Birthday Banana Cake

wp_20170122_003-copyYesterday was my son’s birthday, and I baked him a cake, as I have almost always done for both of my children, because no matter how old they are, there are some traditions we three cling to tenaciously. A favorite meal, mostly home cooked, with chocolate cake for dessert, is de rigueur for the special day. This year we are celebrating a week late, so I decided to surprise my son with a treat from the distant past on his real birthday, knowing full well that I will probably still have to bake the chocolate cake next week. I really don’t mind because in truth I have a sweet tooth, and I love cake as much as my grown up children do!

This recipe is another from my late neighbor Sally, handed on to her by her mother-in-law. She lived in the Midwest and visited infrequently, but I did meet her once or twice. I do not recall our conversations, but I do remember her as a friendly and confident middle-aged lady. She must have been an accomplished baker, because I have more than one of her recipes, courtesy of Sally. Despite not being labeled as to ownership, they are unmistakable. Sally’s neat, blocky printing was distinctive. I kept all these cards intact, many of them yellowing and spattered with ingredients, not knowing when Sally gave them to me how precious they would become so short a time later.cake

I clearly remember one birthday when I served the banana cake, along with peanut butter and honey sandwiches on whole wheat bread, carrot and pepper sticks, and apple juice. My mom, who had come to celebrate her four-year-old grandson’s big day and to help me manage the guests, was taken aback by the menu. She shook her head, and asked if I thought the kids would really eat this stuff. Wouldn’t they want pizza, or hot dogs, or burgers and chips? I assured her that all would be well. And it was. The little partygoers dutifully ate their whole wheat sandwiches (no peanut allergies, thank goodness) and munched their veggies. “Suburban Kids,”my mom remarked afterwards, in a tone implying that no self-respecting city child like the ones she raised would stand for my idea of a birthday party lunch.  Of course, like all kids, my suburban guests were most enthusiastic when they got their cake with a generous serving of ice cream on the side.

Banana Cake

3/4 cup of sour milk, 1 cup of sugar, 1/2 cup of shortening, 1 beaten egg, 1 tsp of baking soda, 2 cups of flour, 1 tsp of baking powder, 1/8 tsp of salt, 2 ripe mashed bananas , and 1 tsp of vanilla.

Sour the milk by pouring about 1 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice into a measuring cup and adding enough milk to reach the 3/4 mark. Cream shortening and sugar well in a large bowl. Beat in the egg. Combine the baking soda with the sour milk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed shortening mixture alternating with the sour milk. Add vanilla to the bananas and fold into the mix, stirring until well combined.

Pour into an 8 or 9 inch square pan and bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes or until the edges are lightly browned and the middle springs back to the touch. Cool for about 10 minutes in the pan, invert onto a cooling rack, and wait until the cake is room temperature before frosting. You may want to omit the frosting altogether and just cut the cake into snacking squares.

I find that a basic butter and cream cheese  frosting goes really well with this cake. For enough to frost the top, beat together  1/4 cup of softened unsalted butter, 1/4 cup of softened regular cream cheese and 1 tsp of vanilla. Then beat in powdered sugar beginning with  1/2 cup and adding more until the frosting is smooth and of spreading consistency – usually another cup or so.





Scrambled Egg Casserole


Many years ago, I was teaching at a small rural high school that was experiencing hard times. Our standardized test scores were less than stellar, and our numbers were declining as students opted to go elsewhere under a new school choice program. Consequently, morale among staff and faculty members was low. The holiday break was coming, but no one had much spirit. One afternoon, as a few teachers were grousing in the lounge about unruly students and unfair administrators, someone, I have forgotten just who, remarked offhandedly that maybe we needed a party to introduce some cheer.

The idea resonated, and a plan was hatched for a potluck brunch to be held on the day before vacation. Since everyone had at least a twenty-minute break for lunch, even those who did not have a midday planning period would be able to attend. We posted a sign-up sheet for food, beverages, paper goods, and utensils, and even organized an anonymous gift exchange, the identities of the givers to be revealed on the day of the brunch. The event proved to be quite a hit, and, despite inevitable changes in staff and administrative personnel, it solidified into a tradition that continued for a number of years.

Although I have not forgotten the homemade red pepper jelly, the mouth-watering chocolate mints, or the gilt picture frames, the most enduring gifts that changed hands among participants did not involve wrapped packages tucked surreptitiously into our mailboxes. Instead, they were the recipes that we shared with each other when our food contributions to the communal meal were warmly received.

My family’s favorite is the scrambled egg casserole that a colleague’s wife sent each year and that I made for Christmas morning at our house for decades. It is a convenient make-ahead dish and one that warms the spirit on cold winter weekends. My daughter and her family now host our holiday brunch, and their one request is always that I bring Ted’s Eggs. Here they are. . .

Scrambled Egg Casserole (serves 6 – 8)

1 medium onion chopped and sautéed until soft

½ lb of bacon cooked until crisp and broken into bits

1 cup of fresh mushrooms thinly sliced and sautéed until soft

1 dozen large eggs scrambled until cooked but still soft

3 cups of light white sauce to which 1 1/8 cups of shredded cheddar cheese has been added.

Bread crumbs and paprika for topping

Assemble in a buttered 13×11 inch baking pan in the following order:

1) onion

2) bacon

3) mushrooms

4) eggs

5) cheese sauce

6) crumbs and paprika

Bake uncovered at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until heated through and bubbly.For reheating, remove a few minutes earlier, and cover with foil. Reheat at 325 degrees until warm.

Note: I cook the bacon on a foil lined cookie sheet at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until crisp and brown.

I use one pan for the onions, mushrooms, and scrambled eggs – wiping it clean with a paper towel after each ingredient is cooked and placed in the casserole dish ending with the scrambled eggs.