In 2008, I followed my heart to Chicago. After sidestepping my then dream of moving to NYC, I found my interests in art and desire to make walking my primary mode of commuting accessible via a job in copywriting and weekends around artists and public events.
There was an art show at Filter Coffee in Wicker Park. The neighbourhood was famed from the nearby Damon, blue line stop. A place for junkies and undergoing the first rounds of gentrification. Filter Coffee was in the ground floor of the artists’ flatiron building. A hip space for parents to cringe at, and professionals to still feel young in. Filter was so cool with its saggy sofas from Salvation Army, and fair-trade organic coffee lattes with three different kinds of foamed milk before Whole Foods became a thing to have YouTube memes made about it. The floors were painted black, reflecting steam from the sticky summer afternoon’s, fixed gear cyclers and SAIC drop-out artists that had gathered to share their political paintings, drawings, and-that particular gathering, Jude’s bread.
Not just any kind of bread, but banana bread. Having walked two-point-five miles to make it there, I was hungry and short on cash. I exchanged my singles for a couple slices before realizing I was tasting the best banana bread I’d ever had. I pulled him aside, to ask for the secret recipe. That’s when he said the secret to its taste was all the ingredients were stolen. My small-town heart sank. Witnessing my deflated spirit, he laughed and I caught a whiff of a morning smoke on his breath. He explained he stolen the ingredients from being thrown because all these hip cafes have strict rules on storage and throw stuff out all the time. He said he never went hungry a day living-from about to be tossed out goods.
Sometime in the next weeks, I asked Jeff, my boyfriend at the time if he could get the recipe, since Jude often hung around Columbia College students. A white, lined sheet of paper held the secrets in no.2 pencil glory. Coming from a family where the Italian recipes are kept secret, buried in a box, at the back of the cabinet, I made sure to keep good care of this piece of paper.
Preparing for the next party, I made the bread-loaded with six mashed bananas and cut back on the sugar a bit. The slight modification, I didn’t think anyone drinking would notice the difference from the magic recipe. Of course the bread was a hit, because it’s the best banana bread recipe in the world. I told Jude this when he shouted, ‘OH MY GAWHD THIS BREAD!’ and slammed the rest of his beer with a laugh. “But, Jude,” I said, “that’s your recipe.” His eyes wide, “what recipe?” “Give me a second,” as I dashed to my secret recipe binder hidden under the blankets of the foyer drawers. I returned proudly displaying the paper, reminding him, “this is the recipe you gave Jeff.” Jude laughed, giggled really. “I made this whole thing up, right on the spot when Jeff asked.” Now my eyes were wide.
That’s when I noticed, one of those funny moments in life happening, right as I was inside and outside of my body at the same time. My mind made a connection that would take a decade to fully understand.
As life tends to go, I lost touch with Jude, as many painful months transitioned over the next few years of saying goodbye to everything familiar, but the bread was one of the handful of treasures that has stayed with me. This bread has made it to every tea or coffee I had friend over for, every move, nearly every weekend or free rainy day. The ingredients have changed. A lot. I don’t measure anything anymore. The base of what works about baking this recipe works every, single, time. That piece of paper is a sacred artefact now, stored in at my parents house as I roam around as an artists’ life tends to-sometimes, or at least for awhile.
This bread has kept my spirit alive. The wisdom in this bread, that things that smell good, taste good, are easy to come by and share, are what keeps my spirit alive. That each bowl is mixed without looking at a recipe, but by having come to know the qualities of the ingredients over the past decade. Always making the whole thing up- the whole time. Sometimes the bread is made with bananas, sometimes with pears, sometimes with chocolate, nutmeg, ginger, persimmons, raisins, coconut, -whatever happens to be around. The bread is always wheat free-and sweetened with either fruits, molasses, or sometimes coconut sugar. Though, no one notices this until I tell them. Few know the story. The wisdom from Jude’s bread, somehow goes into each and every loaf or sometimes tea biscuits if I feel so moved -or so I hope.
With love and gratitude for beauty and grace,