I'm fresh off the plane from a two and a half week cooking vacation in my home state of California. The first ten days had me with family and friends in Tomales Bay in a house we rented after reading Christine Muhlke's cooking vacation story in Bon Appétit's April issue. It looked so good, I had to do it too. So we signed up, packed our bags, flew to San Francisco, stopped in San Rafael for provisions, and drove to a little town up the coast.
After ten days there, a stay that included visits from both my parents and also some friends from the food world, we drove down Highway One and into Los Angeles where we continued our cooking vacation with a week in the house where I grew up and my mom still lives. By the end of the trip my belly had devoured just about everything I love about food in California, with barely ever setting foot in a restaurant.
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When we arrived at the house, we had trouble opening the door, so we walked a few hundred feet down to Hog Island Oyster Company and asked if anyone could help. A few minutes later, the place was closed and the owner invited us to a picnic being cooked by some friends of his. Champagne went into our tumblers, fresh strawberries stained my daughter's mouth, and we had our first of hundreds of oysters. These were served grilled with a kimchi sauce. Brilliant.
Oysters were a theme of the vacation — a theme of the summer, really (I ate them and wrote about it in Croatia, too) — and it didn't take long before we started grilling our own with bits of bacon, butter, chopped herbs, onion. At $35 for 50 oysters there's still plenty of room to eat them raw. The ice we laid out for leftovers went unused.Marin Sun Farms, a mussel stew, wild salmon, a spicy citrus chicken, pies and tarts and cobblers, and on and on.
The first night was perhaps the most magical: we took a bowl, a cutting board, a few knives, and some olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper to the garden. Drinking wine we'd picked up on the way down in the Santa Ynez Valley, we chopped up all the crops that had ripened in mom's absence and called it dinner.
(images: Sara Kate Gillingham-Ryan)