spring

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

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

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