living with dirt floors {and dark chocolate zucchini muffins with walnuts}

She emailed me: "Don't worry sis, I don't live in a home with all dirt floors, just the kitchen has a dirt floor but my room has tile, está bien." 

We only get to communicate through email once a week while she's living in Peru* for the next 16 months. (Remember she's my baby sister, so she's barely an adult, and I am constantly on protective-big-sister-bear-mode.)  She's so stinking positive that she forgot to mention in these emails that her living quarters are a far cry from polished wood floors and glass windows. 

Because my sister is in such a remote foreign place, all of the every day luxuries we're used to, are hard to come by - like toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, straight up SOAP, and tampons. So my mom has been gathering up these goods to send to her (I've been gathering other important things like Green and Black's chocolate bars, pretzels and Justin's Peanut Butter) - but international mail is insane.

You can't just drop a letter and pray it gets there. Things get inspected. Your privacy gets ripped wide open and things get stolen from boxes all the time. If we decided to send shoes we were advised to send one shoe at a time, each in a separate package to ensure they do not get stolen. 

AND after the effort of gathering everything, and paying for the fortune of a shipping cost, there's absolutely no guarantee my sister will get the goods. 

Comforting.

But by some miracle, my mom was lead to a lady, a mutual acquaintance who travels to Peru once a month. Hearing about my sister's recent relocation, this lady offered take some treats and necessities to her. "Oh it's no trouble," she'd told my mom, because not only does her family live in Peru, her family lives in the same exact city that my sister is living in.

If that isn't a tender mercy from God, I don't know what is.

When our deliverer returned, she wanted to give my mom the full report on her visit to my sister. Through tears and holding hands, she said, "She lives in a place with dirt floors, I mean they have nothing, simply nothing. So poor. I just kept shaking my head and thinking, why here? Why here?"  My mom hugged and thanked her so much for helping us, and said "She's going to be okay, I know she's going to be okay." 

ME on the other hand, immediately writes my sister an email: "SIS, I heard you're living in a place with dirt floors?! WHY didn't you tell me?? Are you okay? Is everything okay??" And hence her response above. 

Instead of dirt floors she sees opportunity. It reminds me of this one quote:

Talking about our problems is our greatest addiction. Break the habit. Talk about your joys.
— Rita Schiano

I look forward to my sister's emails every week not only because I adore her beyond words, but because I am experiencing in a very small way, her happy. She is finding happy in all the things.

Is she real about the fact that they can't flush toilet paper down the toilet? Yes. Has she mentioned the shower is a small trickle of water that creates quite the struggle in getting completely clean? YES. But all through laughter and optimism, AND, she never has once mentioned the dirt floors. Until now.

It kinda reminds me of that time I saw these birds on a target grocery cart. They were all nestled and fluffy, when one of the pooped straight on the handle. I was grossed out, and gonna pick another cart, but this older lady came right up to the cart and started cooing to the birds, calling them beautiful. Meanwhile, I was too focused on the fact that they pooped to think they were cute.

It's all about perspective and finding the good where you least expect it. Even if we're given a dirt floor situation, my sister's taught me there is still joy to be found,  "It's all gonna be okay sis, está bien (it's all good)."  

And that's what I call happy living. (More on why this relates to these fab muffins below.) 

*Why is she in Peru? She volunteered to serve a mission for our church, to help teach people about Jesus Christ. Once you decide to serve, you can get called anywhere in the world, and my beautiful little baby sister got called to Peru. 

Dark Chocolate Zucchini Muffins with Walnuts 

adapted from Seven Spoons, by Tara O'Brady 

makes: about 36 muffins 

Zucchini muffins today because sometimes we look at zucchini the same way we look at a dirt floor. Okay, maybe not exactly, but sometimes we look at it like a necessary vegetable to be served savory, when they indeed can be so much more. It's all about seeing the possibilities. (Not to mention these little green guys are packed with potassium, folate, fiber and vitamin A.) This is the most fun and unexpected way I can think of using them. (Well, I didn't think of this at all actually, the brilliant Tara O'Brady did.) Over a POUND of fresh shredded zucchini mixed with dark chocolate, walnuts and olive oil? Yes please. Side note, I love baking with olive oil, but it has to be done right, and trust me, Tara got it all right. ;)

Baker's Note: These muffins have an deep dark chocolate taste, they're not the least bit overly sweet and definitely hearty enough to keep you filled on just one muffin. I topped some muffins with flax seed and course sugar instead of walnuts for the few family members that would frown at the sight of a walnut topped muffin. If you have a nut allergy, I suggest replacing the walnuts with some whole flax seeds to give a slight change in the texture. The walnuts compliment the zucchini, olive oil, and dark chocolate so well it's a shame to leave them out, but if you must, I suggest the flax.

These are still fantastic the day after they're baked. They also freeze well and you can pop them in the microwave to defrost - although their texture isn't exactly the same, but still good. I also used 70% dark chocolate chips, a slightly more bitter chocolate than the suggested semisweet. 

Special Equipment: Food processor to shred zucchini 

1 ½ pounds / 680g zucchini, stemmed and cut into large pieces
1 ½ cups / 190g all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups / 170g whole wheat flour
½ cup / 45g cocoa powder  
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon aluminium-free baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons medium-grain kosher salt
1 ½ cup / 115g chopped walnuts, toasted, ½ cup set aside to top muffins
8 ounces / 225g semisweet chocolate, chopped
½ cup / 120ml extra-virgin olive oil (preferably one that's mild & not too peppery)
1 cup / 240ml well-shaken buttermilk
2 eggs
1 cup / 200g granulated sugar
½ cup / 105g packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Handfull of flax seed, optional, or in place of the walnuts if you have a nut allergy
Handfull of coarse Turbinado sugar, optional

Note: Tara suggests if you do not want to use olive oil, you can replace it with the melted butter, but don't? ;) Use olive oil if you can. It contributes to the earthy magic of the muffins, and all of the ingredients play a part here as they should. 

Preheat oven to 350° F / 180° C. Line your muffin tin with muffin liners and set aside. (This batter can also be made into two  8 ½x4 ½ in / 21x10cm loaves. Just make sure you line the pans with parchment paper and butter. Tara explains it beautifully here: Use a length of parchment paper to line the bottom and long sides of the pan, forming a sling, and lightly butter the parchment paper as well.) Set aside.

Cut the zucchini longways and then in half, keeping the pieces as big as possible, while still able to fit through your food processor. With the grating blade attached, shred the zucchini. (Granted that there is so much zucchini in this recipe, you may have to shred in shifts, dumping out some of the shredded pieces so you can continue to shred more.) Lay all shredded pieces on a clean cloth or dishtowel lined with paper towels so the zucchini can let go of some of it's moisture. Let it sit for about 20 mins while you prepare the other ingredients. 

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.  Add the walnuts and chocolate.

In another bowl, whisk together the olive oil, and buttermilk. Add the eggs, sugars, and vanilla and beat until smooth. Stir in the zucchini.

Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and fold until combined, taking care not to overmix. Divide the batter evenly between the muffin liners about ⅔ of the way full, topping with the reserved chopped walnuts, flaxseeds and course sugar of your choice and bake for 20-25 minutes. (If making loaves pour into your 2 prepared pans and bake, rotating once, until a cake tester inserted into the loaf comes out almost clean, around 50-60 minutes.) 

Cool the muffins in their pans for 10 minutes (20 minutes for loaves) before serving.