winter

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

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