You're never too old

Hi! How is everyone? I’ve managed to catch some sort of weird coughy/snotty/my-body-hurts-all-the-time thing, but other than that, life has been swell. On Tuesday some friends and I got paid to eat cupcakes and the weekend prior we visited Big Bear. So everything the past week has tasted like buttercream, campfires, and the Lumineers. 

After we graduated JMU, a good chunk of my fellow classmates moved out to Los Angeles to pursue big dreams and eat lots of tacos. Though I didn’t know many of them back then, the intimidation of a new city drew everyone closer together. It’s such a delight to have them around; whenever I am feeling nostalgic for the days of dining plans, syllabi, and four locos (except I am never nostalgic for a four loco), they are just a stone’s throw away, ready to sip cheap wine and reminisce over the frozen yogurt machines. 

One of these friends (lil Kris Belskey! Basketball player and comedienne and dog-owner extraordinaire!) gathered us all out to Big Bear to celebrate her 26th birthday. If you remember, I like Big Bear a lot. It's a fascinating little town; various climates and bits of foliage all blend together, creating a desert/forest combo like straight out of The Land Before Time. As you head further into the mountains, the Joshua trees and little shrubs start to disappear, and you begin brushing against the pine trees and various campgrounds. 

Our arrival was loud and vibrant. We tore through the house like children, dropping out Chex Mix and own the prowl for the best beds. Birthday girl and her girlfriend got the master suite, obviously, and then a few lucky folks claimed the other bedrooms. A few girlfriend ands I myself were happy to grab the bunk bed room, mostly because it made us feel like Annie and Hallie à la Parent Trap.

And like the children we were in college, we busted out the Bud Lights and solo cups, reviewing the established set of rules for Beer Olympics and drawing names to coordinate teams. The cookie cake and piñata were set to the side, as we weren't animals, and didn’t want to dive headfirst into everything at once.

To stretch our legs and burn our beer calories, we set off on a two mile walk, loaded down with some combination of dog/camera/road beer. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t take a road beer with you on a walk, I highly recommend you give it a try! I have very fond memories of my dad and uncles doing this on our walks from the beach house to the shore, saying that they were grabbing a "roadie" as if it were as necessary as sunscreen. It’s very nice to crunch through the woods and sip something wheat-y and toast-y (not Bud Light), especially when you’re wearing a flannel. Beer+woods+flannel are three peas in a pod, much like the Hogwarts trio or Destiny's Child.

Back at the house we climbed onto the railings for impromptu photoshoots, then jumped to the ground to chase the dogs and blow raspberries on their bellies. We were definitely not acting our age (or where we?!!) as we flipped red solo cups onto the table, blew out the candles of a chocolate chip cookie cake, and destroyed a piñata in an effort to get to a handful of Reese’s eggs. 

To really top off this inner child/college student weekend, we did breakfast the next day with Cracker Barrel-style pancakes drenched in Mrs. Butterworth’s, followed by an easter egg hunt in the front yard. We then cleaned the house and took all of our trash and recyclables the local center. Yay for responsibility! That night I even paid my credit card bill and organized the pantry. A slow ease back into 25.

I’ve been trying to understand this “adulthood” thing. When I was younger, I thought that meant drinking wine, paying bills, and getting married. So far I’ve done one of those things, about 75% of the other, and none of the last one. I thought I might have a real person job and lots and lots of clarity. 

But that hasn’t been the case. I’ve sat on the steps of my apartment in tears, wondering who I was and what on earth I was doing in LA. It got so bad that I started listening to Stressed Out by Twenty One Pilots and felt like “it got me.” Luckily, my bff Alex Testere came along and reminded me that there was always Rilo Kiley's A Better Son/Daughter.  But then if I really want water show to get going, I'll just put on Lippy Kids by Elbow. 

So maybe I didn’t go to Big Bear. Maybe I went to Neverland and was too distracted by candy and friends and wine to see any of the mermaids/pirates/lost boys. I stopped worrying about the definition of adulthood and listened to the inner-nine-year-old who was screaming, “REMEMBER WHEN YOU USED TO GIVE ME FRUIT ROLL UPS AND WE WOULD PLAY WITH FELT AND CHASE STUFF? WHAT HAPPENED TO THAT GIRL. I LIKED HER.”

I’ll have to remember to feed her more often. 

Stay cozy friends! Go eat a fruit roll up or these eggo-waffle-toast guys. 

Journey up the Pacific coast, part three

Welcome to the final installation of my PNW road trip series!! The beginning of an end, AKA the moment where we catch a glimpse of the final destination and quietly slide it under the bed alongside our plans to stop eating sugar and drinking during the week. We made the most of it, indulging in midnight van shenanigans, lust-worthy donuts, and 70s motels.

Seattle

Before this trip, I knew Seattle as the place where Tom Hanks went to feel very melancholy. It looked both wet and romantic, like the sort of place you would go to escape to with your lover when you were both faking sick or having a Moonrise Kingdom episode. If I lived in Seattle,  I'd spend the winter huddled up at home, pouring wine into a fat pot of soup. Summertime would be spent lounging on the beach in a gray sweatshirt. 

Ariel and I plotted an entire day in Seattle, beginning with the Pike Place Market. Pike Place is a feast in every definition of the word; there are baby chocolate cheesecakes, tubes of lavender honey, tortilla chips, Washington apples, blood orange vinegars, ponchikis, freshly shucked oysters, small cups of green tea, wax-wrapped smoked salmon, and pickles. The people are just as diverse, with toddlers sucking on crusts of sourdough and old women tucking fresh cheese in their canvas bags, nestled alongside a box of water crackers. 

We walked through tea shops and a whiskey distillery that looked like a guerilla advertisement for flannel. In the evening there was demolishing Brooklyn-style pizza at Delancey, spying on swing dancing classes, and falling asleep on the ferry ride home. If our beanies and ponchos did anything to make us look like Seattle locals, the vibe was quickly wiped away by the amount of times I said, "WOAH, LOOK AT THAT." I also took several pictures of strangers.

Seattle to Portland

Driving to Portland from Seattle was bizarre. Often times when I'm on roadtrips, the landscapes will start to remind me of past places; I've seen bits and pieces of Virginia in California, New York in Tennessee, la-de-da, etc, etc. And I know that sounds weird because "Uh, Amanda, the United States has more stuff than the menu at the Cheesecake Factory," but it does and just trust me on it. The drive to Portland had that effect—the vastness reminded me of the 5 or driving through the flatter parts of Virginia, but then there would be a giant mountain rising in the distance. Just one.

Portland was like that too; nature was everywhere! Our first morning we sought out to find a hike, and were able to find one at Forest Park only ten minutes from our host's Victorian-style home. Like aforementioned parts of Oregon, it was green and alive, wet yet refreshing.

After our hike, we considered ourselves good and exercised, and well in need of a donut. We went to Blue Star Donuts, a Portland favorite with options such as Rosemary Basil, Pistachio Piña Colada, and Valhorna Chocolate Crunch.  It was hard to settle on just one, and even harder to turn down the caravan of food trucks that stretched outside the street.

Before this trip I couldn't help but wonder, "Will Portland match up to Portlandia's stereotypes???" And in some ways, yes. The weather was abnormally gorgeous, and the streets of Downtown Portland were packed with families and strange bikes couples and clowns. It might have been an exceptional day,  due to the weather all, but Ariel and I wondered, "Does anyone here actually have jobs??" Maybe they all work as clowns and donut-sellers. 

One of my favorite parts of traveling is crashing on other people's couches. We stayed with Drew, an ex-boyfriend's best friend (which could have been awkward but we're all grown-ups here). After he got off work, the three of us met an Asian-comfort food restaurant, where we had Sapporos, pumpkin curry, dumplings, and some very spicy things that I cannot remove. On the other side of our table, two very tall Asian men ate from a package of double-stuf oreos. The children behind us drummed with their chopsticks and a girl's night out shrieked from the next room.

In the evening, we talked about our astrological signs in Drew's car-turned-sometimes-a-house. He's well-traveled, and before moving to Portland studied art in Cincinnati and backpacked through the California mountains. The three of us laughed in that van until we cried; glossing the windows with the heat of our breath as if we were two horny sophomores. 

"Thank you so much," Ariel and I repeated as we stretched out over the spare mattress later that eve. 

"It's no problem," Drew said. "I remember what it was like to be a traveler. I know how important a warm bed can be."

Portland to Redding

When you're traveling alone, you often wake up deep with introspection. It's strange to wake in a new place every morning, and you must gather your bearings upon peeling back the blanket. But traveling with Ariel wasn't like that; when I woke up I knew exactly where I was, feeling excited and nurtured. The morning we left Portland was the eleventh day of our journey, and we were learning one another's patterns. She was the better driver, I was good at finding restaurants. She could calm me down if I could get us a place to sleep.

And that day to Redding was reserved purely for driving. There wasn't much to do in Redding, and it was to be the only night we would stay in a hotel. After eight hours of driving, this was a welcome site. 

If I had a Sound of Music-style list of favorite things, hotel rooms would near the tippy top. They're one of the coziest places in the entire world, offering fresh sheets and individually-wrapped bars of soap. You can make subpar coffee without leaving your room! There is wi-fi! There is a lobby with occasional cookies! It's Disneyland!!!! (That is, for someone who really likes to not clean/not make the bed/eat a dinner of vending machine snacks and cheap booze/watch sex and the city reruns.)

And the only thing better than a hotel is a 70s-style hotel, especially one called the Thunderbird Lodge. There's just something about a neon sign off a California highway that makes you feel like you've made it. We ditched looking for Redding's top restaurant for the simplicity of walking across the street to a sports bar $3 Bud Light. We ate Newman's Ranch dressing on a bed of romaine, white bread painted in garlic butter, and watery chili. It was fucking delicious.

Because by that point, and maybe for most of the trip, it was never about finding the best donuts or the famous tasting. It was about trying something new and kind of scary with a friend. I've done a lot of road trips alone, and while that has its own rewards, there is little to rival mutual excitement over hot water and cheap beer. 

Ariel and I embarked on this trek out of shared mindset for adventure, which ultimately fueled us to hop around the various states like a non-murdering Thelma and Louise. We divided the wheat thins, gas prices, and days of DD-ing up as amicably as we had offered one another drunk pizza rolls in our college days. We were SO ABUNDANT, and not with things (you gotta travel light when you're in VW bug), but with memories and gratitude. 

That night, we walked across the rainy street and nestled into the warm, white hotel sheets to watch Netflix and cuddle. We didn't have the wisdom of a Redding-native, but for the night, it was perfect.

Redding to Solvang

At this point the roads began to feel familiar. We were migrating back to Southern California, and greeting all the diversity along the way. In this last leg, we saw fields of farmland, vineyards, mountains, snow, cacti, Joshua trees, rain, rolling hills, fog and even a volcano. It was like Mother Nature looked down at us and shouted, "DID I MISS ANYTHING?? ARE YOU SURE? WELL JUST IN CASE..."

Our hosts that evening were my good friends, Kaitlyn and Dave, and Dave's parents Molly and Rick. It was a Sunday eve, and we ate cozy food: cornbread, chili with red beans, and chocolate.  After the dishes were placed in the washer, the four us kids sipped wine while laying by the fire, and fell asleep before 10. 

Solvang to LA

And we came back! All in one piece and slightly freaking out because our jobs were no longer to find hikes and restaurants and use hotspots, but to drip slowly back into the real world where we had to remember the correct day of the week. We were fat with memories and wine and McDonald's Egg McMuffins (which we ate more than twice or three times on this trip...). *cue angel emoji*

Do you remember feeling slightly bummed when you came back to 3rd grade after a week in grandma's Floridian condo? Yeah, that feeling came back. Because when you're out venturing the unknown, it feels as if anything is possible. The days feel longer because there is no routine, only surprises. 

Maybe I like road trips because it's not very hard to feel curious. Curiosity is fear's playful best friend, the one who encourages you to eat the snail or drop your number on that guy's table. When you're bombarded with new thing after new thing, the fascination with the unknown triumphs fear. Nothing can go wrong because you never had time to create expectations. 

I won't forget that feeling of curiosity on that first night when Ariel and I pitched a tent in the rain. I remember thinking, "Are we going to be able to get this tent up in this storm? With hardly any light?" Turns out we could, and it made that final snuggle all the cozier. 

 

 

A journey up the Pacific coast, part two

PART TWO! Are part twos ever as good as part ones? I think not, with maybe the exception being Austin Powers:The Spy Who Shagged Me, Home Alone: Lost in New York, and hopefully this blog post. 

When I left off, Ariel and I had just waved goodbye to Sequoia, the man in the night dress who gave us shelter, sofas, and a coffee table full o' weed. (Since my last post, Sequoia has given Ariel and I a review on couchsurfing. It reads "REALLY SWEET PEEPS." I did not add the all caps; that was his choice. What a guy, man.)

Eureka to Eugene: 

Ariel and I awoke with a plan. We would leave Sequoia's house bright and early so that we'd arrive in Eugene at a somewhat decent hour and avoid the hyperventilating that had occurred the previous evening. 

The drive to Eugene was breezy. After a mere four hours, we were in the second largest city in Oregon. The minute we arrived in that state, I could sense something was different. A layer of gray had melted over the earth, covering everything in a Patagonia jacket smelling of incense, musky cologne, and marijuana. The surrounding fauna was a shade green I thought could never be found in the United States, and 70% of the buildings were painted with mushrooms. There were coffee drive-thrus and waterfalls. It was a weird fairy land, if the fairies were lumberjacks who loved macchiatos and shrooms.

Maybe it was the fact that we were finally able to shower, or maybe it was because we arrived somewhere while it was still light outside, but nothing looked as good as that Eugene hostel. We had our own room and all of the bars were in walking distance (!!!). Making use of this valuable time to get some local flavor, Ariel and I put on our “going out outfits” (AKA denim shirts, yoga pants, and high-heeled boots), and went to the paint the town red at the Pizza Research Institute. 

The Pizza Research Institute, though to my knowledge was conducting no pizza research, scored major brownie points. For one, they served their cocktails (I had sangria) in ENORMOUS goblets. There were fat pieces of fruit bobbing up and down, all of which continued to soak up the sweet, boozy nectar. Ariel and I split a salad and each got a personal pizza, both of which came topped with a mountain of different cheeses and veggies. Now, the pizza at PRI wouldn’t fall into any category that was named after a city, but it was fucking delicious. The crust had seeds in it and it was perfectly browned and chewy. The vegetables and cheeses tasted like Greg-the-Waiter had grown them in his back pocket. It wasn’t anything you’d see in any trendy NY/LA restaurant, but it was doughy and cheesey and vegetable-y and everything I wanted to put into my mouth. Aforementioned boozy fruit was the perfect dessert. 

After dinner, Ariel and I moseyed across the street to dive bar with to check out a local Americana band. We began with a glass of wine and a shot of whiskey, and then proceeded to make our way onto the dance floor and rolls our heads with some Eugene-locals. 

The next bar is where things get a bit foggy. It was half arcade, which despite my living in a metropolis, I had never been to before. (Barcades, is what I think the kids are calling them?) Regardless, the whole thing is a bit fuzzy.  I did wake up with a piece of pizza in my purse and an email from an old man named Bill, saying that he enjoyed our conversation regarding the Oregon County Fair. Based on those clues, it sounds like it was a pretty lovely evening. 

Eugene to Astoria:

The next day began with only a slight hangover, some kombucha, and more sunlight than I believed to be possible in central Oregon. This was perfect, considering that Ariel and I had set aside this afternoon to be the one that we ventured into Ashland’s hot springs. For those who may not know, hot springs are basically Mother Nature’s way of telling us that, regardless of how old we get, she wants us to take off our clothes and play in the water. 

Your only form of payment is bravery - hot springs are popular. And in a place like Oregon, where no one seems to work real jobs, the place can get several visitors on a Tuesday afternoon. We arrived around 11am, and there were already a handful of folks skipping naked through the greenery, frolicking like small European children on the beach. 

The last time I was naked in public was my senior year of college when I did a  lap around my friend’s house wearing nothing but a pair of Nike’s and a friendship bracelet. (I’m not one for showing off Tweedle Dee, Tweedle Dum, and the Cheshire Cat, but….when in Rome.) Ariel and I both through caution (and our underthings) to the wind, and climbed in among a small cluster of Oregon's finest.  

Floating in the hot springs was similar to what I can imagine it feels like to be a mythological creature. At any moment, I half-expected Zeus to parade in disguised as a horse, or witness Vertumnus attempt to woo the spritely Pomona. It barely felt real. Oregon is truly a rainforest, with thick layers of moss painting every tree branch and life inching its way out of every surface. 

I didn’t want to put on my clothes and stop running my fingers over the smooth, wet stones. I wanted to be naked forever, like Tommy Pickles in this episode of Rugrats.  (Also, mental note to add "Naked Forever" to the list of novels I'd eventually like to write.) When the time came for our departure, Ariel and I pulled on our clothes and repacked the car to head up to Astoria.

The drive was quick, and we arrived at our hostel with just enough time to finish a bottle of wine and find a seafood restaurant. But the scariest part of Astoria was the journey down the boardwalk. It wasn't really dangerous, but halfway to dinner we heard the most terrifying wails and wimpers. It turned out to be the sounds of elephant seal mating calls, which upon learning, ended up serving as a nice soundtrack to our oysters and chicken sandwiches. 

Astoria to Bainbridge Island: 

Astoria is located on the Washington coastline, only a stone’s through away from some infamous Goonies moments. It’s also the last leg of Lewis and Clark’s cross-country trek, and they really couldn’t have found a worse spot to end up. Don’t get me wrong; Astoria is breathtaking and worth a visit, but that’s only when you have a bed, an umbrella, and at least some form of shelter. It’s right on the water, and in January this means it’s going to get cold, windy, and foggy. The 101 took us across a ginormous bridge, and it looked as if we were heading straight into purgatory. The nearby landmarks were labeled “Dismal Point” and “Cape Disappointment.” Oof. Rough days, Lewis and Clark. 

We waved goodbye to the coastline, migrating towards Ariel’s uncle’s place on Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge doesn't feel real. In the middle of winter, it’s foggy and green, brimming with a gray mist that seems to billow in from every direction. It’s the kind of place one would envision roaming if they were suddenly orphaned and decided to live life in the style of the Boxcar Children. Had it not been raining and dangerous, I’d have wanted to kick off my shoes and muddle through the dirt, looking for storybook berry patches and rabbit holes. 

But Ariel and I had an agenda. We had to be leaving Bainbridge (by ferry) by FIVE so that we could get to Bainbridge by SIX so that I could get to a meeting by SEVEN (despite the carefree nature of this trip, I had not stopped working. Gas money, to my dismay, does not grow on trees.) By this time, the rain was pounding, making our first drive through Seattle more stressful than romantic. Cars were honking. I was apologizing. It was so scary that at one point, Ariel looked at me and said, “Should we fire drill this?” And then we switched spots in the middle of the intersection.

Luckily, break time came for the weary travelers. While I was in my meeting, Ariel went in search of a bar. Her journey was most fruitful, because when I went to meet up with her, I discovered that she had picked one of the fanciest joints in that part of Seattle. And had somehow scored us glass after glass of free champagne. I keep her around for a reason. 

We sat in the corner, shamelessly flirting with the bartenders all while hoping that our luck would not run out. In an attempt to look really fancy, we ordered a plate of oysters, and then proceeded to write haikus on napkins. (The Fitzgeralds would have been so proud!)

The feeling of our arrival that evening was bittersweet. It was wonderful to settle in the Bainbridge house that evening, stripping down into our birthday suits and pretending to be mermaids in the middle of some mossy lagoon. But I couldn't help but feel as though we were living in a fantasy. This is typical of travel, I've learned. It's like living in a bubble; one where you get to spend your days in cars and your evenings in hottubs. 

I began to wonder if these feelings of diving into the unknown were the high from vacation, or if they could indeed by be my reality. Is a life on the road something I could build, or even something I wanted? Where is the line between work and adventure? Could they be combined? And if so, how?

The answer still hasn't made itself clear, but when it does, you'll be the first to know. 

- Stay cozy

 

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.

IMG_6452.jpg

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!

 

twenty-five

I am writing as a newly 25 year old and it is the best combination of beautiful and scary, kinda like a Flo music video.  My friends and I spent the weekend at Big Bear Lake, a sleepy mountain town that combines looming rock formations with kayaks, fire pits, and (in the winter time) snow slopes. We found our way out their just as the temperature began to drop, and the crisp mountain air made the smell of bbq and leaves strong and lovely. 

birthday highlights included: 

- finding cider with rachel 

- shimmying into rock crevices in order to make it up to the tippy top of the mountain 

- cuddlephobic rachel accepting my request to share a bed (which was cali king size, and awesome)

- cutting a hot pink cake with a machete

- my favorite ihop breakfast

- tattoo #2!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

- fajitas and free margs

- back porch coffee

- driving through chilly mountains to procure aforementioned coffee 

- rooting for not your father's root beer

And things are changing, dear friends! On October 9th I will be waving goodbye to the golden slopes and smoggy pink skies of Los Angeles in order to tour around the midwest and get dirty in some road theatre. I'll also be working as an editor with Wanderlust, so check that out! As for this blog, I'll pop in with travels and wordplay muses now moreso than foodstuffs. Because as much as I LOVE to eat and cook and break bread, I also don't like standing with a camera over my food for twenty minutes. It gets cold and that makes me sad. I'd rather just slice a cake with a giant knife, stain the most innerdepths of my fingernails with neon-pink-fairy-blood-frosting, and see what happens. 

I can't wait to dive headfirst into hotel room living, sipping below average coffee and bundling up each morning to brave the autumnal chill of the midwest. Get ready, friends. Cozy caravan is getting literal. 

- stay honest. stay warm. stay cozy.

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

 

 

 

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 

 

 

 

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