Friday, September 12, 2008

Chicago barista gets crafty in the kitchen

"Homemade banana-nut bread, just $3 a slice," barista Heidi Houchen announced as she carried out a baking pan, straight from Cafe Avanti's oven. The buttery aroma was enough allure in itself, but I knew I'd be safe from the gluten-heavy temptation, so long as I didn't get a good look (out of sight, out of mind-- right?).

And then Houchen walked over with a fork, "would you like to try some homemade banana-nut bread?" she asked, "we've got a little slice up at the counter." her killer smile was a bit more than I could take. And because it's about as hard for me to resist the persuasion of a pretty girl, as it is to say no to a well-made pastry, I nodded and took the fork. With a guilt-ridden gut, I made my way toward the best banana-nut bread I've had since living back home, where my own mother used to bake her own from-scratch-recipe in old coffee canisters.

A few bites, I asked Houchen about the bread and she informed me that the sweet treat has some serious family history. She went on to talk about growing up on a dairy farm in Iowa, where her mornings were spent churning butter and milking cows. "The banana-nut bread is an old Johanningmeier (Houchen's maiden name) favorite," she said. "When I called my mom for the recipe this morning, she was actually out milking the calves."

I made sure to let Houchen know that she'd foiled my gluten-free diet, to which she later replied, "you sure you don't want some more?"

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