Oysters and Mustard Flowers: Escape Plan for Tomales Bay


The rain, the cold, the grey: Instead of running away from it, last week I embraced it and headed up to Tomales Bay which, to my mind, is best experienced in the winter. The crowds are gone, fields of hot yellow mustard flowers pop off the mottled grey sky, the bay is calm and moody and the oyster-eating is very, very fine. Add a fire to this scenario and the word hunker suddenly doesn't seem so silly after all.

Here's the escape plan:

1. Why wait for the weekend? Feign sickness. Everyone's got a cold right now, public service announcements threaten the plague if we don't stay home with the smallest sniffle: It's the ideal time to play hooky. Hold your nose, call your boss and take a mid-week day or two off. Cell phone reception is zero along Tomales Bay. It's not your fault that you can't call in. You're on your "death bed," anyhow.

Have a glass of wine on the pier at Nick's Cove. Image by Sara Deseran

2. Book a night at Nick's Cove. Pat Kuleto's series of quaint-on-the-outside, posh-on-the-inside waterfront cottages look out onto the glassy water, the real Hog Island, bird-watching galore and rolling green hills. Key for wnter getaways: insanely comfortable beds, wood-burning stoves and some have deep tubs and bath salts for soaking.

3. Pack the car with chilled Champagne or Sancerre and drive up Sir Francis Drake (rather than the quicker route off 101 to Old Redwood Hwy), stop in Point Reyes to pick up some picnic fixings from Cowgirl Creamery at Tomales Bay Foods (just the crunch of gravel beneath your car tires is enough to let you know you've left SF, but the prices of artisanal ingredients will keep your bucolic fantasy in check). Pick up some of their new double-cream cheese, Devil's Gulch, dusted with warming sweet and spicy pepper flakes, some crusty bread and some sides.

4. Wrap your scarf around you, put on your coat and stop at any of the oyster farms (Tomales Bay Oyster Co, Hog Island or Drakes Bay) for a picnic lunch. Get shucking.

Mustard flowers in bloom everywhere. Image by Sara Deseran

5. Stop and admire the fields of mustard. Take a picture but resist the temptation to do a reenactment of the Sound of Music, running through the fields and singing. It's muddy. Very muddy. And gnatty. You're from the city and might be wearing a nice pair of knee-high boots. (Or maybe that was just me.)

6. Check into Nick's Cove and make a 7:30 dinner reservation. In your cabin, do the hunkering thing by the fire or walk down the private pier at Nick's Cove to a little shack where board games and more wood-burning stoves await you, drink more wine, let it all go.

7. Dine at the restaurant beneath the stuffed animal heads. Watch the winter olympics on the TV by the bar. Eat more oysters. Have a blood-orange and fennel salad. Have dishes like escolar with carrot-cumin puree. Leave with some chocolate-covered strawberries and some dessert wine to have back in your cottage.

8. Pass out under a mountain of down comforter and arise in the morning to have breakfast in bed.

9. Call work and feign sickness again. Hand over your credit card. Repeat.

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