Friday, October 16, 2009

The world is your...

B and I have been making great use of our 101 Great Hikes in the Bay Area book recently. There are a lot of beautiful spots around, and, now that the fog-ridden summer has passed, the weather has been sunny. Except (notably) for the freak rainstorm earlier this week that showed us that the drain on the back patio was clogged with accumulated eucalyptus leaves and silt; the overflow temporarily filled the garage and our downstairs neighbor's apartment with muddy water. We were delighted, truly delighted, to have the opportunity to learn that plumbers can snake outside drains the same way they snake indoor ones. Thankfully, the problem is now fixed.

But back to the hikes. In the past few weeks, we've been to the Point Bonita lighthouse (we spotted whale spouts off the coast), Hill 88 in Marin Headlands (a former military radar installation with expansive views of the city), and Tomales Point (extremely windy, but we spotted the tule elk as the guidebook promised). Here we are in Marin Headlands.

Recently, I've decided that I like oysters. Raw oysters, that is. I'd always liked them cooked, and we used to have smoked oysters on stoned-wheat crackers on picnics when I was a child. My main previous experience with raw oysters was nearly a decade ago. The year after college, I lived in England for a year, and JB met me in Nice so that we could explore Provence for a week.

We spent one night in Monaco. We visited our third jardin exotique of the trip (filled with cacti and not worth a visit if you're from Southern California), watched the changing of the guard at the castle, walked down a sidewalk-free stretch of road that may or may not have been where Princess Grace died, and visited the famous casino. (For future reference, do not wear jeans to the famous casino. Women in long red dresses with diamonds will sweep by, looking down their noses at the stupid Americains.)

Before the casino, we went out to dinner. Unlike the women at the casino, our waiter was enchanted with the American girls. So enchanted, in fact, that he presented us with a complimentary appetizer. We each received an absolutely enormous raw oyster on the half-shell. We couldn't turn them away—our nice waiter would be offended—so I choked mine down.

Then I looked over at JB's plate; she doesn't eat shellfish at all. Her oyster seemed even larger than mine. Our waiter shot a glance over to our table to make sure we were enjoying our oysters. We didn't want to upset him!

I choked yet another oyster down.

And that was the end of my raw oyster eating for years. But then, a few months ago, B and I ate brunch with my parents at Foreign Cinema and had some sweet and briny Kumamoto oysters. They were a revelation! Much smaller and more manageable than whatever I'd eaten in Monaco. And so delicious.

When B and I went for our hike to Tomales Bay, then, we knew we had to stop at the Hog Island Oyster Company.

We bought some oysters at the stand, learned the elements of oyster-shucking, and made our way over to the picnic tables overlooking the bay. As you can tell, B was intent. So was I.

B is better than I am at a lot of things, but it turns out that I'm a better oyster-shucker than he is. I felt like I was ready for Top Chef by the end of it.

We can't wait to go back to Hog Island with a crowd of people to use the barbeques on the patio and have a full-on picnic. The sea air, the briny oysters, the warm sun altogether added up to an idyllic afternoon. I'll never think about oysters the way I did before. Enjoy!

Oysters on the Half-Shell
Serves: 2

18 fresh oysters
1 lemon, halved

Place a glove on your left hand, and place the flatter side of the oyster face-up. Put the sharp end of an oyster knife (conveniently attached to the tray at Hog Island) through the hinge, and rock your hand back and forth until it gives (it takes some force). Keeping the knife parallel to the ground, swing the knife around the left side of the oyster to detach the muscle. Remove the top shell. Detach the muscle from the bottom shell without disturbing the oyster and its liquor. Squeeze some lemon juice on top, slurp, and enjoy.

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