It was a classic culinary disaster, and the solution was, too, though I didn't know that until later. An hour before the guests were due, and just seconds before the air quality went belly up, I watched millions of nimble, shimmering black thread-things come dancing out of the kitchen on a jet stream of air conditioning. For an instant I thought it was something out of Doonesbury . . . then I knew it was worse; it was a meltdown. I'd allowed the rice steamer to run out of water and . . . I had an emergency on my hands .

Dealing with a fried steamer was easy, but it sure made me feel dumb. Dealing with a house full of air that smelled like melted aluminum was another problem altogether, but the sight of three bananas two days over the hill provided the solution: a bread . . . quick banana bread! The following recipe, which does not require a disaster as a reason for making, was created in seconds, and the first model was in the oven (and the kitchen was spotless) a good 40 minutes before the first guest arrived . . . exactly on time ! 911 BANANA BREAD 1 1/2 cups flour 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 2 teaspoons wheat germ 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1/4 teaspoon baking soda 1/2 teaspoon salt 1/3 cup shortening 1/2 cup honey 1 teaspoon minced lemon rind 3/4 teaspoon vanilla 1 egg 3 bananas 1/2 cup chopped walnuts 3 prunes, finely chopped Cinnamon for top

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Mix together and set aside the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, wheat germ, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Blend the shortening, honey, lemon rind and vanilla in a mixing bowl and then add the egg and bananas and blend until smooth. Add the sifted ingredients a little at a time to the liquid ingredients, blending continuously. Fold in the nuts and chopped prunes, and pour the batter into a greased bread pan and sprinkle cinnamon on top. Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until done.

By the time the last guests had arrived the house was filled with the gentle redolence of banana bread . . . and that's a fragrance that awakens the sleepiest taste buds.

Shortly after the bread was removed from the oven it fell flat on its cinnamon dusted face. Oh no ! One of the guests laughed and suggested the old touch must be fading, while another went straight to the cabinet over the stove, pulled out the baking powder, and said: s

"Here's your problem. Do you know how long it's been since this stuff sold for 24 cents? It's lost its oomph, that's all."

Early the next morning I repeated the recipe with brand new (and much costlier) baking powder. The bread rose like an angel and I finally grasped the eloquent truth of General Robert E. Lee's celebrated woords: "Deep your powder dry, boys, and keep it fresh!"

I used baking powder and baking soda, for those of you who are wondering, because the soda neutralizes the acidity of the honey and lemon rind.