Life in Philly
It got cold and even snowed a bit at the beginning of the month, but since mid-month it’s been unseasonably warm. The boots I bought for ALA Midwinter 2010 in Boston (the very first boots I ever owned, since I didn’t need any on the West coast) finally cracked to the point where I can’t wear them anymore so I had to get some new ones. Good thing, as they’ve kept my feet dry and comfortable during protests. Who knew.
In what will likely be my only major work trip this year, I went to Atlanta for the ALA Midwinter Meeting. Overall it was a good conference, as usual; I saw a lot of really relevant presentations, gave a lightning talk, and got to see W. Kamau Bell.
It hadn’t occurred to me when making these travel plans that I’d be away for the inauguration and subsequent women’s march. Luckily the good folks in the Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services organized a meeting point for people to attend the Atlanta’s March for Social Justice & Women. Although we got soaked in the rain, I’m glad I got to participate.
One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Atlanta was to see my friend Suzie. We went out on my last night, and I’m glad we got to see each other.
I didn’t really focus on food this trip, but made multiple visits to Alma Cocina and enjoyed Max Lager’s and Truva. On my last day I also got to go to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market.
On my way home, it was late and I had just missed the airport train, so I used Lyft for the first time. That got me home a lot sooner, was cheaper than a taxi, and was a relatively pleasant experience, so I’ll certainly consider using it again.
Here’s a picture of the farmers’ markets where everything is covered in snow:
We started the month by making something special for New Year’s Day: slow cooker french dip sandwiches.
Between now and April I’ll be recipe testing for a friend of mine who is starting a new food blog. I think it’s great the way she’s going all in and is taking the extra time and effort to work with recipe testers. Some highlights from this month included:
- Sugar snap peas & broccoli salad
- Curry lentil soup
- Sweet potato fries with sweet coriander onion dip
For Christmas, my brother got me a cookbook, The Indian Family Kitchen, so I tried to cook at least one recipe a week from the book. These all turned out great:
- Chai smoked sea bass
- Mixed herb salad with honey pecan dressing
- Drunken chicken
- Steamed scented fish
- Vegetable biriyani
- One pot chicken
- Wilted mustard greens
Other cooking highlights from this month include:
- Lemon yogurt pancakes
- Sweet potato strata
- Lemon garlic chicken
- Stout harissa chicken
- Paste e fagiole
- Crockpot Italian chicken and broccoli rabe chili
- Cajun seasoning
- We used this to make blackened scallops and shrimp, but it was especially delicious with shrimp. One of these days we’ll try it on swordfish.
- Beef daube
We’ve been spending some more time at Friday Saturday Sunday. Since it opens at 3pm it’s perfect for a late afternoon weekend drink.
We tried out Cinder and were impressed with their beer selection as well as their ciders. The Rose Bowl was on and Penn State was playing so we had to pretend to talk about football but we winged it OK.
We finally made it back to Bing Bing Dim Sum! Everything is so good there it’s hard to try new things when we want to repeat some of the wonderful dumplings we’ve had before. But it was worth it – we tried their soup dumplings, spicy lamb dumplings, and turnip cake.
It’s been a busy month for making stuff from scratch!
Tom has made more progress with his bread making, including hearty bread and corn muffins.
I made a few things from Preserving Italy, a book which Tom bought me for Christmas:
- bitter citrus marmalade, made with citrus from my dad’s Arizona backyard
- fig walnut “salami”
- pickled mushrooms
I also made some more ferments from Ferment Your Vegetables, this time concentrating on things available in winter:
- pickled butternut squash, which was used to make delicious winter squash hummus
- garlic honey (this won’t be ready for 4 months, but it’s fascinating to watch)
I also made some pickled mustard greens, which had been the missing ingredient from our dan dan noodles.
I finished reading the Wonder Woman graphic novel that Tom had gotten me for Christmas. It definitely made me more hyped for the movie.
For most of the month, I read Tom’s new compilation of short stories, Surviving Paradise. The stories all take place in Las Vegas and are mostly tinged with despair, with perhaps a small dash of hope. I really enjoyed it and look forward to it being more widely available.
Last Month’s Update
Here are my 9 most-liked photos from Instagram in 2016. I was surprised that most of them came toward the end of the year. Only one was not a food picture.
Here is a set I put together on Flickr of my favorite photos from 2016:
Life in Philly
This was our fifth year in Philly – I had my five year work anniversary in September. On the anniversary of the day we moved into our apartment, I took a picture to show how much the western skyline has changed as viewed from our window
During our annual Staycation, we visited the new viewing deck at the top of One Liberty Place and got some great views of the city
Speaking of the skyline, a few new buildings have neared completion, the FMC Tower and CHOP:
We had fun this year going to several BYO movies at the Roxy, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Clerks. We also managed to see the Philadelphia Orchestra several times, and saw the silent film Metropolis with live organ at the Kimmel Center.
We went to the Spruce Street Harbor Park in spring, checked out a few pop-up beer gardens in the summer, and walked through the new Christmas Village at City Hall in the winter.
Pennsylvania’s liquor laws loosened ever so slightly, so we are finally able to get a little bit of wine from out of state, but only direct from the winery and only if that winery has a PA license. So far that’s only one place I’m interested in, which is Tablas Creek. But it’s been fun to get a few things from Tablas and I look forward to visiting the winery in person again, perhaps next time we’re in California. The other positive thing about the law is that hours at many of the state stores have been extended, and now all our local stores are open on Sunday.
We didn’t take too many long walks on the river this year. However, we did explore a few new (to us) neighborhoods. In February, we hiked up to Brewerytown to visit Sp0tBurgers new brick & mortar location, and we also hit up Crime & Punishment Brewing Company while we were there. Toward the end of the year we walked down to Girard Estates and tried Philip’s Steaks and the new Brewery ARS. Other than that, we walked all the way to Northern Liberties several times, and as usual we walked all around town for Staycation.
Here’s my complete Philadelphia 2016 set on Flickr:
I went out of town three times this year.
At the beginning of the year, we visited Boston for the ALA Midwinter meeting. On the first day I had a preconference at Harvard and got to visit with my friend Aimee who lives in Cambridge, which was so nice, especially spending some time with her kids. It was my first ALA conference in over a year, so during the conference I got to reconnect with a ton of people, which was so rewarding personally and professionally. We had a great time eating our way around Boston, too. I look forward to going again!
In June, we went back home to Long Beach, California. It was my first time back since 2012! It had been far too long. It was wonderful. We stayed at the Beachrunner’s Inn, a little B&B in my old neighborhood. We managed to visit most of our favorites as well as try some great new places. The weather was beautiful and I could have stayed forever!
In September, I went to a conference in Columbus, Ohio. It was my first time staying and hanging out in downtown Columbus and I really liked it. I got around on foot really well, exploring downtown and the Short North, and took the free downtown bus my last day when it was raining. It was very kind of hippie and hipster and urban at the same time.
Our favorite condiment of the year is Huy Fong Chili Garlic Sauce! We’ve put it all over our fish, veggies, and chicken to great success.
We finally figured out how to cook swordfish, so that gives us some more options at the farmers’ market.
We also finally started using a panini press from my dad, which has been great for sandwiches and toast. We also finally started using an oven thermometer from my brother, which has really helped with cooking meat. Tom started making homemade pizza from time to time, which was a joy.
I tracked most of our meals last year in a Google calendar, which has provided some interesting insights. We ate in over 80% of the time; without prior years’ data I can’t be sure, but it certainly feels like more dining in than in years past. Looking at my financial management software, I see that my restaurant expenses went down by 40% from the previous year, so there definitely does seem to be a trend toward more cooking and less going out. We certainly had our share of throwing things together, but we also tried 150 new recipes this year, which averages to nearly 2-3 new recipes per week, which seems like a quite a bit.
There are too many recipes to mention, but a few that stand out from this year include:
- Asian style 40 garlic chicken
- 5 spice chicken
- chicken adobo (recipe from my friend Anton)
- arroz con pollo
- cranberry balsamic roasted chicken
- chicken in red wine vinegar
- milk chicken thighs
- cod with roasted red pepper sauce
- 5 peppercorn fish fillets
- Summer bolognese
- Dutch baby
We had a new chicken recipe almost every week of the year, so those were the most interesting and exciting to me overall. I also just love cooking in summer with all the corn, tomatoes, and zucchini, I just can’t get enough of those flavors.
Here’s our Dining In photos from 2016:
Toward the beginning of the year we were still enamored with a few new 2015 openings, Buckminster’s and SouthGate. Unfortunately Buckminster’s didn’t make it through the year, but we enjoyed it while we could.
My favorite new restaurant we tried on a date night was Samsom Kabob House on South Street, which had recently relocated from Samsom St.
We finally ordered Mexican pizza from Rosario’s pizza and it’s been really fun trying different pizzas on the menu. It’s actually the first time we ever had pizza delivered in the 5 years we’ve lived here!
One of our favorite coffee shops, Cafe Lutecia, started offering Tuesday night BYO dinners, and those was by far the best casual dinner experiences of the year.
During our October staycation we tried a lot of new (to us) restaurants. The standouts were Sate Kampar, South Philly Barbacoa, Kanella Grill, and Cafe La Maude. We also really enjoyed our first afternoon tea at The Dandelion.
Toward the end of the year, a neighborhood favorite, Friday Saturday Sunday, reopened after having been sold & remodeled. We hadn’t actually been to the original, but we stopped by the new iteration and really love it.
Here’s our Dining Out photos from 2016:
This year my DIY efforts were focused on fermentation, specifically vegetable fermentation. My cousin Jenny got me a great book on Wild Fermentation, and I had some luck with several of the recipes. My favorite might be the simple farmer’s cheese, even though that’s not even fermented. I tried sourdough starter and ginger bug, but our apartment just wasn’t warm enough. I found, though, that the temperature of our apartment is perfect for vegetable fermentation. I bought Ferment Your Vegetables and did primarily vegetable ferments for the rest of the year, including a kimchi, a sauerkraut, and lots of pickles. The only thing that I really didn’t care for was kvass – partly user error on my part and part just not liking the finished product all that much even when it turned out correctly. Favorites for the year were probably the fermented corn salsa, tomato salsa and tomato sauce.
This year I added hummus to my regular projects; as with the Di Bruno Bros crackers recipe, I always keep a batch of hummus around for snacking. Though my local stores stopped carrying some of the ingredients I needed, I’m now buying garbanzo beans and tahini online and it’s working well.
I met my goal on GoodReads to read 25 books, which was a higher goal than I had set for myself in previous year. Here is my year in books: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2016/131968
My reading this year was more diverse than in some years, yet still dominated by fantasy. Unlike last year, I didn’t spend the year re-reading any big series. The best non-fantasy things I read were Between the World and Me and Americanah. The newest Erikson book came out, and I totally loved the new Esslemont book. I completely loved the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie – it was the first book(s) in a long time that I couldn’t put down, and re-read immediately upon finishing. I also really enjoyed Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older. In a descent into complete nerddom, I started reading Star Wars novels and am now sucked in. Toward the end of the year I also really enjoyed Ember in the Ashes and then immediately bought the sequel.
My friends Jodi and Amy recommended a clothing rack – this feels like the dumbest/most obvious achievement in adulting ever, but it really makes a big difference to be able to dry my clothes properly rather than over the back of a chair.
I made some financial progress, paying off 2 credit cards by the end of the year and getting my student debt under $20,000.
I did StitchFix all year and feel like I really made some progress in figuring out how to dress myself. I now have 4 blazers I really like, as well as several skirts, blouses, and dresses. I’ve figured out some stuff on my own as well, thanks to the combination of StitchFix and Pinterest. I keep a list of outfits near my closet to try to decrease the stress of dressing in the morning, but this only helps slightly.
2016 Goals Redux
Last year I made some loose/informal “ideas” for 2016, so I thought I’d check in to see how I did.
- Make lunches to bring to work. We did a decent job at this, though it came more in spurts. There are definitely some weeks where I didn’t prepare lunches at all, and some weeks where we prepared lunches some days and not on others. I didn’t actually track this, so I can’t point to any data, but my sense is we brought lunches more often than not, whether that was leftovers or something we made specifically. We did find a few lunch recipes we really liked, including mujadarah and harissa lentils. As much as I love grains, though, they do get boring.
- Track meals/recipes in a Google Calendar. Yes, I did this, and kept up with it all year. It gave me some interesting data about our habits (see Dining In section above) and it was really good to see how much we are cooking and trying new recipes. I didn’t specifically set out to do so, but I’ve also been doing weekly meal planning in Evernote as well. Since I write over the Evernote list each week, it’s nice that the Google calendar serves as more of an archive, while Evernote serves as more of a temporary to-do list each week.
- Send real (paper) birthday cards to people in the mail. Fail. Nope, I didn’t do this at all. However I am on a mission to do this in 2017.
- Drink beer > wine. Nope, didn’t do this either, at least not at home. The best I can say is I now tend to almost always order beer rather than wine when we go out, especially to Rex, so I guess that’s something.
- Keep in better touch with people. No, I did not do a good job of this, in any medium.
- Don’t overthink social media. Ha! I got worse at this, not better. I hardly posted anything at all, and the election has only made this worse.
- Exercise more. Nope, though I did join the gym at work, which gives me even more opportunity to do so, if I make an effort to schedule it.
- Keep writing. If what I meant was keep up with this blog, then yes, I did this. However, I barely posted to SuperPlus Eats at all, so I’d like to do better at writing elsewhere.
- Make more things. Yes, I did this. While I don’t make bitters very often anymore, my fermentation experiments were pretty much year round, and that was fun. I didn’t get around to making homemade Christmas ornaments as I had hoped to, but maybe next year.
What I found in thinking about this was there were things I didn’t specifically set out to do or conceive of as goals in 2016 that happened anyway:
- I didn’t explicitly set out to do so, but I have been dressing better, thanks to StitchFix and Pinterest.
- I didn’t explicitly set out to do so, but I have made charitable giving more of a regular habit than a one-off thing when something terrible happens.
- I didn’t explicitly set out to do so, but we did a lot more dining in, and a lot less dining out, as discussed above.
- I didn’t explicitly set out to do so, but I made progress with my debt. I haven’t calculated exactly what it would take to make this happen, but theoretically I would like to be out of debt by the time I’m 50 (#GenXGoals).
What’s in store? Well, in terms of travel, I’ll be going to Atlanta for ALA Midwinter, and Tom will be going to Baltimore for ACRL, to which I plan to tag along. We don’t have any other out-of-town trips planned for now, though of course we’ll do our annual Staycation in October. Other than that, same old same old. Hopefully in 2018 we’ll take a big trip for Tom’s birthday so this year might be more about hunkering down to save up for that.
Here are my “ideas” for this year, in no particular order:
- Continue to make things. This year I want to try more canning since I finally have the equipment for it.
- Get in the habit of using the work gym at least once a week.
- Send birthday cards in the mail, like I said I was going to do last year. So far I am on track and have bought cards for everyone with January birthdays. Cards are a lot more expensive these days than the last time I did this, but that’s not the point. The hardest part is actually getting people’s mailing addresses, but actually that has been incredibly pleasant, because just the act of asking for the address in the first place creates additional one-on-one interactions with people I care about.
- Blog more on SuperPlus Eats
- Continue trying to bring lunches to work
- Make more things from cookbooks, not just online recipes
- Invest in a Kindle and see if that helps me adjust to e-reading.
- Call politicians
- Keep up with meal planning and tracking
- Continue to make progress on paying off debt
- Try to have more non-social-media interactions with people, whether that’s email, hand written letters, phone calls, etc.
- Take more people pictures