Archive for the ‘California’ Category

Oyster Picnic at Hog Island

January 25, 2012

I am extremely lucky to have a good number of adventurous, food-loving friends who think nothing of dropping everything to travel hundreds or thousands of miles for the promise of good grub.

Kerry drove through a blinding blizzard in Vermont once to get us to Montreal for beer and poutine. Leslie orchestrated a trip to Memphis just so we could ride her coattails through the Memphis in May barbecue championships. And Ku? Ku guided five adults and a cranky toddler through several neighborhoods in Beijing so that we could try authentic hot pot before heading back to the U.S. Stressful? Nah, they live for this stuff, and it’s my luck to sometimes get to come along for the ride.

This is how, on a rainy Sunday in November, I found myself spreading old newspapers on a damp picnic table at the edge of a sandy spit jutting out into Tomales Bay, California. We were at Hog Island, and we were ready to eat some oysters.

View of the flats at low tide

How did we get here? My intrepid friend Kerry, the aforementioned beer-loving snow driver, began planning this picnic as soon as we’d finalized plans to meet at my mom’s place in Northern California for Thanksgiving. Kerry also loves oysters, and Hog Island is one of the most renowned local purveyors of the briny bivalves. They also have a very cool picnic area at their Marshall farm, where you can buy oysters straight from their beds to eat raw or cook up on the grill. The Hog Island folks provide shucking knives, lemons, a delicious mignonette called “Hog Wash,” and sell wine, beer, and assorted other snacks from an upended boat-turned-snack bar. What more could you ask for on a winter’s afternoon?

There was the matter of the rain – pounding down in sheets as we meandered up Highway 1 – but we were undeterred. After a quick stop  in Point Reyes for some dried fruit at Toby’s Feed Barn and delectable Mt. Tam triple cream cheese from Cowgirl Creamery, we tooled up the road, parked on the shoulder, and hauled our goodies – including a magnum of bubbly, a given with the menu and the presence of the Diva – to a table facing the bay, breathtaking even in the fog.

Our picnic.

 Once we got things set out and picked up three dozen Hog Island Sweetwaters and a dozen Kumamotos, we got down to the serious business of shucking. Luckily, Carl is a former professional, and Kerry, Sean, and the Diva were quick learners. I acted as supervisor and cocktail waitress.

Sean: shucking is serious business.


Carl shows Diva Armida how it's done

After a while, the picnic area filled up with other groups celebrating birthdays, early Thanksgiving, and generally having a fun time. The sun came out and the whole place took on the air of a great big oyster hoedown, helped along with numerous bottles of wine and the good cheer of our hosts and fellow picnickers.  As we discarded our trays of shells and packed up to head back across the county, full of oysters and smiles, I was once again reminded that good friends – and good food – are worth more than gold.  

No sun? No problem! Happy picnickers in front of "The Boat"


Aftermath of a great afternoon


Christmas in CA, Part Two: Xmas Eve at the Casa de Turner

December 30, 2008

Christmas tradition for me means spending Christmas Eve Southwest-style in San Anselmo at Stephanie and David’s house, feasting on Helene’s guacamole, Steph’s turkey and black bean chili, cornbread, and lots and lots of wine.

This year I was on cornbread duty. I considered making Absolute Mexican Cornbread, an old favorite from Boston days (I distinctly remember a BBQ at the Diva‘s place in Central Square where a pan disappeared in about 10 seconds flat – there’s nothing like it when you are drinking copious amounts of margaritas) that is consistently amazing, but in the interest of “health” and time I went with a slightly doctored mix version that still turned out pretty darn good.

Although I really missed my annual visit with Stephanie’s mom Betty, who always told me how thin and lovely I looked, it was fun to catch up with Brad and Linda, who were down from Oregon, and to see RJ, Coley, Robbie, Bobby, and Helene as well. Arj and I had a particularly good time goofing off during dinner which as usual was muy delicioso. All in all, a very merry night indeed.


Drinking bubbly pre-dinner.


The guys.


Mom and Steph


Us kids.


RJ enjoying lava cake, in extreme closeup.


Cornbread In A Hurry, For the Masses


2 boxes Trader Joe’s Cornbread Mix

1 can diced green chiles

1 cup shredded pepper jack or cheddar cheese

1/2 cup creamed corn (optional)


1. Prepare the cornbread mix as directed with oil, eggs, and water.

2. Add in chiles, cheese, and creamed corn if using. Stir to mix.

3. Bake as directed, either in pan or muffin tins (if making muffins, cook for slightly less time and make sure to grease the pan well, trust me.)

4. Eat hot with butter or dipped in chili.

Christmas in CA, Part One: Travels and Friends

December 29, 2008

Although I was just home for Thanksgiving and planned on having a relatively low-key week in CA for Christmas, as usual fun things kept coming up so it ended up being a jam-packed “vacation.”

After taking James to the Academy of Sciences, went with mom and Steph to see Taj Mahal at Yoshi’s in Oakland. The last time I saw Mr. Mahal was circa 1996 at the New Orleans By The Bay show at the Shoreline Ampitheatre in Mountain View. As I recall, he was rockin and rollin, playing the piano and shakin it every which way. Today’s Taj is a bit older (he is touring to celebrate his 40th year as a recording artist), but still knows how to groove the blues and had the crowd on its feet nearly the whole show. As a bonus, I ran into Rebecca B., who I haven’t seen since high school!

Next, mom and I journied down the coast to Carmel for a night, stopping in Capitola and Monterey along the way. We spent some Christmases in Carmel when I was a kid and Aunt Rosella had a house right on the beach. I hadn’t been down there in years and even though it was raining when we arrived we had a great time wandering around town, stopping at the Hog’s Breath Inn for Irish coffees, and eating dinner at the Forge in the Forest, a truly magical little cottage serving great local cuisine with a nice wine list.

The next morning the skies had cleared and we got to walk on the beach in the December sun, another tradition from when we used to Christmas here back in the day. Even though Uncle Bill wasn’t around to stomp seaweed with me, it was still great.


The beach at Carmel.

After we returned north (following a delicious lunch in Half Moon Bay at the pub at the San Benito House – great crab melt!) I drove up to Sonoma for dinner with Darcy and Jake at Maya on the Square. I miss my friends now that they are down in the Golden State, and it’s always a fun time. Jake is now officially 1/2 way through law school, so we had a lot to celebrate, which we did with margaritas, tacos, gossip, and silly stories.



The next night was dinner – more Mexican food, which I can’t get enough of when I’m in CA – and drinks with Russell, Lia, John, and Lauren in San Francisco. We dined at Mexico DF down near the Bay Bridge, where I enjoyed a margarita xochimilco (tequila, hibiscus, and peach) and we shared copious amounts of guacamole, carnitas, hamachi ceviche, and butternut squash quesadillas. After that we headed to the bar at Epic Roasthouse where I continued my quest to sample all the Irish coffees in San Francisco. Rating: Better than the Hog’s Breath but I have yet to find an Irish that tops those at the good old BV.

While in CA I was also able to catch up with the Dufts who were also down visiting for the holiday, and had a great Christmas day cocktail hour (a semi-tradition) with the Staffords in Larkspur – thanks to Natalie for breaking out the delicious Mt. Tam cheese from the Cowgirl Creamery!

As the end of the year approaches, I’ve been reflecting on my life, the things that are important, and what makes me happy. I am incredibly lucky to have my wonderful circle of family and friends, people I’ve known for decades or just months. I am looking forward to spending more time with these important people in 2009.

Whooping it up in Wine Country

December 4, 2008

I almost entitled this post “Drinking: A Love Story,” but Caroline Knapp beat me to it. Oh well. Life’s been rather topsy turvy lately and it was great to have Armida (the Diva), Sean, and Kerry around in California to cheer me up and, of course, to help me drown my sorrows on a day trip to Napa and Sonoma.

It was a typically glorious late fall Sunday in Northern California and we started the day off right, with a breakfast picnic at the Oakville Grocery, overlooking the vineyards of Opus One and feasting on cheese, bread, oat scones, and panini.


After finishing breakfast we moseyed on over to Opus One so Armida could pick up a few bottles of Overture for her hubby Matthew, then headed over the Rutherford Cross Road to hit up Rutherford Ranch (nice Muscat) and Conn Creek, where we enjoyed an awesome tasting with Amy and emerged loaded down with bottles of the winery’s single AVA Cab Sauvs, the Anthology red blend, and Sauvignon Blanc.

After that it was nearly time for lunch (tough day, I know), so we zipped back over to Sonoma to meet Darcy at the El Dorado Kitchen right on the square in downtown. We lounged around on the back patio overlooking the pool, slurping mussels and truffle fries. Then time for a quick stop at the Cheese Factory before heading back out on the road for more vino.

After a quick stop at Angelo’s for an emergency beef jerky fix, we visited Gloria Ferrer for some sparkling wine for the Diva. GF is a great place to visit and enjoy, with a large outdoor patio overlooking the vineyards that feels right out of Tuscany.


After our bubbly we moseyed next door to Cline, one of my favorite wineries in Sonoma and one whose club it seems my entire CA circle of family and friends belongs to. Cline specializes in Zinfandel but they also make many other tasty varietals, including a Mourvedre Rose that is perfect for Thanksgiving and was on sale for a mere $4 a bottle. Needless to say, we scooped up several bottles.

From there it was on to our final stop before heading back to Napa for a delicious dinner at Darcy and Jake’s: Domaine Carneros. Yes, more bubbly! I’d actually never been to this winery before and was duly impressed by the French Chateau atmosphere, grand, Versailles-like tasting salon, and the cheese-and-sparkling wine pairing selections. It was a great way to end a great day with great friends.


Thanksgiving at Stinson Beach

November 30, 2008

For many years, my mom has been wanting to have Thanksgiving dinner at Stinson Beach, one of my favorite places. This year, with the impetus of wanting to give our out-of-town guests a unique CA experience, we finally did it, enjoying the holiday with our gang, Tom, the Turners, and the Hermans within steps of the sand and with the sounds of waves crashing around us.

We began cooking on Wednesday after Kerry, Sean, Sean’s sister Heather and her boyfriend Dan arrived from Truckee. My mom made the turkey and a delicious artichoke-parmesan-sourdough stuffing she pulled out of Sunset. Kerry prepared a brown rice and cranberry salad and a roasted beet salad with beets we’d picked up at the Ferry Building farmer’s market, and proved a maestro at gravy making. My contributions were a pecan pie and whipped sweet potatoes with struesel topping. Kerry also prepared a delicious cheese plate that we enjoyed as soon as we arrived.

We had a great time playing Jai-alai on the beach, drinking copious amounts of wine, wandering around enjoying the fancy table decorations of the groups around us in the picnic ground, and generally eating and being merry. Stephanie’s raspberry pretzel jello salad was a surprise hit and Tom’s roasted brussel sprouts with fennel were a great, non-traditional side dish.

After dinner it was back over the mountain to enjoy Heather’s pumpkin pie and apple turnovers, my pecan pie (which sadly was not my finest baking hour but still tasted ok despite the crust folding in on itself during baking) and Kerry’s pumpkin-chocolate chip bread at the house and a rousing game of Scattergories.

It was a great way to spend the holiday with a wonderful mix of family and friends.


Kerry and Sean enjoying a hard game of Jai-alai.


Bobby, Coley, and Helene on the beach.


The Thanksgiving table


The feast


Eatin’ on the beach.


Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Struesel Topping

adapted from


5 lbs sweet potatoes

3/4 cup flour

3/4 cup plus 1/3 cup brown sugar

14 tbs butter (1 3/4 sticks)

1/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts


1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Pierce potatoes with a fork and arrange on a foil lined baking sheet. Bake about 45 minutes or until tender. Cool.

2. Make the streusel. Combine flour, 3/4 cup sugar, chopped nuts, and one stick of butter in a bowl, and blend together with fingers until crumbly.

3. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh (I also found it easy to peel the potatoes and then chop up the flesh.) Add remaining 1/3 cup sugar and 3/4 stick butter (I melted mine first) and beat with an electric mixer or potato masher until desired consistency.

4. Spread potato mixture in a baking dish and cool completely. Sprinkle streusel over  top and bake about 40 minutes or until golden brown on top. Let sit a few minutes before serving. Also delicious at room temperature if you happen to be transporting to the beach or grandma’s house.

San Francisco Ferry Building

November 29, 2008

While in the Bay Area for Thanksgiving last week, Kerry, Sean, Armida and I hit the Saturday farmer’s market at the San Francisco Ferry Building.

I have a lot of childhood memories of walking through the then-empty building on our way to the Embarcadero after taking the ferry in from Larkspur. In those days the ferry building was rundown and dark. What a difference a decade or two makes! These days it’s bustling with gourmet food and produce stalls, small shops and eateries, and several days a week is home to one of the greatest farmer’s markets around.

It was a gorgeous SF fall day and we had a great time eating our way through the market and the market stalls inside. Here’s Sean enjoying some Hog Island Oysters:


We picked up some beets for Kerry’s Thanksgiving salad; dates; Rancho Gordo cranberry and Christmas beans; Stonehouse olive oil, and Cowgirl Creamery cheese assortment before heading to Chinatown for dim sum. On the way, we spotted these massive stalks of CA brussels sprouts – truly impressive!!


Blogs, Bubbly, and Biodynamics in Sonoma County

November 2, 2008

I headed down to Sonoma recently to attend the first annual Wine Bloggers Conference at the fabulous Flamingo Resort in Santa Rosa. The blogging sessions were informative and fun, but the highlight for me was an excursion to Quivira Vineyards in Dry Creek Valley, a small estate winery producing all of its wines biodynamically, which means that in addition to composting, water management, and solar power, winemaker Steven Canter enacts a number of processes of a more spiritual nature, designed to ensure harmony with the earth’s rhythms and lead to, hopefully, higher quality wine.

This includes burying ram’s horns filled with green manure from a lactating cow in a mound in the garden, unearthing them on the equinox, and adding to the compost pile to ensure the viability of compost from the estate.  Kind of wild, but listening to Steven talk, it was easier to understand the point of view of trying to sustain the unique qualities of the very specific vineyard space in perpetuity.

We enjoyed a great talk and tour of the vineyards, gardens, and winery with Steven, including a stroll through the herb garden of over 100 raised beds; visiting with the chickens, goats, and Ruby the wild boar; a snack of ripe figs that we pulled straight from a century-old tree; and a stroll up the hill for a panoramic view of the valley. 

After the tour we had a delicious lunch and wine tasting on the patio at Quivira, including house-cured salamis and home grown olives paired with a Fig Tree Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc and Grenache Rose and a delicious venison chili paired with a trio of newly released Zinfandels. The wines were complex and generous, with a great balance of fruit and tannins, but it’s hard to tell if the biodynamics add anything to the quality or if Steven is just a good winemaker with great vineyards to source from.

It was a great morning among the vines. Quivira also has one of the most impressive solar arrays I’ve seen, generating 100% of the winery’s power. I look forward to a return visit!

In addition to the conference and vineyard trip, I went to dinner with Stephanie at Willi’s Wine Bar in Santa Rosa, where we enjoyed Sonoma County bubbly (Schramsberg Brut Rose for me, Roederer Estate L’Ermitage for Steph) and a variety of small plates including pork belly-stuffed pot stickers, heirloom tomato salad, flatbread with roasted figs, prosciutto, fontina and truffle honey, seared scallops, filet minon sliders, and strawberry crepes. Everything was beautifully prepared and tasted amazing, and the atmosphere in the old house was hopping! It was a great capper to a great weekend.