From the Ground Up: A summer food adventure at Tomales Bay Oyster Farm
We all love to barbeque in the summer. We load up our grills with hamburgers, steaks, corn on the cob, even peaches and plums, enjoying our backyards, neighbors, and the Central Valley’s warm summer nights.
However, on those Central Valley days when the temperatures hit three digits and the heat hangs heavy in the air, when even barbequing seems to take too much energy, Ann and I both dream of the coast, just an hour and a half drive away. I dream of the cool marine air, the scent of the brine, the slap-slapping of the water’s edge, the luxury of slipping on a sweater as the temperature drops. And, we both think of oysters.
Our destination? Tomales Bay Oyster Farm, located on Highway 1, just outside the town of Marshall. There, every day of the week, Monday through Sunday, Tomales Bay Oyster Farm invites people to buy their oysters, bring a picnic and barbeque right there by the bay. They have the barbeques and the tables for you, but it won’t be your quiet backyard barbeque. It is more like a self-organized cook-out with 300 or so strangers at 50 to 60 tables and grills, except that the fact that everyone cooking and eating oysters creates a bonding you don’t often find outside of community feasts, like The Village Feast in Davis’ Central Park or in a French village.
There is no uniformity of presentation, accompaniments or quantity, but rather an eclectic extravaganza that celebrates individuality. Ann went there on a July weekend with a group of family and friends, packing linens, china, silver, and wine, salad, bread, fruit and sauce, along with wine, ice bucket, and other prepared foods for grilling. After they had finished their meal, she took a tour around the tables to see what everyone else was doing.
One table had a full eight-course meal. It started with the oysters, moved on to bacon wrapped scallops, then a beef steak which they cut into small pieces, then salmon, bacon wrapped asparagus, red, yellow and orange peppers (prepped ahead and transported in a gallon size zip lock baggie), sausage, mushrooms, and finally unshucked corn in its leaves on the grill. That was followed by fruit plates (watermelon, pineapple, and stone fruit), accompanied by one wine after another.
Another table sported an ice bucket, fluted glasses, and sparkling wine, readying itself for the barbequed oysters to come. Another table was decked with a traditional red and white checked cloth, loaded with lots of garlic bread, and bottles of red wine, definitely an Italian style feast.
There are the Asian, Mexican, and European accents at the farm, but it is all played out to Latin salsa music piped out through Tomales Bay Oyster Company’s loudspeakers. That’s the only music allowed, and for the most part, everyone seems to comply with that rule.
If you go, don’t forget the condiments to go with the oysters — herbed butter and a spicy sauce, which you can buy there or make. Moreover, don’t forget your oyster knife and gloves for “shucking.” If you do forget though, you can buy them there, plus charcoal briquettes. Most people seem to put tin foil on their grill, so you might want to pack that in your gear as well.
Plan on getting there early, about 10:30 a.m., especially on the weekends, as this “best kept secret” has a lot of fans and the tables fill up quickly. After lunch, there’s a stretch of beach for walking, and lots of that delicious, cool marine air to savor before the drive back to the Central Valley.
Closer to home, in Davis and Winters, there are two upcoming food events, both fundraisers, where you won’t be doing the cooking, but can enjoy a sense of community and a bounty of good food.
The 7th Annual Village Feast is Saturday, Aug. 27, starting at 1 p.m., and catered by Buckhorn Catering with food from the Davis Farmers Market, is a fundraiser for Davis Farm to School. Three hundred people sit down at long tables to a multi-course feast featuring grilled lamb and aioli, that unctuous garlic mayonnaise favored in the south of France.
A Day in the County, which raises funds for the Yolo County Land Trust, features more than 40 restaurants, many from the San Francisco Bay Area, cooking foods from Yolo County farms. It takes place on Sept. 11, and starts at 3 p.m.
Why not do them all? Oysters on the Bay, Feast in the Park, and A Day in the Country?
~ Tomales Bay Oyster Farm: http://tomalesbayoysters.com/#
7th Annual Village Feast: Tickets for the Village Feast are $65 per person and $55 for Slow Food Yolo members. For more information and to purchase tickets online, visit http://www.davisfarmtoschool.org. Tickets also may be purchased at the Davis Food Co-op, 620 G Street in Davis.
~ Yolo County Land Trust Day in the Country: Tickets for A Day in the Country are on sale now at http://www.yololandtrust.org/dayincountry.php
Grilled Oysters with Bacon and Cayenne Butter
(from Bon Appétit magazine, July 2010)
Use any leftover seasoned butter to make garlic bread, or put a pat on a grilled steak. The butter also freezes well. Wrapped tightly, it will keep for a month.
6 appetizer servings
Recipe by Francine Maroukian and Bryan Caswell
• Three slices hickory-smoked or applewood-smoked bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-wide strips
• One cup (two sticks) unsalted butter, cut into one-half-inch cubes
• Four garlic cloves, peeled
• One and one-half tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
• One and one-half tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
• One-half teaspoon cayenne pepper
• One-half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
• One-half teaspoon coarse kosher salt
• Two and one-half tablespoons dry white wine
• Two tablespoons fresh lemon juice
• Cook bacon in heavy medium skillet over medium heat until crisp. Using slotted spoon, transfer bacon to processor. Add butter, garlic, Italian parsley, cilantro, cayenne pepper, black pepper, and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Blend until smooth, occasionally scraping down sides of bowl. With machine running, gradually add white wine, then fresh lemon juice and continue to process until blended.
• Place large sheet of waxed paper on work surface. Drop butter by heaping tablespoonfuls onto paper in long log. Using paper as aid, shape butter into 2-inch-diameter log. Wrap to enclose; chill butter until firm, at least two hours. DO AHEAD. Can be made two days ahead. Keep chilled.
Slice butter into one-quarter to one-half inch slices and place on top of hot oyster on the half shell.
Enough for six servings, or 24 oysters
(Ann M. Evans and Georgeanne Brennan have a food and marketing consulting firm, Evans & Brennan, LLC, specializing in farm fresh food in school lunch. They co-lead Slow Food Yolo. Reach them at email@example.com.)