sugar free

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.

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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

gluten-free almond pancakes with honeyed oranges and pistachios

gluten-free almond pancakes on

Here’s a fun fact about me: I’m a pathological perfectionist.

We’re talking self-flagellating, obsessive, crazy-town style perfectionist. Can’t-sleep-at-night, panic-attack, stomach-ulcer style perfectionist. Or at least I used to be until pretty recently.

I grew up in a household that, while it never felt poor to me, never felt quite abundant either. I always felt loved and cared for, but there was a lot of coupon-cutting and bargain hunting. There were big bricks of government cheese. We lived in a trailer park for a while. Add to that the fact of growing up bi-racial in a tiny, rural town in Illinois in the early 80s (mine was the only brown skin for miles and miles), and you’ll understand the intense fear of judgement I felt as a kid.

Being good at things, or rather, being PERFECT at EVERYTHING!!! became my mantra and my armor. It got me out of the sleepy midwestern town I grew up in. It made me the second person in my family (after my mom) to attend a 4-year college. Hell, it got me into Yale. 

It gave me the courage to move halfway around the world with $200 in my pocket and build a life in a foreign country. To be honest, that perfectionistic, never-good-enough, you-can-do-BETTER! drive served me in many ways.

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But lately, perfectionism, with its attendant anxiety and insomnia and sense of insecurity have started to wear on me. I no longer want to forgo sleep in order to get a project I’m working on just right. I’m not interested in motivating myself out of fear. I’ve discovered that falling on your face can be a valuable form of instruction. 

Also, trying to be perfect (or even good) at everything is exhausting. It doesn’t leave enough time for laughing and snuggling and lazying around on Sunday afternoons.

Old habits die hard though. And despite my best efforts to chill the eff out, I can feel those old, hard-wired tendencies creeping in, triggered in part by the chaos of our recent move to a new house.

Which is why I have undertaken a new project. A sort of re-programming, if you will. (The irony of having an official project to work on being less perfectionistic is not lost on me, in case you were wondering!) Instead of rolling out of bed and into a day of doing, doing and more doing, I now do something nice for myself every morning. I take a bath. I read. I cuddle my cat, Loulou. I watch Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Hulu. I make myself pancakes. 

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I cook up a stack of these fluffy beauties, brew myself a latte and sit down at the kitchen table with no phone and no computer and enjoy the morning sun streaming in the window.

I don’t always want to take the time for this new ritual. But most days, I do it anyway. And I’m happy to report it’s working. I’m not going to say my perfectionism has gone into full remission. But there’s something in the act of pausing and taking a moment to be kind to myself rather than punishing or demanding that sets each day off on a better footing.

Who knew the path to self-acceptance would be paved in pancakes?

gluten-free almond pancakes on

Gluten-Free Almond Pancakes with Honeyed Oranges and Pistachios

  • 2 cups orange juice, preferably fresh-squeezed, strained
  • 5 teaspoons mild-flavored honey, divided (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 4 medium oranges (I used cara caras)
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 6 large eggs
  • 6 oz cream cheese
  • 2 cups almond meal
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole milk or half and half
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Butter, ghee or high-heat oil for cooking pancakes
  • ½ cup roughly chopped pistachios (roasted or raw)

*Notes: As you may have noticed, I'm trying to eat a lot less sugar and simple carbs. But I don't want to assume everyone else is, too. So the honey in this recipe is completely optional. If you're used to eating a relatively low-sugar diet, you can leave it out. If you're in the mood for a sweet treat, leave it in. You can even add a touch more if you like. :)

- If you can’t find almond meal, make your own. Place almonds in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until they form a fine meal. You will be able to get a finer meal in the blender. Adding a tablespoon or two of sugar will help keep the almonds from turning to almond butter.

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Place a sheet pan in the oven and preheat the oven to 200° F.

First, make the orange syrup. Place the orange juice, 2 teaspoons of the honey (if desired) and cardamom in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil over high heat, then lower heat and simmer until reduced to 1/2 cup (use a heatproof measuring cup to check). Set aside.

Slice the skin and pith from the whole oranges then cut them into rounds about ¼-inch thick. Place in a heatproof bowl and pour the slightly cooled syrup over the orange slices. Set aside.

Place the cream and one teaspoon of honey (if desired) in a large bowl. Whip the cream to soft peaks. Set aside in the fridge until you’re ready to serve the pancakes.

Make the pancakes: Place the eggs, cream cheese, almond meal, milk (or half and half), almond extract, cinnamon, ginger, baking powder and remaining 2 teaspoons honey (if desired) in a blender. Blend at high speed until the batter is smooth and homogenous, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute. 

Heat a 6-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add about 1/2 teaspoon butter (or ghee or oil). When the butter has melted, pour about ¼ cup of the batter into the center of the pan. I usually just pour straight from my blender. You want to pour enough batter for a roughly 5-inch pancake. Cook until the pancake puffs up and there are bubbles in the center, about 45 seconds. Flip and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 45 seconds longer. Transfer the cooked pancake to the sheet pan in the oven. Carefully wipe out the pan with a paper towel and repeat until all the batter is cooked.

Makes about 16 small or 8 large pancakes.  

gluten-free almond pancakes on

almond crepe cake with raspberry-rose cream

almond crepe cake with raspberry rose cream on
almond crepe cake with raspberry rose cream on

Today, I give you cake! An Almond Crepe Cake with Raspberry-Rose Cream to be precise.

I know this isn’t the most Christmas-y of recipes. But today is my birthday. And I decided I needed to bake myself a beautiful non-holiday-flavored cake!

Before I get down to the details of how to whip up this raspberry and rose scented cloud of a birthday cake, I want to take a moment to thank all of you.

almond crepe cake with raspberry rose cream on

A Christmas birthday, falling as it does just before the start of a new year, is an opportune moment for reflection. There’s something about these darkest days of winter and the turning of another page that calls for a gathering close of loved ones and a look back over all the seasons of the year.

This year, again, I have so much to be grateful for. My friends, My family. Travel to some of the most beautiful cities in the world. Buying a home. And you. 

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I have to admit that the whirlwind of the holidays and closing on a house has left me a little emotional (massive understatement!). But when I take a moment to think about all the people who visit my blog every week and share with me in the comments and via email and instagram, I am incredibly touched. Feeling connected, in whatever small way, to people all over the world strikes me as a very special thing. 

So to everyone who follows along here or on social media or who came to a cooking class or adventured with me to Paris and Portugal--thank you! You helped make 2015 a year I won’t soon forget. If I could invite you all over for a slice of birthday cake, I certainly would!

almond crepe cake with raspberry rose cream on

In lieu of being able to serve you a slice of this cake myself, here’s the recipe. Some of you might have noticed I’m trying to keep things a touch healthier around here. And this cake is just the sort of healthy dessert I can get behind. It’s subtly-sweet (it can even be made without any sugar) and gluten-free, relying on almond flour for structure. The raspberry cream in between the layers has just a hint of rose and lime to transport you to sunnier climes in these grey winter days.

Whether you decide to transform these almond crepes into a full-on layer cake extravaganza or simply top them with berries and syrup for brunch, I wish you a sweet start to the New Year!



Almond Crepe Cake with Raspberry-rose Cream

Almond Crepe Cake with Raspberry-Rose Cream

  • 3 cups cold heavy cream
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar or ¾ teaspoon stevia powder, or to taste (optional)
  • 8 oz. cream cheese, softened at room temperature for at least 30 minutes
  • 1 recipe Raspberry-Rose Compote (see below)
  • 1 recipe Almond-Flour Crepes (see below)

*Notes: I love that this crepe cake can be made with or without sugar. How much you use is totally up to you. If you don't eat sugar, you can leave it out completely and rely on the natural sweetness of the almonds, berries and cream, or you can use stevia. Some brands of stevia have a horrible aftertaste that will ruin a dish. I find that SweetLeaf powdered stevia, used in moderation lends just a hint of sweetness without the wacky aftertaste. If you eat sugar, you can vary the amount to fit your tastes since it isn't playing a structural roll in this recipe. Just sweeten to taste and enjoy!

- To keep from getting frosting all over your serving dish, you can lay down strips of parchment like this before you place the first crepe and then carefully pull them out once the cake is frosted.

- An offset spatula helps to spread the layers and frost the cake. 

- For beautiful slices, make sure the cake has chilled for at least an hour! (More if it's warm out.) If not, the layers can slide off. Heat a chef’s knife under hot tap water until warm then wipe it dry. Slice straight down (no sawing back and forth as you cut) and wipe your knife after each cut. Periodically run your knife under hot water and wipe as you slice. Also, long wooden skewers inserted into the cake before you frost it, will help anchor it as you slice. You'll just need to be sure to remove them after you've sliced.

almond crepe cake with raspberry rose cream on

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the cream and sugar or stevia (if using) to soft peaks. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and set aside. Place the cream cheese in the bowl used to whip the cream and beat until it has softened and has a similar texture to the whipped cream. The time will vary depending on how warm it is when the cream cheese goes into the bowl, but it should take somewhere between 2-5 minutes. Don’t rush this step; you want your cream cheese quite loose or else it won’t fold into the cream.

Transfer the reserved whipped cream to the bowl with the softened cream cheese and whip at medium-low speed (or by hand) until the mixture is homogenous and has the texture of frosting. Take care not to overbeat it.

Transfer ½ the frosting to the large mixing bowl and set aside. Fold the chilled Raspberry-Rose Compote into the remaining frosting until the color is uniform. This is what you will use between the crepes.

To assemble the cake: Place a crepe on a flat serving dish. Spoon about ½ cup of the Raspberry-Rose Cream on top of the crepe and spread it to ⅓-inch from the edge (the weight from the rest of the crepes and the cream will push the filling to the edge). Continue layering crepes and cream, ending with a crepe on top.  Gently press down on the crepe cake to flatten the top and push the cream in the top layers to the edge if necessary. Frost the cake with the reserved whipped cream mixture and refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

Makes 1 6-inch cake, which will serve 6-8.

Almond Flour Crepes

  • 6 large eggs

  • 6 oz. cream cheese (not softened)

  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract

  • ¾ cup almond meal

  • 2 tablespoons sugar or ½ teaspoon stevia powder, or to taste (optional)

  • Neutral tasting high-heat oil, for the pan


*Notes: If you aren’t great at swirling the batter, no worries; just back fill any holes with batter.

- If you can’t find almond meal, make your own. Place almonds in the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until they form a fine meal. You will be able to get a finer meal in the blender. Adding a tablespoon or two of sugar will help keep the almonds from turning to almond butter.

- Feel free to experiment with other nuts here. Hazelnut and pistachio are both great substitutions.

almond crepe cake with raspberry rose cream on

Place all the ingredients except the oil in a blender. Blend at high speed until the batter is smooth and homogenous, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl, about 1 minute. 

Heat a 6-inch nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Add about 1/2 teaspoon oil. When the oil has melted, pour ¼ cup batter into the center of the pan. Gently swirl to coat the bottom of pan, if necessary. Cook until the crepe is set, 60-90 seconds. Loosen the edge with a flexible heatproof spatula then flip and cook until the other side is golden brown, about 30 seconds longer. Transfer the crepes to a wire rack to cool. Once a crepe has cooled slightly, it can be stacked. 

Crepes can be made 1 day in advance. Stack crepes and wrap tightly with plastic wrap until you are ready to assemble your cake.

Makes about 10 6-inch crepes or 6 8-inch crepes.

Raspberry-Rose Compote

  • 1 12-oz. bag (about 3 cups) raspberries (frozen are fine, no need to thaw)

  • Small pinch salt

  • 2-4 tablespoons sugar or ½-1 teaspoon stevia powder, or to taste (amount will vary depending on how tart your raspberries are)

  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch

  • ½ teaspoon lime zest

  • ¼ teaspoon rosewater, or to taste


*Note: I used Nielsen-Massey rose water, which is quite strong. If you are using a more delicate brand, you might need to use a little more. Always add rose water in very small amounts (drops are good) because once you add too much, your whole dish will taste like soap. And we don’t want that.

almond crepe cake with raspberry rose cream on

Place the raspberries in a medium saucepan along with the salt and a couple tablespoons of water. If you are using sugar, add it now. Cook over medium-high heat until the raspberries are bubbling and the sauce has reduced slightly, about 7-8 minutes for frozen berries and 5 minutes for fresh.

Place the cornstarch in a small bowl and add a tablespoon of water. Stir to dissolve the cornstarch then add the mixture to the raspberries. Cook for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the lime zest and rosewater. If you are using stevia, stir it in now. Cool the compote at room temperature for about 20 minutes then transfer it to the fridge and chill until cold. The compote can be made up to 3 days in advance and stored, covered, in the fridge.

Makes about 1 ½ cups.