is awkward; that’s just a fact of life. Young or old, it really doesn’t get much easier to break the ice in a room full of strangers. Everyone nervously clutches paper cups of water or cola, as if they were irreplaceable heirlooms, carefully examining the contents of the room to avoid making eye contact. Sometimes it feels like just assembling any random sampling of humanity would be an impossible feat, if not for the promise of free snacks. The lure of food, no matter the type nor quality, is irresistible. That’s why an ingenuous move to incorporate that shared interest into the meet-and-greet itself, as I experienced at a recent gathering.
He sat alone in a quiet corner of the room, pushing hummus around his paper plate with a few limp sticks of celery. Pulling up an empty chair, I plopped down my similar medley of vegetables and chickpea puree, introducing myself with as much enthusiasm as I could muster. Bright smiles, elevator pitch, small talk about the weather. Check, check, check. Soon, the conversation stalls, dribbling down to long pauses and uncomfortable forced eye contact. Grasping at straws, I remembered to check his name tag…
The organizers had cleverly left a space here, prompting us to write down a recent or memorable food experience. “Zucchini muffins,” I read aloud, taking the cue from his haphazardly scribbled notation. “Tell me about these zucchini muffins of yours.”
Not your average sweet breakfast treats, it turns out that the zucchini muffins that this young man makes are savory, flecked with dill and topped by a crust of sharp, salty parmesan. Interesting, but far from innovative, what really captured my imagination was their origin. His not-so-secret recipe goes back many years to the days when he worked at the historic Baldpate Inn in Colorado, where they were actually called “zu-key-ni” muffins.
The title pays subtle homage to the massive collection of antique, unconventional keys donated by guests spanning their 100 years of operation. The tradition began after World War I, when the price of metal made it impossible to give away room keys as they once had so freely. In response, regulars began bringing new keys with every subsequent visit. Now, there are over 20,000 unique keys on display… But still only one zu-key-ni recipe.
Naturally, my head was filled with visions of summer vegetables and muffins for the remainder of the event. Instead of socializing, I was completely preoccupied by the mission of hunting down the fabled recipe, veganizing it, and sharing its story.
It didn’t take long to uncover the full rundown, just as promised, reprinted for all to see in the Taste of Home June/July 2001 issue. Still, I can’t leave well enough alone, and made a few of my own tweaks. Most notably, the zucchini factor is more than doubled here, because if you’re gonna put it in the name, it should really be the star of the show.
Soft, tender, and rich, they’re the kind of muffins that need no additional toppings or spreads to shine. Enjoy warm for maximum effect, ideally toasted to get those perfectly crisp edges, especially a day or two after baking. Some keys are made of metal, but others, of vegetable, apparently. Shared with the right person, this one unlocks hearts, rather than doors.