summer

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

italian plum pie

Image & styling: Olaiya Land

Hello!

I’m writing you this week from Brussels. Beau and I are staying with friends and recharging between the Paris photography workshop we hosted and the retreat we’re leading in Portugal. Since we arrived, our days have mostly involved sleeping late, cooking with all the gorgeous fall produce, leisurely meals with friends and long walks through the forest. Needless to say, I do not want to leave.

Where Paris was cosmopolitan, sexy, hectic and loud, Brussels is slow and quiet. It’s a city of austere northern architecture and moody blue-grey skies and daily rain showers that necessitate frequent stops for coffee or tea. Our friends live in a lovely, rambling old house with creaky floorboards and cozy reading nooks and two friendly cats (who have been known simply as Le Blanc and Le Noir for as long as I can remember).

Image: Olaiya Land

All this comfort and sleep and home-cooked food makes me feel like a new person. The woman who obsesses about going to the gym and cleaning the house and Instagram analytics has vacated the premises. In her place is someone who sleeps until 11am, thinks walking is exercise enough and dips her French fries in mayonnaise (because, Belgium).

I’ve traveled enough to know that this supremely relaxed, well-rested version of myself won’t stick around forever. But that’s not the point. The important thing is stepping outside my day-to-day stresses and tribulations for long enough to gain perspective on what really matters.

This is the main reason I travel.

Image: Olaiya Land

Don’t get me wrong: the museums and wine and pains au chocolat are pretty compelling reasons, too. But the main thing is how foreign places create a space for me to slow down, reconnect with myself and do more of the things that bring me pleasure. Which in turn allows me to have more creative ideas, be inspired to head in new directions and be a better human, all around.

In this vein of taking time to recharge and do more things that bring us joy, I have a pie recipe for you this week.

Image & styling: Olaiya Land

There’s a sensual pleasure to baking a pie from scratch. Mixing the dough by hand and rolling it out evenly. Smelling and tasting the tart, floral fruit as you season the filling. The satisfaction of weaving the top into place and crimping the edges in whatever pattern pleases you most. Arguably the best part is sitting down to eat the first still-warm slice with a melty scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Seen from this vantage point, a home-baked pie is like a work of art and a mini-vacation rolled into one; a space to slow down and settle into yourself that can be achieved within the four walls of your own kitchen.

Image & styling: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

Italian Plum Pie

  • 1 recipe flaky pie dough (see below)
  • 2 lbs (900g) firm-ripe Italian prune plums (or other plums, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 lb (450g) firm-ripe peaches (this is roughly 2 medium peaches)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 9 tablespoons (120g) sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch

Flaky Pie Dough

  • 1 lb + 2 oz (4 cups) all-purpose flour

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

  • 8 oz (2 sticks) butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

  • 5 oz (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons) lard, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled

  • 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

  • 3/4 cup cold water

  • 1 whole egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water (or 3 tablespoons cream or milk), to glaze

  • 1-2 tablespoons turbinado, demerara or sanding sugar (regular old sugar will work, too)

*Notes: If peaches aren’t available when you get around to baking this pie, you can use all plums or substitute figs for the peaches.

- I have a step-by-step tutorial for making pie dough with pictures here. (Scroll to the bottom of the post.)

- I also tried this pie with this Easiest Pie Crust Ever from Yossy over at Apt 2B Baking Co. This crust uses only flour, butter and cream cheese and comes together quickly and easily in a food processor. The tang of the cream cheese is a nice compliment to stone fruit. It’s a great option if you need to save time or are nervous about making the crust 100% by hand.

Image & styling: Olaiya Land

For the crust: Before you begin, make sure your butter, lard and cold water have been in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. If the weather is warm or your kitchen tends to be toasty, chill your flour as well.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and salt. Separate the pieces of chilled butter and toss them in the flour mixture to coat. Do the same with the lard. When all the pieces of fat have been coated in flour, pick up a piece of butter or lard between your thumb and first two fingers. Slide your thumb over the butter or lard while pressing down on it in order to form a long, thin strip. Drop this strip back into the bowl so it becomes coated with flour. Continue until all the pieces of butter and lard have been flattened. Some of the flakes will break and the dough will take on a slightly crumbly or sandy appearance, which is just fine. Place the bowl in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to re-chill the fat.

Drizzle the cold water and vinegar onto the chilled flour and fat mixture, tossing constantly with a flexible silicone or rubber spatula or a large spoon. Continue adding water until the mixture is moist enough to form a dough when you pinch it together. If you have used ¾ cup of water and the dough seems dry, give it a few more turns with your spatula or spoon and then pinch off a golf ball sized piece of dough. Squeeze it and see if it wants to come together into a dough.  If it is too crumbly and won’t form a dough, add a bit more water, a couple teaspoons at a time, until the mixture forms a dough when you pinch it together.

Turn out the dough (it will be shaggy) onto a large work surface and gather it together into a ball. Do not knead it as this will toughen the dough. Divide it in half with a bench scraper or knife. Form each half into a ball and then flatten each ball into a disk about 3/4-inch thick. Wrap each disk in plastic wrap or parchement and chill for at least an hour before rolling. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 2 days, or placed in a resealable bag and frozen for up to 2 months.  If frozen, thaw the dough in the refrigerator overnight and soften slightly at room temperature before rolling out.)

Roll out one disk of dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness. Place the dough into a pie plate. Lift and press it into the edges of the plate.  Do not stretch the dough into the edges as this will make your crust shrink as it bakes. Trim and crimp the edges of your crust and place the pan in the freezer for at least 15 minutes.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the other disk of dough to roughly 1/4-inch thickness.  Cut out a circle roughly 1 inch larger than the top diameter of your pie plate.  For a latticed pie, cut this circle into wide strips.  Place the strips on a plate and refrigerate while you make the filling.

When you are ready to bake the pie, arrange a rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat it to 425°F.  

For the filling: Cut the plums into quarters if they're large or halves if they're small, discarding the pits. Cut the peaches into 1-inch thick slices. Place the fruit in a large mixing bowl and toss gently with the lemon juice, sugar, cardamom and a pinch of salt. Set aside to rest for 20 minutes. Toss the fruit and any juices that have collected in the bowl with the cornstarch, mixing well to break up any clumps of cornstarch.

Baking the pie: Pour the fruit mixture into your well-chilled or frozen bottom crust. Place the dough strips from the refrigerator on top of the fruit, weaving them into a lattice pattern. Trim the edges to overhang by ¾ inch. Fold the top edges of the lattice over the bottom crust, tuck the edges under and crimp to seal the edges. Place the filled and topped pie back in the freezer to chill for 15 minutes. 

(I know. There’s a lot of chilling and freezing and waiting around. But taking the time to par-freeze your pie will help keep your crust from slumping in the oven.)

Brush the top crust with the egg wash (or cream or milk) and then sprinkle with the sugar. Place the pie on a sheet pan and bake for 30 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F and continue baking until the crust is dark golden brown, about 45-60 minutes longer. You want to make sure you can see the filling bubbling up through the lattice or the cornstarch won’t set the filling and it will be runny. The top crust should be deep golden-brown when the pie is done. If you feel like it’s starting to burn, loosely tent aluminum foil over the pie and continue to bake until the juices bubble.

Remove the pie from the oven and allow it to cool before serving. (The longer you let it cool, the easier it will be to slice.)

Serves 6-8.