Strawberry Chocolate Banana Bread

My fridge is stuffed right now.

Not because we have a crazy amount of food.  I mean, we always have sort of a crazy amount of food in our house, but this time it’s just because it’s summer.

Summer stuffs our fridge for two reasons.  The first is that everything delicious is in season.  Cherries and apricots are on their way out, peaches are at their peak, and tomatoes are just about ready.  We’ve had to start bringing the cart to the market with us because It’s kind of impossible to carry around three Weiser Farm’s melons, a bag of peaches and a flat of tomatoes.  For three hours.

Talk about a food blogger workout.

The second reason our fridge is stuffed is because we don’t have air conditioning.  So if we left those tomatoes I’m in love with out on the counter for more than twelve hours, we would not only have tomato mush, but we would also have a swarm of fruit flies.

No bueno.

Somehow recently, a few bananas got left out in the fruit bowl in the summer heat.  And I kept telling myself they’d be ok or that I’d finish them in the morning. But then I was having breakfast and I realized I could smell the bananas on the shelf next to me.  It wasn’t a bad smell, just a “use me now or I’ll turn into a big blob of gross” smell.

One of the bananas even looked like this, so I was almost sure I’d just be throwing the whole bunch away.

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Except when I peeled it, just to make sure, the banana inside looked just right…

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Which, of course, meant banana bread!

I started looking up recipes.  I also discovered I had a pint of strawberries that were on their last days.  (Strawberries and bananas take a back seat to stone fruit in this house, I guess.)  I figured I’d throw them in the mix.  I started making a grocery list.  I almost headed out the door.

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But before I did, I just happened to stumble across a recipe for chocolate banana bread.  Chocolate. Banana. Bread.  I had an epiphany where I realized that the combination of chocolate and banana in bread was even better than banana and walnuts.  And sounded so much more like dessert than breakfast…

Plus, I was still going to add in strawberries.

Yep. I was making Strawberry Chocolate Banana Bread.

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Banana bread is one of those comfort foods that just makes me happy.  It’s fluffy and light and crunchy and is kind of like a cake, but can definitely be categorized as breakfast.

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This banana bread was even better.  Even more decedent.  Even more tempting to just cut yourself off a piece every time you happened to be near the kitchen.

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I truly had to give away half of this loaf because it was so rich and delicious and amazing.  But mostly because I’m supposed to be on a post-vacation detox, and I just couldn’t stop eating it.

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No one I gave it to seemed to mind too much.  It was almost like a giant strawberry brownie.  And topped with vanilla ice-cream on a hot summer day?  Oh. My. Gosh.

Give it a try.  I promise you’ll be tempted to always leave your bananas out a little too long when the temperature goes up…

xoxo

Strawberry Chocolate Banana Bread

ever so slightly adapted from smitten kitchen’s Double Chocolate Banana Bread

3 medium very ripe bananas
1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 cup flour
1/2 cup Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 cup Strawberries, chopped
3-4 Strawberries, sliced length-wise for topping

Heat your oven to 350°F. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan.

Mash bananas in the bottom of a large bowl. Whisk in melted butter, then brown sugar, egg, & vanilla. Use as sifter to sift baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), flour and cocoa powder over wet ingredients. Stir dry and wet ingredients with a spoon until just combined. Stir in chopped strawberries.

Pour into prepared pan, top in whichever design you’d like with the remaining strawberry slices, and bake 55 to 65 minutes, until a tester or toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 to 15 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and invert it out onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

My Perfect Lake Day

Let me just tell you.  There isn’t much that is more opposite of living in Los Angeles than packing everything up and heading to our favorite lake house in Burdett, New York.

One of my favorite parts about heading to the part of the country where Brad grew up is when I tell people I’m going on vacation to New York.  You see them immediately think of sky scrapers and shopping and Broadway and subways and crowds of people.  They ask where I’m staying and what I’m doing.  They expect days of crazy plans and lots of hustle and bustle.

No, no, no.

Here’s how the lake works.

We hop onto this big jet plane, typically sometime just before midnight, and we do our very best to get a few hours of sleep before landing minutes after sunrise somewhere on the east coast.  This time, it happened to be Newark.

IMG_5317We rub our eyes, we reset our watches, and we scramble down the terminal to a much smaller gate where we are shuffled with about twenty other travelers onto a plane that I like to pretend is my very own private jet.

IMG_5321The propellers spin and whir. Brad falls back asleep.  I – the “expert” traveler – am the one who never gets comfortable in those tiny planes.  We are only up in the air for about an hour.

The airport we land at has one baggage terminal.  It has maybe two gates.  The air feels heavier than Los Angeles.  The people seem calmer.  The trees are infinitely more green.

We drive down to the house where we are staying.  The road is definitely not paved.  It is lined with grapevines and a dog or a chicken or two putting around.

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We pull up to the house and Brad is down on the dock before you can blink.  He grew up here.  He feels the most at peace next to this lake.IMG_5807 Not that I can blame him.  All of the stress and noise of big city living fades away here.  All you can hear is the heavy trickle of a creek draining rainwater down off of the hills.  The sky is the bluest blue I can imagine.  Clouds hardly look real, floating in the sky like they were placed just where they were meant to be.  Water gently laps past the dock.  Sun beats down, and I remember how long it’s been since I’ve had a tan.IMG_5783Brad finds a handful of old fishing rods and it is vacation time in full swing.
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While he untangles the lines and fiddles with lures, it’s my opportunity for a day-after-red-eye nap in the loft – the only room in the place with any type of air conditioning.IMG_5382Later, we head down to the Marina in search of dinner and a little sight-seeing.
IMG_5346 We explore the new fancy hotel restaurant in town.  We have a wonderful dinner, discover a new type of clams (Tiger Clams) and I get about a zillion mosquito bites.IMG_5985 Just before the sun sets, we decide to head back to the lake house for the evening.IMG_5351

Brad tries his hand once more at catching a perch.  Or a salmon, because apparently his uncle has caught one in the lake before…

Really, he tries to catch anything other than seaweed.  But nothing is nibbling.

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Meanwhile, I sit by my fisherman husband on the dock with a glass of rosé.  I watch as the sun sinks behind the trees and turns the sky wild pastels of pink, orange and blue.  I breathe in the humidity and let it frizz my hair into a wavy mess.  I enjoy the quiet.  I forget all about traffic.  I laugh and tell stories with family.  I try my hand – and fail – at fishing.

IMG_5961The sun is gone for the day.  We see a million stars that you could never see in Los Angeles.  We watch the fireflies and sit close to the citronella candles.  And just before 11pm, we can’t keep our eyes open any longer.  We head to bed and dream until we can do almost the same thing tomorrow.

There’s really nothing like the lake in the summer.

xoxo

 

Lake Light

Ahhhhh….

Just yesterday I got back from the most relaxing vacation.

Brad and I headed back east for his brother’s wedding, and ended up making a trip out of it.  We saw family.  We saw friends.  We hung out by the lake and ate until our pants were extremely tight.  We both have really big new projects coming up, so it was the perfect get away to gear us up for all of the hard work we have ahead.

But yesterday, we flew back to Los Angeles. We picked up our pup and gave her a bath.

And then we got right back to work.

So before I put on my work uniform today and get ready to head in for the twelve hours ahead of me (my bank account will thank me!!), I wanted to relive one little part of vacation.  I started scrolling through the hundreds of pictures I took on my phone.  And I was drawn to the photos that captured the amazing light at the lake.  How it poured through the trees.  How it dipped below the horizon.  How it glimmered and glowed and cast a golden haze over our lazy summer nights.

IMG_5851 IMG_5862 IMG_5903 IMG_5847It seemed like every evening I was inspired by the colors and the brilliance of the setting sun.  Maybe today I was drawn to these photos because it’s a chilly, gray morning. Maybe I’m missing the warm blanket of humidity and the relaxation of summer vacation.  Maybe I’m missing the quiet so thick that you can hear your own heart beating.

IMG_5947 IMG_5967 IMG_5966Maybe this week it’s back to reality.  But I found so much inspiration and beauty these past couple of weeks.  Now, I’m recharged and ready for all of the challenges ahead.

xoxo

 

The Star of the Show: Artichoke Flowers

I bought a ridiculous amount of produce at the market this week.

I can’t help it.  Stone fruit is in season.  There were bags of apricots, bags of peaches, nectarines, and a handful of something called a plum cot (those were gone within 3 minutes, easily).  There were thoughts of pies and jams and other delicious pastries in my near future.

I could barely carry my bags by the time we got back to the car.  Maybe it should have been a cart kind of day.  You know it’s almost summer when I have to break out the cart.  Oh man, I just thought about tomato season…

Don’t even get me started on tomato season.  I have to start saving my money now.

But this week there was a particular item that everyone was talking about.  They were poking out of everyone’s bags, and people who hadn’t discovered them kept asking me where I found mine.

Artichoke flowers.

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Gorgeous and kind of exotic, these are simply artichokes that have grown past the edible stage.  The artichokes that we eat are the flower bud before it blooms.

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Once the artichoke has reached this stage, the fruit becomes super coarse and basically inedible, but it is still quite a conversation starter.  The flower almost reminded me of sea anemone and they were super soft.  Brad really, really liked them, so we picked up a giant one for him to walk around with.

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Everyone wanted to touch our artichoke flower.

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Before we left the market, we were gifted a couple other, smaller artichoke flowers, and I threw them all together at home in a funky artichoke flower arrangement.

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Apparently I just can’t get enough of produce as decoration.

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xoxo

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Rainy Day Blackberry Lavender Spritzer

I try to be a pretty positive person.  I really believe that you get what you give out into this world, so might as well make it happy.  Might as well find a reason to smile even when it seems like everyone else has lost their minds.

A good friend used to always quote “the sun is shining somewhere, even when it rains.”  I like that.  I try to think of the sun shining while I’m sloshing through the puddles.  It’s just the better way to spend my time.  And I swear, the energy is contagious.

But man, every now and then you take your car in for an oil change two weeks before an exciting, big vacation you’ve been trying to save a tiny bit of money for, and – instead of just oil – your car needs a month’s rent worth of repairs.

Puddles.  Big, muddy puddles.  Maybe even without rain boots.  Because who owns rain boots in Los Angeles?

After we authorized radiators and belts and whatnot, Brad hung up the phone and I made a decision.

It was officially happy hour.

The good thing (sunshine!) was we had also just gotten home from the market, where we had gone crazy buying all kinds of fruits, vegetables, cage free eggs, raisins, and pork.  I figure we were stocked food-wise until at least vacation in a couple of weeks, so we would just have to live off of our bounty and spend our food budget instead on radiators…

I was starting the saving with my cocktail, going right for these giant, tart but kind of sweet blackberries that I had bought on a whim from my favorite cherry stand.

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And then I muddled them up, because muddling always makes drinks feel more festive and happy.  Yes, I used a blue Rolling Stones tongue glass as a shaker.  Because why not?  Mick Jagger makes me happy.  This happy hour was all about finding happy.

Finding sunshine.

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I added some gin, some of my lavender simple syrup (lavender again for the win!), and a little bit of bubble, then I threw a berry and a sprig of lavender on top.  By then, my drink was so pretty that I took it outside for it’s very own photo shoot.

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And I stuck a purple/blue party straw in there…

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Yep, this was definitely the cocktail to cheer up with.

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Well, this cocktail, plus FaceTiming with the parents who were sitting on their screened-in porch during an actual rainstorm back home.

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It was kind of nice to hear the rain behind them.  I forget how much I love a good rainstorm – literal or figurative.  The downpour brings growth, brings new life, brings the green to plants that grow delicious blackberries for cocktails…

And although the rain might just bring mud at first, things will dry up.  That sun is still out there somewhere.  It’ll be back.  We will work things out.

Until then, pour yourself something festive, muddle it, shake it up, and find yourself a party straw in whichever color you’d like.  Because nights at home being broke aren’t so bad when you have a lovely husband to make you dinner, a pup to give you kisses and cuddles, a fruity cocktail to keep you cool, and a million ideas and projects on the horizon to devote all of your energy into.

Thanks for being my rain boots, guys. :)

xoxo

Blackberry Lavender Spritzer

2 oz gin (I used Bombay Sapphire)
3/4 oz lavender simple syrup
3 large blackberries
2 oz soda water

In a shaker, muddle blackberries and lavender syrup together.  Add gin and fill shaker with ice, shaking to mix.  Pour into glass and top with soda water.  Garnish with whole berries or fresh lavender sprigs.

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Lavender (or Rosemary!) Shortbread Cookies

I bought all of that lavender.  I dried it all and picked all of the buds.  I made a delicious cocktail with it.

But this is what I was planning on the whole time.

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I have this semi-vivid memory of being at a restaurant a long time ago and being served dessert.  And whatever the dessert itself was, I remember that it was served with this amazing little rosemary shortbread cookie.

I say semi-vivid because I can still taste that cookie.  I crave that cookie.  But I can’t really figure out where that memory came from… I sort of remember it being a chocolate dessert.  I think it was at a great restaurant in New York.

I think it was with dessert…?

All that’s important is that tiny little cookie.

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After making those caramel shortbread cookies a few weeks back, I kind of got on a shortbread kick.  I was noticing it everywhere.  I loved it’s buttery flavor.  I was fascinated with seeing bloggers garnish their versions of the caramels with lavender instead of seasalt.  I had never thought to garnish something with dried flowers before.

Plus, I kept trying to place where the heck I experienced this rosemary shortbread cookie.

No use.  The details of that memory are gone.  I’m trying to just be thankful for the bits and pieces I have locked away to replay over and over…

Mother’s Day was coming up, and I decided that I wanted to send something sweet and little home to all the mothers that are so special in my life back on the east coast.  My mother and extended mothers are always so supportive of what I do here on the blog. They are constantly commenting on the drool my recipes inspire from across the country, so I wanted to give them a little taste of what I am always working on.

I decided on toying around with that cookie obsession a little and used those gorgeous little purple buds I’d so diligently picked to make a Mother’s Day treat.

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I was kind of afraid the cookies would come out tasting like soap or some other body ointment from a lotion store at the mall.  Or that the buds would be dry and crunchy and weird.  But if I wasn’t going to send actual flowers to all the moms, I thought cookies with flowers in them had to be just as good.

Right?  Moms?

I also decided that I had to try my hand at the rosemary version since I couldn’t get it off my mind.

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Once the dough was made, I split it into two parts and added lavender to one half and rosemary to the other.  Even the doughs were gorgeous.

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It’s not often I think how beautiful my dough is… I usually just want to eat it immediately.  This one also had that effect, but not until after I had taken a billion pictures.

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And after they were rolled out, cut out and baked, it was hard to decide which one was better.

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I ended up sending a mix of both flavors to all of the moms back east.  I’m not sure they made it there un-crumbled, but based on the couple that I saved for myself, they would have been just as amazing in tiny, little crumbly pieces.

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The lemon flavor was perfect with the herbs (and flowers).  And the icing was perfect and simple and sweet.

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Although it wasn’t the exact flavor I remembered from that tiny shortbread cookie all those years ago, I’m happy to keep experimenting until I figure it out.

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I am also curious about using thyme…  But I’m sure there will be a next time very, very soon.

xoxo

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

adapted from here and here

COOKIES
1 c unsalted butter – room temperature
3/4 c confectioner’s sugar (or more, depending on the consistency after you add the lemon juice)
2 tbsp lemon juice (or 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract)
1.5 tbsp freshly grated lemon zest (about 2 large lemons, preferably Meyer)
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c cornstarch
2.5 c all purpose flour
1 tbsp dried lavender

Cream together the butter and confectioner’s sugar until smooth, and then mix in lemon juice and zest. In a separate bowl, sift together the salt, cornstarch and flour. Add this to the butter mixture and stir until the flour coats the butter but isn’t completely worked in. Add in lavender flowers.  Using your hands, lightly rub the ingredients together until the mixture is no longer dry. You will know it’s done when it forms easily into a dough ball.  Flatten the dough out into a disc and wrap with plastic warp. Refrigerate for 30 minutes (or up to three days).

Preheat the oven to 325° F.  Take the fully–chilled dough and place it on top of a piece of parchment. Roll the dough out to a thickness of 1/3 inch. Cut with cookie cutters. Remove the scraps from between each cookie and re–form into a flat disc. (If dough has become too soft or warm, re–refrigerate it for a few minutes before attempting to roll it out.)  Transfer parchment paper to a cookie sheet and bake in the top third of the oven for 15 minutes or until the edges are just golden brown. Allow to cool on cookie racks before icing.

ICING
1 c confectioner’s sugar
2-3 tbsp lemon juice

Whisk together confectioner’s sugar and lemon juice until smooth.  Set your cookies on a baking rack on top of a cookie sheet to catch excess icing.  Drizzle icing lightly over cookies and garnish with a lavender bud before while the icing is still liquid.  Allow icing to set and harden for about an hour before moving or stacking cookies.

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