Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Beach Camping in Santa Cruz

Harvest has always been a 4 letter word in our house. Come late August through mid November it is understood DH will be, for all intents and purposes out of commission, instead knee deep in wine grapes. Long hours plus heavy manual labor equates to zombie of a partner during harvest. 'Wine Widow' is the playful title coined for the girlfriends and wives of winemakers and harvest workers.
Though this harvest has been DH's most mellow, he is still awake and out the door by 6 am most days and has worked every weekend since mid September. Last Saturday however, he sealed the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay tanks, thereby earning his first 2 days off in 6 weeks.
We decided to celebrate the best way we know how...go camping!

Since our last attempt at camping in Santa Cruz was a wash, so to speak, we figured we'd give it another go. We awoke early Sunday, loaded the car and headed south. The unseasonably warm October temperatures tempted us to try camping beach-side at New Brighton State Beach.

Our first priority though was cappucinos at Verve Coffee Roasters and breakfast burritos from Chill Out Cafe, two beloved institutions on the eastside of San Cruz.

Having only read about New Brighton State Beach, we were delighted to discover the campsite was beautiful and big with breathtaking views of the Pacific...and hot showers to boot!
We were lucky enough to score one of the best campsites on the grounds, surrounded by coastal pines at the edge of the world.
The driftwood-lined beach is a 5 minute walk from the campsites.
The fire rings available on a first come basis would make an ideal setting for a clam bake...this is looking like a promising site for next year's birthday camping weekend!
In an attempt at minimalism, I insisted on packing just one cast iron skillet and try to cook all our meals using only this pan and the heat of the campfire. 
What began as a novelty quickly morphed into a necessity when we discovered only 1 semi-used propane canister in the camping supplies!! (side note: we typically camp with at very least 2 full canisters; 1 for the camping stove and 1 for the lantern) Obviously our priority was light so we would have to do all our cooking on the campfire!

Thankfully, I had already planned to cook with parchment-lined aluminum pouches, placed directly on the fire. I took this idea from Martha Stewart who refers to these as 'hobo bags'. Oh, Martha!

misc meat???
We picked up the grocery goods from New Leaf Market, a local Santa Cruz grocery with a great sustainable fish counter and extensive local produce.
One pouch contained shitake and oyster mushrooms with garlic and lemon and another pouch contained new potatoes with butter beer.

Trout provided the protein of the meal and enabled me to christen my new fish griller! 
Whole fish is such an exceptional taste compared to fillets.

Steamy mushrooms and whole trout paired perfectly with Eric Kent's '09 Sonoma Coast Pinot.
Dessert was an easy and delicious blueberry grunt made simply by throwing some blueberries, sugar and lemon in a skillet to heat then topping with a biscuity, pancake-like batter and cooking it directly on the campfire until batter is solid. This could make a great camping breakfast as well.

The most delicious part of dessert though was in our glasses. DH popped open a bottle of Premier Cru Champagne to celebrate the occasion of opening a Premier Cru Champagne. It was arguably better than you'd (I'd) dreamed, even especially in a camping chair! And yes, in answer to your question, its easy to love a man that loves good champagne!
Miraculously, the propane canister provided light for the entire night and even had enough to fuel the camping stove for coffee the next morning. Thank heavens!
For breakfast, I decided to replicate Amelia's egg dish from the last birthday camp trip. Easy as 1-2-3: simply heat butter in the skillet, add chopped baguette or cibatta, then crack eggs atop the bread cubes and allow to cook on the campfire.
"Its like a deconstructed egg sandwich" DH aptly observed. In fact, this ultra easy, super delicious egg dish would translate beautifully to Christmas brunch.
A one-night camp trip may seem like more harm than its worth to some but for us, it was just what the doctor ordered! Since it was likely the last camping trip and last ocean dip of the year, we savored every moment!


  1. Wow, you guys are the MacGuyvers of camp-site cooking. I think I'd have to make do with the "food on a stick" variety of cooking if it were me in your situation.

    What's the purpose of the parchment in the foil packets? When I grill, I do the foil packets, but never thought to line them with parchment.

  2. Actually parchment makes a world of difference when cooking directly on the campfire. The parchment creates an almost convection effect and allows the veggies to steam to perfection! Mmmmmm!