Italy: San Gimignano and the hilltop towns

One afternoon my mother and I walked down the dusty road that scrolled past our house to unleash a million little discoveries. We were in the middle of San Gimignano, in the middle of of Sienna, in the middle of Tuscany, in the middle of the beautiful boot-shaped country. Every five minutes, there was the surprise of foreign flowers, a house that looked a little forlorn, or a new streak of vines on the horizon. There was a wave of newborn puppies, and row after row of black grapes. The sky rolled like a cerulean snowglobe. I've never felt so small. 

In addition to the silence of the wine country wilderness, there was such an abundance of life in the surrounding towns! During the day, the streets were filled with tourists and backpackers, but at night, the locals and their children came out for twilight pizzas and gossip.  Most of these towns were walled medieval villages. The thing about these hilltop towns: they were built before cars, so the streets force you to use your feet. We used them a lot. 

There were some days when my family (I was traveling with my brother, father, mother, uncle, and aunt), and I would wake early, scarf down some yogurt and apricots, and then head into one of the surrounding towns or villages. We also took a trip into Florence to see David, because we'd have failed as tourists had we not.  Aaron and I were our own that night, and took the opportunity to eat less-than-rare filet (a great thing) and sleep in a 14th century monastery (the beds had since been updated). 

But then there were the afternoons we'd simply be. We'd maybe go for a wine tasting, or head to the market to pick up more cheese (the buffalo mozzarella GOD) and bread, and then drive back home with one hand out the window and both feet on the dash. Back at home, we'd snack on cold eggplant, drink wine, and read before we either A) got hungry for dinner B) got drunk or C) got drunk and hungry for dinner.  It was like "Under the Tuscan Sun," except none of us were divorced or Diane Lane. 

And as you can see, I took a lot of pictures, which was new and fun for me. I like to see the surprises when I look through them later on, like "holy crap, that old Italian man was wearing a white suit and eating pink gelato --- HOW CUTE!" But  there were also times when I wanted to through my camera out the window and ease through the country clunk-free. I did this a lot too. 

A region of sweet red nectar, stonefruit and cream, and the whistle of spinning bike wheels, Tuscany is a place for the dreamers and eaters. You sleep on pillows of ravioli and lean out the windows to breathe in the same air exhaled by dizzily-infatuated Italian lovers, dragging bread across white plates of olive oil, and finally understanding of Bella Notte. 


We stayed in San Gimignano, which is located about an hour away from Florence in the Siena region. Here are some of the places we visited and loved. 

Volterra // Located at the tippy-top of a mountain, Volterra is where you can witness the creation of alabaster knick-knacks and get one of the best views of the Tuscan countryside. For a casual wine tasting with a wild waitstaff, go to La Vena Di Vino. The "tastes" are more like glasses, and it costs 15 euro for five wines. Bras dangle from the ceiling and they play Hozier and Amy Winehouse. 

Florence // The Accademia! The Uffizi! Go to both these things. Also go to Trattoria di Tito for amazing steak, eggplant caprese, and free shots of limoncello to top of the meal. But make a reservation, because it gets elbow-bumpin' and grindin' in this joint. 

Siena // Perfect for twilight strolls, Sienna is known for the Palio horse race and it's numerous confectionary creations. Be sure to find a place (it won't be hard) with Ricciarelli cookies, one of Sienna's specialties. They are adorable, diamond-shaped macaroons, made from almond paste and honey, with the texture of a buttery cloud. You eat them with wine, not milk, which is such a combination of fun and classy that I could explode. 

San Gimignano // Our home! So much Chianti wine! Also location of the 2006-2009 GELATO WORLD CHAMPION, aka Gelateria Dondoli. The best advice I can give is to simply stroll the city; you will likely stumble upon accordion players, free wine tastings, and secret stairwells. Also, the risotto from San Martino 26 deserves a hefty pat on the back. If you are a white wine fan, San Gimignano is known for their Vernaccia. Its crisp and honeysuckle-y and perfect for day drinks and summer skips. 


Eat, drink andddd ....

- Stay cozy 

 

Indian Food with Simon Majumdar, and a few Saturday morning links

I was spoiled this week. 

Wednesday - I twirled to First Aid Kit, a two-girl Americana band hailing from Sweden.  A string quarter joined them, and as they sang the The Lion's Roar, massive headbanging ensued. 

Thursday - Cathy gave me a set of baby balsamic vinegars for tiny tastes and samples! For no reason! I also went into Williams and Sonoma for the first time this holiday season and while I'm trying not to be so much of a consumer, oh my goodness did I want everything. There were dutch ovens and emersion blenders and stand-mixers of the palest blue. As I get older, this is what I envision Santa's workshop to look like. With the addition peppermint white russians. 

Friday - I ate Indian food.

Correction, I learned how to make Indian food, straight from food and travel writer Simon Majumdar. One of the subtitles on Simon's website says, "Go everywhere. Eat everything." He's a judge on Cutthroat Kitchen, Iron Chef America, and The Next Iron Chef, and a poet when it comes to detailing the nourishment of food and exploration.

Simon (the sweet guy!) agreed to do some videos for Salted, one of the companies I'm currently freelancing for. Mostly my work has me A) curled up in bed with a cup of hot cocoa, researching the history of the pomegranate, or B) in the office, this time likely with chai, and writing out Thanksgiving Day recipes.  However, Friday was spent in the best possible way:  setting up camp in the airy loft of littlemeatsLA for a day of filming Simon serving up some classic Indian dishes.

Over the course of nine hours, we learned how to temper oil, to roast and grind spices,  to make garam masala, to make naan, and to make paneer. We also learned the recipes for chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken, a lime/garlic/ginger/chile yogurt sauce, and saag paneer.  Cardamom, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, and cloves danced in the air as we moved through the shoots, pausing to change refill water bottles and sample some of Simon's brilliant creations. 

"Look how sexy that is," Simon said, gesturing to the spice pods, dried chiles, and cinnamon sticks laying seductively in a white bowl. He was right. They WERE sexy.  Like,  man-bun level of sexy. 

Now, I know I was technically working. Simon in particular was moving with a super-human level of endurance. But there was something about this process that felt so utterly cozy.  The lofty kitchen of littlemeatsLA provided our day's nest and offered all of the kitchen supplies we could possibly need (someone did their Williams and Sonoma shopping). There was a sense of community as we navigated across the counters, refilling jars with kashmir chili and cream so that Simon could continue onto the next recipe. Even washing dishes triggered the memory of Thanksgiving Day back in my home of Northern Virginia. I had that same feeling that I should be overwhelmed with the amount of dishes, but instead I felt lucky to even be in the kitchen in the first place. It's a good place to be. 

By the time the sun dipped beyond the horizon, Simon had prepared his final dishes, and we were sampling his homemade naan. There was a warm lick of butter across the top of the surface, and the pillowy interior rocked me in a gentle massage.  Light fell from the high bulbs of the loft onto the wooden tables, and the remaining warmth from the burner echoed throughout the room. 

Every time I practice yoga, I set a small mission for myself to keep through the day. Most recently I've been focusing on awareness and gratitude, because there's really no point for me not to feel either. As I scooped up my remaining saag paneer with a wedge of the naan, I felt a wave of both sensations. The naan offered more than a jolt of energy; it gave me gratitude for the moment, awareness of every sensation, and tremendous appreciation for the flavor of life. 

Some more of Simon's recipes can be found here. I certainly recommend trying the saag paneer. In addition to being sexy, it's also downright delicious. 


Saturday morning links!

// littlemeatsLA is where we filmed Simon's shoot. It's a sweet little creative space that allows for artists and chefs to collaborate with one another, and is on a mission to bring back the Sunday Supper vibe. 

// how famous artists would plate Thanksgiving Day meals  

Remember chugging the leftover chocolate milk from Cocoa Pebbles? Megan turned it into a grown-up dessert. //

// I want to live in a cake terrarium   

Mama makes beautiful lunchbag art for the littles one //

// Aphrodite's Kitchen is now one of my go-to blogs for beautiful pictures and collages. Her stories of Cyprus read like fairy tales. 

 

-stay cozy! 

 

 

 

 

 

Chicago: homemade lasagna, Logan's Square, and leaf crunchies

The first time I went to Chicago I was ten years old, wearing Limited Too and pretending to be a Harry Potter character in the comforts of my Uncle and Aunt's attic. It was Thanksgiving, and there were cousins raking leaves into piles, younger cousins destroying said piles, quick kitties, and piles of pie. 

If you had told my denim backpack-dotting self that fourteen years later I would be returning for afternoon hot whiskey drinks and crunchy leaves, my imagination would have gone buck wild. I liked to wonder (and still do) about the future, often with great imagination. And as much as I like to play this game, I could not have fathomed a more perfect excursion. 

 I made the trek back to the Windy City last week for a small reunion with the eight women I once shared a home with. Chris Palmer and Kristen Hanes were our hosts, and we made sleeps in one bed, two air mattresses, one couch, and a papasan. Bras, blankets, and wine glasses littered the floor while leaves tumbled off the trees and down the ivy-lined walls.  We watched Lo, Hocus Pocus, Beetlejuice, and The Room while avoiding burning off our eyebrows when lighting a fire. It was the epitome of cozy.

We lay on anything that can be consider comfortable, our legs link in order to stay warm. 

Chris chops mushrooms and sautés tomatoes. Maps and cookbooks are discussed, and we take many sips from glasses of Pinot Noir. 

Kaitlyn plays with the camera while I play with a kitty. Italian aromas dance through the air as we sit on countertops and kiss each other's faces.

After a breakfast of tea-smoked duck benedict, togarashi bacon, and huckleberry waffles with sake maple syrup (!!!!!!!!), we take our full bellies on a stroll through the Logan's Square farmer's market. 

There are pumpkins as big as Santa's bum and homemade chai marshmallows and fleece on fleece on fleece. 

Sunday shoppers find ways to stay warm in their layers of flannel and thermal leggings. Beards and vegan baked goods are everywhere. Baby lattice pies steal my heart. And goodbyes are hard. 


I really like this whole taking pictures thing. I like the simple form of capturing a story and the clicky-click of the shutter as each snapshot is taken.  

Yesterday a friend told me that the only consistent things we have in life are ourselves and change.  But if we look for it, there's beauty. Whether it be falling leaf, an old sheet tray, or an empty stool waiting at the bar. 

Also, I can no longer say I've never missed a flight, because I did, and it led to one of the c-o-z-i-e-s-t days in history. Kaitlyn and I worked from Chris and Kristen's office with lit candles and an at-home happy hour. In the evening we drank $1 Milwaukee's Best and ate steamed eggplant buns. Chicago is no stranger to the foodie world. 

-stay cozy 

Joshua Tree National Park, plus a birthday

This weekend was all about camping, dessert wine with desert smores, midnight birthday trade-offs, and tutus paired with hiking boots.

I turned 24 on Sunday (yay! hello, new year!) and spent my first few hours of this life phase in the dust of Joshua Tree National Park. My friend Tessa and I filled up my car with granny smith apples, coconut water, and batteries, and made the three-hour drive out to the Mojave Desert. 

A few months ago, I joined a wonderful group called the Ziji Collective, which consists of 20 and 30-somethings with an appreciation for honest conversation and finding mindfulness in everyday life. We planned this little camping trip in order to celebrate one another and the entrance into Fall. Party favors would include vegetarian hobo packs and spirit animal discovery circles, so I was more than happy to make the venture out into the desert wilderness. (As a former girl scout, I will always have a soft spot for the hobo pack.)

 The town of Joshua Tree is sparsely divine. Along the main road sits a handful of coffee shops, yoga studios, and nutritional grocery stores. Tessa and I stopped at Joshua Tree Outfitters to rent a tent ($17 for a two person, woo!) and “paid” the entrance fee (FREE for camper's appreciation day, woo #2),  and then there was nothing left to do but lose our cell phone service and drive into the desert. We did it in style; blasting gypsy music and clapping our hands with glee.  It felt like Thelma and Louise, minus the whole running-from-the-law-to-avoid-a-lifetime-in-jail kinda thing. (Though that would have been kinda cool.)

The beauty of Joshua Tree upon the entrance into evening is unlike anywhere else I’ve ever been. Cacti pop up in random clusters, their spindly arms reaching towards the sky. It's hard for a plant out there, and one hundred percent survival of the fittest. The depression of the day's sun painted a golden light on the smooth rocks, allowing the silhouettes of evening hikers to decorate the horizon.

We didn’t meditate while I was there, but camping by itself instills a wonderful sense of mindfulness. It's impossible to think of anything in the past or future, because everything in the moment is just so darn beautiful. The air smells like fire and wood and the silence plays in a melody thick as molasses.  When the clock struck midnight, the sky was spray-painted with stars, and there were still plenty of logs to toss in the fire. It was very good.

 As for the rest of the day, I drove as newly-24-year-old  from the Mojave Desert to Venice Beach, all the way singing loud rock music and loving the Chai latte season. One year older! Cool! This time last year I was working at the Pennsylvania Faire, celebrating as Lorna “Doom” O’Carroll and crushing on Ketel One like there was no tomorrow. Funny how things work out.

As 24 morphed into 24-and-a-day, I sat in the living room of our Palms apartment for the Sunday Night Cozy Party. It seemed very appropriate to spend half my birthday exposed to nature and the other half nestled in literal blanket nest.  My friends and I played board games and drank wine, and I was grateful for the moment we all decided to take the West Coast plunge

 Looking back, the whole weekend was very symbolic of the things I want. And that’s comforting to say because I don’t think I’m a person who always knows what she wants.  I do, however, know that I want exploration, good friends, starry skies, a well-crafted egg roll, and lots and lots of blankets.

So hello HELLO, New Year! I can now say I’ve seen the Milky Way for REAL and that I’ve lived on more than one coast of the United States. I’m so excited that I’m squealing.

-stay cozy

 

 

Santa Barbara

One of my earliest memories consists of when I stuck my chubby baby hand into a puddle of hot tar. The recollection comes to me in senses; I remember the feel of the black putty in between my fingers, the heat of the sun on the beach house driveway, and the smell of salt and boat oil wafting with every breeze. There was a sense of peace, until someone saw what my young self was doing, and snatched up me from the driveway, wondering how on earth she was going to wash all this black gook off my wandering fingers.

Some time has gone by, but that smell tends to reoccur occasionally, surfacing in beach towns with large bays or a plethora of boats that dot the waters like seagulls. The Jersey Shore, Ocean City, and Hilton Head are some immediate examples.  It's a comforting smell, oddly enough, because it reminds me of beach vacations when I ate Life Cereal on the back porch while reading Little Critter. I didn't expect to pick up it's addictive aroma while strolling the wooden boards of Santa Barbara, but I'm glad I did. 

 My first exposure to Santa Barbara was in the movie, "It's Complicated" with Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin.  i have a soft spot for these sorts of movies; they most often take place in a beautiful location like Martha's Vineyard or the Hamptons or Santa Barbara, and they feature an older strong female protagonist falling in love with an older stupid but lovable man. Another example would be Something's Gotta Give, which also features the famous Diane-Keaton-Turtleneck-Ripping scene.  (GO DIANE.)

Santa Barbara is a city painted with white-walled and red-roofed homes. The shutters open to airy lofts, where the inhabitants likely drink horchata while lounging on clean sheets.  We parked the rental car next to the Santa Barbara library, where a biker gang had stashed their motorcycles to sip coca-cola. Before lunch, Mish and I wandered into a lil Buddhist/Zen/Incense/cool jewelry shop that offered an especially Zen poodle chillin' in the front window. He looked happy and adorable. 

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We had lunch at a place called the Benchmark, sitting snuggly in the shade of the outdoor patio and snacking on fried chickpeas and sparkling wine. The chickpeas were stellar, as they were essentially crispy hummus, and therefore a perfect recipe. Dad was craving a pizza, and made that happen. It came in a humble circle, decorated with thick crumbles of sausages and cheese. The rest of lunch was salads for Mish and I: hers consisted of goat cheese, quinoa, zucchini, white corn, and spinach, and mine was olives, kale, prosciutto, and tomatoes. They were simple and good. 

Santa Barbara is a treat for the eyes, and filled with lots of interesting people, shops, and landscapes. Look behind you and you'll see waves of mountains, speckled with greenery, and looming into the blank sky. Then there's the houses, bustling with tourists and locals alike. And then there's the water. And the wine tasting. And the wine tasting on the water. And with so many tasting rooms to choose from, it's hard not to pick the one that offers the best view.

The wine! I liked it. The Chardonnay was warm without being oaky, tasting like unsalted butter. The pinot noir was like sweet, raw cherries and the cab reminded me of cola.  In the tasting room, there were families both with children old enough to drink and with smaller kiddos swapping vino for Cotton Candy gelato. I would have enjoyed both, but there was only so much time (!!!!)

(Side note: love my parents. My dad and I have scary similarities; we both laugh at videos of people falling down, we have ideas for coffee table books, and we're in love with RVs.  My mother and I should not be left alone with each other and our wallets, especially an Anthropologie or Williams and Sonoma, as we will purchase the entire store. They're really good people.)

In other news, the weekend is not over (!!!!!!!!!) and after this post I'll be plunging into a music festival dress for all-day Sunday shenanigans with some JMU grads.  Not sure what the musical line-up entails, but I've been feeling especially folk-y. And thinking about love and romance and all those crazy brain synapses. 

I also am really hoping to see The Hundred Foot Journey and Boyhood in the near future. 

These chocolate espresso cakes with soft centers remind me of a grown-up TastyKake. 

Countdown to VA! I love the West Coast, but when it's been sixth months since you've seen your childhood home, the cravings start to kick in.  Humidity, fireflies, and Ketel One is just a few itty bitty weeks away! 

-stay cozy 

Travel snacks

Hello friends! Good morning to all of you. I haven't been outside yet, so I can't say whether it's frosty or not, but for the sake of my drive I'm crossing my half-painted fingers. This evening I will be jetting off in my little yellow bug as I head down to Memphis, Tennessee for the United Professional Theatre Auditions. Not one to deny myself some exploration, I have lengthened the trip by a few days, with plans to stop in Blacksburg, Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, and Tyler, Texas.  It didn't really occur to me until I relayed my plans to loved ones exactly how far I was driving. When they asked about my audition, I replied "I'm driving, and taking a little road trip." Maybe because I'm not crossing or reaching an ocean it doesn't seem that far to me. (Although a pit-stop in the Gulf of Mexico doesn't sound too bad...Bud Light Lime on the Sarasota shore sounds quite divine...!!)

So when I took in the length of my trip, my mind went to one thing: food. And gas. And money.  In the past, when I've traveled cross country, I've stopped at Mom and Pop dive-y restaurants, or sought out Anthony Bourdain's favorite dishes.  In New Orleans, I had Alligator Sausage and Shrimp Cheesecake and a Watermelon Mojito.  This, on top of two entrees I split with my boyfriend at the time, we also had an $80.00 bill. Worth it, but also not your everyday kinda meal.

Food is important to a traveler. It allows you to taste the scenery, examine the culture through another sense.  This being said, I will be sure to nom upon several of the local (and thrifty) eats as I make my way southward, in addition to having my epic baby cooler full of amazing travel goodies. 

1. Dry roasted almonds

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If you've been reading my blog, you are already aware of the slightly-beyond-platonic relationship I am maintaining with almonds.  I never thought I'd be one of those women in the opening montage of The Devil Wears Prada, the ones who wear La Perla and count almonds as a snack, but hell, here I am. They taste really good. I even bought dark chocolate covered ones yesterday, but I don't have a picture because I ate them all in the parking lot.

2. Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate

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If I could have any job in the world, I'd want to be one of those kids on the chocolate cooking show sketch from All That. Do you remember it? They were called Randy and Mandy or Candy or Sandy or something rhyme-y and on the brink of stripperdom, and they attempted to make chocolate inspired recipes, but it always just ended up exploding into chocolate warfare. One time Chris Farley guest starred as a man who was addicted to ketchup. I miss the 90s.

Here I have regular dark, dark with raspberry (because ya gotta get a little crazy), and dark chocolate covered cacao nibs. If you've never had them, I highly recommend. They're crunchy and bitter, providing you with a slight endorphin kick and leaving your taste buds melting in rich bliss.

3. Luna Protein

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One of my favorite things ever are things that are not cookie dough that taste like cookie dough. The raw real stuff will always win, but when it's not around, I find substitutions. Chocolate covered cookie dough bites, cookie dough pop-tarts, cookie dough truffles. I love them all. So when I found Luna Protein offered a "HEALTHY" option, I nearly punched the GNC lady in a fit of joy.  For those mornings when I need to get on the road ASAP and have to skip a proper breakfast (silent tear will fall), these might just do the trick. And then I'll be eating cookies for breakfast, which I was never allowed to do, because Cookie Crisp, while it tasted like a brown unicorn, contained about 60 grams of sugar.

I also bought mint chocolate chip and lemon vanilla, and I'm surprised I stopped there.

4. Kombucha Multi-Green

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YUM! Who doesn't love getting in their daily dose of Algae? This girl does. This is like drinking the cast of The Little Mermaid. There are all these weird green-bits dancing around the bottom, and if you don't think about it at all, then the stuff is amazing.

5. Red Wine

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This is not for the road trip, rather the road trip unwind.  One cannot travel without a way to properly say goodbye to the road each night. You need a comfy bed (or couch, or sleeping bag) and a glass of red. The first, Velvet Moon, is something Trader Joe Guy encouraged me to try.  The second, Red Truck, is one of my favorite wines, rivaling the WalMart Lucky Ducky.  Kate first introduced me to Red Truck when we ate cheese and dried apricots on the floor of our shared bedroom at the Renn Faire.  I brought it to share with one of my good friends, Joshua, and he hadn't had it since college, when they drank it outside of trailers under the Texan stars. It's an easy-going, comforting red blend, that wraps you like a warm cheese and encourages you to sit down and snuggle into an afghan blanket.

6. Granny Smith Apples

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Crunchy and tart, these are the highest one the sour apple scale, and I love them for that.  They remind me of that scene in Sleepless in Seattle where Meg Ryan peels an entire apple in one long spiral. I love them for that even more.

7.  Baby Carrots

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Because what's a road trip WITHOUT Vitamin A?!  Like the apples above, carrots provide a solid crunch. I wish I could say, "studies have shown...", but I heard this from word of mouth so who knows if it's true--crunchy foods relieve anxiety and energize you.  Regardless, this bag will approximately last me one hour of this over-a-week-long-trip.

8. Bubble Tape

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This had to come along for the ride, because sometimes, when you're on the road of some Tennessee Highway, and Jerry Lee Lewis starts playing, the one thing that will perfect the moment is blowing a bright pink bubble.

look ma, I've got wings!

Dear readers, I hope you have all enjoyed your Superbowl Sunday. (When I first  typed this out, I accidentally wrote Superball Spoonday. I don't know why, but I think it sounds like a fitting title for an episode of Adventure Time.) Mine was laid back, an evening of counting one dollar bills and putting them in one of the small drawers of my high school bedroom, which I have labeled "travel."   This little growing sum of money that I earned pouring IPAs and shaking up Alabama Slammers will serve me as a I drive to Tennessee, Arkansas, and Texas over the next two weeks!

I was recently hired with a freelance group and am now writing from my bedroom, a booth in Panera, and on the road. This is exciting. Two short articles buy approximately a little over a half tank of gas. I can make that work!!

My last travel consisted of a brief trek up to NYC for an audition with the National Players.  While I was there, I stayed with Alex and Ian in their little cloud apartment, and we ate rocket salads with watermelon radishes and creamy polenta with balsalmic reduced chicken thighs, garlic, and portobello mushrooms. Our wine was white and our little bottoms sat on the floor around a square table.   We folded our hands and talked about men and about moving from state to state. We talked about why we were the way we were, and wondered who we would be in twenty years. (After all, Martha Stewart didn't get her start until she was 40.)

In New York, I questioned my relationship to earthly possessions, and decided to throw some clothes away upon my return home. I have since filled three trashbags with things to either donate or toss.  I drank champagne in a restaurant called Buvette, where I met with my Uncle David and we talked about Bobby West and our trailer park heritage.

On my last morning, I woke up (hangover-less, by some miracle after downing an entire bottle of red wine), and made Alex and Ian a simple frittata with leftover portobello and fresh oregano. We had coffee with cream, and we sat around our table. It was a lovely trip.

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So yes! As I work, work, work and save, save, save I shall leave you all with a little travel poem that's keeping me inspired to jet.

"I always wonder why,

birds stay

in the same place

when they can fly

anywhere on the earth.

Then I ask myself

the same question."

-Harun Yahyah

dying engines and embracing change

 

Dear reader, it is time for a confession.

I have my anxious moments. Since I’ve stopped taking Ocella and chewing ice like a sloth it’s gotten eased up a bit, but I still have my little bits of hysteria every now and then. These typically occur when things do not go my way.  Again, typical Libra.

One of my friends, John, told me it makes sense that humans are always anxious, because we are constantly dwelling over the past, trying to make the most of the moment, and worrying about the future. He’s a wise one, that John.

I read in the book Women Who Run With the Wolves, written by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, that part of life is accepting it’s various cycles.  There are times we let things grow, times we let things live, and times we let things die. The letting things die part can be incredibly difficult for me. I don’t often like change. I embrace consistency, wanting to snuggle myself deep in its fort of silk coziness. I want to light candles and not leave.  Like a sleepy sparrow, I nest. Ironic, because I love traveling.

 For some reason, driving or traveling long distances has never given me any form of anxiety.  I love the airport, and eating a packaged Air France meal while watching Jurassic park.  I love stopping at gas stations in foreign Virginia towns, only to buy a pack of a gum and some Arizona Iced Tea. I even love ten-hour drives through the mid-west and sketchy hotels in Arkansas. But tell me to drive to the bagel place five minutes down the road and I immediately start cursing to the heavens, questioning the decency of mankind because some guy in a sedan is actually going to speed limit.  (I’m currently debating this entire post, wondering if I’m simply a really, really poor example of Gen Y.)

However, when there is #traveldrama on longer trips, I am pretty solid at keeping the peace. Example.  I was going to visit Alex in NYC a few days ago. When I’ve had a really good week at the bar, I splurge and get an Amtrak ticket instead of my normal, penny-pincher bus ride.   Maybe my pours were heavy-handed, lending me to earn some extra tips that week, I don’t know.  Regardless, I could afford the train. So I bought a ticket, hastily pushed some kind folks out of the way to get a window seat, and set up camp.

I sat lazily, googling future travel endeavors and reading some things on my new boyfriend, the Kindle Paperwhite. My travel neighbor was a friendly, 30-something year-old man named Greg, who offered me Rolos and commented on my cracked cell phone screen. I think he had a wife named Dana, or maybe she was his girlfriend and they were planning on going to Barcelona in the near future.  Regardless, the combination of this calm companion, the words in my chosen piece of fiction, and the blurred landscape whizzing past me created a very soothing environment.  And then, somewhere around Delaware, the train began to slow and we came to a halt.

Did I whine? Did I kick the seat in front of me? Did I smash Greg’s laptop and blackberry, thus cutting off all communication with Dana in regards to their Barcelona adventure?!!?! If I were driving to the supermarket, I might have. However, since we were on a train, I got a beer. I came back. And I waited.

What ended up happening was that our poor little engine reached the end of its life. It was the little engine that could not.  And so we bid our farewell, and skipped over to the neighboring Acella when it stopped about thirty minutes later.

Ms. Pinkola Estes may not have intended to be speaking of travel when she wrote about the various cycles we face throughout life, but I thought of it again when our new train started to move.  The dead engine was not the end of the ride.  Maybe I drive myself crazy in other situations of “rides halting” because I don’t know when they will start up again, or if another train will come along.   I agonize over the time I’m spent waiting, because I don’t feel like anything is happening. I don’t let things die, because I don’t know if they will ever live again.

But they do. Even if it’s a jump-started engine, or a new train, or you simply need a beer to get through it all, they do. 

 

Here are a few travel tips for when #traveldrama pops up.

1. Get a beer.

2. Or a glass of wine.

3. Or a bag of peanut M&Ms.

4. Talk to your neighbor, if you have one. Might as well make a friend!!

5. Make a list of things you love.

6. Make a list of your favorite moments.

7. Make a list of things you are most looking forward to in life.

8. Take pictures of your boots.

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words, words, prosecco.

Maybe it’s because I like to write, or maybe it’s because I cannot dance.  Whatever the reason, I think that words are one of the best things in the entire world. I love letters, typed or in cursive. I love ink, either on skin or parchment or the white tableau of the computer.  I love the words canoe, quartet, and prosecco.

Say it.  Right now.  It’s fun, right? Prosecco reminds me of orange marmalade, Italian tablecloths, and the smell of waffles crisping before a Sunday Brunch.   For those of you who have not encountered its bliss, prosecco is as lovely a drink as it is a locution.  This sparking white wine is the less fussy sister to champagne, and it’s bubbles never fail to disappoint.  (Right now I’m imagining the sisters Prosecco and Champagne in their little wine household. Their mother is a Chardonnay and their father is a Port. I don’t know how wine reproduction works.)   Prosecco is carefree and a little magical.  In the play, Reckless, by Craig Lucas, the protagonist, Rachel, describes her experience with sparkling wine, and how she would turn her head upside down to watch the bubbles fall like snow. I always loved this image.  Prosecco is falling snow. Clean, pure, and divine.

A few months ago my friend Hannah and I enjoyed a prosecco-esque beverage outside The Standard Hotel in Chelsea. We were in New York City on one of our days off from the Renaissance Faire, and had a few hours to kill before meeting up with our friends Kate and Brett before heading back to Pennsylvania.  Being in our early twenties and without any immediate obligation, we decided to drink the afternoon away.

We sat outside, among the young professionals and silver-haired men dining alone, craftily tearing their focaccia and using their napkins to dab at their faintly wrinkled chins.  Hannah and I stood out, wearing out brightly colored sunglasses and talking too loud. I like Hannah, because when I half-jokingly suggested we order an entire pitcher of a drink, she shrugged her shoulder and with casual smile said, “Why not?” It wasn’t like we had already each had a beer and taken a pickle-back shot. (We had.)

Regretfully, I forget the name of our drink. I do, however, remember it coming in a glass pitcher with a wooden spoon placed in the center like a lone oar.  Inside was the dangerous concoction of prosecco, vodka, muddled berries and mint. The bubbles and our Renn-faire personalities made us giddy and attempt exuberant conversation with our waiter, Serge. He disinterested in being anything more than our server, and even that role seemed to cause him mild annoyance. No matter. We had a blast.

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About two weeks later, I tried to replicate the drink. It was a Wednesday night in September, and hot for the mountains of Pennsylvania.   To understand this next part you must understand the Renn Faire set-up; behind the actual Faire, there was a place affectionately known as “The Commons” which consisted of the actors housing and living arrangements. Behind that, there was a small settlement of independent acts, consisting of musicians, gypsies, jugglers, stilt-walkers and knights.  It was a breeding ground for creativity.  One of the artists, a gypsy named Aly, arranged a 50s theme party and potluck, so that the actors and the independent acts could socialize and get to know one another.

 Everyone was excited for this event.  I, on the other hand, was in a state of stress. You see, a few days prior, I had taken another trip to New York City, and accidentally left my cell phone in a rest stop about two hours north of the faire. Dumb, dumb, dumb!   I found the only spare time I had to make the four hour round retrieval trip, which was the same night as the 50s potluck. Originally, I had been planning on using this time to make something delicious and theme appropriate, but by the time I arrived back at The Commons, people were already in their polka-dot dresses and sporting bright red lipstick. I immediately thought of what I could bring that would requite little to no cooking time and then it came to me. Booze.

I had vodka. I had berries; I used them in my oatmeal for breakfast. For some odd reason I also had mint and my mother had recently given me a bottle of prosecco. This was too easy.

So, in a quick flurry of creation, I made the drink.  Due to the fact that we could not remember the name, Hannah and I called it “Coopy’s Cup.”  The name Coopy came from earlier in Hannah and I’s friendship; she was playing a game of Pokemon and needed a name for her Pidgey, so I suggested Coopy. The name stuck, and then we used it to honor an alcoholic treat.  The berries weren’t as muddled as they had been at The Standard, but it would do. 

By this point, the sun had melted into the unseen depths of sky and we all playfully intermingled, snacking on deviled eggs and apple pie, and then washing them down with cold beer or a glass of the Coopy’s Cup. I wore my favorite yellow dandelion dress, which carried a small orange stain from when I was painting a Styrofoam version of the Sun.    The prosecco electrified my bloodstream. With the hanging tapestries and tea lights, I felt as if I were in modern version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, minus the love-struck donkey man.

I think of this night often.  The images, the tastes, and the touches all resonate and remain etched in my mind; but the only way I can communicate the memory is using my words.  I cannot explain the feeling of the humidity, but I can tell you my skin stuck to the cotton of my dress.  I cannot describe the giddiness that echoed down my wrists and into my fingernails, but I can say prosecco.  I cannot even accurately translate the buttery, minty taste of the Coopy’s Cup. I can, however, give you the recipe.

 

Coopy’s Cup (serves 2-6, depending on your thirst.)

 1 bottle of prosecco

1 cup of vodka (I like Absolut. A flavored vodka also does quite nicely, but can make it a tad too sweet for the sensitive taste-budded.)

½ cup strawberries

½ cup blueberries

A handful of fresh mint

Tear and muddled the mint at the bottom of a large pitcher. Add the berries and muddle a bit more, but not to the point where all the berries are crushed.  Pour in the vodka and prosecco.  Stir gently. I like to use a wooden spoon, but this is more for feeling than flavor.

Enjoy on a hot night, or a cold night when you turn up the heat and pretend its summer.

 

**Photo cred to Wallace Bidelspach!! 

the year of the fearless

Seeking some familiar faces and simple entrance into the New Year, I spent the 2013-2014 transition in Harrisonburg for a reunion with college friends, Buffalo Wild Wings, and gin with soda water and rose simple syrup. The night was lively, filled with high-heeled stumbles, jello shot genitalia, bottle rockets (a terrible idea), and plastic cup table games. We survived. And more importantly,  enjoyed ourselves.

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So. Hi, 2014.

I've never been good at New Years Resolutions.

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I often make vague ones, and ones that I tend not to really ever end up doing. (Last year, however, my resolution was to drink more wine, which I definitely did.)  I understand the appeal, of course. New Years is a great landmark to assess your life, and decide what changes you want to make.  It makes you feel so much better about indulging in those shots of fireball and late night pizza, because, heck, you will never do that in the next year. The hard part is forcing that change. You're essentially turning on a green light and yelling GO NOW DIFFERENT and then expect a change to occur.  From my experience, there are two types of change in the world. Forced change and decided change. The forced change come from habitat, or things beyond our control. It comes from when you stand outside a bluestoned dorm room, waving as your parents drive back to their house without you in it for the first time. The first time the wrong person says "I love you." When you're working your first job within your field of study and harshly realize "I hate this." When you go to call someone, and realize you no longer can. That's when we change, because we have to. 

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And then there's the type of change that requires a decision. Change from within. I WILL go to Cycling, even if it kills me. I WILL stop making out with thirty year old men when I'm drunk and in a foreign country. I WILL call my parents.  I WILL get over ______. 

I am not good at either.

Perhaps it's because I'm a Libra.  

Luckily for me, sometimes change is unneccesary. Because like some deep intuition, that thing that we crave already exists within us. It's stays, even when untouched, balanced within us like a mustard seed. An ever-present plant that without the proper care and attention, remains deep in the soil.  There's no need to "change," only to observe, listen, and let the damn thing grow. 

A few nights ago, I enjoyed the company of my good friend Stacey, the Pajama Men, and a snowy DC evening. We ate spicy salads. The food was good, but not nearly as delicious as the conversation between Stacey and myself. Stacey had recently returned from a trip to Israel. Over our greens, we traded stories from our adventures across the pond; hers consisting of camel rides and nearly getting married off, and mine of ginjinha and bike rides along the Portuguese coast.

"So," Stacey asked me at one point. "Tell me your favorite thing, your least favorite thing, and the thing that you learned about yourself." 

Favorite thing: everything. Least favorite thing: leaving. Thing I learned about myself: Uhhhhhh.  

It took me a sec. I hadn't really thought about it before that moment. But upon consideration, I found I learned I have a seed of utter fearlessness.  It was always sitting there, like a box of Samoas in my freezer I totally forgot I had.  

In foreign countries (and even the foreign United State), there is no embarrassment. There is no failure. There's NO (!!!) regret! You're surrounded by people you will most likely never see again, in a place that you may never return to. You are only expected to live, learn, and enjoy.  It's a sense of freedom that explains the wanderlust in all of the adventurers of the world.  

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So for this New Year, I want to remember that a little nugget of bravery exists. I don't want to change; I want to remember: fear can be conquered. Fear is weak. Fear should never be a roadblock in our own little Route 66. 

It's much more fun this way anyway. 

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Lisbon, Portugal

Some nights are made for afghan blankets, and some are made for nostalgia.  Thursday I spent the evening at my old stompground, the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, to visit friends, pick up a rug, and see the Christmas Spectacular, "A Dickens of a Christmas."  Sentimentality, commence.  I'm one of those people who saved the napkin-my-used-to-be-best-friend-wrote-a kind-of note-on for me, so this visit had me gushing and hugging. My brief trip consisted of draft beers in festive dive bars, fir-scented garlands in a mansion, and a few rounds of Fluxx in ye olde common room.  So surreal to see the place blanketed in snow. Several people asked me about Portugal , and I found myself searching for the right words to describe that country. It's been over a month since I trekked across the pond with Alex into the playground that is Lisbon. I've neglected to write about it, most likely because I liked to keep it secret for a short bit.  More likely out of laziness.  The memories felt safe in my mind, but now I have to write about because I don't know how long they'll stay in my brain without proper documentation.

To put it simply: Portugal was freaking amazeballs. 

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Like, really amazeballs.

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The film pictures are from Alex, and he is kind enough to let me share them here; the rest are from the iPhone.  I have a few digital photos, which will find their way to internet-land shortly, but for now these will do.  Day one consisted of jetlag and complete dependency on a Lonely Planet guidebook.   Said guidebook solved miracles, and jetlag was quickly remedied with two glasses of wine at lunch.  This was a mission of ours: we wanted to have two glasses of wine at lunch at least once. I was inspired by an episode of Gilmore Girls to add this task to our Portugal Bucket List. For those of you who have seen this show, Richard and Emily are arguing one evening and the topic of international travel arises.  Essentially, Emily is gonna pack her bags, sling them over her bony shoulders, and shout "BYEEEE" as she avoids letting the door hit her on the ass on the way out. It goes down something like this.

Emily: I'm going to go to Europe all on my own. And I'm going to order room service, and sleep in, and drink two glasses of wine at lunch.

Richard: Only prostitutes drink two glasses of wine at lunch!

And so that's how we became prostitutes. Totally worth a good Pinot Grigio.

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After two glasses of wine and two shots of espresso, we visited a restaurant called Guilty, where we ate salty pizza and drank sangria.  Rather than call a cab, we opted to walk home without any idea of how to get back to our hotel. A would-be disaster in many a foreign country, the high hills of Lisbon allowed us to pick out our hotel from the tip of a skatepark, and we walked back with a sense of discovery.

On Tuesday, our first full day, we ventured into Alfama to visit Feira da Ladra, the thieves market. There were all sorts of bizarre knick-knacks. There were all sorts of tourist traps. There were all sorts of black and white pictures of Portuguese people from how ever many years ago. I gleefully purchased a pair of gypsy pants (which Uncle David later hated on) and two tiny juice jars to serve as Alex and I's wine glasses for spontaneous sips along the water.

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Lunch was ham, cheese, and butter sandwiches Alex had prepped for us back at the hotel, along with a bottle of white wine. We ate on stone steps and watched the waves. There was a dog who decided to be our friend. A man tried to sell us weed, and then sunglasses. We declined. It was nice.

We heard rumor of a place called Principe Real, a neighborhood with a little park and several adorable little shops for browsing, including a patisserie with a large oil painting of Marie Antoinette and pistachio flavored macaroons.  Fortunately and unfortunately, we had a very vague idea of how to actually find said neighborhood, which meant an uphill adventure through the winding and colorful backstreets.  As useful as a guidebook is, it will never properly illustrate the gleam of Portuguese desserts through shop windows, the feel of the cobblestone underneath one's foot, or the delicate roar of a foreign melody dancing in a traveler's ears.  Neither will it satisfy the accomplishment of finding Principe Real all on own's one, AKA stumbled upon randomly after taking several wrong turns.

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Principe Real was Mt. Olympus, essentially. It sat on top of the city, allowing us to peer down at the glorious city lights below. We wandered, and then dined at Lost N Esplanada, a part restaurant/part gypsy camp overlooking the yellow windows of Lisbon. We sat on cushions, accompanied with iron lanterns and silk slippers on dark green walls. Tea lights hung from the ceiling. Fellow explorers lounged while they sipped their red wine.  Alex and I had our own little corner carved in the giant mountain of shops and restaurants, privately glancing over the city that we so barely knew. When we left, we somehow made it back to the main road in five minutes, despite our blatant intoxication. I made friends with the cab driver and tried to convince him Alex and I were brother and sister. I cannot remember if he believed me.

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Porto was next. Porto was beautiful. Porto was our private flat where we danced to Miley Cyrus like "cultured Americans" and perched on our balcony with cheap glasses filled with cheap wine.  There were sketchbooks on bed, and The Best Spongecake in the Universe in the sheets.

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We met Miguel number one, a Chai Latte gent with green eyes and a leather jacket. (News Flash: Portuguese men get a thumbs up.  If I knew the words, "I am a single and not looking for commitment" in Portuguese, I would have said them. Unfortunately, our guidebook had no such translation, although it DID have the phrase, "I have many diseases." I didn't need to use this, BTW.) Anyway, Porto was even better on day number two when we rented bicycles and sped along the coast up to the beach.  We opted to buy beer from a convenience store rather than the ritzy restaurant, and sat on the rocks rather than in chairs. You know what feels amazing? Getting saltwater splashed while holding a can of Superbock as you stand barefoot on the rocks.  There's a lot of ocean. I'm glad I get to see it from multiple angles.

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Lesson learned from our day in Porto: I will always run into the ocean, no matter how cold it is or how see-through my shirt will become.  I have pictures from this instance, but mama always said don't put your nudes online for free.

In the evening we witnessed live Fado.  Fado is Portuguese music, sung by Portuguese people, about how much they love Portugal.   While watching the red lips of our music artist, Alex and I dined on cod fritters, fava beans, and sheep's milk cheese from the Azoures. At one point in our lives, Alex and I ate Dairy Queen in a parking lot. I like our friendship.

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Alex jumped for joy the day we went to the Ocenario. It was my first Aquarium, and now I can never go to another one ever because I'm positive this is the best one that has ever existed.  There was a scary crab and a sneaky Octopus.  I liked the sunfish, because it was awkward and yet still demanded attention and I think I identified with that.  That night we were lazy and drank in the hotel room. I sang Alanis Morissette to our bidet, and we ate cheese and clementines and climbed onto the balcony, where we scared away pigeons.

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To end the trip we took a renegade tour of the city where we were able to say goodbye to each of these places. The sun was setting and we took pictures, and at the end of it all we drank ginjinha, a cherry liqueur that is the bee's knees of Portuguese booze.  Miguel number two, our two guide, thought Alex and I were the bee's knees of the tour group, and gave us the remainder of the bottle to chug on our own time.  We did so after drunkenly walking through the botanical gardens around 10/11 o'clock at night, while sitting on stone and overlooking the city (again, God bless the hilly geography of Portugal.) Miguel #2 also recommended that we skateboard down the hills on trashcans, but we neglected to do this. Next time.

SAPPY MOMENT WARNING. As lucky as I am to travel, I am even luckier to have had such a good companion, especially one who loves eating and drinking and walking as much as I do. Alex is a friend who constantly makes me feel like dancing. We have a rhythm and language. My Uncle David tells me that when the two of us are together, we tend to disappear into our own "Alex-and-Amanda" land. We are a little insane with one another, and always have been. We've eaten raw sugar cookie dough on the playground and recounted the story of "Kiki's Delivery Service" via Photobooth. We are the picture definition of weird-o's.  Below is 2009!

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Foreign travel is a B-L-E-S-S-I-N-G!!!!!!!!!!!! Having a friend who will run through the streets of life with you...is even better.  :)