Wrights Beach – a Great Winter Getaway

Our goal for 2015 is to get out at least once a month with the kids and The Westy and nature.  The weather was pretty nice in January thanks to our epic drought, so we took off for the Sonoma Coast for the long President’s Day weekend.  We stayed at Wright’s Beach, a small campground located right on the beach.  The ocean is super dangerous here, so swimming was definitely out.  In fact, even getting near the water was out. I guess they have sleeper waves here.  The waves are known to sweep people to sea and they are deadly.  It didn’t really matter though.  The kids were content to play in the sand higher up on the beach.  They built sand castles, tried to fly their kites (there wasn’t much wind), and collected rocks.
Sand Castle
Beach
We had one heavily foggy day, but otherwise the weather was great.  Temperatures were mild and nothing beats sleeping next to the ocean with the lull of the waves to put you to sleep.
Campsite
CampsiteII
The raccoons were a nuisance.  You really had to keep things stored tight.  They managed to get into our ice chest and swiped our lunch meat and sunflower butter. The kids found it entertaining.
LogJumps
The family camping next to us, introduced us to Phosphorescent plankton that live in the rocks.  If you go out to the beach at night, you can find these microscopic creatures in the sand.  We ran a stick through the sand and they glowed. It was like looking at a million stars.  So amazing.  It was impossible to get a good picture.
waves
On our way home, we stopped at the Russian River Brewery company for an early birthday lunch for The Mister and a case of his favorite beer, Pliny the Elder.  We decided to plan a return trip to Wright’s Beach this summer and hit a couple breweries along the way.

IMG_20150119_181109
Do you plan trips around your favorite Breweries?  Have any breweries you think we should put on our must visit list?
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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.

Turkey

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.

Cornbread

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.

Sunset

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.

Loaded

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.

Gorgeous

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.

NameTags

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.

Dinner

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?

Two Yosemite Lessons Learned

Yosemite was a great trip but it made us realize two things.  We needed to find a better way to tote water around for the kids and we are seriously lacking in good music.

1. The kids needed bigger water bottles. They officially outgrew their little kid bottles. We were constantly refilling bottles at Yosemite and the water issue limited how far we thought we could hike. The Missus found these CamelBak Eddy’s at Target. They seem to be doing the trick. They doubled the amount of water we were carrying for each child.  Plus, they are easy to clean, don’t seem to leak, and were inexpensive.  The backpack style CamelBak’s might be a good investment when the kids are a bit older and can carry their own water.

CamelBak Eddy

2. We need a better music solution. The radio and tape deck are not cutting it. The speakers in The Westy are not that great and you literally have to turn the volume to the max if you want to hear any music in the front of the van.  The Mister looked into different devices we could use in The Westy and settled on the Jambox. He found it on sale on Amazon. It can stream music from our phones – both Pandora and our own playlists. It has been a nice addition to our camping gear.

Jambox

 

Disneyland – Yes, We Camped

We had been promising the kids a trip to Disneyland for some time. They had been saving money in their little Disneyland jar and when we had enough money socked away for tickets we started looking into accommodations. Wow. It was so expensive. The Missus had heard about a campground near the park. Anaheim Resort and RV Park. She looked into it and the prices were right. The reviews were good, too. People might think we are crazy but we decided to camp Disneyland.

Best. Decision. Ever.

Disney

The RV park was one mile from Disneyland. The shuttle stops right at the RV park and is about a ten minute ride. They run frequently so we never had a very long wait. The bathrooms at the RV Park were amazing. Recently remodeled, each bathroom was its own self contained unit. They had a sink, shower, and toilet. They were clean and we didn’t find they were all that busy.

The park itself was very parking lot like. Lots of sites and cement. But it is an urban campground that primarily serves huge RV’s. What do you expect? It was really clean and we felt extremely safe. We had hook ups (which turned out to be awesome for charging our devices) and a picnic table which was great for quick breakfasts.

Westy at Disney

The staff was incredibly friendly and they were super accommodating. We had originally planned this trip for September, but then the kids got sick. When I called to change our reservations they were so helpful and didn’t charge us a fee. Really great service.

We would totally camp Disney again. It was a great experience. We maximize our time at the park (we have never spent much time at the hotel) so this really worked for us. Have you camped Disney?

Yosemite – Chasing Fall

The kids were finally better. We were so happy to get back on the road. We had reservations at Yosemite National Park. We hadn’t been since The Girl was two.

Half Dome

We stayed at Crane Flat Campground. It wasn’t in the Yosemite Valley but beggars can’t be choosers. Especially when you plan horribly and get reservations late in the season. The campground was actually really nice. Lots of trees and fun rocks. A little bit on the hilly side. Well, a lot on the hilly side. We really need to invest in some leveling blocks. There is nothing like figuring out how to sleep on a hill.

The fall colors were pretty elusive. We were a few weeks early. We did find one or two trees beginning to change but nothing notable. But really – you are in Yosemite. It is always gorgeous. Even the Rim Fire damage – although devastating – was beautiful in its own way.  The falls were a trickle but still magnificent. Just another reason to plan a spring trip. The Missus should get on that soon. Yosemite reservations are notoriously hard to get; especially in the spring.

Vernal Falls

We hiked to Vernal Falls with the kids. We didn’t make it to Nevada Falls. It got really steep and although we were pretty sure the kids could do it, we didn’t feel like we had enough food and water to combat any whining we might have encountered at the end if the hike. The kids had fun though and the falls were gorgeous.

Hiking

The weather was brisk during the day and just plain cold at night. We realized that if we were doing any winter camping, we were going to have to get the kids better gear and figure out a way to keep The Westy warm at night. The Mister was looking at heater options but safety is a big issue. We are also reluctant to spend a lot of money on gear for the kids. They grow so fast. Thermals are something we should really look into though.  Warm kids equal happy parents for sure! {Update:  We ended up getting the kids thermals for Christmas from REI.}

Bundled Up

Yosemite is one of those places where the beauty is extraordinary and every trip brings new things to see. Every time we go we wonder why we don’t frequent the park more often. We are already planning a trip back. Who knows, The Missus might even make reservations ahead of time!

The Westy in Yosemite

When Are We Going Camping, Mommy?

Hospital Bed

The kids have been sick. I mean really sick. The Girl had to have an IV to replenish her fluids due to dehydration. The Mister and I have cleaned up more bodily fluids in the last three weeks than we ever hoped to see. Test after test and the doctor still can’t figure out what bug is making them so ill.

Today things are looking up. Both kids woke up from an uninterrupted night of sleep and they were starving. They ate lots. Oatmeal and toast and scrambled eggs and applesauce and plain waffles. It didn’t even make them feel bad.

And the best thing…The Boy wanted to know when we were going camping.

Any day now buddy. Any day.

“What Time Is It?”

Clouds

Don’t ask The Missus this question when we are camping. It is her biggest pet peeve. We try to avoid the clock and most other technologies when we are escaping for the weekend.

One of the greatest joys to being outside is disconnecting. No phone. No Instagram or Facebook. And yes, no clock. Getting away for a weekend, being outside, experiencing nature. Modern technology can take away from your experience. From seeing your kids discover their first banana slug. Or watching them play with a few rocks, a stick, and their imagination. Or maybe just connecting with your spouse for a few minutes over a beer and game of cards. In our modern, fast paced lives, time doesn’t often allow us the chance to slow down and disconnect.

Gertrude Stein said, “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.” When we are in our element, outside in the woods or at the beach, we try to limit the information and technological overload we experience on a daily basis. We try to reconnect as a family. We try to experience nature with few distractions. We try to live simply and remember what is important.

There is a time and place for modern technology – even clocks. We just feel our weekend escapes aren’t the place. Do you agree?

Sweet Potato Salad

My mom had this recipe and wanted to try it for dinner one night while were at Antelope Lake (you can read about that here).  It was excellent! 

The night before we planned to make the salad, we wrapped the sweet potatoes in foil and cooked them on the BBQ until they were fork tender.  The next day we peeled and diced them before adding them to the salad.

I ended up making it on our playgroup camping trip (you can read about that here), but cooked the potatoes that day.  It was a hit with all the adults – especially our vegetarian friends.

Sweet Potato Salad

Sweet Potato Salad

4 large sweet potatoes, baked, peeled, and diced
3 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup frozen edamame, shelled and thawed (we just used an entire small bag)
1 cup thinly sliced celery
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 tbsp fresh chives, minced
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
Salt and Pepper to taste

Combine onion, edamame, celery, parsley, and chives in a bowl.  Add diced sweet potatoes. Whisk together lemon juice ,mustard, and olive oil in a bowl. Pour over the potato mixture and gently toss. Serve immediately or chill and serve cold.

*To help with preparation, you can pre-chop your veggies at home before you set off on your trip.

 

The Perfect Ending…

…to a perfect summer. Labor Day weekend marked the unofficial end to our summer. School starts for The Girl and the smell of fall should happen any day now. (I keep telling myself that even in 100 degree heat).

We took off for The Mountains. A good place to go on the busier weekends. We don’t need reservations and we have our guaranteed spot.

Giant Sequoia

We spent Saturday with friends. We met at Big Trees State Park to hike with the kids. Our friends aren’t big on camping. Meeting for a hike was such a wonderful compromise. The kids loved the big trees. They even found a few to climb through.

In A Log

We visited the White Pines Lake Logging Jamboree later that day. This is one of our favorite Labor Day weekend activities. The kids love the chainsaws and the proceeds support a small local logging museum. The kids ate watermelon and we enjoyed some time with The Mister’s dad who met us there.  Smokey Bear even came by to visit with the kids.

Chainsaws

Papa

Smokey Pin

Fun things were happening at the campground on Sunday. A gunny sack race, carnival with a bounce house, and lots of play time. The kids had a blast.

Castle

We try really hard to limit television time at our house. We do allow for a movie night once a week, but lately we have been having too much fun in The Westy for any movies. The Girl was dying to watch Frozen, so we made an exception and let the kids have a movie night. They loved it and so did we. A few rare minutes to sit down and read.

Movie Night

Al in all – what a great way to end an epic summer.