by Mark Lawley
A combination of family, friends and food is a consistent theme for our camping getaways, and on our most recent trip to Port Aransas for the long Easter weekend, we were fortunate to include all three. Once our raucous caravan of adults, kids, dogs and stocked camper trailers had snaked its way down the coast to the beach, we released the excited kids and dogs, set up base camp at the camper park and began a busy, but relaxing, holiday.
The park we love offers plenty of activities for kids and adults alike. A short walk over the dunes puts you face-to-face with the lapping Gulf Coast waters where beach walks, swimming, shell collecting, bocce-ball tournaments and endless moments of toes-in-the-sand hypnosis are the perfect way to unwind from an overscheduled, stressed lifestyle.
And an afternoon of fishing on the nearby jetty is not only challenging and fun, but could produce a couple of nice sheepshead fish for an evening appetizer of ceviche. Which brings us to the food.
Our trips have always been a testament to the fact that campout food doesn’t have to be limited to the admittedly tasty, but expected, hot dogs and hamburgers. Of course, four-star cuisine isn’t the goal, but enjoying a satisfying, homemade and somewhat sophisticated meal under the stars can make for more memorable times. And sharing meal plans and cooking duties with traveling companions lessens each family’s workload and allows for nightly standout meals like ours, which featured tender, grilled gulf shrimp with crispy garden salad; fresh black drum “fish and chips” with hand-cut french fries, crunchy coleslaw and grilled artichokes; impossibly fresh ceviche; and a grilled rack of spring lamb with roasted rosemary new potatoes.
Working as a team and having a full-size barbecue grill are paramount for pulling off this sort of rustic but semi-complex fare. Preparedness is key, and camping near the beach in a trailer certainly makes the transportation and storage of food and cooking gear much easier (and less sandy!) than tent camping does. Still, we’ve learned a few things over the years, such as thoroughly thinking through what we’ll be preparing, and bringing only those ingredients needed for each meal; and making lists of the implements and cooking containers (both the number and size) needed for preparation as well as what we’ll specifically need to serve it. We’re also realistic about portion sizes: Extra food and leftovers can be a big hassle on a camping trip and can significantly increase the time and effort in cleaning up. We always take into account what type of dinnerware and utensils will be necessary for any given meal. And we’ve become huge fans of the plastic baskets with wax paper liners found at most restaurant supply stores—they’re not only user-friendly, especially for the kids, but they make cleanup a breeze.