First snow of 2019; I prefer the view from indoors

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December 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

The month started out really cold, but we had some nice 40s-ish weather toward the end of the month. We checked out Christmas Village and City Hall a couple times, but we didn’t manage to see the new Dilworth Park light show.

City Hall Christmas Tree

Christmas Gift 2018

Toward the end of the month, since we had the week off, we had a bit of a mini-staycation. We finally saw Shoplifters, which we had intended to see during the Philadelphia Film Festival, and I enjoyed that very much. We stopped in to see the new food hall at the Bourse, which was very impressive!

During the holiday break, I also started using Eat Your Books, a site that indexes print cookbooks as well as magazines and selected food blogs. As a librarian and cataloger, naturally I love me an index. The idea is that it makes it easier to use and cross-search recipes in the cookbooks you already own. It took a good bit of time to set up the cookbooks I own and bookmark the recipes I already knew I wanted to try or had cooked already; going back to Pinterest and adding my online recipes will be a whole other challenge. However, I do hope this can be a better alternative to managing recipes, as Pinterest gets more disappointing by the year, and it lacks the precision necessary to effectively search recipes by ingredient.

I’ve kept up with my streak in Duolingo and am still studying Spanish, French, and Chinese.


We went to Washington, DC this month for a work trip, which happened to take place on my birthday. I was busy at the conference most of the time, but Tom was able to do some DC sightseeing and take some wonderful pictures around town. We arrived on a Sunday afternoon, and celebrated my birthday one day early with dinner at Tail Up Goat, which lived up to its accolades. The food was delicious, but I was especially impressed with the wines. On Monday, my actual birthday, after the conference we went to Mama Ayeshas for dinner, which was a very good Syrian restaurant. We were near the zoo, so we checked out Zoo Lights, and then stopped for drinks at The Gin Joint. On Tuesday, I wrapped up my conference and we headed home. Though it was a short trip and I was busy with work, I really had a lovely time and look forward to our next DC visit.

Dinner Menu from Tail Up Goat

Koosa ay Mama Ayesha's

Jab bil Toma at Mama Ayesha's

Washington DC Zoo Lights

The Gin Joint DC

Christmas at the Omni Shoreham Hotel


Since we knew we would be out of town for my birthday, which fell on a Monday, we celebrated at home the weekend before, starting with brunch at Spice Finch. We shared a large order of shakshuka, which was really good, and also had a fattoush salad. For a home cooked meal, since we had been out of town for Thanksgiving, I asked Tom to make me a Thanksgiving dinner for my birthday. We got a turkey leg from Reading Terminal Market, on which we did a dry rub with Rancho Gordo New Mexico chile powder. Tom also made cranberry chutney, wild rice and corn souffle, apple-stuffed squash, and green beans with almonds. Of course, everything was delicious!

Shakshuka at Spice Finch

Fattoush at Spice Finch

Belated Thanksgiving Dinner


The week before Christmas, I made a bunch of cookies to bring to work. I brought two batches of vegan + gluten-free cookies (chickpea peanut butter, oatmeal date tahini), and two batches of cookies that included butter & eggs (buckwheat chocolate chip, thumbprint with homemade jams). Though I knew there were people that would eat the vegan & gluten free cookies, I was surprised at how popular they were. Even people without dietary restrictions asked for the peanut butter chickpea recipe, and one person was moved nearly to tears after not having been able to eat sweets all year due to health issues. I was able to bring leftover thumbprint cookies home to Tom, but since he missed out on the buckwheat chocolate chip, we made some more on Christmas.

We started our Christmas meals on the 23rd, which made it easier to enjoy fresh seafood from the farmers’ markets. That day, for brunch we made cheesy breakfast egg and polenta casserole, and for dinner we had fish posole stew with cod, clams, and shrimp. On the 24th, we went to breakfast at Parc, and spent all day making cassoulet from My Paris Kitchen. We’ve made cassoulet several times now, but this time was definitely the best, as it was the first time we finally had all the ingredients in place, including Rancho Gordo cassoulet beans and duck confit legs. We had a heck of a time finding a ham hock, but luckily everything came together. On Christmas Day, we made Spanish breakfast casserole – we had previously made this on Tom’s birthday and it got burned, so this was a bit of a do-over. We confirmed that the recipe is terribly flawed, though, so it wasn’t really our fault that it got burned the first time. It still got a little crispy, but it was much better this time. In the afternoon, we went to a movie, Mary Poppins Returns, and then we had an early dinner at SuGa.

Christmas Eve Brunch at Parc

Christmas Cooking

As usual we exchanged gifts with each other and it was lovely. Tom got me the Rose Water & Orange Blossoms cookbook, which I’m excited to cook from, as well as a large mortar & pestle and DVDs of the Star Wars movies we didn’t own yet.

Christmas morning 2018

New Year’s

On New Year’s Eve, I cooked up half a batch of Rancho Gordo Lucky 2019 Black-Eyed Peas, using a recipe for Red Red (which also helped use up the end of my red palm oil). I had hoped to cook a side of collards, but none were to be found at the farmers’ markets. I had bought a batch of kale the previous week, but on the night of, alas, we found that that had slimed over. Luckily we had a tiny amount of spinach left and were able to make a salad, so we did have a smidge of greens. I also roasted up a purple sweet potato and served it simply with garlic yogurt. It was a very satisfying meal despite the mishaps. Earlier in the day, we enjoyed lunch at Cheu Noodle Bar.

New Year's Eve Cooking

For New Year’s Day, we had more of a BBQ theme for dinner. I made a batch of Santa Maria Pinquito beans, which though it was cooked on the stovetop, tasted better than any baked beans I’ve made to date. We roasted some chicken legs with a homemade BBQ sauce made from apple butter & peach butter, and Tom made a batch of corn muffins. We enjoyed this meal with a bottle of Paso Robles cab that I had gotten from Plonk. This, too, was a wonderful meal. Earlier in the day, we enjoyed lunch at Tio Flores.

Santa Maria Pinquito Beans

Farmers’ Markets

There isn’t too much to say about the farmers’ markets this month, but my favorite thing was getting more dried pepper from Z Food Farm, including aleppo, urfa biber, and fatali, as we have been really loving their dried espelette pepper.


I got another uninspiring box from Tasting Room this month. It was fine, but nothing to get excited about. I’m not sure why I haven’t quit yet, I just keep thinking maybe something will get better; and in the meantime, even if it’s not great, it is wine that shows up at my doorstep.

This month’s Plonk white wine club was wonderful as always. It included a Grechetto from Lazio, a Godello from Spain, an Albariño from Spain, and a Vermentino from Corsica. I felt like some more wine for the holidays, so I ordered a “dinner party 6-pack” for the first time. I got a mixed pack that included three reds, a rosé, and two whites: Fableist cabernet sauvignon, Enkidu petite sirah, a rosso piceno from Le Marche (montepulciano & sangiovese blend), an Aligote Bourgogne, a Portuguese white, and a cab franc rosé from Bordeaux. I could actually see getting one of these every month.

Wine for the holidays

Dining In

Here were some of our other favorite recipes this month:

  • Pasta & lentils – this sauce came out really “meaty”, almost like a bolognese
  • Minestrone – this was delicious, and used up the last of my Marcella beans
  • Sweet & spicy chicken – this was a repeat of a recipe we really liked, and it held up well
  • Slow-roasted chicken over mushrooms – Tom read something about this using a whole chicken, but we just made up our own version, with two chicken legs nestled over maitake and cremini mushrooms at 325 for about 90 minutes.
  • Spaghetti squash & Rambling Roots “comeback” sauce – we love this because it is so simple and satisfying
  • Seafood stew from Koreatown cookbook – not as good as what we could get at a restaurant, but still a pretty good homemade version. I made a stock from anchovies and kombu per the recipe that was pretty fishy; in the future I might stick with a chicken broth.
  • I heard an Ottolenghi interview on Good Food where he talked about melted butter with chile flakes as a simple Turkish-inspired sauce to drizzle over anything; we tried it over scallops  and chard and it was delicious.
  • Pistachio-crusted flounder, inspired by Rose Water & Orange Blossoms.
  • Sweet rice with carrots & nuts from The New Persian Kitchen.

Dining Out

Other than our traveling and holidays, here’s where we ate out this month:

  • date night and brunch at Rex
  • dinner at SouthGate
  • brunch at Twenty Manning – I really enjoyed my chilaquiles
  • date night at Spice Finch bar – we enjoyed just getting some dips, crudite, and flatbread.
  • dinner at Giussepe & Sons – this started off promising but was disappointing overall. The food was actually really good for the most part, and we enjoyed the good quality of house wine available by the carafe. Service was reasonably friendly, but the pacing was so terrible we have no interest in returning.
  • lunch at Mike’s BBQ – I’m really glad we tried it, since it’s so popular, but I just can’t handle eating that much meat anymore. It was delicious, but afterwards we both felt awful and had to take a nap.
  • coffee at Good Karma Cafe – we hadn’t been here in 6 years, since we first moved to the city. We really enjoyed getting coffee and bagels on a rainy day and just sitting by the window with our books.
  • drinks at Friday Saturday Sunday – we hadn’t been in awhile, it’s always nice to go where they know us by name.
  • lunch at Caffe Vienna – this is a relatively new place that opened up nearby, and we really enjoyed our sandwiches.

Chilaquiles at Twenty Manning

Sandwiches from Caffe Vienna

Mike's BBQ



  • I made carrot & daikon pickles from Naturally Sweet Food in Jars – they came out well, but I think this particular recipe would be better for sandwiches than snacking on by themselves.
  • classic giardiniera from Preserving Italy (with romanesco instead of cauliflower) – I look forward to trying this!


  • opened last year’s peach jam to put on chicken – this was good but chunkier than I expected
  • opened peach saffron jam for cookies – this was unsurprisingly delicious
  • opened apricot anise jam for cookies – this was unsurprisingly delicious
  • opened apple jam for cookies – I’m not too excited about this, I don’t think I’d make it again
  • opened carrot cake conserve for cookies – this is weird and delicious all at once
  • opened LTP whole red hot peppers to add to Spanish breakfast casserole – I’m so glad to have these around! Next year I want to make more, but separate jars for each kind of pepper.
  • opened last year’s apple butter & peach butter for BBQ sauce – really can’t go wrong with having apple or peach butter around!


  • I re-read all three books in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series.
  • I read Thrawn Alliances, which had a really intriguing premise, though I didn’t always enjoy the execution.
  • My hold for A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax came up on Overdrive at a really inconvenient time when I was busy with work, but I managed to finish it in the last 2 days before it expired. It was fine.
  • I finally finished Catch 22 (!), which I had started back in July when we were on vacation. It still remains one of my favorite books.

Stitch Fix

I got a Stitch Fix toward the beginning of the month that I didn’t care too much for, but I kept a jean jacket, and a silver-striped button-down shirt.

Last Month’s Update

November 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

I wish I could enjoy Fall more, without the spurts of winter sneaking in early! It’s hard to remember how to dress for Fall and transition weather. I am glad I missed Philadelphia’s first snow, as I was fortuitously out of town. It was exciting that Tom and I bought some classy new hats, and I finally got around to ordering a scarf in “Chopper” colors (grey, orange, yellow, and white). In the latter half of the month, I was really down and demotivated due to the weather, so I finally invested in a SAD lamp; I think it really helped, though I’m returning the florescent version I bought with a LED version. Overall this month was characterized by being TOO BUSY, though I really enjoyed a vacation toward the end!

Fall day at Temple

Schuylkill trail in Autumn


I took a one day work trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, in order to visit NCSU’s Hunt Library. There’s not too much to say about that, other than the library was lovely, we learned a lot, and I was glad to have missed Philadelphia’s snow storm, even if it did mean that our return flight was delayed.

NCSU book bot

Over Thanksgiving, we took a 5 day trip to Montreal, which was fantastic. It has been and remains probably my favorite city in the world.

Thanks to Tom’s brother Dennis, we drove there via New York. Who knew, New York has amazing rest stops!

New York Thruway Rest Stop

We visited the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts twice, which we quite enjoyed. We also saw a really cool exhibit about Expo 67 at the Montreal History Museum. We saw the Basilica Notre Dame, and we saw some neat skyline views from L’Observatoire Au Sommet Place Ville Marie. To top it off, we got a great insider tour of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), thanks to one of Tom’s friends who works there. We got by OK with a smidgen of French; certainly the review we had done with Duolingo was helpful. It was super cold and snowy most of the time, so unfortunately we didn’t get to walk around as much as we would have liked.

Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

Montreal view from L'Observatoire 360

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation film archives

Naturally, we had some great meals, including:

Smoked Salmon and St-Viateur Bagel at Bar George

We also enjoyed the hotel bar (Le Cordial at the Delta). On our last night, we stopped by the local SAQ to get some boozy Québec souvenirs, including ice wine, ice cider, cider-based vermouth, and the very intriguing Ungava gin. We look forward to going back another time, with better weather!

Drinks at Le Cordial Delta Montreal

Farmers’ Markets

I was surprised at the beginning of the month to finally see tomatillos! I had expected them earlier in summer, but better late than never. Naturally I had to make another batch of salsa verde. I was still buying some peppers toward the beginning of the month, but this soon transitioned to fall apples, squashes, and sweet potatoes. By the last market of the month, it was definitely starting to look more wintry. We finally got some dried espelette pepper powder from Z Food Farm, and it’s dreamy.

Saturday shopping 11/3/18


I got two shipments from Plonk this month: the monthly white wine club, and a Thanksgiving six-pack. As usual, the white wine club continues to be excellent: this month we got: Fernao Pires from Portugal, gavi, pinot blanc, and assyrtiko.

The Thanksgiving wine pack didn’t come with any sort of list of the wines or tasting notes, nor were most of the wines available on the website, so they were a bit of a mystery! It was a very nice selection, though: a rosé, sauvignon blanc, silvaner, negroamaro, cagnulari, and a beaujoulais.

Plonk Thanksgiving Wines 2018

Dining In

We made a lot of tasty things this month, including:

  • butternut squash chili (this was a made-up recipe, but loosely based on squash chili mole, minus meat, with several kinds of Rancho Gordo beans)
  • fessenjan chicken
  • tilefish with harissa & rose (recipe from Jerusalem)
  • clam pan roast
  • muhammara (as a snack, also with eggs)
  • skate piccata
  • breakfast quesadillas with rio zape beans and homemade salsas & hot sauce
  • arctic char with za’atar, sumac, and espelette
  • chicken curry & black lentil dal – the black caviar lentils are turning out to be my favorite thing from the last Rancho Gordo bean club shipment.

Breakfast quesadilla

Dining Out

Other than our trip to Montreal, we went out a few times this month in Philly. Highlights were several visits to SouthGate (spicy lobster soup for dinner, and scotch egg for brunch). We also enjoyed brunch at Audrey Claire, dinner at Tio Flores, and Mexican pizza delivery from Rosario’s.

Bulgogi Scotch egg at SouthGate



Preserving is definitely slowing down, but I still made some things this month:

Pear mostarda


  • I used some homemade salsa verde for a simple pozole verde.
  • I opened some apple butter from last year and was glad it was still good.
  • We finished up some fermented salsa & some sweet corn salsa.
  • I opened my first jar of this year’s heirloom tomato sauce, which was quite delicious.


  • The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax – I’m not really proud of myself for continuing to read this series, but they’re simple reads when I’m in a rut.
  • Best Served Cold – I am not sure why I had put this on my holds list. I hadn’t realized it was in the same world as the First Law series, and it’s been so long since I read those books, I didn’t recognize any of the characters or the setting. It was a pretty straightforward revenge story. As far as Abercrombie goes, I preferred the somewhat less violent Half a King series.
  • I finished The Art of Simple Food – this is a good guide to cooking simply, and I’d recommend it to anyone intimidated by cooking. It was not a lot of new information, but it was good to see a lot of what we already do.
  • I started re-reading Ecology of Fear (h/t Gustavo’s LA Times article about the fires in California)
  • The Lathe of Heaven – I loved this so much I read it twice!
  • Something Happened – I’m not sure how I feel about this book; it was disturbing, but I’m glad I re-read it.

Last Month’s Update