Saturday, September 13, 2008

Pan de Plátano

When I was a junior in college, I studied abroad for six months in Santiago, Chile. I lived with a lively, loving family, the Castigliones, in a large rambling house with many hallways and many doors. In the middle of the home was an open, sun-drenched kitchen, and in the heart of the kitchen was Sra. Castigliona, mother to everyone who crossed her threshold, and matriarch of the family.

Sra. Castiglione had this inhuman ability of cooking exquisite multi-course meals for 10 to 15 people (her family plus whichever friends and neighbors coincidentally happened to be lingering at the time) with seemingly few ingredients, little hassle, and often limited time. The woman was a culinary genius. It was by observing her that I realized how intimate preparing food is - an act of careful creation meant to sate and nourish the bodies of the ones you love. I was fascinated.

Of course, at the time, I thought of myself as an enlightened feminist, and as such had purposefully refused to learn how to so much as fry an egg. I scoffed at the phantom man who might one day expect me to prepare his meals, barefoot in the kitchen - I thought I was being clever by nipping that nonsense in the bud.

Yeah, I was a little obnoxious.

The tangible vision of a summer pepper's bright skin, the sizzle of a sliced onion hitting a hot pan, the smell of fresh chopped cilantro, even better then just-cut was all as foreign as that new country. And I loved every second. I realized that to Sra. Castiglione, cooking was not an act of duty, but an act of love - love of food and love of family. She inspired me, and I've been trying to live up to her in the kitchen ever since.

I found out that Sra. Castiglione passed away unexpectedly a few years ago. I hadn't been in touch with her, but I was so saddened by her passing that I didn't cook for weeks. Now, whenever I bake her pan de plátanos, banana bread, and the warm, comforting waft fills the house, I think of her spirit, and I'm inspired by food all over again.


3 cups flour
3 ripe bananas
3 eggs
1/2 cup melted butter
1 tsp. vanilla
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 tsp, baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt


Heat oven to 350°F (175°C). Mash bananas in a mixing bowl, then add the wet ingredients. Mix with a wooden spoon. Add all the dry ingredients except the flour. Mix with spoon. Grdually add flour, mixing in as you go. Bake for an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes - a knife should come out clean when the bread is ready.

To make two loaves, as Sra. Castiglione always did, double the recipe. Serve one sliced and warm with butter, and give the other as a gift to your friends or co-workers.

Until next time, Buen Provecho!

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