I need a sherpa! I must have said this fifty times as I loaded my car, readying for my departure from T. H. Stone Memorial St. Joseph Peninsula State Park this morning. While there was nothing in all of the piles and bags that we didn’t use, I did begin to wonder if Ed and I might need too much stuff. Let me tell you about our trip and then you decide.
On Monday Ed suggested that now that the crowds are gone and the weather is comfortable, we spend a day or two in Port St. Joe. The next few weeks are going to be incredibly busy with homeowners’ weekend, our sous chef’s wedding and Rosemary Beach Uncorked Wine Festival. I agreed that it would be good to get a bit of relaxation in before this next big push and immediately fired up VRBO.COM to find us a little vacation rental. If you haven’t tried this site, I highly recommend it. I have found us some wonderful houses, apartments, and cabins throughout Florida as well as in Charleston and Puerto Rico. I have never been disappointed. As I was looking this time though, I wandered over to the Florida State Park website on the off chance that one of the cabins at Peninsula park was available. These cabins book eleven months in advance and it is difficult to find last minute openings, but lo and behold, three nights starting Wednesday! I couldn’t believe my luck and immediately clicked BOOK NOW. I hit a roadblock when the notice popped up that I couldn’t book Wednesday on line as it was less than 24 hours away. I would have to be the first to show up at the park, money in hand to get that. I was determined to get there first, knowing that if I didn’t make it, we could always get a hotel room the first night.
We had planned to pack the cars Wednesday morning, go do inventory, take care of the accounting and then cruise to St. Joe. As you might imagine, the rush to reserve our cabin turned things a bit more frantic. The plan had always been to take two cars as Ed had to go back a day ahead of me so the only changes to the plan, really were that I was throwing gear into my car, making lists of things for Ed to bring and leaving him on his own for inventory and all other business related matters. His name IS on the door after all. The rush paid off, I won the cabin. I unloaded the paddleboards, my camera gear and computer (I intended to write so this was necessary), snorkeling gear and our VRBO bag.
Let me explain this part. As I said, I have booked many of these vacation rentals by owner and they are wonderful and usually very well equipped with kitchen necessities that the average cook would use. My husband and I aren’t your average cooks though. We always find that cutting boards are either non-existent, inadequate or just gross. There is seldom a good knife either. Though tempted to bring every amenity we can think of, we have gotten this down to a few essentials.
If Ed is on the trip he brings his knife bag but my VRBO kit contains: One good all purpose knife, small solid wooden cutting board, citrus juicer or reamer, ziplock full of raw sugar packets, tea and emergency starbucks instant coffee packets, Jittery Joe’s coffee, coffee press, cinnamon, pepper and salt mills, Bragg’s vinegar, Agave, chopsticks, ramen noodles, asian soup spoons, a small bag of good rice, a small bag of some type of legume, olive oil, a couple of lemons and limes. That’s it. With this kit I can prepare healthy and delicious meals from whatever I might find at a local store. Add tequila and you have a perfect margarita!
We pack the cooler from the restaurant with beer, wine, bottled waters, arugula, prepared beets, a couple of soft boiled eggs, half and half for our coffee, a couple of carrots, onions, garlic, celery.
So this is what we had to start our trip. I got to the cabin, unloaded my car and assessed the cabin. The cabins at Peninsula State Park are what I consider luxury camping. Meaning the beds, sheets, and pillows are not the most comfortable but not too bad. That there is a nice hot shower, a good stove, a/c and heat, screen porch, private boardwalk leading to a private deck and fire pit right on the bay makes it positively perfect. ( I did call Ed and tell him to bring pillows and a good quilt though.)
After assessing I ran back to town for a few more supplies. Usually I would have everything before arriving but I had to beat the rush to reserve the cabin, remember. At the Piggly Wiggly I grabbed a couple of steaks, firewood, jugs of water for coffee and drinking, and charcoal.
By the time Ed arrived we were set up. It was time to paddle. Thanks to the guys at YOLO boards + bike, our inflatable paddle boards were ready to go, just add air. We have rigid boards too, but the inflatables are great for traveling. They are easy to toss in the back of the car, easy to store and I think they work just as well as the rigid boards. Plus, when you finish pumping them up, your biceps look incredible.
The weather was perfect, the bay flat calm with great visibility. We paddled out on our boards but then just lay down on them and floated along the peninsula, paddled back and did it again. And that is how we spent the rest of the day and into the night. With the cabin just steps away, we never wanted for anything. After sunset we fired up the grill for the steaks, enjoying them with a bottle of wine around the fire on the beach. The moon was bright and we paddled under its beams with a little Marvin Gaye playing from the deck. There was even enough breeze to keep the mosquitos at bay and the temperature was just cool enough. We could have stayed there all night, and very nearly did.
On Thursday we were up at 5:30 (4:30 in our time zone). Ed to go fishing and me to catch the light with my camera. We were actually up too early and sat on the deck waiting for the light to come up. We were rewarded with a fantastic sunrise and another day of flat calm water and brilliant weather. Paddle, float, repeat. Hike the park, walk the beach, paddle, float, repeat. We walked along the beach watching an eagle and an osprey battle for territory. I think the osprey won, actually. In the sand we found footprints that perplexed us a bit. The feet were small and narrow, bringing to mind a dainty little woman. However, where the big toes should have been there were instead spoons. And not just your standard run of the mill teaspoons either, these things had beaks at the ends suitable for eating grapefruit or gouging out someone’s eyes.
We had fun making up stories about how Spoontoe had come to live there on the peninsula, combing the beach at night, hunting with her talon and eating her prey with her spoony toes. When our bottle of bugspray came up missing, we immediately blamed Spoontoe. What other explanation could there be?
Ed left me to fend for myself, giving me a kitchen fork to use in case I encountered Spoontoe while he ran over to Apalachicola. I stayed and stalked the dunes with my camera hoping to get a shot at her but never could track her down. I was unscathed when Ed came back with a couple of freshly gigged flounder from 13 Mile Seafood. Good thing too since his fishing efforts only brought in one jack.
There is nothing so peaceful as quiet beach on the bay, no sounds but the water and the birds. My husband generally cannot sit still and always has music or tv on. I think he was pleasantly surprised by how wonderful the silence is and how easy it is to sit still and look at the stars and the water and a fire, just to sit without even saying a word. And when he got too bored, he grabbed his fishing pole or paddle board for a little while. As his mind wandered he put together a plan for our dinner using the ingredients he knew we had in the cabin. When he needed to get out of the sun for a bit, he went in and cooked the lentils and diced the mirepoix for his recipe. When he got hungry, he left the campfire and put together this little flounder dish, simple and perfect.
Friday morning was the end of Ed’s weekend so he packed up the paddleboards and fishing poles, leaving me with the cooler, camera, computer, suitcase, pillows and quilt. I spent Friday on the screened porch watching it storm while I wrote. I walked the park’s trails for an hour and half. I lugged my camera and lenses but didn’t really shoot any pictures. I was content to just be alone in the silence of the off season. The rain had drenched my firewood so I sat on the boardwalk in the breeze under the light of the half moon and listened to the little fish splash in the bay before falling into bed exhausted at 9:00. I woke just as dawn was breaking on perfectly clear day. The wind was up and the temperature was down to 65 degrees which is cold for this Florida girl. I tried to make my coffee and enjoy the sunrise before letting reality smack me in the head. I had to pack, load all of this stuff and leave this sanctuary today. I loaded our little suitcase, the bags of snorkeling gear and beach towels, the VRBO kit, beach chair, tripod, a bag of dirty clothes and extra shoes. I pulled all of the veggies out of the fridge, drained the Yeti cooler. Still four beers and two waters left, not bad. As I tromped up and down the steps to the car with all of this gear I took a mental inventory of what we had used. Other than having too many eggs and carrots. I didn’t put one thing in the car that we had not used. I did ponder whether we could do this trip with only the things we could carry in one small bag. Perhaps we will take on the challenge someday but for now I’m happy to be my own sherpa and take away wonderful memories and pictures of a perfect “weekend” in St. Joseph Peninsula State Park.
1-Pre cook lentils (we like French lentils) e with onion quarter, carrot and celery rib. Garlic bottom and thyme and a little sea salt until just done. Remove the large cut vegetables and discard.
2- fine dice of mirepoix ( onion celery carrot) sauté and added to the lentils and chill
Before serving or adding to the fish, dress the lentils with sherry vinager, olive oil, picked herbs, salt and pepper.
On sheet pan place two butterflied flounder, fill them with lentil salad and close the butterflies around the salad. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.
Toss arugula and thinly sliced mushrooms with sherry vinegar, diced garlic, shallot, olive oil, and pepper.
Plate and enjoy.