small is beautiful: holiday gift guide

Gift Guide_Dec 2017-2.jpg

In my book, there are two kinds of gifts worth giving. First, there is the thoughtful gift that makes manifest how well you know the recipient and understand his or her personal and idiosyncratic tastes. This is the sort of gift that, in addition to being cherished in and of itself, makes its receiver feel seen and in turn cherished themselves. Next, we have the sort of gift that’s perhaps less personal but so delightful no one can resist its charms--like a bottle of really delicious champagne or a pair of 8-ply cashmere socks.

Everything else is destined for the landfill.

I’ll admit that gifts are not my Love Language. But I stand by my assertion that mediocre gifts born out of a sense of obligation are not worth giving. This might sound harsh, but hear me out. My years on this earth have taught me that if someone doesn’t love your present, they will either ditch/return/re-gift it posthaste. Or if they are of a more sentimental persuasion, they will display/use said crappy gift for a month or so before relegating it to a closet shelf where it will gather dust and inspire a great surge of guilt each time its owner stumbles upon it. 

No one wants too much dust or guilt in their lives, so let’s talk about how to give a great gift!

First, check out my recommendations below for creative gifts to give this holiday season. All of them are from small producers and/or purchased from local small businesses. Supporting small businesses who are passionate about what they do and that create products with love makes the season even brighter in my opinion!  

Next, scroll on down for my 5-step guide to becoming a fantastic gift-giver!

Finally, click on over to Cream & Honey for the second installment of our holiday blognanza in which you will discover how to make an old-school Stilton Pear Cheese Ball With Pistachios + Pink Peppercorns (a kickass gift for the cheese lover in your life!) and even more tips on how to throw an awesome holiday party, which will leave your guests with fond memories of that time they got drunk and danced on the table wrapped in nothing but Christmas lights, which is the very best gift of all.

Merry Merry and XO!


Small is Beautiful Holiday Gift Guide 2017

holiday gift guide // image: Olaiya Land

First up we have gifts for those eclectic, hard-to-shop-for souls in your life! 1) Siren Bath Soak from Remy & Roses turns an ordinary bath into a luxurious soak. 2) Danae Vermeil Necklace by Emmanuelle Zysman, Paris. Simple, feminine and falls to the perfect length. I own this and wear it with everything. 3) Sweet Grapefruit Reed Diffuser from P.F. Candle Co. Bright pink grapefruit over notes of yuzu, musk and teak. This diffuser smells both bright and earthy without being overpowering and lasts for months. 4) Espresso cup with saucer in matte white finish from Margarida Fabrica in Lisbon. These handmade cups are my favorite for espresso--they feel perfect in the hand and each one is unique. 5) Tobacco Blossom soap from Claus Porto. I never leave Portugal without stocking up on Claus Porto soaps and this one with notes of tobacco leaf, cinnamon and basil is my absolute favorite. 6) Speckled saucer from Margarida Fabrica. 7) Hera earrings from Inês Telles, Lisbon. All my favorite earrings--and the ones I get the most compliments on--are from Inês. Her work is sublime. (Email for availability). 8) Rose of No Man's Land and Super Cedar fragrances from Byredo. My favorite feminine and masculine scents from this creative, evocative perfume house. 9) Vintage vinyl from Daybreak Records, my favorite spot to buy new and used albums in Seattle. Track down the best record shop near you (it may be online) and grab a couple discs for your favorite audiophile. 10) Hand dyed merino yarn from Madelinetosh. I picked this dreamy yarn up at Tolt Yarn & Wool in Carnation, WA, otherwise known as Knitters' Paradise. Check out both of these sites to find the perfect something for that crafty, DIY-loving friend of yours.

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You knew I was going to talk about edible gifts, right? 1) Zürsun flageolet beans. Yup, beans. But not just any beans. These heirloom beauties cook up silky soft and intensely flavored. They are not cheap and they are worth every penny. The best beans I’ve ever had. 2) Hédène chestnut honey. Rich, woody and complex, this honey from the Tarn region of France renders everything it touches--from a bowl of yogurt to a crackly pork roast--super sexy. 3) Portuguese tinned fish from A Vida Portuguesa. The Portuguese make some of the best tinned seafood on the planet. Your food-obsessed friends will savor these beautiful cans of sardines, tuna, mackerel and squid preserved in gold-green olive oil. 4) Ayako & Family Jam. Ayako makes the best jam in the world. I will hear no arguments to the contrary. All the flavors are fantastic, but the plum jams are transcendent. Buy some for a friend and buy a jar (or 4) for yourself. You're welcome. 5) Jacobsen kosher and flake salts harvested with love in the Pacific Northwest. Because there's no reason to buy that chemically tasting stuff in a big box from the supermarket. 6) Atlas Extra Virgin Olive Oil. This is my go-to olive oil. Inexpensive enough to use for everyday cooking. Delicious enough to eat from a spoon. The cooks in your life will love it. In Seattle, you can buy this at PFI, ChefShop & Vif. 

holiday gift guide // image: Olaiya Land

A short-and-sweet guide to good reads: 1) Bäco: Vivid Recipes from the Heart of Los Angeles by Josef Centeno and Betty Hallock. Bright flavors, gorgeous images. So inspiring. 2) A gift certificate to Book Larder bookstore. These ladies carry an amazing selection of cookbooks, new and vintage. If you live in Seattle, head in for a fun browsing sesh. If not, grab a gift certificate and let that cookbook-loving family member order a cookbook or her favorite hard-to-find culinary journal. 3) Dining In by Alison Roman. My favorite cookbook of 2017. Gorgeous photography by Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott (my fave food photographers) and inspiring, completely doable recipes. It doesn't get any better than that. 4) Spritz: Italy's Most Iconic Aperitivo Cocktail by Talia Baiocchi and Leslie Pariseau. So many fantastic drinks in here! Get this in a cocktail-loving friend’s hand before New Year’s Eve and you’ll reap the benefits. 5) Portraits de Villes from Studio BE-POLES. Photographers and travel lovers will fall for these gorgeous city portraits.

holiday gift guide // image: Olaiya Land

It wouldn't be the holidays without drinks! 1) 2016 Marcel Lapierre Raisins Gaulois Vin De Pays from Vif Wine & Coffee. This gem of a wine shop in Seattle specializes in delicious natural wines (like this one). If you live in Seattle, you need to be buying your wine here! 2) Masala Chai from Samovar Tea. I'm normally not a fan of chai tea, but this blend is amazing! Perfect for sipping around a holiday fire. 3) Methodical Coffee Colombia, Narino. Chocolaty, fruity and sweet, this coffee will please everyone at your holiday brunch. And the gorgeous packaging makes it a great stocking stuffer. If you're in Seattle, you can pick up a bag at Union Coffee. 4) Domaine de Montbourgeau Crémant du Jura. Another great bottle I picked up at Vif. The wine enthusiast in your family will love this sparkling natural white from the Jura. 5) 2016 Domaine Victor Sornin Vin Natur. This easy to drink, subtly fruity gamay is our new house wine. This might be a Seattle- and France-only recommendation since I'm having a hard time finding this online. But Seattle friends can pick it up at the PCC. 6) Bittermilk hand-crafted cocktail mixers. These are made with love in Charleston, SC, a city that knows how to make a fine cocktail. The Oaxacan Old Fashioned and Charred Grapefruit Tonic are my favorites. Pick up a bottle for the fledgling mixologist in your life and one for yourself. The season just got a little brighter!

1) Start early so you have plenty of time to track down just the right gift. Haha. Just kidding. No one does this, ever. Because work and life and Instagram. Skip to step 2.

2) Get out a notebook or a piece of paper (or a list-making app if you must) and write down the names of someone you love and cherish and want to buy a gift for. (Notice I didn’t say to write down the name of your annoying boss or your nosy neighbor? Those people get a tin of cookies if they get anything at all. No wasting your precious gift-giving energy on people you don’t adore!)

3) Now set a timer for 60 seconds and without thinking too much about it, write down everything that comes to mind about this person. Just sort of free-associate: colors, places, feelings, TV shows. Everything is fair game. Repeat with more people you want to buy gifts for, then put your notebook away. (I mean it! The brain does magical things when you don’t force it.)

4) Several hours (or preferably days) later, open your notebook and look at what you wrote. Spend a few moments thinking about all the fun times you’ve had with this lovely person before heading to the shops (online or off). The idea is to let your subconscious do the heavy lifting. Taking the time to think about the essence of the person you want to buy a gift for and what sorts of things they really love will save you hours of sifting through the holiday schlock. When you see the right gift, you’ll know.

5) And last but definitely not least, try to remember that this whole gift-giving/Christmas thing can be fun instead of stressful! Whether you’re looking online or heading out into the mayhem of the shops, treat your holiday shopping more like a spa day than a major battle. Book a babysitter. Meet a friend for lunch. Pour yourself a cocktail or a hot bath when you’re done. Before you know it, you’ll be looking forward to holiday gift-giving. You might even become one of those annoying people who starts their Christmas shopping in July!

Holiday Gift Guide // Image: Olaiya Land

hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla

hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla // image: Olaiya Land

Have I mentioned what a sap I am about Christmas? This morning I might have teared up a little bit listening to Michael Bublé sing I’ll be Home for Christmas. (Don’t judge.)

I’ve always loved Christmas. It probably started because my birthday is on Christmas day. When I was little, the holiday season represented a shower of gifts and cake and celebration after a year-long drought spent watching my friends celebrate their non-Christmas birthdays.

People always think Christmas birthdays suck. But they only suck if your family and friends suck. My family has always celebrated Christmas on December 24th and my birthday on the 25th. And I’ve never once received a combo Christmas/birthday present. So I think it’s a pretty sweet deal.

hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla // image: Olaiya Land

Now that I’m an adult and no longer staying up to catch a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer, I still love Christmas. I love the decorations and the food and the music. I love the baking and the wrapping and the anticipation that if we're lucky, there just might be snow. 

But Christmas and I had a dark patch.

There was a period when I had let things spiral up into Martha-Stewart-level insanity and was crumbling under the pressure to buy amazing gifts, decorate the perfect tree, bake and ship an assortment of holiday cookies and plan a Christmas Eve feast like no other. 

As I wrote in this post, it struck me (probably while I was stuck in holiday traffic) that I was super pissed about Christmas. I wanted to abandon the whole thing, book a flight to a sunny beach somewhere and drink margaritas for about a week. Not exactly holiday cheer.

That was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).

hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla // image: Olaiya Land
hazelnut amaretti with orange and vanilla // image: Olaiya Land

So now I’m on a mission to keep Christmas easy, breezy and fun. Like it should be. To that end, I’m teaming up with Megan from Cream & Honey to bring you a month of posts centered around celebrating the holiday in style without losing your mind. We’ll have recipes, entertaining tips, gift guides. Maybe even a holiday playlist with Michael Bublé crooning I’ll be Home for Christmas. (Don’t play it cool. You know you secretly love the Bubs.)

I’m kicking things off with this recipe for Hazelnut Amaretti with Orange and Vanilla. This is my version of a cookie I saw in my friend Caroline’s Instagram feed. She was kind enough to translate the recipe from Dutch and send it to me. After I tasted them, I decided these cookies would be perfect with a cup of coffee or a glass of wine. Because I am incapable of following a recipe as written, and because I love hazelnut with coffee, I played around with Caroline’s recipe until I came up with this version. 

That I was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).

Calling these cookies is a little misleading. They lie somewhere between a cookie and a confection. On the first day, they are crisp on the outside with a bit of softness in the center. On the next day, however, they are tender and chewy under their crisp, airy crust. I like them better the second day. I imagine that, like most amaretti-type cookies they will hold for ages in a well-sealed tin. But they have yet to make it past a second day in our house, so I can’t tell you for sure. 

To help you keep things simple this holiday season, these are super easy to make. These come together in about 10 minutes (plus additional chilling and baking time, when you can be sipping a glass of wine and waiting for these to come out of the oven so you can dunk them in your wine). You don’t have to candy citrus or roll out shortbread or make a citrus glaze like I asked you to do for last year’s holiday cookie (it was so good though!). You can freeze the dough and bake these off as you need them. Aaaand these little guys are sturdy. They will happily hold their shape if you decide to ship them across town or to the other side of the globe. Ta-da!

That I was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).

And for even more inspiration on how to keep the holiday season Classy Not Crazy this year, click on over to Megan’s recipe for Pine Shortbread Cookies. In addition to this awesome recipe (Pine, people! It's hip. It's a thing. Look it up.), you'll also get Megan's tips on how to plan a killer holiday party with ease and some great gift ideas.

Let me know in the comments below what sort of holiday tips you'd like more of. And I’ll be back next week with more ideas for keeping your holiday baller status high and your stress-levels low.



Hazelnut Amaretti with Orange and Vanilla

  • 200g (1 1/2 cups) raw hazelnuts
  • 200g (1 cup) granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons coconut flour (All-Purpose flour or cornstarch will also work)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • Whites from 2 large eggs
  • 1 cup powdered sugar

*Notes: I highly recommend using weight measurements for all baking, since it is so much more precise than volume measurements. I especially recommend it for these cookies since the size (and thus volume) of hazelnuts can vary so widely.

- I also made a batch of these with almonds instead of the hazelnuts and lemon zest instead of the orange that was lighter in flavor, but also delicious. Feel free to play around with the nuts and flavorings to make these cookies your own. The only test batch I didn't love were the 100% pistachio version. They were way too rich. If you want to make a pistachio version, I would use roughly half pistachios and half almonds.

Preheat your oven to 300°F/150°C. 

Place the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet pan and toast until fragrant, about 12 minutes. Remove the nuts from the pan and place them in the middle of a large kitchen towel. Bring the four corners of the towel towards each other and twist them together to make a little parcel. Vigorously rub the hazelnuts together inside the towel for a minute or so. When you open the towel most of the skins should have fallen off. Lift the nuts off the towel with a slotted spoon, leaving the skins behind (it's ok if some are still attached) and place them on a plate to cool. Set aside.

When the hazelnuts are completely cool, place them in a food processor along with 150 g (3/4 cup) of the sugar, the coconut flour, baking powder, orange zest, and the salt. Using a sharp paring knife, split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds from the pod. Add the seeds to the mixture in the food processor. Process until the mixture looks like sand. (Take care not to over-process or your nuts will start to turn to nut butter.) Set aside.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat at medium speed with the whisk attachment. (You can also use a hand mixer or beat the eggs by hand with a whisk.) When the whites look foamy, increase the speed to high and gradually sprinkle in the remaining 50g (1/4 cup) sugar. It should take about 30-45 seconds to drizzle in the sugar--don't rush it. Continue to beat at high speed until the whites are dense and glossy and just hold soft peaks.

Gently fold the nut mixture into the egg whites. The egg whites will deflate quite a bit, but try to use a light hand so the dough retains some of the lightness from the whipped eggs. Place the dough in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes (this makes it easier to scoop).

When the dough has chilled, place the powdered sugar in a rimmed plate or pie pan. Use a small scoop (I used a 1-tablespoon scoop) to form walnut-sized balls of dough. Drop them in the powdered sugar and roll them around until they are coated in sugar. Transfer the coated dough balls to the refrigerator or freezer to rest for another 30 minutes. I prefer to freeze mine. If you want to freeze them for later use, just pop the coated dough balls in a freezer bag once they're sold and bake from frozen.

If the dough balls have absorbed most of the powdered sugar coating, roll them in the powdered sugar again before baking. Then place them on a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving 2 inches between cookies. Using a sharp knife, cut a shallow "X" onto the top of each cookie. This is what gives these cookies their crispy, craggy surface. Bake for 15-20 minutes. You want them to be golden on the bottom with crispy edges and soft in the middle. Keep in mind that they will crisp up as they cool. For a softer, blonder cookie, bake closer to 15 minutes. For a crispier, slightly darker cookie, bake closer to 20. Bake completely frozen dough balls for 18-20 minutes.

When the cookies are done, cool them on their pan for 5-10 minutes then transfer them to a wire rack to cool completely. Store cookies in an air-tight container after baking.

That I was the year I decided to reign in the crazy. I took a step back and asked myself what the essence of the season was for me. And of course it was all about people. Letting people know they’re loved and appreciated. Spending time with our friends and family. And also taking some time away from work to recharge our batteries (possibly by watching many holiday movies snuggled on the couch with said loved ones).

on gratitude

image: Olaiya Land
On Gratitude Post_Nov 2017-11.jpg

I’ve been thinking about gratitude a lot lately. I’ve been feeling a need to stop and take stock of the many things I have to be grateful for--in more than a perfunctory, 30-second, Instagram sort of way.

Of course, the Thanksgiving holiday has had something to do with this. The whole holiday season, with its unique blend of stress and joy and complicated family dynamics, puts me in an introspective mood. There’s something about the year drawing to a close, too, that compels me to look back and assess how the whole affair of my life is coming along. (And my Christmas birthday throws an extra layer of self-examination and existential angst in the mix!)

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

Talking about gratitude can feel a little corny though. The “Attitude of Gratitude” has been pretty much trampled to death in the popular media. But there remains something very real about the power of gratitude to improve our lives.

In an attempt to stave off a Seattle funk, for example, Beau and I started calling out our “gratefuls” every evening before bed: A great meal. An exciting work project. A glorious sunset. A roof over our heads and food on our table. 

Through our days, then weeks, of paying attention to them, these “gratefuls” have knitted themselves into a sort of forcefield that helps keep self-pity and bleak moods at bay. They remind us that no matter how shitty the day seemed, we have an embarrassment of riches in the gratitude department.  

image: Olaiya Land

So as we head into the festive chaos of the holiday season, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been especially grateful for this year and that have had a big impact on my life:

1) All the talented, interesting, creative people surrounding me. I’ve written before about being an introverted hermit who could happily spend hour after hour at home cooking, reading and watching BBC period dramas. But, from my incredible husband to the gifted chefs, makers, and artists I got to work with this year to those of you who joined my retreats and workshops--you are my number one source of inspiration and energy. I’m so grateful for that.

image: Olaiya Land

2) Travel. I’m going to get a little vulnerable here and tell you that, as someone who spent a chunk of her childhood living in a trailer park and knows what government cheese tastes like, I often feel twinges of guilt that my life now includes multiple trips to Paris and other amazing places each year. There’s a piece of me that feels like I don’t deserve it. I obsess about whether I’m going to come off as some sort of snobby, jet-setting, champagne-swilling person who takes for granted all these special experiences when I post about them on the blog.

But then I remember something: I believe travel is one of the most soul-satisfying things we can do. A trip--to the next town or the other side of the planet--opens our minds to new ideas and exposes us to people we’d never meet in the comfort of our daily routines. It shifts our perspectives and connects us to other human beings like nothing else. If I can encourage others to experience that connection and openness, I feel like I’m doing something necessary and important. When I think about it all, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to have such a rewarding job, discover new places and meet cool, creative people all over the world. 

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

3) Photography. I kicked off 2017 by taking a life-changing photography workshop in Oaxaca. I’m wrapping up the year landing exciting commercial photography gigs, which leaves me feeling like a competent professional instead of an impostor. It has been a huge confidence boost. If you are contemplating getting serious about your side-hustle or creative hobby, I say do it, do it, DO IT. It is so rewarding to invest in a creative pursuit and feel yourself growing and making work you are proud of. I’m overflowing with gratitude for this one! 

image: Olaiya Land

4) Taking it easier on myself. I’ve written a lot about this over the past year. (You can read more about it here, here and here.) So I’ll simply say I’m learning to tame my inner dictator and extend a little more kindness to myself. Sometimes I forget and get caught up in over-working and self-criticism. But I’m finding it easier to step off the perfectionist treadmill. The result is less anxiety, more happiness and more time for things that actually matter (see items 1, 2, and 3). So that is without a doubt something to be grateful for.

5) This blog. I don’t want to get all meta on you, but I’m super grateful to have this space to share favorite recipes, my photography, my travels and my thoughts with you! Sharing these things makes them feel more alive and real somehow. This blog has also been the source of many IRL connections and friendships, which makes me think this whole internet thing is pretty awesome after all. 

image: Olaiya Land

This seems like a good time to let you know that starting around the beginning of the year, I’ll be taking this blog in a new direction. I can’t imagine a world where sharing food won’t be important to me, so there will still be recipes I love. But there will be other stuff, too. My interests and creative energies have shifted a lot in the past year and I want this journal to reflect that.

I’m still exploring what exactly the “other stuff” will be, but I know there will be more photography, more Small is Beautiful features on local businesses I love, more travel guides. Basically, I plan to share whatever I find compelling: An art exhibit in Paris. A new restaurant in Seattle. Travel tips. Fashion and design trends I’m feeling. My thoughts on how to live a more beautiful and artful life. 

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

I understand that the new format won’t be for everyone. If you’re a diehard recipes fan and decide to unsubscribe, there will be zero hard feelings. For the rest of you, I’d love to hear in the comments below what sort of content you’d be especially into.

I can’t wait to head off on this new adventure. And I’m ever grateful to all of you for being a part of it.

image: Olaiya Land

P.S. Big news! I’m teaming up with the super talented Yossy Arefi to bring you another Paris food photography workshop! We're finalizing the dates and details this weekend. But I can tell you that it will be in the second half of May and that in addition to cooking, styling and shooting, there will be all sorts of Paris deliciousness. Stay tuned for details and click here to sign up for the First To Know list and get early access to registration!