vegetarian

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

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.

roasted white beans with fennel + mint chimichurri

Image: Olaiya Land

Ok. It’s time to get real with y’all. I have struggled with my weight for pretty much my entire life. As I wrote about in this post, I was a chubby bi-racial kid growing up in a super white, rural farming community. We moved to Wichita when I was 9, where I was the chubby brown girl who didn’t quite fit in with the white kids and wasn’t quite accepted by the black kids. I have a vivid memory of bawling my head off around this age because my hair wasn’t long and straight and blond like my mother’s. From the time I can remember anything, I remember feeling like I didn't belong. 

As a single-parent, my mom worked a lot when I was little. I spent most of my days with my grandparents, both of whom had lived through the Great Depression. They kept their house stocked to the rafters with every manner of foodstuff imaginable. They fed me sugar cereal, mac-n-cheese and candy bars. Fried chicken, frozen pizza and Hostess fruit pies. 

Food was love. And they loved the shit out of me. 

Image: Olaiya Land

It was the early 80s and we didn’t know as much back then about how sugar and processed carbs are essentially garbage. I know my grandparents just wanted to spoil me--their only grandchild for 9 years--and make sure I never went without the pleasures they had to forgo as children.

Food was my solace and my secret shame. By the time I was 12, I had a full-on eating disorder. I wanted to be thin and popular and look like the other girls at a time when almost no one looked like me. But I needed food to assuage my awkwardness and my fear of not being good enough. It was a vicious cycle.

Image: Olaiya Land

Fast-forward to adulthood. I’ve learned to love myself and love the body that I’m in. But it’s been a long road. From the time I graduated college until today, I’ve experimented with a vast panoply of diets. Weight Watchers. The Zone. Atkins. Keto. Low-fat. High-fat. Intuitive Eating. Extreme calorie restriction. The works. 

Things started to get better in the body kindness department the day I banished my scale. That sly dictator lounging under the bathroom sink had been running my life for years. I decided he had to go. Not weighing myself has been a major boost to my self-esteem. (And I’m serious about it--I don’t even let my doctor tell me my weight when I go to see her.) 

Next came finding a way of eating that works for me. I’ve been tweaking this over the past couple of years, but the gist of it is that I go easy on the sugar and carbs. I’ve learned that counting calories is absolutely toxic for me; I quickly tip over into crazytown if I go down that path, anxiously obsessing over everything that goes in my mouth. 

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

I’m currently eating slow carb, which means lots of vegetables, protein, healthy fats and unrefined carbs, like beans and lentils. And zero calorie counting. Saturday is a free day when I eat whatever I want. So I don’t feel like anything is permanently out of bounds. (A girl has to get her pizza on from time to time!)

On the exercise front, I’ve decided only to do activities that I would do even if they burned no calories. I will play tennis in the freezing cold or blistering heat. I'd play in the rain if I could. There’s almost nothing that can keep me off the courts. So this is definitely on the list. I do strength training that involves a lot of balancing and compound movements because it feels like play and makes me feel strong and capable. And I walk with Beau in the evenings. That’s it. 

Image: Olaiya Land

So, about these beans. 

A slow-carb lifestyle involves A LOT of beans. And though I love beans in all their many shapes and sizes, here’s the truth of the matter: beans can get pretty boring when you eat them night after night.

One evening, I decided to toss some beans in with the vegetables I was roasting. What came out of the oven was AMAZING. (Some might even call it culinary genius. I’m not saying who.) These roasted beans were crispy on the outside and pillowy soft on the inside. Like dreamy little roasted potatoes. Or tater tots. Only healthier. 

Image: Olaiya Land

Now I am obsessed with roasted beans. They are my new go-to weeknight starch. I toss them on a sheet pan along with whatever vegetables I have lazing around in my fridge. Thirty minutes later--voilà! Supper is served. If you’re feeling fancy, poach a couple eggs or throw a piece of fish on the grill to serve alongside. Add a squeeze of lemon or a few dashes of hot sauce. It’s hard to go wrong.

For those of you who are perhaps less experimental in the kitchen, here is a recipe to get you started. You roast up a tray of plump corona beans (or gigantes or any other large bean really) with a bit of shallot. Grill up some squid (if you’re into seafood). Add some shaved fennel for crunch and a fresh, zingy chimichurri and your weeknight supper just got extra sexy.

Wherever you are in your relationship with food and your body, I think you can feel pretty good about this salad. It’s delicious whole foods, simply prepared. Miles away from Kraft mac-n-cheese and Hostess fruit pies. But with all the love.

XO,

Olaiya


Image: Olaiya Land

Roasted White Beans with Fennel and Mint Chimichurri

  • 4 cups cooked corona beans (or other large white beans), rinsed
  • 1 medium shallot, sliced
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus an extra squeeze for the fennel
  • 2 large cloves of garlic, finely minced or pressed
  • 1 teaspoon chopped calabrian chiles in oil or a generous pinch of chile flakes
  • 1/2 cup roughly chopped fresh mint, plus additional mint to garnish
  • 1/2 medium fennel bulb, fronds reserved for garnish
  • 1 recipe Grilled Squid (see below), optional

*Notes: Canned beans will work for this recipe, but home cooked beans are best. Plus it's difficult to find large beans like coronas or gigantes in a can. Here are some tips on how to cook a perfect pot of beans.

- When it comes to Calabrian chiles, I love this brand. (Seattle friends: I buy these at PFI in SoDo)

- Grilled octopus would also be delicious in this recipe!

 

Preheat your oven to 475° F.

While the oven is preheating, dry your beans thoroughly with paper towels then transfer them to a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Scatter the sliced shallot over the beans and sprinkle with salt. Drizzle generously with olive oil and toss to coat the beans and the shallot. When the oven is hot, roast the beans, stirring occasionally for even browning, for 12-20 minutes. The exact time will depend on the size of your beans and how wet they are when they go in. You want them to be golden brown in spots, crispy on the outside and tender and fluffy on the inside. Don't worry if some of them split open. Remove them from the oven and set aside to cool.

While the beans are cooking, make the chimichurri: in a medium bowl, stir together 6 tablespoons of the olive oil along with the lemon zest, juice, garlic, chiles, mint and a pinch of salt.

With a sharp knife, Japanese slicer or mandoline, thinly slice the fennel and place it in a bowl. Toss it with a tablespoon or so of the chimichurri and an extra squeeze of lemon juice. Taste and add more chimichurri or lemon juice if you like.

When the beans have cooled somewhat, drizzle most of the chimichurri over them (save a tablespoon or so if you are making the squid). Toss to coat. Season to taste with more salt if necessary. Place the seasoned beans in a serving bowl and top with the dressed fennel and the grilled squid (if you're adding them). Sprinkle the reserved mint and torn fennel fronds over the salad and serve. 


Tender Grilled Squid

• 1 lb. squid, cleaned, cut into large pieces and patted very dry with paper towels
• Extra-virgin olive oil
• Sea salt

*Note: You can buy cleaned, pre-cut squid from your fishmonger or clean it yourself, which is a lot cheaper. Here's a video if you need help.

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Heat a large pan over high heat for a minute or so. Add enough olive oil to film the bottom of the pan, then add the squid pieces. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the squid is opaque and just barely cooked through, 2-4 minutes. It will give off a lot of water. Don't worry, this is normal. Do not overcook the squid or it will get rubbery.

Immediately transfer the squid to a large plate to cool. While the squid is cooling, heat a grill or grill pan to high heat.

Toss the squid in olive oil to barely coat (use some of the mint chimichurri if you have it) then grill until char marks appear, 1-2 minutes. Turn and grill for another minute or so until char marks appear on the other side. Transfer to a bowl to cool or eat immediately.