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Savoring the Details

Grace and Kaare set out on a bike adventure through Sonoma County to savor the details - both literally and figuratively. Read more about their trek that contains a mixture of places that would represent a small but expansive view of the vast food ecosystem of Sonoma County.

Bicycles have taught me so much about slowing down to notice and savor the details of the world around me. When riding, I am attuned to the feel of the seat under me, the stroke of the pedal propelling me, the clink of the gears changing, and the sharpness of the wind on my face. I’m aware of the cracks in the pavement, the fallen needles from the trees overhead, and the critters scattering away from the road as the tire roll forward on the pavement. 

An hour north of San Francisco, the vast Sonoma County skirts along the coast, winds through the shadows of the Redwoods, and is home to miles of vineyards that produce the best wines in the country. It is home to brilliant farmers, farmworkers, chefs, and winemakers dedicated to connecting those who live and visit the region to their food and landscapes. Sonoma County is the kind of place that makes you want to slow down to appreciate the many delights it has to offer which makes it a perfect place to explore by bicycle.

A woman riding her bike down a trail, packed with bikepacking gearOpens a new window(Opens in a new window)
Image via Kaare Iverson

When Kaare and I started to plan how we would spend the three days we had to explore the region, the task of choosing where to go was daunting given the many possibilities. With the question of, “what are the stories that we want to learn and tell about this place” guiding us, we landed on a mixture of places that would represent a small but expansive view of the vast food ecosystem of Sonoma County. 

An early start was necessary for the two day, 60-mile route ahead of us. On the first day, the soft, crispy and slightly foggy morning greeted Kaare and I as we saddled our bikes, loaded with a tent, sleeping bag, cooking equipment, clothing, and other essentials and pedaled away from Santa Rosa toward our first stop.

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Image via Kaare Iverson

Our bodies started to wake up as we rode through the quiet morning traffic to Red Bird Bakery. Pulling up right before opening time, we joined the locals on the sidewalk awaiting the bakery’s opening. The familiar conversation among the folks gathered made it clear that Red Bird is a community hub with a diverse and enthusiastic following. We were immediately invited into conversations about how we were doing and what pastries we would beeline toward once the doors opened. 

The husband and wife duo behind the bakery, Linda and Issac have a stated intention for the community to have access to good food at affordable prices. That intention seems to be reflected in the folks of all genders, racial identities, and ages that made their way to the bakery.

Walking in, we were greeted by a small enclave with a shrine that said, “Today I will make magic happen” and a calendar that included the tasks “love, share, admire, and enjoy” written in chalk and followed by hand-drawn hearts. With overhead money and pothos plants and the big red couch in the corner, Red Bird immediately gives off a vibe of not only welcome but also, “stay awhile”.

A husband and wife standing in front of a bakery counterOpens a new window(Opens in a new window)
Image via Kaare Iverson

My eyes widened as they met the bountiful pastry case full of cinnamon rolls, croissants, cookies, scones, and the wall of bread waiting to be carried away by eager customers. Settling on a maple bacon scone and croissant, we sat outside, underneath the soft slate blue building and the houndstooth, and continued to watch the neighborhood wake up and make its way to Red Bird. 

Biting into the maple bacon scone I ordered might end up being one of the highlights of my life. The palm-sized pastry was perfectly soft on the first bite and I was met with the salty flavor of the bacon pieces and the sweetness of the maple in the dough.

Delightfully full of pastries and coffee, we loaded up on bikes, strapped a baguette to the handlebars, and pedaled towards our next destination.

A woman with her bike, prepped with bikepacking gear, standing at a bakery counterOpens a new window(Opens in a new window)
Image via Kaare Iverson

As we rode away from Santa Rosa’s art district, we made our way to Roseland. Home to the largest Latino population in Santa Rosa, Roseland’s main road is lined with taquerias, diasporic markets, and food stands indicating the various regions of Central and Latin America represented in the community. 

The road curves slightly and we roll up to a wooden fence that marks our arrival at Mitote Food Park. 

The yellow, green, blue, and red sheets of the papel picados blow in the wind and the word Mitote is spelled out in large yellow letters suspended overhead as you enter the parking lot turned food park. Underneath a large white tent, wine barrels converted into tables and other seating line the teal-painted pavement. Surrounding the dining area are food trucks with chalkboard menus luring you in with offerings like chicken mole, burritos, mango ceviche, memelitas, fish tacos, mezcal-inspired cocktails, and numerous other delicious offerings to make decision-making even harder. 

A person on their bike, pedaling in front of an arch that reads "Mitote"Opens a new window(Opens in a new window)
Image via Kaare Iverson

Recently making Sonoma Magazine’s list of the best local restaurants, Mitote works to intentionally expose folks to the diverse cuisines of the Central and Latin American diaspora. The park is home Lucha Sabina, a mushroom-based Oaxacan street food truck; Yucamami, which claims to be the only place in Northern California that serves panucho, a specialty from the Yucatán region; and Antojitos Victoria which specialized in the Aztecan huitlacoche quesadillas. 

After coming to terms with the fact that we couldn’t eat everything, we started with an order of rock cod ceviche and made quick work of scooping up the fish dish with the crispy tortillas that accompanied the dish. From there, we moved on to the small plastic bag that contained the bolas mariscos, a spicy red seafood stew with mussels, baby octopus, and shrimp simmered. 

Albert Lerma and Lisa Johnson-Foster, the park’s operations and marketing managers, explained that beyond eclectic dining, Mitote also serves as a community hub in Roseland. It plays host to community offerings like COVID vaccine clinics, pet vaccination clinics, and dance nights, and is the taco stop for the local cycling club. This was made apparent as watched people start to trickle for lunch in with warm laughter and familiarity.

With full bellies, a water bottle full of creamy horchata, and carnitas burrito for the road, we started to ride towards Sebastopol.

Two people standing in a greenhouse, with plants and veggies on the table, and bikes in the foregroundOpens a new window(Opens in a new window)
Image via Kaare Iverson

Visiting one of the many farms that kept Sonoma country, and beyond, fed was essential to our trip. We wanted to connect what we were eating with how it was grown, so a few miles later we rolled down the gravel road to Radical Family Farms in Sebastopol. Named after the radical way her German, Polish, Jewish, and Chinese-Taiwanese ancestors came together, Leslie Wiser started the farm, without previous farming experience, as a way to connect with her Chinese-Taiwanese ancestries. 

Four years after starting on that quest, the farm now grows Taiwanese cabbage, stem lettuce, Chinese celery, Chinese chives, celtuce, sunflowers, marigolds, lemongrass and so much more. It’s become an important resource for other folks who are seeking some of these hard-to-find Asian heritage herbs and vegetables.

Leslie encouraged us to harvest cabbage and added it to the cilantro and a-choy that we planned to use for dinner.

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Image via Kaare Iverson

After a quick caffeine boost at the quirky, local favorite Hardcore Espresso in Sebastopol, we started the ride towards the redwoods.

Propelled by the caffeine we started the steep climb up Joy Road and were rewarded with a steep downhill on an unmarked drive toward Morihouse in Occidental. The white farmhouse is tucked sweetly away in the dappled light of the redwoods. The homesteading duo, husbands Adrian Chang & Chris Lewis, greeted us out front with the smiles and warmth of longtime friends. 

After removing our shoes, we were immediately standing in the kitchen, much of which was designed and remodeled by Chris. The open room contained large surfaces for preparing, pots and pans of every shape and size, intentionally placed kitchen tools, and house plants, are an introduction to how essential practices with and around food are to the couple.

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Image via Kaare Iverson

Seated at a low wooden table at the side of the porch, the couple shared the story of their meeting and how they created Morihouse as a way to explore the cuisines and traditions of their British and East Asian identities as Adrian coursed out four delicious offerings. We were dazzled with Siu Mai, steamed "open-face" dumplings stuffed with pork, garlic chives, wood ear mushrooms and topped with a garden pea, house-made Cantonese egg noodles in mentsuyu with mugwort-sesame paste, spring onions and calendula petals, collared greens Namul, blanched greens lightly dressed with roasted sesame, garlic and fish sauce, and whole daikon pickled in fermented persimmon mash. 

To close us out, Chris served a Black and Green Nepali tea. 

Their desire to connect people with their food expands beyond the walls of their home and into the community of Occidental. The two host popups in downtown Occidental where lines of people circle the  block for dishes including mapo doufu, ginger-infused Chinese rice porridges, and Hainan chicken rice bowlsL Through their in-person and virtual workshops, they also teach participants to make dumplings, tofu, and fermented soybeans.  

I could have easily spent the whole afternoon learning more about the couple. the various ways they find joy in community, food, and move with a deep sense of curiosity. Finally accepting that we had to keep moving, I enthusiastically filled my hands with the Welsh almond cookies rendered with goose fat, a nod to Chris’ heritage, that were left over from our meal and started to pack my bike to leave.

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Image via Kaare Iverson

As the chain moved through the derailleur and my gears shifted to climb the steep hill away from the Mori House, I took advantage of the slower pace to reflect on the surreal experience that we just had with Chris and Adrian and Morihouse, a physical manifestation of the love of care, cooking, and craft the two share.

From the Willow Creek Trailhead, we descended an old fire road traversing wide open meadows and vibrant spring blooms of purple irises, orange poppies, and purple lupines. The gravel trails  took us eventually to Highway 1 where we turned north towards our next stop.

Located right along Highway 1 in Jenner, CA,  Cafe Aquatica is the place of my dreams. Inside the wooden shack, art from local photographers and artists adorns the walls and is available for purchase. Salmon and eggs, crabs and eggs, lavender lattes, and other specials of the day handwritten on the long piece of butcher paper at the ordering counter.

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Image via Kaare Iverson

On this deliciously sunny day, we grabbed our order of crab and eggs on homemade focaccia bread and coffee from the pickup window and plopped down on the grass, joining other customers enjoying the bright sun reflecting off the mouth of the Russian River. On many days, you can come to Cafe Aquatic and sit on the grass or in one of the many wooden Adirondacks chairs that face the river and enjoy the local musicians that perform on the wooden platform stage on the weekends.

Headed north on Highway 1, we rode for about fifteen miles to a pull off that led us to Stillwater Cove Beach. Leaving our bikes at the trailhead, we followed the Redwood lined path that eventually opened up to the iconic California coast. We were making a quick pit stop to grab the main ingredients for dinner – wild California mussels. Prior to our trip, we checked to make sure wild mussels at that time of the year were within local restrictions, obtained a fishing license, and committed to taking no more than we needed.

With that in mind and keeping an eye on the tide, we traversed the rocky beach and came to jagged rocks that jut out of the ocean. On the south-facing side of these rocks, we found a bed of mussels and started to pluck (and tug) mussels from the rocks, filling our helmet with enough for a tasty dinner.

Two people walking on the beach with a rocky shoreline, and bikes propped up against the rocksOpens a new window(Opens in a new window)
Image via Kaare Iverson

Crossing the road to our campsite, we began settling in our campsite. While the mussels steamed, we cut vegetables, including the cilantro, a-choy, and cabbage from Radical Family Farms. The delightfully crusty baguette from Red Bird Bakery was perfect for soaking up the salty and tasty broth. 

Tucked away in my sleeping bag, the smell of the ocean and campfire in the air, I reflected on just how well bikes and food pair together. Both inspire you to slow down, pay attention, and savor the details of what's in front of you. I reflected on the people, stories, terrains, and foods that we experienced along the way. I can’t wait to see what the next adventure holds.

A birds eye view of a person riding down US 1, with the ocean in the distanceOpens a new window(Opens in a new window)
Image via Kaare Iverson

Words by Grace Anderson; Photos by Kaare Iverson(Opens in a new window)

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