postcards from paris

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land
Paris Workshop-3.jpg

The summer’s been a full one. Lots of good things have been happening: travel to see friends, meals on the grill, lakeside walks, tomatoes from the garden, wine with our neighbors in the backyard. Beau and I are also working on a fresh business identity that will bring new features to the blog and more retreats and workshops for you to join. All of which means I haven’t been shooting or posting here as much as I’d like. 

Part of me feels annoyed about this. (That would likely be the small dictator that lives in my head.) The rest of me feels that enjoying time outdoors, chilling with friends and creating even more meaningful work for myself is well worth the trade off. (I think that’s the adult part of me that’s gained a tiny amount of wisdom in her time on this earth.)

Paris Workshop.jpg
Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

Earlier this week I received a bunch of film scans from the photo lab. Most of them were from my Paris trip last May. Which reminded me that I never shared any images of that trip with you! So while I’m working on new recipes, preparing for my upcoming pop-up dinner, shooting more stories (and enjoying the last weeks of summer), I thought I’d send you on a mini-vacation with these Paris images. Bon voyage!

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

Hey Paris lovers! There's still 1 spot left for my food & photography retreat in the city of light this September. Click here for the details and to make that spot yours. 

herby lentil salad with smoked mackerel and soft boiled eggs

lentil salad with smoked mackerel and soft boiled eggs // image + styling: Olaiya Land

As you guys know, I aim to keep it real around here. I try to share my failures and frustrations alongside my joys, successes and good hair days. Shooting this recipe for the blog last week was a MASSIVE frustration. 

We’re talking: I’ve-been-working-on-this-for-hours-and-it-still-looks-like-hot-garbage level frustration. 

This-was-one-of-my-worst-ideas-ever level frustration. 

Why-did-I-ever-think-I-could-be-a-photographer-anyway? level frustration. 

lentil salad with smoked mackerel and soft boiled eggs // image + styling: Olaiya Land

This exercise in humility started with me wanting to share this dish I made for my Paris workshop. It is a crazy-good salad. A super-easy, healthy, not-to-be-missed sort of salad. I realized I would be letting you down not to share its deliciousness with you.

And I knew I wanted to try something different when it came to shooting it. Lately I’ve been trying to develop a distinct photography aesthetic: tons of color, hard light, long shadows and minimal styling. The sort of image that looks like it was shot poolside in the French Riviera in 1966. (Oddly specific, I know, but thus are the workings of my brain.)

lentil salad with smoked mackerel and soft boiled eggs // image + styling: Olaiya Land

Because I live in Seattle (which, for all those unfamiliar with this fine city, has no relation whatsoever to the French Riviera), shooting in this style means getting better at using artificial light. I researched for about a gazillion years and then bought myself a fancy speedlight. I read and practiced and watched online tutorials late into the night until my retinas were practically scorched. I was confident I had the basics down.

Then when I set my equipment up and started shooting, everything that came out of my camera looked awful. Overexposed. Underexposed. Weird white balance. Strangely greasy looking. It was a complete mess. 

lentil salad with smoked mackerel and soft boiled eggs // image + styling: Olaiya Land

After multiple hours of trying to coax the shot I’d imagined out of my camera, I was on the verge of tears. (Ok, a few actual tears were shed.) I was contemplating packing up my gear when Beau reminded me of one of my favorite sort-of-joking-but-not-really mantras: “Sometimes the only way out is through.”

To be clear, this is the motto of the doggedly hard-headed (oh, hello!) and not always the sanest of advice. On this particular afternoon, it was just what I needed to hear. I decided I was going to keep going until I created something--anything--I liked. I stopped worrying about pinning down the “perfect image”. Which allowed me to approach the shoot as an experiment. I just tried one thing after another to see what the result would be. 

lentil salad with smoked mackerel and soft boiled eggs // image + styling: Olaiya Land


Once I let go of what I thought “should” work, things started to come together. In less than an hour, I had a composition and lighting I liked. 

I’m not going to lie, there’s a piece of me that doesn’t want to share this story. That part of me wants to post these images, slap up the recipe, wave my hands and pretend it was all easy-peasy and took no time at all. But I know how much I appreciate seeing the creative process of other photographers and artists. And how much a glimpse of the foibles, quirks and insecurities of others reminds me that we’re all imperfectly human and fumbling forward through life the best we can. 


Herby Lentil Salad with Smoked Mackerel and Soft Boiled Eggs

  • 1 ½ cups (315g) dried black or green lentils (I used black beluga lentils)
  • Sea salt
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 large cloves garlic, smashed
  • ¼ cup (60ml) red wine vinegar, divided
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 medium shallot, minced (to yield about ¼ cup)
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (15ml) good quality Dijon mustard
  • ¼ cup (60ml) extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup (15g) parsley leaves
  • ⅓ cup (10g) tarragon leaves
  • ⅓ cup (10g) picked dill fronds
  • 6 oz. (170g) smoked mackerel (smoked trout works well, too), torn or flaked into 1-inch (2 ½ cm) pieces

*Notes: I use a variation of this steaming method for my eggs. It has several advantages over boiling: 1) It’s faster. 2) The temperature inside the pot doesn’t go down significantly when you’re cooking a bunch of eggs, so the results are consistent. 3) Eggs peel much more easily when steamed (even super fresh ones!). 

- I used Trader Joe’s smoked peppered mackerel in this recipe and it was delicious. I don’t even really like mackerel that much. But this stuff is great. In Paris, I buy the house brand of peppered smoked Mackerel an Monoprix. 

- The lentils and soft boiled eggs can be cooked 1-2 days in advance of assembling the salad. Toss the lentils with 1 tablespoon of vinegar while still warm then cover and refrigerate. The eggs can be peeled and stored whole in an airtight container in the fridge.

lentil salad with smoked mackerel and soft boiled eggs // image + styling: Olaiya Land

Place the lentils in a large saucepan and cover with 2-3 inches of water. Salt the 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 super salty. Add the bay leaf and smashed garlic cloves. Bring to the boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and cook at a bare simmer until the lentils are just tender. This should take between 15-20 minutes, depending on the size and freshness of your lentils. Check them often in the last few minutes of cooking and make sure not to cook them until they are mush or falling apart.Drain the lentils in a sieve and run a little cold water over them to cool them slightly. Place the drained lentils in a large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon of the red wine vinegar. Set aside.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the eggs. Place ½ inch of water in a medium saucepan and place it over high heat. When it comes to the boil, add the eggs. Cover and cook for 6-7 minutes, adjusting the heat to maintain a gentle boil. Six minutes yields eggs that are barely set in the center and runny in the middle. Seven minutes yields eggs that have more of a gel set. (I think 6 ½ minutes yields a perfect egg.) Immediately drain the hot water from the eggs and place the pot  with the eggs under cold running water for about 3 minutes, then leave the eggs in the cold water to finish cooling. I prefer this to an ice bath because I don’t like my soft-boiled eggs ice cold. You can use an ice bath if you like. Crack the eggs all over on a countertop then peel the eggs under cold running water and set aside.

To make the vinaigrette, place the minced shallot, a generous pinch of salt, about ½ teaspoon of black pepper, the mustard and the remaining 3 tablespoons vinegar in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Slowly whisk in the olive oil. Taste and adjust seasoning.

To assemble the salad, roughly tear about ¾ of the herbs and add to the bowl with the lentils. Toss the with the vinaigrette. Transfer the dressed lentils to a serving platter. Arrange the trout over the lentils. Halve the eggs lengthwise, arrange them over the salad then lightly salt the yolks. Sprinkle the rest of the herbs over the salad just before serving. 

Makes 4 main-course servings.

lentil salad with smoked mackerel and soft boiled eggs // image + styling: Olaiya Land

small is beautiful: blue sparrow coffee

Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land
Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land

I'm super excited to introduce you to Jeffrey Knott, the owner of Blue Sparrow Coffee in Denver, CO. Jeffrey contacted me last year to shoot some images for his website. When I set foot inside BSC, I fell in love with the space. This cozy coffee shop has a beautiful decor, anchored by a deep cyan blue banquette and studded with brass accents throughout. They also serve first-rate coffee (we're talking homemade nitro cold brew on tap!) and have some of the friendliest baristas around. (Having lived in Seattle for over a decade, where baristas sometimes take themselves a little too seriously, I always give massive bonus points for friendly baristas.) 

When Jeffrey told me about his unconventional path to owning his own coffee shop, I knew I wanted to share his story with you. If you've been dreaming of opening your own small business, read on for Jeffrey's excellent advice. And if you live in Denver or are planning a trip there, don't miss this gem of a coffee shop.


An interview with Jeffrey Knott, owner of Blue Sparrow Coffee.

Mad lib time! You could describe my business as my experience traveling the world meets how I like my coffee

What is your background? 
After a stint in the military, a degree in finance, and a cubicle in NYC I decided it was time for a change. I “gave it all up” and became a barista. As much as I love coffee, and loved being a barista, I needed more. After managing my first coffee shop, I had an opportunity to help open, and manage a new café in town. That experience was unbelievably challenging--I did a pretty good job faking it until I made it. I've helped open the doors to the seventh café in half as many years. I own, open, and operate coffee shops. And it’s my dream job. 

Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land
Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land
Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land

How/when did you get the idea for your current venture?
Coffee is universal. It’s something that is shared all across our little blue dot. When I travel I've always sought out cafe’s, experiencing coffee in new ways, a reflection into local culture. BSC is a direct reflection on what I've experienced—what I want to experience. We feature coffee roasters from around the world, sharing these cultural reflections with our community while keeping it simple, friendly, and tasty.

On a scale of one to shitting-your-pants, how nervous were you about starting your business? 
.5? I’ve had the opportunity to open several coffee shops for others before my own—some much larger than BSC. In comparison this was a walk in the park. 

Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land

What's the greatest challenge with your business?
Letting go. Stepping back, and letting the team takeover. I want to create a very specific experience for our guests, and it’s most challenging making sure each and every team member knows what that experience is, then shares it with hundreds of customers day in and day out. 

What do you love most about your business? What brings you the most joy?
Owning a coffee shop is so often over romanticized. Everyone want’s to own and coffee shop because they envision sitting around drinking coffee all day. It’s a lot of work—not all of it’s fun. I love the challenge of building a team that can deliver amazing products and amazing experiences to our guests. I love working my ass off behind the scenes, so it seems effortless from the outside looking in. 

Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land

What's on your bedside table (be honest)?
Apple Watch charger
Kiss my Face chapstick
Air plant
Soy candle No. 05 : Spruce by P.F. Candle co. (A little out of season, I’m thinking nightshade next)

Secret hobby and/or obsession?
Golf. I started playing to spend time with my granddad. He’s in his 80’s and still plays every single day #goals. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it. Part of me wishes I put as much time, effort, and money 🙄 into something more useful for humanity, but it’s my escape. I don’t know what I would do without it. 

Favorite city? 
Lisbon

Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land

If you could get in a time machine, zoom back into the past and give yourself one piece of advice before starting your business, what would it be? 
Start social media sooner. This time around I decided to keep quite on the new café until we were open. It took much longer for people to find out about us than expected. Create your social media accounts early, reach out to the press, be active, build the hype and hope you can measure up to it! 

What other local business/project do you think is Small and Beautiful? 
Small coffee shops gotta stick together, I’d check out Little Owl and Lula Rose. Food: To the Wind Bistro. Bar: Bread Bar

Blue Sparrow Coffee. Shot by Olaiya Land