autumn

passion fruit parfaits + the beauty of improvisation

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

I had a big post planned for you this week on the importance of improvisation. But then the week turned into an insomnia-induced shitshow that saw me stumbling through my days like a member of the walking dead. So it turns out I’m improvising this post on improvisation. Ta-da!

Is that meta? Karma? The Universe calling my bluff?

I’m not entirely sure. And I’m too sleep deprived to untangle the metaphysical ramifications just now.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

But here’s what I do know: Last fall we were staying with our friends Cecilia and Michel in Brussels (who, on a side note, are two of the coolest people I know. I mean he’s an actual physicist. And she’s an art historian. And they live in this gorgeous old house full of flea market finds and photographs and friendly cats. We’re talking major #goals here people.) Anyhoo, when we were staying with our way-cooler-than-us friends Cecilia and Michel, Beau and I ended up at the local market trying to figure out what to cook for dinner that would allow us to appear half as cool as they are.

As we wandered around the store cramming our cart full of exotic European ingredients like sheep’s milk yogurt and rye crispbreads and chestnut paste, I spied a bin full of pruney, sad looking passion fruit. Real talk: I had never actually laid hands on a passion fruit before. But I had a vague notion that they were supposed to be wrinkly. The wrinklier, the better even. Also, they were cheap. I tossed the whole binful in my cart and rolled on, triumphant.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

When it came time to actually do something with my prize produce (as opposed to just feeling like a superstar for snagging a bushel of cheap but potentially rotten passion fruit), I was at a loss. I crossed my fingers and cut into one.

The papery shell revealed a center full of black seeds suspended in a neon orange jelly. Sort of like radioactive tadpoles. But it smelled amazing. Not rotten or overripe at all. I gingerly slipped one of the tadpoles into my mouth.

It was like I’d stepped into a tropical jungle. All musky and floral and fruity. More sour and intense than the passion fruit macarons and eclairs and jellies I’d tasted. I bit down on the seed and it shattered between my teeth. It was a crisp, brittle crunchiness that immediately gave way to a flavor explosion. Like the sexiest Pop Rocks you’ve ever tasted. I was hooked.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

I rummaged around the kitchen and was able to unearth some stray containers of coconut yogurt, a jar of honey and a half bag of pistachios. After five minutes of chopping and layering and artful swirling, these passion fruit parfaits were born. They were the hit of the evening.

I’ve since made these for guests of our retreats. For dinner parties. For Beau and I to take down on the couch while binge watching The Office. These parfaits are easy, delicious and come together in less time than it will take you to read this blog post. Making them ideal for almost any occasion.

And they started with a willingness to take a risk on a pile of shriveled discount passion fruit. (Ok, if we’re being honest, a deep love of bargain-basement prices and the desire to impress our friends might have played a part as well.).

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

But the point is, this is where my big, philosophical post on the beauty of improvisation was headed anyway: You can’t control everything and when you try, you lose out on some of life’s sweeter moments.

Which is a lesson I, personally, need to be reminded of daily. So if you need me, I’ll be over here eating passion fruit parfaits and trying to remember that a spur-of-the-moment improvisation is sometimes the surest move.


Passion Fruit Parfaits

  • 8-12 ripe passion fruit (this should be enough for 3-4 parfaits)
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Honey
  • Pistachios, roughly chopped
  • Pinch flaky salt

*Notes: Since this is a post on improvising and since this parfait is super flexible, I’m not going to give you specific quantities. Just taste and sweeten to your liking depending on how sour your passion fruit and yogurt are. Use as much yogurt and pistachios as makes you happy.

- Counterintuitively, the sweetest passion fruit look like they’ve gone bad. They are wrinkled and shriveled but they will smell sweet and fragrant. If you can’t find ripe passion fruit, buy them when their skins are smooth and leave them out on the counter for a week or so to ripen. Here’s a guide to choosing and using passion fruit in case you need a little help.

- If you’re in Seattle, you can buy passion fruit at Uwajimaya. Be forewarned, they are expensive.

- I make homemade coconut yogurt using this recipe, but any coconut yogurt will work. If I’m using store bought, I like Coyo (available at most Whole Foods). You can also use dairy yogurt or a mix of the two. I sometimes use half greek yogurt + half coconut yogurt.

- A few coconut flakes would not be amiss here. And a layer of not-too-sweet granola turns this into a healthy breakfast in my book.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Cut the passion fruit in half and scoop the seeds into a small bowl. You can add the honey to the seeds a little bit at a time and stir to combine until you get the sweetness you like. But I’m usually too lazy for that. I just layer my ingredients together and then stir it all together as I eat.

I do think it looks nice to have a layer of yogurt on topped with a few pistachios, a drizzle of honey and a pinch of salt. But that’s just me. There really is no way to go wrong here.

If you want to get fancy, you can do 2 (or more) layers of each ingredient.

tahini shortbreads with apricots, pistachios and dark chocolate

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

People. I’m going to level with you—I don’t have much to say today. I’ve been traveling like a crazy person this month to see friends and family (and for mental-health-preserving sun breaks to the desert of course). Beau left his corporate job to work with me full time. We just launched our first retreat of 2019. Plus, you know, THE HOLIDAYS.

It’s been a big month and we’re not even halfway through.

Though my brain is a bit on the fried side, I didn’t want to leave you without a holiday cookie this year! I’ve cut back on a lot of holiday hoopla and obligations, but baking holiday cookies is a tradition I cherish. It means time to be alone in the kitchen with a podcast or a favorite album spinning on the record player. It’s a few hours of chopping and measuring and mixing and standing in front of a warm oven that always restores a little of my sanity during this overfull time of year.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

I got the idea for these shortbreads after making this Red Rice with Coriander, Apricots and Herbs. I had half a bag of my favorite dried apricots sitting in the pantry next to my favorite bar of dark chocolate. Which meant that every time I opened the pantry door, I broke off a piece of chocolate, fished a couple pieces of apricot out of the bag and made myself a tiny “sandwich”. As one does.

The sweet-tart apricots were absolutely perfect against the dark chocolate and the flavor combination got stuck in my head (like a Justin Bieber song, but better). When I sat down to brainstorm what sort of cookies I wanted to bake this year, I already knew it was going to involve apricots and chocolate. I remembered I had a bag of Iranian pistachios in my freezer from my last trip to Paris. Then I asked myself what flavor goes with chocolate, apricots and pistachios? And voilà—these tahini shortbreads were born.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land
Image + styling: Olaiya Land

We leave town again in two days. I have a mountain of laundry to do. Suitcases to pack. A grumpy old cat to transport to the neighbors’ house. But somehow I don’t mind at all. I’ve given in to the chaos of the month and I’m feeling like everything will turn out how it’s supposed to. We’ll see family and friends and listen to cheesy Christmas music and spend way too much time in line at the post office and probably drink too much holiday punch before it’s all said and done.

So I guess I do have something to say after all: This month, try not to worry if things feel a little hectic and out of hand. If you’ve got presents to wrap and dinners to attend and you maybe hit the eggnog a little harder than you’d intended at your office Christmas party. It’s all par for the course. The perfectly imperfect chaos that makes the season bright. Just remember to breathe. (And maybe bake yourself some cookies.)

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

P.S. If you're looking to for an extra-special gift for that extra-special someone in your life (or even your own extra-special self), registration just opened for our May 2019 retreat in Alentejo, Portugal!


Tahini Shortbreads with Apricots, Pistachios and Dark Chocolate

  • 1 1/4 sticks (140g) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup (95g) powdered sugar
  • 1 cup (240 mL) well-stirred tahini
  • 1 3/4 cups (210g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or flaky sea salt
  • 3/4 cup (90g) roughly chopped dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup (50g) roughly chopped pistachios
  • 1/2 cup (75g) roughly chopped dried apricots

*Notes: Blenheim apricots from Trader Joe’s are my absolute favorites and the only one’s I use for baking. They have beautiful color and the perfect balance of sweet and tartness. If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s near you, it looks like you can buy them on Amazon.

- This is my favorite baking chocolate. But any dark chocolate will work. I recommend chopping your own chocolate over using chips since chips are formulated to hold their shape when baked and are harder to slice.

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

Combine the butter, powdered sugar and tahini in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on medium speed until smooth, 3-4 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. Add the flour and salt and mix on low speed until just incorporated. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer. Add the chocolate, pistachios and apricots and mix by hand until just incorporated.

Divide the dough in half. Using a piece of parchment paper, roll each piece of dough into a log approximately 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour or up to overnight. Once the dough is firm, you can also tightly wrap the dough in plastic wrap, seal it in a freezer bag and freeze until ready to use. Thaw the dough slightly before slicing.

When you're ready to bake off your cookies, preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Slice the logs into coins just under 1/2-inch thick and place them on a sheet pan or large plate. (These can be a bit tricky to slice due to the chocolate. If you hit a chunk of chocolate, just saw back and forth until you get through it. If that slice falls apart a bit, just press it back into shape before freezing. This dough is very forgiving.) Place the sliced cookies in the freezer for 15 minutes while the oven preheats (this ensures they don't slump or spread in the oven).

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and place the frozen cookies on it, leaving at least an inch between cookies. Bake until firm around the edges and light golden brown on the bottom, 16-20 minutes. Cool completely on the baking sheet. Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies

Adapted from Soframiz by Ana Sortun and Maura Kilpatrick

Image + styling: Olaiya Land

red rice with coriander, apricot and herbs

Image/styling: Olaiya Land

Once upon a time, before Beau and I got married, I had a boyfriend who was a vegetarian. Please know that I love and cherish the vegetarians in my life. But this boyfriend was the worst sort of non-meateater. The sort of judgy vegetarian who, when we were in the early stages of our relationship, had no problem with me cooking and eating meat, then would randomly get angry about my “disgusting meat addiction”. The sort of vegetarian who, when we were out, would finish my hamburgers and slices of pepperoni pizza because it was “better than wasting”. A vegetarian who was actually more of a carb-atarian and who occasionally cooked horrible hippie food with whatever strange dregs were rolling around in the fridge (sauerkraut burritos, anyone?).

I’m embarrassed to admit that my relationship with this particular ex contaminated my feelings about vegetarians in general. For several years after we broke up, I projected his condescending sense of superiority onto all the vegetarians and vegans I met. (After we broke up, I started dating a meat-eating, Southern, ex-republican who’s job in the Special Forces saw him jumping out of helicopters on a regular basis. Needless to say, he did not complain about my “meat addiction”. Oh, what a painfully obvious rebound.)

I’m happy to report that my anti-vegetarian sentiment disappeared along with the presence of this ex in my life. Unexpectedly, my time with him left me with a deeper empathy for people who don’t eat meat. In our five years together, I saw first-hand how thoroughly vegans and vegetarians are treated as a fussy nuisance or an afterthought at holiday gatherings.

Image/styling: Olaiya Land

Turkey! Ham! Rack of lamb! Gravy and stuffing--made with pan juices, of course! These are the traditional stars of the holiday table. Vegetarians and vegans are left to cobble together a meal of cranberry sauce, gloppy green bean casserole, dinner rolls and perhaps a Brussels sprout or two. (Let’s not even discuss the inedible Field Roast, which is an approximation of no roast I’ve ever tasted.)

If you’re not a vegan or vegetarian yourself, you’re likely to have one or more at your holiday table. Which is why we need more holiday dishes that can accompany meat (if you go that route) and are sexy enough to keep our non-meateating friends and fam from feeling shafted.

Enter this Red Rice with Coriander, Apricot and Herbs.

Image/styling: Olaiya Land
Image/styling: Olaiya Land

I found this amazing red rice on my last trip to Paris. It’s hearty, nutty and subtly sweet, with a beautifully firm texture. (Wild rice is a great substitute if you don’t feel like tracking this down.) Whole coriander seeds and fresh lemon zest add zing. The jewel-toned dried apricots lend sweet-tart balance and keep this rice dish from looking blah. And fresh herbs because, fresh herbs on everything. Always and forever.

Because we all have shit to do at the holidays, this is super easy to make. You cook the rice using the pasta method (boil and drain) and prep everything else while it cooks. The whole thing comes together in about 30 minutes. I’m going to go ahead and say this vegan, gluten-free dish will please pretty much everyone at your holiday feast.

Which is what the holidays are all about--making everyone who gathers around your table feel welcome.


Red Rice with Coriander, Apricot and Herbs

Red Rice with Coriander, Apricot and Herbs

  • 1 ¼ cup Camargue Red Rice (or wild rice)
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds (the smaller, the better)
  • ½ cup roughly chopped dried apricots
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest (from 1 small lemon)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped cilantro

*Notes: I used red rice grown in the wetlands of southern France. You can buy the same sort of Camargue red rice here. Wild rice would also be great in this dish.

- My very favorite dried apricots are the Blenheim variety. They are more tart than Turkish Apricots. I buy mine at Trader Joe’s, but you can also get them here.

- If you want to kick the heartiness up a notch, a handful of chopped pistachios or toasted walnuts would be a great addition.

- This dish can be served warm or at room temperature. It’s good on the first day, but maybe even better the day after. (I just ate some cold, straight out of the fridge and it was pretty delicious.) If you make it in advance, I recommend reheating it, covered, in a low oven before serving.

Image/styling: Olaiya Land

Place the rice in a large saucepan along with a generous pinch of salt. Cover with water by 3 inches and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the rice is done but still firm. Mine took about 25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the rice is cooking, heat a large sauté pan over high heat for about 1 minute. Add the oil. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the diced onion, black pepper and a generous pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low and cook until the onion is very tender. If it browns a bit, that’s ok, but the goal is not to get it brown and crispy. You want meltingly soft onions, so keep the heat low and stir often. When the onions are soft, add the coriander seed and cook for 1 minute. Add the chopped apricot and lemon zest and cook for a minute or two more. If the rice is still cooking, turn off the heat on the onion mixture and set aside.

When the rice has been cooked and drained, add it to the pan with the onion mixture and cook over medium heat until everything is warm and the flavors have come together, 2-3 minutes. Season with the lemon juice and stir in the parsley and cilantro. Taste and add more salt, pepper, lemon or olive oil as desired. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4-6 side-dish servings

Image/styling: Olaiya Land