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.


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.

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


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.


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.


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.


Cool tubes made by beetle larvae

Redwoods are so amazing with just how tall they are.


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.

Russian River meet Pacific ocean
Russian River meet Pacific ocean
car edit
My personal civic ad

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


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


Cool looking fork tree


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.


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.


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




Paris Baguette and Back to bread (whole wheat sandwich bread)

Paris Baguette and Back to bread (whole wheat sandwich bread)

A few weeks ago I ventured out to try some new things after a doctor visit.  I had fasted overnight and before the appointment so I could get some blood pulled.  However that left me hungry after my visit.  I decided to try one of our local coffee roasters that has cold brew coffee on nitro.


First impression was that it looked like a beer.  It had a nice foamy head and was nice and chilled.  I must say that when taps use nitro, it certainly makes for a much smoother mouth feel of the liquid.  I thoroughly enjoyed my first cold brew coffee on nitro.  I got the coffee at Chocolate Fish Coffee Roasters.  It’s a quaint little coffee shop that is no frills.

With my coffee in hand, I headed over to the relatively new Paris Baguette.   This chain recently moved up here to northern California after I guess it grew big in southern California.  This bakery reminds me of a Taiwanese bakery called 85 Degrees.  You walk in and grab a tray and all the bread/pastry products are out on trays or in cubbies.  You pick what you want and then take your tray to the register to pay and order drinks as well.  I ended up getting a buttered croissant, chocolate croissant, and a croissant with an italian sausage in the middle.  They were all delicious.



A few weekends ago the weather started cooperating with regards to baking.  I also had incentive to make some sandwich bread again.

The weather finally started cooperating again for me to do some baking.  This summer has been incredibly hot in Sacramento.  I saw a graphic from the news that in July, every single day was above average (and we had strings of 100+F days multiple times).  August is supposed to be the hottest time of the year too!  When you are in triple digits, the last thing you feel like doing is turning the oven on.

It has been a long time since I actually made bread that I had to go back and read through some old posts to remind myself of the process.  I followed the following for 50% whole wheat bread.


  • 300 g whole wheat flour
  • 300 g bread flour
  • 150 g whole milk (had it on hand for a friend’s kid)
  • 300 g warm water
  • 18 g salt
  • 20 g honey
  • 10 g sugar (didn’t have enough sugar so added in some extra sugar)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 10 g active dry yeast (I purchased the Red Star brand recently to try)

I was feeling a bit lazy so I just combined all of the above ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Using a spatula, I mixed everything so that it was all incorporated.


I then covered it and let it sit for about an hour.  I found that one of my large plates actually fits almost perfectly over the opening of the mixing bowl I most commonly use.  This is nice so I don’t have to waste some cling film (plus I hate dealing with cling film).


I removed the dough onto my counter after an hour and proceeded to knead the dough using the slap and fold method.  I did this for about 15 minutes until the dough started to come together.


I then let the dough rise for another 1.5 hours or so.


I didn’t take pictures but after the dough doubled, I proceeded with 3 stretch and folds with about 30 minutes rest.  After the last one, the dough was shaped into a log and placed into a buttered loaf pan.


This was the first time I used our new oven to bake some bread.  I elected not to use the convection function for this first time.


I started the bake at 425 F for the first 10 minutes and then dropped to 375 F for an additional ~25 minutes.  The bake took a lot longer than before but I’m not sure if it was due to the dough or the oven.  The outside of the bread turned out much darker than most of my previous bakes but I went with the internal temperature (200 F) to assess doneness.


I had a decent crumb and the bread overall came out good.  We used it for sandwiches for work for the week.



Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, and last day in Tokyo

Miyajima Island, Hiroshima, and last day in Tokyo

Even though I was under the weather and tied to being close to a bathroom, the show had to go on and our trip wasn’t going to just end (even though I had fleeting thoughts of telling my wife to go ahead and I’d just go back to Tokyo and hole up in a motel until our flight home).  I’m glad that I pushed forward and finished off the trip.

From Kyoto we hopped on the Shinkansen again and continued our trip westward.  Our destination was Itsukushima, or Miyajima Island, which is located just off the coast of Hiroshima.  We initially thought we’d stop in Hiroshima first prior to heading to the island.  However given the time of day when we arrived in Hiroshima, we altered our plans and decided to go to the island first and would check out Hiroshima on our way back to Tokyo the following day.  To get to the island you need to take a ferry.  Strangely enough there are two competing companies but they operate right next to each other at the ports.  One of the ferries is operated by JR and since we had the JR pass, we could ride for free.  It was a very short trip (10 minutes) to get across the channel.


As we approached the island, we sailed right near the large Torii gate that sits in the middle of the water.  I managed to snag a few shots even though it was quite foggy.


Once we were onshore, we rang up one of the proprietors of the ryokan and within 5 minutes our host drove down to pick us up.  One thing I immediately noticed is that the streets were impossibly narrow and all the vehicles on the island were essentially shrunken versions of full size cars.  At one point we walked past the island fire department and it was cute because they looked like normal fire trucks (well normal for Japan) but were miniaturized versions.  Many of the streets only fit one car’s width so if two cars were trying to go in opposite directions on the same road, one of them would inevitably have to pull off into a small alcove to let the other pass.  Normally in the US, having to do that would create some frustration as people are in such a rush to get everywhere.  I noticed that the Japanese people do it happily and don’t mind so much.  Another cool feature of their cars is that when they stop the let someone pass, the vehicle’s engine automatically cuts out (reduces emissions I bet) and then restarts when they are ready to go again.

It was a short 5 minute drive to the Watanabe Inn, our ryokan for the night.  A ryokan is very similar to a bed and breakfast in the states.  They had capacity for I believe 5-6 rooms accommodating 2-4 guests per room.  We were lead into our room and given time before the Kaiseki-ryori dinner.


After getting settled into our room, we decided to take a quick stroll before dinner.  Right outside the ryokan leading up the mountain is a large shrine, Daisho-in.  The temple was actually closing for the evening but we managed to explore it briefly.


With some time still before dinner, we walked back down toward the water where the large Torii gate is.  While on the ferry earlier, people were walking right next to the Torii gate due to low tide.  By the time we walked over (maybe 1-2 hours later), the tide had already come in and you couldn’t access the Torii gate without a boat.


On Miyajima island, there are hundreds (maybe thousands?) of Sika deer.  While the deer are not “tame” per se, they are not afraid of people and will come right up to you (looking for food).  The Miyajima visitor guide says not to feed the deer and that they will eat anything (including paper and the brochure from the visitor center).  I read some other online articles later that the deer are in fact starving because they are “domesticated” and don’t know how to forage for their own food anymore.  I don’t know who to believe sometimes.


A Kaiseki-ryori dinner is a multi-course dinner that was originally served for traditional tea ceremonies.  Even though my gut was still not cooperating, I was not going to miss this probably once in a lifetime experience.  To really immerse ourselves, we changed into the Yukata kimonos that were provided with the room.  They also had traditional japanese socks (Tabi) – the two-toed socks that go with the Jika-tabi (the shoes you think about when you imagine ninjas) (here).

The dinner was served on the first floor and each room had their own table to maintain some privacy for the guests.  Dinner consisted of multiple courses of both seafood (fresh fishes) and some terrestrial animals (steak).  The tempura was so light and crispy that it was great.  I also noticed that the Japanese like to serve their rice by itself.  The rice is quite tasty so maybe they don’t like to cover it up with other foods.

While we were eating, the inn employees turned down our room by setting up our bedding.


They encouraged us to take a walk down to the large Torii Gate in the water again as it is lit up at night.  One thing that really struck us was how quiet and peaceful it was to walk through the streets.  Once the last ferry leaves in the early evening, the island becomes very quiet.  At night, they light up the Torii Gate as well as the big floating shrine, Itsukushima Shrine.


To finish off a magical experience on the island, we took turns taking a bath in a traditional Japanese Cypress tub.


The following morning we walked around Itsukushima Shrine and had a traditional Japanese breakfast.


We then hopped on a speedy boat that would take us right to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum.  Since it was relatively early in the morning, we had the boat all to ourselves.



The boat dropped us off right next to the Atomic Bomb Dome.


The dome is the remnants of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, a building that was not completely destroyed by the atomic bomb blast.  It is a symbol of peace.


We walked over to the museum and proceeded to become depressed while learning about what went on when the US decided to drop an atomic bomb on a highly populated area.  I wasn’t sure how it would impact me to walk through and learn all this information.  I’ve become quite cynical and jaded but seeing, hearing, and learning of what truly happened had quite an impact on me.  It moved me more than I would have thought.

We hopped on a bus and then took a Shinkansen back to Tokyo for our last night in Japan.  We checked into the Dormy inn in Shibuya.  The famous Shibuya Crossing is located right outside the train station so I grabbed a few shots of how crowded it really was (the pictures don’t do it justice).


The crossing is what you see on a lot of movies including Fast and Furious Tokyo Drift and one of the Resident Evil movies.

Our final dinner in Japan was a delicious one.  I was still dealing with my GI issues but we took a quick walk over to this small Ramen shop, Ichiran.  You again buy tickets at a vending machine outside the restaurant and then wait until they have an open slot.  This ramen shop was interesting because you have your own little stall.  In front of you is where your food magically appears.  This was definitely one of the most delicious Tonkatsu ramens I’ve had before.


The following morning we went looking for a Japanese pharmacy to look for a specific type of probiotic that my sister mentioned was quite helpful.  We also stopped in a store to get some trinkets to bring home for people.


The Dormy Inn was nice because they had a breakfast buffet that we enjoyed so as not to be in a rush to get to the airport.  The room was nothing special to write home about but served its purpose.


And then it was over…we checked out and took the train back to Narita airport.  The flight back was terrible and I was in and out of the tiny plane bathrooms every 20-40 minutes.  Thankfully that whole situation has resolved.

Japan was a great trip, despite my illness.  We definitely want to go back at some time.



Hot dog (hamburger) buns

Hot dog (hamburger) buns

For the 4th of July, we decided to do the ultra-traditional hamburgers and hot dogs.  I decided I’d like to try  my hand at making hot dog buns.  I had previously made some burger buns from a random recipe I found online.  I didn’t realize that you can use the same formula for both hot dog and hamburger buns.  This time I found another recipe on a random blog.  For the most part I followed the recipe that was laid out (since this was my first time making it).  I amended it due to the fact that I don’t have a stand mixer and therefore have to do all my mixing/kneading by hand.  The recipe called for letting the dough rest in the fridge for up to 24 hours so I made up the dough the night before July 4th.


  • 500g All purpose flour
  • ½ cup warm milk
  • ¾ cup warm water
  • 2 tsp yeast
  • 1½ tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tbsp butter (can use butter as well)
  • extra oil to oil the bowl
  • 1 egg for the egg-wash

First I mixed up the flour, yeast, salt and sugar.


In a separate container, I whisked together the milk, water, and egg to create a yellow liquid.


I then combined the dry and wet ingredients and dumped it out onto the counter to do the slap and fold method of  kneading.  This was a fairly wet dough so the slap and fold method was probably my only shot at getting the dough kneaded to a proper stage.  After about 5 minutes of kneading, I then started to incorporate the butter in.  I had let cut the 2 Tbsp of butter into smaller pieces and let it come to room temperature.  This was a bit tricky as the butter would push out through the dough as I kneaded.  The butter started to warm up with my hands and the kneading causing the dough to become a bit oily but after about 10 minutes of kneading, the oiliness went away and the dough came together.  The dough ball was placed in a lightly oiled bowl and then refrigerated overnight.


The morning of the 4th (after about 15-16 hours of rest) the dough had about doubled.


I dumped this out onto a lightly floured countertop and rolled the dough out into about 16 inches by 7 inches.  I then split this up into 8 pieces (the recipe said to do 6 pieces if you were making hamburger buns).

I took each individual piece and folded it on itself and flattened it out into a rough rectangular shape.  I also made a few into round hamburger bun shapes.  Two of these I placed onto a small cookie sheet and put in the freezer.  You can take these out later and let them rise and then bake.  The remainder I placed onto a large parchment covered sheet pan to rise (around an hour).


I set the oven to 350 F about 30 minutes prior to the end of the rise (1 hour).  Then I baked the hotdog buns for 25 minutes (the original recipe said 15-20 minutes but I think mine were a little bigger so took longer…also may be due to the difference in ovens).


The inside turned out perfectly done.


I grilled up some hot dogs for lunch.


For dinner, we made some buffalo sliders with some corn.

Once it got dark, we walked over to a nearby park where you can watch a big fireworks display.  It was fairly crowded but we were still able to see fairly well.  The show lasted about 15 minutes.




Kyoto Day 2-4 (Japan 2017)

Kyoto Day 2-4 (Japan 2017)

We awoke on our first full day in Kyoto with some big plans.  There were quite a few locations we wanted to tick off our boxes in Kyoto and we only had so many days to see them.  We decided to head over to the Imperial Palace as it was supposed to be prime sakura (cherry blossom) viewing.  There is a web site that lists the various locales within Kyoto and the status of the cherry blossoms in that location – ranging from peak viewing to not blossomed.  The Imperial Palace was a short subway ride and walk from our AirBnB.

The Imperial Palace actually sits in the middle of a very large park.  Upon first entering the park, you could see that others had the same idea of checking out the cherry blossoms.  With it still being mid-morning, the lighting was actually quite good for picture-taking and so we did like the other tourists and posted in and around the trees.  We didn’t actually go to the front of the Palace and elected to check out the Shirakumo Shrine, which is located towards the south-eastern portion of the park.

After the Imperial Palace, we took the subway and went to Nijo Castle, since it was relatively nearby.  This castle was built in 1603 and is a current UNESCO world heritage site.  There were quite a few large tour buses parked out front and so I figured it’d be crowded.  This time we actually did pay the entry fee and walked through the castle grounds.  They had a few buildings you could walk through and also some well cultivated gardens.  What I noticed about the tourists is that a lot of them were from mainland China (they have a certain twang to their speech) as well as Japanese people who apparently were touring their own country.


Since it was getting to be lunch time (actually a little past), we hit up Nishiki Market.  This is a labyrinth of small alleyways, some of which are lined with many different shops and food places.  You could pick up some street food (think octopus legs on a stick, sake sampling, etc).

Since I’m a big fan of cooking, I had thought about getting a Japanese knife, since they are some of the most coveted.  There was a shop that the wife had looked up where they will engrave the knife for you after you purchase. IMG_20170405_120626IMG_20170405_120556

I picked out a multi-purpose knife and had them engrave my last name in Chinese character.

I had done quite a bit of research on various eateries throughout Kyoto.  There were a few that were located in the Nishiki Market area though we ended up not going to them.  We found this Udon noodle joint that looked like maybe it was a chain.


Nevertheless, there was a line almost out the door and it appeared to be all Japanese people so I saw that as a good sign (like in the U.S. when you go to a Chinese restaurant and most of the patrons are Chinese or same with Mexican food, etc).  I wasn’t sure how it was going to go ordering because you had to order a specific type of bowl and then noodle/soup.  Luckily it worked out and we got some delicious, quick, and relatively cheap food.


Our afternoon was then filled with more travel (subway, foot, subway).  The first stop was Fushimi Inari-taisha.  This is the main shrine of Inari.  The main thing about this place that stands out is that it is on a mountain and they have this walkway that is filled with hundreds (if not thousands) of Torii gates.  The Torii gates are the bright orange structures that most people have probably seen if they’ve looked at pictures of Japan.  This area also was packed with tourists and it felt like we were sardines at one point within the hillside of Torii gates.


I thought we could make it to the next area by walking so convinced my wife we should hoof it over.  We made our way on foot over to Rengeoin Sanjusanjendo in eastern Kyoto.  This temple is famous for its statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy.  In the center is an 11 foot tall seated Senju Kannon.  Surrounding this statue are 1000 standing statues of the Senju Kannon.  There are numerous other deities housed in the same building.  Unfortunately picture-taking is not allowed in the main building.


It was getting to be closer to sundown but we hopped on a bus to get to one more temple, Kiyomizu-dera.  This was up on a bit of a hill.  Because of cherry blossom season, they were gearing up to do some sort of night event that you had to purchase tickets for.  This temple was also undergoing construction.


We didn’t stay for whatever “special event” was going on that evening but headed back to our Air BnB and then found some dinner.  I tried the Kyoto style sushi, which is different than traditional.  They use more preserved fish since they’re not a coastal city.  I wasn’t too impressed with the small joint we went to but I’m sure it can be much better.


I was still hungry after dinner so picked up some snacks for before bedtime.

Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up feeling hot and also with some tummy issues.  I then proceeded to be up every hour or so to use the bathroom.  My entire body was also very hot and I suspect I was having fevers.  So the next day (Day 3 in Kyoto) I stayed in the AirBnB while my wife went out and explored on her own.  She did bring me this fairly tasty box from the local convenient store.


Even though I was still hitting the bathroom every 20 minutes or less, I decided to try to venture out a little bit in the late afternoon with the wife.  We elected to try taking a bus over to the Philosopher’s Path and also Higashiyama Tisho-ji.  The weather was a bit overcast and it had been raining throughout the day.  I am glad that I went to Higashiyama Tisho-ji because the views of the gardens were something else.  It looks like a postcard.  I had to find the bathroom a few times there so we didn’t stay too long and then it was back to the AirBnB for me.

The next day (Day 4 in Kyoto) was a complete wash for me as I was down and out.  I have nothing to report from that day since I didn’t leave the AirBnB.  I continued to have GI issues though the fever had abated finally.  I don’t know what it was that I contracted.  I thought at first it may just be a food poisoning type situation but the fact that this disease persisted for the remainder of the trip and even back in the States means I suspect it was something more infectious.

Up next, Miyagima Island and Hiroshima and the final day in Tokyo.