Banana Bread Karma

No really, it tastes like cake.

My son’s gym class teacher had been passing the sign-up sheet around for a few weeks.

“Who can bring cake for the children’s Fasching party next Tuesday?” she asked hopefully. She always waited until we were all seated in a circle, too tired from following our toddlers over and under and through mats and blocks and ropes to protest. Not a bad strategy.

I picked up the pen and bent over, supporting my daughter’s back in her carrier with one hand, writing “banana bread” with the other. OK, it’s not technically cake, but my husband would be back in the U.S. when the Fasching party took place and I knew no matter how little sleep I’d gotten, I could handle banana bread. I had my go-to Joy of Cooking recipe, after all, and some bananas already withering into their brown skins on my windowsill.

“But they don’t really have banana bread in Germany,” I remembered as I signed my name. “Maybe she’ll think I’m just trying to bring a loaf of bread.” I paused, then added “Schmeckt wie Kuchen” to the sheet. “Tastes like cake.” A promise, I guess.

The loaf came out perfect–one of my better ones. A slight crisp on the outer edge gave way to dense, crumbling dough flecked black with banana seeds. Nevertheless, I drizzled a sugar glaze over the top to make it more “cakey.” To convince my audience.

We arrived late; my son, still dreamy-eyed from his nap, could only stare at the other children dancing in their costumes, his lips slightly parted, his cheek against my knee. He is rarely shy so I didn’t move, loving the feel of his fingers making their tiny prints on the back of my calf. He didn’t want to let go.

The party’s theme: Im Wilden Westen (“In the Wild West”). German children dressed in cowboy shirts and Native American garb stamped and whooped to Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson. Disoriented, I took my son’s hand and pulled him to the cake table. My friends had delivered the banana bread several hours earlier, and I noticed it right away–front and center, completely untouched.

In Germany, cake is an elaborate affair. Afternoon Kaffee und Kuchen remains a popular tradition, marked by flaky pastries and fine tortes piled with bright fruit. On this long cake table in the Wild West, many such cakes had already been sliced and re-sliced, the platters ringed with crumbs. Only my banana bread remained. Granted, it looked pretty humble, even ugly. But if only they knew how it tasted!

I bought two slices, on principle. My son was thrilled. “I love banana bread!” he cried. As she passed me the plate and my change, the woman behind the table leaned in and said, “I gave you both pieces for a Euro.” A discount. Thanks.

Did etiquette dictate I should take the rest of the banana bread home when I left? Probably not–we’d leave before the party ended. I just hoped, as my son and I licked the crumbs from our fingers, that nobody would throw it away. I should have sent a note with the bread, I thought. I should have told them what it was. 

There came a point in the afternoon when all I wanted was to grab my banana bread with its two slices cut away and run out the door, all the way back home, where I would open Johnny Cash on iTunes and sing too, instead of just mouthing the lyrics with my lips in a crowded auditorium where nobody else seemed to know the words. I wanted to eat the banana bread until it was gone. I should have bought the whole thing back. At a discount.

Sometimes living here is like that. I’ll go days where I love it, but then all of a sudden I want to shrink back into myself and go back to a home I don’t even have.

My husband came back a couple days later. He pulled a heavy block, plastic-wrapped, from his suitcase. “Banana bread,” he said. “My grandma baked it. It’s really good.”

I peeled back the wrapping, cut in, and ate.


22 thoughts on “Banana Bread Karma

  1. This would be even funnier if not for your disappointment about the lack of German enthusiasm for your banana bread. Hey, I would have eaten the entire grandma-baked banana bread right out of the plastic wrapping if it had been me! Wonderful sharing that puts our little aspirations in their places, right?

  2. Oh goodness, we lived in Italy for three years and now we’ve been in Japan for two and I feel like I KNOW this moment. Why doesn’t anyone ever try the banana bread? We need to start promoting it more, I guess, because it’s fantastic.

    Sorry you were homesick.

    1. Emily– ah, you understand! Banana bread seems to embody cultural misunderstanding. On both sides, so much is overlooked, under- appreciated…underscoring the importance of explanation and communication.

  3. Poor, homely banana bread — I could eat loaves of it daily and not be satisfied. So sad that nobody even tried it! I have to admit, though, that when approached with less-than-beautiful, unknown food, I step aside and eat what I know. If the tables were turned and it was a German lady bringing something suspicious to my bake sale….I’d probably take the boring old rice-krispie treats stacked on a paper plate. Because I *know* those. And I’d have made some sweet lady feel inferior and homesick in doing so. Life is complicated, though, and I understand your heartbreak perfectly.

    I can truly feel your sadness, and in a post about bakery goods, of all things. Well done on the writing front, Sarah 🙂 Enjoy your new bread!

    1. Oh Sarah, thanks so much for this perspective. It’s absolutely true– in fact, living overseas has really made me appreciate people who uproot themselves entirely and move to another place for good (immigrants, I guess, as opposed to expats). It’s amazing how home weaves itself so subtly and permanently into our being. And how recipes hold memories…

  4. This was great! The “wild west” party in Germany–hilarious! Chocolate chip banana bread is one of my signature baked goods. Love how it stays moist for days. I always make several loafs at once so I can freeze a few. Freezes very well.

    Loved the end, too, with your husband bringing some home!

  5. I feel a comparison to writing coming on. That which appears to be totally different to our usual fare, may be the best of the bunch, whether bread, cake, poem, story or novel. It amazes me that the most mundane things remind us of home wherever we are, whether 18 minutes or 18 hours from home. Thank you for sharing your life.

    1. Stella, that’s a wonderful comparison. I never thought about how the banana bread could serve as a writing metaphor…but certainly, it does. Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

  6. I love banana bread. When I was a kid, my mum made it for my birthday. I haven’t had it in years, and now I really want some again. Lovely article, very well written.

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Will. I quickly checked out your site and really look forward to spending more time reading. In the meantime, though, I noticed we have something in common– the German language? I admire anybody who works with translation…I find its nuances so difficult. Keep up the good work, and if you need a banana bread recipe to satisfy your craving, let me know. I’d be happy to send mine along!

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