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.