Refugio – A Little Bit of Paradise

After spending Thanksgiving at El Capitan on the Santa Barbara Coast, we jumped at the chance to take another trip back down that way.  The Mister had an alumni event at UCSB and we decided to take the whole family down and camp for four days at Refugio State Beach.  We were going to meet friends there and have a reunion get together.  You know, relive those grad-school days.


So when The Missus came down with the flu the day we were supposed to leave, there was disappointment all around.  Were we still going to go?  What if the kids got sick?  A million what ifs were go through our heads.  The Missus was feeling a bit better the next day, so we decided to rally.  We had waited months for this trip and we were so excited to try out our new pop-up tent (we replaced the canvas), racks (we installed these in early April), and new stand up paddle board (to go with the racks of course).


The weather on Thursday night was gorgeous.  The kids had a great time playing on the beach with friends.

Beach Sunset

We played with the paddle board on Friday afternoon.  The Boy was not a fan.  He would much rather play with his boogie board.

Paddle Board

The Boy

We ended up having pretty crappy weather the rest of the weekend.  It was pouring down rain most of Saturday morning.  When the rain cleared, the wind picked up.  It was so windy we ended up packing up most of camp (it was blowing away), and hunkering down in The Westy for dinner.  It was the first time we were truly grateful for having The Westy in inclement weather.  It gave us a nice escape from the gusty wind.

Even with the rain and wind we were able to squeeze in a hike up the coastal bluffs. And play on the playground near the beach.  We even made it out to the tide pools.


View from our hike

Beach Playground

Tide Pools

The nice thing about this campground is it is right on the beach.  Just a quick walk over and you are there.  It also has flushing toilets and showers.  They are pretty old and yucky, but this is a really high use park so it is to be expected.  It is a fun park, too.  The kids can ride their scooters on the paved road and it is a quick walk to another beach just south of Refugio.  A pretty amazing spot (even if the weather sucks).

Sunset at Refugio

We really lucked out that no one else go sick on this trip.  The Missus was back to herself by Saturday and the kids escaped the illness.  What more can you ask for?  So have you ever camped when you didn’t feel 100%?


Eating Our Way a Through Thanksgiving

Camping for Thanksgiving is something The Missus did a lot growing up. Camping at El Capitan for Thanksgiving, was a new experience for The Mister. To make it special we planned all our Thanksgiving favorites. We decided to cook as much as possible in cast iron and to clean up the meals a bit – just make them a little healthier. We can’t figure out why, but the food tasted amazing. We think it had to do with playing all morning at the beach and not spending time at an appetizer table. Because really – the food was epic. Here’s what we had:

Smoked Turkey
Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread
Dutch Oven Green Bean Casserole
Clean Cranberry Sauce
Canned Cranberry Sauce (Oh Yeah!  The Mister hates it but I grew up on it and have to have at least a taste every Thanksgiving.)
Campfire Sweet Potatoes
Stovetop Stuffing (a staple The Mister and Grandma could not do without!)
Dairy Free, Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie

Smoked Turkey:  We took a small smoker with us and smoked turkey legs and breasts.  The Mister made the brine using a generic recipe he found online.  We prepped a concentrated mixture at home and stored it in the ice chest.  On Wednesday night, we added water and the turkey and let it sit overnight.  We brought a separate ice chest just for the turkey.  I didn’t want to risk the brine leaking all over our other food and contaminating it with poultry juices. Thursday morning, The Mister put the turkey on the smoker and we cooked them low and slow.  When the turkey reached 165 degrees on an electronic meat thermometer, he took it off to rest.  The turkey was amazing.  Super moist and yummy.


Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread:  I can’t for the life of me figure out where I found this recipe, but boy was it amazing.  Slightly sweet and crumbly.  I used Bob’s Red Mill Coarse Ground Cornmeal.  We prepped all the ingredients right in camp.  We tried to cook it over the fire but it was too hot.  We ended up throwing it in my mom’s oven in her camper to finish cooking the bread.  I could have eaten a plate of this by itself.  It was that good.  It made great leftovers for breakfast the next day.


Cast Iron Cornbread

Dairy Free Cast Iron Cornbread
2 cups coarsely ground yellow cornmeal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
1 egg at room temperature, beaten
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled (we used Earth Balance)
1 1/2 cups plain yogurt, at room temperature (we used vanilla flavored coconut yogurt)
4 tablespoons honey

Spray your cast iron skillet with non stick spray.  Mix ingredients together in a bowl and poor into prepared skillet.  Cook low on fire for 30 minutes or until bread is cooked through.

Dutch Oven Green Bean Casserole: This is a must have for The Mister.  He loves green bean casserole.  I am not a fan, but I actually really liked this.  I found the Healthy Green Bean Casserole recipe online and modified it a bit.  We cooked it in a dutch oven and had to use leftover Namaste Gluten Free Pancake Mix to fry the onions since I forgot coconut flour.  The onions weren’t super crunchy and they mixed well with the fresh green beans.  I cut all the vegetables at home, so we wouldn’t have to do a ton of prep at camp.  I fried the onions at camp so they would be crunch, although I don’t think they crunched up a whole lot.  As for coals and the dutch oven, we just guessed.  We added what we thought we needed on top and bottom and were pleasantly surprised that it cooked through.  It took about an hour to cook.

GreenBeanCasserole2  GreenBeanCasserole3

Clean Cranberry Sauce:  I am a huge fan of Danielle Walker and her grain free cook books.  Her food is Ah.Maz.Ing.  I used her recipe for the cranberry sauce.  I made it at home before we left and it kept really well in the ice chest.  The cranberry sauce had just the right tartness.  Oh my gosh it was good.

Thanksgiving Cooking

Campfire Sweet Potatoes:  I love sweet potatoes.  The rest of my family – not so much.  We made too many of these and ended up tossing out the leftovers.  I just wrapped the potatoes in foil, poked a few holes in the potatoes, and tossed them on the grill over the fire.  I cooked them until they were fork soft.  And that’s it.  Easy peasy.  I don’t put butter on mine, but you could if you wanted.

Sweet Potatoes

Dairy Free Gluten Free Pumpkin Pie:  I’m not sure why, but I didn’t get a picture of the pie.  I made it at home before our trip, and then my mom kept it in her fridge to keep it from spoiling.  I used Danielle Walker’s pie filling recipe and a generic gluten free crust.  We are a nut free household, I opted not to use her pie crust recipe.  The filling was great.  The crust not so much, but who likes the crust anyway?


Thanksgiving at El Capitan

Everyone in our extended family is having babies. Lots of new cousins. And a lot of changes in how we will spend the holidays this year. We are usually at The Mister’s parents for Thanksgiving, but this year they were flying to Hawaii to see his sister and their newest addition. We were super sad not to spend the holiday with them but excited for the prospect of a long camping trip. We love Santa Barbara and thought that by heading that far south, we might have good weather. The Missus booked reservations at El Capitan State Beach. Her parents were going to meet us there.


The Westy was loaded when we took off early Wednesday morning! We put firewood on top, a 9’6″ surfboard inside (we really need racks), two ice chests, beach toys, and hoards of other stuff. It was a bit tight. On our way down we stopped in San Luis Obispo for lunch and Pismo to grab the kids a few wet suit rentals and a boogie board. Both were a good investment. The kids loved the boogie board and the wetsuits kept them warm.  Why stop in Pismo and not rent in Santa Barbara?  Why not?  Just another reason to slow the trip down and enjoy the coast.


The West in Pismo

We couldn’t have asked for more perfect weather. It was in the 70’s and we didn’t have any fog until Saturday night. We totally lucked out and missed the huge storm hitting Northern California. We had some rain on Sunday morning but it was more if a slow drizzle. Not a big deal.


The kids loved playing at the beach. It was a short walk from our campsite, but not too far. Our site was okay. It was pretty close to the freeway and train tracks. Although we would have preferred an ocean view, we realized those sites had their own issues. Who wants to manage a three year old and unfenced coastal bluffs?

The Girl

We spent time at the beach everyday, had down time back at camp, and the kids loved playing with their grandparents. Grandma was actually a lifesaver.  With the sun going down around 4:45 pm, The Boy wanted to go to bed at 5:00 every night!  Grandma kept him up with arts and crafts in her trailer.  The kids had such a blast.  The made place cards for the dinner table and decorations to hang around camp.  They even made the table runner.


Thanksgiving was a lot of fun.  We had a leisurely breakfast, spent the late morning at the beach, and came back to camp to make our Thanksgiving feast.  We stuck to simple, classic dishes.  We used a lot of cast iron!  The food was amazing.  We aren’t sure why it was so good this year, but suspect his has something to do with being outside in the fresh air.  You can read about what we ate here.


The Mister took a few days off work so we were able to extend the holiday from Wednesday to Sunday. It all made for great family time and an epic Thanksgiving. How did you spend the holiday? Ever camp your way through Thanksgiving?

Westy Country – San Simeon State Beach

We know of two places where Westy’s are pretty prevalent.  The Pacific Northwest and the California Central Coast.  We like to call these areas “Westy Country.”  For our eleven year anniversary we decided to make a trip to Westy Country.  Our plan was to stay in Santa Cruz, visit our newest niece, and hike in the redwoods.  We quickly realized weekend reservation were not going to happen.  We (of course) had no foresight to plan ahead. The Missus instead found us a Wednesday night spot at Henry Cowell Redwood State Park and three nights down the coast at San Simeon State Park.

11 Year Anniversary

We left after work Wednesday and headed to Santa Cruz.  We made great time and pulled into the park at 10:00 pm only to realize we were at the wrong place.  The campground and the day use park are in completely different places.  We had horrible cell coverage and no GPS.  Forty minutes later and a stop at a hotel for directions, we finally found the campground.  Boy do they need better signs!  A few lights might help, too.  We made a quick stay and were back on the road by 8:15 am.  We were excited to meet our new niece and start our adventure.

Henry Cowell SP

One quick night at Henry Cowell SP.

We had to take the Westy on Highway One on our way to San Simeon.  Talk about epic views.  We really enjoyed the drive, the smell of the coast, and our Westy.


After we dumped some gear at San Simeon State Park, we jumped back in The Westy and headed to San Luis Obispo.  This is a special spot for us.  We met here in college and have fond memories of Thursday night market.  We met the Mister’s parents for dinner (they were also visiting but staying in SLO).  The kids loved the market, the music, and the great people watching.  It was a bit crowded so we ducked into The Natural Cafe (one of The Missus’s favorite restaurants) and had dinner.



We lucked out with our campsite.  We ended up at the primitive Washburn camp.  It was a bit further away from the beach than we had wanted to be, but the site was large and had great climbing trees.  We woke up Friday to incoming fog, cool air, and that amazing ocean smell.  Absolutely gorgeous.  We spent the day at the beach.  The Mister’s brother popped in from Santa Cruz with his son.  The cousins were so happy to play in the ocean.


Back at camp we had tacos for dinner.  We invited, Sebastian, our kind camp neighbor over.  He contributed some amazing cherries to the meal.  The kids were more than happy and had the fingers to prove it!  Turns out he is an author.  He gave us a copy of his book on our last day at camp.

Taco Night

Saturday was spent visiting the elephant seals just north of San Simeon.  The kids thought they were really cool and spent a lot of time looking at them, asking question, and walking along the 1/2 mile observation boardwalk that runs along the coast.  We had a picnic near Moonstone Beach.  The kids were stoked to pop up the table in the Westy for lunch.  As we were leaving, we noticed The Westy was having a hard time starting.  The engine would turn over, but it took a couple of turns on the starter to get it going.  The Mister and I both commented on it and thought it might be time for a check in with our mechanic.

Elephan tSeals

Saturday afternoon we walked from our campsite down to the beach.  It was a short walk on a nice trail.  We played at the beach until dinner time.  We made dairy free/gluten free spaghetti for dinner with Adele’s sausage.  I think we were hungry because it was gone in record time.

Pasta Night

We packed up early on Sunday with plans to stay at the beach for as long as possible before heading home.  When we went to start The Westy nothing happened.  Oye.  We just knew this was going to happen.  Rick, our Westy loving neighbor who was camped across from us, came to the rescue.  The nicest guy.  He quickly took down his awning and broke up his camp site to offer us a jump start.  Who does that…? He didn’t even think twice about helping.  Too bad it didn’t work. We were pretty sure it was an issue with the starter.  After looking at engine and the wiring under the steering wheel like we knew what we were doing, we decided to try push starting it.  Rick and The Mister pushed The Westy up the hill (because if course we were camped at the bottom), and the neighbors helped, too.  As soon as we got a little speed we were able to start it in second.  Yahoo!  We could get home.

Work Westy

We decided to skip the beach and just head straight home.  We left The Westy our local auto shop to get checked out.  So sad.  The kids cried when we said goodbye.

Auto Shop

So is there a “Westy Country” where you live?