March 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

All things considered, this has been a pretty interesting month.

We had 3 Noreaster storms, resulting in several snow days and delayed openings. The first one was the worst, showing up unexpectedly in the middle of a Friday, with extremely strong winds and icy snow. No one was prepared for it, the trains shut down, and people had a terrible time getting home from work. I got home OK on the subway, but Tom had to take a taxi, and several of my co-workers said it took over 4 hours for them to get home – they couldn’t catch buses or taxis and were stuck outside that whole time. The third storm was on the first day of spring, just to rub things in. So, it still doesn’t feel like spring yet.

fuck this shit

We went up to Fox Chase a few times this month to help pack up Tom’s mom’s house, and were treated to homemade beef bourgignon by Dennis, as well as lunch at Iron Hill Brewery.

We were thrilled by the Star Wars Rebels season finale!

We were fortunate to make it to the Philadelphia Orchestra twice this month. The first time was when my friend Amy G was in town and was able to get some discounted tickets, which included a violin concerto and Rachmaninoff’s 2nd Symphony. The second time was for a program Tom chose, which included a trumpet concerto, Stravinsky’s Firebird, and Prokofiev’s 5th Symphony.

Backstage at the Kimmel Center!

I love Daylight Savings time, but man the transition this month was tough as far as sleeping. We are really enjoying the extra daylight in the evening, though. When the weather was actually nice, we took a pleasant walk on the new segment of the Schuykill Banks trail from South to Christian. I know it will still be many years away, but I still look forward to being able to walk all the way to Gray’s Crescent and Bartram’s Garden.

Schuylkill Banks

Work has been good. I went to a lunchtime yoga wellness program that was really great, and I also attended my first book club meeting. I’m stoked that next month I’ll be able to start working from home 1 day a week! I’m also getting a thrill out of cataloging government documents.

The Public Library Association conference was in Philadelphia, and we did get to spend time with one friend, but I wish I had seen more people. Unfortunately the storms put a big damper on the conference for everyone. That week, unrelated to the conference but coinciding with it, we went to a book talk by Tom’s friend Lynn to hear about her book, Vibrator Nation, so that was fun, especially since it meant getting back to University City for food & drinks.

Farmers’ Markets

The markets aren’t too exciting this time of year anyway, but this month was especially disappointing, since, due to the storms, our seafood vendor, Shore Catch, wasn’t able to get to sea, so we weren’t able to get any fresh fish. For a few weeks, we got frozen salmon from the other farmers’ market, and then the last week, we made a special trip to East Passyunk to go to Ippolito’s fish market. That was a fun treat – we ended up getting scrod and skate.

Wine

This was my first month getting a full shipment of 6 bottles. They let you preview your shipment online, and if there’s something you don’t want, you can switch it out. But, you can only switch out 3 times for the shipment, and what you get when you switch is chosen for you, so there’s a risk that when you switch, you’ll get something even worse than what you started with, and you can’t switch it back. To me, this is nonsense; I don’t need to be playing games (which is literally what this amounts to) with my purchase. So, that was annoying, as I ended up with one wine I really didn’t want. To be fair, I drank that one first, and it turned out fine.

This is the only wine I liked this month

In general, the stuff they are sending matches well with my desired food pairings (vegetables, fish, chicken) so on that front I can’t complain, but on the other hand, nothing excites me. All the whites I’ve received are more on the fruity/floral side than what I would prefer. It also annoys me that their wine tasting cards are inaccurate. For example, I got two bottles of Bergerac Blanc, which were described as having varietal “100% Bergerac Blanc”; but there is no such grape, Bergerac is a region, and the grapes were sauvignon blanc, semillon, and muscadelle, clearly printed on the bottle.

Additional sales: You can buy more of something you’ve already been shipped, but there is no way I can tell of seeing their entire inventory. Their wines are a tad more expensive than what I’d want to pay, so in addition to not being thrilled with the quality of any wines I’ve received thus far, I’m not interested in ordering extra.

As mentioned previously, their rating system is stupid. Thumbs up, Thumbs down, or No rating, is not adequate; since most are just OK, I don’t rate, and since I don’t rate, I can’t really improve what they send.

This was my second month of a 3 month subscription of two whites per month. Once again, the wines were very interesting. I got a Pinot Bianco from Friuli and a Malvasia Bianco from Salina (an island off Sicily). They were both pretty good but not as outstanding as the wines I got last month.

I wish there were a rating system, but this is much more like a traditional winery wine club where you get what you get (everyone gets the same thing) as opposed to something personalized, so ratings are moot.

The plusses are free shipping and excellent quality, interesting wines; the minuses are slow-ass ground shipping from California, which takes about a week. Prices are reasonable considering the quality of the wine, but a little higher than what I want to be paying on a regular basis.

Additional sales: You can buy whatever they carry, whether or not you’ve gotten it in a shipment (minimum 2 bottles each). You can also order a “mystery box” – which I admit I would trust them with based on the wines I’ve had so far. As far as I can tell they have no rosés 😦

Even though the business model of this club annoys me, I will probably stick with it due to the excellent selection. I’m thinking of switching to a mixed x 4 bottle club instead of the white x 2 bottle club.

This was my second full month with the wine club, with 12 x whites. I absolutely LOVED the California white blend I got. Most of the others were pretty good, but I had my first true clunker, too (a CA sauvignon blanc), as well as one that was not quite awful but not quite good (a Portuguese sparkling)- so 4 out of 12 bottles were not things I wanted to drink. That ain’t cool.

I decided to order more roses + reds from their online store, thanks to a $20 credit, but also how awesome their online store is. It’s easy to filter by what matches your tasting profile, then by other factors such as varietal, style, country, etc. I really enjoyed the Italian red and the rosés that I ordered in addition to the wine club.

Everything about this club is WIN. Shipping is only $9.99, and wine prices are exactly the price range I’m comfortable with ($12-$15). Basically this has already become my #1 wine source. I plan to make many additional purchases in addition to the wine club.

This month I  received one of my biannual wine club shipments. This one contained Vermentino, Roussane, Dianthus Rose, Cote de Tablas, Tannat, and Panoplie. I was a bit shocked by the price on the Panoplie- it was much higher than they usually send in a wine club and far beyond my comfort level. I will have to save it for special occasion. So far, I’ve tried the Vermentino, Rose, and Cote de Tablas, which were all wonderful.

Tablas Creek Spring 2018 VINsider club shipment – image via Tablas Creek

I was annoyed that the monthly club shipment was quite late – it was near the end of the month by the time I got it. However, I was rather pleased when it finally came. The theme for this month was Portugal. The white was a very fancy looking alvarinho , and the red was a grape I had never heard of, 80% baga, 20% touriga naçional. The alvarinho was excellent, and the red was very good.

I only went to the actual store once at the beginning of the month, and a few times at the end of the month. I’m getting closer to my goal of being almost free of them! I just need to time some additional shipments so that I have wines around at the end of the month + beginning of the next month.

Beer

For what it’s worth, I’ve checked into 1000 unique beers on Untappd

Dining In

  • We made chicken marsala, which always turns out lovely
  • For Tom’s birthday, I made cassoulet from My Paris Kitchen. I was pretty stoked to order tarbais beans from Rancho Gordo. I see more mail ordered heirloom beans in our future!
  • We made jungle curry clams from Night + Market
  • We made caramel salmon from Dinner
  • We twice made stir-fried bok choy w/peanuts from New Vegetarian Cooking
  • We made red beans & rice for lunches
  • We made chicken with harissa marinade from Zahav – this turned out great, and I would like to try it with fish as well
  • I had fun trying a few new cooking oils: mustard seed and avocado. I love the mustard seed oil with salad – it tastes like wasabi.
  • We made skate meuniere after a fun trip to Ippolito’s
  • I made baked flautas for lunch – OMG I frickin’ love this (thanks Local Mouthful!). I used whole canned pinto beans, green chiles, frozen corn, jack & cheddar cheese, and an assortment of homemade salsas: fermented tomato salsa, canned green salsa, canned tomato salsa, canned red escabeche peppers, and fermented jalapeños. I love bean burritos with all my heart but I’ve never found a pre-made version I care for. I think frozen burritos are awful. Legit flautas would not work since they’d be all fried and greasy, but these baked versions have just the right amount of structure so as to not get soggy or gross. This was made extra special due to all my homemade salsas and preserved peppers.
  • Tom made a delicious sausage, kale, & lentil stew 
  • Tom made braised chicken with lemon and olives
  • We made cod with herbed yogurt  – served with variation on that pomegranate chard recipe I made last month from Jerusalem, but with harvest grains instead of wheat berries. I loved the garlicky yogurt sauce with the cod! This is a keeper.
Cassoulet
peanut bok choy and turmeric cod

Dining Out

  • We went to SouthGate a lot this month: twice for brunch and three times for dinner! Some of this was definitely snow day related, since the food is so comforting and it’s literally across the street. Spoiler alert: we like it there
  • We made it back to Rex 1516 twice for brunch, once on our own and once with our friend visiting from out of town
  • I enjoyed a weekday lunch at IndeBlue with one of my former bosses
  • Tom brought home some delicious pickles from Al-Sham
  • We splurged on delivery to try the new pizza from Metropolitan Cafe, which was excellent
  • When our friend Bobbi was in town, we did a crawl of sorts, from Rex to Jet to Los Camarades.
  • Before and after attending a book event in University City, we went to both Zavino and CoZara, both hitting a spot
  • We had an excellent Friday off, in which we went to Bing Bing Dim Sum for lunch and Vernick for dinner (just bar snacks at the latter).
Margherita pizza from Metropolitan Cafe
Neighborhood crawl with Bobbi
Bing Bing Dim Sum

DIY

Making:

  • I finished making a jar of lemon garlic pickles from The Indian Family Kitchen. It was a really interesting process. First, the whole lemons were preserved in salt brine for a month, then the peels were sliced and hot packed with a pickle brine of vinegar, garlic, more spices, and the spices & salt brine leftover from the fermentation, then sealed and cured for a week. Since this is a British cookbook it didn’t call for water bath canning, but rather, was the “open kettle” method of sealing. I was skeptical, but decided to just follow the recipe. After a few days, I noticed some strange pink sludge had gathered at the top of the jar. I thought it was mold, but when I opened the jar, it wasn’t mold, just something slimy. Not wanting to take any chances, I tossed it and started over making a new batch, which I’ll try again next month. Honestly I’m not sure what went wrong. Initially I blamed it on the sketchy seal and the fact that I had been cooking hot, steamy things in the kitchen that might have caused something to bloom in the jar. On second thought, though, the slime may have developed in the fermentation step. Next time, to be safe, I’m going to water bath can for sure, and I’ll keep a closer eye on the fermentation to see if anything weird is going on; I also think I’ll add fresh spices, salt & lemon juice at the end rather than leftover brine as the recipe calls for, in case the brine has any residual unwanted funk.
  • I finished the fermented garlic paste I started last month – it looks more like pesto since it’s blue-green colored, but it tastes delish. I put an olive oil cap on it to keep it fresh in the fridge. So far we’ve enjoyed it as a quick way to make garlic bread.
  • I started and finished a batch of blaukraut, which is fermented red cabbage, apple, onion, and caraway. The recipe is from Fermented Vegetables, but I adapted it for small batch technique using a similar recipe from Ferment Your Vegetables. Very tasty! It filled a 1 quart jar and 1 smaller jar for the leftovers. One recipe said to ferment for 7 days and the other said 3-4 weeks, so I compromised at 2 weeks, but I wish I had stopped the smaller jar after 1 week for a not-so-sour version. Nonetheless the 2 week version was perfectly sour. I might prefer this to the other rye kraut recipe from Ferment Your Vegetables that uses regular green cabbage rather than red cabbage.
  • I only canned one thing this month – I made calvados apple jam from Saving the Season.
  • I made a new batch of harissa and used it right away. I love having this around.
  • I made a new batch of hummus, which was delicious as always.
  • I tried making fermented celery, which I had read about in the Wild Fermentation Facebook group as a way to preserve leftover celery rather than letting it go to waste.  I fermented the celery slices for 5-6 days, which left them still very crispy and flavorful. So cool. I can’t wait to just have it around, and am curious as to how long it will last in the fridge. Tom used it for a lentil dish and said it worked great
  • I made a match of fermented pickled garlic cloves – I don’t really need it, since we always have garlic round, but I’m curious if/how it will be useful just in case.
  • I had been meaning to try fermented scallions for awhile now. I started a small batch with leftovers from dinner, but haven’t tried it yet. .
Alcohol-preserved ginger and turmeric
Fermented celery and Indian preserved lemons in progress

Using:

  • I’m trying to use more of my fermented ketchup from last year – with potatoes, etc.
  • We opened a jar of pickled zucchini – meh, it’s too soft and too vinegary – I would not do this again. I can toss it with some pasta but a little goes a long way
  • We opened a jar of pickled green beans – very tasty, but not as good as spicy green beans. We enjoyed this a lot.
  • We opened our last jar of homemade BBQ sauce and had it with chicken twice
  • I’m really enjoying the fermented garlic paste
  • We’re enjoying having fermented jalapeños around – it just simplifies things so much when you only need a bit of pepper for garnish or to throw in something
  • We are REALLY enjoying the gin-preserved ginger! This preservation method is brilliant- the ginger stays firm so much better this way than it does either in or out of the fridge or freezer, without losing any flavor or texture.
  • I used some canned whole tomatoes – I enjoyed crushing them by hand. They smelled good, but I didn’t really get to taste them, as they were mixed in with a quinoa dish I was cooking. Since the crushed tomatoes I made last summer were disappointing overall, I’m more interested in trying preserved whole tomatoes and crushing them as needed rather than preserving already crushed tomatoes.
  • We opened our last jar of heirloom tomato sauce – this was the best jar I’ve opened so far. It was much more rich and concentrated than other sauces I made last year.
  • We finished the last of my fermented salsa, so that’s it until tomatoes come back this year
  • We finally opened a jar of hot red pepper escabeche – OMG this is amazing. I wish we had opened it sooner for recipes that require hot red peppers when they’re out of season.
  • I opened a jar of the “official” (NCHFP) recipe salsa expecting it to suck, but it was actually pretty good. It’s a bit more onion-y than tomato-y, though – kind of like pico de gallo.
  • We opened our last jar of pickled peppers – I love this relish recipe from Saving the Season, it’s a keeper. As with some of the other successful preserved pepper recipes, I think oil is key to the final flavor.
Enjoying some pickled carrots, green beans, blaukraut, and hummus

Books

  • Continuing with my Malazan re-read, I finished Memories of Ice in print, and I started and finished House of Chains, the third and fourth books of the series respectively. Memories of Ice is one of my favorite books of all time, and that has not diminished one bit, after this (I believe my 6th?) re-read. I still bawled at the places where I’ve always bawled – the whole last 100 pages or so is an emotional wringer, and I love it. House of Chains has only gotten better after time – unlike Deadhouse Gates and Memories of Ice, it does not bring me to tears, but it is still incredibly satisfying. What I once thought were flaws in this book, I now see as strengths; the characters that I once saw as frustrating, I am now much more empathetic toward, after however many re-reads.
  • I rushed through The Left Hand of Darkness. It had been on my to-read list anyway, but since it was part of my work’s book club, I felt obligated to read it now. I had waited a long time to get it on hold via FLP Overdrive, but found that when it arrived, I wasn’t in the mood (sorry not sorry Malazan re-read). I stalled, then tried to finish it in the last 3 days before my loan expired, which was a less than optimal experience. I don’t think I was able to give it a fair enough chance one way or the other; I definitely need to read it again. Tom got a print anthology from his library, so I’ll give it another shot in print format.

Stitch Fix

I hadn’t got a fix for a while, but I was not especially thrilled with this shipment. I kept 2 pieces:a  black silk blouse, and a teal pencil skirt.

Last Month’s Update

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