15 August 2008

baking bread

I'm at home in my new house, baking tea bread just like my mama taught me when I was a kid. The bananas from the last rousing highland trip didn't all get eaten and were too brown for museli consumption so I did the merciful thing and mashed them for baking. It's the recipe from the New York Times cookbook my mom got as a newlywed in 1968. I found the same edition for 3 dollars at a used bookstore in an alley in Boston, and she went through hers and copied in every single handwritten note she'd added over the years of use.

Her book is no longer really a book- the spine went years ago, and it's jammed with bookmarks made of drawings one of us made. Me and my three brothers, the baking helpers sifting flour in our vintage flour sifter that makes a wonderful swishing sound or measuring the walnuts to make this bread that was always the fate of forgotten bananas.

I've added notes to my book since she wrote hers in, converting temperatures to celsius, adding notes on Icelandic substitutes for the ingredients, made comments on friends who used a certain recipe themselves and liked it. This particular bread was made by my Norwegian friend T, who hand mashed the bananas so they came out with a new kind of texture, now noted in the crammed margin around this simple recipe, pressed up against my mom's handwriting.

But tonight I made mine straight, just like my mama always made, and as I did I heard her voice teaching me all the steps that I do now so involuntarily- lining the bottom of the bread pans with greased brown paper so the bottoms didn't stick, smoothing the batter off the sides of the pan so it didn't burn.

It's like this when I do the things my dad taught me too- remembering when he taught me to sharpen my kitchen knives properly (long smooth strokes, watch the angle, and check your progress against the light), sitting together around the kitchen table that once was pink, now white, and still always referred to as "the pink table". The lesson was repeated at the summerhouse on the vast table there so that I'd take it with me wherever I go.

Living here means I'm geographically distant from my family, and no matter how many ways of communicating there are, this fact remains. And yet, as the smell of the baking rises from the oven in my little tree house of a home, I realize that I'm never so very far away because these pieces of them are so embedded in me.