MashailNovember is SOUP month…I’m going to post several times this month about the soups I love to eat and make!!!

My beautiful sister-in-law, Mashail, is from Saudi Arabia and I’m always excited to be invited over when she makes one of her fabulous Ramadan dinners.  (Ramadan is the Islamic month during which Muslims fast daily from dawn to sunset as part of an effort towards self-purification and betterment.)  This year Mashail made two soups and everyone went crazy over her Lentil Soup.  In addition to being very healthy, it’s SUPER easy to make.

Mashail’s Lentil Souplentil soup ingredients

  • 16 oz dried red lentils
  • 2 tomatoes – diced
  • 2 carrots – diced
  • 1 onion – chopped
  • 2 small zucchinis – diced
  • 1 cup cilantro – chopped
  • 2 teaspoons garlic – minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon pepper
  • 8 cups water
  1. Add all the ingredients to a large pot or dutch oven, add 8 cups water, cover the pot and cook for 30 minutes on medium heat.
  2. Once the lentils are soft and the vegetable are cooked, transfer the soup to a blender and puree until a soft consistency.  You will have to puree the soup in batches.
  3. Return the soup to the pot, adjust the spices to your taste, and cook for another 15-30 minutes without covering the pot.
  4. Serve the soup hot.  Enjoy.

Prep Time: 15 minutes  /  Cook Time: 45-60 minutes  /  Serves 10-12

soup beginningsoup middlesoup end


Where do you CAMP???

Where do you camp???  This is a question we get a lot, so I thought doing a post on our Southern California camping spots would be fun.  We are “convenience campers” and we don’t like to drive a long way to have a lot of fun.  Generally, if we can drive to a camp spot within 2-3 hours of Long Beach we’re happy.  Up until last February 2011, we were tent campers all the way and loved it.  I do have to say though, now that we have our little Craigslist pop-up, it would be hard to go back to a tent.

Here we go, the Pommerenk List for good Southern California camping:

Cold Springs – Sequoia National Park / Mineral King Area

Camping in Sequoia National ParkThis first campground actually breaks our 2-3 hours “rule”, but it is well worth the drive and probably one of my favorite spots to camp and hike.  The campground is non-reservation, so first come first served.  There is water and pit toilets available as well as a very large bear box at each site.  A beautiful little stream flows through the campground and many of the sites are right along the stream.  The campground is the jumping off point of several beautiful hikes through valleys and up to Alpine lakes.

campsite at Cold Springs campground

Steve fishinghiking at Mineral Kingcampsite

Jalama Beach

Jalama Beach signThe BEST beach camping in all of Southern California!!!  Jalama Beach is in Santa Barbara County and is completely isolated, you can walk for miles down the beach and only run into other campers or an occasional surfer.  If you’re lucky enough to get a beach site (the park is first come first served, no reservations), you’ll wish you could stay forever.  Jalama does get windy at times, that’s the only downfall of this place.  They have flushing toilets, water and 25 cent hot showers.  There is even a little camp store and grill if you aren’t into cooking yourself.  Across from the camp store is a pretty cool playground for the kids.

Indian Cove – Joshua Tree National Park

We like it all…the mountains, the beaches and the desert.  Joshua Tree is a peaceful and beautiful place in the desert with more stars out at night than you will see anywhere else.  Hiking is easy, no trails needed…just start walking.  Indian Cove campground is surrounded by huge rock outcroppings that are perfect for scrambling and climbing.  When hiking or climbing…watch out for RATTLESNAKES!!!  There is no water available in the park, but there is a spigot just up the road at the ranger station.  Pit toilets are available in the park.

Live Oak – Caspers Wilderness Park

Caspers Park is a hidden little gem in the middle of Orange County right off of Ortega Hwy in San Juan Capistrano.  We just discovered Caspers last spring and have camped here 3 times this year.  Live Oak campground has big beautiful sites that are shaded by huge old growth oak trees.  A river runs through the campground and flows in winter and spring time, but is mostly dry during the summer.  There are several good established hiking trails or you can just hike along the river.  The park has running water, flushing toilets and free hot showers.  Caspers park is reservation only.

Mt. Pinos – Los Padres National Forest

Mt. Pinos has been our destination for the July 4th weekend for the past several years.  We love this campground because it’s never busy, even on 4th of July weekend.  The campsites are really big and you can feel as if you’re the only campers out there.  Easy hiking trails start right from the campground as well as miles of mountain bike trails.  Surrounded by giant pine trees, this is the kind of place you can just sit and relax and let the kids run and wander.  Mt. Pinos doesn’t accept reservations, which is one of the reasons we think people stay away.  Another reason is there is no water available at the campground or anywhere near by, you have to bring all of your own water.  Pit toilets are available.

William Heise County Park

This campground has a little bit of everything and is super family friendly.  It’s located in the mountains just outside of Julian in San Diego county.  Even though this is a reservation only campground, we had no trouble getting a last-minute site in March and October although I hear it gets pretty busy in the summer.  Most of the campsites have really good shade and you are surrounded by trees.  Wild turkeys will keep you from sleeping in when they come squaking through the campsites every morning.  William Heise has a great playground for the kids as well as some really easy hikes that cross little streams.  They have flushing toilets, water and hot showers.  Another unique thing about this campground is they have a few cute little rental cabins if you aren’t into camping outside.  The cabins go for $50 a night and have heaters to keep you toasty on a cold night.

Carpinteria Beach – California State Park

Our second choice for beach camping is Carpinteria.  There are a couple of drawbacks to Carpinteria for us.  It’s a reservation only campground and summer books up months in advance, so this is a campground we have to hit “off season”.  Even in the off season, it is still crowded on weekends.  Also, the sites are right next to each other, not too much room for privacy.  Getting a beach site is a MUST when you are here, they are worth the crowds and a little planning ahead.  A few good things about Carpinteria are flushing toilets and water is available.  Also, you are literally in the middle of a town, so if you forget anything the store is only a short walk away.  The Amtrak train runs right behind the campground a few times a day and the kids love it.

Mountain Oak – Angeles National Forest

We recently discovered a new camping area just past the small town of Wrightwood in the San Gabriel Mountains.  Mt. Oak is a small and quiet campground with some reservation sites and some first come first served sites.  Just a short walk across the road from the campground is Jackson Lake, a small little fishing lake stocked with trout.  The campsites are good sized, very clean and not too close together.  They have flushing toilets and water spigots throughout the campground.  We took a drive to the Grassy Hollow visitors center and found a nice easy hike for the kids.  We also checked out another campground in the area called Table Mountain, this campground will be on our list for next year.

The Beef Run…

Alice and cowsA few years back we made the decision to “go organic” as much as we possibly could with the food we eat.  It has been a pretty easy thing to do with a Trader Joe’s around the corner and a fabulous garden in our yard.  The only challenge I was really facing was in buying meat.  Finding organic, free range chicken hasn’t been a problem, they even sell it at Costco now.  My dilemma was in finding organic, free range, 100% grass fed beef in the stores and at a price we could actually afford.  Our solution: find a ranch and purchase our organic, grass fed beef directBeef Run 2011!!!

Oh yes, we could have had our beef delivered, but where’s the fun in that???  Instead I grabbed my vegetarian sister, loaded the Tahoe with 7 Igloo coolers, dropped the kids at grandma’s house, headed up the California Coast and made a weekend out of it.  

  • Car snacks & good conversation – check
  • Olive oil tasting at Rancho Olivoscheck
  • Wine tasting at Brandercheck
  • Blackberry & strawberry picking at Summerland Organic Farm – check
  • Tanning by the pool at the Skyview Motelcheck
  • Dinner at Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos – check
  • Purchase 190 lbs of organic, grass fed beef from Nick Ranchcheck

Alice at Summerland FarmRancho OlivosWine at Flatbread

I spent hours on-line researching grass fed beef and learning as much as I could to make a good decision for our family.  I found a good internet resource called Eat Wild.  From that site I found several ranches in California that could provide us with the beef we needed.  After reading several websites and emailing a few ranches I decided on Nick Ranch.  Going directly to Nick Ranch and meeting Juanell and her husband Dave, the family who raised our beef, and seeing the beautiful landscape of the Pozo Mountains made our experience even better.  I’m already looking forward to Beef Run 2012…

Nick RanchDale & Juanellthe beef

My first attempt at growing garlic was a success, now I’m just bummed that I didn’t plant more!!!  So, what do to with 2 1/4 pounds of garlic???  That’s easy, make a bowl of Alice’s garlic herb cheese dip.  Grab a box of crackers and a glass of wine and you’re all set.

Garlic Herb Cheese Dip

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 cup white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (or 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning)
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 4 – 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh chives
  1. Using a food processor, blend all ingredients until combined.
  2. Chill for several hours and serve.


We are so lucky in Southern California to be able to grow herbs and veggies all year round.  My garden has been going strong this fall and winter with a variety of lettuces, beets, carrots, onions, garlic, strawberries and potatoes.  As usual, I always grow way too many herbs and I hate to see them go to waste.  I’ve borrowed an idea I saw at Trader Joe’s to preserve my herbs so I always have them fresh and ready to use…I FREEZE them.

First pick and then wash the herbs.  In these photos I’m using Italian Parsley…one of my favorite herbs, that I use in almost everything it seems.

Fill the food processor as full as it will go with herbs and add a tiny bit of water.  Then “pulse” the herbs until they are finely chopped.  I usually stop the food processor a few times and push the herbs down from the sides of the bowl towards the middle.  You can also use a knife to chop the herbs, it will just take longer than using the food processor.

Using regular ice cube trays, pack the trays with the chopped herbs, pushing them down to compact the herbs.  Pour water into the trays just until you see it reach the top of the herbs.  Place in the freezer and freeze until solid.

Finally, pop out the frozen herb cubes and place them in a labeled Ziplock freezer bag.  Each cube contains approximately 2 Tablespoons of fresh herbs.

Robin’s Margarita

This is my best friend Robin, and she knows a thing or two about making a really good margarita.  I thought I’d share a recipe I learned from her about 10 years ago and have been making ever since.  These margaritas are perfect for camping or anytime and they go oh so well with the camping tacos I just posted.

Robin’s Margarita

  • 1 (12 oz) can frozen limeade concentrate
  • 12 oz tequila
  • 12 oz beer (Mexican beer preferably)
  • 6 oz cold water
  • ice (lots of ice)
  • lime (cut into wedges)
  1. Pour the limeade, tequila, beer and water into a large pitcher; stir with a long-handled spoon until completely blended and the frozen limeade has completely melted.
  2. Add in lots of ice to the pitcher and stir again.
  3. Serve in a glass over more ice with a lime wedge.

To make it extra special…and why wouldn’t you want it extra special…pour in a bit of Grand Marnier right before serving!!!

For Frozen/Blended Margaritas

If you’re making these at home and you like a blended margarita, use the same ingredients as above except don’t add the 6oz of cold water.  Just use equal parts limeade, tequila and beer.  Fill the blender to the top with ice first, then add 6 oz limeade concentrate, 6 oz tequila and 6 oz beer.  Blend until smooth.  Serve as above, and don’t forget the Grand Marnier!!!

Every year we make our way 3 hours north and spend a few days camping at Jalama Beach in Santa Barbara County.  My new favorite “beach camping dinner” is slow-cooked Achiote pork tacos.  They are so easy and delicious and you cook them all day in a pit in the sand!!! Here’s how to do it:

Achiote Pork Tacos

  • 3.5-ounce package achiote seasoning paste
  • 1/2 cup fresh squeezed lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 3-pound bone-in pork shoulder roast
  • 1 large white onion, sliced about 1/4 inch thick
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Reynolds Oven Cooking Bag

Place 1/2 package of the achiote seasoning (found at any Mexican market) in a small bowl.  Pour in 1/2 cup lime juice and 2 teaspoons salt, then use the back of a spoon to work the mixture into a smooth, thickish marinade.  Open the cooking bag and place the pork inside.  Pour the marinade over and around the roast.  Scatter the white onion over the meat.  Pour 1/2 cup water around the meat.  Seal the cooking bag.  Wrap the meat (that’s already sealed in the cooking bag) in several layers of aluminum foil, then place inside a disposable aluminum baking pan.  Cook all day (about 8-10 hours) buried in the sand…the meat will be fall-off-the-bone tender!!!  Use tongs to transfer the meat and onions to a serving dish/bowl and pour the left over cooking juices over the meat.  Shred the meat using two forks.  Serve with tortillas and your favorite taco toppings.  See below for photos on how to set up the pit and cook…

Alternate cooking instructions, for making these tacos at home: In a large (6 to 8-quart) Dutch oven, or heavy pot, assemble the dish as described above except don’t use the cooking bag.  Place the roast inside the Dutch oven and cover with a lid.  Braise in a 300-degree oven for about 3 hours, until the pork is thoroughly tender.

Instructions for creating the cooking fire and pit:

Scour the beach and gather several medium and large rocks to be used in the fire pit to cook the pork.  Put them off to the side for later use.  (A very good reason to have kids and invite your family and friends to go camping with you!!!)  While the rocks are being collected, dig a pretty good size hole/pit.  Approximately 3 feet deep and 5 feet across.  Fill the hole with firewood and set it ablaze.  When the fire has burned down a bit, it’s time to add the rocks.  Let the rocks heat up in the fire until all the wood has burned down and you are only left with hot coals and rocks. 

Now it’s time for the meat!!!  I don’t really recommend doing it barefooted like in the photo, but hey we’re camping and safety is up to you.  Place the meat on top of the rocks/coals.  Place a couple of rocks and a shovel full of hot coals on top of the meat so the heat will fully surround the meat.  Now all that’s left to do is fill the pit back up with sand and relax while your dinner slowly cooks to perfection throughout the day.

OK…8-10 hours later…you’ve had a fabulous day and now you’re ready for a margarita and some fabulous pork tacos.  Grab a shovel, a couple of friends and start digging.  Please be careful though, as you dig down the sand is still very hot and you gently want to search for your treasure.  Once you’ve unearthed dinner remove it from the sand while wearing gloves or using oven mitts.  Carefully tear away the aluminum foil surrounding the meat and cut into the cooking bag.  Place the pork and it’s cooking juices in a serving dish/bowl and using two forks shred the meat into smaller pieces.  While the pork is being dug up I heat up several corn tortillas and put them in a tortilla warmer and bring out all the fixings.  We usually serve our tacos with: diced onions & cilantro, salsa, and crema.  

Of course, most of the real “work” is done by Steve, I just take credit for prepare the meat and fixings.  When’s the next camping trip???

Dinner by the campfire...life doesn't get much better!!!

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