If my husband and I invite you to go camping, think long and hard before accepting. I say this because nearly fifty percent of our excursions include rain. We might predict inclement weather more accurately than your local meteorologist.
In the midst of a flurry of life changes, we took a long road trip through Florida from Orlando to Key West. Starting out we had backpacks, sleeping bags, a tent to share, and by the end we had gained four tarps. Out of eight days it rained at least half of the time. And I’m not talking light misty showers, I’m talking torrential downpours.
I’d love to say I had a sunny disposition despite the clouds, but I’d be lying. Although we were very lucky to get away, it turned out to be a very stressful vacation. Nevertheless, we attempted to make the best of our Florida Keys road trip and the following are ten highlights:
1. Florida Marlins baseball
The newly renovated baseball stadium is in the heart of Miami, has a swimming pool, retractable roof and aquarium behind home plate.
2. People watching at South Beach
As I mentioned, it was raining but we still strolled South Beach, saw a beach polo match and an incident of road rage where two beautiful people were swearing at each other in expensive cars.
3. Everglades National Forest
Walk the short half mile Anhinga Trail and you are nearly guaranteed to spot alligators.
4. John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
We had grand plans of snorkeling at this park. Ha. Otherwise it offers a lot of fun outdoor activities and snorkeling off the coast in an underwater shipwreck.
5. Bahia Honda State Park
This park was our beacon of hope. They have awesome campsites located on a pretty stretch of beach. The sun started to come out, it got warmer, we swam and saw the seven-mile bridge.
6. Big Pine Key deer
Those deer are endangered for a reason; they step out in front of oncoming traffic like they have a death wish.
Most of our well laid plans were crushed by the continual rain. It was too windy to snorkel and no boats were touring. Instead we went kiteboarding which was crazy difficult and expensive, but exhilarating.
8. Bike riding in Key West
The best way to see a lot of Key West is to rent bikes and cruise around (in my opinion). We went to the Southernmost Point, down Duval Street, Smather Beach and Fort Zachery Taylor State Park
9. Sunset Celebration at Mallory Square
I could not get enough of the shorts wearing dog at Mallory Square. Tourists would hold out dollar bills, the dog would take it and put the money in a bucket. What a racket, that I fell for twice. And the sunset isn’t bad either.
10. Eating like a local
We ate well on fresh seafood and fish, key lime pie, fish dip, Cuban sandwiches and strong coffee. I’ll list the specific restaurants we visited on another post. Expect no less, we ate our way through Florida.
If we had more time, money or sunshine, these were also on our to-do list:
As mentioned, I took a trip to Birmingham a couple of weekends ago.
A fellow foodie friend (who I met through this blog) and I took a couple days to explore the city and of course, hit a few restaurants. Coincidentally, in addition to our mutual passion for all things culinary, we also love the outdoors. To balance the best of both worlds, we visited Vulcan Park and Oak Mountain State Park between meals.
Vulcan Park is home to the largest cast iron statue in the world. Vulcan has a long and sordid history which includes ancient gods, Greek mythology and the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair. I learned this when I got home from the park website because we passed on paying to enter the museum.
When I was there, the most noticeable characteristic was his buns of steel. There wasn’t much of a trail, only a small loop, so we moved on to Oak Mountain.
Autumn in Birmingham is beautiful and Oak Mountain State Park displayed it’s glory. The leaves were an array of warm, glowing colors, there aren’t many mosquitoes and the landscape actually varies in elevation. We hiked to the Peavine Falls and then did a white/blue trail loop, about two to three miles total.
Although we do like the Homochitto National Forest, I’m looking for a free weekend to go back with my husband as soon as possible. There are over 50 miles of mountain biking and hiking trails, a long list of available activities and primitive camp sites.
Forget the Vulcan, we can work on our own buns of steel.
Time to pull out my handy dandy checklist because no camping trip is complete without smores!
What better way to celebrate, than stealing away to the woods and sleeping in a tent? It’s our own twisted idea of a good time, so we loaded down the El Camino and cruised down the Natchez Trace.
You might remember the Homochitto National Forest when I wrote about our first anniversary and breaking in our dutch oven with Campfire Beef Stew. It’s become our spot for weekend getaways and celebrations. We meant to indulge in the best fried chicken at the Old Country Store in Lorman but our timing was off.
On my hike I spotted tender blooms, shy salamanders and brilliant light filtering through the trees. My husband cleaned his busted knee in the lake and a dragonfly patiently waited while I took it’s picture. We cooked dinner over an open fire.
And although we forgot bug spray, a biking helmet and smores fixings, for one night there was no place we would rather be.
Since I forgot so many things I made a checklist, no camping trip is complete without smores!
I have a good reason for that four day gap in posting. We took off for the second annual Hangout Music Festival and returned a little sandier, tanner and tired.
After the Gulf Coast took an oily beating last year, this music festival was created to boost tourism, local economy and restore the image of the beautiful area beaches. Basically it’s three full days of enjoying music, chilling on the sand with a crowd of 35,000 people.
The lineup wasn’t as diverse as the first year, but bands we saw were: The Black Keys, Foo Fighters, Paul Simon, Pretty Lights, Trombone Shorty and The Honey Island Swamp Band among many others.
Luckily we scored tickets off Craigslist at face value after the festival sold out. We camped at the Alabama Gulf State Park which is a convenient four mile bike ride (took less than 20 minutes) away from the fun. I even got to do yoga on the beach one morning.
Unlike Jazz Fest, there wasn’t much notable food except for a booth called “Asian Sensation”. I resisted making Ben taking my photo in front of it.
Hangout Music Festival
Gulf Shores, AL
Nearly a year ago, a dear friend in Missouri gave Ben and I a cast iron dutch oven as a wedding gift. We haven’t had the opportunity to put it to use, until this past weekend. To celebrate our first anniversary we packed up the El Camino and went camping at Homochitto National Forest.
Homochitto National Forest is situated about an hour and twenty minutes from Jackson, and outfitted with a well kept park, shelters, a lake, hiking trails, bike trails, restrooms, an RV area, and primitive camping area. It’s a peaceful place with rolling hills, single track bike loops, and campfire rings with grill grates. We favor the primitive spots because no RVs are allowed and it’s fairly quiet, except for the hum of a nearby oil well pump.
Setting up the tent and sleeping area took all of 10 minutes (our tent and Therm-a-Rests were other great wedding gifts). We biked for awhile and then headed to the shelter area for a dip in the swimming hole, but my main focus of the night was dinner.
It was difficult to locate a simple stew recipe, to cook over a campfire, in a dutch oven. Many recipes called for using dry mixes, lacked in ingredients, and one actually said to just open a can of Dinty Moore beef stew and warm it up. Not my idea of good cookin’.
I put this recipe together after looking at several online and it turned out great. It’s very flexible because you can use beef or venison, beer if you’ve got it, and season to taste to your liking. The cast iron dutch oven is perfect for camp cooking with it’s three small feet, a lipped lid, durability, and handle. It was another great gift because I ruined my Calphalon stock pot on our last camping trip.
Stealing away to the woods was the perfect way to commemorate our first year of marriage. There’s no better way to be reminded how blessed we are; surrounded by trees, soaking up the stillness, enjoying each others company. Here’s to the first year, and many more stews to come.
Campfire Beef Stew
3 T. unsalted butter
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 lb. stew meat, beef or venison
3 T. all-purpose flour
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 potatoes, cubed
1/2 c. mushrooms, sliced
2 T. tomato paste
2 c. chicken stock
1 c. beer or water
couple of bay leaves
salt and pepper
Place a pot or cast iron dutch oven over a hot fire.
Melt the butter, and saute the onions until translucent. Add the meat to the pot and let it brown. Coat the meat with the flour and cook for a couple of minutes.
Add in the carrots, celery, potatoes, mushrooms, tomato paste and stir for a minute or two. Pour in the stock and beer (or another cup of stock or water) and mix well. Throw in the bay leaves, and season the stew with salt and pepper at each step if possible.
Cover the stew and let simmer for 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the heat of your fire. If the fire is uneven, rotate the pot a quarter turn, every fifteen minutes.
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