Sunday, October 2, 2011

Stop and Smell the Fennel

We arrived at El Capitan State Beach Campground, which is 17 miles west of Santa Barbara off highway 101, at 4 pm on Wednesday, August 10 for our first tent camping experience. Our site, like most at El Capitan, was large and was surrounded by trees and shrubs so we really got a sense of privacy and our own space. After setting up two tents and drinking a well-deserved Hop Ottin' IPA we walked down to the beach. It was 5 pm, the sun was still shining but sat low in the sky to our west. The activities that we saw on that gorgeous stretch of beach were: beach combing, body surfing, boogie boarding, birdwatching, cocktail drinking, dinner eating, frisbee throwing, kayaking, knitting, sand sculpting, smashball playing, sun bathing and surfing all on approximately 1 mile of sand. Walking east (feels like south, but here the coast is south facing, not west facing) the beach got more crowded because this was the day use area. After soaking up some much needed sun and inhaling the beach air, we headed back to our campsite to get dinner ready.

I never thought camping would be an experience for me to write about in my blog, because frankly my options for food prep and storage were limited. But, while walking through the campground to and from the beach I spied several stands of foeniculum vulgare, fennel. For anyone who has experienced the drive from San Diego to Los Angeles, or Los Angeles to San Luis Obispo, you know that the perennial herb fennel grows rampant along Southern California's coastal areas. Not only is this fennel that grows wild beautiful, it is also so flavorful! In the summer you can use the fronds and then in the late fall or winter the seeds. Wild fennel is different from the bulbed fennel you can buy in the store or at the farmer's market. If your bulbed fennel still has some fronds attached they will not be as flavorful or fragrant as the fronds of wild fennel. However, the wild fennel will not ever grow a bulb. So wild fennel is the reason you get to read alittle about my family's camping experience at the beautiful and highly recommended El Capitan State Beach and Campground.

Cooking with foraged fennel:
The meal planning for this camping trip was pretty simple. Cold cereal and pan toast for breakfast along with fresh fruit, sandwiches and more fruit for lunch. For dinner on Wednesday we planned grilled brautwurst and hot dogs and Thursday grilled top sirloin steaks. To go with brauts, I caramelized a (presliced) purple onion and added a handful of the delicate, fern-like fronds, cooking just to soften them. To go along with steaks the next night, I melted a 1/2 a stick of butter and added the finely chopped fronds to pour over the lightly seasoned sirloins. Our dinners would have been delicious without the fennel, but an opportunity to forage is an opportunity to feast!

1 comment:

  1. I finally figured out how to view your blog (duh)you wouldn't know I work on computers all day! Great story, great recipes, great photo!
    Love, Mama