2016 ideas

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions, but I have a few ideas about this year that I might pursue:

  • Make lunches to bring to work. I haven’t packed my own lunch since high school, and even then I was getting worse at it by the year, too busy to either pack the lunch or remember to bring it with me even if I did. A few years ago my doctor gave me a hard time about it, but I was real adamant that lunch is a *break* and it’s just as much about getting out of my office and getting a change of scenery as the food, Plus I have a thing about having hot, prepared food for lunch. Which was fine, when Tom and I were still working together; it was wonderful to meet each other for lunch. But now that he doesn’t work with me anymore, I find myself not taking myself out to lunch for a proper break; rather, I’m grabbing something from the nearest truck, taking it back to my office, scarfing it, and going straight back to my desk. And Tom now works in a food desert, so it’s hard for him to go out for lunch even if he wants to. So, it makes sense for both of us to start packing lunch. Wish us luck!
  • Track meals/recipes in a Google Calendar. I only started meal planning about 6 months ago, but I’ve been doing it week-by-week in an ongoing Evernote note and erasing the previous week and writing over it, rather than keeping a historical record. I got the idea about the Google Calendar from Joy Manning. Tom and I already have several shared Google Calendars so this fits well into our technology workflow. I’m not quite sure what the desired outcome is for this record keeping, but I think there are some interesting possibilities in terms of getting some data on our “dining in” eating habits, especially when we don’t take any pictures.
  • Send real (paper) birthday cards to people in the mail. I used to do this all the time until not-that-many-years-ago; I’d go to a stationery shop at the beginning of the month every month to buy all the cards. I’d say the toughest thing about this now is getting people’s mailing addresses; it’s just not a thing that people tend to share anymore. I’m also less likely to have enough postage stamps around these days. Buying the cards is fun, though it takes time and money, and it’s hard to seek out good quality, unique cards. Though I never felt this way myself, I know a lot of my friends developed an aversion to the mail as an adult (“it’s just bills/bad news”), but I hope by now most people are past that and can appreciate the simple joy of getting something personal in the mail.
  • Drink beer > wine. I know that sounds weird. This has less to do with total alcohol consumption than the ratio of beer to wine. I really love wine, and consider it one of my primary hobbies, though living in PA puts a major dent in said hobby. However, I find that beer is easier to regulate in terms of my consumption. Besides, Philly is a great beer town, so might as well take advantage of it.

The rest of my goals are pretty typical. Keep in better touch with people. Don’t overthink social media. Exercise more. Keep writing. Make more things.

2015 in Review

I haven’t done a year in review on this blog before, but now that I’ve been doing monthly updates for more than a year it seems like an easier task.

Photos

Here are my 9 most-liked photos on Instagram – surprisingly not all food!

hollyphl_2015bestnine

Here is a set I put together on Flickr of my best photos of 2015:

https://www.flickr.com/gp/htomren/JC3N3V

Life in Philly

I think most of the story is best told in the above pictures, but let’s see. It was another ridiculously cold winter as far as I’m concerned, especially with the Polar Vortex. Spring seemed like it took forever to come, but luckily, the rest of the year was pretty pleasant.

Eww

This year, we saw the opening of Cira Green, a new rooftop park in University City. We had a friend move to the neighborhood, so that has made for more social outings. Tom started a new job, which means a change of scenery for him as well as no more walking to work together.

Cira Green

Philly’s major event this year was the Pope visit, for which we got some time off work due to all the transportation closures. Tom and I had a very enjoyable “Popecation”, as detailed in our blog post.

Portapotties for the Pope visit

Travel

Despite the fact the neither Tom nor I went to ALA Midwinter or Annual conferences, we did still manage to get out of town a few times. We each took a few brief, short work trips on our own – me to Austin and DC, Tom to the Denver area. We took a far-too-short trip in August to New Haven, CT for a friend’s engagement party; we look forward to going up that way again and having a longer visit (hopefully this time without the train breaking down!). Finally, we also took a short trip to the Pocono Mountains part of PA for my cousin’s wedding. Not only was it a nice change of scenery, it was good to find out that I have some local family.

Austin, TX
New Haven, CT
Shawnee-on-Delaware, PA

Dining In

It was another good year of making delicious foods at home. We continue to actively use Pinterest to curate recipes and try new things. Some highlights of our home cooking this year include:

  • After watching lots of Mind of a Chef with Sean Brock and reading Sean Brock’s cookbook, Heritage, we ordered a bunch of grains from Anson Mills. The quality was amazing, and we especially enjoyed the Carolina gold rice.
  • I had some sichuan pepper that I didn’t know what to do with, so I looked up a bunch of Sichuan recipes, acquired some additional ingredients, and made quite a few different dishes. Spicy and delicious!
  • I finally made chilaquiles from scratch, including baking tortilla chips. If I had known making chips was that easy in college (without deep frying) I could have saved a lot of money!
  • Thanks to a great ricotta gnocchi recipe, I got over my fear of making gnocchi from scratch.
  • As usual, everything is better with an egg on it. This year, Tom figured out how to perfectly poach eggs!
  • We had some great experiences with French boxed wine from the state store. However, sadly, my local wine ship in CA stopped shipping to PA. 😦
Clams in black bean sauce – a favorite recipe from this year

Dining Out

We had lots of fun eating out this year. Besides new openings, I’d say there was somewhat of a theme of FINALLY trying places that have been in our neighborhood all along.

  • We finally went to Audrey Claire and loved it! Tom had been wanting to go for 20-some-odd years. Not only is it delicious, but it always ends up seeming ridiculously cheap.
  • We finally tried both NY pizza places near our apartment! So far, we like Randazzo’s best.
  • We finally had food at South Philadelphia Tap Room. Man, have we been missing out.
  • Despite having been many times for dinner, we finally had brunch at Standard Tap and Amis, both pretty incredible.
Brunch at Standard Tap

New openings:

  • We were excited for Tria Fitler Square to finally open, after Dmitri’s closed. It is our new favorite Tria, especially since it has brunch.
  • We really enjoy Southgate, the new Korean place across the street from us, but we wish they were open during the day for some day drinking, as well as on Mondays.
  • Toward the end of the year we were able to make it to Buckminster’s, one of our new favorite places.
  • We tried Kanella‘s new incarnation in the former Village Belle space, and it holds its place as one of the best restaurants in the city, but even better with a liquor license.
Tria Fitler Square

New to us:

  • We went to Zeppoli for Tom’s birthday, which also included navigating Patco for the first time. Delicious!
  • We found out that Dizengoff hummus makes for a great lunch on the go, or quick takeout when we’re home sick.
  • We tried the deliciousness that is Brigantessa, including their amaro program. We wish we could go there all the time.
  • Abe Fisher was an unexpected treat. On paper, it seems a little intimidating, but we expanded our horizons by trying new things.
  • I was glad to finally get to Petruce, which was every bit as good as I hoped, though too expensive for regular visits. I don’t know how much longer it will be around, but it was nice while it lasted.
  • We finally made it to Bing Bing Dim Sum and loved it. Much like Brigantessa, if we lived closer to EPX, we’d be there all the time.
burrata at Zeppoli

Places we loved on our Staycation:

  • We were blown away by Victor Cafe – not only was the opera top notch, but the food was some of the best Italian-American we’ve ever had
  • Similarly, we loved the hospitality and the food at Modo Mio‘s Sugo Sunday
  • The Mexican food at Mole Poblano & Blue Corn was excellent
  • We fell in love with the “new” Northern Liberties places Heritage & Bardot

Last but not least, a highlight of 2015 was being asked to curate a guest burger at Rex 1516!

rexburger-instagram

DIY

The last few years for me have been all about making bitters. That tapered off a bit this year, though I still created a new carrot bitters recipe that was well received. My other alcohol-related project was an attempt at nocino, in which I special ordered green walnut months in advance. In the latter half of the year, I tried fermenting my first kimchi and quite liked it. Finally, on a non-food related note, at the end of the year I re-taught myself how to sew and made Tom a Christmas stocking!

Books

This year I set a goal of reading 15 books and read 42. You can see all the books on my Goodreads 2015 reading challenge. I really do need to set my goal higher for next year, but I always have it in my head that I probably won’t read more than 1 book per month.

Toward the beginning of the year I was pretty good about getting some library books to diversify my reading, especially after the ALA book award winners were announced. My favorites of these were Brown Girl Dreaming and My Name is Not Easy.

I spent a good chunk of the year re-reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson, and following that with a read of the Malazan Empire series by Ian Cameron Esslemont. I was glad to see how everything finally ended, but overall felt pretty “meh” about the Esslemont books. The Erikson books as as wonderful as ever, and I’m looking forward to next year’s release of the second book in his Kharkanas trilogy.

In August Robin Hobb’s latest installment in the Fitz and the Fool series (Fool’s Quest) came out, and I read it (as well as the previous book in the series, Fool’s Assassin) over and over again. At first I was mad because I thought Fitz was going to live relatively happily ever after at the end of Fool’s Fate, but I’m thrilled to be back in his world.

Other

  • This year I tried Stitch Fix as a way to get some new clothes, without having to pick them out myself, and so far I really love it. I hate shopping, so having a personal stylist is just what I need.
  • Since Tom got a new job part way through the year, we no longer walk to work together, so I started listening to some podcasts. My regular podcasts include Undisclosed, Truth & Justice, Local Mouthful, Fresh Air, WTF with Marc Maron, and Writing Excuses.
  • We did get to see some live music this year, including a Philadelphia Orchestra concert in the park, Friday night jazz at the art museum, and live jazz at Heritage.

2016

So, what’s in store for 2016? Our only planned conference travel is to ALA Midwinter in Boston in January. The other conference I’m planning on attending is in Philadelphia this year. Neither of us have any desire to go to Orlando, so ALA Annual is off the table. Who knows if anything else will come up. Other than work travel, we hope this is the year we make it back to Long Beach, CA for a visit!

I certainly want to keep up with all the food adventures, both dining in and out. Getting up to Northern Liberties and down to South Philly more often would be wonderful. My cousin got me a fermentation book for Christmas so I hope to make more homemade things such as bread and cheese. I hope to read a few books each month and continue to use the library to check out things outside the fantasy genre. Stitch Fix has been great, so I look forward to continuing that through each season. I also look forward to getting another sewing kit to make some more Christmas decorations.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do have some loose ideas for 2016, in addition to what I’ve mentioned above, which I’ll discuss further in another post.

December 2015: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

We had some crazy warm weather this month, up to the 70s on a few days. I’m not complaining, but it wasn’t all “bermuda shorts” like the media was saying, since it was also raining and muggy at the same time. I might have liked it better if it was sunny, but hey, we can’t have it all. Anyway, as long as it’s not snowing, I’m good.

Christmas in South Philly
Christmas in South Philly
Christmas at Fitler Square

Dining In

Pretty much all of our notable cooking this month was in the context of the holidays, which I’ll talk about more below. Other than that, we did have some success with slow cooker lamb taginebeet gnocchi (which looks more interesting than it tasted), and African chicken peanut stew.

Red & Golden Beet Gnocchi with Beet Greens

Dining Out

We had some great meals out this month, not counting my birthday and the holidays, which I’ll also talk about below.

The highlight was certainly Kanella South, the first time we’ve been back to Kanella since they moved to Front Street. The food was amazing; we had shrimp kebab, octopus with beans, lamb dumplings, village salad, braised rabbit leg, and baklava. We also enjoyed the wine selection and Greek-inspired cockails.

Dinner at Kanella South

We also had a tasty brunch at La Calaca Feliz since we were up that way after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens! (Which, by the way, we loved. We saw the movie again towards the end of the month, and also saw the movie Carol.)

Huevos benedicto at La Calaca Feliz: pork belly, poached eggs, sopes, tequila grits

Over winter break, we also got to try some new (to us) places: South Philly Taproom (we had never eaten there before, just had drinks), Buckminster’s, and a preview of the soon-to-be-open Revolution Taco.

3 cheese grilled cheese with tomato lager soup at SPTR

For old stand-bys we had a great brunch at Sidecar (turkey croque madame!), and I had a colorful seasonal pizza from the Pitruco truck at work.

Pitruco Pizza special: sopressata, sweet potatoes, pickled long hots

Birthday

My birthday was a on a Thursday this year, so I took the following Friday off. We started off the festivities Thursday night by going to Rex 1516, and I was floored by the VIP treatment we got there. The crew had bought me these lovely flowers, plus we also had some tasty treats from the kitchen. It really made me feel special.

Birthday flowers. Photo by Tom Ipri

On Friday, we went to lunch at V Street, then had a lovely dinner at Audrey Claire. Our dinner included carrot bisque, grilled romaine salad, shrimp with sweet potatoes, roast duck, and chocolate cake.

Birthday dinner at Audrey Claire

Tom got me some new books to read, which will be a great way to start the new year! Another special treat was receiving a gift of S’mac macaroni & cheese from afar.

Finally, over the weekend Tom made me a dinner of my choosing, which was a delicious beef stroganoff, with ricotta pancakes in cardamom syrup for dessert.

Christmas

Earlier in the month we had gone to the Roxy to a BYO showing of Elf that was really fun. We also took a walking trip to see some of the South Philly Christmas lights, and went to a friend’s “Glühwein” party.

Christmas Eve I unexpectedly had the day off, which was nice because we were able to start baking cookies. We made 3 types of cookies this year: chai snickerdoodles, Mexican mocha crinkles, and ricotta cookies. For Christmas Eve dinner, we had cioppino in keeping with the local Italian American seafood tradition.

Mexican mocha crinkle cookies

We opened presents on Christmas morning and as usual we were both tickled by the thoughtful little things we got each other.

For breakfast on Christmas Day, we continued what has become somewhat of a tradition of going to Parc. We didn’t know when they were opening and ended up getting there a little early, so we walked around Rittenhouse and Fitler Square until they opened. Tom had a delicious pain perdu and I had the croque madame.

Christmas breakfast at Parc

During the rest of the day, we continued baking cookies, and we prepped our Christmas dinner, which was a delicious Cider Apple and Sage Roasted Pork Chops with Brown Butter Gorgonzola Polenta, roasted carrots, and a salad of roasted beets & kale.

Christmas dinner at home

The day after Christmas we went up to Fox Chase to visit family, where we had a turkey since we hadn’t had it for Thanksgiving. It was nice to have a few days to ourselves as well as the time with family.

New Year’s Eve

Another thing that has become a tradition is going to Jet Wine Bar on New Year’s Eve for a glass of bubbly and some tamales. This year’s tamales were the best yet!

NYE tamales at Jet Wine Bar

Bitters & DIY

I did not make any food-related DIY projects this month, but I did make something: a Christmas stocking for Tom! I had bought this kit about 5 years ago but hadn’t gotten around to making it. This year when we got out the Christmas decorations I decided it was time to give it a try. It was challenging re-learning how to appliqué and embroider (and re-learn what those words even mean), but it was fun. I didn’t finish in time for Christmas – it took all month and I spent many full days on it at the end of the month trying to finish it up. But it will be ready to be used next year!

Christmas stocking! Photo by Tom Ipri

Books

Since I spent nearly all of my free time this month working on my sewing project, after I was done grading papers for Fall semester, I didn’t get much reading done. I did finish Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; he is an amazing writer, and it was a powerful read.

I started but didn’t finish Heroes Die by Matthew Stover, which has been on my to-read list once it came out in 1998. It’s a interlibrary loan that can’t be renewed so unfortunately I won’t finish it before it’s due; I did peek ahead at the ending, though, so I get the idea. I’ll have to read it in full some other time, as it is a pretty interesting premise.

Since I finished my Malazan re-read last month, it was hard to let it go, so I did spend the first half of December re-reading Reaper’s Gale, which is book 7 of the main series. The logic was that the latter half of the series I’ve read fewer times, and as the series increases in complexity it wouldn’t hurt to review to the last few books again. I made some good progress and was enjoying it, but I stopped when I got busy, and now that I’ve taken a few weeks off from it I think I’ll be OK with reading some other things, at least until the next Erikson book comes out in Spring!

Stitch Fix

I did get another fix at the end of the month – it didn’t quite work out due to sizing issues, so I’ve ordered another one for early January, and I’ll talk more about both next month. In the meantime, here’s the final picture from my last fix – I love this dress!

Holly 2016_01_03
Gilli Tawnya dress and Market & Spruce Lauderdale knit cardigan

On SuperPlus Eats

Our Staycation posts are up! Here’s an index to all of them:

On Tom’s Blogs

Last Month’s Update