My friend Darcy and I have known each other since we were 9 years old. We met every summer for a week of camp on Lake Cobbosseecontee, in West Gardiner, ME. All the way through our senior year in high school we looked forward to that week of late night giggles, days of swimming and singing, and building friendships that grew stronger as we grew older.
Eventually we moved away, formed new lives and new friendships. When I made the move from Seattle back to Mount Desert Island in 2005, where Darcy grew up, I wasn’t sure if she was still here, or if any of my friends were still here. It had been nearly 15 years since I last saw most of my camp friends. As I sat reading the local paper one morning, I came across an article about an artist on the island named Darcy Stillman. She made mirrors out of the island’s rocks and shells. Could it be her? An artist? There was an email address at the end of the article, and sure enough, a reply came back… “Yes! It’s me!! Let’s go swimming!”
How does this have anything to do with food, Gal Foodie? Well, it has a lot to do with food. As our friendship rekindled, so did the opportunity to share our talents as adults with each other. Darcy had become a teacher at the local high school, and an avid baker and artist. She was forever delivering loaves of bread, homemade granola and the like to my doorstep. When I had surgery, she showed up in her pajamas early my first morning home alone and stayed with me, nursing me back to health with her homemade chicken soup, breads, and smoothies. When she bought a motor boat that summer to island hop for her art-rock-hunting endeavors, I got a very excited call to meet her on the upper town dock with sandwiches for an island picnic. And when I finally bought my own sailboat, it was Darcy who brought lunch for the inaugural sail. We spent many an afternoon cruising the harbors and inlets of Mount Desert Island – a treat for anyone who loves this place as much as we do.
Darcy filled out an application for the Peace Corps and was accepted. She was headed to South Africa for 2 years. I received a frantic call her last day on the island. She was in panic mode. I had lived in Ecuador and traveled all over the world, and remembered well this feeling of sheer anxiety. I packed up breakfast and proceeded to pack up Darcy. As we sorted clothes, I recounted the story of the The Poisonwood Bible
, one of my favorite books – reminding her that no matter what you bring, it’s going to be the wrong thing so get over it quick, and be prepared to adapt. I couldn’t think of a better candidate for this kind of experience. I cried all the way home that day. I was really going to miss my friend. And I was scared for her too. However, Darcy can jump into anything with the gusto and enthusiasm of a pack of church ladies preparing for a Sunday supper. She was going to move mountains over there no matter what she did.
Thanks to the internet, she and I chat daily via Facebook IM. I am always prying her for info on what she is eating, cooking, seeing and doing. The customs and traditions there are so rich, and like our own, often revolve around the camaraderie of cooking together. She has fully immersed herself in it, and in true Darcy form, is bringing her own traditions to her village as a way to bridge the cultural divide and make new friends. When I asked her to send me a recipe from her village of Aletuke, she sent me way more than that. This recipe is Darcy in all her glory – baking, teaching and sharing.
Over the years, living through many a Maine winter, I have grown to love the joy of baking, especially bread. I could say that one of my signatures as a friend is showing up when least expected with a wonderful loaf of bread. Why bake one when you can bake two and give one away?
Now I’m a Peace Corps volunteer in South Africa. I live in a rural village and continue to fascinate the people around me with my baking. There are no fancy flours or seeds to drop into my bread so I find myself baking a lot of banana bread. Why? Because the ingredients are few, cheap, easy to find and there is never a shortage of old bananas. So I continue to bake an extra loaf and give it away. There is no better feeling then showing up at someones home and handing them a fresh baked loaf of banana bread. Their smile and energy are all the thanks I need.
Now I’m teaching the people I work with how to bake and they are teach the orphans we work with how to bake. But we are teaching them to make two, not one loaf at a time and we decide as a group who to give the extra loaf to. It’s a beautiful process to be a part of.
Far and Away Banana Bread
Makes 2 Loaves
1/3 cup shortening (or margarine, I can’t get shortening here in SA)
2/3 cup sugar (I usually use a 1/2 cup)
1 3/4 cup flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
Mix most of the way then add:
1 1/4 cup mashed banana.
Banana tip: When you have ripe bananas beyond eating throw them in the freezer. When you have enough, make banana bread. Bananas from the freezer are juicier. Drain off most of the extra water and add a little extra flour to thicken batter. This will make a little extra batter to add to your mini give away loaf.
Grease an 8X4 in. bread pan and a mini loaf pan. Divide batter appropriately and bake at 350 for 50-60 min. Check the mini loaf after 20-30 min. for it will bake faster.
From childhood to adulthood, life experience teaches us a simple lesson: Make two and share. One is silver and the other is gold.
Darcy Stillman’s Blog of her Peace Corps Adventures can be read at http://darcystillman.blogspot.com/