How to Pack Like a Pro

Image: Olaiya Land

Hello lovelies!

If you're following me over on Instagram, you know that I'm in Lisbon recuperating from a nasty bout of food poisoning. (In case any of you were wondering, food poisoning is THE WORST. I can't recommend it at all.) So I'm not exactly feeling up to adventuring all over town. Which is great news for you, because it means I finally have time to get this post up!

Whether or not I am actually a travel "pro" is up for debate. I'm not a flight attendant or anything hardcore like that. But I do spend 3-4 months a year living out of a suitcase in some near- or far-flung location on the globe. 

In my opinion, the tricky thing about packing is finding the right balance between economy of things (I mean, you're going to be the one lugging that overstuffed suitcase around) and comfort. I always aim to bring the minimum amount of stuff that will allow me to function relatively well and keep me from feeling too homesick/out of sorts on my travels. It also helps to remind myself that most things can be purchased wherever I'm going, so it's not the end of the world if I don't get it exactly right.

I hope this list of my favorite packing tricks and gear will make your next trip a bit more stress-free. Let me know in the comments below if you found it helpful. And if you've got any brilliant packing tips of your own, please share!

XO,

Olaiya


Image: Olaiya Land

LUGGAGE

I am a BIG fans of packing light. One carry-on rolling bag and one tote can be totally sufficient if your trip isn't too long. And it makes you a lot more mobile, especially if you want to use public transportation. (Also, it's a real bummer if your checked bags get lost.) I have The Away Bigger Cary-On and I love it! (Use this link for $20 off your purchase.) I sometimes use this smaller, Euro-sized cary-on when I know I'm going to be on a European airline. I use this larger bag for longer trips and/or when I need to bring a lot of camera gear. I always toss this ultra-light collapsible duffle in my suitcase to allow for the inevitable purchase (or ten) I might make while traveling.

 

CLOTHING

- Layers are your friend! Since you won't have your full wardrobe at your disposal, choose lighter weight items that you can layer in case it gets cold. Bulky sweaters are the ultimate space stealer.

- Remember that in most parts of the world, it is completely acceptable to wear the same clothes two or more days in a row. Let your comfort level be your guide. I usually never bring more than 1 pair of pants, 1 pair of jeans, a skirt and a dress. 

- If you're having trouble fitting your clothes into your suitcase, I highly recommend these Travel Space Bags. They are basically a large, very sturdy Ziploc bag with a one-way valve at one end. You put your clothes in, seal, and then press out all the excess air. Your clothes magically take up half the space! (Be sure to order the medium size if you're getting them for your carry-on.)

Woolite packets and a sink stopper (many foreign sinks don't have stoppers) are great to have for emergency laundry and washing personal items. Adding a travel clothesline ensures you'll have somewhere to hang your laundry up.

- I try to bring mostly items that don't wrinkle. But for pieces that need to be freshened up, this wrinkle spray is AMAZING (no joke--it has changed my life travel-wise) and the bottle is small enough to put in your carry-on luggage.

- I always tell people coming on my workshops and retreats to please, please, please bring comfortable shoes and to BREAK THEM IN before they come. I can't stress this enough. You will inevitably walk a ton on your travels and blisters can ruin a trip. I pack plenty of these extra-sticky Band-Aids for emergencies.

How to Pack Like a Pro-5.jpg
Image: Olaiya Land

TOILETRIES

- I use Nalgene and GoToob containers because they are leak-proof, super sturdy and stand up to cabin pressure.

- I discovered Au de Raisin from Caudalie on a recent trip to France. Now I never travel without it. I use it as part of my daily beauty routine and spritz it on my face during long flights to improve hydration.

- I always toss a couple of these Koruna masks in my bag to use while I'm traveling. They're loaded with hyaluronic acid and other skin-plumping goodness that help offset the stress of travel and keep my skin looking bright and fresh. 

- Lip Medex Balm always and forever. 

- In my book, La Roche-Posay makes the best sunscreen. Bonus points for the TSA-approved 1.7 oz bottle.

- These are hands-down the best nail polish remover pads on earth. They somehow magically thoroughly remove polish and moisturize your nails at the same time. And the container they come in is tiny. 

- I light an incense match or two when I arrive at my AirBnB or hotel room to make it feel a little bit homier. Goddess of Egypt and Patchouli are my favorite.

- Don't forget the hand sanitizer.

 

Image: Olaiya Land

COMFORT

- I use this Mighty Bright book light for reading on the plane or when I'm up in the middle of the night with jet lag. It's super bright, has a dimmer switch and holds its charge for a long time. 

- A travel umbrella is a great thing to have; I have this one and it's small, light and super tough.

- Sleeping: It's never a bad idea to have an eye mask and some earplugs. Lewis & Clark masks are the only ones that I've found that truly block out all light without cutting off circulation to your brain. And I swear by these Hearos earplugs for their ability to block sound and still be comfortable. If you are in need of a neck pillow for the plane, I recommend this one and this one. I have both and they are firm enough to actually hold up your head but you can roll them down pretty small in their travel cases.

- For special occasions, I bring one of these Carry-On Cocktail Kits to kick off my trip in style!

- Speaking of beverages, my friend Megan over at Cream & Honey turned me on to her super-effective sleepy tea blend and now I can't be without it. For any other tea lovers out there, check out the brilliant Gourmia collapsible travel kettle! It folds down super-small and has dual voltage. Now you can always have your morning cup of joe or your nighttime herbal tea no matter where you are. (Well, almost no matter where. If you're trekking in the Outback, that's another story.) I also love this Simple Modern insulated water bottle/thermos and this awesome tea strainer.

- When I'm checking a bag, I also pack a pocket knife and a small cutting board for impromptu picnics or dinners of cheese, bread and wine.

- This is my favorite travel-size notebook for journaling and recording details of my trip I don't want to forget.

- I also HIGHLY recommend a power bank for your phone. Using online maps and taking tons of photos drains your phone’s battery pretty quickly. I use the one that came with my Away suitcase, but this one is small, light and has great reviews.

Image: Olaiya Land

 

SAFETY, MONEY, ETC.

- I like to bring one larger tote and something smaller and only take the large tote when I have my camera. You'll want your bag to have a zip or other secure closure if possible--just an extra bit of security. I don't recommend backpacks as they are a target for pickpockets. I also use this leather key strap and wallet combo from Madewell to make sure my cash and cards are attached to my bag and not easy to snatch.

- Should your passport be lost or stolen, it's much easier to replace if you have a copy. I recommend emailing yourself a copy, making a photocopy to carry with you, and leaving the original at the hotel. Ditto for your driver's license.

- Money: There are lots of approaches to this, but I recommend bringing around $300 dollars (or equivalent local currency) in cash in case of emergencies and leaving it somewhere secure in your hotel room or AirBnB. Money belts are just too awkward for me, but I've used this Bra Stash for large amounts of cash and cards.

- In the unlikely event anything should go wrong (natural disaster, lost luggage, theft, etc.), you will be very happy to have travel insurance. I never used to purchase travel insurance, but now that I travel a lot, I find it a small price to pay for piece of mind. I use AIG Travel Guard, but there are many reputable companies offering travel insurance.

 

BONUS

- Here is a link to my personal packing spreadsheet that I customize to each trip. Please feel free to copy and adapt to your own needs! 😘


**A note on most of the links in this post: Just to keep it on the level with y'all--should you decide to purchase any of the items through the links above, I will make a small profit. That said, no one contacted me about any of these products. They are all items that I have found through extensive research and that I own and use myself. Your support will help keep this space ad-free. Thank you!

Image: Olaiya Land

 

 

roasted white beans with fennel + mint chimichurri

Image: Olaiya Land

Ok. It’s time to get real with y’all. I have struggled with my weight for pretty much my entire life. As I wrote about in this post, I was a chubby bi-racial kid growing up in a super white, rural farming community. We moved to Wichita when I was 9, where I was the chubby brown girl who didn’t quite fit in with the white kids and wasn’t quite accepted by the black kids. I have a vivid memory of bawling my head off around this age because my hair wasn’t long and straight and blond like my mother’s. From the time I can remember anything, I remember feeling like I didn't belong. 

As a single-parent, my mom worked a lot when I was little. I spent most of my days with my grandparents, both of whom had lived through the Great Depression. They kept their house stocked to the rafters with every manner of foodstuff imaginable. They fed me sugar cereal, mac-n-cheese and candy bars. Fried chicken, frozen pizza and Hostess fruit pies. 

Food was love. And they loved the shit out of me. 

Image: Olaiya Land

It was the early 80s and we didn’t know as much back then about how sugar and processed carbs are essentially garbage. I know my grandparents just wanted to spoil me--their only grandchild for 9 years--and make sure I never went without the pleasures they had to forgo as children.

Food was my solace and my secret shame. By the time I was 12, I had a full-on eating disorder. I wanted to be thin and popular and look like the other girls at a time when almost no one looked like me. But I needed food to assuage my awkwardness and my fear of not being good enough. It was a vicious cycle.

Image: Olaiya Land

Fast-forward to adulthood. I’ve learned to love myself and love the body that I’m in. But it’s been a long road. From the time I graduated college until today, I’ve experimented with a vast panoply of diets. Weight Watchers. The Zone. Atkins. Keto. Low-fat. High-fat. Intuitive Eating. Extreme calorie restriction. The works. 

Things started to get better in the body kindness department the day I banished my scale. That sly dictator lounging under the bathroom sink had been running my life for years. I decided he had to go. Not weighing myself has been a major boost to my self-esteem. (And I’m serious about it--I don’t even let my doctor tell me my weight when I go to see her.) 

Next came finding a way of eating that works for me. I’ve been tweaking this over the past couple of years, but the gist of it is that I go easy on the sugar and carbs. I’ve learned that counting calories is absolutely toxic for me; I quickly tip over into crazytown if I go down that path, anxiously obsessing over everything that goes in my mouth. 

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

I’m currently eating slow carb, which means lots of vegetables, protein, healthy fats and unrefined carbs, like beans and lentils. And zero calorie counting. Saturday is a free day when I eat whatever I want. So I don’t feel like anything is permanently out of bounds. (A girl has to get her pizza on from time to time!)

On the exercise front, I’ve decided only to do activities that I would do even if they burned no calories. I will play tennis in the freezing cold or blistering heat. I'd play in the rain if I could. There’s almost nothing that can keep me off the courts. So this is definitely on the list. I do strength training that involves a lot of balancing and compound movements because it feels like play and makes me feel strong and capable. And I walk with Beau in the evenings. That’s it. 

Image: Olaiya Land

So, about these beans. 

A slow-carb lifestyle involves A LOT of beans. And though I love beans in all their many shapes and sizes, here’s the truth of the matter: beans can get pretty boring when you eat them night after night.

One evening, I decided to toss some beans in with the vegetables I was roasting. What came out of the oven was AMAZING. (Some might even call it culinary genius. I’m not saying who.) These roasted beans were crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside. Like dreamy little roasted potatoes. Or tater tots. Only healthier. 

Image: Olaiya Land

Now I am obsessed with roasted beans. They are my new go-to weeknight starch. I toss them on a sheet pan along with whatever vegetables I have lazing around in my fridge. Thirty minutes later--voilà! Supper is served. If you’re feeling fancy, poach a couple eggs or throw a piece of fish on the grill to serve alongside. Add a squeeze of lemon or a few dashes of hot sauce. It’s hard to go wrong.

For those of you who are perhaps less experimental in the kitchen, here is a recipe to get you started. You roast up a tray of plump corona beans (or gigantes or any other large bean really) with a bit of shallot. Grill up some squid (if you’re into seafood). Add some shaved fennel for crunch and a fresh, zingy chimichurri and your weeknight supper just got extra sexy.

Wherever you are in your relationship with food and your body, I think you can feel pretty good about this salad. It’s delicious whole foods, simply prepared. Miles away from Kraft mac-n-cheese and Hostess fruit pies. But with all the love.

XO,

Olaiya


Image: Olaiya Land

Roasted White Beans with Fennel and Mint Chimichurri

  • 4 cups cooked corona beans (or other large white beans), rinsed
  • 1 medium shallot, sliced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus an extra squeeze for the fennel
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped calabrian chiles in oil or a generous pinch of chile flakes
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint, plus additional mint to garnish
  • 1/2 medium fennel bulb, fronds reserved for garnish
  • 1 recipe Grilled Squid (see below), optional

*Notes: Canned beans will work for this recipe, but home cooked beans are best. Plus it's difficult to find large beans like coronas or gigantes in a can. Here are some tips on how to cook a perfect pot of beans.

- When it comes to Calabrian chiles, I love this brand. (Seattle friends: I buy these at PFI in SoDo)

- Grilled octopus would also be delicious in this recipe!

 

Preheat your oven to 475° F.

While the oven is preheating, dry your beans thoroughly with paper towels then transfer them to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Scatter the sliced shallot over the beans and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle generously with olive oil and toss to coat the beans and the shallot. When the oven is hot, roast the beans, stirring occasionally for even browning, for 12-20 minutes. The exact time will depend on the size of your beans and how wet they are when they go in. You want them to be golden brown in spots, crispy on the outside and tender and fluffy on the inside. Don't worry if some of them split open. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the beans are cooking, make the chimichurri: in a medium bowl, stir together 6 tablespoons of the olive oil along with the lemon zest, juice, garlic, chiles, mint and a pinch of salt.

With a sharp knife, Japanese slicer or mandoline, thinly slice the fennel and place it in a bowl. Toss it with a tablespoon or so of the chimichurri and an extra squeeze of lemon juice. Taste and add more chimichurri or lemon juice if you like.

When the beans have cooled somewhat, drizzle most of the chimichurri over them (save a tablespoon or so if you are making the squid). Toss to coat. Season to taste with more salt if necessary. Place the seasoned beans in a serving bowl and top with the dressed fennel and the grilled squid (if you're adding them). Sprinkle the reserved mint and torn fennel fronds over the salad and serve. 


Tender Grilled Squid

• 1 lb. squid, cleaned, cut into large pieces and patted very dry with paper towels
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Sea salt

*Note: You can buy cleaned, pre-cut squid from your fishmonger or clean it yourself, which is a lot cheaper. Here's a video if you need help.

Roasted Beans with Fennel and Squid-15.jpg

Heat a large pan over high heat for a minute or so. Add enough olive oil to film the bottom of the pan, then add the squid pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squid is opaque and just barely cooked through, 2-4 minutes. It will give off a lot of water. Don't worry, this is normal. Do not overcook the squid or it will get rubbery.

Immediately transfer the squid to a large plate to cool. While the squid is cooling, heat a grill or grill pan to high heat.

Toss the squid in olive oil to barely coat (use some of the mint chimichurri if you have it) then grill until char marks appear, 1-2 minutes. Turn and grill for another minute or so until char marks appear on the other side. Transfer to a bowl to cool or eat immediately. 


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a perfect pot of beans

Image: Olaiya Land

There’s a special pleasure to be had in doing a simple thing well. In taking the time to do it slowly and properly then standing back to admire your work.

The sort of things I’m thinking of have an old-fashioned, almost Victorian air about them: making a bed with crisp hospital corners. Polishing a tray of silver until it sings. Mowing the lawn into bright green zig zags. 

Image: Olaiya Land

I am a lover of all these sorts of tasks--shelling peas, ironing laundry, organizing books on a shelf. This might be because my personality veers towards the OCD end of the spectrum. Or it might be because these sort of activities pull me away from the constant pinging of my phone and the flashing notifications on my computer screen and my general hurried busy-ness. They allow me to concentrate fully on what’s in front of me, which feels like a small luxury these days.

One such task I would place on this list is cooking a perfect pot of beans. 

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

Given the current fascination with foods like bee pollen, dragon fruit, active charcoal and cashew milk, beans don’t exactly sound like the sexiest of ingredients. But I have a hunch this is due largely to the fact that many (most?) people don’t know how to cook dry beans properly.

(Don’t worry--I’m not going to go on a rant about how you should become an urban homesteader and start making everything from scratch. I appreciate the convenience of popping open a can of beans on a Tuesday night.) 

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

That said, a warm bowl of freshly cooked beans tossed with olive oil, salt and a splash of lemon juice--maybe a handful of herbs if we’re feeling fancy--is a very fine thing. Forget the bland mushiness of canned beans. Home-cooked beans have a firm skin, silky interior and their own distinct flavors. Bonus points: they're cheap and super healthy. All of which is why I want you to give cooking your own beans a try.

If you haven’t had luck with cooking your own beans or have forgotten how easy it can be, I've got a step-by-step guide for you below on how to prepare perfectly flavorful and not-even-a-little-bit-mushy beans every time. 

And when you've cooked up your perfect pot of beans, don't forget to sit back and savor a job well done.

XO,

Olaiya


How to Cook a Perfect Pot of Beans

1. Buy good beans.  Beans might be a humble ingredient, but buying quality pays off in the pot. The sort of beans you get in a 2-lb. bag at a large chain grocery store might have been harvested as much as 5 (!!!) years ago. Which means they will be less flavorful and won't cook as evenly. As with most things, fresher is better. You want beans that were harvested this year or last (depending on the time of year). How do you know you're getting fresh beans? But them from someone who specializes in (and loves) beans! My two favorite sources are Zursun Heirloom Beans and Rancho Gordo. Both of these growers specialize in bringing a variety of heirloom beans to a wider audience. If you haven't tried these beans before, they will change your life. 

2. Soak your beans.  I know there are all sorts of tips and tricks floating around on the internet for cooking your beans without soaking them. And I'm sure lots of those work in a pinch. But for tender, evenly cooked beans that don't fall apart or get mushy, I've found that the only way to go is an overnight soak. You want to hit at least 6 hours. For denser beans (like chickpeas) and larger beans (like corona beans or gigantes) I aim for a 24-hour soak (or as close as I can get) to make sure they're fully and evenly hydrated before cooking.

How to: Place your dried beans in a large bowl and cover them with cold water. Your beans will usually double in size as they soak, so make sure you cover them with enough water to allow them to expand. If your kitchen is hot or if you're soaking for longer than 8 hours, place the beans in the fridge to hydrate.

3. Drain your beans before cooking.  Unless, of course, you love to fart. Beans contain carbohydrates called oligosaccharides, which are poorly absorbed in the stomach and then rapidly fermented by bacteria in the large intestine, causing gas. Some of these oligosaccharides are released into the water as beans soak. So pouring off that water reduces the amount of pesky oligosaccharides hanging out ready to ruin your next date or team meeting. I have been doing this for years and beans almost never give me any sort of gut problems.

How to: Drain your soaked beans in a colander and rinse them under cold running water for 15-30 seconds.

4. Season your cooking water well.  It hurts my soul when I see someone chuck a bunch of soaked beans into a pot with nothing else but water and start cooking them. Like any other ingredient, beans need a little help to release their full flavor. I usually season my beans with olive oil, a ton of garlic, a couple bay leaves and often a chile of some sort. And salt. DO NOT FORGET THE SALT. You don't want to salt the water as heavily as you would for pasta or green vegetables because the beans soak up a lot more water than the former and will get too salty if you do. I salt my water until it tastes just a tiny bit briny. You want to taste that salt is present, but you don't want the water to taste noticeably salty. 

How to: Place your soaked, rinsed beans in a large heavy-bottomed stock pot or Dutch oven. Add enough water so that the beans are covered by 2-3 inches. Salt the water as instructed above. Add lots of garlic--at least 4 cloves. I usually use 6 to 8. No need to chop them, just smash them with the side of a large knife, remove the skins and toss them in. Add a nice glug of olive oil, 2 bay leaves and a dried chile if you want to. I like árbol chiles. 

Variations: Use more garlic or less. If you are making Mexican beans, you can sub avocado leaves for the bay and add a cinnamon stick and a smokier chile (this is especially good with black beans). Or you can add a bundle of cilantro stems along with the bay, garlic and chile. If you want Greek flavors, sub in a few stems of dried oregano. For French flavors, use thyme or a bouquet garni. For Italian flavors, rosemary. (If you're using fresh herbs, I recommend tying them in cheesecloth, so they don't disintegrate into little black flecks in your beans.) Add large strips of orange or lemon zest cut with a vegetable peeler. The options are almost limitless.

Image: Olaiya Land

5. Cook your beans gently.  Beans cooked at a rolling boil, bounce around which breaks their skins causing them to get mushy. To get whole, tender beans, cook them at a simmer.

How to: Bring your beans and seasoned water to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat to medium-low. Skim any foam that forms on the surface of the water and discard. Cover and cook until the beans are done, adjusting the heat to keep the water at a bare, bare simmer. 

6. Use a pressure cooker (optional). My mother-in-law gave me this pressure cooker several Christmases ago and I LOVE it. I'm thinking an Instant Pot would work just as well if you've got one of those. Pressure cooking makes the very best beans in my opinion. The only caveat is that the cook times listed in the manual are often for commercial beans and are too long for heirloom beans which are generally fresher and cook more quickly. When I'm trying a new bean I haven't cooked before, I take 2-3 minutes off the listed cook time. If the beans aren't done, I just put the pot back on the stove and finish the beans without the lid. 

7. Cook your beans longer than you think.  This one is counter intuitive since we don't want our beans to be mushy. But beans will firm up a little bit as they sit. So I always cook my beans just a bit past the firmness I'm looking for. The key is to LET YOUR BEANS COOL IN THEIR COOKING WATER. If you turn them into a colander, they will smash each other and all your careful bean-cooking effort will be wasted. 

How to: Once your beans are just slightly past the doneness you want, slide the whole pot to a burner that's not in use or a cooling rack and let the beans cool to room temperature before you spoon or ladle them to storage containers (never pour). If you need them sooner, use a slotted spoon to carefully lift them out of their cooking water. 

8. Store them properly. Store your beans in a covered container in the fridge. Beans keep longer if you store them in their cooking water. I find they keep up to a week that way. You can also freeze them. Place them in a freezer-proof container, cover them with their cooking water and be sure to leave headspace at the top of the jar so the liquid can expand as it freezes. Thaw in the fridge overnight. And hold onto that cooking water! It's like gold in the kitchen. You can freeze it and use it as you would vegetable or chicken stock. It's super flavorful and it's basically free.

9. Eat your delicious beans.  In case you need some ideas for what to do with your delicious home cooked beans, here are some recipes from the blog:

huevos rancheros with black beans and salsa verde
roast leg of lamb with cilantro-pistachio pesto and white bean puree
smoky tomato broth with masa dumplings and black beans
lemony parsnip and white bean soup

 

Feel free to reach out in the comments below if you have any questions or tips to add to this list!


Upcoming workshops and retreats

Alentejo Culinary & Creativity Retreat // Oct 2018

 

Paris Food & Photography Workshop // May 2018

 

Lisbon Styling & Photography Workshop // May 2018