Sunday, August 26, 2018

Silicon Valley Eats and Treats

The last week of July we took a trip to the San Francisco Bay Area.  Zac was speaking at a conference, and it was perfect timing for me at work, so we made a vacation out of it.  His conference was in Redwood City, in the Silicon Valley area south of San Francisco.  So we camped out south of SF for the first few days, an area we had both never been to before.  This post is part 1 of 2 about our trip, focused on the good eats and treats we had south of the Golden Gate City. 

For this trip we kept the planning to a minimum, took the "lets just play it by ear and see how we feel" approach.  We often make reservations for hard to get into places months in advance, but not this time.  The do what we feel like approach worked out great, lots of good fun and fun!  

Drive to Half Moon Bay from Silicon Valley area
We landed mid afternoon Pacific Time, and headed over to Half Moon Bay, a small town on the Pacific Ocean, just across the hills that separate Silicon Valley and the Pacific Ocean.  I was so excited to see the ocean.  Something about water is very relaxing, right?  We explored the area a bit, saw the ocean (yay!), and by 5pm local time were starving since our stomachs thought it was 7pm (by our I mean me, I was starving).  We ate dinner at Pasta Moon, a local favorite specializing in homemade pasta and fresh local seafood.   Even at the early hour we ate we had to eat at the Chef's table/bar it was so crowded/booked up for the night.   It did not disappoint.  

Fritto Miso with Monterey Bay calamari, rock shrimp

This guy was tasty!  

Classic Margherita Pizza

Eggplant Parmesan (Zac's dish)

Special of the day with Seared Sea Scallops (my dish).  I can't resist scallops! 
Full as clams, we ventured back to the hotel, about a 30 minute drive. It was still very much daylight, and on our way back over the mountains/hills between the Ocean and Valley, we caught the Marine Layer making it's daily journey from the sea inland.  This was absolutely stunning to see, the picture below doesn't do it justice.  It was very foggy down by the ocean, then as we drove up up up it was like driving into the clouds, and then just like that we emerged into the sunlight, but could see the clouds, or "marine layer" rushing up over the crest of the mountains.  It was awesome.  At this point I did not yet know the term "marine layer", but after we got back to the hotel, because I'm a total geek and wanted to learn more about what I just witnessed, I googled "San Francisco fog" and quickly got up to speed.  We all know the area is famous for the fog, but if you are really interested in this phenomenon, (I'll talk more about it again I'm sure), here's the Wikipedia link.

Thursday was our first full day.  We were up early, still adjusting to Pacific Time, plus Zac had a couple work related things to take care of (Pacific time is the worst when your client/work world is on Central and Eastern time by the way).  So I ventured out on my own for a bit.  My main goal was to visit this very cool redwood tree we saw on the way to Half Moon Bay the afternoon before, that didn't seem too far away, and it wasn't.   It's in the parking lot of a local girls private high school.  After a few takes using the timer function on my phone (balanced on the hood of our rental), I was able to get this shot of me and "the tree".  I'll admit the first couple didn't work out, and by this take I was a bit winded from running back and forth =).   

Tree hugging

Donuts sounded good after all that running around, so stopped at a local donut joint in Belmont, CA.  Chuck's Donuts will be getting an excellent Yelp review from me let me tell you.  

Bavarian custard filled.  LOTS of custard. 

Now to really start our day.  Our wish list was long, not sure we'd get to all of it, but this is what we wanted to do:  walk around Stanford University, visit Google HQ, take-in the hip areas of Palo Alto, see Facebook, and check out Mountain View.  Sorry Apple, while I depend on you ALOT, your HQ is rumored to be not very inviting, so we left Apple off the list.  Plus it was quite the trek down to Cupertino from everywhere else on our list.     

First stop was Stanford, and on the way we picked up In-N-Out to have a picnic lunch on campus.   

Couldn't visit California without eating an In-N-Out burger

Memorial Church in the center of campus.  Nice stained glass and ornate mosaics.  Very old. 

Center and older part of campus

Small redwoods on Stanford's campus. I was a bit obsessed with the redwoods. 
My great-grandfather went to Stanford over a hundred years ago, studied Physics.  He came over from Japan for grad school in the US.   After finishing his studies, going back to Japan and getting married, he came to the US permanently.  It was very surreal for me to be on the campus, looking at the Chemistry building built in 1900 and thinking, wow he was here when that was brand new, and probably took classes there.  Of all the things we did on our trip, going to Stanford and walking in his footsteps was one of my favorite things we did.  

Next stop was Google, which does not exactly encourage visitors but does not discourage them either (I'm sure we parked in an employee only parking space).  There were tours going on, but the interesting things were to see all the "fun" stuff the employees could do outside.  There was a lap pool, that kind that has a pump to simulate moving water but you are still.  Beach volleyball.  Lots of lounge chairs.  Outdoor dining and coffee bar areas.  A replica Tyrannosaur for some reason.   Lots of plants. 

One of many buildings

Beach Volleyball

I love dinosaurs.  Guess other nerds do too. 
Zac's presentation was that evening during dinner time, so we had a late afternoon meal, then planned to venture out again after he's done for some dessert or 2nd dinner, whatever strikes us. We head over to Mountain View, which has lots of restaurants, shops, bars, etc to walk around and take it all in.  We didn't stop at this ice cream/bakery, but i enjoyed this sign in the window.  

We landed on eating at Crepevine, a family owned restaurant with a dozen or so locations around the entire Bay area.  Have I ever mentioned I LOVE crepes?  I do indeed.  An entire restaurant devoted to crepes?  Yes please. I opted for sweet crepes (surprise surprise), Zac got savory. 

Santorini - Coconut, mascarpone, cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts and pistachios

"The San Francisco", of course. Salmon, capers, red onions, spinach, Dijon and dill havarti.

Zac is awesome at his job.  Really, I'm not just saying that because I'm his wife.  The plan was he would give his presentation, should last about an hour he thought including Q&A, then he'd come back up to the room and we'd go adventuring again.  Well, 2.5 hours later, he texts he can't get away from all his fans and people wanting to talk to him, I'm tired, so I decide i'll hit the sack.  Not 30 seconds after I turn out the lights, he arrives.  I bolt up, he's like, so what's the plan, where are we going, and why are you in bed???  The evening is just beginning.  So, out we go.   

We didn't have time earlier to go to the happening area of Palo Alto, or to Facebook HQ.   It was getting a bit late, but Palo Alto is a college town after all so surely things would be open (the area we went is right next to Stanford).  We went to Cream, dessert place that specializes in ice cream sandwiches of the gourmet variety - you can use brownies, "cronuts" or cookies for your "base", then choose from a large variety of ice cream flavors to put in the middle.  And milk shakes and other ice cream related confections are offered too.   Zac got a milkshake, and I got a chocolate salted caramel themed sandwich.  They hit the spot! 

No idea why these guys have all this luggage, but I liked the sign. 
Last but not least, Facebook.  It's after 10pm local time when we get there, but it's lit up enough so we get a feel for the place. The main compound was very large, and could see construction around with expansions in the future it seems. The road that circles Facebook is called "Hacker Way".....interesting.  This is a picture of the only sign on the premises, greats you at the main entrance.  

Friday morning I had some more time on my own to explore while Zac wrapped up his work business.  I wanted to drive up Highway 1 for a while -  it literally is right along the Pacific Coast = MORE OCEAN VIEWS.  I went back over to Half Moon Bay (there are very few places to cross the hills/mountains), and picked up Hwy 1 there, and headed north.  

I stopped at a few spots, all beautiful, but Montara State Beach was breathtaking.  

Entire field of these flowers, ocean in the background

I'm WAY up on a cliff.

Now my back is to the cliff.  Smart. 
Watch for some relaxing wave sounds!

I did not want to leave the coast!  It was almost hypnotizing to listen to the waves crashing against the rocks.  Beautiful place!! But, my other half awaits, and I planned to bring lunch back with me.  One food "celebrity" that I follow is J. Kenji L√≥pez-Alt, who recently won a James Beard Award for best cookbook The Food Lab.  He writes for Serious Eats website.  He's very much into learning about where science meets food.  Good stuff.  He opened his first restaurant recently in San Mateo, CA, and guess what, I was about to drive right through there!  The restaurant is Wursthall, a German food and beer hall.   I got everything to-go and got to the hotel just in time for checkout.  

Deviled pastured egg, Aleppo pepper, dill, mustard

Their signature Chicken Schnitzel Sandwich, potato salad

Wild Boar Wurst

We ate our very tasty German food leisurely by the pool at the hotel, then said goodbye to Silicon Valley.  Off to the Golden Gate City!  

Tune in for my next post on more eats and adventures in San Francisco! 

Sunday, August 5, 2018

World's Greatest Peanut Sauce and Vietnamese Spring Rolls To Dip In It

Ok, so this may not be the world's greatest peanut sauce.  I mean really, how could anyone actually know that.  But it is seriously good.  I have never met a peanut sauce I didn't like at Thai or Vietnamese restaurants, or the bottled stuff from the grocery store, or heck even a wrap I got at Starbucks recently had some pretty darn good peanut dipping sauce with it.   This sauce is really easy, and I can see myself drizzling on all kinds of things, not just spring rolls.

Ahh the spring rolls.  This was my first time making them, and I have a new respect for all spring roll makers out there.  My first few, ok like my first half dozen looked pretty bad.  Didn't get them tight enough, took too long and the wrapper ripped, but towards the end I got the hang of it and they look much better.  They all tasted great, which in the end is what really matters, right?  So, I'm sharing my tips and lessons learned here so you can avoid the same mistakes I did if you are in the spring roll making mood.

With our meal I also made Cambodian Chicken and Rice soup.  We discovered this in a Food and Wine cookbook we bought on clearance 8-9 years ago, and have made it a whole bunch of times since then.  I have blogged about it twice actually, so check out this post for pictures, tips, and recipe - Cambodian Chicken and Rice Soup with Shrimp.  I'll tell you its company-coming-over worthy for sure. 

The peanut sauce is very easy. The hardest part is grating some fresh ginger, and that is not hard people.   Measure out your ingredients, whisk well in a bowl, and wha-la! Perhaps maybe possibly the world's greatest peanut sauce!  For the ginger- don't skimp and use already minced ginger or ginger powder.  Get a ginger root from your vegetable section at the grocery store, take the largest part and peel it with a peeler, and grate it in the bowl.  I love my various size graters, and find the one in the picture that is flat and long is perfect.  Tap tap on the side of the bowl and the grated ginger falls off the back. 

Tip - in hindsight this bowl below was way too small.  Had to be careful when whisking that I didn't slosh the liquids and make a huge mess.  Use a nice big bowl so you don't have to worry about that.   Also, it may seem like it's too liquidy right after you put the water in. Just keep whisking whisking whisking and in a minute or two it gets thicker to the perfect dipping consistency, just like magic.  But, it can't hurt to just add 5 tablespoons and add in the 6th if you feel you need it.  Depends on how firm your peanut butter is.  Mine is the all natural only ingredient is peanuts kind, which needed the 6th tablespoon.   I can get off on a serious tangent on peanut butter, but check your ingredients.  Lots of peanut butter out there is barely peanuts at all. It's vegetable oil and sugar and salt, so I highly encourage the kind that is just peanuts! 

For the spring rolls you'll need some freshly cooked shrimp.  To boost the flavor (and save some $$), cook your own, don't just buy some pre-cooked shrimp in the seafood section.  I bought some large shrimp, not jumbo or extra jumbo, and used about a pound and a half for the recipe.  

To quick boil the shrimp:
1. Peel shrimp and place peels and tails in a pot with enough water to cover your shrimp and the items below.  
2. Add a quartered onion.
3. Add some cajun seasoning of your choice, a good tablespoon. 
4. Throw in some whole peppercorns if you have them. 
5. Bring the water to a boil. 
6. Add shrimp, and cook 60-90 seconds.  The smaller the shrimp the faster they will cook.  
7. Put a larger strainer over a large bowl, and pour contents into strainer (you can dump the quick shrimp stock you just made down the sink but I'd save it, let it cool, and freeze. This has tasty shrimp-y goodness in it!). 
8. Run cold water over the contents, and fish out the shrimp.  
9. Put in an ice bath to keep from overcooking the shrimp. 

Now to get to chopping your other ingredients.   There isn't much prep when you cheat and by pre-shredded carrots. I didn't see the need to chop or shred anything else.  Pull the herbs off the stems, but otherwise I left them whole. 

For the wrappers - they are rigid, and when dipped in warm water become pliable.  VERY pliable.  Set up an assembly line. I used a deep dish pie plate and put warm water in it to dip the wrappers.  Don't soak them, just dip, get a good coat of water on them, put them on your work surface (I used a cutting board), pile on your stuff, and roll.   The wrapper will start our rigid on your work surface, and by the time you have piled your stuff on them and are ready to roll, the wrapper is soft and pliable, and sticky, so move fast.  You can't be indecisive in your rolling. I rolled mine like a burrito - fold over the ends, then start with one side, fold over all the ingredients, tuck tight, then roll.  

Tips - DO NOT let the wrapper sit in the water too long until it's soft. It will be unworkable by the time you put your ingredients on it.  I tore a few of my first ones that way.  Had to double up the one below because I had so many tears in the wrapper.  

Tip 2 - Be decisive in wrapping.  If you try and lift up the wrapper to re-do anything you will tear it.  Just go with it, whatever you want to undo will only be made worse by trying to undo it.  

Tip 3 - Don't overload it.  I put way to much stuff in my first few.  This photo below has too much stuff in one roll.  

This one below is more like it.  Nice neat pile.   I should mention - I used BROWN rice spring roll wrappers vs white rice wrappers like you would be used to seeing most likely at a restaurant. In my quest to cut out white rice and other processed grains, I used brown rice wrappers.  I found these at Whole Foods.  My local Publix only had the white rice kind.   Diabetic?  Know that brown rice wrappers are a thing!  Also brown rice pad thai noodles, brown jasmine rice, etc.....

What you put on the bottom is what shows up best through the wrapper.  What to show off the shrimp? Put them on the bottom.  Highlight the avocado? Put it on the bottom.  Below you can see how they look both ways.  

This recipe is straight from Skinnytaste, with the only change that I used brown rice wrappers.  I played it loose with the amount of ingredients I used, I didn't count out my basil or mint or cilantro leaves, just used the amount that looked right in each roll.   Here is the Original Recipe on the Skinnytaste site.  

Shrimp Summer Rolls with Peanut Hoisin Dipping Sauce


  • 12 rounds rice paper
  • 24 large or jumbo peeled and cooked shrimp
  • 1 large haas avocado (about 6 oz), sliced into strips
  • 3 cups shredded carrot
  • 3 cups shredded red cabbage
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 24 basil leaves
  • 24 mint leaves

Peanut Dipping Sauce:
  • 1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 teaspoons sriracha
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 6 tablespoons hot water, to thin


  1. Mix together the ingredients for the peanut sauce.
  2. Take a rice paper wrapper and completely submerge it in hot tap water 10 to 15 seconds, until pliable.
  3. Place the wrapper on a plate or cutting board and top with 2 shrimp, a few avocado slices, 1/4 cup carrots, 1/4 cup cabbage, 2 basil leaves and 2 mint leaves.
  4. Fold the bottom half of the wrapper over the filling, hold the fold in place, tuck in the sides and roll tightly.
  5. Repeat with remaining filling and serve with dipping sauce.


Yield: 12 servings, Serving Size: 1 roll, 1 tbsp sauce
  • Amount Per Serving:
  • Freestyle Points: 3
  • Points +: 4
  • Calories: 138 calories
  • Total Fat: 6g
  • Saturated Fat: 1g
  • Cholesterol: 22mg
  • Sodium: 193mg
  • Carbohydrates: 17g
  • Fiber: 3g
  • Sugar: 3g
  • Protein: 5g