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December 2014: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

Philly goes all out during the holidays. While we didn’t make it to any of the holiday light shows this year, we did make it down to the Delaware River Waterfront RiverRink Winterfest. They really did a fantastic job of making this a festive and inviting space. Usually it’s just a nondescript ice skating rink in the middle of a parking lot, but this year there is a ski-lodge like space with indoor and outdoor fireplaces, rocking chairs, an arcade, and plenty to eat and drink. We got a couple of spiked hot chocolates and enjoyed sitting by the fire pits while others roasted marshmallows. No snow so far this season, and that’s fine by me!

RiverRink Winterfest
Rittenhouse Square 2014

Dining In:

As usual we made lots of tasty things this month. Highlights include barley risotto with red Russian kale, martini chicken, and soy-braised squash. Thanks to watching Mind of a Chef on Netflix, we learned about red eye gravy, which has meant a delicious addition to our eggs on the weekend.

soy-braised squash
eggs, ham, and red eye gravy

Holiday Baking

For this year’s cookies, we made simple 3-ingredient peanut butter cookies (1 cup peanut butter, 1 cup sugar, 1 egg), and Swedish rye cookies, both of which came out very well.

3-ingredient peanut butter cookies


Swedish rye cookies

Dining Out:

We hadn’t seen one of our favorite food trucks, Say Cheese Philly, all autumn, but finally they came to 33rd St in early December. We went there just about every day that week, but the highlight was the brisket cheesesteak.

brisket cheesesteak from Say Cheese Philly

As part of the Philadelphia Film Society’s holiday movie series, we went to see Trading Places at the Roxy, and afterwards we were able to try cocktails at V Street, a relatively new vegan bar. I had a Colonel Mustard In the Library with the Dagger (gin, cochi, mustard), and Tom had a No Man’s Land (cognac, amaro, yerba mate, blackstrap). We loved our drinks and look forward to going there again and trying the food (it’s sort of like going to Vedge but without having to cross Broad Street).

No Man’s Land cocktail at V Street

Toward the end of the month, a new Italian cafe Gran Caffe L’Aquila opened on Chestnut Street, and it is amazing. Everything is straight out of Italy, with a fantastic wine list, Italian and local beer, 4 types of house-roasted coffee, sweet and savory gelato, panini, small plates, and entrees. The cafe is based on one in Abruzzo that was destroyed in an earthquake in 2009 and rebuilt here, and the chefs have won awards in Italy for their gelato and coffee. We tried a few panini and finished up with saffron gelato and espresso. We will be back again soon!

Saffron gelato and espresso at Gran Caffe L’Aquila

Unfortunately the holiday schedule has kept us from our usual Thursdays at Rex. Luckily we did get there for some of Sweet Lou’s eggnog mid-month, and we also enjoyed New Years Eve dinner there.

eggnog at Rex 1516

Bitters & DIY

I started a new batch of Holly bitters, assuming I’d give some away for the holidays. I hadn’t intended to start any new bitters, but Sean Brock’s Heritage cookbook (which I got for Christmas!) gave me the idea for carrot bitters – stay tuned next month to see how they turned out. Tom found a cocktail recipe for something that required coffee liqueur, so I made a batch, using some local Philly Fair Trade coffee. WHOA. I wish I had known how easy (and delicious) this was to make 20 years ago. It tastes just like Kahlua, only better, since I know where all the ingredients came from.

Holly bitters in progress. Photo credit: Tom Ipri
coffee liqueur in progress


For my birthday, the weekend before, we went up to Fox Chase and had a lovely dinner at Moonstruck. On the actual day, which was a weekday, we took the day off from work, and we did the epic Ynez-Jet-Rex crawl, visiting all 3 restaurants owned by Jill Weber and Evan Malone. For breakfast, we went to Cafe Ynez and both had the huevos rancheros. For lunch, we went to Jet Wine Bar and had a lentil burger and a cheese plate (and wine!) and watched The Truman Show. For dinner, we went to Rex 1516 and had the citywide special (a burger, beer, and shot of bourbon), and finished with some cocktails. Tom got me The Two Towers deck building game; we have been enjoying the Fellowship of the Ring board game for the past year (which we affectionately refer to as simply “The Game”), so it was fun to start a new version. The weekend after my birthday, Tom offered to cook me “whatever I want” for dinner. I decided on coq au vin, which he made beautifully.

Birthday crawl at Cafe Ynez, Jet Wine Bar, and Rex 1516
coq au vin with gnocchi


For Christmas Eve, we decided to do seafood (not quite 7 fishes), so Tom cooked a version of clam & shrimp risotto, which we had made earlier in the year to much success. To start the evening off, I decided to open my jar of homemade crème de cassis, which we had started back in August, using a pint of black currants from 3 Springs Fruit Farm via Headhouse farmers’ market, with a recipe from Saving the Season. It’s supposed to age 6 months, but I figured 5 months was close enough. We used 1 oz cassis and topped it off with prosecco to make a kir royale. Delicious! For Christmas Day, we went up to Fox Chase for some Italian-American goodness (ravioli, meatballs, red sauce), play time with Sumi the dog, and cookies.

Kir royale cocktails with our homemade Crème de Cassis; Christmas Eve Dinner; Christmas Dinner; Christmas gifts. Photo credit: Tom Ipri
new tea and tea cups for Christmas! Photo credit: Tom Ipri


We went to a free Philadelphia Orchestra concert on “giving Tuesday” and it was actually a really great show. The program included excepts from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, Brahms’s Symphony No. 3, “Autumn” from Glazunov’s The Seasons, Philadelphia composer Jennifer Higdon’s  blue cathedral, and Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride. Our favorite piece of the night by far was blue cathedral.


This month I started and completed Forge of Darkness by Steven Erikson. I am a big fan of Erikson’s Malazan series, and this book is the first book of the Karkanas Trilogy, a prequel to the main series. The main reason I decided to read this book next was a Goodreads fan discussion planned for this month; while I didn’t really participate, I did find the discussion to be interesting, and the pace was realistic (though after the first week or so I got way ahead). I really enjoyed the book, and it got me back in the mood for another Malazan re-read. I started re-reading Gardens of the Moon, book 1 of the Malazan series, and unfortunately it’s painfully obvious how much Erikson improved as a writer between this, his first book, and FoD, his most recent; but, it’s still a great story, and frankly, even Erikson’s novice effort is way better than other fantasy writers’ more seasoned efforts (*cough* Sanderson).

2014 in books

On SuperPlus Eats:

Here are some of this month’s posts from our food blog, SuperPlus Eats:

On Tom’s Blogs:

Previous Monthly Updates: