Ex-pattycakes: building bridges, one banana bread at a time

13 Jan

For the recipe, just click on the banana bread! (also, I add 1/2tsp. cinnamon, but you do what works best for you.) ~Image courtesy of Google

What a wonderful surprise I received last week, homemade ‘bugnes’ (pronounced: “bewnye”, a beignet-style french donut)! Our downstairs neighbor rang (who owns the village grocery store) and brought one of my favorite things, that’s right, the bugnes. I don’t think I’ve met a Southerner yet who didn’t have an overactive sugar gland. My mother told me that when she was pregnant with me, she always craved donuts and sent my dad out on several sleepy-eyed mornings to curtail her cravings for the deep-fried dandies, so naturally, I blame her for nurturing my sugar addiction (mom, if your reading, you know I still love you).

You may be thinking, what do banana bread and bugnes have in common besides both being desserts? Nothing, except the story I’m about to tell you. If you’re from the US, you already know that banana bread is an American classic, but in my parents’ household, it boarders on iconic status! My dad would say, “Momma, I wish I had a dollar for every banana bread you’ve made and I’ve eaten.” Every time my mom asked my dad what he wanted for dessert, he would always say, yep, you’ve guessed it–banana bread. Truth is, I wasn’t much of a cook until just a few years ago, because when you grow up with a great Southern cook in the family, ‘you’ve got a hard row to hoe’ (‘Southern-ese’ for big shoes to fill). So instead, I became a stellar sous chef and dishwasher–voilà. I hear your wheels turning, do you know where this is heading? With so much change hitting you from all sides trying to adjust as an expat, we often default to our comfort zones. In my case, my default mechanism was the one thing that didn’t need translation, food.

If someone makes you something, they like and appreciate you or they wouldn’t have done it. The gift of food says it all. So I wondered, what can I do to show my appreciation for helping me feel welcome, tolerating my abuse of their language and meeting every question with a preemptive head nod and two second delay before responding in my best pigeon French? I know, I’ll bake them a banana bread! Curious how what makes us feel comfortable, becomes something you then want to share with others. In my case, when I was at my most vulnerable, I wanted to share a happy memory from my childhood in the form of banana bread.

So, never having made a banana bread in my life and after a few failed attempts (with tweaking the recipe from American measure to metric), I was finally ready to make deliveries! And with a big American smile and a good dollop of nervousness, off I went rounding the village like some ‘half-baked’ St. Nicolas! I gave everyone between La Poste (post office) and the boulanger (baker), a banana bread. And without having to say much, let them know I genuinely appreciated their help at a time when I needed it most. I told them that it was a special dessert from the US, particularly in my family. They were all so shocked and excited, that it was touching. I found myself having to say, “De rien” (you’re welcome) very quickly and scoot out before the unexpected welling of emotion became obvious. Believe it or not, I’m not a crier, but the expat experience will pull emotions that are buried inside you, by awakening your joys but also your hidden pains. I guess that day, the emotion of being away from home, family and all things familiar (even though I’m 43 years old), hearkens back to our childhoods to that place of comfort we could all run to, whether it was our parents (if you’re the lucky ones), our favorite stuffed animal or imaginary friend. We all need to feel comforted when facing the vast unknown, just as we did as children and that never changes no matter how old or wise, we think we’ve become.

In making each delivery, it felt great to see their eyes light up as some asked, “Pourquoi (why)?” I just simply responded, “pour votre patience avec moi (for your patience with me) and skirted away before the water works began. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, in receiving baked goods from my neighbor, I now know that on some level, they like and accept me, no matter how awkward I feel. Even though I am still very different from people in my village, France and Europe as a whole, in the end, what a comfort it is to know that some things are still universal. Food is a tie that binds us all and making something from the heart and sharing it, is the universal language of caring. Bon appétit, ya’ll.


Posted by on January 13, 2011 in Daily life in France


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27 responses to “Ex-pattycakes: building bridges, one banana bread at a time

  1. Tammi

    January 14, 2011 at 12:30 am

    I can really relate to this post. Except in my case, I am here in America wishing I was in France. So the next best thing to being there is making my mother in law’s (she was French) crepes. I have her secret recipe and so while in Paris last January, I went to the famed E. Dehellerin kitchen supply store and bought myself a real crepe pan! So now when I get homesick for France, I whip up a batch of crepes, call some friends over and we eat until there is no more!

    • expatriotgames

      January 14, 2011 at 7:56 am

      Tammy, I just love your comment, you really do have the right idea (if going back to France is REAALLLY what you want). I have a friend who is a life coach that can help you (he is a former physicist and computer guru, turned life coach) get in the right frame of mind and give you practical ways of getting to your goal. If you are interested in learning more, check out his webites: and Terrific guy and great at what he does, he helped me that’s for sure!

      Regarding E. Dehellerin, I’m SO jealous (in a good way, of course ;0). I also can’t say enough about Le Creuset either. We have an outlet about an hour away, so I have started getting my mom’s Christmas presents there and creatively pack them in my suitcase! Thanks so much for reading and PLEASE do let me know of any topic you want me to cover or more on a previous topic, OK? 🙂

      • Tammi

        January 14, 2011 at 3:33 pm

        I have always wanted to live in France, more so than my husband and he is the real Frenchman! It is definitely in my future as I have a designer friend in Paris I work with and I am considering doing an apprenticeship with a major couture drapery fabricator known the world over.

        When I read about your banana bread, (after I had already posted the first time), I remembered the first time my sister in law ate it here. She loved it! I’m hoping your French friends loved yours too!

      • expatriotgames

        January 15, 2011 at 3:43 pm

        Lol! Babe, I know your pain ;0). REALLY? An opportunity with a Parisian designer? Honey, what are you waiting for?! I know, it’s more complicated than that, but as I type, I’m sending positive vibes your way, that it will work out the best for you and your hubby, of course! Love it, the sister-in-law has been bitten by the banana bread bug, cool! Yes, it’s been a hit here as well…maybe you can offer banana bread at your first showing in Paris?! Keep living the dream before it happens, and it will happen even quicker!

  2. wherewander

    January 14, 2011 at 12:40 am

    I guess this is the starting point of a new chapter in France …

    • expatriotgames

      January 14, 2011 at 8:12 am

      Hi again Ellen! I only arrived in France a year ago, so unlike you, I’m still getting the hang of it and trying to document the journey from a “this is what you will go through if you become an expat” perspective and “how I dealt with the change”. You are a ‘youngun’ and adapt much more quickly than we, uh hem…more mature folks ;0). Nice blog and lovely photos! I think you have a gift with photographing people and animals, in particular. Keep up the excellent work and thanks so much for visiting!

      • wherewander

        January 14, 2011 at 11:33 am

        Hi there!! I totally get your expat perspective and I enjoy your experiences very much. I´m not an expat, right now living and working in my country. My experience is different because I just travel but I know that I´ll come back.
        As for being a youngun … well, hem, I´m older than you (shhh don´t tell a soul LOL)
        Happy to hear you enjoy my photos. I do enjoy taking them!!
        Have a very nice weekend!

  3. expatriotgames

    January 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

    WHAT??? I can’t believe it! Well, I stand corrected then ;0). YES! Do keep taking photos, not many photograph people well, so that is a great, great skill. Bonne weekend a vous aussi (You have a great weekend too!) and read you soon!

  4. baidanbi

    January 14, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    What a great idea and story! I do know how difficult it is to cook US recipes in foreign kitchens. Congratulation on your success.

    • expatriotgames

      January 14, 2011 at 2:03 pm

      Thanks a whole ‘bunch’ (bananas, get it?) OK, that was bad but I couldn’t resist! Read you are trying to organize another trip to Vietnam? Wowsers! Best of luck with the trip and thanks for reading! I’m desperate for some good Asian recipes, so I will be watching!

  5. Michi

    January 15, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Not only did you make me tear up a bit, but now I’m majorly craving banana bread!! I really love your posts. 🙂

    This one made me think of the Thanksgiving meal I prepared for my hubby and his family here in Spain. It was their very first Thanksgiving, and they got the whole nine yards – green bean casserole, gravy, mashed potatoes, mashed yams, cornbread, and of course, the giant turkey. I was so nervous that they were going to think the food was weird, or that I was going to majorly burn something or ruin a recipe – but it was one of the best things I’ve done yet!! It brought everyone together and I was able to share one of my favorite holidays with them. There’s just something about food that helps bring people together…

    • expatriotgames

      January 15, 2011 at 11:20 am

      Ah, Ms. Michi…what an awesome, awesome story! So glad it touched you and my goodness, thank you for sharing such a fantastic experience with us! There is just something about Thanksgiving, isn’t there? So glad it had a happy ending for you and that you did it all perfectly! Bon travail (Good work)!

  6. Renee

    January 15, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    You’ve inspired me. I love to bake and with the holidays gone have no reason. I think everyone might like a little bit of warmth in these cold Chicago days. Thanks for a great post!

    • expatriotgames

      January 15, 2011 at 4:51 pm

      Excellent, Renee! Save a piece for me and thanks for the kind words! ;0)

  7. followingcaminho

    January 15, 2011 at 7:44 pm

    Wow, banana bread! Sounds great :). I bake banana cake from time to time but banana bread… will have to check this out soon as I love swinging in the kitchen! I mostly cook with Spanish and Dutch cookbooks so trying something American for a change would be really cool :).
    In any case I have a Belgian friend who’s obsessed with bananas, I think he’ll appreciate the recipe a lot ;).
    And you know… in Poland we have this kind of saying “through the stomach to the heart” which is a little bit modified in English (and it doesn’t only concern man!) . I think you’ve already won their hearts! Good job, girl! Congratz! 🙂

    • expatriotgames

      January 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      Hey Maja, you are too kind! Oooh, banana cake? We MUST talk! Love banana cake, but always bought the frozen kind (alas!). Maybe we need a recipe exchange on this blog? Polish, Dutch and Spanish recipes? Count me in! 😀 And if you end up making the cake/bread, DO TELL if your ‘banana loving friend” likes it. Thanks again for chiming in, ‘sweet cakes’ ;0)

      • followingcaminho

        January 15, 2011 at 10:18 pm

        You bet! I’ll send you recipe for the cake tomorrow ;). It’s really easy and very tasty!
        I’ll try with the bread next weekend as I plan to make rice-lentil burgers tomorrow ;). Today we’ve had a real feast with guacamole & crackers! Delicious! I’ll post a few words about it on my blog tomorrow! And yea, I sent a link to Joeri although I’m pretty sure he’s not gonna try to make it himself, haha! I’d treat him with the bread but… he’s some 1000+ kilometers away so he has to cope with that somehow ;).
        There are so many great thigs out there and the weekend is always too short… sniff, sniff…

      • expatriotgames

        January 16, 2011 at 4:44 pm

        COOL Maya :D, whenever you get the chance doll (regarding your cake recipe and post), that would be awesome 🙂

    • tigercity

      January 16, 2011 at 5:07 pm

      I’ve heard the ancient expression “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach”.. dos it work for the fairer sex too?

      • expatriotgames

        January 17, 2011 at 10:11 am

        Absolument TigerCity, every time!

  8. tigercity

    January 16, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    alors, en plus.. I’ve found that many French take a dim view of us “anglo-saxons” (anglophones) when it comes to cuisine so it’s rather refreshing to be able to prepare typical American/British dishes for them..

    I love describing recipes in my classes here which are often met with surprise.. “you have a cuisine in angleterre?” shock horror we do have some regional dishes yes..

    you see the French believe we just boil our vegetables & overkill the meat & we’re more interested in beer.. ok sometimes they have a point..

    but at the end of the day, it’s nice to demonstrate that not all “anglo-saxons” solely gorge out on fast-food & coca-cola..

    donc, keep up the art de cuisine and so will I…

    à bientot!

    • expatriotgames

      January 17, 2011 at 10:09 am

      Well said my Anglais friend, lol! Thanks for the brilliant comments and thanks so much for reading! I’ll pop over to your ‘house’ and read up on you for more inspiration! Hang in there and keep showin’ ’em whatcha got! ;0)

  9. followingcaminho

    January 19, 2011 at 3:30 pm

    Reg! Sorry to be late with the recipe! I typed it down here but it all vanished… :(. Not fair!

    • expatriotgames

      January 20, 2011 at 8:52 am

      No worries, there may be one on, I just may need you to eye it for improvements! ;0). Thanks for thinking of me!

      • followingcaminho

        January 20, 2011 at 7:20 pm

        I’ll try to put it here again on Saturday (but will save it first in a file)! You’ll get it as promised 😉

      • expatriotgames

        January 20, 2011 at 9:03 pm

        Merci Maja 😉


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