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Photograph by Stephen Laufer

Dip to Shore: When they're not diving for fish, sea fowl enjoy the occasional order of chips and salsa.

Things Go Better With Rocks

From picnicking to barbecuing, it all tastes better outdoors, and best of all at the beach

By Christina Waters

Even if we do have to share it with most of the Central Valley, the beach beckons during these warm end-of-summer days.

Sometimes the beach is a backdrop to a walk or a siesta--the cliffs at Wilder for example, best viewed from the long looping trail that threads those artichoke fields and hidden lagoons. Here a daypack, a bottle of water and a power bar can suffice.

But sometimes the beach itself--you know, sand, waves, salt air--is the point. For this, you need an umbrella, sunscreen, a blanket, a cooler filled with liquids, and food. Also, there's a law in Santa Cruz that you must bring something to throw or toss (e.g. ball, frisbie). The ball will occupy you and help work up your appetite once you realize that the water is still too cold even for just a quick dip.

Somehow anything tastes better when it's consumed outdoors, especially with the sound of the ocean providing background music. Beach dining can be divided into two rough categories--The Picnic and The Barbecue. The first can be completely prepared in advance in the chaos-free setting of your own kitchen. Sandwiches tend to be an obvious favorite choice. Easy to make, easy to eat, easy as hell. Throw in bags of chips, some fresh fruit and cookies, and you're there.

Once you've hit the beach, your picnic can unfold in minutes simply by opening up the cooler and passing round the food. Then you throw empties, wrappers, napkins into the garbage bag you've brought with you and carry it all back to your car at the end of the day. If you opt for the classic beach barbecue experience, you will need to plan ahead and start that fire long before everybody is hungry. Bring some snack items to stave off the ravenous.

The beauty of the campfire is obvious. Marshmallows, kebabs, whatever you've got in mind can be cooked by each individual diner. Very interactive. Fires on the beach are undeniably romantic, and we of course are referring to fires that have been made in safe, rock-ringed fire pits and only where allowed.

More advance planning is required--condiments have to be packed in to the site, and there is a serious amount of messiness to be expected in the process of unwrapping, grilling and cleaning up. But if your life doesn't allow for some seaside messiness, you're just not doing it right. The best thing about a picnic on the beach, even something as basic as cheese and crackers, is that it forms the stuff of future Proustian memories. If you have young children, the beach itself will keep them busy and amused while you set up the meal. And if it's just you and your sweetie, you can kiss yourselves into a trance while those coals get good and ready. Waddell, Natural Bridges, New Brighton, Manresa, Seabright--this is why we live here. . . . Looking for some new and interesting wines? Try Soquel Vineyards' 2001 Merlot and 2002 Chardonnay--both took gold medals at the recent SC Mountains Commercial Wine Competition. . . .

PRODUCT OF THE YEAR: Grab a pen and write this down: McIlhenny Tabasco Green Pepper Sauce. Everybody knows about tabasco sauce, it's the stuff on counters in diners and breakfast joints all over America. For many males, tabasco is God, providing added joltage if not actual flavor to any known food substance. But the folks down in Louisiana, the McIlhenny family who have been making this fiery blend of vinegar and fermented red peppers since the Civil War era, have come out with another variation on the familiar hot sauce. This one is green and it even says so on the label. Mild compared to traditional tabasco, the new sauce is made of jalapeños and has a delicious zippiness. We discovered the stuff at a Carrow's in Barstow last June and immediately ran out and got some for our house. It does nice things to scrambled eggs, cottage cheese, tacos, even grilled salmon.

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From the August 20-27, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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