autumn

blueberry-hazelnut oat bowl + self care for the holidays

Image: Olaiya Land

Can you feel it?

We’re at the giddy precipice of the holiday season, looking over the edge before plunging breathlessly into it all. Like a roller coaster car suspended for a split second above a valley of curves and drops and loop-de-loops.

Yes, the holidays are an exhilarating (and often anxiety-inducing) ride. The media says we’re supposed to pretend the holidays are all love and light and eggnog lattes and good cheer. While I’m an unrepentant lover of all things Christmas, I have been around long enough to know that sometimes the stretch between Thanksgiving and January 1 is the hardest part of the year.

Oatmeal Bowl.jpg

In addition to glittery Christmas trees and spiced apple cider and brown paper packages tied up with string, the holidays are also:

- A mountain of stress. Induced largely by the pressure to buy everyone on your list beautiful presents, each paired perfectly to the receiver’s personality and taste and lovingly wrapped in recycled craft paper and festooned with vintage ribbons, or perhaps fresh pine needles.

- Your annoying uncle Leroy who starts talking politics after his third scotch then steps outside to smoke a cigar while the evening practically deteriorates into a fist fight and everyone informs everyone else why their views are garbage and COMPLETELY WRONG.

- Boring-ass work parties where you have to make small talk with Barb from accounting and enjoy yourself enough that the party-planning committee isn’t offended, but not so much that you end up telling your boss what you really think of her.

- Figuring out how to sample all the once-a-year cookies and cakes and roast goose or whatever while simultaneously not feeling like a disgusting and very unhealthy blob of a human being.

- Judging yourself because another year has gone by and you still haven’t gotten a raise/found a partner/lost 10 lbs/made time to volunteer at your kids’ school/finally started meditating.

The holidays are a complex mix of joy, togetherness, beloved rituals, obligations and stress.

Too much stress.

Image: Olaiya Land

Which is why I want you to join me in my mission to boost the joy and ditch the stress of the holidays. I wouldn’t say I’m 100% there yet--I still get wound up about baking a gazillion holiday cookies and how to give meaningful gifts and have I posted enough holiday recipes to the blog? But things are A LOT better than they used to be. Five years ago, I was a mash-up of Martha Stewart and Gwyneth Paltrow on speed. It wasn’t pretty. (Or very joyful for that matter.)

These days, I’ve got a solid repertoire of tactics I use to keep me sane at the holidays. Since I want you to find your holiday zen too, I’m going to be sharing some of my best tips for keeping the holidays manageable and joyful. Which means we’ll all have more time and mental space to focus on what really matters--spending time with people we love. (And baking lots of cookies. And watching Love Actually. And listening to LOTS of cheesy Christmas tunes, of course.)

Image: Olaiya Land

So as we dive headlong into the fun and the chaos of the season, my first piece of advice is to TAKE CARE OF YOUR SWEET ASS SELF. You are definitely not going to make the season brighter laid up on the couch with a nasty flu. And it’s hard to spread holiday cheer when you’re sleep-deprived and irritable AF.

By all means, plan parties. Trim trees. Sew stockings. Throw back a ‘nog or two. But remember to take some time for the things that make you feel good: Meet your best friend for drinks after work. Read a book just for pleasure. Go for a mind-cleansing run. Have a tickle fight with your kids. And for the love of all that is holy, try to get enough sleep!

Also, feed yourself nourishing food. Like, maybe, this Blueberry-Hazelnut Oat Bowl.

Image: Olaiya Land

I promise you, this is not your grandma’s oatmeal. There are a lot of sexy things happening here. Like toothsome (not soggy!) oats. And maple blueberries. And homemade hazelnut butter. (Because you’re fancy like that and hazelnut butter kicks peanut butter’s ass any day.)

This is a warming bowl of self-care. The sort of breakfast that leaves you feeling satisfied and sustained, with enough energy to ride the ups and downs of the holiday season and come out the other side feeling like you made the most of it all.


Blueberry-Hazelnut Oat Bowl

  • 3 cups hazelnuts
  • Kosher or sea salt
  • 1 cup rolled oats (not instant)
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup, plus additional for drizzling (optional)
  • ½ cup raw pepitas
  • 1 cup almond milk, preferably homemade

*Notes: You can whip this up using store-bought nut milk and nut butter. But it’s WAAAAY better with homemade versions. I advise setting aside an hour on the weekend to prep up the almond milk, nut butter, blueberries and pepitas. You can even cook the oatmeal in advance if you want. Then just heat and go in the mornings if you’re short on time.

- The method below is how my mother cooks oatmeal--she uses water to let the oat flavor shine through and not too much of it, so the oats stay firm. Excessive stirring is discouraged. Feel free to use a different recipe if you like a different style of oatmeal, or even substitute a different grain for the oats.

- I use this almond milk recipe. But I use slightly less water to make a thicker milk that foams better for lattes. Sometimes I use a little honey to sweeten it. But normally, I don’t add any sweeteners to it.

Image: Olaiya Land

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed sheet pan and roast until the skins start to loosen and the nuts turn golden-brown and fragrant, 8-12 minutes Transfer the hot hazelnuts to a clean tea towel. Gather the four corners of the towel and twist them together to form a parcel around the hazelnuts. Rub vigorously to remove as many skins as possible. When you open the towel most of the skins should have fallen off. Lift the nuts off the towel with a slotted spoon, leaving the skins behind (it's ok if some are still attached) and place them on a plate to cool.

Image: Olaiya Land
Image: Olaiya Land

When the hazelnuts are cool enough to handle, place them in the bowl of a food processor with a pinch of salt. Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until the nuts have turned into a smooth nut butter, 5-10 minutes. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dark spot. You will have extra for future breakfasts and snacks.

To make the oatmeal, heat 2 cups water in a medium saucepan over high heat. When the water comes to the boil, stir in the oats and a small pinch of salt. Cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the oats sit until they absorb most of the cooking liquid.

Heat the blueberries, maple syrup (if using) and a tablespoon of water in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook until the berries start to burst and the juices thicken a bit, about 10 minutes.

Toast the pepitas in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often, until they start to turn golden and some of them start to expand and make a popping sound. Sprinkle with a little salt and transfer to a plate to cool.

When you’re ready to assemble the bowls, heat the almond milk in a small pot over low heat. (I use my milk frother because it’s faster and easier.) Divide the oatmeal between 2 bowls. Pour the almond milk around the oatmeal. Top the oatmeal with a generous spoonful of hazelnut butter. Spoon some of the blueberries and their juices over the top then sprinkle with some of the toasted pepitas. Sprinkle very lightly with salt and drizzle with additional maple syrup if you like. Serve hot.

Makes 2 servings

Image: Olaiya Land

italian plum pie

italian plum pie

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.

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