Building bonds over banana bread

Building bonds over banana bread
By Katherine Wzorek
Feb. 8, 2016

The first time my sitemate and I made banana bread at my house, we decided to share with the rest of the neighborhood. Veronika was on our list.

From the moment we met, knew there was something different about Veronika. It was intangible and I can only guess what made her special. Maybe it was a certain twinkle in her eye, a curiosity about me and my friend and a desire to learn from us. Maybe it was because she had the most decked out pulpería in my small Nicaraguan pueblo, products displayed in bright colors, begging to be bought, all neatly organized in the small space, painted the colors of a Coke bottle. Maybe it was that little bit of attitude she exhibited that made me know we were going to be friends.

Veronika's eyes lit up when we asked if she wanted to try a piece of banana bread: “I’ve never had this before." As she took the first bite, her eyes grew a little bit bigger. Then she took out her cookbooks.

Veronika explained that she had an oven and had signed up for a baking class, but the ingredients were too difficult to find and the recipes too challenging to follow. She told a story of a soufflé-like dish collapsing in the oven. She showed us books of desserts, flans and custards on each page. She told us about her oven, a rarity in Nicaragua where most people just use a small stovetop to cook simple dishes. We made an agreement – we would teach her to make the banana bread if she would let us use her oven. She readily accepted.

A few weeks later we came back, hands filled with all the ingredients we needed, along with the recipe in Spanish on an index card to leave at Veronika’s house. She welcomed us in, past her store and into her back room– a small, dark room that contained the oven and a small bedroom. It was stifling hot and about to get hotter when we turned the oven on.

Her son watched us, knowing that something good was baking. And so we began, asking for bowls and spoons to mix and add all the different ingredients. We were a bit shy at first but started talking more and more as we continued baking. Then we were finally ready to put the mixture in the oven.

By that point, we were covered with sweat, using our shirts to wipe off sweat that we knew would return in the next minute. Veronika offered us a cold Coke each, another hit of sugar and caffeine needed in a climate that can make any person lethargic. As we waited, periodically checking to make sure nothing was burning or overflowing, we talked and shared stories. Veronika showed us pictures of her family from the past years. She not only invited us into her house, she invited us into her life.

Then the bread was done. And no one wanted to wait for it to cool off. We cut into the still-steaming bread and we ate, sharing with everyone in the house, everyone happy for a little sweet treat in the afternoon. We left Veronika and her family with the rest of the bread to share among themselves.

Smiles and happiness can be shared in many ways, but most especially through banana bread.

Katherine Wzorek

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