A journey up the Pacific coast, part one

Hey, cozies. It’s lovely to be back on the internet! I've been neglecting this online space lately, similar to how I neglected my papermate diary from time to time back in middle school.  But now I'm back and once again using this platform as an extension of myself and my stories. Isn’t it funny how blogs work? Isn’t it a delight?! Recently, I’ve been nomming the hell out of my friend Kathryn’s blog Going Zero Waste, as well as The Minimalist Baker. That is, when I’m not crying funfetti-flavored tears while watching Fuller House. Watching the show is somewhat akin to eating desserts from an Easy-Bake Oven. Not delicious and yet somewhat satisfying.

But I’m not here to discuss Kimmy Gibbler or how Aunt Becky is slowly going insane. No, amigos, I am here to discuss my PACIFIC NORTHWEST ROAD TRIP! I’m well overdue, but now I’ve had time to reflect and develop a buttload of gratitude for the crazy opportunity to take this trip. I never expected it to happen.

A few months ago,  my friend Ariel and I were having lunch in the quiet town of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, when we began discussing our desire to travel up to Portland, Seattle, and the like. We wanted to do it renegade-style, with a tent in the trunk and nourishing ourselves with beer and granola. The possibility seemed real, but very far away. We settled on the idea of “maybe” and left it at that.

And like many good ideas, this one grew from a little nugget into a full-fledged plan. Phone conversations multiplied, plane tickets were bought, and BOOM, we were sitting in my living room going over our final packing list.

The trip began with us venturing up to Santa Barbara in order to reclaim my VW Bug, Caroline. I hadn’t seen or driven her in four months, and she required a jumpstart and a quick cleaning, but she was alive. After a wine-tasting with our friend and chauffeur, Charlie, we plugged in our first destination (BIG SUR! BIG SUR!) and started to head on up on the coast. Cue: Rusted Root. 

I cannot think of a way to organize this post, as my writing often falls in the realm of this-is-kind-of-a-travel-guide-but-here's-what-we-drank, so we’re going to go the ol’ route of bold lettering. Bear with me, folks. 

LA to Big Sur - If I could paint this trip in colors, this part of the journey would be gold.  The southern California coastline is bathed in sunlight, making the grass and ocean glow. It was also so beautiful, and quite distracting. We didn’t arrive in Big Sur until after sundown. It was also raining, so we carefully plotted a gameplan to keep as ACAP (as cozy as possible). This included a quick stop for hot sandwiches and firewood, as well as “break beer” as we waited for the sandwiches to finish cooking. At the Riverside campsite, we strapped on our headlamps and set up the tent, hopping over poles and through the mud with our eyes on the prize: shelter, fire, and wine. All three were achieved, and followed by Ariel teaching me to play speed. Have you ever played?? It's addictive and competitive and may slightly taint a friendship if you're both the kinds of people who can't stand to lose. 

Big Sur to Vallejo - Have you woken up after a morning camping? When you're not unexpectedly soaked, it's delicious. Your senses are heightened, allowing your you to really taste the pines and soil, and the light is a calm grey. Had we been more seasoned campers, or dwelling in our mountain hideaway for longer, we’d have prepared with a breakfast of biscuits and scrambled eggs. (But, you know, road trip=timing=breakfast of peanut butter protein bars and banana muffins. Both great.)

We stopped along the cliffs, climbing alongside the wildlife and into the depths of steep craggles. They were perfect for climbing. And noticing how the ocean is one badass motherfucker.

Vallejo to Eureka - Morning began with a breakfast of quiche followed by a brunch of wine. Ariel and I had a long drive ahead of us, which naturally meant starting wine tasting at 11am, sharp. My friend Kathryn had been our host for the evening, and came along with us for the ride. Not only is Kathryn a wine country local (Vallejo is a breezy 20 minutes from some pretty fantastic vineyards), but she also was able to offer us some delicious discounts. Which was great because one of the places we went to was $40 for one tasting. And while I consider myself a woman of many talents, shitting money isn’t one of them. Following our afternoon in Napa (Lindsay Lohan and Dennis Quaid memories included), we made our way westward, dancing through various small towns offering 69 cent Pepsi and polite drugdealing teenagers. 

Here’s where things got tricky. Apple maps planned our drive up from northern California to Eureka, which is located at the very top of the California coast,using the 101. To this Ariel and I scoffed: The 101, you say?? What are we, tourists?? We were vagabonds! We were guerilla travelers, with a cooler full of olives and a quarter-filled bottle of wine. We were taking Highway 1, just as we had planned.

What we didn’t take into consideration was that Highway 1 is only glamorous from San Diego to San Fran. After the Golden Gate city, you lose all cell phone service and are driving 40mph over winding roads and into the dog. And in January, it gets dark at 4pm. And when you’re driving that slow, you add three hours to your arrival time.

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To top it all off, we were couchsurfing that night, which meant that we were staying in the living room of a complete stranger. I’ve done this type of thing before - it’s always polite to arrive at a decent hour to allot for conversation time with your host. Most of them offer a free space in exchanged for some dialogue (not sex) or homemade muffins (not sex). Ariel and I were very, very late and very distraught after our six hour drive. And it didn’t help that a spooky pickup truck was following us in the last leg of the trip.

But we made it! Alive! And our host wasn’t even mad! In fact, our tardiness was actually appreciated by Sequoia, a jolly fellow sporting a torn sleep dress and several rings. He had a girl over, and was focused on achieving some alone time. And despite his priorities and our late arrival, he remained a FABULOUS host, offering us anything we could possibly need.

“Help yourself to whatever’s in the fridge,” Sequoia said. He gestured to the coffee table, which was topped with so much weed that it looked like the freaking secret garden, and he was Mary Lennox. “Smoke whatever you want….Uh, that’s about it. Goodnight.”

He then proceeded to **mAkE lOvE** to his special lady friend, who we met later than night when she emerged in (you guessed it) the infamous night dress! We thought this lady was his girlfriend, but the next morning she asked us how to open the gate. So she was probably new.

The moral of this installation is to never judge a book by it’s cover, or a man by his nightdress.

- Until the next chapter, stay cozy!

 

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 

 

Italy: Rome

Before traveling to Rome, my knowledge of the city came from history classes, The Lizzie McGuire Movie, and google.  I imagined the street littered with scooters and the sounds of Italian swears filling the air, surely some linen table cloths filled with plate after plate of pizza and spaghetti and bruschetta and olive oil.

My friends who had first-hand Roman experience instructed that I prepare for the best food of my life. Okay, duh, I thought. It's Rome. But I get it now. It's not just good. It's "how the hell did they get this to taste like this/I am going to bury myself in this pizza sauce and sleep inside it like an Italian thumbelina" kind of good. The spaghetti! The olive oil! The buffalo mozzarella comes from a real buffalo! It's stringy and salty and tastes like a savory cloud. 

Now that I've been, I can say that Rome is one big party. It's loud, beautiful, full of outgoing people, free wine (not really free but so cheap it practically is), delicious, and someone is always drunk and asking for bucatini. 


I recommend... 

Vecchia Locanda // A dinner restaurant located on a beautiful side street, away from the tourists and with ceiling of stars and laundry lines. Best ravioli ever. 

Sant'Eustachio Il Caffé // An espresso bar with the best coffee in Rome. The cappuccinos are creamy and thick, and they serve the caffe freddos (ice coffee) in shaved ice form, nestled in between two fat dollops of whipped cream, parfait style. 

The Colosseum / The Forum // These two outdoor explorations are nestled right next to one another, so you can knock out both before lunch if you go early and bring a water bottle. The Forum is long and sprawling, and wandering it's paths made me like a little goddess chasing a lamb. 

Gelateria Della Palma // 150 flavors of gelato!!!!!! Make any flavor combination your heart desires come true.  Highly recommend merengue+dark chocolate OR raspberry+lemon OR straccittella+mint chocolate chip. 

Dar Poeta // Casual and delicious pizza place packed with the younger crowd. Imagine sipping the house wine out of a juice cup and tearing off fat slices of some of the most epic pizza I've ever tasted. They don't slice their pizza in Italy, so you're left to pull off the pieces like a ravenous 11-year-old girl at a sleepover. 

St. Peter's Basilica // Even if you are not religious or catholic, this place is breathtaking. The art is fantastic. The way the light shines in, the aura of peace...! Oh! And if you are like my dad and uncle, there are beer trucks right outside.

Da Francesco // My FAVORITE restaurant in Rome! When we arrived, there were men outside playing chess and drinking beer. Inside it's cramped and cozy, so you're guaranteed conversation with the students traveling from barcelona at the table next you. Go with friends, because it's impossible to decide between the pasta and pizza, and you really should get both. (linguine with clams, bologonese, any pizza with mozzarella, grilled veggies!!!!!!)

The Spanish Steps // Offer a beautiful view of the city and you can get blackmarket Ray Bans.


More on the way! Florence and San Gimignano! Until then - I wrote a thing for Saveur on peaches, and my bff, Alex Testere, did the lovely illustration. We both hail from VA and love our summer stonefruit. 

- Stay cozy 

 

 

 

North of the border: San Diego

I get the itch. We've talked about this, blog world. I've left the comforts of my bed multiple times to jump inside Caroline, roll down the windows, and blast FJM for the long drive to where ever I want. The last (and first) time I was in San Diego was on my Quest Out West. I stayed in a hotel and drank Micheladas around a fire pit, which was great, but I mostly remember driving up the 405 with my fingers gripping the steering wheel, knuckles white, and mind in a tizzy. (Funny how driving across the United States was a lot less scary than actually MOVING to the other side of the United States.)

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It's been a year and some change since that first San Diego visit, and I realized that I hadn't really absorbed the San Diego sun. I hadn't tasted the flavor. I hadn't tasted the tacos. So about two weeks ago, I took off on a Monday afternoon and walked the shores of San Diego with plans to sleep on a couch and dust myself with sand and margarita salt. 

After the drive down, I immediately wandered the rocks of La Jolla Cove. Wild seals flip-flopped their way across the rocks, barking and sunbathing like funny-look mermaids. 

I ate lunch on a wooden bench looking out at the pastel colored hotels and the Pacific Ocean. Pale pink looks so lovely on a cerulean sky. This all took place at Cody's La Jolla, which is serves breakfast all day and closes after lunchtime. I stayed for a few extra hours to sip vino blanca and sage cocktails with my server, Gabriel, and we talked the customer service industry and practiced our Italian before I left to go see Children's Pool and avoid a parking ticket.

In Pacific Beach, I stayed with my friend (and fellow BRHS alumni!!!) Jeff. All the residents of Pacific Beach refer to it as PB and then go and watch the sunset on the grassy parts of the shoreline. It's community-based and adorable. Dinner was late, and took place at World Famous, because Monday night mean half off appetizers which means $2 fish tacos. BIG fish tacos, wrapped in a crust of sweet batter and folded gently in a corn cocoon. 

I made some shapes at Riff's, a music shop/yoga studio where a long-haired man played an acoustic guitar during shavasana.

Jeff and I ate at Oscar's, indulging in thick chips, lime-y ceviche, and the most amazing tacos. We both went for the Surf N' Turf, which is a mess of shrimp, steak, cabbage, cheese, cilantro, red onion, tomatoes, and avocado all folded up in a fat blissful burden.. The sun sprinkled glitter and burnt our cheeks, but that was okay, because we had pink lemonade and traded stories of 10th grade English class.

At the Hotel Del Coronado I wandered the beach and took pictures of strangers. For shopping I recommend Pangea, which is essentially a World Market on crack. And last but not least, if you are a beer junkie (and you should try to be when visiting San Diego), be sure to check out Twisted Manzanita. They play heavy metal and let dogs chase each other and the sour beer tastes like a warhead. 

Oh, oh, oh! Other things: I talk about attachment on the Five Tattvas, and two of my closest friends drink champagne and make avocado toast. They are really adorable and everyone should watch them.

- Stay Cozy 

Travels in Tacoland: Palms, CA

In Los Angeles there is an abundance of A) actors, B) small dogs, and C) taco trucks. I live with two of these things, and right next door from the third.

Despite my proximity to Angelicas Cemitas Originales, and the fact that I've lived in my apartment for well over a year, I had yet to venture down the sun-soaked sidewalk to cerulean blue truck with flashing lights. Its place on Venice Avenue has remained semi-permanent, and each time I drive by there are a cluster of Mexican-food enthusiasts craning their necks up to the window and drinking Fanta. I'm a native Virginian and up until moving to LA, my knowledge of Mexican food has consisted of hungover crunchwrap supremes and fishbowl margaritas from Doña Rosa in Harrisonburg. Eating tacos is a necessary part of my education as a West Coast transplant. 

Here's what I've gathered: Los Angeles is a cluster of culturally-diverse neighborhoods coming together to throw a block party with a weather at Twilight Zone-level of perfection. And while each neighborhood has a distinct vibe, there are some similarities. They've all got their watering holes, coffee shops bursting with screenwriters and start-uppers, 7/11s, Yum-Yum donuts, and food trucks. And while this cemitas truck may not be the pop culture icon of Kogi Beef or Konestruction, it has character, and some pretty badass street tacos. 

Street tacos are not like the average taco. The meat is bountiful, falling out of the corn tortilla as if you were to cram a bunch of puppies in a sleeping bag. Rather than one tortilla, you get two, and the combined softness of corn on corn creates the perfect foundation for a mixture of Mexican flavor. 

The menu is large and intimidating. I turned to the regulars, missionaries named Elder Luna and Elder Williamson, and the young girl working the cash register, asked for recommendations, and ordered lengua and a fried carne asada street taco. Let's talk about beef tongue. The lengua. It's sweet, and slightly squishy, with sugary fat that likes to explode upon each bite. I could see the taste buds, which I liked, because it provided a connection to the meat as an actual thing. This was no mystery meat; this was tongue. The fried carne asada was like if potato chips and steak had a baby. It possessed a sweet tang, and when folded with cilantro and sweet sautéed onions, created a delicious pocket of corn and and spice and meat and earth. 

They also had cemitas, which I found more culturally-fascinating than appetizing (we all have our preferences, folks). Cemitas are tortas that originated in Puebla, Mexico, and can refer to either the actual bread or the entire sandwich. It's fairly popular among Mexican food stands, and has also found it's way to culturally-diverse cities, such as New York and Los Angeles. Beef Milanesa is the most recognized type of meat when it comes to cemitas, and that's probably because it's thinly pounded deep-fried beef. 

I'm a sucker for dried and salty meat (say this with a sexy voice and hilarity ensues), so next up is the cemitas de cecina. They also had cemitas de queso de puerco, which is PICKLED PORK HEAD CHEESE. (!!!) Also, almost everything is $5 and under. No more late night trips to Jack-In-The-Box for this girl. 

On another, non-reporting on tacos note, my cousin Adam is walking from Chicago to Harrisburg, PA this summer in order to raise awareness for Mitochondrial Myopathy. His older brother/my cousin, Andy was diagnosed with this disease when he was in highschool, and is currently leading a beautiful life with an awesome lady and crazy-smart son. You can learn more about Adam's adventure here! He just reached his goal of $10,000 (money goes to United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation), and will start the walk June 15th. 

- Stay cozy!

 

Coachella

I'm sleep deprived and likely still coated in a thick layer of dust and sunscreen (3 showers isn't enough, man), but I have returned from Coachella alive, kickin', and with 300 more freckles. When I left last Thursday, the only information I had came from a massive amount of internet research. The necessities (water, chapstick, flower crowns, beef jerky) were snug and packed, but little Rachel and I had no idea what to expect. Would we have the energy to survive all three days??Would our vodka water bottles be discovered?? Would FJM see me in the audience and decide to leave his wife so that we could make beautiful folk music singing babies????!!!! 

But like all of the best things in life, the answers revealed themselves through unasked questions, and the discoveries stumbled upon us like baby deer in a berry patch.  Here's what I'll remember for next year, when we decide to return to this beautiful, bohemian village. 

(Note - Because I was terrified to bring my DSLR to Coachella, all photographs were done via the iPhone by myself and Rachel Tenenbaum.)

1. Mentally prepare - The night before I left, I took a Zzzquil, snuggled up in my big, cozy bed, and told myself "Enjoy this sleep, Amanda. You will not be this comfortable again for 4+ days. " And oh MAN, was I right. If you're camping, you will be sleeping on the ground in a small space surrounded by hundreds of other people, and greeted by the sun every morning at approximately 7am with the temperature steadily inching towards 90. You will sweat in the shade. Your feet will hurt. It will be uncomfortable and smelly. And also very, very good. 

2. Visit every stage - There was a time when I was terrified of EDM and getting stepped on, but if I hadn't sucked it up and made my way into the Gobi tent, I would have never seen Jennifer Hudson in a leotard. Aside from the mainstage, most of the Coachella venues are attached to a certain type of genre, and it's easy to stay locked into your preference. But part of the fun of the music festival experience is having so many different artists at your fingertips! Think of it as a musical buffet. Everything is yours to taste, and if you really like something, you can go back for seconds. 

3. Camp, but camp in style - When you decide to make the trek out to this festival, you have several options: rent a house, book a hotel, or camp. And while there are few things I love more than a cozy hotel room, the camping experience of Coachella is one I highly recommend indulging in. It will be loud and crowded, but the experience is akin to living in a small village (and it's only three days!) Remember that you're in the desert. Shade is your friend. So are canopies, extra pillows,  camping chairs, air mattresses, speakers, trashbags, baby wipes, tapestries, and rice krispie treats. There's also a really adorable town square-esque place in the middle of the campgrounds, offering everything from coffee shakes to yoga to poutine. 

4. Remember to eat - While these seems obvious, you can easily get caught up in the rush of going from stage to stage to stage. Plus the dehydration kills your appetite and the $10 taco price tag is a little off putting. While I'm normally never one to skip a meal, I got caught up in the flurry of lineups and the adrenaline of dancing across the polo field to make it over to Jack White in time. At 10pm I realized I hadn't eaten since 11, and had to make do with a sad soft pretzel purchased in an effort to merely put something solid in my stomach. Sorry, soft pretzel, but those $10 tacos ended up being worth every penny. 

5. Talk to strangers - Some kiddos travel from all over the world to visit Coachella. Some live two streets away. Some are really self conscious about their nautical-themed costume choices and, after some polite conversation, will let you sit on their shoulders for "From Eden".  Regardless, you're all in the same sweaty and excited boat so you might as well get to know one another. 

6. Prepare to be without your phone - I did not pack a cell phone charger. I charged my phone in my car when it was near death and was without it almost the entire weekend. On Saturday night, I left Rachel to locate a bottle of water and realized my phone was dead. The sun was going down and I was alone in a sea of thousands of other people without any way to reach a fellow friend and I was wondering what the hell I should do when my friend Dante magically walked by, unknowingly saving the day. Three hours later I was dancing with my turkish friend Irmak in the Sahara tent. Sometimes it's better not to be connected. 

7. Make friends with the neighbors - It's Sunday morning and the hottest it's been all weekend and you're stomach is empty and you're getting sick of bananas and protein bars. You look over at your neighbors and they have a bag of donettes. You haven't had donettes since you were in elementary school and you stopped at a Exxon on the way to Grandma's. If you are friends with said neighbors, they will offer you donettes. They also made great beer pong teammates. 

8. Don't forget the journey - Unless you live in Palm Springs, you're likely embarking on some sort of road trip to get to Coachella. This means you'll need a few more necessities, including , a jumbo box of Goldfish, car markers, In-N-Out burger, and Rilo Kiley on spotify. It also means taking the time to stop and breathe in the beauty of the Southern California desert.  

9.  See a sunset show - "White girls love Hozier," someone said to me as we discussed our vague itineraries of desired shows. My enthusiasm for this Irish-folk-blues-gospel Jesus may have come across as borderline obsession, BUT after the concert, boys and girls of all colors and ages agreed: this dude had a good set. It was also helpful that he performed on the mainstage, with the sun dripping into the the desert horizon, painting the earth and it's inhabitants in shades of yellow and gold. The sunset show is typically one of the best beautiful to watch, so strive to catch it at least once during the three days your exploring. 

10. Have a vague itinerary - I knew that if I didn't see Jenny Lewis or Jameston Revival I would have been sad (wristbands were expensive, guys), but the "go with the flow" mantra could have never been more pertinent. See the bands you want to see, but leave some space open for the unknown. See tip 7. The same idea applies. The desert is dry, but there waves to ride and currents to sift through. If you go with an open and light mind, you will have a fun. 


Sonoma County and Napa Valley

I can never refuse a set of cobblestone steps. Like Mary Lennox discovering Colin in the attic, I approach with curiosity and and delight in the unknown. Last Friday, I was lucky enough to stumble upon such a hideaway at the Ravenswood Vineyard, located in my new favorite getaway: Sonoma County. 

With golden-green hills cascading across the horizon and silk oaks towering into the sky, Sonoma (and it's cool and popular brother, Napa) offer more than just barrels of perfectly-aged Pinot Noir. There are delis with ice cream and olive oil samples, secret hideaways that make wine sipping seem like a Lewis Carroll poem, and a cluster of strangers all searching for a grape-y getaway. 

I spent a day up in the two towns, though I would highly recommend longer for anyone who can afford it. Had I the ability, I would have stayed there for days, organizing something that could only be advertised as "The Wine Olympics." Until then, here are some of my favorite hideaways that I suggest with enthusiasm and a lust for the fermented grape. 

Napa Valley 

Before today, my knowledge of Napa Valley came from vivid fantasies and what I remember from The Parent Trap. Hallie Parker, played by a young Lindsay Lohan, lived in Napa with her hot dad, Dennis Quaid, and a good portion of the movie featured scenes from the valley.  And man, oh man, that girl Hallie had it made! She could go horseback riding, eat cornbread and chili on the veranda, and go camping to Yosemite all within thirty minutes. I bet Daddy Denis even let her sneak a few sips of his special reserve. 

Should you find yourself hungry for adventure and thirsty for grown-up grape juice, here are a few of my recommendations! 

Domaine CarnerosIn the 1970s, Claude Taittinger of Champagne Taittinger had this crazy beautiful idea to bring the magic of his French bubbles in the United States. (Taittinger Champagne is quite pricey and quite delicious; I had it in New York a few years ago when visiting my Uncle, and my immature taste buds nearly exploded. The best way I can describe it is that a bunch of adorable fairies were taking a bubble bath in my mouth.) The sparkling wines of Taittinger, while not technically champagne, followed suit in their crisp buttery flavor and ability to inspire a sense of whimsy.

Tasters are invited to sit on the wraparound porch and select from a menu of wines by the glass or wine flights. Note of caution: the flights are not tastings!! I ordered one even though it was well beyond my budget (though I strive for budget travel, I can't help but adopt the "when in Rome" philosophy every now and then), and was taken aback by the heavy pours. Luckily, Domaine Carneros provides epic views, prime people watching, and (if you had my experience) hunky waiters. 

Yountville Let's stay with my earlier metaphor and imagine Napa Valley as the cool, older brother who is going to Dartmouth on a football scholarship. Yountville is his sensitive side, the part of his personality that makes him love community service and helping his mom in the garden. Lined with cottages and wildflowers, Yountville delivers you back to the childhood version of yourself. The vineyards are small and unpretentious, offering wines that Bacchus himself would bow down to. Come here to escape and the crowds and lounge in the sun like a wine-loving cat. 

Oxbow Public MarketAs much as I would love to call three wine tastings a meal, I find it hard to travel and not dive into the local cuisine. Oxbow Public Market presented the perfect way to do so. Located in Downtown Napa, Oxbow presents chocolatiers, patisseries, spice markets, cheeses, ice cream, seafood, and a taqueria. I wandered up and down the aisles, selecting samples of crusty bread dipped in infused olive oils, debating whether or not to go for the oysters or cheese or tacos or all of the above. Perfect for gift shopping or a taste-bud road trip, Oxbow becomes an adventure all on it's own. 

Other Recommendations: Bounty Wine Bar and Smokin' BBQ, Judd's Hill Winery, Twenty Rows Tasting Room 

Sonoma County 

Ah, Sonoma. If you were a fictional character, you would be a cross between Winnie Foster, Demeter, and MFK Fisher. You look like a painting and read like a poem. With your silk oak trees and wine-scented winds, you've captured my heart and established yourself as a kindred spirit. 

Sonoma PlazaThe town square of wine-o's, poets, dreamers, old men, families, and little girls in cotton dresses, Sonoma Plaza is an ideal choice to begin one's exploration. Around the center square wraps a series of coffee shops, art galleries, shops, and tasting rooms, allowing you (and your partner or family, if they've tagged along for the ride), to sample the town. There's a vintage movie house, a playground, artisan and (!!), an Irish Pub. The two things do not stereotypically run with one another, but there a few things I enjoy more than Celtic music and a glass of wine. Thank you, Sonoma, for finding a way to do so. 

Ravenswood Vineyard Their motto is "No Wimpy Wines", and this philosophy is carried throughout the entire vineyard. The tasting room associates are young and cool, with heavy hands (a great quality at any winery) and knowledge of their different varieties. I took a glass of the 2010 Zinfandel out onto the patio and discovered my cobblestone steps. They led up and around the tasting room, which had been built into and alongside a hill. Curiouser and curiouser!! 

As I wandered up the steps, I came upon a large patch of flat land looking over the vineyard and the outdoor patio. I was on top of the tasting room but because it had been built into the hill, still somewhat connected to the earth. As I walked through the patch, clusters of wildflowers and wheat danced alongside my bare legs, and I knew I had found my happy place. Like a chinchilla in a dust bath, I plopped myself down and allowed my senses to party hard. This is the vineyard for those truly looking to wander off the path. 

Sonoma's BestNestled in the center of Sonoma County sits a wine-tasters oasis known as Sonoma's Best. This little market serves as the ultimate base camp, offering a deli, ice cream, more wine tasting, gifts, and a series of cottages. Stop here for a sweet, snack, or sleep as you make your way through wine wonderland. (P.S. - the owner, Tom is a magician in finding wines, and prices them very reasonably. I told him I was a poor wine-o who loved a good red and he set me up with my new best friend.)

Other Recommendations: Buena Vista Winery, Sigh, The Girl and the Fig 

Most of all, my trip to Sonoma and Napa provided a necessary dose of gratitude and empathy. Meeting new people makes me feel good. I like hearing their stories, and forcing myself out of the narcissistic bubble that tends to develop in one's early twenties. Maybe I like wine tasting because it forces strangers to be social. I'm not sure. Whatever the reason, for the wine, for the people, and for the experience, I am blessed. (!!!)

And thank you, dear readers, for keeping me company is this quiet space of the internet. I would love to share a glass with you. 

- Stay cozy

 

 

 

Into the Idyllwild

I've been thinking a lot about change. 

About one year ago, Valentine's Day, I was driving away from Tyler, Texas to stay with a woman named Maggie who lived a few hours outside of Memphis. I drove eating a chocolate cookie dough blizzard (!!!) and drinking a chocolate coconut water(!!!!!!!), and making a pit stop to pick up Maggie a box of Russell Stover chocolates (!!!!!!!!!).  It was 70 and sunny, and the hop from Texas into Tennessee was as simple as a game of hopscotch. 

I remember feeling older that morning. I'm not sure why. It could have been the chocolate, or the oxytocin, or the rush from completing my first solo drive. Maybe it was because I had decided to quit my job and move to California two weeks later, and so I was feeling grown up and brave.  Whatever the reason, I remember gripping the steering wheel and looking at the road and thinking that life could be a playground if I let be. The highways could go anywhere; they could lead to anything. 

There's been a great deal of change since I made that drive. As a human with a type-A, list-loving personality, I sometimes find this hard to embrace. I like to make plans and stick with them, but that's certainly not often the way things work. Some of the best things in life (road trips and ice cream trucks) are spontaneous. 

Said spontaneity led me to Banning, California last weekend. I'd be staying with my new friend Marta, a woman who ran a business with her late husband operating the concessions at Renn Faires across the country, and her friend Amin, 25-year-old San Diego-an who likes to climb mountains.  Marta's cooking skills are beyond medieval, and when I arrived she welcomed me with the freshest and chunkiest homemade guacamole and Rosé.  For dinner, we had carrots and sweet potatoes in a tangy yogurt sauce and a chicken bathed in Indian spices. The meal was consumed around the living room table, surrounded by purple pillows, waves of incense, and 90s country music. 

A mere 45 minutes away from Banning stands Idyllwild, a town high up in the mountains and clustered with coniferous trees. Amin and I went up there the next day to explore the nature and hear a biker play the electric guitar. Along with the tourists and venturing biker gangs from Temecula, Idyllwild offers a handful of ice cream shops, restaurants, and places to buy beads and crystals. It reminded me of Sedona, but greener and closer to the clouds. Amin, a self-proclaimed "dark sky chaser" pointed out Yosemite and Big Bear from an especially high point in Idyllwild. It's pretty cool that you can see parts of California MILES AWAY from other parts of California. I still can't get over this. 

I left the Banning and Idyllwild, tanned, sweaty and accidentally laptop-less. When I realized my mistake upon returning home, I slapped my forehead and went "UGH." My plans for the evening and the next day flushed down the toilet, as I had another road trip to make, this one even more spontaneous than the first. Luckily, my friend Rachel is always down for a romp in the desert, especially if said romp involves attic exploration and roadside ice cream. 

Changes over the last month have been minor, such as "shoot, I can't complete any of these tasks because I need to go back and get my laptop" to more major ones like "okay, how is my rent going to get paid." And in the midst of a batch of crazy twists and turns, these changes have been the one thing I can guarantee. While some of them feel torturous in the moment, I've found that allowing them welcomes in a plethora of unexpected delights. My plans for last Monday didn't involve a return to Marta's or listening to Bob Marley with Rachel's feet on the dash, but they did. How lucky.

So cheers to another year of "who the f%& knows what will happen a year from now?" I can plan on that. 

Photos by myself and Rachel Tenenbaum //

-stay cozy

 

Jim Morrison's Caves

Do you remember the little girl in the movie Up? The one who grows up to be that rad old lady who dies within the first fifteen minutes of the movie, leading you to fold into your afghan blanket and sob big, fatty, baby tears? I remember her well, specifically right after she won the heart of the young grumpy man and right before she grew up, she said the words, "adventure is out there!" 

And oh, oh, oh do I believe it, little vagabond girl! I've said it before; the mundane can be the most excellent and adventure truly is around every corner. 

Or in this case, 25 miles north.

Last Saturday, Brett and I took the day off to romp up to Corral Canyon Road, dive headfirst into a post-hike champagne brunch, and slap on our Saturday best for house party shenanigans. IT began very early, which is the best thing to do when you want to devote an entire day to play. In the am we left Culver City to slather our arms in SPF 30 and drive up to Malibu. I've been on a hiking kick ever since I started reading Cheryl Strayed's Wild. (But no I haven't seen the movie yet! The fact that First Aid Kit has jammed their way into the soundtrack is hardcore motivation, but I wanted to get my hands dirty with some pages first.) There's something about the west, the unexplored turf, and the vastness of the mountains that beckons one forward. 

In her novel, Cheryl depicts her experience hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. While the hike Brett and I chose is nowhere near the level of the PCT, I couldn't help but think of her journey as we trudged through the dirt and hoisted ourselves across the rocks. She mentions the great intimidation of the mountain range, and how while it may seem like you are hiking to the top of a mountain, there is no such thing. Mountains are earth, and they just roll on and on without rhyme, reason, pattern, or regard for any living thing that chooses to take on their terrain.

Which makes you realize how little you are. 

After graduating, I was hungry for a syllabus. I wanted control. I wanted to look at a map and for one state to light up and say MOVE HERE and then for a job that made sense and for the dominoes of my life to fall exactly like they were supposed to. But looking at those mountains with Brett while simultaneously thinking of Cheryl's worlds illuminated the fact that that wasn't going to happen. Humans can control quite a bit; our clothing choices, the foods we put into our bodies, heck, even our happiness. But the list of things that we fall vulnerable to is far longer than the list of things within our grip.

That being said, the mountains are beautiful, and the unexplored territory is kinda fun. There are surprises. Like Jim Morrison's Cave.

NOTE: The cave was not so much a surprise for me. My eight-year-old friend Dylan gave me the heads up, as well as vague instructions on how to find it. I will tell you, dear friends, to the best of my ability, but a lot of it relies on instinct because the path changes depending on how the bushes are growing. Some people like to keep good hikes a secret, but I believe that adventure should be shared among the masses. 

You want to drive up to Malibu, making a left on Corral Canyon Road. You'll drive all the way to the end and it will be beautiful and it will feel like you are driving too much and that you are skipping the hike. You are not. Eventually, about ten minutes in, the road will turn to dust and you'll be able to park your car. Take the hike to the back left of the parking lot. Immediately you'll see stacks of stones and smooth rocks that shout CLIMB ME (doooo it). Keep hiking and you'll eventually see this large sphere of rocks that looks like Pet Semetary, but it's not. Turn back around and spy a small clump of rounded rocks and head towards this. There should be a little trail leading back to the caves. Make a left and continue down. The cave will be on your left, as well a little black arrow. Follow it back and you will spy an opening that, I kid you not, looks like a vagina. Climb through the vagina and you are in the cave. 

Glance out and see the big, wide world below. Count the mountains. Bring some wine or grapes and have a party. Ride the snake, whatever. I can see why Jim loved this cave and I can see why that little girl shouted "adventure is out there."

- Stay cozy (in a cave!) 

 

 

Adventures in Solvang

A natural museum, the exhibits painted in christmas shops and miniature ponies; Solvang is place for dreamers, tasters, and holiday-enthusiasts. Arrive at night and you'll be greeted with twinkling fairy lights and glass of pinot noir, preparing you for a sleigh ride into December.

Thanksgiving back east means frosted grass, 8am bloody marys, and collecting pinecones to decorate the centerpiece. Mish would be hard at work in the kitchen, while Uncle David and I lay flat on our bellies watching the parade as we chomped vodka-soaked celery sticks. Out in California, Thanksgiving is painted in shades of blue and gold. In the middle of this colorful landscape sits the town of Solvang. When my friend Dave first told me his family lived there, I proceeded to google image it and immediately thought he had sent me to some small town in Holland. Solvang was more than just blue and gold; it was red and white and Christmas-y and full of chocolate fudge and skeet shooting and coyotes and stars. So when Dave extended a Thanksgiving invite to Kaitlyn and I, we squealed and I threw my wooden shoes in a suitcase. 

We arrived just after sunset on Wednesday, meeting up with Dave and his best friend Dante. Molly and Rick Ballantine melted my soul with their immediate offering of red wine and enthusiastic embrace. Back in our Harrisonburg home, Kaitlyn and I slept next to one another in separate bedrooms. Neither of us could have predicted we'd eventually be sleeping next to one another in a Solvang bedroom equipped with amazing bathrobes and a cerulean wedding chest that I wanted to steal. But oh, oh, oh, I was glad we did! Especially at 8am, when Kaitlyn pulled the covers over her face and whispered "Happy Thanksgiving."

Thanksgiving-y things happened. There was a parade and a tennis game. I successfully threw a football. Oh, and cornhole!! Cornhole was great companion for this holiday, especially when paired with team Amante and team Daitlyn and team Stella Artois. Then there was the pinot noir, the turkey, the corn souffle, the roasted green beans, and the sausage-and-apple stuffing?! I was so excited I could have knocked the table over! (Which would have been a shame. There was a lot of wine on that table.) 

Celebration continued until the wee hours of the morning and then some more over the next 36 hours. We sang Sinatra around the piano, tasted wines, shot rifles that shattered clay pigeons, and visited the Sock Loft. We gave ourselves flash tattoos in the laundry room. Ohio and Michigan played against one another Saturday morning, and we celebrated with mimosas and pushups upon ever point scored. It led to some very tipsy and very enthusiastic exercise.

And in Solvang, where the food and fudge shops and wine pours from the sky, I remember that first kitchen meal. That time where I knew I was safe and with good people who cared about food and friends. We ate these carrots alongside flank steak, salad, and salted potatoes as the stars came out to play. 


molly's roasted carrots

8 imperator carrots (or others of a similar variety)

Olive oil 

Kosher salt and pepper to taste

Peel the carrots. Use a chef's knife to cut them into slices. (I like an uneven cut. It looks beautifully imperfect and rustic.)

Place the carrots on a baking sheet and drizzle with the desired amount of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Using your hands, mix the carrots around the baking sheet to evenly distribute the oil and seasonings. 

Bake for 20-45 minutes, depending on how you like them. I do a solid 30. The longer you cook them, the softer they get. The edges also get oh-so-wonderfully charred. 

Let the holidays continue! I've discovered the Christmas radio station and now my LA drives are 10x more festive. Cheers, cheers, cheers.

- Stay cozy

 

 

 

 

 

Día de Muertos, and a celebration of the farmer's market

On Sunday, I danced with the skulls. 

It all began at the farmer's market. 

Poems could be (and likely are) written about farmer's markets. They're comforting and bright, bursting with new tastes, sights, and sounds. I still long after the Friendly City Farmer's Market in Harrisonburg. By senior year it was walking distance from my apartment, and on Saturday mornings (the ones when I wasn't sleeping till noon), I'd pull on a pair of boots and scamper down to pick up bunches of greens and Amish-made macaroons.  

And there was Root's in the golden hills of Manheim, Pennsylvania. This bad boy was a Renn Faire Tuesday ritual; they had the biggest pumpkins and the best apple cider. (And if you drank out a decent chunk of the top, you could pour in some Fireball Whiskey and have the best hammock ride of your life.) 

Though farmer's markets echo similar vibes of comfort and fresh produce, they're often unique to their location. This is to be expected. Different soils, different cuisines, etc, etc all lead to a deep cornucopia of culture and flavor.  But this is why farmer's market are such a treat. No matter where you are, you can head to the local market, grab some bites and absorb some of the town's flavor. 

Just to prove my theory (but mostly it sounded really fun) I made a little chart mapping the diversity and universality of the farmer's market, using my two most recent ventures to compare and contrast. Logan's Square is a neighborhood in Chicago, and Mar Vista is the town that sits between Culver City and Venice Beach here in Los Angeles. 

Logan's Square Farmer's Market v. Mar Vista Farmer's Market

Logan's Square 

Chai marshmallows

Hot apple cider

Thick-rimmed glasses

Flannel 

Local whiskey 

Both

Vegan baked goods

Women with dreads

Men with beards

Artisanal honey

Kale

Mar Vista 

Empanadas

Dumplings 

  Live mariachi music

Man buns 

Sangria 

!!!!!! Look at that! Regardless of the differences between the Farmer's markets they all share good vibes, happy people, and kale. So I knew going into the Mar Vista Farmer's Market that I would be satisfied. I did not, however, know that they would be celebrating Día de Muertos with such ebullience that I would spend all day consuming free samples and dancing with a mariachi band. But life surprises you.

Standouts included:

Hepp's Salt - I've never done a salt tasting before, and though my sodium levels likely exploded, I am so glad to have been involved in the experience. Hepp's habanero salt does magical things to homemade granola, and the 7-fire (named for being smoked with seven different types of wood) was like camping with a bunch of foul-mouthed girl scouts. In the best way possible.

Farm Style Cooking for Kids - I am so crazy passionate about this I could spit all over the computer. Sarah, an artist and food educator, teaches kids about the fun of choosing, smelling, and experiencing the foods we make and share with our loved ones.  A+++++++++++++++++++++

Dr. Sweetooth's Nougat - When I was younger, I dreamed I would meet this man. Dr. Sweetooth advertises his nougat as being "the best nougat you will ever taste" and he is right on the money. The nougat is made in the French-style, and it's all soy, gluten, and dairy free. And the best part is, while Dr. Sweetooth makes candy on the weekend, his day job is that of a DENTIST. Talk about a double life. 

Red Bread - We recently did a shoot with Rose Lawrence of Red Bread for Salted and I fell in LOVE with her mission: food should be tasty, nutritious, and sustainable. I also fell in love with the Bourbon peach jam. 

 

Until the next market, dear friends. 

- 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

 

 

Reyes vineyard and the town of Agua Dulce

Weekends are feeding time.

Traveling, and a few honey-lavender chocolates, does a fantastic job feeding the soul.  For both nourishment and exploration, I spent yesterday romping around the small desert town of Agua Dulce.   

The road to Agua Dulce is an experience itself.  As I made my way out of Los Angeles, I watched the cars disappear and the mountains grow. Thin daisies pushed their way out of the cracks of the dusty grounds and blossomed up into the sky.  The rocks provided shade for a few lone houses, and signs reading “Alfalfa Greener Than Heaven’s Grass” stood plastered by the wooden houses.

reyes3.jpg

I stopped at Reyes Vineyard, a place where fellow wine enthusiasts have clapped and cheered over the winemaker’s tender use of the grapes.  My tasting began with a Chardonnay, and to say I was skeptical is a drastic understatement.  (Not a fan of oaky, buttery wines.) Despite that, I tried the wine, and it was bright and relaxed, with flavors reminiscent of a non-sweet tropical drink.  Another standout was the Cabernet from 2010. Reyes has a chocolatier ON SITE (!!!) to help provide chocolate pairings with corresponding wines.  The Cab 10 came with a dark chocolate caramel, and the combination was both milky and dark, and sweet and bitter. It was playful.  I could easily see myself draped of a chaise lounge, sipping this wine and savoring the chocolates.

The dessert wines…oh the dessert wines!!! I used to disdain such sweet wines, turning my head away from their supposed syrupy flavor. My relationship with these guys took a turn when I went to Portugal, and realized that a good Port paired chocolate-covered cherries had the potential to be a religious experience.  The White Delight, one of Reyes’s dessert white blends, tasted like pears and Crème Brule.  It was floral but not soapy, and possessed an earthy sweetness akin to dirtying up one’s best Sunday dress with fresh soil.

The red dessert wine tasted like Halloween. A Milky Way Midnight, in particular. It was paired with toffee, and had a buttery darkness that would seduce any mortal into the arms of a dreamboat vampire.

The wines and staff of Reyes were so charming that I felt it best to do a little exploring of the rest of the town before I made my way back to Los Angeles.  I was in luck. The town was celebrating the entrance into fall, and the main road was blocked off for the Harvest Parade.  Lawn chairs lined the street. Parents drank beer in golf carts, and children clutched their paper bags in preparation for the eventual downpour of miniature candy.

I sat and spoke with a few of the town residents, including a man named J.T. as he wrangled his spunky 3-year-old.  He told me about his life in Agua Dulce, and how he couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

“The towns tries to stay small,” He said, swapping the child for a red solo cup of something cold and yeasty. “No curbs, no streetlights. No property can have less than two acres.”

The vibe proves it.  As people walk to claim their spots along the road, J.T. waves, greeting most of them by name.  It seems that everyone is taking a break from their hectic work -week to enjoy the simple joy of a cooler and parade.

The afternoon moved slowly, and I continued to venture down the road in a pursuit of discovery.  While navigating the dusty and winding roads, I made friends with a 20-year-old welding student named Uly. Uly came from Mexico when he was ten years old, and currently drives around with his little brothers in their stepfather’s pickup truck. The boys drink coke from Burger King cups, and prepare to sit on the curb in order to view the parade’s splendor.

Uly knows about literal feeding. In addition to his time studying the art of welding, he works at a feed store and nurtures his pet baby cow. He lives a life as student, caregiver, and shop-worker, all while maintaining a sense of play.  As we wait for the parade, he points to spheres of fading tire tracks that sit in the middle of the road.

“See the donut-marks?” He asks with a grin. “Those were me.” Still grinning.

There are multiple facets to every personality. Our daily actions make up a big part of who we are, and then we feed our personalities back into our work.

We make tires tracks. We drink beer from the family’s cooler. We drive in order to discover.

 When it comes to our days off, when it’s beneficial to take a breath, we can explore our personalities in the realm of relaxation and playtime.  As cliché as it may sound, it’s a chance to feed the soul and our inner child.

So, friends! Eat and eat well. Eat the roads, drink the wine, and let your explorations guide you.  It’s just as important to feed the soul as it is to feed the body.

-Stay cozy

 

 

 

Virginia wine country and lancaster county

I've jet-lagged myself into the mindset of an early bird. The room is gray with morning light, and I'm wearing a t-shirt that smells like my favorite boy. 

Back from the East Coast, and it looks like a suitcase has exploded in my room. It's full of semi-folded clothes and my brain is full of good, great, and cheer-inducing memories.

So with that being said, I'll review my week in a handful of the moments collected. I like to imagine them as metaphorical snapshots, laid out on a wooden floor so that I may stand above them and think. "yes, yes, yes!" I'll likely also dance a bit, maybe cry, and then sit down to cuddle them.

Mish made omelets, and I am forever grateful for back-porch-Sunday-mornings.  The sounds of southern bugs had been forgotten since my move. They provided nice background tunes. 

I visited Breaux Vineyards, where Ketel One and I shared the Virginia scenery, orange chocolate, and a knockout Cab Franc. "Like a saddle fell on the flowers."

There were homemade fajitas and a plethora of citrus-medlied margaritas.

Around 10pm, we watched The Graduate, where a plastic bag of bulk peanut M&Ms fell into my lap and I felt very alive.

Lemon-ginger kombucha plus bacon granola is the way to go when it comes to car trips. 

I lazed in a hammock, where approximately one year ago, I lazed in the exact same position with the exact same girl and we giggled over the things we once feared.

Two lovers with bloated bellies ate salad greens over a maple desk.

We adored an armful of kittens, watching them dig their tiny kitty nails into the cardboard and mew for attention, or food, or just for the hell of it.

I cut a watermelon and felt very cozy.

I returned to my stompground of the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, where my  dad and I shared Hefeweizen while dodging rain bullets.

Epic sleeps. 

Circa Paleo played and there was much rejoicing. 

A microwave Amy enchiladas meal never tasted so good.

The words "free wine tasting" never sounded so good.

There were massive amounts of "I love yous" and tight embraces that warmed my soul like a pumpkin latte wearing a sweater. 

________________________

 

The plane ride back was difficult, for sure, but I take comfort in a scented shirt and the words of Rainer Maria Rilke. These came from his letters to Franz Kappus, back when Mr. Kappus was goin' through his quarter-life crisis, and I HIIGHHHLY recommend his work for the readin pleasure of any writer, artist, or human.

"For the people who are close to you, you tell me, are far away, and that shows that you are beginning to create a wider space around you. And if what is close is far, then the space around you is wide indeed, and already among the stars."

-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