February 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It was a short yet eventful month. The Eagles won the Superbowl, which was exciting for the city yet fairly disruptive. We ended up getting the day off work for the parade, since public transportation had all but stopped running except for getting people to and from the parade. Not being fans of crowds, we did not partake in the festivities. I used the day off to pack for my upcoming travel. We enjoyed a few warm spring-like days, but then it went back to being cool and rainy. Overall I’m really grateful for my new job. My travel reimbursement was all electronic and was processed in record time. The workplace has lived up to my expectations in terms of lively, civil discourse among staff, as well as robust and respectful services for students; for the most part, it’s a place I can stand behind. We went to see Black Panther, which was great, and we were super excited by the return of Star Wars Rebels, which is wrapping up its final season. Rebels S4E10 “Jedi Night” and S4E11 “Dume” were SO emotional!

Hera and Chopper hold hands
image via Star Wars Explained https://youtu.be/-JDYdC1kwso

In other news, I’m pleased that I feel like I’m making some progress on my finances. I transferred an IRA from my credit union to the banking service I use for my other investments. Since my credit union was still in the dark ages and didn’t provide online access to my retirement accounts, I hadn’t contributed in years. Now that I’ve moved it over, I’ll be much better able to start contributing to it again, since I can transfer funds to it electronically. Toward the end of the month, I got my tax refund, and I adjusted my withholdings so I can take a little bit home more per month but still hopefully be in good shape for next year. My speedy reimbursement from work for my travel helped me from taking too big a hit on my credit cards, and hopefully I’ll continue to make good progress paying those off (still hoping to do this by age 50). I was a little concerned when I noticed that my new take-home pay was not THAT much more than at my previous job, despite the raise. After doing some comparisons, I saw the main difference is I’m putting a lot more into my retirement contributions than I was before, which is actually a good thing, so I shouldn’t complain.

Travel

I took two back-to-back trips for work this month, first to Denver, and then to Washington, DC, totaling 8 consecutive days. By the last few days, I was pretty fried. The biggest drag was the weather difference between the two places, meaning I had to pack both bulky winter clothes as well as somewhat lighter winter clothes. I thought my poor bag was going to burst from being overpacked, but it somehow survived the trip.

Denver was pretty good. It snowed one day, but was otherwise pleasant. I absolutely loved the dry atmosphere, though many of my colleagues suffered from altitude sickness. I like downtown Denver overall, what with the pedestrian mall, the free bus, and it’s just overall so freaking clean and easy to get around. I did not care for the dudebro atmosphere at times, especially now that everyone seems high 24×7. I didn’t have time to really seek out anything special in terms of food or drink, but I did eat a lot of Mexican food and green chile, and I had pretty decent beer, but terrible wine. The conference was great – I wish I could have stayed another day.

Denver
green chili smothered breakfast burrito

I was glad to get to DC, where I was joined by Tom. We stayed in the Woodley Park / Adams Morgan area, which I was not previously familiar with, but I ended up liking quite a bit. The absolute best part was The Gin Joint, a bar that has like 100+ kinds of gin, which was right across from our hotel. We also had some enjoyable dinners at some nearby restaurants, including the Afghan Grill and the Lebanese Taverna. The conference was pretty good, too; the highlight was the reception at The Library of Congress. I had been to LoC once when I was 15 but don’t remember anything about it other than getting lost and separated from my parents on the tour. This time was excellent, as we had a special after hours experience. Such a fantastic building!

Library of Congress
The Afghan Grill

Wine

I tried a new wine club, Firstleaf. In my introductory shipment, I got three white wines, all of which were a bit on the fruity side, but fine. Nothing was outstanding. You can rate your wines to inform future shipments, but unfortunately it’s just thumbs-up or thumbs-down, no way to express “meh” or more nuanced opinions. I’m not super confident that the mechanisms are in place to refine this shipment to my palate, but I’ll give it a few months and see what happens.

This was the only remarkable wine from my Firstleaf shipment.

This was my second month with The Tasting Room by Lot 18, and this time I switched to an all-white case, which included two rosés. This club continues to be spot-on in terms of my taste, so I am very pleased. There was only one wine I thought was only OK because it was too oaky. I am overall loving this club, but my one complaint is I’d like to be able to do a mixed club that was more white than red rather than the other way around. I loved the red wines they sent me in my first shipment, but I can’t do 8 reds + 4 whites, as I barely drink 2 bottles of red wine per month.

At long last I FINALLY got my first shipment from Plonk. I was really down on this because I prepaid for 3 months on the 4th of January, but it took until mid February to see any wine. Unlike the other clubs, Plonk doesn’t have much in the way of account management on their website, so if you want to make any changes in your subscription, you have to do it on the phone or email. WUT. NO. Also, when my wine finally shipped, it was via slow-ass ground shipping that inched its way across the country, taking over a week. Anyway, once I got the wine, all was forgiven. These were some of the best wines I’ve had in ages. One was a Sardinian white grape I’d never heard of (Nuragus), and the other was a super minerally Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara. Despite the shitty business model, I’ll probably stick with this since the wines are so good.

Last but not least (no actually, this is least), the State Store wine club had a stupid theme, “Wines to Love,” for Valentine’s Day. The wines were actually OK – a Chablis and a California North Coast Rhone Blend. Both were totally decent, but the clock is ticking on this wine club.

Dining In

I think we did pretty well this month in terms of trying to use more recipes from cookbooks:

  • I made a few more recipes from the Zahav cookbook: Moroccan carrots, and kale & apple walnut salad.
  • From the Dinner cookbook, I made cod with mushrooms
  • From New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, we made spaghetti squash with mushroom ragout.
  • From Jersualem, I made a delightful dish of chard & wheat berries
  • From Preserving Italy, we made spaghetti al limone
  • From Night + Market, I made a version of green papaya salad with green apples rather than green papaya. This was a really well balanced dish that I look forward to making again.
Zahav recipes at home

For internet recipes, we made

Seared scallops with pistachio dressing
Crispy mustard roasted chicken

In other cooking news, I bought a mini-food processor last month, and it’s working out well. Its capacity is very limited, but it does help for small quantity pastes and stuff.

Dining Out

We didn’t go out much this month, but I think most of it was memorable.

We went to brunch at Tio Flores and Southgate, both of which were delicious as always. SouthGate was also an awesome place to go for dinner after a long day of traveling.

We tried to give Keen another chance – we had wanted to go to SouthGate after the Eagles parade, but it was packed, so we had little choice but to go to Keen. We would love for this restaurant to be successful, but sadly, our experiences have been much like Craig Laban’s zero-bell review.

We had a lot of fun for Tom’s birthday. The weekend before, we went to Victor Cafe for dinner and drinks, as is somewhat of a tradition now. On the actual night of his birthday, we went to Almaz Cafe for Ethiopian food, which was fantastic. Afterwards, we had some delightful drinks at Rex 1516, thanks to Paco.

breakfast burrito at Tio Flores
Ethiopian food at Almaz Cafe

DIY

New projects:

  • I started a batch of lemon garlic pickles from Indian Family Kitchen – it’s different from preserved lemons I’ve made before, in that it uses water in the brine rather than packing them tight for the lemon juice. I’ll be interested to see how they turn out next month.
  • I made citrus salt from Preserving Italy – I liked that this just involved air drying, not oven drying, as I had bad luck with trying to make flavored salts last year (forgetting it was in the oven and burning it).
  • I started a garlic paste from Fermented Vegetables – it was my first time trying the bag weight method. I was also trying out new kind of salt (Redmond sea salt). The garlic turned bright blue immediately! But the book says this can happen and there is nothing wrong with it.
  • I made ginger preserved in gin and turmeric preserved in rum from Food in Jars. I’ll be interested to see how well this works for keeping the ginger fresh – the alcohol is supposed to burn off when you cook it, so I’ll see how it works in stir fries.
  • Finally, I canned some apples in calvados syrup from Saving the Season. Even though we can get apples most of the year, I figure it doesn’t hurt to have some put away for snackies, especially given how much we’ve been enjoying having canned peaches around.
citrus salt
preserved ginger and turmeric
apples in syrup

Past projects we opened:

  • peaches with bourbon tea syrup – we preferred the cold pack we opened last month (peaches with grappa syrup) over this one, which was a hot pack. The flavor was still really good, and I knew going in that the white peaches were going to discolor, so it was just a reinforcement to 1) use yellow peaches and 2) cold pack in the future.
  • passata, heirloom tomato sauce, and roasted tomato sauce – we do like these more reduced sauces better than the regular tomato sauce recipe, but we would also prefer that it be seasoned with garlic before canning. I should try making some spicy versions of sauce, too.
  • orange crushed tomatoes – I noticed from this time and last time that the citric acid is really noticeable in crushed tomatoes. I’m seeing the downside of water bath canning tomatoes, which requires added acid, as opposed to pressure canning.
  • blueberry gin jam! I had given some away at Christmas and was glad to finally try it myself. It had good blueberry flavor, not too sweet, but I wish more gin flavor came out.
  • green tomato pickles – we had these with sausage. Meh, they’re all right. A little too savory and pickley for my taste.
  • chile jam – we had this as a glaze for chicken. For some reason it doesn’t seem as spicy as I remember.
  • salsa verde – we opened another batch of this to have with scallops. I am pleased that this is Tom’s favorite salsa and am glad that I made so much of it! It’s also fun that each batch is slightly different, based on what kind of peppers were available at the time.

Books

  • I finished Deadhouse Gates (print)- I cried when Duiker died, which goes to show this book continues to have an emotional impact even though I’ve read it lots of times.
  • Every Heart a Doorway (Kindle via the library)- I really enjoyed the faerie kind of concept, even if the murder-mystery part was pretty predictable. I’ll probably read the other books in this series, but I’m in no rush.
  • The Guest Cat (print via the library)- I read this book because it was part of a book club at my work. I was really moved by the cat – it was a simple, beautiful story. I enjoy when poets write prose.
  • Homegoing (Kindle via the library)- holy crap this was amazing – it was my favorite book in a long time. I read it all in one setting, as I just couldn’t put it down. I look forward to reading it again, especially now that Tom bought it in print.
  • Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Kindle via the library)- this is the second book in Claudia Gray’s Firebird series. I questioned the star-crossed lovers narrative that it started with, but it got more interesting by the end. It ended on a cliffhanger, but the 3rd book isn’t on FLP Overdrive! So I’m not sure when I’ll finish the series.
  • Jerusalem (Kindle, got on sale) – though there was some overlap in recipes, this cookbook was a nice contrast to Zahav because it reflects the broader cooking traditions of many cultures in the city, not just Jewish cooking.
  • Night + Market (Kindle, got on sale)- a very fun Thai cookbook. I love the wine pairings, practical advice, and bold flavors.
  • Thrawn (Kindle, got on sale) – the writing is actually pretty good for a Star Wars novel. I found it to be a really interesting look inside Thrawn’s head, making him a more sympathetic character. Now I’m very curious to see where he’ll be at the end of Rebels
  • I started Memories of Ice (print) as the next book in my Malazan re-read
  • I started New Vegetarian Cooking (Kindle, got on sale).

Last Month’s Update

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