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Stink Eyes and Zucchini-Apple Gratins

A few weeks before I left New York, I took a train from Penn Station to Washington, D.C.  While I was waiting to board in Manhattan, a lady I didn’t know came up behind me, grabbed the base of my pony tail, and yanked me to the floor “because I gave her the stink eye.”

Then she yelled things that will stay between me, her and the police report.  On a dirtiness scale from “PG-13” to “things I’ve heard in the cheap seats at Yankee stadium,” it was about a 7.   That’s a little worse than this classic melt-down:

My scalp felt weird afterward, but it wasn’t a big deal.  A policeman ordered a psych eval for her and held the train for me, which made me feel famous.

Plus, I was kind of famous.  I had yelled “Police!” in an iconic New York public place really loudly–like I was 8 years old and it was my one line in the school play.  So when I got on the train, approximately 80 people tried to buy me a beer.

I spent three hours in the café car slamming free Amtrak Heinekens.  By the time I got to Washington, I was LIT UP, y’all.  Lit up like a Christmas tree.  (In my defense, it is hard to gauge whether you’re buzzed when the hair follicles on your head are already on fire.)

Back then, I really didn’t have a “stink eye.”  I didn’t need one because people in New York were generally awesome.

But the people in New York were not threatening to come to my apartment and dismantle my furniture.  I now have 8 or 9 variations of stink eye because it’s the only thing that keeps Thunder from chomping on the couch.  If you get a good stink eye going, she’ll move the entire chewing operation to the back yard.

Sticks make her so happy that she won’t even notice she has leaves stuck in her mouth.

Which is topical, because this yellow zucchini squash and apple gratin is so good that you could have it stuck to your face and not care.

This dish came about randomly, and then I made it several times to make sure it wasn’t a fluke.  Nutmeg really brings the zucchini and apple flavors together.  This is not heavy, like a potato gratin loaded with cheese.  It’s light and sophisticated, but not too far from the heartiness of a winter dish.

This is what the sauteed fruit and veggies look like before you top them with a bit of cheese and breadcrumbs and nuts.

Then it looks like this.  Don’t you just want to crack it open with a big spoon? And eat it all, by yourself?  Let me recommend the stink eye to you.  It will help with that.

Zucchini + Apple Gratin


3 tbsp. butter

2 lbs. yellow zucchini (3 large zucchini)

1 medium onion (yellow or white)

2  apples (I have used fuji, jazz and honey crisp)

2 tbsp. flour

1/2 c. whole milk

1 tsp. nutmeg

salt & pepper

1 c. shredded gruyère

3/4 c. real bread crumbs (from about 1 slice of bread, preferably stale)

2 tbsp. seasoned dry bread crumbs (such as the Italian store-bought kind)

1/3 c. pecans (chopped)


Peel the applies.  Slice the zucchinis and apples finely.  (I used the slice on a cheese grater–not the shreddy part but the part you’d use to get a long, thin piece of cheese.)   Drain the apples of excess juice.

Chop the onion.

Melt the 3 tbsp. butter in a large pan over medium heat.

Add the onion and zucchini to the pan and stir to coat.  Season with the salt and pepper, and add the 1 tsp. nutmeg.  Sautée for about 15 minutes, or until the mixture is tender and aromatic.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Sprinkle in the 2 tbsp. flour and stir to coat the mixture evenly.  Sautée another 2-3 minutes and then add the 1/2 c. milk.  Add the applies and sautée another 10 minutes.

While the zucchini mixture is cooking, in a small bowl combine the 1 c. shredded gruyère, the 2 tbsp. seasoned dry bread crumbs and the 3/4 c. real bread crumbs (that’s probably 1 slice of bread, preferably stale, ripped into shreds by hand or by food processor.  It will look better if you use a food processor: the first picture above was with a food processor and the third picture was with hand-ripped crumbs.)

Transfer the zucchini mixture to a casserole or gratin dish, or pyrex.  (The size shouldn’t matter: I did one batch spread thin in a large dish and one batch stacked high in a smaller dish, and they both cooked fine.)

Sprinkle the cheese/bread crumb mix over the zucchini mix and top with the 1/3 c. chopped pecans.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes, until top is browned and the zucchini mixture bubbling up on the sides of the pan looks thick.

Serve warm.

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8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Courtney #

    Oh, dear! I have met some crazy people on Amtrak from DC South. Never any weirdos north of DC. My last two trips between DC and Charlottesville included a lady who asked me to teach her all the math functions on her cell phone (I skipped log normal but spent about ten minutes on factorial) and a man who used to be a driver / loader for a liquor truck and is now an alcoholic (according to both him and me).

    November 11, 2011
    • Wow. I would not have known what to do in either of those situations. Maybe I would try to set the two of them up.

      Yep, that is probably what I’d do.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Courtney!

      November 12, 2011
  2. I really enjoy that you managed to get a NLCV clip in this post. Well played, lady. Well played.

    November 12, 2011
    • I am still trying to figure out our difference of opinion on Groundhog Day. Is it a Bill Murray thing? Perhaps we have to resort to a larger sample. My third would be Bringing Up Baby, with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant. Anything?

      November 14, 2011
      • Yes, I approve of Bringing Up Baby. A fine, fine choice. I’m not sure on the Groundhog Day thing – I like Bill Murray, but really don’t like that Andie MacDowell. Bleck. I think she ruins it for me. She ruins lots of stuff for me. Also, I hate the movie Beetlejuice. Like, HATE it. Just thought you should know.

        November 19, 2011
        • Aha! I saw about 10 minutes of Beetlejuice as a child and hated it. But I did watch two episodes of that new show, PanAm, with Christina Ricci. She is so small and quippy and high strung that I found myself sitting there with my eyes popped open in some kind of Christina Ricci-induced trance. I didn’t like that. Not one bit.

          November 20, 2011
  3. This story is awesome/horrific. It reminds me of the situation my sister was just in on a NYC bus. She discreetly pulled out a small hairbrush to give her hair a few swipes (she stresses that she did this with care and very quickly, embarrassed to be conducting personal grooming in public but forced to because she was in a rush). An elderly lady seated behind her yelled out “DON’T YOU BE GETTING YOUR F!@#ING BUGS ON ME!”, then continued to verbally berate my sister for the rest of the trip. Luckily for her, it didn’t get physical, but she still feels scarred for life. Can’t imagine what it’s like to actually get your hair PULLED. Safe to say that it wasn’t the same crazy lady, given the hair aversion vs. affinity scenarios.

    November 17, 2011
    • Wobblin Gobblins, that sounds terrible– way worse than my incident because hers continued. Also, if you’re prone to imaginary bug panic attacks, maybe DON’T TAKE A NEW YORK CITY PUBLIC BUS, lady. Yeesh.

      I think this means your sister has good karma for future airplane rides. Let me know when she gets bumped to first class and winds up sitting next to the hot famous person of her choice.

      November 19, 2011

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