Weekend trip – west Sonoma County

Weekend trip – west Sonoma County

Two weekends ago for the Cesar Chavez holiday, we took road trip over to the coast, north of SF.  We hadn’t been to the Bodega Bay before and thought it’d be fun.  We found a nice quiet Air BnB that allows dogs.  Since check in wasn’t until 3 pm, we woke up on Friday and did our normal thing and packed and finally left the house after lunchtime.  It was a relatively short drive that took us past Napa and Sonoma and through Petaluma up into Sebastopol, a small town about 7 miles west of Santa Rosa.  Our Air BnB was actually located a few more miles west of this area up in a little hill/mountain area.  I really liked that there was a grove of Redwoods right outside the getaway.

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After getting settled in, we took the dog with us to one of the dog-friendly beaches, Doran Beach.  This was basically a small finger-like projection from the land and was the southern border of Bodega Bay.  When we arrived, it was low tide in Bodega and it looked more marsh-like than an actual bay.  Later on when we drove by it another day, it looked more like a bay and ocean so it was cool to see the two different levels.  Along this litter sliver of land were a bunch of people camping right by the beach and water.  The last time I camped was in MI where you drive up to the camp area and set up a tent.  Most people on this beach area had trailers or campers but also had some tents set up.  Reminded me of a different life I had.

The dog seemed to enjoy the beach though she gets tired really easily.  I ended up carrying her about 1/4 mile back to the car after we did our exploring.

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I’m a supermodel!
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Why so serious?!!?
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Happy dog

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Whale statue

We dropped the dog off at the Air Bnb and headed over to nearby Sebastopol to check out this hip new area called The Barlow.  Sometimes I am not very good at being decisive on where we should eat and The Barlow offered us a few different food options.  We settled on Vignette Pizzeria, a place for Neapolitan pizza.  I felt the pizza dough was a little too soft and soggy for me.  The center part of the pizza was extremely soft.  I noticed also that the crust was not fully cooked through.  I suspect it has to do with their really hot oven not allowing the inside to fully cook before the outside starts to char.  I will say though that the flavors were good.  Afterwards we had a beer at the Crooked Goat Brewing Company.

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I had the Silver Lining (Vanilla Bean Stout) and it was pretty good.  The rest of the Barlow is comprised of multiple buildings with boutique shops, coffee shops, etc.  We also walked by an ice cream place that was making their own liquid nitrogen coffee.  The air around that whole area smelled like sugar.

The next day I made the trek over to Tomales to the Tomales Bakery and picked up a croissant, ham/cheese croissant, and their morning bun.

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Overall it was tasty and then it was time to head out to the Armstrong Redwoods Natural Reserve, about a 40 minute drive north from where we were staying.  I’ve always enjoyed walking in the woods and growin up my family used to take many trips to various National and State parks all over the country.  It was already busy by the time we arrived and had to park on the road just outside the entrance area.  The forest bathing was a nice relaxing walk.

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Cool tubes made by beetle larvae

Redwoods are so amazing with just how tall they are.

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We stopped in Guernville (just south of the park) for some lunch at Boon Eat + Drink.  I didn’t expect to find a refined little eatery in this town because the exterior and street look like typical small towns in rural areas.  I had a decently upscale meatball pesto sandwich and a refreshing beer.

Our next stop was to Sonoma Coast State Park where the Russian River dumps into the Pacific Ocean.  I just love seeing the vastness of the ocean and watching the motion of the waves.  Something just so calming about it.  I used to go home from school on vacations and go to the beach just to watch the waves crash onto the beach.

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Russian River meet Pacific ocean
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Russian River meet Pacific ocean
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Seals
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My personal civic ad

From  the Sonoma Coast park we drove south along Hwy 1 back to Bodega and to our Air Bnb.

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We just hung out amongst the little redwoods at our cottage for the rest of the afternoon.  The weather was just gorgeous.

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Cool looking fork tree

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Prior to dinner we were going to do a short nature walk at the Laguna Wetlands Preserve but cut it short since it seemed like it was going to be a bit of a walk.  I did find some neat trees though.

Dinner was at the Gravenstein Grill and was quite tasty.  They had all day happy hour on Saturdays and we ate in the bar area.  I had a 1/2 dozen raw oysters on the half shell and we split some tasty fish tacos and a cheese plate.  We ended the night at Screamin’ Mimi’s Ice Cream.  It had to be good since there was a line out the door.  Who knew they were the #4 best ice cream in the US.  Overall I thought it was quite tasty.

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The next morning we got up and got ready to head back to Sac.  On our way out, we stopped at Wild Flour Bread to pick up breakfast and maybe a few extra items.  The wife went with a sweet type scone and I picked up a bacon and chive scone.  We also bought one of their Wheat sourdough boules and a potato, garlic, rosemary, jack cheddar and swiss Fougasse.  The scones were huge and mine had large pieces of bacon throughout.  The bread made for some good eating for lunches for the work week.

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In the end, it was a nice relaxing weekend away.  Our Air BnB host was also very nice and stayed out of our way.

-StewsCat

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Bread boules!!

Bread boules!!

A few weeks ago I decided to make some bread for my lunch (I’d bring the bread with some deli meat and sliced cheese – very European I know).  I decided to just make two boules and bring one for a co-worker who has asked for me to bring some bread for her previously (little did I know that she’d be out sick).  I went back and found an old recipe and tweaked it slightly.

Ingredients:

Preferment:

  • 350 g bread flour
  • 364 g water
  • 3 g yeast

Remaining ingredients

  • 350 g bread flour
  • 266 g water
  • 14 g salt

I mixed up the preferment and let it sit for about 30 minutes.  I then added that to the remaining ingredients above.  I mixed these up thoroughly and then let it sit for the water to absorb before I kneaded it.

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I then proceeded to knead it for approximately 15 minutes until it was relatively smooth and I could do the “window” test – not perfectly but close enough.  I then set it in a bowl, covered it and used the proof setting on the oven to allow it to rise (double in size).

I pulled the dough out, did the knead and fold method a few times with 30 minutes in between before dividing the dough into 2.

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I formed the dough into a ball and then placed it into a well floured kitchen towel inside of a bowl (one round and one square). I let the dough rise again until I could press down on the dough with my thumb and it would only spring back halfway (since it was warm, this only took about 45 minutes).  I pre-heated the oven to 425 F while the dough was rising.  I then placed each of the dough balls onto some parchment paper and made some cuts through the top.

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I have a pizza steel I use and placed the dough on it and sprayed water into the oven.  I repeated the spray after 10 minutes and reduce the temperature to 400 F.

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I don’t remember exactly how long I cooked them for but I think it was in the 25-30 minute range (internal temperature was 198 F).

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They came out looking pretty good.  I ended up giving one of the boules to my other co-worker who hadn’t called out sick.  The crumb turned out pretty good as well.

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Today I decided to just make one boule for my lunches for the week.  I followed the same basic steps above.  I did make this one with some wheat flour thrown in.

Ingredients:

  • 300 g bread flour
  • 200 g wheat flour
  • 360 g warm water
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 12 g salt
  • The only difference was that I put the risen dough into a preheated dutch oven (at 450 F).  I left it covered in the dutch oven for the first 10 minutes then removed the lid and dropped it to 390 F for an additional 25 minutes.  I haven’t cut into it yet so don’t know the crumb but it looked good from the outside.

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-StewsCat

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2018 Shamrock’n Half Marathon Race Recap

2018 Shamrock’n Half Marathon Race Recap

Last weekend I ran the Shamrock’n half marathon here in town.  I had previously done this race 5 years ago and actually PRed it with my only sub-2.  I hadn’t even done much speed work and somehow just mentally pushed myself to a sub-2.   This year I had no time goal and just wanted to run a decent race.

Race overview:  Easy packet pick-up, good amount of porta-potties at race start, flat and fast course, good weather, nice finish line amenities.

The night before the race I had my usual pizza pre-race meal.  Initially we were going to eat at Federalist Public House, but it was packed and so we ended up just getting the pizzas to go.  Race morning came early as per my usual.  I hadn’t realized that this race fell on daylight savings time until the week before the race.  So with the “spring forward,” I was getting one less hour of sleep than usual.  I didn’t sleep quite as well because of anxiety of the time change but probably managed a decent 5.5-6 hours probably, which is a lot better than when I first started doing races.

In the last 5 years, technology has really taken off and this year for parking you had the option of reserving a spot in one of the local parking garages/lots before race day.  On the web site they didn’t list the parking structure I previously parked in that wasn’t too far from the race start/finish.  I made the decision to park in Old Sacramento, which was about a 3/4 mile walk to the race start.  I chose that lot because it meant not having to take the freeway and also I was hoping to avoid traffic and it was a success.  The trek from the parking lot to Raley Field and the race start took me across the Tower Bridge.

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Tower Bridge
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Pyramid building & Sacramento River
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River Walk

 

The morning was shaping up to a beautiful day though I did see that fog was going to be present for a decent part of the early morning.  I didn’t really mind it though it did obscure the view of the river for much of the race as we ran along the bike trail.  One thing I remember from the last time I ran this race was that they had a good amount of porta-potties.  As I tend to need them multiple times before a race, I was quite appreciative of this fact.  I never had to wait in line for one, which is unheard of in races.

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Yay porta-potties
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Raley Field

The start of the race takes place just outside of the Raley Field, home of the minor league River Cats.

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Race start

They instituted a wave start to try to alleviate congestion on the course (much of the race takes place on a narrow two lane bike trail) and I was in the 2nd wave.  The waves were separated by 15 minutes so I didn’t start until 8 am.  This was nice because it meant I could sleep in a little more than usual and also gave me more time at the start.  They had a gear check (you actually picked up the bag there and they took your warm clothes, etc).

Right after you start the race, you cross the Tower Bridge into Old Town Sacramento.

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Old Town Sacramento is a touristy area where they’ve preserved the “old time west” feel and have a lot of kitschy little shops and restaurants.  Part of the roads are cobblestone and not flat.  A lot runners would swerve into the parking spots because they were asphalt.  I stayed the course and toughed it through the cobblestone.  The course was a little different from the one I had run 5 years ago.  Rather than coursing through the northern parts of Sacramento, we instead headed south.  A good chunk of the course overlaps with the Urban Cow half marathon (which I’ve done numerous times) so I was familiar with some of the terrain.  As mentioned before, a good chunk of the run was on fairly narrow trails so there were times where I was either swerving around people or just following people somewhat closely.  That’d probably be one of my gripes about the race.

My right knee had been feeling strange – some pain mostly when I would hyperextend the leg – the week before the race.  I wanted to just get through the race without injuring myself.  Surprisingly the knee felt good through much of the race.  I was debating doing a run-walk method as I’ve done in the past.  I ended up starting a run-walk method around mile 7, where I would walk for 1 minute after each mile completed.  I started off behind the 2:10 pace group and ended up passing them around the mile 5 mark.  They overtook me again by mile 9 and then I kind of followed them for the rest of race (usually within about 1/4 mile of them).  The 2nd of the race takes you all the way down to Land Park, which is a huge park in south Sacramento that has the zoo and some other cool sights.  This park is also the start/finish area for a good number of local races including Urban cow.  It was a little strange to run through the park and then back out of it since I was so used to finishing there.

Towards the latter half of the race, the sky came out and the fog cleared.  A few miles before the end of the race, you run by the Capitol and across the Tower Bridge again.

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California Capitol
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Tower Bridge
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Tower Bridge with some fog still

The last mile and a half is a bit deceiving because you cross the bridge (and Raley Field is immediately to the left – this is the finish line) but then have to hang a right and run along the river.  Then you come back to Raley Field and have to run around the parking lot before finally finishing on the field.  The finish line is near home plate.  It was fun to be able to run on the warning track/foul line area of Raley Field.

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Raley Field
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Finishers
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Me looking haggard

The other cruel thing they do is making you climb up the stairs to get out of the finisher’s chute.

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Most races these days have free post-race beer and this was no exception.  This year they had Lagunitas brewing.  They also had 3 different beer options to choose from: IPA, Pilsner, and Ale.  I had the Pilsner since it was the lightest.   These were no joke pours as well and I didn’t end up finishing my beer.  I also picked up a burrito – bean and cheese.  It was still very hot even though I had walked around with it for a while before eating.

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Lagunitas Pilsner & Burrito
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Post-race area

The title sponsor of the race is Blue Diamond Almonds, which is based in Sacramento, so they had tons of sample packs at the finish.  This was fun because I had no idea they had so many flavor options.

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Blue Diamond

I almost forgot that I had stuff at gear check so had to walk around the entire field to get that and then back to my car (so probably walked an additional mile after the race).  I got some shots as I was walking back to the parking structure.

Overall it was a good  race and I’m glad to have done it again.  I’m registered for the Buzz Oates RunSac series, which has rewards if you do a certain number of miles per year in a certain number of races.  The lowest mile goal is 40 miles, which can be done if I do 2 half marathons and 2 10-mile races.  I will probably sign up for a few more races this year to do the series.

The run-walk method netted me a decent total time.  In my mind, I’ve had this 2:30:00 time as something I want to stay ahead of for as long as I can.  I’m not anywhere near missing out on that time but we shall see as I get older.

Total time: 2:10:33 (9:58 min/mile)

StewsCat

Whole wheat burger buns

We forgot to buy some bread for the week for lunches and such so I decided I’d give my hand at making a burger bun to use for sandwiches.  I perused a few different recipes online and cobbled together my own version as below.

Ingredients:

  • Warm milk – 1.5 cups
  • Egg – 1 large
  • Melted butter – 4 Tbsp
  • Sugar – 2 Tbsp
  • Active Dry Yeast – 1 Tbsp
  • Salt – 1.5 tsp
  • Whole wheat flour – 3 cups
  • All-purpose flour – 1.5 cups
  1.  Mix warm milk, egg, melted butter, sugar, and yeast in a bowl and incorporate  until frothy.  Let sit for 5-10 minutes.
  2.  In a separate bowl, mix the 2 types of flours and the salt.
  3.  Add wet to dry and mix.
  4.  Dump mixture onto countertop and knead for 5-7 minutes.
  5.  Form into ball and place in oiled bowl and allow to rise (double in size) – ~45 min to 2 hours.
  6.  Punch down, pour onto countertop and separate into 8-10 pieces.
  7.  Let rest for 10 minutes before forming into balls.
  8.  Form each piece into a ball and then flattened to get more hamburger bun shape.
  9.  Allow to rise (mine didn’t rise as much as I’d like).
  10.  Apply egg wash to each bun.
  11.  Pre-heat oven to 380 F
  12.  Place in oven and cook for 15-20 minutes (I did 19 minutes).
  13.  Cover with kitchen towel for 15 minutes – I read this is supposed to help keep the bread rolls soft.
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Wet mixture
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Dry mixture
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Dough ball after kneading
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My not so even split of the dough into individual pieces
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Formed ball – then flattened.  I should have made sure the seam underneath was smooth because it cracked after baking
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Egg washed – just before going into oven
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Nice and brown
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Browned

Overall these came out okay.  I was hoping for wider and fluffier buns.  They turned out a bit dense and dry.  I baked them late at night (made them after work) and so left them out overnight to cool and that may have definitely contributed to the drying.  I made 2 of them for sandwiches for lunch today and noted that one of the buns did crumble and fall apart some.  I attribute that to the dryness.  I suspect another part of the denseness may be because I did not knead the dough enough initially to allow for proper gluten formation.  Another problem may be that I did not allow for proper rise times.  Our house typically is fairly cool and during winter time it is cooler, leading to a longer rise time (which I did not have because I have to sleep).

I’ll probably try something similar again in the future but maybe see if I can’t make it fluffier and less dense.

-StewsCat

Pizza dough comparison

Last month I tried a new pizza dough recipe.  A few months before that, I had read in Men’s Health about an easy pizza dough that did not require hours of preparation (I had been using a no-knead dough recipe that required an 18 hour rise (more details below).  I am always looking for both more efficient and tasty recipes for pizza dough.  My wife enjoys the one I had been making but I am all for tweaking and improving so I decided to try this new (to me) recipe.  I was fairly certain I had left the magazine in a spot in my treadmill room but lo and behold it wasn’t there.  I resorted to trying to google the same recipe and don’t know if it was the exact one I had read about initially but I went with it.

Quicker pizza dough ingredients:

  • 6 cups AP flour
  • 2 1/4 cups room temperature water (recipe called for cold water)
  • 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  1.  Add 3 cups of flour and 1/2 tsp yeast to 2 1/4 cups of water in a large bowl and combine
  2. In a separate bowl, mix remaining 3 cups of flour with the salt.
  3. I then added in the flour mix to the flour-water combination (from step 1) and kneaded it within the bowl for about 5 minutes.
  4. I let the dough rest – covered – for 30 minutes.
  5. The dough was separated into 4 (relatively) parts and 3 of them saved in saran wrap and frozen for later use.
  6. I split the dough into 2 balls and made pizzas from them.

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What I liked about this dough recipe is that the dough had developed a decent structure.  It was amenable to the stretching process and I felt like I could manipulate it without it easily tearing.  The downside is that there wasn’t a lot of gluten/gas development within the dough (due to the short time of sitting).  This resulted in a pizza dough that was relatively flat upon baking.  It created a thin crispy crust – kind of like a cracker instead of bread.

Taste-wise the dough was not bad.  It was a decent pizza but the dough didn’t really stand out much.  It was more about the sauce and toppings.

In contrast to the above, the following week I made my more usual recipe for pizza.  This dough involves sitting overnight (more like 18 hours) at room temperature to give the dough time to work on itself.  This is a “no-knead” recipe so there isn’t a ton of work on the dough itself.

No-knead dough recipe

  • 350 g AP flour
  • 245 g warm water
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast
  • 12 g salt
  1.  Mix 1 tsp acive dry east in 245 g of warm water and let sit for about 5 minutes
  2.  Combine flour and salt.
  3. Add water mixture to the flour mixture and mix until a cohesive wet dough is formed
  4. Let sit, covered, for 14-18 hours at room temperature
  5. I poured the dough out and made a rectangle and divided this dough into 3 relatively equal size balls.  One ball I wrapped in cling film and froze.  The remaining two I rolled into a ball shape and placed in a bowl and let that raise for 1-2 hours.
  6. I then used each dough and stretched it into pizza shape.

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As you can see from the above pictures, this time the dough’s crust had a decent rise on the outer rim.  The dough also had a more chewy texture compared to the quicker dough.  The flavor profile of the overnight dough also developed more, almost like a sourdough.  You could eat just the dough (without the topping) and it has its own taste (vs the quicker dough).

Verdict: Overnight no-knead dough.

For now I’ll continue with the no-knead dough.  I just need to remember to start it the day before I am going to make pizza.  I’m not always great at pre-planning but that is the goal.

-StewsCat

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