photography

because you are

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

When I was single, Valentine’s Day was depressing. This was pre-Galentine’s, so there was no celebrating sisterhood with my lady friends over waffles and mimosas.

In all my relationships before I met my husband, Valentine’s Day was stressful. (He only got me this little box of chocolates? There’s no card? Is this the beginning of the end? Should I break up with him or give him this masterpiece of a handmade, vintage-inspired sweater that took me 80 hours to knit?)

All the years I worked in the restaurant industry, Valentine’s Day was a shit show of trying to cram three hectic turns and a “special” menu into one (hopefully profitable) evening. High romance it was not. 

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

To this day, Beau and I don’t really celebrate Valentine's. No champagne. No hand-dipped chocolate-covered strawberries. And certainly no dinners out. (After all those years in the trenches, going out on Valentine’s Day still spikes a stress response). 

Despite my Grinch-like attitude towards this amorous holiday, there’s one V-Day gesture I can get behind: buying flowers for your special someone. And this year, I propose that your special someone be you.

Image: Olaiya Land
Buy Yourself Flowers-1-2.jpg
Image: Olaiya Land

There’s a distinctive pleasure in receiving an armload of blooms. Flowers are a mood-lifting burst of color wrapped in a parcel of soothing green foliage. With their assorted perfumes, velvety petals and, in the case of edible flowers, subtle flavors, they engage our senses as few other gifts do. There’s something about an artfully arranged bouquet that feels luxurious and, depending on how puritanical your upbringing was, maybe even a little naughty. Flowers are by their very nature fleeting--the precise opposite of a practical investment. The most stunning bouquet will soon wilt and fade. And even dried flowers will eventually crumble to dust.

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

Which is exactly why you should get yourself flowers this Valentine’s Day, or any other day for that matter. You should buy yourself this supremely impractical present to remind yourself that you are a magnificent goddess (or god--no gender stereotypes around here!) who deserves to have beauty in your life regardless of your relationship status. 

Gifting yourself flowers is a statement of self-love and thus a small act of empowerment. 

Image: Olaiya Land

And before you start to list off reasons not to treat yourself like a queen this Valentine’s Day, let me say this: beautiful flowers don’t have to be expensive or time consuming. Though you can easily spend well into the three figures on a bespoke bouquet from an artisan florist, you can also spend $3.99 at Trader Joe’s, like I did for the miniature carnations below, and arrange your flowers in a jam jar--with or without some greenery foraged from your yard (or, under duress, your neighbor’s yard). Ten minutes, $4 and voilà--you’re a Valentine’s Day goddess!

Image: Olaiya Land

However you choose to go about loving yourself this Valentine’s Day, the thing to keep in mind is that you deserve it--whether you’re in a relationship or not. Whether you have your dream job and loads of money or not. Whether you’re #winningatlife or not. So before next Wednesday, I want you to gift yourself a bouquet that will brighten your space and make you feel special every time you look at it.

Because you are. 


Bouquet in progress at  The London Plane

Bouquet in progress at The London Plane

If you're in Seattle

My favorite places to buy flowers are The London Plane and Glasswing. Both have a beautifully curated selection of unique blooms and are currently taking orders for Valentine's Day bouquet delivery and in-store pick-up. 

The self-serve flower bar at  Glasswing .

The self-serve flower bar at Glasswing.

keep going. it gets better.

Image: Olaiya Land

Hello and Happy 2018!

I know this is a little late in the month to be wishing you well for the new year, but I decided I needed to step away from the blog for a minute to do some New Year’s reflecting.

I turned 43 over the holidays. There’s a piece of me that thinks I should not be posting that information to the internets. But given the current epidemic of sexism and discrimination in this country, there’s a piece of me that feels it’s more important than ever to stand up and be who you really are. 

As I was thinking about all this and whether to “out” myself as over 40, I realized reaching this point in my life has some distinct advantages. Like the fact that I finally accept and love myself. But, good lord, has it been a long road getting here!

Image: Olaiya Land

As a chubby bi-racial kid growing up in white America, I always believed I had to be better-than to get by. So I stayed vigilant. I demanded straight A’s of myself from the first grade on. I wanted to be beautiful, skinny, popular. So I worked multiple after-school jobs to buy myself the “right” clothes. I joined the pom pom squad so boys would notice me. I got up 3 hours before school to straighten my hair. I started dieting and jumping rope in our basement late at night for hours each week like some sort of brown, female version of Rocky Balboa. When dieting didn’t work as flawlessly as I’d hoped, I started making myself throw up. 

Attending the hallowed (and uber-privileged) halls of Yale University didn’t help things. I excelled at school by white-knuckling my way through every class, obsessively pushing myself to study just a little harder. On the outside, I looked like I had my shit together. I had friends. I was getting good grades. My professors liked me. On the inside, I was a self-hating wreck with abysmal self-esteem and a crippling eating disorder.

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

Twenty years later, talking about this time in my life still makes me cringe inside. But I’m sharing this because I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in having felt this way. There are thousands of other women out there, if not more, who have at some point felt the same pressure to do it all. To be beautiful and sexy and capable and smart and strong and independent and earn money hand over fist. I look around me and I see women silently pushing themselves to the point of cracking under the pressure for perfection and fear of judgement. I’m pretty sure social media isn’t helping. 

So I’m writing today with some advice for anyone out there feeling this way: Muster as much self-kindness and love as you can and keep going. It gets better. 

Stand Up and Be Who You Are-43.jpg
Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

For some of us, happiness is a gift we’re born with. But most people have to work at it. That’s another thing I’ve learned in these 43 years; happiness takes work. 

It involves trying lots of things. And failing miserably at some. And forgiving yourself when you fall down. I think of it like a spiral staircase. We want to take an express elevator from the ground floor to the penthouse. But life doesn’t work that way. Instead, we take a verrrrrry long spiral staircase, looping around and around making the same mistakes many times over, but learning something new with each time around and always finding ourselves a little higher than we were before.

Image: Olaiya Land

At 43, I feel more creative and engaged with my own life than ever. I’m excited about the possibility each day holds. I care less about what people think and so I’m free to like myself the way I am. I’ve learned how to say no to toxic people and pointless obligations. I’ve learned how to trust myself. 

Which doesn’t mean I’m walking around Cloud 9 with a shit-eating grin on my face. I make mistakes and get mad about things that aren’t important. I swear like a sailor. Sometimes I’m jealous of what other people have. My feelings get hurt. But at most moments of most days, when I think about my life, I am happy.

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

For a while now, I’ve been feeling the need to pivot this blog towards something more meaningful than new recipes. Because I am who I am, there will always be food. I still think cooking for others and gathering friends around your table is one of the most life-affirming things you can do. And taking the time to feed yourself delicious, nourishing food is deeply satisfying.

There will also be posts on how to travel better and more often. Experiencing new cultures and connecting with people who are different from us, leaves us more open-minded. Shaking off our day-to-day routines provides fresh perspectives and insights. Tasting new flavors and seeing unfamiliar sights leaves us creatively energized and we come home our best selves, refreshed and inspired to try new things.

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land
Stand Up and Be Who You Are-25.jpgImage: Olaiya Land

There will be posts on making your house (or apartment or RV or yurt) feel like a home. There will be posts on engaging with the beauty of art, design, fashion and nature. There will be ideas for how to take better care of your body, mind and soul. 

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

Going forward, I’m envisioning this blog as an offbeat lifestyle magazine devoted to helping foster meaningful human connections through food, travel, art and design. 

I’ve got a new name in the works to reflect the shift. I’m also dreaming up ways this space could feel like more of a community and help like-minded people come together for discussion, friendship and inspiration. I’m thinking: forums, meet-ups, dinners and retreats devoted to sparking the creative genius inside all of us. 

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

This blog would be nothing without all of you. So I want to hear back in the comments from every single one of you (yes, my fellow introverted lurkers, even you) about what sorts of topics, events, workshops and retreats would bring more joy to your life this year! 

Because I want to devote this space to helping women from 23 to 83, and every perfect age in between, design a beautiful, creative, more satisfying life.

Image: Olaiya Land

on gratitude

image: Olaiya Land
On Gratitude Post_Nov 2017-11.jpg

I’ve been thinking about gratitude a lot lately. I’ve been feeling a need to stop and take stock of the many things I have to be grateful for--in more than a perfunctory, 30-second, Instagram sort of way.

Of course, the Thanksgiving holiday has had something to do with this. The whole holiday season, with its unique blend of stress and joy and complicated family dynamics, puts me in an introspective mood. There’s something about the year drawing to a close, too, that compels me to look back and assess how the whole affair of my life is coming along. (And my Christmas birthday throws an extra layer of self-examination and existential angst in the mix!)

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

Talking about gratitude can feel a little corny though. The “Attitude of Gratitude” has been pretty much trampled to death in the popular media. But there remains something very real about the power of gratitude to improve our lives.

In an attempt to stave off a Seattle funk, for example, Beau and I started calling out our “gratefuls” every evening before bed: A great meal. An exciting work project. A glorious sunset. A roof over our heads and food on our table. 

Through our days, then weeks, of paying attention to them, these “gratefuls” have knitted themselves into a sort of forcefield that helps keep self-pity and bleak moods at bay. They remind us that no matter how shitty the day seemed, we have an embarrassment of riches in the gratitude department.  

image: Olaiya Land

So as we head into the festive chaos of the holiday season, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been especially grateful for this year and that have had a big impact on my life:

1) All the talented, interesting, creative people surrounding me. I’ve written before about being an introverted hermit who could happily spend hour after hour at home cooking, reading and watching BBC period dramas. But, from my incredible husband to the gifted chefs, makers, and artists I got to work with this year to those of you who joined my retreats and workshops--you are my number one source of inspiration and energy. I’m so grateful for that.

image: Olaiya Land

2) Travel. I’m going to get a little vulnerable here and tell you that, as someone who spent a chunk of her childhood living in a trailer park and knows what government cheese tastes like, I often feel twinges of guilt that my life now includes multiple trips to Paris and other amazing places each year. There’s a piece of me that feels like I don’t deserve it. I obsess about whether I’m going to come off as some sort of snobby, jet-setting, champagne-swilling person who takes for granted all these special experiences when I post about them on the blog.

But then I remember something: I believe travel is one of the most soul-satisfying things we can do. A trip--to the next town or the other side of the planet--opens our minds to new ideas and exposes us to people we’d never meet in the comfort of our daily routines. It shifts our perspectives and connects us to other human beings like nothing else. If I can encourage others to experience that connection and openness, I feel like I’m doing something necessary and important. When I think about it all, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude that I get to have such a rewarding job, discover new places and meet cool, creative people all over the world. 

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

3) Photography. I kicked off 2017 by taking a life-changing photography workshop in Oaxaca. I’m wrapping up the year landing exciting commercial photography gigs, which leaves me feeling like a competent professional instead of an impostor. It has been a huge confidence boost. If you are contemplating getting serious about your side-hustle or creative hobby, I say do it, do it, DO IT. It is so rewarding to invest in a creative pursuit and feel yourself growing and making work you are proud of. I’m overflowing with gratitude for this one! 

image: Olaiya Land

4) Taking it easier on myself. I’ve written a lot about this over the past year. (You can read more about it here, here and here.) So I’ll simply say I’m learning to tame my inner dictator and extend a little more kindness to myself. Sometimes I forget and get caught up in over-working and self-criticism. But I’m finding it easier to step off the perfectionist treadmill. The result is less anxiety, more happiness and more time for things that actually matter (see items 1, 2, and 3). So that is without a doubt something to be grateful for.

5) This blog. I don’t want to get all meta on you, but I’m super grateful to have this space to share favorite recipes, my photography, my travels and my thoughts with you! Sharing these things makes them feel more alive and real somehow. This blog has also been the source of many IRL connections and friendships, which makes me think this whole internet thing is pretty awesome after all. 

image: Olaiya Land

This seems like a good time to let you know that starting around the beginning of the year, I’ll be taking this blog in a new direction. I can’t imagine a world where sharing food won’t be important to me, so there will still be recipes I love. But there will be other stuff, too. My interests and creative energies have shifted a lot in the past year and I want this journal to reflect that.

I’m still exploring what exactly the “other stuff” will be, but I know there will be more photography, more Small is Beautiful features on local businesses I love, more travel guides. Basically, I plan to share whatever I find compelling: An art exhibit in Paris. A new restaurant in Seattle. Travel tips. Fashion and design trends I’m feeling. My thoughts on how to live a more beautiful and artful life. 

image: Olaiya Land
image: Olaiya Land

I understand that the new format won’t be for everyone. If you’re a diehard recipes fan and decide to unsubscribe, there will be zero hard feelings. For the rest of you, I’d love to hear in the comments below what sort of content you’d be especially into.

I can’t wait to head off on this new adventure. And I’m ever grateful to all of you for being a part of it.


image: Olaiya Land

P.S. Big news! I’m teaming up with the super talented Yossy Arefi to bring you another Paris food photography workshop! We're finalizing the dates and details this weekend. But I can tell you that it will be in the second half of May and that in addition to cooking, styling and shooting, there will be all sorts of Paris deliciousness. Stay tuned for details and click here to sign up for the First To Know list and get early access to registration!