Thursday, June 12, 2008

Bodega Bay in a Chowder Bowl

Up at Bodega Bay on a gorgeous clear day recently, I stumbled across the Spud Point Crab Co. on the road to Bodega Head and the Bodega Marine Laboratory, where I was headed to do research for an article (which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle June 22). There was a line out the door and I wasn't hungry yet, but when I saw the sign warning that crab cakes often sell out by noon I had to wait and order some -- they are one of my favorite foods. Tony and Carol Anello run the place, which is nothing fancy, just a couple of picnic tables outside. He's a crab fisherman and she's the cook. They live in the neat, one-story house next door and take only Wednesdays off. During crab season, the crab cakes and crab sandwiches are made with the catch that Tony hauls in each morning from the waters outside the bay. When I told them I was running out to the lab for hike and a tour (the lab is only open on Fridays 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.) but I didn't want to miss their crab cakes, they said they would set aside a couple for me to have later. I returned just before they closed at 5 p.m. and the scene had quieted. Tony and Carol dished up some of their delicious clam chowder and cooked up a couple of those superb crab cakes -- chunks of fresh crab with a light, crisp crust -- and told me the story of how Carol decided to turn her chowder -- which had always drawn raves from family and friends -- into a business. The Spud Point Crab Co. has only been open since 2004, but it has built a rabid following due to Carol's cooking. On a recent Wednesday morning, Carol woke to find a note on her front door: someone from the Midwest claimed to have driven all the way to Bodega Bay for a bowl of her chowder only to find the doors locked. "They said they would come back and I hope they do," Carol said.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Lazy days at Shasta

When you see some of its 370 miles of shoreline, there's no doubt why Lake Shasta is one of the most popular places for houseboating in the U.S. The lake was formed by four rivers -- the Sacramento, McCloud, Squaw and Pit -- whose waters are contained by Shasta Dam. The result is a lake -- the largest in California -- with hundreds of coves, shores of evergreen trees and 14,000-foot Mt. Shasta towering in the distance. On a recent trip up to the area I got the opportunity to view both some of the typical boats available and the most lavish of a new generation of houseboats which have opened up the upscale market to houseboat companies. Seven Crown Resorts is the largest of the companies at Shasta and one of the three largest houseboat firms in the U.S. with fleets also in the Sacramento Delta. Its boats offer some of the lowest rates with one, the Cascade, starting at $750 for a two-night rental. All the boats have air conditioning, a full kitchen, a gas barbecue, large ice chest, bathroom with shower and sundeck and deck chairs. They have always been -- and continue to be -- a popular choice for families and groups of friends who share the costs of a houseboat vacation, making it a good value. The more lavish boats included those from some other companies --, Shasta Marina Resort, Holiday Harbor and Silverthorn Resort. These are not the typical houseboats (prices can be up to $17,000 per week) that you may have rented in college or with your family. They have large flat-screen TVs, gleaming kitchens with full-size appliances and granite counter tops, hot tubs, and full bars on sundecks, plush carpeting in bedrooms and decor throughout that looks like it belongs in the pages of a glitzy interior design magazine. One of the oldest tourism groups in the state, the Shasta Cascade Wonderland Association, has a handy site with lots of information and links to the variety of houseboat vacation options.