Hearty Salad with Black Beans, Tomatoes, Avocado & Hearts of Palm

I have fallen in love with the eight year old version of my husband. 

This has been a summer of many moves for us. My sister moved. Adam and I moved. Adam's brother moved. And last weekend, Adam's parent's moved. 

Along with moving comes, of course, the much needed sorting through of things. So. many. things. (Why do I have this many bottles of old sunscreen? When is the last time I wore this shirt? Where do I put the endless amounts of dirty pennies and safety pins that I seem to be hoarding?)

Adam's parents' move was a bit different from ours though, as they'd lived in the house for 17 years and were moving 850 miles away. Oh, and his mom saved everything. I held his baby socks and rifled through many a box of toys and action figurines. (Are old Power Rangers toys reallllly that collectible?) 

Then, when sorting through a large pile of old school projects, I found his third grade journal. 

From what I can gather, his third grade teacher was fantastic. They wrote animal musicals, rapped about third grade life, and wrote in their journal EVERY DAY.  Most entries, I have to admit, are cute but not revelatory. (I like dinosaurs. Dinosaurs were huge. I think dinosaurs were neat. I like the Tricerotops. Tyrannasaurs was neat.)

However, third grade was also the year that Adam's family learned they would be moving from Georgia to North Carolina, so there were several entries like this: "I don't want to move! I have to move to North Carolina. I will miss all my friends. I'll have to go to a new school." or "I want my dad. He is up in North Carolina. I miss him."

As much as moving makes me hate things and want to be an uber organized minimalist, I have to admit that I loved sifting through these things that represented the different stages in my husband's life. We're such self-centered creatures that we imagine that people and places only exist in the time we experience them. In relationships, there are only certain parts of our significant other's past that we really care about. (Exactly how many girls did you kiss before me???)

Of course, I saw bits and pieces of the Adam I know and love today, but finding that journal also opened my eyes to parts of Adam that I had never known. An airplane/car/ dinosaur-loving, Power Ranger-watching, lego-playing kid that I completely and utterly adore. I didn't think it was possible to love the current Adam any more than I already do but--as the saying goes--you learn something new everyday.

Today's recipe is perfect for summer because it can be ready in less than ten minutes. There's no cooking involved, and considering it's a salad, it requires minimal chopping.

I first made a version of this salad four years ago with my cousin when we were visiting my grandparents in Florida. She's a vegetarian and makes protein-filled salads like this frequently. If you've never tried hearts of palm before, I encourage you to try them in this salad. They're a vegetable harvested from the inner core of certain palm trees, and they come canned. Hearts of Palm are very mild in flavor, and honestly, I think I enjoy them most for the texture they brings to a salad. I first ate them on salads in Italy, but I have been buying them here in the U.S. ever since. You can find them on the canned vegetable aisle, and though they may be difficult to spot amongst the cans of green beans, most grocery stores have them.

The original version of this salad has canned corn in it as well, but seeing as I've overdone it with fresh corn recently, and seeing as I have a documented problem with avocado, I decided to use that instead. This salad is light, but filling, slightly sweet, but savory, and incidentally--despite being a salad--a great vehicle for dipping tortilla chips.

Finally, since I'm talking about discoveries today, I wanted to share a few finds from the web. I'm constantly overwhelmed by the number of beautiful food blogs out there, (You can find the ones I love here.) but this week I discovered some that blew me away.

The First Mess may make you question everything about your life. Why don't I live out in the country in Ontario between a peach orchard and a vineyard?  Why don't I make and photograph exquisite vegan food and eat only vegetables? 

The writing on Local Milk is vulnerable and achingly beautiful, especially this post. Be ready to have your life view changed. 

Enjoy, friends!

Hearty  Salad with Black Beans, Tomatoes, Avocado & Hearts of Palm

1 can of black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can of hearts of palmed, sliced
2 medium tomatoes, chopped into small pieces (or 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved)
1 1/2 ripe avocados, sliced
1/2 cup red onion, diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 tsp white wine vinegar
1/4 tsp cumin
salt and pepper to taste


In a medium bowl, mix together black beans, hearts of palm, tomatoes, avocado, onion and cilantro.

In a separate, small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, vinegar, and cumin. Pour dressing over salad and toss. Add salt and pepper to your taste. Refrigerate for up to 3 hours.

*Some fresh summer corn or a can of mexicorn would be a great addition to this salad. I've been over-doing it on summer corn lately, which is why I did not add it here.

Simple Cherry Almond Cake

Friends, I'm not sure what kind of food blogger does this. Two cakes, two weeks in a row in JULY?  WHAT?

This was not in my plan, of course. My plan was to bring you a healthful, veggie-loaded pizza on a homemade multi-grain Hawaiian-inspired crust. 

BUT, then this week happened. This week with it's share of, um, NOT ideal moments. 

Let's see, I locked myself out of the house, (twice) got a parking ticket, ran over a turtle, (I'm a terrible person, I know) showed up at 2:00 for a 4:00 meeting, thought I had lost my cellphone, (and made a 15 minute drive back, only to discover I had been sitting on it the whole time) broke one of the champagne glassed from our wedding, (and by broke, I mean it flew off the top shelf--where I had precariously placed it--hit me in the arm, and shattered into a thousand shards of glass all over the counter.)  Oh, and our kitchen sink has been completely clogged and nonfunctional for the past 48 hours. 

I'm not sure if all these mishaps are the cause of, or the result of my general fatigue and/or emotional state, but suffice it so say it's been a rough week. Seemingly innocuous tasks like transferring a prescription or buying a parking permit have somehow morphed into majorly stressful life events that I can't.even.handle. 

Normal people, I presume, do relaxing things when they are stressed, like watch t.v. or read a book or a take a bubble bath. What do I do? Bake cakes. An hour and half before I have to be somewhere. In a kitchen with a nonfunctional sink. And no electric mixer. (Did I mention that I accidentally turned mine on while my finger was in it last weekend when making the amaretto cake? I seriously thought I'd broken my finger. Taking a break from that joker for a while. Adam if you're reading, I'd like a Kitchen Aid mixer for Christmas, in aqua. )

Any-who. This is a beautiful cake for so many reasons, the main ones being that it is sweet-moist-tender-delicious, kinda healthy, and very easy to create. After I tasted it, I knew I had to share it with you.

I'm revealing all my secrets today. Have you ever read a recipe that says "butter, softened" and thought, "Man, I wish I was the kind of responsible baker who left their butter out on the counter overnight so that it would be perfectly softened." and then, somewhat shamefully, microwaved your butter in 10 second increments until it resembled "softened" but not completely melted, all the meanwhile fervently praying it wouldn't screw up your recipe? Me neither.

In a kitchen with a nonfunctional sink, certain sacrifices and short-cuts have to be made. I microwaved my butter.  I used a whisk instead of an electric mixer. And, because it's summer and I'm still trying to be healthy, I substituted half of the flour for almond meal.  Then I placed way too many cherries on top, pressed them into the batter gently with my hands and placed that cake in the oven.

What emerged 40 minutes later was a warm, gem of a cake. Unevenly studded with deeply purple cherries, the cake was, as I would like to think Adam might describe me in the midst of my woes this week, (but, who I am kidding??)  a beautiful mess.

Simple Cherry Almond Cake

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, about half solid/half melted
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal/flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup sugar
3 large eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract
2 cups pitted sliced cherries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 9-inch spring foam pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, amond meal, baking powder and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the partially melted butter and sugar until smooth. Add eggs and almond extract and continue whisking until smooth. Gradually whisk in flour mixture, stirring until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth with a spoon. Place cherries on top, aiming to cover the entire surface. Once cherries are placed, use your hands to gently press the cherries into the batter.

Bake for 40-45 minutes.

Adapted from Martha Stewart.

Amaretto Cake with Lavender Icing

I have one major regret from my wedding day, and that is that I only ate one bite of my wedding cake. 

That one bite was phenomenal, but then I got whisked away for toasts and the father/daughter dance and visiting with out-of-town family, and then, well you know how it goes. 

The cake was from Miel Bon Bons Bakery, and it was amaretto with lavender frosting.  I've always loved lavender as a scent but had never really considered it as a dessert flavoring until our cake tasting. It was exquisite and unusual, and we knew after our first bite that this would be our wedding cake flavor.

Since I've been pining for that cake ever since, I knew I wanted to try to recreate it at some point, and our one year anniversary seemed like the perfect occasion. The only real challenge in this recipe is procuring the lavender extract and petals, which I was lucky enough to stumble upon in a spice shop in Charlotte. (And actually, if you find lavender petals, you can make your own extract.)

The cake itself is light and fluffy thanks to the whipped egg whites that you fold into the batter before baking. I wanted the icing to be light too, so instead of a typical buttercream with lots of, well, butter, I opted for a simpler glaze--icing with just powdered sugar and whole milk. This type of icing is more difficult to decorate with and will harden slightly after application, but I found it's lightness more suited to my summer-time cake craving--if you can call 5 cups of powdered sugar "light."

Adam and I have been reminiscing over many a memory from that weekend one year ago, but instead of going on about all the blissful moments of the day here with you, (of which there were, admittedly, many) I thought it would be funnier to give you a list of all the NOT PERFECT things that happened.  Just so I have it all down on record. 

1.) About three hours before the rehearsal dinner, my mom broke out in red hives, later determined to be a reaction to the fish tacos she ate at the bridesmaid's luncheon. 

2.) The wedding earrings I ordered two weeks before the wedding did not come in time.  My bridesmaids and I went rushed to Nordstrom before the rehearsal dinner and bought new ones. 

3.) On our way to the rehearsal dinner from the church, Adam's brother realized he had left the slideshow DVD at the hotel. We drove back to get it and were then 30 minutes late for the rehearsal dinner. 

4.) After the wedding ceremony, Adam and I hopped into the nice black luxury car we had rented to drive us to the reception. The driver was from Dunn (bad decision on our part) and did not know where he was going. Adam had to break out the GPS on his phone to get us there. 

5.) There were two sets of direction cards at the church--one set with directions from the church to the rehearsal dinner restaurant in Raleigh and one set with directions from the church to the reception site in Durham. After the wedding, my mom proceeded to hand out direction cards to people as they were leaving. Guess which ones she handed out? Yep. One of my friends drove to Raleigh after the wedding. 

5.) Even though we dropped off the wine at the caterer's in clearly labeled boxes, they forgot it. They went back and picked it up, and it was no big deal, but I was a teensy bit stressed to hear about it while taking photos. 

6.) It rained. Twice. Once about the time when guests were driving to the wedding and once between the wedding and reception. Oh, and it was already hot, but the rain made it HUMID HUMID HUMID.  We both nearly passed out after taking photos outside for 2 hours and had to be revived a little before our first dance.

7.) Someone forgot to get the corn hole boards out of Adam's truck for the cocktail hour. However, we did pull them out later in the night and our guests enjoyed them. 

8.) Our DJ played the Electric Slide and the Macarena. At first I cringed and thought "Oh God, cheesy!" BUT it got everyone out on the dance floor laughing, so it was ok. 

And those are just the problems I am aware of. There were probably more. From that list it sounds like my wedding was a hot mess, but it wasn't. All the little kinks worked themselves out, and everything turned out ok. 

I think with Pinterest and all the wedding blogs around these days we've created this notion of the "perfect" wedding with ethereal flowers and endless amounts of personalized details. All those things are wonderful, and it is fun to plan a creative wedding that reflects you as a couple, but at the end of your wedding night, you're probably not going to remember exactly how the cake table looked, or if someone's place card was missing. I know I didn't.

My favorite memory was standing at the altar, looking into the eyes of my new husband and singing "Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing." The emotion of the day had finally hit me, and I was crying big ugly tears, but I was surrounded by all the people I loved in the world, feeling so blessed, so complete and so happy. It was a perfectly unplanned moment, which is exactly how the best moments are.

Later, there was of course that bite of cake.... :)

Amaretto Cake

5 eggs
2 1/2 cups sugar, divided
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
2 tsp baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup amaretto
3 cups all purpose flour


Preheat oven to 325.

Separate the egg whites and egg yolks into two large mixing bowls. Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add 1/2 cup of the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks form. set aside. 

In the bowl with the egg yolks, add the butter, sugar, salt, baking powder, and extracts. Beat with mixer until completely smooth. 

Combine buttermilk, amaretto, and baking soda.  Continue blending the egg mixture with the electric beaters, alternately adding the flour and the buttermilk/amaretto mixture, beginning and ending with the flour. Once fully blended, gently fold in the egg white mixture. 

Pour batter into 3 greased and floured 9-inch cake pans. Bake at 325 for 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cook in pans for 10 minutes, then remove and cool completely on wire racks. 

Lavender Icing

5-6 cups confectioner's (powdered) sugar
2/3 cups whole milk
3/4 tsp lavender extract
3/4 tsp vanilla extract
6 drops blue food coloring
4 drops red food coloring
lavender petals for sprinkling

Using an electric mixer, blend powdered sugar, milk, and extracts until desired consistency. To thicken, add more powdered sugar. To thin, add more milk. Add food coloring and mix well. Frost cake immediately or icing will harden. Sprinkle top layer with lavender petals. 

Amaretto Cake adapted from Cookie Madness.
Lavender Icing adapted from Martha Stewart
Wedding photos from Lime Green Photography


Tomato & Avocado Sandwiches with Roasted Garlic Mayo & Balsamic Reduction

I have a problem with avocados. 

A problem, as in, I can’t get enough of them.  I eat at least three a week, and I might have gone through a little avocado withdrawal last week at the beach after not having one for four days.

They’re creamy and savory and have the ability to add that extra oomph to any dish. Your black beans and rice is good? Avocado makes it fantastic. Chickpea and quinoa salad is tasty? Avocado makes it ridiculous.

You can see where this is going.

Now this sandwich has a couple extra steps, because it’s fancy, but I promise it’s worth the extra time.  Think friends-over-for-lunch-time. Or make-someone's-day-time. Or treat-your-self-time.  You're worth it, trust me.

Even though I enjoy adding avocados to pretty much everything, one of my favorite ways to enjoy them is between two slices of bread.

I got this avocado sandwich idea about three years ago.  I was in a creative non-fiction class in college and one of my classmates was a reading a memoir piece about growing up in Hawaii. She described surfing all day with her dad and brothers and collapsing, ravenous, onto the beach, and then eating avocado sandwiches with mayo and garlic salt out the back of an old pick-up truck.

Something about that sounded immediately appealing to me. I created the sandwich for lunch the next day with some added tomato and have been eating it regularly ever since.

I’ve made this combination plenty of times on plain bread with garlic salt and nothing else, but recently I’ve been toying around with a few different variations. I think I have found my favorite one yet. 

Today we are going all out on the sandwich front. 

Buy a fresh loaf of your favorite bread.
Buy the prettiest tomatoes you can find. (Farmer’s market or the garden variety are best.)
Buy a perfectly ripe avocado. (Or wait for one to ripen to perfection.)

The first step in this process is to take a big bitter head of garlic and roast it into sweet buttery submission.  The garlic completely breaks down a becomes soft and fragrant. You crush the soft submissive garlic with a fork and mix it in with some mayonnaise. It's lovely. And I never use that word to describe mayonnaise because usually I hate the stuff, so you know this is serious. 

While the garlic is roasting, you whip up the super fancy sounding but super easy balsamic reduction. Basically you pour some balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan, keep it on a low boil for 15 minutes, and watch as it reduces and becomes more sauce-like. With majorly intensified flavor. Win!

Now it's time to assemble our fancy sandwich.  I get very picky about which-condiments-go-on-which-slice-of-bread-touching-which ingredients.  You can follow my rules or make your own. 

Spread some of that roasted garlic mayo on one slice of bread.

Lay a few slices of avocado overtop. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

On your other slice of bread, lay out the tomatoes, then drizzle with balsamic reduction. Devour.

This sandwich will be extremely messy. The avocado slices will slide out and the tomato juices will drip all over your fingers. However, you will be in such a sandwich-induced-euphoria that you won't even care. Trust me.

Tomato and Avocado Sandwiches with Roasted Garlic Mayo and Balsamic Reduction

1 large tomato
1 large ripe avocado
fresh sliced bread of your choice
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 head of garlic
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Remove most of the outer skins from the head of garlic, then use a sharp knife to remove the very tips of the cloves.

Place on a baking sheet, drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, and then roast for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, add balsamic vinegar to a small saucepan on medium high heat. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to medium. Continue to maintain a low boil for 15 minutes, stirring frequently. The vinegar should reduce in volume by half and should resemble barbecue sauce in appearance and consistency.

When garlic is done, use a fork to spear each clove and remove from skins. Place onto a small plate and use a fork to mash cloves into paste. Add mayonnaise and mix well.

To assemble sandwich, spread garlic mayo on one slice of bread, then add avocado and tomato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with balsamic reduction.