We joined a group of kayakers, backpackers, and beachcombers aboard an Island Packers boat in Ventura Harbor, California, to cross the 20 miles of Santa Barbara Channel to Santa Cruz, one of the Channel Islands.
The mountains, canyons, and craggy coastline cliffs of Santa Cruz provide a glimpse at the original California. Santa Cruz is home to the island scrub jay and island fox. Neither are found anywhere else in the world. Shortly after we arrived on the island, two foxes, the size of domestic cats, appeared out of nowhere. With sandy red-gray fur and fluffy tails, they circled our feet like puppies. The Park Ranger warned us not to share our lunches, as doing so would contribute to the endangerment of their species. The foxes are not the only characters on the island, a weekend camper described to us how ravens managed to unzip her backpack and steal her chapstick.
A web of trails took us to vistas of wildflowers and panoramas of the Channel, where we breathed in the scent of hot sun on wild grasses and felt the heat radiating from bare rocks.
Santa Cruz offers many ideal beach locations for a fresh fish shore lunch.
This recipe can be prepared with a griddle on the grill, over a campfire, or on a stovetop.
FRESH FISH SHORE LUNCH:
(makes 3-4 servings)
1/2 cup (125 ml) flour
1/2 tsp (2.5 ml) salt
1/4 tsp (1.25 ml) pepper
1/4 cup (60 ml) beer, any style
12 ounce (340 g) large bag salt and vinegar potato chips
1 pound (454 g) perch fillets or fresh catch of the day
2-4 tbsp (30-60 ml) butter
3-4 cups (750-1000 ml) frozen hash browns
14 ounce (398 ml) can baked beans in tomato sauce
- In a bowl, combine the flour, salt, and pepper. Set aside.
- Place the beer and the egg in a separate bowl. Whisk until the two ingredients are well mixed. Set aside.
- Put the potato chips in a resealable plastic bag. Crush the chips into small pieces. Place the crushed chips in a third bowl. Set aside.
- Place an oiled griddle on the grill grate. Preheat the grill on high (550-600°F/290-315°C) for 10 minutes with the lid closed. Turn the heat down to medium (350-450°F/175-230°C).
- Rinse the fillets. Pat the fish dry with paper towels. Dip the fish fillets into the bowl of flour. Shake excess flour away. Dip the fish into the egg mixture to coat the entire fillet with liquid. Dip the wet fillet into the crushed potato chips. Place the breaded fillets on a plate.
- Melt and spread the butter over the griddle. Place the hash browns on one side. Brown the potatoes.
- Make a hole in the center of the hash browns on the griddle. Fill the hole with the baked beans.
- Place the fillets in the butter on the open side of the griddle. Turn the fish after 5 minutes or when the breading is golden brown. Cook, lid down, for 2 to 3 minutes.
- Remove the toothpicks before serving.