May It Please the Palate: Banana Bread and Christmas Past

By Nick Roumel

Our Christmas tree is still up (hopefully not by the time you read this). Its needles are stiff and dry, and it is stripped of ornaments. The lights and star, however, remain. It is a decaying but still poignant reminder of the season past.

Like that tree, two bananas overstayed their welcome in our fruit bowl. Once firm, yellow, and proud, they were now shriveled and nearly black. While not attractive, the fruit inside was soft and sweet. I assembled other remnants of holiday grocery shopping from our pantry - walnuts, dried cranberries, cinnamon – and decided to make banana bread.

As I worked in the kitchen, I thought about one of my favorite songs from “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” Written by Lee Mendelson and Vince Guaraldi, “Christmas Time Is Here” was sung by the children’s choir of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in San Rafael, California. While its lyrics speak to the anticipation of the season, its haunting, jazz-flecked tones also evoke the feeling one has after the holiday – like the stereotypical movie image of two lovers clinging to each other, slowly dancing among fallen ribbon and balloons, long after the music is over, while a custodian sweeps the floor.

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all that children call
Their favorite time of the year

I made up lyrics while I mixed the ingredients of the banana bread, singing aloud, changing the tense to “was here,” with super-creative rhymes like

“And we are out of beer.”
Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times and ancient rhymes

I thought about our daughters and their families, together from the miles, and our youngest back at college, figuring out her freshman year.

Sleigh bells in the air
Beauty everywhere
Yuletide by the fireside
And joyful memories there

Like those dancers at closing time, we want to hold onto our good times forever. Which is why that tree is still up in our living room, white lights tinkling.

Christmas time is here
We’ll be drawing near
Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year

Nick’s Holding-On-To-Christmas Banana Bread
¼ cup dried cranberries, soaked in 2 TBS maple syrup and a little water
¼ cup butter, softened
¼ cup brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 overripe bananas
less than ¼ cup cream or milk
1 tsp cinnamon
2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
½ cup chopped walnuts

Soak cranberries 20 minutes in maple syrup thinned with a little water. Then drain the liquid and mix it with the milk or cream. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugars together in a large bowl.

In a separate bowl, mash bananas with cinnamon and the reserved liquid mixture. Add that to the large bowl that contains the butter/sugar mixture.

Add the flour and baking powder and mix well.

Add the cranberries and walnuts and mix well; pour into a greased loaf pan and bake 60-70 minutes in 350 oven until toothpick comes out clean.

Eat thoughtfully, and think of good times.

Oh, that we could always see
Such spirit through the year