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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

If You're Not Part of the Solution...

If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem... Reading these words the day after the political upset of the century is not going to lead you down the anti-Trump road you're likely imagining. Quite the opposite, in fact, but it really has nothing to do with Mr. Trump. Because it's really not about him, it's about us, the everyday Americans who keep this country running every single day.

Days like today truly make me wish I had been born in a different era, a time when the opinions and views of the rest of the world were not waiting at my fingertips . Social media is ablaze, a battlefield of epic proportions in light of the unpredictable landslide Republican victory in the 2016 Presidential Election. It has truly been a tough day for America, regardless of your own "why."

Scrolling through my newsfeeds today has inundated my emotions and sent me on a roller coaster I wasn't quite ready to ride, a roller coaster I factually know I am not riding alone. I learned A LOT about myself from the rest of the world, most of who don't know me as anything more than a coworker, an old classmate, an acquaintance, if they know me at all. Imagine my shock when I read countless times over that I was a bigot, a racist, a sexist woman-hater who supports sexual assault and misogyny, intolerant of diversity and progressive ideology. My entire character changed overnight while I unwittingly slept away.

Over the past several months, I have mostly sat quietly, observing and listening, trying to keep an open mind about differing opinions and opposing viewpoints. I did my best not to judge, not to stereotype, not to contribute any more to the "Us vs. Them" epidemic plaguing our nation and shaking its people to their core. All of the labels we've assigned to ourselves and our fellow humans have done nothing but divide our country and spread animosity through the masses. With labels inevitably comes stereotypes, and with stereotypes comes ignorance, all resulting in further and unnecessary segregation. Which brings me back to my main point: If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

Adhering to the notion that there only one *right* way of thinking is far from progressive. I refuse to let your vote or lack thereof define you; whether you voted left, right, somewhere in between or not at all, I trust that you have your reasons. And if I respect you as a person, I respect those reasons. I don't have to agree with you, and I don't expect you to agree with me. But please extend me the same courtesy. Contrary to preconceived notions based on my ballot choices, I don't identify with any particular political affiliation; I vote based on who I think will bring the most to the table, and it is not a decision I take lightly. There were Republican and Democratic candidates' circles alike colored in on my ballot this year.

I cannot be defined by a single vote. I'm an avid supporter of the 2nd Amendment, but I believe that measures need to be taken to close the gun show loophole. I am pro-choice, because I feel its importance for women's rights cannot be overstated, but that doesn't mean that I don't hope with my whole heart that pro-life wins every time there is no crime or health risk involved. I love that we live in this beautiful melting pot of a country. I welcome people of all nationalities to join us in our quest for the ever-elusive American Dream, but I also support immigration reform to reduce the number of illegal immigrants while simultaneously improving the process to make legal immigration more attainable to those who seek it. I support marriage equality; love is love and when it is found, it should be treasured. I am a humanitarian who wishes there was a way to help more people in more places, but I also strongly believe that we need to take care of our own citizens first. We cannot fix the world's problems when we, ourselves, are broken.

Voting this year was literally impossible, but seemingly millions of us got out there and made it happen. More than ever, we need to come together as Americans to begin the process of healing and initiate change. Now is not the time to further divide. Like it or not, we have a new President. Like it or not, we are all responsible in one way or another for the outcome of this election. These things cannot be changed. What can be changed is our perceptions, our attitudes, and our desire to grow together instead of apart. We are America; I am, and always will be, proud to be an American. No President Elect can change that. We, together, are what makes America great, and it's time we recognize that united we are far more powerful than any one individual could ever be.  United we will stand; divided we will ultimately fall. There is no "Us vs. Them;" there is only us. We are in this together.

Choose love. Seek to understand. Grow. Be the change.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Believe There is Good in the World...Be the Good

Believe there is good in the world; be the good. As I listened to my daughter read these words aloud tonight, for the first time their meaning struck a different chord. 

Tomorrow marks a pivotal moment in what will one day be our country's history, a day which will set the stage for our future for many generations to come. As Americans, we are faced with a decision many heartfelt citizens feel is a double-edged sword. The implications of this election are far-reaching and simply cannot be understated in their significance.

As the events bringing us up to our fateful Election Day have unfolded, so, too, have hatred and intolerance. We are a nation divided. A nation divided cannot grow and prosper. Instead of working together, we work against one another, perpetually finding even more ways to further divide us. 

We have before us two Presidential candidates both promising change. Empty words spoken aloud for the sake of pacifying their would-be constituents; promises that will likely be broken, regardless of which party comes to occupy the White House in the approaching months. A sad yet seemingly inevitable truth when it comes to the two-sided face of politics. 

All that aside, I come back to the words which compelled me to sit down at my laptop tonight and write. Words that, although read daily, took on a new meaning for me this evening as I reflected on the current state of our beautiful yet broken country. Believe there is good in the world. Be the good. 

Why are we waiting for the outcome of a Presidential election to begin the process of change? The change we so desperately need to see has to start from the bottom and work its way up through the complexly woven layers that comprise our great country. We are America, We the People.

The change starts with us; with how we treat one another. How we raise our children. How we react in the face of adversity. How we choose to rise up instead of fall. How we seek to listen to and understand one another. How we take pride in ourselves and our communities. How we choose to embrace diversity. How we pay it forward and give back. How we respect the foundation of our freedom and our democracy while still challenging the status quo when necessary. How we practice gratitude and learn to appreciate the many things we take for granted. How we accept responsibility and work together to solve our problems. How we choose love instead of hate. The change is within us.

We not only have the ability to believe there is good in the world, but we have the responsibility to ourselves and to our fellow humans to be the good. Look within yourself and ask what you can do to make your community a better place. It starts with each of us. Each person, each community, each state... and eventually, we are again whole: a country united. 

Perhaps, with more introspection and more social responsibility living in each of us, the canvas of our next Presidential election will be painted in much brighter colors.



Thursday, September 22, 2016

Healthy Taco Cupcakes

I don't know about you guys, but anytime I try to really focus on healthy eating I always get derailed by lunches. Breakfast is simple, lots of quick options. More time (usually) to prepare a well-balanced dinner chock full of all the important food groups and delicious flavor. But that damn meal in the middle of the day, when I'm running home from work long enough to let my dog out, it always gets me... (Between us, I may or may not have eaten microwave popcorn at my desk last week...)

I've always liked the idea of meal prepping, but I don't always feel like taking the time to do it on Sunday. I'll be honest. Sometimes, having just one day (hell, 2 hours) of absolute mindless nothing feels amazing. But, at the same time, I appreciate the genuine convenience and simplicity that meal prepping brings to my hectic workday madness. I get delicious food to refuel for the afternoon that's ready to grab and run out the door. No fast food, no delivery sandwich; Home-cooked and healthy food that I actually look forward to. 

Enter Healthy Taco Cupcakes. Full of lean protein, healthy fats and carbs, and plenty of veggies, these pre-portioned grab-and-go cups are easy to throw together on Sunday without consuming all your free time for the day. Plus the recipe makes 12-15, so 2 per lunch feeds you for the week. As an extra bonus, they're also incredibly delicious and satisfying. You can even set them atop a bed of fresh Romaine and drizzle some salsa over it all to really up your veggie intake. 
One more bonus, I'm going to give you a simple and tasty recipe to make your own taco seasoning so you don't have to use the processed, prepackaged stuff. Just one more way to eat better without sacrificing amazing flavor. Plus you can customize the heat level to suit your preferences. When you start from scratch, you're in control. 

Hungry yet? 

Taco Cupcakes
1 lb lean ground turkey or beef
1 onion, finely diced
2 bell peppers, finely diced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 can reduced-sodium black beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 tablespoons homemade taco seasoning (recipe below)
Approximately 1 cup shredded pepper jack cheese 
12-15 corn tortillas, slightly warmed to make them more pliable. 

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Generously spray a muffin pan with nonstick cooking spray. 
2. In a large skillet, brown your turkey or beef, adding in the onions, peppers, and garlic about halfway through. Add in the Rotel tomatoes, the black beans, and the taco seasoning. Stir well to combine and cook a few moments longer. You may need to add a couple tablespoons of water if the seasoning isn't mixing in well enough- you'll know. 
3. Warm corn tortillas in the microwave between two damp paper towels, working with just a few at a time and only for about 20-30 seconds per batch. Gently press the corn tortillas into the muffin tins, then fill each with about a half cup of the meat mixture. Top each with 1-2 tablespoons shredded cheese.
4. Bake for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned around the edges. Cool and enjoy immediately, or refrigerate for lunches.

Homemade Taco Seasoning (1 recipe's worth)
1/2 teaspoon EACH chili powder, garlic powder, and paprika 
1/4 teaspoon EACH salt and black pepper
1teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, to taste 

What are your favorite meal prep recipes? 

In other news, it's almost the weekend!!! Hooray, and Happy First Day of Autumn, folks!!! 

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Snickerdoodle Cream Cheese Blondies

If you follow my blog at all, you know that I am an avid fan of all things autumn... As much as I love summer, my favorite season officially starts in 4 days. Welcome back crisp mornings and chilly evenings, crackling and colorful leaves, pumpkin, apples, football, and cozy everything. *Insert happy, contented sigh here.* 

I am pretty confident that the Fall Fever hit me even earlier this year than normal; I found myself eagerly seeking out pumpkin, only to be disappointed in mid-August, and have been on a baking frenzy for about 2 weeks already. My husband thinks I have an addiction, and I am inclined to agree. And... Yep, I'm good with it!

Last year we celebrated fall on If It Bakes You Happy (although a bit late) with Chai Snickerdoodles, and they perfectly captured the essence of the season with the well-balanced sugar and spice combination.
Snickerdoodles are just another one of those things that are best enjoyed during cooler weather, when anything with a hint of warmth in its flavor profile satisfies in indescribable ways.

When we decided we were going to be tailgating prior to the University of Wyoming football game last Saturday, I thought that would be yet another awesome excuse to fuel my baking addiction. Of course we need to have some sort of delicious treat to tailgate, I mean, why wouldn't we? (I have since been told that tailgating is really more about burgers, brats, and beer. What sort of nonsense is that??? Any occasion for food is also an occasion for dessert... Psshh...)

Snickerdoodle Cream Cheese Blondies are possibly one of my best innovations yet. Inspired by obsessive Pinterest perusing and the famed Season of the Hour, these bars are sinfully blissful with every damn bite. Basic Blondie batter is elevated by a sweetened cream cheese swirl and then topped with the well-known and always beloved cinnamon sugar. Not even joking - pure heaven.

I have seen several different variations of Snickerdoodle Blondies and Cream Cheese Blondies. However, after tasting these, I truly feel, with all the feels that I have, that it is the combination of the cream cheese with the Snickerdoodle topping that make these so sensational. All the feels. Trust me. I am sure that Snickerdoodle Blondies are delicious, and Cream Cheese Blondies, too, but Snickerdoodle Cream Cheese Blondies.... For. The. Win.

Snickerdoodle Cream Cheese Blondies

For the Blondie batter:
- 1 cup melted butter
- 1 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the cream cheese swirl:
- 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese, softened to room temperature
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
For the Snickerdoodle topping:
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2-3 teaspoons cinnamon, to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously coat a 9x13" pan with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Make the Blondie batter: In a medium bowl, mix together melted butter, brown sugar, and vanilla. Stir in eggs until well-combined and glossy. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cream of tartar, and salt. Fold dry ingredients into wet until fully incorporated, being careful not to over-mix. Spread half the batter into the prepared 9x13" pan.
3. Make the cream cheese swirl: Mix cream cheese, egg, sugar, and vanilla until smooth and creamy. Spoon mixture over the base layer of Blondie batter.
4. Top the cream cheese layer with the remaining Blondie batter, using a spatula to coax the batter to the edges of the pans. Use a butter knife to create swirls in the batter.
5. Make the Snickerdoodle topping: Mix together the sugar and the cinnamon. Sprinkle evenly over the top of the Blondie batter.
6. Bake for approximately 35 minutes, until the batter is set and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The Snickerdoodle topping should be crackled. Cool completely and cut into 24 bars.
7. Swoon a little bit, and enjoy. You've earned it! Hide at least 3 bars somewhere only you will find them.

What do you look most forward to about fall, or did a different season steal your heart? 

Until next time...  

Much love to you all! 

Friday, June 10, 2016

Chili Lime Flank Steak with Cold Asian Pasta Salad

When the weather starts to get warmer, it is really hard to want to be inside doing ANYTHING. In my part of the world, we get 4-6 months tops of outdoor-friendly weather, usually from mid-May to mid-October. Even then, a fair share of that time frame is filled with either winds or mosquitoes that will pick you up and carry you to the next county. This week has been absolutely beautiful! Running right around 75 degrees with afternoon and evening thunderstorms, that's my happy place. Not too hot, not too cold, it's just right. 

We went camping two weeks ago over Memorial Day weekend. We have a gorgeous State park about 25 minutes away filled with fishing, hiking, mountain biking, and more. We packed up the camper and headed up on Saturday, returning on Monday, and the little escape into the Great Outdoors was just what the doctor ordered. Work has been really stressful lately, and it felt incredible and freeing to just get away and unwind. We ate typical camping food while we were up there, of course including hamburgers and hot dogs. I have been going crazy on Pinterest lately with camping pins... I look forward to putting them to good use throughout the remainder of the summer! 

When Monday rolled around and we were back home, getting unpacked and relaxing, I wanted to switch up our grilling routine and mix it up a little bit. I perused the latest Food Network magazine, which had a Memorial Day grilling feature, and found some inspiration. I ended up creating a Chili Lime Flank Steak with Cold Asian Pasta Salad, and it really delivered. It was different, refreshing, and full of flavor. It came together really quickly, too, which is always a bonus. I really enjoyed the fact that this was a "cooler" dish and that we didn't eat it while it was piping hot, plus it was full of fresh ingredients. We let the steak rest before cutting and serving it, and the pasta salad was refrigerated for an hour before we ate. The flavor pallet was all-encompassing; acidity cuts sweetness with a hint of savory spice. 

Asian Lime Flank Steak with Cold Asian Pasta Salad

For the steak: 
2-3 lb flank steak
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1 1/2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sea salt
Dash or two of ground ginger
1-2 teaspoons garlic paste
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil 

For the pasta salad:
1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked al dente according to package instructions
1/2 lb whole wheat spaghetti, cooked al dente according to package instructions
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons garlic paste
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
2 tablespoons Thai sweet chili sauce
1-2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 1/2 cup shredded carrots
1 1/2 cup shredded red cabbage
1 cup julienned bell peppers (red, yellow, and green)

1. Combine lime juice, lime zest, brown sugar, low-sodium soy sauce, sesame oil, sea salt, ground ginger, garlic paste, and olive oil in a small mixing bowl. Place flank steak in a large, resealable zip bag, and pour marinade over steak. Seal bag and shake well to coat steak.  Marinate for at least 1 hour in the fridge, removing 15-30 minutes prior to grill time. 

2. Make the salad "dressing." Combine olive oil, reduced-sodium soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic paste, ground ginger, red chili flakes, Thai sweet chili sauce, and sesame oil in a medium mixing bowl. Mix well and set aside. 

3. In a large bowl with a lid, toss together both kinds of cooked spaghetti noodles, the carrots, the red cabbage, and the bell peppers. Pour  the salad dressing over the noodles and vegetables. Place the lid on the bowl and shake salad until the noodles and vegetables are evenly coated with the dressing. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. 

4. Grill the prepared flank steak, low and slow, over direct heat, to your desired level of done. (You can also start grilling on a higher temp to get a nice sear, then reduce to low to finish cooking.) Let meat rest for 10-15 minutes, then slice. 

5. Serve steak slices alongside the cold pasta salad and enjoy!

My husband and I both loved this dish, and it was great for leftovers, too- no need to reheat! 

What are your favorite summer grilling recipes? Do you enjoy sticking to the tried and true or do you like to mix it up a bit and go on culinary adventures? 

Happy Summer! 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Trail Mix Cookies and A Lesson in Self-Acceptance

Do you ever struggle with practicing what you preach...? Sometimes real talk is hard, and sometimes it's raw and vulnerable. 

I constantly reiterate to my children how people come in all different shapes and sizes, everyone wrapped in their own uniquely beautiful skin, and that no one type is better than another. And I find myself applying that ideology in my own life to everyone... Except myself. Why is it so hard for us to practice love and acceptance towards ourselves the way we do others? 

I've gained a few pounds lately, and even though I *know* this isn't the end of the world, there are days it still *feels* like it. There is a big part of me that wants to not care, to embrace the little bit of weight, because I can acknowledge that a big part of those 5 pounds comes from things that bring me genuine happiness: baking, cooking, and making memories in the kitchen and around the dinner table with the people I love the most in this world. Delicious homemade food is one of my languages of love.

Does anyone else ever feel conflicted in this way? Wanting to not obsess about your weight or another aspect of your appearance but feeling like it's wrong to not be perpetually trying to somehow make yourself more attractive and pleasing to the outside world?  I do, and it's really hard sometimes. I get so frustrated because there are days I find myself incapable of offering the same love and acceptance to myself that I do to everyone else. I am lucky to have many people in my life who see my beauty as something that is so much more than my outer shell- they see me in the same nonjudgmental way I see others. My husband and my family are my saving grace; I'm so thankful for them and try to embrace their affectionate thoughts as my own. I know I'm not the only person who struggles with this- I think it's probably more common than we want to admit. But it's real, and sometimes it's refreshing to be real and honest and express vulnerability. 

It's almost time for cookies... But first, I have to confess to you that my heart is broken just a little bit as I type this post. In perfect accordance with the theme of this post so far, I was watching TV with my husband and daughter when we saw a commercial for Cool Sculpting. (If you haven't seen this yet, it's basically a new procedure that freezes your fat away, a supposed stand-in for liposuction.) Upon seeing this commercial and understanding what it was, she then immediately said she wished she could have that done to her belly. I had to fight back the tears as I asked her why and told her that she was perfect and beautiful just as she was, that skinniness wasn't the only way a person could be beautiful. She got quiet and the conversation ended, but I felt as though this was a small opening into what will inevitably turn into a lifelong battle. I wondered how I can help her overcome the media's misguided perception of what beauty is. And in that moment I knew... Lead by example. By showing her that even though I may not be a size 2, I can still find inner confidence and radiate beauty from (most importantly) the inside as well as the outside. By pointing out examples of beauty all around us that comes in all shapes and sizes. By showing her that intelligence, humor, compassion, and creativity are traits even more desirable than appearance. This is my new challenge, my new passion. Everyone says that there are moments which define your life; this seemingly innocuous conversation with my beautiful 6-year old daughter was one of those moments for me. As a society, we have to be better about teaching love and acceptance of EVERYONE, not just those who fit a cookie cutter version of what someone's ideal person looks like, believes, or loves. Beauty is everywhere, and truthfully, beauty is in diversity and in acceptance.

My daughter is actually the one who chose this recipe to make for a family BBQ over the weekend. She loves trail mix, so when I let her thumb through my favorite Joy the Baker cookbook and helped her read titles as she looked at pictures of amazing food photography, it was love at first sight when she saw this recipe. We love Joy the Baker in our house- she never disappoints. We made some tweaks and got busy in the kitchen and had a wonderful Friday evening baking and creating lifelong happy memories.

These cookies are seriously amazing. They are fun and full of spunk and originality, just like my daughter. Take an oatmeal base, add in M&Ms, Chunky Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, peanuts, and raisins, and you've got one hell of a cookie. Everyone at the BBQ loved them, too, and there were many recipe requests. We will definitely be making these again, maybe sooner than later as camping season is quickly approaching. (HOORAY!)

Trail Mix Cookies (adapted from Joy the Baker)

- 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 generous teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 cup softened butter
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup roughly chopped Chunky Reese's Peanut Butter Cups
- 1 cup chocolate M&Ms candies
- 1 cup roasted & salted peanuts
- 1/2 cup raisins

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Prepare two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oats, both flours, baking powder and baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, using a hand or a stand mixer, cream together the softened butter and both sugars until light and fluffy. Add in the eggs and vanilla extract, mixing well.
4. Pour all of your dry ingredients into the bowl with your wet ingredients, mixing on medium speed until just incorporated, then add in the chopped peanut butter cups, the M&Ms, the peanuts, and the raisins. Continue mixing until fully incorporated. (Note: This is very thick cookie dough- you may need to get a sturdy wooden spoon to finish the mixing job.)
5. Roll heaping tablespoonfuls of cookie dough into balls and place on prepared baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
6. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the edges are light golden brown. Remove from oven and cool on cookie sheets for 5-7 minutes, then place on wire cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
7. ENJOY! Delicious with a fresh glass of milk.

Remember, some of the best cookies don't even need cookie cutters... don't worry about what society tells you is beautiful. Be you, be kind, be original, and THAT is beautiful!

Much love always - Amber

Monday, April 18, 2016

Loaded Banana Bread Oatmeal

In typical Wyoming fashion, while the rest of the country gets blissful springtime weather with budding flowers and blossoming trees, we get a foot of snow and high wind warnings. We had 60 degree weather last week, followed by heavy snowfall on Friday and Saturday. Sometimes I ask myself why we choose to live here... Then I remember the small-town western feel, the good people, and the low crime, and I decide the weather is a small sacrifice for all of the other elements I love. Anyone else nonchalantly argue with themselves in their heads? No? Okay then, moving on...

The good news is that our second (or is it third?) winter gave me an excuse to make one more warm, hearty breakfast before lighter meals dominate spring and summer. I mean, really, who wants a piping hot bowl of oatmeal when it's 80 degrees outside? Not this girl. 

I have sort of taken on the role of the baker where I work, and I happily take responsibility for ensuring everyone in our department has freshly baked birthday treats when their special day pops up on the calendar. My boss requested simple, fudgy brownies with toasted walnuts back in February for her birthday, and ever since then I have become sort of obsessed with walnuts. It used to be all about the pecans, pretty much all-around, but there is officially a new nut in town.

So there I am on Saturday morning, snow falling incessantly out the kitchen window as I sip my morning coffee, trying to decide what to have for breakfast. I notice the perfectly overripe bananas on the counter and suddenly remember that we bought more walnuts the night before. The rest just fell into place, because seriously, what pairs better than bananas and nuts? I never have time to make stovetop oatmeal during the week, so I take advantage of the extra time on the weekends. 

By combining overripe bananas, toasted walnuts, hearty old-fashioned oats, cinnamon, nutmeg, and just a smidge of dark chocolate, we have banana bread for breakfast in a bowl and life is good. And in all reality, while it feels like a naughty indulgence, the recipe is all-around pretty healthy. Eat dessert for breakfast like a boss and do it without a trace of guilt. 

Loaded Banana Bread Oatmeal

- 1/2 cup old-fashioned oats
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup vanilla almond milk
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- dash of nutmeg
- dash of salt
- 1 small banana, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons toasted walnuts
- dash of pure vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar (or more to taste)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped dark chocolate
- drizzle of pure maple syrup (optional) 

1. Combine old-fashioned oats, water, vanilla almond milk, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring well. Put about 1/3 of the sliced banana pieces into the saucepan and stir again. 
2. Cook over medium heat until oat mixture thickens to your level of liking, approximately 3-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The banana slices should have broken down almost completely during the cooking process, and your oatmeal will be a little more creamy than normal. 
3. Once the oatmeal has cooked and thickened to suit your tastes, remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir in the vanilla extract and brown sugar. 
4. Line the bottom of your serving bowl with another 1/3 of the sliced bananas, then top with prepared oatmeal. Top with the remaining sliced banana pieces, toasted walnuts, and dark chocolate pieces, then drizzle the top with just a hint of pure maple syrup. 

At this point, you can either stir and get a hint of maple syrup and dark chocolate swirled throughout your bowl, or you can enjoy the layered effect and enjoy each element a bit more individually. Either way, it's a win.