I have often said that my hometown of Schenectady, NY, is a lovely place to be from. I mean, it's a much underrated part of the country, rich with charm and history, but I spent my adolescent years pining for the great big world out there. I knew I was destined for a different place.
After leaving New York State, I had my dalliances. In the summer of 1990 I had a torrid affair with Santa Fe, NM, rocky and passionate. I even returned for a second summer, which was like going back to a boyfriend, only to remember why you broke up in the first place. In between I had a slow, steady and almost serious relationship with Sacramento. But I just wasn't ready for that kind of commitment.
That's when I met San Francisco. This was the city that, intellectually, I was meant to be with -- after all, we have so much in common. And eventually I did fall in love with this newest companion, for mind as well as body, but it took a solid year. Luckily, that perseverance has paid off with a rich and nuanced love that has paid itself back many times over across the years.
But secretly, scandalously, I love another.
It's not that I don't appreciate San Francisco for all that it is. But as often as I can, I sneak away (with my husband, ahem) from San Francisco to be with the Sonoma Coast.
This is no passing fling. DPaul and I have taken holidays up and down the coast over the past 15 years or so, renting homes in remote and placid Sea Ranch, tiny Jenner, and famous but still surprisingly off-the-grid Bodega Bay.
Call me corny, but I feel an undeniable thrum of the heartstrings when I am surrounded by the ionized sea air and the roar of the waves crashing on the shore. I know in the very core of my being that I am where I belong. Of course I swoon on the diamond days when the sun sparkles on bluegreen seas, but I am no less in love when moody storms rage and the skies cry cold tears of rain. The coast's moods are my moods; we understand each other.
And then there's the food. Whereas San Francisco tantalizes me with its sophistication and diversity, with food that challenges the mind as well as the palate, the coast serves me up dishes from its soul.
The western part of the county is peppered with blink-and-you-miss-them towns, sometimes just a cluster of Victorian structures. Towns so small they make Bodega Bay look like a veritable metropolis -- though Bodega itself doesn't even have a traffic light. Many of these towns have something on offer that makes them worth the trip, not that the trip isn't its own reward.
Heading south on Route 1, I am constantly amazed how the road grows ever more rural, despite technically drawing nearer to the city. Near the end of the long, straight bay where the earth has been rent asunder by the San Andreas Fault, oysters await. I'll gleefully order up a dozen in any number of establishments in the city, but if you've never had Tomales Bay Oyster Company's bivalves plucked fresh from the cold waters of Tomales Bay, you have never eaten an oyster, period.
The coastal areas are dominated by dairy farms, so the landscape is unspoiled, undulant and verdant. Farms proudly hang their badges for having been Dairy Farm of the Year. I cannot help but wonder whether there is a fancy awards show to mark the occasion. Is there a red carpet? Do cows get disqualified for having udder implants? I suppose I shall never know.
Just a few miles inland from Bodega Bay, the picayune town of Freestone basically has just two things: Osmosis spa, where you sweat out toxins in a bath of fermenting wood shavings (yes, you get sawdust in every crevice, and yes it's worth it), and Wild Flour Bakery. Wild Flour's loaves are hardy, heavy and laden with too much whole wheat flour; in other words, hippie bread. And I can't get enough of it. This go-round we picked up a garlic rosemary loaf for dinner, and then spontaneously grabbed a seasonal loaf with dates, cranberries, walnuts and cardamom. Bring your own patchouli oil.
During this last trip we mused on what our last meal would be. I think we may have had it that night. Freshly-shucked oysters, briny and plump. Live crabs steamed à la minute and eaten with neanderthal violence. Globe artichokes braised until they have the aroma of tea. Drawn butter. Aioli. Hippie bread. A perfect meal in the place I am meant to be. I can die happy.
Sam is also a fan of Wild Flour Bread
I'm jealous that Hunter Angler Gardener Cook went crabbing on Bodega Bay
Food Migration chows downs at the Tomales Bay Oyster Company oyster feed