I’m moving!

Hi friends!

Thank you so much for your amazing follows and reads over the last few months.  I began Cozy Caravan back in November, when I was looking for a spot where I could write freely and safely.  It was important to me not to feel like I had to impress an editor or a professor or anyone, really, but rather to write for myself so that I could help develop and fuel my “writer’s voice.”

I’ve found the blog EXTREMELY (!!!) helpful in doing so, and was able to grow as a writer as I navigated my way through the journey. Writing is so helpful in mapping one’s life, and help gave me some newfound perspective. It encouraged me to bring up the magnifying class, and to start examining life through it’s most beautiful little details. I liked blogging a lot, and I like Cozy Caravan and the message it instill within me.

So that being said….

I now have my own domain! It makes Cozy Caravan slightly more permanent and slightly more mine and I really love that. You can see the first post here, at www.cozycaravan.com (!!!)

Thank you, sincerely and genuinely, for reading. I hope you”ll follow me at this new blog, where I’ll post just as much (and if not MORE) often. It’s easy to follow and you and comment and all that goody-good stuff. You can also PIN STUFF, pinterest junkies! 

Stay cozy, WordPress! Thanks for letting me park my caravan in your little corner of the internet.

Love,

Amanda 

at…. www.cozycaravan.com!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

 

 

kid food

Children ask good questions. Weston is most curious in the car, and often uses this time to unload some of the thought that he’s gathered from earlier that day. The things he asks are insightful and sweet, causing me to rack my my brain for answers as I make the drive from theatre camp, to nature camp, to get grocery store donuts. The questions range from the simple: “why are cars only one color?” to the more difficult: “God can beat anyone up, right?” 

The other day, after our mini pizza party, Wes asked me, “What is a personality?” I tried to answer as best I could, and the two of us, plus eight-year-old Dylan, spent dinnertime searching for adjectives to describe one another. This is what we came up:

Wes: Cute, tough, smart, brave, funny, nice, loving, adorable

Dylan: Artistic, smart, funny, cool, nice, happy, creative

Amanda: Funny, silly, goofy, good cook…(!!), weird, and kinda-a-kid and kinda-a-grownup. (Their words, not mine.)

I’ll forgive the weird thing for the good cook comment. Then again, I had the advantage of having previously spoiled the two munchkins with homemade shell and pizza faces. Do you remember Shell? A classic of the 90s, Shell was the chocolate sauce that froze instantly (!!!!) when you dribbled it on top of ice cream. Once poured and solid, you would tap-tap-tap your little metal spoon onto the cold, smooth crust and watch the cracks form. It made a perfect topping to any flavor, and added an extra level of magic to the already splendid lil bowl of ice cream.

Unfortunately, Shell is full of artificial things and chemicals that wreak havoc on small bodies. And while I’m a firm believer that some foods feed the soul while others feed the body, adding all that extra crap into the diet of a five-year-old isn’t such a good idea. But don’t worry friends! There is an alternative. And it’s simple and delicious and pleases mommies and babysitters and kiddos alike.

I found it on Mundane Morsel, where it was called “It’s Magic,” so let’s just call it that. “It’s Magic” is made from two very simple ingredients: Coconut oil and chocolate. Any chocolate will do, though I prefer semi-sweet. It’s this simple.

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“It’s Magic

Makes about ½ cup

-1 good 3.5 oz good chocolate, broken into chunks

-3 tbsp coconut oil

In a microwave-safe dish, combine the two ingredients. Microwave in thirty second intervals, stirring in between each beep, until the chocolate is melted and glossy. This can also be down in a double boiler, but I am impatient and dishes are a hassle, so you know.  

Let the sauce cool for about 15 minutes before pouring it over ice cream and adding sprinkles.

The best part of this experiment is when you finally make that drizzle. All three of us clapped our hands in glee, as memories were both created and relived. The glossiness spun a web of ice cream-related moments, from Dairy Queen dips to fourth grade sleepovers.

The leftovers can be used on frozen fruit or cold pretzels. Simply add sprinkles (for me, this is not optional), and place back into the freezer.

seeking summer

When you live in Los Angeles, you are warmed (literally) with dozens of hundreds of things. There are beaches and Mexican happy hours, mini-road trips, and granules of sand tumbling from a backpack. The thing is, this sort of thing happens all year round. And while this warmth is wonderful and severely embraced in the early spring, summer time is a little less…summery. July has come and gone, and now it’s August?! The weather feels the same as it did in March! What is this madness?

But I shouldn’t complain. While Virginia summers consisted of burnt marshmallows, watermelon juice spillage, and barefoot walks through mossy creeks, Los Angeles offers an entirely different breed of animal. I was such a summer kid growing up, spending thunderstorms buried in the basement playroom and beach days dancing on the boardwalk, so it’s only natural for me to reach my hands out for something seasonal.  These are a few of the things I have since collected.

– fresh daisies sitting in mason jars

– Hansen’s Root Beer with a red and white striped straw

– wine specials cozied on outdoor patios

– the hum of the evening fan wafting with an incense stick

– afternoon runs on Venice beach

– late night Lego assembly 

– plane tickets to visit Ketel One, family, and friends….(!!!!!!!)

– suntan streaks across cheeks

– and most recently…. Pier trips! Rides! Ice cream! Corn tortillas on the water!  10352085_2220281197564_1458916221334053379_n

Carnivals, fairs, and amusement parks have been a staple of the American summer since some genius decided to turn horse statues into a colorful, moving contraption. The Santa Monica Pier, also the ending point of Route 66, is no exception. The pier offers portraits of starving artists and fried cake, with the scent of sea salt waltzing with the boardwalk fries.  Faith, Sydney, and I all donned ourselves in hooded sweatshirts and comfy footwear, holding hands as we navigated the uneven boards stretching out over the Pacific ocean.

We ate Mexican food at the campy restaurant at the end of the pier. It was nothing authentic, and that was just fine. (A sizzling plate of fajitas rarely fails to tickle my fancy, regardless of the origin) The adult parts of our brains suggested that the swinging ship and roller coaster may not have been the best choices post meal, but our inner children drowned out these voices with the energetic shouts of “GO NOW PLAY!”

So rides it was. A swinging ship, a pacific plunge, and two rounds of the (west) roller coaster had us shrieking and clapping our hands like we had pre-sesame street only two decades earlier.

The rest of the evening was followed with cookies and cream plopped on a sugar cone, funnel cake, and skee-ball. The arcade offered familiar staples such as Dawn of the Dead and that weird water squirting game where Barbie and Ken race on jet skies.  And guess what else? It rained! East and West summer tendencies combined as we licked up sugary treats and dodged the drops.

Summer is just as much a feeling as it is a season. And while I’ll miss camping trips and early morning back-porch breakfast, I can settle for some Los Angeles summer exploration.  Especially if it means dragon rides over the ocean.

Happy August, everyone! Enjoy these last few weeks of this wonderful, salty season.

a lemon cake

I’ve been bitten by the baking bug and it hasn’t been so bad. Baking fills my tiny kitchen with the scent of brown sugar, serves as a lovely gift, and keeps me mindful. And although our kitchen was built for someone about two feet taller than I, it still serves as a darling environment for spongy cakes and French press coffee.

I made Sydney this lemon cake for her birthday a few days ago, selecting the specific flavor based off of Sydney’s taste. (She likes sweet things, but not too sweet…there’s a fine line between delicious and sugary-grit.) After sneakily scanning her Pinterest boards, I noticed there were handfuls of lemon-y desserts set on hold. Social media for the win! Lemon cake wins too. It was bright, celebratory, and simple.

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However, this is more a post about morning time than it is about a cake. I too often glaze over the morning, bouncing into my routine of blending a smoothie, maybe going on a run, and flicking through Instagram to see what my east coast friends have posted as they ease into their afternoon. I rarely sleep past eight-thirty, and almost never wake before seven.

Lemon cake changed that outlook. Lemon cake, especially a birthday lemon cake, beckons to be eaten in the morning. I had a vision: the golden light of the Los Angeles sun would dance with the lemon zest, creating a sunny morning for the eyes and the tastebuds. The lemon cake, like a hungry toddler, demands a 6am wake up.

That morning began with One Day Like This, courtesy of Elbow, playing as an alarm, and my body shifted among the mass of pillows I used to create a nest. (I like to sleep in the center of my bed, with a barricade of cushions surround my sleep. It makes me feel like a cross between a princess and a rabbit.) I almost ditched Sydney’s birthday to stay quietly tucked into the sheets, but then I remembered how wonderful she is, and forced myself to walk across the hardwood floor into the kitchen.

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The nice thing about baking first thing in the morning is that is spares no room for second-guessing. You are by nature mindful, as the brain is still adjusting the real world. The touch of the plastic bowl, the earthy smell of fresh flour, and the knock of a cracked eggshell. All of these sensations are multiplied when they are the first things you hear.

It’s a comforting practice to spend some alone time in the kitchen as the sun begins to pour through the window. There is no need for music or a podcast. The slight “gloop” of the batter as it is spooned seems melodic enough, and when the cake goes into the oven, a warm and zesty scent mosies it’s way into the morning. It has a rustic look it, and reminds me of something I would it if I were a character in Tuck Everlasting, or if I owned a white wrap-around porch.

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I added berries to  illuminate color, taste, and texture, and I think those were nice. I also gave the cake a glaze, which was not necessary, but added something special. Sydney and I ate the cake at our kitchen table, still scrolling through instagram, but also enjoying our summer (and her 23rd birthday!) a little bit extra.

Here is the recipe. I borrowed it from surprise, surprise Molly Wizenburg! I used vanilla yohgurt, which was yummy, and a square pan, which was all I had. You can also wish Sydney a happy belated birthday by venturing over to her Disney-inspired blog here.

French Lemon Cake, or Gâteau au Citron

For the cake:
1/2 cup yohgurt
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. grated lemon zest
1/2 cup canola oil

3/4 cup fresh or frozen berries (optional)

For the glaze:
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 jar powdered sugar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, mix the yohgurt, sugar, and eggs, and stir until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate and stir until it forms a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan, or an 8×8 square pan. (I bet the 9-inch is prettier, and will likely yield a shorter baking time.) If using berries, sprinkle some into the pan halfway in between scrapes and pours. 

Bake for 35-40 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Check on the cake periodically, as different ovens can be finicky. Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes and hen turn it out of the pan to cool completely.

When the cake is thoroughly cooled, combine the lemon juice and powdered sugar in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup.
Serve.

Have a happy day, friends! You all deserve it.

a bungalow birthday, honey buttercream, and cinnamon cupcakes

Birthdays seem like a pretty decent indication of where we are in life.  By this I mean, you can look at one of your past birthday celebrations, and sort of pinpoint a general idea of what your personality might have consisted of.  For instance, when I was turning 12, my mom organized a scavenger hunt at the Dulles Town Center Mall. That’s right: there were two teams of teenyboppers, all of us tearing through the fluorescent lighting wearing our Vans sneakers and pursuing cleverly designed clues.  One clue required us to try on Halloween masks and get a photo. It was a good time.

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This past Saturday, I spent the afternoon and early evening celebrating the birth of my good friend Rachel. Rachel and I met when she was directing her senior project, a short film about a MPDG named Atlanta. Atlanta hops into this dude’s car and forces him to drive her around all the place while she robs banks, steals fruit, and points guns. Rachel cast me as the girl, so the two of us, plus a cluster of our friends, spent the spring of senior year driving around and shooting footage in the parking lots of Mexican restaurants. This was also a good time.

While I’m rattling off these blissful moments, let me take the time to focus on Saturday, and the birthday of my dear friend. Rachel is a flower child at heart, one of those beautiful blondes who dances in the street and wears daisy crowns for no reason. She is a modern woman with an imagination that rivals that of Sarah Crewe.    And what better place to celebrate imagination than at the Bungalow?

Reasons why I love the Bungalow

-It looks like a classic, 70s-style beach house, and decorated with all sorts of tropical antiques. There are old-style surfboard mounted on the walls, a wooden sign that reads “CAMP,” and rooms lined with bookshelves and fertility vases.  I like to pretend it’s my house.

-You can hang out there in the daytime. I am slowly turning into a grandma and prefer to do my more youthful activities early in the day.

-Everyone wears beach clothes. I love beach clothes.

Reasons why I don’t love the Bungalow

-Drinks are practically a million dollars.

-You have to wait in line to get in.

That being said, with a group of good friends, the place is pretty fun. We started out on the floor of Rachel’s bedroom, painting out nails with glittery colors and munching on honey and cinnamon cupcakes. (I’ll get to those in a minute.)  The afternoon progressed as we moved to Bungalow, where we managed to snag a sweet lounge area and talked over tiki drinks.  We also tried to read the books off the shelves, but they were glued down. Don’t even get me started on that.

When hunger pains developed (cupcakes will only go so far!), we migrated from Bungalow and over to NYC&C pizza. It was the perfect combination of cheap beer and slices as big as one’s face.  Our cluster of kiddos sat in the red leather chairs, lifting up the greasy bread and taking big bites.

The combination of beach club/pizza/flower crowns was a perfect event for the loveliness that is Rachel.  I tried to personify her sweet/childlike/imaginative temperament into a cupcake…using cinnamon and honey and crushed cookies and multi-colored sprinkles. I love a good balance of sophistication and sugar, and these seemed to do the trick. I also remembered how much I absolutely LOVE sour cream in frostings. This will be done again soon!

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Cinnamon Cupcakes with a Honey Buttercream and Crushed Cinnamon Cookies

For the cake!

  • ¾ cup room temp butter
  • 1 ¼ cup organic cane sugar
  • 4 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla paste
  • 2 ¼ cups cake flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • ¾ cup 2% organic milk

For the frosting!

  • 1 cup room temp butter
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup full fat sour cream

For the pretty topping!

  • Cinnamon cookies (amount up to your discretion)
  • Multi-colored sprinkles (color up to your discretion)

1. Preheat your oven to 375. Cream together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy. Beat in the egg whites and vanilla.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon; gradually add to creamed mixture while alternatively adding milk. Beat after each addition.

2. Using a small measuring cup, fill paper-lined muffin cups about two-thirds full.

3. Bake for 16-18 minutes or until the tops are springy and golden brown. Cool for at least 15 minutes before frosting.

4. To make the frosting, cream the butter until it’s fluffy. Gradually add the powdered sugar, occasionally stopping to push the sides down.  Add the honey and sour cream and cream until the desired consistency.  Frost the cupcakes.

5.  Place the cookies into a Ziploc bag and use a rolling pin to gently roll them into crumbs.  Sprinkle the crumbs and sprinkles on top of the freshly frosted cupcakes. Makes about 24.

Eat ‘em up, or give to a good friend. She’ll probably share.

Cozy tips: when home becomes the office

There is hope for that pair of woolen socks. The freelance community is no longer just blossoming; it’s in full bloom, and more in more people are working from the coziness of their home address.  Mothers and fathers and young adults and writers and photographers all across the spectrum are ditching their car keys and pouring a second cup of coffee from the sanctity of their own kitchen.

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It’s not hard to see why working from home is favorable. Some people like the freedom of making their own hours, and others feel a stronger sense of security by being able to independently contract themselves. When I’m not nannying or in the Salted office, I research the chefs from home or take on extra freelance projects to supplement the costs of rent, granola, and my frequent kindle purchases.  This means entire days, weeks even, where my little Palms apartment is my only office.

There are pros and cons to working from home.  I’ve learned that pillows can help back support and that a good candle can transform a stressed mind. Let me share.

1. Dress for work. Yes, one of the benefits of working from home is to wear your pajamas all day, but I do like to change into my “work pajamas.” It’s nice to transition from sleep clothes to work clothes, even when the new work clothes consist of a tank top and stretchy cotton shorts. I also have an affinity for white cotton socks. Something about this, paired with my morning cup of coffee, places me in a slightly more productive mood, even if it’s as simple as a change of t-shirt.

2. Create sacred spaces. The bed is for sleeping, snuggling, lovemaking, and Netflix. While it’s tempting to sit propped on pillows and kick out some articles, I don’t feel it wise to turn my bed into a place where I ponder deadlines and search engine optimization. Instead, assemble a cozy place with a good chair, either at your desk or kitchen table. Add some fresh flowers, or a mason jar full of colored pencils. These things will inspire creativity and productivity, while still keeping your bed a safe spot.

3. Take breaks when you need them.  It’s easy to get caught up in your work, especially when you like it. Breaks are good for us, and good for our work. They allow us to breathe, and press the reset button. A small walk, a cup of tea, or a yoga session are all wonderful ways to escape from work and keep a sound mind.

4. Partake in work week rituals.  There are benefits to working in the office. Socialization, for one, is a wonderful thing, and I do occasionally long for a water cooler conversation. That being said, when five o’clock hits, and a respectable amount of work has been done, it’s perfectly fine to ask, “What Would Jimmy Buffet Do?” Happy Hours are called Happy Hours for a reason. Enjoy a drink, some cheap appetizers, and the company of your friends. Unwind. Take the time to appreciate a good friend.

5.  Check In with the Co-Workers. If you’re part of a larger company, or any form of team, reach out to your fellows. Yes, one of the benefits to working from home is being able to rock into a little antisocial nest, but from communication comes collaboration! Take the time to reach out to your boss or co-workers, especially if you have some ideas.  It builds a stronger professional relationship, and makes sure you still have a say in the advancements.

6. Nourish Your Artist. When I was living at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, my roommate, Kate introduced me to a life-changing book, entitled The Artist’s Way. It frequently discussed the nourishment of one’s “artist child,” that delightful part of our soul that takes pleasure in brightly colored candies and flannel sheets. Regardless of your work, creativity is a powerful to tool to express ideas effectively and use innovative problem solving.  By nourishing this fearless part of our soul, we are strengthening our ability to communicate, to collaborate, and to create.

San Francisco Part III: The Departure, and a lesson on perfectionism

As a good playwright once said, parting is such sweet sorrow. In my case, the sorrow came from waving farewell to Sydney, and the sweetness saying hello to my wonderful friend and sensei, Richard. Richard and I met at the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire, where he rode horses and I blew things up. In one beautiful moment, known as Combat Joust, our two worlds collided.  Conversation started during rehearsal, and continued during fight rehearsals and backstage. Eventually, he introduced me his horse, Storm, and on a sunny Monday afternoon, he taught me how to ride.

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Richard, though a gypsy by nature, currently lives with his wife in Half Moon Bay. It’s called that because of how the coast line dwindles, surf and shore meeting in a beautiful crescent shape.  Though they share an ocean, and a state name, the beaches of NoCal are much different from those of Los Angeles. In LA, everything is cerulean and yellow, with tan bodies baring themselves to elements.  Northern Californian beaches offer a different vibe; one that requires it’s visitors to don themselves in fleece pullovers.  The fog settles in over the beach like a hand-knit sweater, and if you’re lucky, there are whales.

Riding horses was not the only thing Richard taught me. He gave me a large fruit basket of advice, nurturing my anxious soul with a walk on the beach and some much needed good conversation. As a fellow writer, Richard instructed me to write, and to not stop. He asked me about some of the pieces I had written, and then why I had yet to complete them.

“Because,” I complained. “They’re bad!”

Richard laughed.

“Of course they’re bad!” He said. “But that doesn’t mean you should stop.”

I know he’s right. In writing the bad stuff, in constantly moving and keeping that pen/keys/paintbrush going, we might eventually reach a nugget of truth or of honesty.  The danger of the “backspace” key keeps us from reaching this progress. It’s the technological version of looking in the review mirror. And in life, you aren’t going backwards. You can’t.

Julia Cameron says, “The perfectionist writes so many versions of scene one that she never gets to the rest of the play. The perfectionist writes, paints, creates with one eye on her audience. Instead of enjoying the process, the perfectionist is constantly grading the results.”

I do this. I have many friends who do this. We judge ourselves and our work before it’s even had time to bloom. It’s hard not to.

Being told that you can “do anything” and “be anything” may leave one with a heavy sense of pressure to do something amazing and to do it quickly.  This can result in a lack of patience, and the high expectation of one’s self to create something perfect, or worse, to be perfect.

Life is moving quickly. I went to San Fran two weekends ago, and it feels like yesterday. To rush the journey, to rush into something “perfect,” seems a little silly. Another nugget of advice from Richard, “This is the good stuff.” This, being now. Now being, as I write, drinking  green tea and licking salad dressing off my fingers. Is being slightly aimless, passionate, and curious this so-called good stuff, even if it’s not perfect? Ya know…I think so. 

Wheh! That felt like a lot. I promise I’m not always so meditative…wise words can have quite the impact. To leave things on a lighter note, here is a link to Cassie Winslow’s Lilac Margarita and a beautiful day at the beach with Molly Wizenburg.