Posted on May 31, 2016
It’s not every day that I take a trip that I haven’t researched and planned. So when my husband surprised me with a family weekend away for my birthday, I was really intrigued. He had given it a lot of thought and decided not to have us RV, rather stay at a hotel, so I could relax and not have to cook. I married an amazing man! He kept our destination a secret until my curiosity won out the day before we were to leave. Our destination? New Bern, North Carolina! I will admit, I had to look it up on a map and started to look at things to do and then stopped myself. Someone else did the planning and all I had to do was go along!
We left mid-day on Friday and the sun was shining. There was rain in the forecast later in the day for South Carolina so we were not surprised when black clouds began to form west of us. As we entered North Carolina, the clouds began to appear more ominous.
A storm like no other slammed into us. Torrential downpour with continuous lightning flashes and thunder overhead. The road was instantly covered in water and our speed dropped to a crawl. The whole family was uneasy as we slowly made our way north and then, all of a sudden, the storm stopped and we were on dry pavement! It was only a short reprieve. As we were within 10 miles of New Bern, another downpour. As we rounded a corner on our two-lane road, a young man was standing in the middle of the street flagging us down. He had hydroplaned his truck and asked where he was to relay his location to emergency services. After we knew he was OK, we continued on our way.
By the time we arrived in New Bern, the sun was out again and what a beautiful sight! The Neuse River runs wide here and the sun on its surface was dazzling. We stayed at Courtyard by Marriott, with a first-floor room that offered not only a pool view, but we could also see the Neuse.
Dinnertime was upon us so we walked literally next door to Persimmons Waterfront Restaurant for dinner. We were seated upstairs in a “rotunda-like” room that offered 120 degree views of the river. The menu was mostly seafood but there were some strong offerings of beef and pork as well. Although the food was good, we had some issues with our server so we left a little disappointed. The kids skipped a few stones into the river before we headed back to our hotel for an early-night in.
Saturday dawned with a beautiful blanket of fog covering the distant edge of the Neuse River while sunshine beamed overhead. It was going to be a perfect day for exploring.
First on our agenda was breakfast! After a quick search on Yelp, I zeroed in on the number one spot; Baker’s Kitchen. An easy 5-minute walk from our hotel, we arrived right before the breakfast rush. This two-story restaurant is located in one of the many restored downtown buildings in New Bern.
The menu is diverse with so many yummy choices! We decided to start with a cinnamon roll for the table. It’s not the largest but it was one of the best with warm cinnamon swirls covered in a luscious cream cheese frosting. It was gone in 2-minutes flat. Troy and I shared the Farmer’s Breakfast that included enough for both of us. Two delicious slices of French toast with their own syrup creation, two large link sausages, eggs your way and delicious Dutch potatoes which is a shredded potato and cheese casserole. Blissful! We also ordered biscuits and gravy for the table. The biscuits were fluffy but the star of the plate was the gravy. It was truly delicious with lots of sausage and a great texture. The kids menu had good options and Drake chose French toast while Mia ordered a waffle off the adult menu. More than reasonable prices and great service!
After we stuffed ourselves, we walked along Pollack Street to Tyron’s Palace. This mansion may only be a replica of the original completed in 1770, but impressive none-the-less. Tryon’s Palace served as both the Tryon family home and as the first permanent capitol of North Carolina. Unfortunately, right after the state capitol was relocated to Raleigh, the original structure burned to the ground. It wasn’t until the 1950’s that this modern recreation “faithful to the original architect’s plans” was built on the same site and opened to the public.
Tours are offered of the mansion, historical homes. gardens and the North Carolina History Center as part of their One-Day pass. When we learned it would take about 4 hours to visit everything, we opted to purchase tickets to just tour the gardens. The formal gardens were a delight! The paths that spread out had the kids traveling in different directions to see if and when they would meet. A bench in the shade was the perfect spot to watch their delight. Filled with roses, iris jasmine and more, the air was scented of Spring. Bees and dragonflies made lazy circles overhead as we explored the walled gardens and a robust kitchen garden.
As we were leaving, we noticed there was a woman and a boy dressed in colonial period clothing. They were there to introduce visitors to some period games! Drake and Mia delighted in trying their hand at the classic hoop and stick, Graces (a two-person game in which one player flings the ribboned hoop with two throwing rods and the other player catches with one or both rods) and lawn bowling. Each had their successes with Drake, an immediate pro at the hoop and stick, while Mia won the game of lawn bowling. They didn’t want to leave!
On our walk back to our hotel, we made a stop at the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola, also located in downtown New Bern. Back in 1898, “Caleb Bradham invented Pepsi-Cola as a cool, refreshing drink for his pharmacy customers.” It was a step back in time entering the store where the original soda fountain gleams. There are some interesting photos and the original recipe of Pepsi-Cola on the wall and display cases of collectables. Don’t forget a stop in the fun Pepsi-Cola store adjacent to the soda fountain to purchase all kinds of Pepsi-Cola memorabilia. Troy and the kids enjoyed a classic fountain Pepsi while I enjoyed one of Pepsi’s new ventures, 1893 Ginger Cola, which was delicious!
We wanted to do a little more exploration of the area so we headed 40 minutes east in hopes of experiencing some of the Outer Banks. Conveniently, we found the Crystal Coast Visitor Center located in Morehead City, NC. Here, I had the pleasure of speaking with Frank who offered a wealth of information about the area and recommended that we stay in the local area. He suggested a trip to Fort Macon State Park in Atlantic Beach, then travel to Beaufort for a visit to the North Carolina Maritime Museum. Both of these institutions are free to the public! Fort Macon State Park was only a 10-minute drive from the Visitor Center and included a great bridge that crossed over the Brogue Sound. Below us were a myriad of boats zipping by and enjoying the picture-perfect weather.
Atlantic Beach is part of the Brogue Banks barrier island and is a classic beach town. Wide sandy beaches encourage visitors to come spend the day on their shores. Maybe that’s why Coastal Living Magazine named Atlantic Beach among the “21 Best Beaches.” We were instructed by Frank at the Crystal Coast Visitor Center to pass up the Atlantic Beach boardwalk area and head to Fort Macon State Park to check out the beach. He instructed us to look out for the Bathhouse sign and park there. Being a gorgeous weekend, parking was tight but with a little patience, we snagged a good spot to take a look at the beach.
The Atlantic was sparkling like a jewel as we crested the top of a sand dune. As far as the eye could see north and south umbrellas were up, sand castles were in the process of being built, and people swimming in the warm water. Seagulls overhead searched for that unattended snack and we could hear squeals of delight from the smallest of beach-goers.
Tip: Fort Macon’s protected beach offers a seaside bathhouse, nature trails, picnic facilities, and handicapped-accessible beach-side areas. Parking is free!
From the Bathhouse parking lot, it is a quick 3-minute drive to the 2015 North Carolina State Park of the Year – Fort Macon, a “perfectly restored Civil War-era fort.” The large Visitor Center is home to a coastal education center with interactive exhibits perfect for curious kids. Here, we watched the short film to get the history of this intriguing fort.
In a nutshell, a fort was built on this spit of land back in 1756. It wasn’t until 1926 that Fort Macon was built in earnest under the leadership of engineer, Robert E. Lee. Fort Macon saw action during the Civil War, was then a Federal prison and finally sold to the State of North Carolina and made into a park in 1923. It was used again by the military in 1941 during World War II, then released back to the state in 1946. Now that we were armed with some basic history, we headed to fort.
Fort Macon is a 5-sided fort and has a moat. We crossed over the moat to enter the parade ground. Here, we were surrounded by 26 vaulted rooms (also called casements). As we began to tour the casements, there was a call that it was time for a musket-shooting demonstration. There in the parade ground a volunteer came out and walked us through the multiple steps of loading and shooting a musket. Good thing he asked all the kids present to cover their ears! It was extremely loud! Drake thought it was awesome while Mia didn’t really enjoy it.
Back to the casements, each room hosted exhibits and displays depicting life at the fort including restored kitchen, bread oven, officers’ quarters, enlisted quarters, and powder magazines. We learned about the Hot Shot Furnace, a system of heating non-explosive cannonballs red hot for the purpose of setting fire to enemy warships. Drake and Mia not only thought that was cool but also enjoyed seeing what was inside cannon balls!
Tip: There are no entrance fees to visit North Carolina state parks with just a few exceptions. Visit www.visitnc.gov for more details.
By the time we finished touring the fort, we decided to hold off on our visit to the North Carolina Maritime Museum for another time as the kids wanted to take a swim in the hotel pool before we had to meet up for our sunset cruise on the Neuse River.
It took some work but we finally got the kids to agree to one more stop – to check out the New Bern KOA, located across the Neuse River from New Bern. What a great spot!
We got a pass from the front office to take a drive around to check out the campground. There is so much to do here! There was a pool, a mini-golf course, jump pad, and a catch-and-release pond.
The really cool things about New Bern KOA were the 100-foot pier, porch swings, fishing opportunities (need a valid NC fishing license to fish off the pier), and fun rentals including: kayaks, paddleboats, dinghies, and pedal bikes. We will be back to stay here on our next visit to North Carolina!
Tip: Don’t have an RV? New Bern KOA offers camping cabins (without bathrooms) and deluxe cabins with bathrooms in difference sizes to accommodate parties up to 6 people.
After the kids got their swim in the hotel pool, we made the 5-minute walk to the Adventureship Bolero for our Sunset Sail. Captain Paul greeted us warmly and started with a quick safety speech for the kids. The clouds had gathered and looked a bit ominous. Captain Paul kept a close watch on radar and after a quick shower, the sky cleared overhead. It was time to set sail!
Captain Paul was so good with the Drake and Mia. He quizzed them on sailing terms (we had a sail boat so they knew some of them), allowed them to help put up the sails and gave them a captains hat to wear while steering the vessel. He also gave the history of the area in a way they could understand including topics such as pirates, storms and shipwrecks. Drake and Mia were mesmerized! He even put on some music for us. “Gilligan’s Island” theme song anyone?
With the storm still in the area, we did hear some thunder and were also lucky to see a beautiful rainbow. Even though it was a little soggy, we moved out to enjoy the benches under the sails. Nothing like feeling the wind in your hair and hear the quiet lapping of water against the bow. And the sunset didn’t disappoint either. What a glorious sight! Thanks to Captain Paul for a great experience on the Neuse River.
The next morning we left for home. It was definitely a quick visit but what we learned is that this area is a treasure trove of “to-do’s” and “to-see’s.” I see a camping trip up here in the future!
Do you have a favorite spot or activity in coastal North Carolina? Feel free to send me your recommendations as it is never too early to start planning!
Posted on April 18, 2016
It was our first time camping since becoming residents of South Carolina. There was much “Spring Cleaning” to be performed on the trailer, but it was done with excitement. Now that we store our trailer in the neighborhood, accessibility just got super easy. I have ensured all the common things we need are already there waiting for us and now we simply have to add our clothes, fresh towels and food items. Now I feel we can just pick up any weekend and head out!
We had hoped to take our new family member, Lily Rose on this camping trip but she was just not ready. We are still working on training in a multitude of areas and thought it was best to have her enjoy her own vacation at Camp Bow Wow, a dog retreat. There she would enjoy all-day play and spend the night in her individual cozy cabin, sleeping on a fleece-padded cot. She also would get a delicious Campfire TreatTM. Camp Bow Wow also offers live Web Cams so we could keep an eye on her. Since Lily Rose LOVES playing, this was the perfect choice. She didn’t even look back before heading in to play with new friends.
Note: Camp Bow Wow was open on Easter for drop-off! Besides overnight boarding, they offer full and half-day daycare; perfect for those long days exploring while traveling with your dog. Visit their website at www.campbowwow.com to locate one of their 130 locations nationwide.
Since we were leaving on Easter Sunday, we first enjoyed our annual Easter egg hunt and a review of all the items found in our Easter baskets. After a quick breakfast and a stop at the market, we were on our way!
There was a steady rain all the way to Huntington Beach State Park located in Murrell’s Inlet about an hour drive North from Mount Pleasant. Right as we entered the park, we knew it was going to be special. Azaleas line the entrance and were in full bloom. Wild Wisteria vines wound their way to the tops of the pines exploding in their grape-like purple and white blooms. We made quick stop to get checked in, then headed to our designated site, #94, located on an inner circle.
Gratefully, our set-up was easy and the rain was light. Drake and Mia didn’t mind the drizzle and got out their Frisbee to play in the grass area behind our campsite. Soon, the rain became heavier and they reluctantly came inside the trailer.
My only job was to get our Easter dinner started in the oven. With the rest of the family busy with their electronics, I decided to slip away with my umbrella. A quick 5-minute walk along a wooded path gave way to sand dunes and the beautiful Atlantic Ocean. Aside from myself and some seagulls, there was no one around. It was a special moment of peace and contemplation.
Soon enough I had to turn around and head back to camp for the final preparations for Easter dinner. We enjoyed ham, pre-prepared au gratin potatoes, roasted asparagus, and rolls. The highlight for the kids was our cast-iron chocolate chip cookie! I added a bit of butter to the pan before putting in the dough giving the bottom a buttery crust. Delicious! It was a quiet affair but overall kid-approved and a nice ending to our day.
We fell asleep to raindrops on the trailer roof, then in the morning, we awoke to the sound of crashing surf and birdsong. The sun was shining and there was no time like the present to get that early morning beach walk in. Mia was excited to join me that morning and we set off to see what we could see.
As we broke through the trees, a gorgeous stretch of sand awaited us with a marvelous sun-rise over the Atlantic. The beach was pretty much ours at this early hour. We hunted for shells while wading in the surf. We did find quite a few jellyfish washed up on shore (poor things) and chased some rather large crabs. It was delightful to have some mom and daughter time – that truly was the best part.
After a simple breakfast, I shooed the kids outdoors for some fresh air and I gathered the simple ingredients needed for CrockPot Chili. Besides browning the meat with fresh diced onion, the rest of the preparation is opening cans. (Recipe available at the end of the article).
Since it was such a glorious day, I decided to pack a picnic lunch and we all went for a drive. Our first stop was the historic fishing village of Murrells Inlet located just 3 miles North of Huntington Beach State Park and 10 miles south of Myrtle Beach. I had wanted to check out the Marsh Walk; a boardwalk that runs along the back of a string of waterfront restaurants along the salt marsh. Parking was easy and we set off for our urban walk. The first thing we saw was this lovely pelican who seemed to be posing for all. Many of the restaurants were bustling with customers who were enjoying the outdoor seating as the weather was perfect.
Our next stop was Myrtle Beach State Park, another gem of a park located right on the Atlantic Ocean. As we wound through the Maritime Forest and Heritage Site, we arrived at the parking lot for the beach. Plentiful parking close to the shore makes it a favorite for tourists and locals alike. There is a strand of beach pavilions large enough to fit a big party or for us, the perfect spot for our picnic.
Myrtle Beach State Park also has a campground and camping cabins (which we didn’t get a chance to see). There are over 300 camping sites but you wouldn’t know it. Tucked between pine trees, sites have green grass and plenty of space. Almost all sites have electric and water with 66 sites with full hook-ups. Perfect for the hot days of summer and you can’t beat the short walk to the ocean!
Tip: RV sites that we liked were 16, 198, 239, and 332
The family decision was to get back to camp so the kids could play with their new friends and Troy and I could put our feet up and relax under the trees with books. Our only regret was not bringing our bikes! This park is well suited for bike-riding with paved roads and bike trails.
Our CrockPot Chili dinner was a cinch to finish. I made some cornbread in my trusty cast-iron skillet and we had the perfect no-fuss and delicious dinner. The end to a perfect day camping!
The second morning was just as picture-perfect. This time I was accompanied by my son for a morning walk on the beach. This time we took a different path to the beach that actually was closer to our camp site. This path was also wooded and also took your breath away when the trees opened to the panoramic sparkle of the Atlantic. Drake was more laid-back on how far we walked so we enjoyed an extra long walk. On our journey, he spotted a few crabs and was brave enough to pick one up! We also saw a guy riding his bike on the beach! With a wide swath of hard-packed sand, it looked like a lot of fun.
The family decided they wanted to just hang out in camp but I didn’t let that stop me from exploring. I first made a stop at the informative Nature Center that housed a saltwater touch tank, a live baby alligator and a telescope focused on an eagle’s nest.
Next, I took a walk on the marsh boardwalk located right outside of the Nature Center. The boardwalk provides beautiful vistas of the marsh. The sun was was warm and the breeze cool so I took my time savoring the fresh air. The incoming tide lapped at the spartina grass and there was an occasional splash as fish jumped from the water. Birders were out with their binoculars and cameras searching for spring migratory song, shore and wading birds. There is a nice pavilion half-way down which would be a nice place for a picnic.
Tip: Nature Center open Tuesday through Sunday year round from 10am-5pm.
From the Nature Center parking lot, I journeyed across the street to the Sandpiper Pond Nature Trail, an easy 2-mile out and back trail that travels through “one of the best-preserved beaches in South Carolina’s upper coastal plain.” The coastal forest was beautiful with oaks, red cedars, and creeping vines. Sandpiper Pond is large and the hike took me along its edge with peek-a-boo views. Dragonflies were thick which was a delight for me, a dragonfly lover! The trail was mine alone and I enjoyed bird song and the wind in the trees.
Back at camp, I made a quick lunch for the family before I headed out once more time to take a guided tour of Atalaya, the winter home of philanthropist Archer M. Huntington and his sculptress wife, Anna Hyatt Huntington. The knowledgeable guide told the group how the Huntington’s needed a warmer winter climate for Mrs. Huntington as she suffered from tuberculosis. They purchased four failed rice plantations and built not only Atalaya, but also Brookgreen Gardens with local labor which was a Godsend as construction took place during the Great Depression. The Huntington’s are still regarded as local heroes for their contributions to this community.
Tip: Brookgreen Gardens is located just a couple miles from Huntington Beach State Park. Known for it’s beautiful gardens and zoo, it is also the country’s first public sculpture garden . Brookgreen Gardens is open daily from 9:30 a.m.- 5 p.m. In April, the gardens are open late until 8 p.m.
The home was constructed to be fireproof so it is quite stark. There is an outdoor and indoor studio where Mrs. Huntington spent much of her time creating her sculptures. There are even bear pens and a holding area where they would have animals brought from their garden zoo (Brookgreen Garden today) for her to sculpt. Crafted in a Moorish style, each window is covered with iron bars designed by Mrs. Huntington. Since this was their private escape, the home offered no guest rooms, only that for themselves and their staff.
Back to camp, it was time to take a nice family walk on the beach before pulling out some board games and enjoying our last night at Huntington Beach State Park. This is definitely a place we will return to!
Campground Notes: Huntington Beach State Park has 133 campsites plus six tent sites. There are 22 full service sites with the balance offering water and electric. There is a RV dump station. Pets are allowed and there is also free Wi-Fi! Note that alcoholic beverages are prohibited. Per night rates start at $46.
1 pound ground beef or turkey
1 onion chopped
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 can white beans
1 can black beans
1 can kidney beans
1 package dry chili mix
1 can diced tomatoes w/jalapenos
1 can chili tomato sauce (I couldn’t find so I used Sofrito)
The recipe says to drain the beans but I have done it both ways and the main difference seems to be how much sauce there is. I prefer to drain the beans but I usually add a fourth can of beans (chili beans) that are a little spicy and I don’t drain those all the way.
Brown the meat with the onion and mix everything together. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
Posted on February 24, 2016
By far, my favorite piece of camping equipment is the humble and very versatile cast-iron skillet. My 10-inch skillet has been a game-changer in the dishes I can prepare while on the road. Why? The cast-iron skillet can be used for all three meals from appetizers to desserts. Even better, cast-iron has the ability to go from cook-top to oven, to campfire or an outdoor grill.
My experience with cast-iron started about 5-years ago when my dear friend and fellow foodie, Diane McCormack, introduced me to cast-iron by preparing a simple potato dish. I was amazed at the crispy potato outsides and tender insides. I didn’t really give it much more thought until I received my very own 12″ cast-iron skillet a few months later for my birthday. I was hooked.
Don’t have a cast-iron skillet? No problem! My recommendation would be to purchase a 10″ pre-seasoned skillet for the RV. Besides working well for most recipes, size matters with those tiny RV ovens. The iconic brand for cast-iron is Lodge which has been around for over 100-years and offers an excellent product. You can find Lodge on Amazon, in camping stores, and even Wal-Mart. Average price is about $15 and worth every penny.
The most intimidating part of cast-iron is how to clean it. I have heard horror stories of unsuspecting cooks putting their pans into a soapy sink of water or even worse (gasp) into the dishwasher and ruining their pans. Another long-time cast-iron user mentioned that while growing up in Iowa, her mother cooked absolutely every meal in cast-iron for their large family and she washed hers in soap and water with no problems, even leaving submerged in water overnight with little noticeable affect, although I wouldn’t recommend it. The cleaning process is debatable and there are many articles and advice columns available on the internet. Here is my cleaning method that has works well for me and easy to do in the trailer:
Step 1: Wipe out any residual crumbs or food
Step 2: Fill the pan 1/2 way with water and put it back on the stove to boil
Step 3: Use a brush or scrapper to clean the bottom and sides of the pan, then throw the water outside. DO NOT pour the water down your RV drain! Boiling water in addition to residual oils and food debris will cause damage to pipes.
Step 4: Once empty, put the hot pan back on the stove and let the remaining water evaporate and check the pan to make sure no food is left. If so, use a bit of course salt to scrub out remaining debris, rinse and let water evaporate.
Step 5: Apply a small amount of cooking oil to a paper towel and wipe the interior of the skillet to protect the seasoning and prevent rust. That’s it until the next meal!
So what’s for breakfast? Of course cooking bacon and sausage works awesome in cast-iron and actually is great to do when your pan is new. It contributes to the seasoning of the pan. Here are a few of our family’s simple breakfast favorites:
Cornbread – Cornbread prepared in cast-iron has a delightfully golden crust. I add a tablespoon of butter to skillet, melt it in the oven then pour prepared cornbread mix into the pan. Note that cooking time may be a little less than a package directs so check often. Cornbread also makes a great addition to dinner (think chili). For dinner items, I sometimes add some fresh or frozen corn or jalapenos to deliver an extra punch.
Packaged Cinnamon Rolls or Biscuits – Place rolls in skillet and bake as instructed. Check often as these can overcook on the bottom if you are not careful. Biscuits can also be another easy addition to dinner.
Danish Pancakes (aka ebelskivers) – We love Trader Joe’s frozen version of this Danish treat. These round pancakes are fantastic and each of us have our own personal way of enjoying. Mia likes maple syrup, Drake likes powered sugar and honey, Troy enjoys his with table sugar and I love jam with powered sugar.
If your pan is new and not yet fully-seasoned, eggs can be a bit difficult. When I make scrambled eggs, I generally cook them with residual bacon grease and know that there will be sticking.
Generally for lunch we are on the go with a packed picnic. When we do spend a day at the campground, I love to make grilled sandwiches. Nothing like a gooey grilled cheese. To take things a bit further, I like to use left-overs such as chicken, pot roast or pork, add some cheese, add some vegetables and make “pressed sandwiches” by using a heavy pot or pan to “press” down while cooking. Be creative!
Nothing is better than the cast-iron skillet for dinner. It is perfect for one-pan hits. Did you want to BBQ but the weather didn’t cooperate? Cooking hamburgers or hot dogs is a cinch in cast-iron. I also like to add some oil and brown both sides of a steak or chicken then place in a 350 degree oven to finish cooking (a meat thermometer is another great tool to have on hand).
One of our family favorites is Chicken Parmesan. I make it often at home and now make it in the trailer all the time as a one-skillet meal. My recipe uses two chicken breasts which gives each person 1/2 a breast. Super easy to add chicken to accommodate larger appetites or more people.
Here is my simple recipe:
Fletcher’s Favorite Chicken Parmesan
1 egg beaten
2 oz dry bread crumbs (I like Panko crumbs for extra crunch)
1 tsp or to taste Italian Seasoning
1/4 cup plus 1 tsp Parmesan Cheese (divided)
2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/2 (16 oz) jar spaghetti sauce
3/4 cup Mozzarella cheese
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly add olive oil to cast iron skillet.
2. Pour egg into a shallow bowl and beat slightly
3. Mix bread crumbs, Italian seasoning and 1 tsp Parmesan cheese (tip: I mix it at at home and bring in a Ziplock for easy use). Dip chicken into egg then into bread crumbs. Place coated chicken in cast iron skillet and bake for approximately 40 minutes, or until no longer pink.
4. Pour spaghetti sauce over chicken and cover with Mozzarella and 1/4 cup Parmesan on top and return to oven for about 15 minutes or until cheeses are melted.
Serving Suggestion: I usually cook pasta as a side to use the remaining sauce and serve with salad.
Another very simple and delicious dinner is Fajitas. You can use the dry seasoning packets, or I really love to use Frontera’s Classic Fajita Skillet Sauce. You can find it in the Hispanic section of many markets.
You can prepare vegetarian style or add your favorite meat such as chicken, beef for shrimp. I like to buy the “stoplight” peppers that come in a package (red, yellow and green). You will also need an onion. Serve with flour or corn tortillas, refried or black beans, sour cream and a favorite hot sauce!
I recently received a cast iron recipe from my friend, Diane McCormack that I cannot wait to try. She uses her cast-iron skillet for deep-dish pizza! Here is the recipe she shared with me.
Diane’s Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza!
Pizza crust – thawed (pre-made dough can be found in many supermarkets including Trader Joe’s)
1 package Sliced Mozzarella cheese
Pepperoni and/or other toppings to taste
1 – 1 1/2 cup Prepared pizza sauce
Sprinkle Parmesan Cheese
Sprinkle Red Pepper flakes
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cast Iron Skillet – greased with olive oil
2. Unwrap your dough and put in an oiled bowl for 1 hour.
3. After the hour, stretch out dough and place in skillet. Let rest for another 30 minutes, stretching it out as it shrinks back. Make sure the dough is stretched halfway up the side of the skillet.
4. Shingle the cheese slices starting in the middle and working outward until all the cheese is used, making sure you press the cheese so it too goes up the sides of the pan. (This cheese and crust gets all browned and is EVERYTHING!)
5. Next put your toppings directly on the cheese. Then add lots of sauce over the cheese and toppings.
6. Finish by sprinkling Parmesan cheese, pepper flakes and oregano over the sauce.
Bake for 30 minutes then check the bottom of the crust. If it’s lightly browned and crusty it’s done, if it’s pale and/or still doughy bake for another 10 minutes. If the sides of the crust look overly browned cover with foil to finish cooking the bottom!
My favorite side dish is roasted vegetables. It is super easy and works well with broccoli, cauliflower, fennel, and Brussels Sprouts and works for carrots, corn and many others. Start by pre-heating oven to 350 degrees. Toss cut vegetables with olive oil (you don’t need much) and some Kosher salt in your cast-iron skillet. Roast for about 1/2 hour, checking for desired texture. Voila! A healthy and delicious side dish that kids love!
Why not try a skillet cookie! Press refrigerated cookie dough into a very lightly oiled cast-iron skillet. You most likely will cook a little less time than instructed as to not overcook bottom. Serve warm with ice cream!
A “friend favorite” is baking Pineapple Upside Down Cake in cast-iron using the simple instructions right on the Jiffy brand yellow cake mix! It sounded so delicious, the kids and I decided to bake a “test” cake at home to try it out. Jury says, it’s a winner!
Pineapple Upside-Down Cake
(9 – 12 Servings)
1 pkg. “JIFFY” Golden Yellow Cake Mix
1/4 cup margarine or butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 can (20 oz) crushed pineapple, drained (reserve 1/2 cup of juice)
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Melt margarine or butter in 8” square or 9” round pan and sprinkle with brown sugar. Place pineapple over margarine or butter and brown sugar mixture. Set aside. In separate bowl, beat cake mix, egg and reserved juice for 4 minutes on medium. Pour over pineapple mixture. Bake 40 – 45 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 1 – 2 minutes. Invert on serving plate. Cool or serve warm.
Do you have a favorite cast-iron skillet camping recipe? Please share with me! Leave a comment or send an e-mail.
Posted on December 11, 2015
We awoke knowing that today we would be heading to our new home state. Although we had been there for a few short days in July to house-hunt, we knew that an unknown world was awaiting us.
We packed up the campsite and left the Smoky Mountains behind. Our drive offered varying landscapes from the mountains we were leaving behind, to the rolling hills of North Carolina, to the flat lands of central and coastal South Carolina. It was obvious that we had entered what is called “lowcountry.” The highway runs straight, hugged on both sides by trees. It is not particularly scenic as we couldn’t really see much through the roadside vegetation.
We decided to make a stop for lunch in South Carolina’s capitol city, Columbia. Just the outskirts mind you, we were eager to get to our new digs. Not being to see much through the trees, we were lucky to locate a Cracker Barrel. As the kids and I exited the truck, Troy said to go on in as he wanted to take a look at something.
When he finally joined us, he let me know that we had lost the tread off one of the trailer tires! How long had we been driving with the tire like that? We quickly realized how lucky we were that we didn’t have a blow-out on the highway.
We had purchased Automobile Club coverage for the trailer before we left. We had learned our lesson on our 2014 RV Adventure when we broke down on the side of the road on our way to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado. However, Troy said he would change the tire himself, but needed a tool or two.
After lunch we drove very slowly to the blessedly close Home Depot. Drake worked on getting the spare off the trailer while Troy purchased the items he needed. Mia and I sat under a tiny tree in hopes of a respite from the blazing sun as it was quite warm. Our wish was granted as large clouds quickly rolled in and blotted out the sun. A few warm drops of rain started to fall just as Troy and Drake were packing up the tools. We were ready to commence the last leg of our cross-country journey.
I can honestly say that those last couple of hours driving to the campground seemed to last forever. The mood in the truck was somber as everyone seemed to be lost in contemplation of what our new home town would be like and the sadness of another camping trip ending. With all the planning, preparation, anxiety and stress, I was asking myself, did we make the right choice for our family? Will we really like South Carolina?
We arrived within Charleston County right at the end of the work day so we hit some rush-hour traffic. Coming from California, it was certainly not bad but it was enough to prolong our arrival to our temporary home, the Mount Pleasant/Charleston KOA. Finally! We made the turn off of Highway 17 and drove under the welcoming entrance arch of the campground. We had safely made it to our destination after driving a grand total of 3,497 miles. What an adventure!
Ms. Jackie Jackson, manager of KOA was expecting us and had a wonderful spot selected. When I saw Site 46 I knew it was perfect for us. A giant oak tree flanked the site with the requisite Spanish moss, a sure sign we were in South Carolina. The tree also was home to little critters such as lizards, spiders and squirrels that would provide us entertainment during our stay.
That evening we took a walk down to the campground’s private lake. Here, we watched the sun set over the trees for the first time in the place that would be our new home. As the fish jumped, Troy and I held hands and appreciated our good fortune to not only make it safely across the country, but to have arrived at such a beautiful location.
When I checked-in, Ms. Jackie Johnson told me not to miss the wagon-ride to the historic Oakland Plantation (runs Friday and Saturday during the summer) that would give us some history of the area. The kids and I couldn’t wait to go! Once we boarded the wagon, we were served refreshing Popsicles as we waited for other guests.
The tractor-pulled wagon heads back down the long entrance drive, then cuts along the Dog Park area before driving through a break in the trees. We traveled briefly through forest before arriving at the majestic oak-lined entrance of Oakland Plantation. It is exactly as you would imagine, tree branches reaching over the drive, touching in places with Spanish moss dripping down in beautiful grey clumps. At the end of the avenue, we could see the main plantation house.
Once photos were taken, we continued down the drive and stopped in front of the house. Our driver gave us a brief history of the plantation. Here are a few facts:
-The main house was most likely built in 1740 and was added onto to incorporate a kitchen and an upstairs apartment which is used as a residence.
– During the Civil War years, General Sherman and his wife came to burn Oakland Plantation but the remaining slaves implored them to not to as nine slave families moved into the house after the owners had fled. The house was spared.
– The campground itself and the neighboring shopping center is still part of Oakland Plantation acreage and remains with the current plantation owners.
– When they were creating the lake, Hurricane Hugo came through and ocean water rushed in flooding the half-dug lake. After that, the lake was brimming with sea creatures such as eel, jellyfish, and salt-water fish. There are still sea creatures living in the lake that have adapted to the brackish/fresh water.
We realized quickly that this KOA was special for many reasons. Besides how we felt about it, we started meeting campers and learned that this campground was not only popular for people passing through the Charleston area, it was also a locals’ favorite. During our two-month stay as we awaited to move into our permanent home, we continued to meet campers that lived within 50 miles of Mount Pleasant; most having camped here many times. Why do they keep coming back?
The campground is located off Highway 17; the main road through Mount Pleasant. Since it sits about ¼ mile off the highway, there is a feeling of being out in the country when really, you are next to a shopping center with Kohls, Wal-Mart, gas station, bank, and restaurants.
Outside the entrance, there is Blackbeards Cove; a fun entertainment facility offering putt-putt golf, go-carts, climbing wall, inflatables and a game room. Additionally, there is a large Publix grocery store and more dining choices across the street. We found this location very convenient to downtown Charleston (only 10 miles away), Isle of Palms and Sullivan Island.
One of my favorite parts of the campground! There is a boat ramp, dock, and boat rentals. Troy rented a canoe to take the kids out on the lake. Everyone had a great time. Cost is $10/hour.
Guests can fish along the edges of the lake, from the dock, from a rental boat, or from your own small fishing boat. There is no need for a fishing license as it is privately owned but before you have visions of a fish fry, it is catch-and-release only. Drake caught his very first fish here and his photo hangs on the “Wall of Fame” in the campground office. We ended up buying our own equipment and spent many happy hours of family-time fishing and watching the sun go down.
Important Note: There are alligators in the lake. It did take us weeks to spot one as they are pretty elusive but everyone should be mindful of their presence. A more pressing danger is around the edge of the lake. Keep your pets and children out of the vegetation around the lake as snakes do like to hide within it.
There are a few hiking trails within the campground. I started on the Lake Trail and ended up on the Marsh Trail. On my way, I saw a beautiful buck and a handful of wild turkeys. You will want to bring your bug spray as there were many hungry mosquitoes attempting to dine on me.
The restrooms, showers and laundry room are all in great condition and cleaned often. There are banks of showers and restrooms by the cabin and tent loop and more at the main office building. The Wi-Fi here was the best we’ve had at a campground as there are multiple towers within the park.
There are two nice playgrounds; one by main office/pool and one within the cabin/tent area. Keep cool in the pool, open seasonally. Trust me, we spent many hot afternoons cooling off here. Don’t forget to check out the basketball hoop, horseshoe pits and banana bikes available for rent at $7.50/hr.
For your Pet:
Kamp K9 is a large, off-leash fenced dog park located on the far side of the lake. Have a dog that likes water? Dogs can get their paws wet safely in the lake here, as there is a protective fence about a foot off-shore.
Alternate Ways to Camp:
This KOA offers both basic and deluxe cabins, popular with locals and out-of-towners alike. Some units are right on the lake. Want to try something different? Ask about renting the lake-side caboose for a unique experience.
We found that there was an added benefit of staying in the campground versus moving right into our house. We had a lot more time to explore since we didn’t have to set up a house right away.
Our very favorite family day trip was to Cypress Gardens. The kids still beg to go back and we plan to take our visiting friends and family here for sure. Cypress Gardens is a 170-acre swamp garden that was originally part of the Dean Hall, one of the most prosperous rice plantations in the region.
The highlight of the visit to Cypress Gardens was definitely the self-guided boat ride touring the black-water swamp. At no extra charge, we boarded our own boat and paddled our way through the swamp. Once we pulled away from the boarding area, it was like we had entered another world.
Silence enveloped us with only the sounds of our paddles slicing through the water, a few frogs and crickets and a call or two from birds. It was stunning. The black-water is mirror-like and reflects the bald cypress and tupelo trees in its surface.
Duckweed and blooming lily-pads are everywhere. It was one of the most unique and amazing experiences that we have had in the state of South Carolina (so far!).
Once we returned to civilization, it was time to walk the nature trails surrounding the 80 acre open swamp. As we began our walk, I noticed that an azalea bush was blooming at the edge of the swamp. As I approached to photograph it, there was a splash and we looked in the water…. it was a baby alligator! What a find! The kids were so excited.
Walking the path is a must as it gives a completely different view of the swamp. We saw lots of different birds, squirrels and spiders along the way. We were even caught in a brief rain shower so we took shelter in the aptly named “Rain Shelter” along the way. We didn’t stay long as the day was warm and the rain was refreshing.
Once back, we took the time to explore the other exhibits offered such as the Butterfly House, the Swamparium, and the Alligator display, all worthy of a visit. Our last stop was the cute Gift Shop where we made some small purchases including ice creams to enjoy before we headed out.
Note: I am saddened to announce that Cypress Gardens is currently closed due to substantial flood damage from the recent historic storm. A date to reopen has yet to be set. Check their website at http://www.cypressgardens.info/ to learn more.
Our second favorite trip was to Downtown Charleston. Since it was still summer, we decided to take the Water Taxi from Patriots Point in Mount Pleasant to Downtown. What a great idea! The ride offers panoramic views of Charleston Harbor and the iconic Ravenel Bridge. There were also ample dolphin sightings and a very knowledgeable Captain who pointed out some landmarks within the city.
The boat landing on the Charleston side is lovely with shade pavilions that offer tables for picnics and swinging benches to rest and enjoy the scenery. We ended up right at the famous Pineapple fountain, a South Carolina symbol for welcome.
We took a walk to explore Waterfront Park, the Battery, Rainbow Row and other iconic peninsula locations. We certainly worked up an appetite so we went on the hunt for a restaurant called Virginia’s on King, a hot-spot Drake remembered seeing on the Food Channel. We were game and soon found it, located next to Marion Square.
Virginia’s serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Troy and I shared the Southern Fried Chicken plate that came with collard greens and smashed potatoes with tasso gravy. We also ordered a side of biscuits and gravy.
Everything was delicious and the prices were reasonable. The kids enjoyed their fried shrimp kids meals. We will be back!!
Before heading back to the water taxi, we took a stroll through the historic Charleston Market. Here, you can find sweetgrass baskets and other local arts and crafts.
Note: The Charleston Water Taxi links Mt. Pleasant (Patriots Point or Charleston Harbor Resort and Marina) and historic Downtown Charleston (Waterfront Park or Aquarium Wharf) running in a continuous loop from 9am to 8pm. Service is every day during summer months and Saturdays only during the off-season. Cost is $10 for an All Day Pass for everyone 4 years and older. No reservation needed.
We spent a total of almost two months at the Mount Pleasant/Charleston KOA. During that time Troy started his new job, the kids started at their new school, and I spent my days getting through all the rest of the stuff that needed to be done to get our house in California sold and to purchase our house in South Carolina. Luckily, I had a large picture window so I could watch as the campground emptied on Monday and Tuesday, just to begin to fill back up on Thursday and Friday as I worked. I loved witnessing thunder storms as they darkened the sky before releasing their deluge of water. Out that window I could see squirrels at play, birds taking a rest on branches to sing, sunsets, and best of all, my kids at play. I reminded myself that even though I was ready to move into a real house, this time in the campground was special and would be missed. And it is.
So, what lessons did I learn on our cross-country adventure? Here are some of the highlights:
– Traveling without itinerary, plans and prior reservations can be done but was not my personal favorite.
– Having Automobile Club coverage gave me great piece of mind even though we didn’t have to use it.
– Spending two months in a 27’ trailer with the family wasn’t always easy, but we did it and I would do it again.
– I used the packing list that is posted in the “Plan your Trip” section of this site: and seriously, I did not forget one thing!
I am pleased to announce that I will be covering a new topic in 2016: “RV Adventures with…Pets!” Yes, we have a new addition to our family; a one-year-old rescue dog named Lily Rose. Like any new adventure, she is quite a challenge today, but with lots of love and training, soon she will be assimilated into the family. We hope she loves camping as much as we do.
HAPPY Travels dear readers! I look forward to continuing to post on our adventures as we start to explore the beautiful and history-rich Southeastern United States. I am already starting to contemplate where we will visit for our 2016 summer adventure. If you have ideas, please feel free to send a comment.