Strawberry Banana Walnut Bread

I have eight days of school left. EIGHT DAYS. 

One part of my brain is chanting happyhappyjoyjoy and the other part is becoming really emotional.  (Warning!) I will probably write an unnecessarily long post about it in a couple weeks.

Friday my school had a field trip to Carowinds, but because the trip is expensive, the majority of my students didn't go. Many stayed home, and some (of my favorite kids!) came to school.  Since all the other students were doing fun things, we didn't exactly want to spend the whole day in the classroom, so we set up a mini soccer tournament and played some pretty intense uno and I taught them how to play catchphrase and apples to apples. It was fun, and I realized how much more I like some of my students when I'm not responsible for their education. It's a little late for that realization, I know.

Anyway, since I've been kind of nostalgic lately, I decided to do one of my favorite childhood activities this weekend.

Strawberry Pickin'!!!

To add to my overly emotional state, I discovered that the strawberry farm I grew up going to every year had recently closed. We went to Smith's Nursery instead, which turned out to be almost as wonderful. 

It was a BEAUTIFUL day outside and I was as happy as I could be. I dragged Adam and his brother along, and while they weren't super enthused at first, they had fun in spite of themselves. 

It brought back lots of memories like this: 

(In case you were wondering, the kid in the burgundy shirt is not, in fact, a boy. That's me. Our friends Rachel and Justin are on the left and Becca and I are on the right. I was eight years old and my sister was five.  She is always the cuter one in photos and in real life. Please also notice that I have more strawberries than anyone else.)

Growing up, whenever we'd go strawberry picking, we would come home, help my mom cut and clean all the strawberries, and then make strawberry bread. 

This is one of those recipes that my mom has had forever. We make it the same way, every year, with no changes.

I didn't exactly want to change up something that was already perfect, nor did I want to break any of my mom's rules of baking, but in my opinion the ratio of sugar to flour in this bread was pretty high, especially considering it's more of a breakfast food than a dessert and I have a tendency to eat three slices of it in one sitting.

I eventually decided to cut out half of the sugar and replace it with mashed ripe banana.


The bread was slightly less sweet than the original, but I didn't miss the extra sugar at all. The banana flavor was present, but not overwhelming and added a touch of extra moistness. (always a plus)

This bread is perfection served warm or cold. A little butter on a slice would be good. A little strawberry cream cheese would be ridiculous. I'm sure you're already envisioning other ideas...
Traditions are important, but sometimes it's fun to add your own twist.

Strawberry Banana Walnut Bread

3 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup mashed ripe banana (about two large bananas)
4 eggs, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/4 cups canola oil
1/2 cup water
2 cups chopped fresh strawberries (or 2 10oz packages frozen strawberries, thawed and choppedD)
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 9 by 5 by 3 inch loaf pans by greasing and flouring.

Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl.

Make a well in the center of mixture. Combine banana, eggs, vanilla, canola oil and water in a medium sized bowl.

Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring until well combined.

Add in the strawberries and walnuts, then spoon mixture into 2 prepared loaf pans.

Bake for 50-60 minutes until top is golden brown and toothpick comes out clean.

Cool loaves in pans for about 10 minutes, then remove to wire rack and cool completely. 

Favorite Charlotte Restaurants & Dishes

It's amazing the difference a few years can make.

A little over three years ago, I had a mini break-down in the Charlotte Midtown Target parking lot. I had just moved into my new apartment in Charlotte, and my mom and sister were about to leave. I didn't know my roommates very well, and Adam had just been assigned to a six-month project in New York.

"I'm going to be all alone," I sobbed, wallowing in my little pity party and fear of change.

I think about that little episode every time I walk up those steps at Target, but now the memory just makes me smile. Those two roommates became good friends. Adam became my husband. Charlotte became my home.

Now that Adam and I are faced with our last month in Charlotte, we are already pining for the city that we have come to love. Some moments I feel overwhelmed with fear of yet another change, yet, as I said to my friend Sarah this weekend, at this point in my life, though the idea of change is scary, the idea of not changing is scarier.

Adam and I are soaking up as much of Charlotte as we can in our last days here, including our favorite places to eat. I thought it would be fun to share a few of them with you all.

Of course, I must first add the caveat that I am no real restaurant expert, nor did I receive any compensation for listing these places. Also, this is not an expansive list of the best restaurants or dishes in Charlotte; it's just a list of our favorites.  Some of them are places you'd expect. Others are off the beaten path. All of them are delicious.


Roasted Chicken at Pio Pio
This traditional Colombian restaurant is famous for their rotisserie chicken.  It's unassuming exterior in a strip mall made me overlook it at first, but it's well known for having some of the best chicken in Charlotte. They earned major points with me by serving almost an entire avocado with the meal.

Veggie Burger and Bison Burger at Bad Daddy's
Bad Daddy's is in walking distance to us, and we take advantage of that fact on a regular basis. Everything there is good, but my particular favorite is the black bean burger. It's deliciousness most likely stems from the fact that is is deep-fried, (also negating any health-value it might have over a regular burger) and believe me when I tell you it is the best veggie burger you will ever eat. Adam raves about the bison burger, but you can't really make a bad choice on their menu.

Subz Char Chandi (Vegetables in Coconut-Ginger Almond Sauce) at Copper
Copper is our equivalent of "fancy" Indian. They have traditional dishes as well as more modern spins on Indian fare. I love the fact that it's located in an old historic home on East Boulevard.

Plaza Midwood

Enchilades Verdes at Three Amigos
Three Amigos is authentic Mexican, and you can see that because Mexican natives still go there. They have several different kinds of enchiladas, but the mild verde sauce is our favorite.

Cary Tom  Ga Dau Hu (Curry Sauce with onion and sweet potato over rice) at Ben Thanh
Ben Thanh has a special place in my heart because it is located so close to my school. I first went there on a teacher work day with some of the other ESL teachers. This is an authentic Vietnamese restaurant. There may or may not be other English-speaking people in the restaurant with you, but you won't care because the food is so good. Their spring rolls are amazing as well.

Croque Madame at Lulu's
Lulu's is one of my favorite brunch spots in Charlotte. They serve traditional French food at reasonable prices, and the interior is as cute as the name.

Tapas at Soul
I feel very hip when I eat at soul because it's in the artsy area of Plaza Midwood. It's located directly above an art gallery that occasionally features nude models. They also have a dancing drag queen at brunch on the first Sunday of the month?? I haven't experienced that yet, but I've heard it's pretty interesting.

Homemade Pop-Tart at Sunflour Baking Company
Sunflour is my favorite local coffee and bakery.  I love their cappuccino's and all of their baked goods, though the homemade Pop-Tarts are a must given my history with them.


Sushi at Cowfish
Cowfish is fun, hip place to take friends. The menu is colossal and featues all kinds of specialty rolls, traditional rolls, and even make-your own rolls. They also have a large selection of burgers as well as "burgushi," which is sushi made with hamburger. It sounds strange, but tastes amazing, I promise.

Au Gratin Potatoes at Roosters
I could write an entire post about these potatoes. They are hands down the best au gratin potatoes I have ever eaten. Adam and I order them every time we go.  I'm pretty sure the only ingredients are butter, cheese, and heavy cream, but they are oh so worth it. Their baked chicken and pasta dishes are delicious too, but if you go you HAVE to order the potatoes. Trust me.


Chicken & red velvet waffles at Nana's
I only had a bite of these red velvet waffles, as I was not smart enough to order them at the time, but that one bite convinced me to put them on the list.  I can't advocate for eating the chicken and waffles together, but I can say that if you order the dish you won't regret it.

Pad Thai at Basil
I wish I could say that I've tried different items at Basil, but the pad thai is so good that I order it every single time. The traditional version comes with chicken and shrimp, but I order mine with broccoli and tofu. The serving is enough for about three people, but I never complain about leftovers.

Chicken Tagine at Blue
I've written about my love for Moroccan food before, and Blue was the original inspiration. Blue is probably our favorite restaurant in Charlotte. It's definitely a special occasion kind of place because of the price. It's special to me because my friend Tori threw a surprise party for me there last year.

Cupakes at Bar Cocoa
Bar Cocoa is located in the Ritz Carlton hotel in uptown. It's a fun place to go with friends after dinner. I'm a big fan of ordering several different kinds of cupcakes and sharing them.


Barbecue and Banana Pudding at Mac's
Adam is originally from Kansas City, so it's not surprising that barbecue is his favorite food. Therefore, if he likes a barbecue place, you know it's good. Mac's happens to be his favorite barbecue place in Charlotte. I'm not a huge meat eater, but I LOVE Mac's banana pudding. No surprises there.

Thanks for indulging me in this post! I'll be back with another recipe next week.


Almond Blondies (Gluten-Free!)

My mom taught me to dance in the kitchen. It was elaborate, silly ballroom dancing, with her in the lead and several twirls and dips. It was always impromptu and always fun, and she communicated some important lessons in that dancing. 

1. Be silly. Don't take yourself too seriously. 
2. The kitchen is a fun place. 
3. You're beautiful and I love you.

My mom also taught me several important food principles, some of which I learned through observation. When my sister and I were young and playing soccer every other week night, we frequented those chain buffet restaurants.  My mom would load up her plate with healthy stuff--lots of salad, chicken and vegetables. But then, THEN she would go back for dessert, which would include at least two different items with chocolate and maybe a little ice cream on top. 

Food Principle #1: Eat a healthy dinner so you can splurge on dessert. 

My mom baked a cake every week when she was a kid. She had two brothers and a sister, a military dad and a stay-at-home mom, and every Friday night she made a cake. She said with the six of them it only lasted the weekend.  

She did not continue to bake a cake every weekend when my sister and I were growing up, but we did work our way through our share of homemade ice cream, brownies, chocolate chip cookies and the like.  We learned the ins and outs of baking pretty early, and she'd even include a math lesson with adding fractions to measure out ingredients. 

I thought about my mom while I baked these blondies, even though I won't see her for another couple weeks. (I made them Friday night, and after giving a few away yesterday, Adam and I have already finished them!)  I substituted almond flour for regular flour, but, following my mom's food principles, that was the only change that I made. 

Food Principle #2: It's ok to make a substitution in a recipe, but never underestimate the power of real butter and real sugar. 

I was worried that using almond flour might affect the texture, but these were everything you'd want from a brownie--chewy in the middle but firm on the edges, studded with chunks of chocolate and a hint of almond flavor. The dough comes together in about 10 minutes, so you could have these to your table (or your face) in under an hour. 

They would be the perfect thing to make for someone who carried you around for nine months, or put up with you when you when you were an annoying teenager.  

They would be a great gift for someone you admire, or someone who is the hardest-working and best person that you know. 

Just make them and thank me later. 

I love you, mom. 

Almond Blondies (Gluten-Free!)

½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted and then cooled
1 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup almond butter
1 ½ cups almond flour/meal
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325. Grease an 8-inch square pan with butter or non-stick cooking spray.

Mix melted butter, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and almond butter in medium-sized bowl.

In a separate, large bowl, whisk together almond meal, baking powder and salt.  Add wet mixture to dry mixture, stirring until all lumps are gone. Add chocolate chips.  Pour into prepared ban and baked for 35-45 minutes or until edges are golden brown and middle is set.

Adapted from Macheesmo.

Wedding photo from Lime Green Photography.

Baked Blueberry Oatmeal with Lemon "Cream"

Adam and I have a lot of arguments discussions about our future hypothetical children.

Don't get excited. There are no babies in our immediate future, but we do talk about our parenting views and hopes for our potential offspring. Currently there are several issues we fervently disagree on.  The probability that these will get worked out before any future bebe arrives are unlikely, but at least we've got them out in the open, right?

Here are a few:

Guns: Um, guns scare me. I would prefer to never have one in my home.  Adam shot his first gun on his grandparent's farm when he was five. Both his parents grew up on farms, and though he's very serious about gun safety, he wants to own one and teach our future children how to shoot. Yikes.

College: I like to think that I'm pretty open-minded about our future children's college choices. I hope they go to whatever college they desire. Yes, I may dress my baby in some Carolina Blue, but I will be fully supportive if he/she decides to go to State. If Duke is the top pick, I will swallow my pride and attempt to pay that tuition bill. The Hubby? No so such luck. Not only does he proclaim that no child of his will attend UNC, he insists that said child will NEVER wear any Carolina Blue. Since I'll be the one carrying that kid for 9 months, I think I'll win out on this one...

Breakfast: I grew up in a home with pretty strict no-cereal-with-more-than-10-grams-of-sugar rule.  We'd have those canned Pillsbury cinnamon rolls for a treat on the weekend, but we didn't ever really eat other sugary-processed breakfast foods.  Adam, however, grew up on a steady supply of Coco Puffs, Lucky Charms, Corn Pops, and the like. Oh, and Pop-Tarts. He loves Pop-Tarts.  A Pop-Tart never graced the inside of the pantry at my house, and I don't think I tried my first one until college. I might have gotten a little high-and-mighty once and declared that none of my children will eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast or any other such processed "junk" food. I might have also used the fact that I had zero cavities and Adam had-ahem-more than one, as my evidence. To no avail.

Here's the problem...Pop-Tarts are kind of tasty. Yes, I said it.

I never bought them before, and thus was never tempted, but now that I'm living with Adam and have Pop-Tarts glaring at me from the middle shelf in the pantry, my self-control has been tested, and failed. On more than one occasion.

The issue is that I am a breakfast person. I know some people wake up in the morning without much of an appetite. Not the case for me. Half of the reason I get out of bed in the morning is to go eat a bowl of  cereal.

Some mornings when I'm really tired and really hungry and the last bit of my Kashi cereal doesn't seem remotely appetizing, I grab a Pop-Tart.  The only kind I ever eat are the brown sugar ones, which of course Adam has figured out and now buys just to taunt me and build support for his argument.

You can imagine my relief when I found a breakfast item that trumped any Pop-Tart cravings. A breakfast that is hearty and healthy while also filling that sweet-dessert-for-breakfast niche that Pop-Tarts so slyly hold. 

Meet this blueberry baked oatmeal.

This truly feels revolutionary in the oatmeal department. Don't get me wrong, I really like regular oatmeal. The instant packet kind, the regular stove-top version, the cold overnight oats kind all had their place on my breakfast table on many occasions. The only problem was they weren't craveable. Like, I didn't wake up and get excited about eating oatmeal. 

I battled this for a while until coming to the conclusion that I just needed to grow up and eat healthy oatmeal for breakfast whether I wanted it or not.  This was the way of the world, I thought. Breakfast will not always be an amazing meal. 

Then I discovered this recipe. 

I resisted posting it for a long time. There are so many versions of baked oatmeal on the inter webs, and I can take no credit for this particular one. I originally saw it on Orangette, but used the recipe on Lottie and Doof, both of which were taken from Heidi of 101 Cookbooks new cookbook, Super Natural Every Day.

But friends, I have made this baked oatmeal for four weeks in a row, and every morning when I have opened the fridge to get it out, I have been excited.

I have been excited about eating oatmeal for breakfast!

I think the magic comes in the baking. The egg, baking powder and vanilla extract make you feel as if you are making some kind of oatmeal cookie, however the two main ingredients--milk and oats--confirm that this is totally healthy breakfast material.

I added the lemon Greek yogurt "cream" this last time just to mix things up, and it was a lovely addition. The recipe is completely customizable. I've experimented with almond milk and regular milk, maple syrup and agave nectar, all of which produced equally craveable oatmeal. When blueberries were too expensive at the grocery store, I even tried a frozen berry mix, which was great as well. It's hard to mess this up.

I usually make it on Sunday nights and enjoy it for breakfast the rest of the week. The original recipe says 6 servings, but mine only lasts 4 or 5. (oops)

Go make this oatmeal! But if you really get a hankering for Pop-Tarts, try these.

Baked Blueberry Oatmeal with Lemon “Cream”

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal:

2 cups rolled oats
1/3 cup sweetener of your choice (I’ve switched it up each time and tried honey, agave nectar, maple syrup, and brown sugar. They were ALL delicious!)
1 tsp baking powder
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2 cups milk (Again, I’ve used both almond and regular milk with great results)
1 large egg
3 tablespoons butter, melted, plus more to grease the pan
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, mashed with a fork
1 ½ cups blueberries or mixed berries (about 1 1/2 containers)

Preheat oven to 375. Grease an 8 inch square baking dish or 9 inch round pie dish liberally with butter.

In a large bowl, mix together the oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.

In a large glass measuring container, add 2 cups milk. Then whisk in egg, mashed banana, melted butter, vanilla, and sweetener of your choice.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix well. Stir in blueberries. Pour into prepared pan and bake for 34-35 minutes or until the oatmeal has set and the top is golden. 

Easy Lemon “Cream”

1 16 oz container 2% plain Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons honey
juice of one lemon

Open the container of Greek Yogurt. Add honey and lemon juice. Mix well and refrigerate until ready for use. 

Tomato, Avocado & Garlic Pita Bread Salad

Sometimes I wonder how many recipes are born out of sheer desperation.  

So this is about to go bad and I have this and this to go with it, so let's just throw it together and see how it goes..... 

There were some mediocre meals that came out of those moments, probably some culinary disasters too, but there were definitely also some dishes of pure genius. I mean Ruth Wakefield thought the semi-sweet chocolate pieces she added to her butter cookies would melt, but they didn't.   And the chocolate chip cookie was born. 

This salad feels like a similar sort of revelation.   

The pita bread going stale on the counter that I almost thew away. 

The almost overripe tomatoes and avocados from our Saturday morning farmer's market visit.

The last bits of garlic and drips of olive oil in my kitchen. 

Providential mistake or stroke of genius, this is a salad that I will be making again and again. I've always loved tomato and avocado together, but the cripsy garlicky pita chips elevate this to serious crave-worthy-mealtime. Besides lemon juice, olive oil, and salt & pepper, the only ingredients are the ones you see below, and the whole things comes together in the 7 minutes it takes you to toast the pita bread.  As you noticed over the weekend, I have a thing for carbohydrates in my salads, and this is no exception. 

This salad would be perfect for lunch at work or a spring picnic outside, but if you're making it in advance, keep the pita chips separate and add them right before serving. They will get soggy if they sit for more than a couple hours. 

Also, Adam suggested adding bacon to this salad (surprise, surprise) which would most likely be crazy delicious as well. 

Go scrounge up some questionable ingredients in your kitchen and experiment! Then make this salad.

Tomato, Avocado & Garlic Pita Bread Salad

3 small ripe avocados
1 ½ large beefsteak tomatoes or 1 pint cherry tomatoes
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 ½ pieces whole wheat pita bread, or 3 slices of sandwich bread
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil
½ tablespoon lemon juice (I used the bottled kind, but fresh would be great!)
sea salt

Preheat Oven to 400

Rip pita bread into bite-sized pieces and then scatter across a large cookie sheet.  Sprinkle with minced garlic and drizzle with olive oil. Use your hands to evenly distribute the oil and garlic all over the pita pieces.

Bake for 7-8 minutes, stirring once to prevent burning.

Meanwhile, cut up avocados and tomatoes and put in large bowl.  Sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper and pour in lemon juice.

Remove pita bread from the oven. If serving immediately, add to the salad. Otherwise, refrigerate tomato/avocado mixture and add pita right before serving. Once added, the pita bread will stay crisp for about 2 hours.