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

posole verde

Posole Verde // Milly's Kitchen

I am not really a believer in New Year’s resolutions. They always seem to putter out somewhere around March. I prefer to secret away an afternoon in the quiet, darkening days of January to imagine what I want from the year. I prefer to head out into the new year with a roadmap and an intention. Though I don’t always end up at my original destination, things always seem to fall into place somehow.

This year, I find myself thinking about how to clear away the extraneous, the white noise. Too much television. Worrying about what other people think. Falling down the Internet’s many rabbit holes. Sweeping away the distractions helps reveal the essential. Family. Friendship. Creativity. Beauty. Nature. Those things that sustain me.

The idea of sustenance has been on my mind a lot lately. Busy-ness has a way of taking over, like a creeping vine, if you forget to prune it back. So as I plan out each week, I schedule in time to write and take photos and go for walks, activities that sustain my spirit and keep the busy-ness in check. 

Posole Verde // Milly's Kitchen

In the kitchen too, I’ve been thinking about sustenance. As someone who earns her livelihood through food, it’s not always easy to navigate the territory between flavor and health. I learned to cook in restaurant kitchens, where butter and cream and sugar and salt are the go-to shortcuts to flavor. And let’s be honest--butter, cream, sugar and salt are glorious in the kitchen, adding roundness and coaxing forth layers of deliciousness from other, more subtle, ingredients. I am most certainly not among those who vilify fat or carbohydrates or any food at all for that matter. 

But I do know that too much of a good thing can be, well, too much. I just returned from a trip to San Francisco with my mother. We did all the fun, mother-daughter things one should do on a trip to San Francisco. We rode a ferry to Alcatraz Island and snapped pictures of the Bay Bridge and the city skyline with the sun glinting off the water. We explored Golden Gate Park and spent an afternoon entranced by the underwater dreamscape at the California Academy of Sciences aquarium. We wandered the streets of the city and stumbled upon lovely handmade jewelry and gorgeous earth-toned ceramics and a hidden trove of vintage kitchen wares.

Posole Verde // Milly's Kitchen
Underwater Dreamscape // Milly's Kitchen
Bay Bridge // Milly's Kitchen

And we ate.

We waited in the ever-present line at Tartine for flaky croissants and light-as-air meringues. We ate tacos from a bodega in the Mission. We had some of the best pasta I’ve ever had--housemade ditalini with dungeness crab and uni butter--at Locanda. We brunched on lentil fritters with a silky beet sauce, kefir and cilantro oil at Bar Tartine. At Range, my favorite restaurant in the Bay Area, I had crisp-skinned roasted chicken with a bread salad of chicory, dates, bacon and fresh herbs. We finished the trip at 20th Century Cafe (a gem of a place) with golden pierogi served with damson plum preserves, lighter-than-air apple strudel and a slice of Russian honey cake. Each meal was a treasure.

20th Century Cafe Russian Honey Cake // Milly's Kitchen


I wouldn’t change a thing about our trip. But when I got home, I was decidedly done with buttery pastries and creamy sauces. I craved fresher, lighter meals. Greens and whole grains and brothy soups. The sort of food that leaves you ready to dive into your day rather than in a food coma and in need of a nap. 

This posole verde is one of the recipes I turn to at times like this. I first made this soup last summer with tomatillos from the farmers market. But I was craving it this winter and discovered that it works beautifully with canned tomatillos as well. 

In addition to the tart tomatillos, this posole has earthy hominy to give it body and texture. There are jalapeños to liven things up and cooling cilantro to balance the kick of the chiles. The chicken makes this soup a filling meal, but pintos or black beans would work just as well if you prefer to keep it vegetarian. And of course, you can’t leave off the toppings. For me, posole is all about the bright, crunchy toppings added to each bowl just before serving.

Posole Verde // Milly's Kitchen

This posole brings a little summer warmth to January days and is just the kind of sustenance I’m looking for as I head towards spring with a roadmap for a fresh, new year in hand. 

 

P.S. I'm always looking for inspiration, so I'd love to hear about your go-to fresh, healthy meals in the comments below! 


I’m generally not a champion of the boneless, skinless chicken breast. Mostly because it isn’t as flavorful as other cuts of chicken and it’s more difficult to cook properly. But I like the delicate chicken flavor it brings to this light, fresh soup. The handling of the chicken is a bit fussier here due to the fact that breast meat is leaner and will get dry and tough it is not cooked gently. Feel free to substitute skinless chicken thighs, pork loin or tenderloin or even braised pork shoulder in place of the chicken breasts if you prefer.

Posole Verde // Milly's Kitchen

Posole Verde (Tomatillo, Hominy and Chicken Soup)

  • 1 recipe garnishes (see below)
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 lb fresh tomatillos, diced or 1 28-oz can tomatillos, drained
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeño (seeds optional), quartered
  • Packed ⅓ cup cilantro (some stems are fine)
  • 4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (preferably homemade), divided
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 cups cooked hominy (you can cook your own or use 1 28-oz. can)
  • 2 large skinless chicken breasts (about 1 ¾ lbs)

Garnishes

  • 1 large avocado, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime cut into wedges
  • 8-10 radishes, very thinly sliced
  • 2 green onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 ½ cups very finely shredded red or green cabbage
  • ½ cup crema, sour cream or cotija cheese

Heat 1 cup of the stock in a medium saucepan. If you are using fresh tomatillos, add them to the pot along with the onion. If not, add only the onion. Simmer until the onion is tender, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Working in batches, puree the onion and tomatillo (along with the cooking liquid), garlic, jalapeño and cilantro in a blender. Take care not to fill the blender more than ⅔ full so the hot mixture won’t force the lid off when you turn the blender on. That is not fun.

Transfer the pureed tomatillo mixture to a heavy-bottomed stockpot or Dutch oven. Add the rest of the stock, bay leaf, 1 ½ teaspoons salt and the hominy. Bring the soup to a simmer and add the chicken. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the chicken is just cooked through, 15-20 minutes. You can check to see if the chicken is done by removing it and cutting into it with a paring knife. Take care not to overcook it as it gets dry and stringy. You want it to be completely opaque, without any traces of pink but still juicy. Remove the chicken from the pot and set it aside to cool. Continue to cook the soup at a bare simmer for another 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle but still warm, cut it into 1-inch cubes. Use your fingers to shred the cubed chicken.  Do not return the chicken to the pot. Cooking the chicken in the soup further will cause it to lose moisture and toughen.

Taste the posole and add more salt if necessary. Remove the bay leaf.  Ladle the hot soup into serving bowls. Spoon some of the shredded chicken into the center of each bowl. Serve very hot accompanied by garnishes.

*Note: If you don’t eat all of the posole, you can either cool the tomatillo-hominy base then add the shredded chicken and refrigerate, taking care not to overcook the chicken when you reheat the soup.  Or you can store the tomatillo-hominy base and the chicken separately in the refrigerator. When reheating the soup, stir the chicken in just before serving and take it off the heat as soon as the chicken is heated through.

Posole Verde // Milly's Kitchen

lebkuchen

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

The first time I tasted lebkuchen was at a Christmas market in Aachen, Germany. I was studying in Brussels at the time, lounging around on a grey Sunday morning, when my friend, Gösta called. Finding the city insufficiently snowy and festive, he proposed we take a day trip to Germany to experience a traditional Weihnachtsmarkt and some true holiday cheer. I was pretty content under my duvet. But Gösta is Swedish, and so clearly an expert on both snow and holiday cheer. And he was driving. I rallied.

We called two other Swedish friends, Katinka and Joakim, folded ourselves into Gösta’s tiny car and headed out of the city. As we approached the German border, flakes began to fall. By the time we arrived in Aachen, the city and market were as festive and snow-covered as Gösta had predicted. 

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

The market was on a square flanked on all sides by tall, stepped facades that recalled sugared gingerbread houses. Strings of white lights glowed from rooftops. Beneath, there were wooden huts selling hand carved ornaments, dense fruit breads, sprays of holly and twisty peppermint candies. The market smelled of roasting nuts and sizzling wurst, which we ordered with sautéed onions and a smear of spicy German mustard.  And there was glühwein, warm mulled wine, that we drank huddled close beneath eaves the eaves.

After the sun had set and the temperature plunged towards truly frigid, we decided it was time to head home. As we wound our way back through the market, we found ourselves on a side-street, in front of a small bakery, its window piled high with German Christmas cookies. Crisp, stamped springerle. Iced cinnamon stars. Humble pfeffernüsse in their jackets of powdered sugar. And another I’d never seen before: pillowy spice cookies emblazoned with blanched almonds and washed with a thin sugar glaze. Lebkuchen. I ordered a heart shaped one, tossed it in my bag and forgot about it.

Excavating my purse several days later, I discovered the slightly smashed cookie. I took a bite. Not only was it still good, it was glorious. Tender. Subtly sweet. Tasting of almonds and honey. And spice. There was cinnamon for sure. And ginger maybe. Something woody and warm like nutmeg or cloves. And something floral like cardamom. And the whole thing was laced through with a ribbon of citrus that kept it from being either too sweet or too dark. 

It has been my favorite Christmas cookie ever since.

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen
Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

When I moved back to the U.S., I discovered that almost no one on the West Coast has heard of lebkuchen. So several Christmases ago, I started my search for the perfect recipe. There are many, many versions of lebkuchen. Ones that strive to reproduce the cookie as it existed in 15th-century Nuremberg (the city in which it originated). Unfussy, American versions using molasses and omitting the traditional marzipan, adapted by German immigrants. Fancified modern versions baked as cupcakes and tarts.

I’ve been tinkering with the recipe for several Christmases. This is simply the version that I like best. There are lots of ground almonds to keep the cookie moist. A good hit of spice and a splash of rum to keep things festive. Three forms of citrus--candied peel, zest and juice--for complexity and to balance the dark spices. And this year, having run out of molasses, I made some with sorghum syrup, which produced my best batch yet. 

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen

Baking these lebkuchen is a delight in itself. Like all good holiday traditions, it calls to mind cherished friends and family near and far. For me, each bite tastes of a German holiday market and a snowy afternoon spent wandering and laughing and drinking glühwein with good friends. 


*A note on ingredients: I prefer sorghum syrup for these cookies, which can be hard to find outside the South. But if you can get your hands on a bottle, its bright sweetness and tart edges will elevate these lebkuchen to some of the finest Christmas cookies around. Light molasses produces great lebkuchen as well. I think dark and blackstrap molasses overwhelm the flavor of the citrus and spice.

Also, I finally found a local source for back oblaten, the thin, edible wafer rounds traditionally used for lebkuchen! If you are in Seattle, you can buy them at PFI. They are also available from specialty sources on the internet. I have made these cookies many times without them, though, and back oblaten are not at all necessary for delicious lebkuchen.

Lebkuchen

  • 1 recipe glaze (see below)
  • 4 oz candied citrus peel, finely chopped (yields about ¾ cup)
  • 2 tablespoons rum, preferably gold or dark
  • 7 oz (1 ½ cups) whole almonds
  • 7 oz (1 cup) sugar, divided
  • 7 oz (1 ½ cup) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 ½ teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ¼ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 3 large eggs
  • ¼ cup light molasses or sorghum syrup
  • Zest of ½ lemon
  • 13 90mm back oblaten, optional
  • ½ cup whole blanched almonds, optional

For glaze:

  • 3 ½ oz (about 1 cup) powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon hot water

Combine the chopped citrus peel and rum in a small bowl. Stir to combine and set aside for at least 15 minutes.

Combine the almonds and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in the bowl of a food processor (a good blender will also work in a pinch). Process until the almonds have been ground to a fine meal. 

Transfer the almonds to a medium bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and spices. Stir well to combine.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, molasses or sorghum syrup and lemon zest until foamy. Add the nut mixture and the soaked citrus peel (with any rum in the bottom of the bowl) and stir until just combined. The dough will be quite sticky. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight. 

Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Using a ¼-cup ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto a parchment-lined sheet pan, leaving at least an inch between each cookie. If you are using the back oblaten, arrange them on a parchment-lined sheet pan and then scoop the dough into the center of each one. Use your fingers to gently flatten the tops of cookies until they are ½ inch thick (wetting your hands makes this a little easier). If you are using back oblaten, leave a ¼-inch border of wafer around the cookie dough. Place three almonds very close together in the center of each lebkuchen (they spread as the lebkuchen cook). Bake for 15 to 18 minutes, rotating the pans after 12 minutes, until the cookies are set but still soft in the middle. When in doubt, pull them sooner rather than later.

While the lebkuchen are baking, make the glaze: Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl to remove any lumps. Add the lemon juice and hot water and whisk until smooth. 

When the cookies are done, let them cool for a minute or two then transfer to a wire rack set over a parchment-lined sheet pan (to catch glaze drips). Brush the warm lebkuchen with glaze. Repeat if desired. Let the glaze dry completely (an hour or so) before storing.

Store lebkuchen in an airtight container with a small handful of apple peels or a slice of apple or orange. This keeps the cookies moist. The cookies will keep for up to 6 weeks this way and they get better as they age and the spices and citrus oils continue to blend.  

Makes a baker's dozen of large (4-inch) cookies

Lebkuchen // Milly's Kitchen