April 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

All in all, it finally feels like spring, despite some “psych” moments in the first half of the month where it got cold and rainy again. It was a rough start, with a few nice warm days, then quick turn-arounds to cold, gloomy days again, but by the end of the month it was mostly consistently nice out. The trees had better luck blossoming this year than last year, though the cherry blossoms got quickly blown away by a storm. We took a few nice walks on the South-Christian extension of the Schuylkill Banks trail, as well as an excursion across the river to see the CHOP complex.

With spring comes the return of baseball! It’s been nice to have the sounds of the game on the evenings and weekends.

My dad came to visit and we hit a few museums, the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Penn Museum of Archaeology. We had been to the American Jewish Museum before, and as with the first time, we really enjoyed the special exhibit, which this time was about Leonard Bernstein. It might have been one of the better exhibits I have ever seen, anywhere. We had never been to the Penn Museum before (or at least, I hadn’t), and I was very impressed with its extensive collections. One of the special exhibits was about all the human damage and cultural relics lost in the Iraq and Syria wars, and it was extremely moving. Their North American exhibit might have been one of the better Native American exhibits I have ever seen, in that it truly emphasized contemporary voices, reminding us that they are still here, and included modern native art side-by-side with historical pieces.

Leonard Bernstein’s Piano at the National Museum of American Jewish History – photo by Tom Ipri
Iraq-Syria exhibit at Penn Museum – photo by Tom Ipri

I had an excellent facial at Oggi Salon and am kicking myself for not going there sooner. Not only is it the only Guinot salon in the area, it’s actually cheaper than the natural organic place I was going across town. I think when I moved here I once saw an old lady with a fur coat and a ton of makeup coming out and thought it would be too Rittenhouse for me. But it was quite friendly and relaxed. I look forward to going back soon and clearing up this damn acne that’s been insidious since December.

I bought myself this cute earring tree, and it’s such a small thing, but it makes such a big difference to have all my earrings organized and available rather than having to dig for them in a box. The little tray at the bottom is handy for throwing things in when I’m too lazy to put them away properly, and then I can hang them up later.

I started working from home on Fridays and I truly love it. I also had some big changes at work this month, with some organizational changes that increased my portfolio and nearly doubled my department size. I am looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities this brings.

Toward the end of the month, Tom had a work thing up in Chestnut Hill, so I met him there for dinner. We hadn’t been there for several years, and it’s always nice to remember how cute it is.

At the end of the month, the Philadelphia Film Society held a weekend-long Spring Fest version of the Film Festival, which was delightful. Tom and I went to RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, both of which were inspirational and tear-jerking. I hope PFF does this every year!

Farmers’ Markets

I was good toward the beginning of the month at getting flowers for my office, but got lazy toward the end.

In the middle of the month, we saw our first asparagus! This seems earlier than last year, so that’s a fun treat, we weren’t even expecting it.

asparagus – photo by Tom Ipri

Wine

The Tasting Room by Lot 18:

This month I got two bottle shop orders and one club shipment. I definitely enjoyed everything I ordered from the bottle shop, including some rosés and a Muscadet. The club was good for the most part, but there were two wines that didn’t thrill me, a Gewurtztraminer and a Bordeaux Blanc. I enjoyed a Gruner as well as several Italian white table wines. I noticed when I made my second bottle shop order that the selection seemed to be on the decline – I hope this picks back up soon so I can continue getting a nice variety and trying new things.

bottle of wine
This is an Art Project rosé

Firstleaf:

I finally gave up on this and canceled my subscription. This month’s club was another where everything was OK, but nothing was great, and the selection was extremely dull. There were more annoyances like having a wine’s varietal listed as “French white wine,” and it looked like next month they were gonna ship me a bunch of pinot grigios and chardonnays, so no thanks.

Plonk:

This was another fun shipment. I got two white varietals I had never heard of before: Cococciola from Italy, and Tressalier from France. Both were wonderful. Since my 3 month subscription was up, I re-upped on a monthly basis and increased from 2 bottles to 4.

State Store:

The club shipment was very late again this month, but I was pleased with what we got. The theme was Tuscany, so one can’t really go wrong with that. We haven’t drunk these yet, but there is a Super Tuscan red, and the white is a Vermentino-Trebbiano blend.

I should say we only went to the state store proper a few times this month, but did get some good stuff. It’s a great time of year for rosés, I got a very nice Lugana, and Tom found a nice small batch amaro. Tom also at one point got some wine from Whole Foods; while it was nothing special, I thought it worth noting that it was not significantly different from regular state store prices, as I would have expected more of a markup.

Dining In

I joined the Rancho Gordo Bean Club, so it’s been a fun month trying out all kinds of heirloom beans. Toward the beginning of the month, before I had joined the bean club, we had some delightful black bean chili made from ayocote negro, rio zape beans with cumin and chili from New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Turkish white bean stew using Marcella beans, and fish and posole stew using Rancho Gordo’s hominy.

fish and posole stew

Then we got the bean club, which included Raquel, Eye of the Goat, Cassoulet, Pinto, Cranberry, and San Franciscano beans, as well as extras of crimson popping corn and cinnamon. So far I made rajma from Eye of the Goat, and clams with Cassoulet beans. Almost as much as the beans themselves, I’ve been loving the bean broth, which turns out to make a great substitute for chicken broth. We’ll be making more of these over the next month.

Rancho Gordo Bean Club Spring 2018 – photo by Tom Ipri
Rajma with Eye of the Goat beans

Other than our new beans, some favorite recipes from this month included:

  • Garlic scallops – this was a repeat, but always great
  • Brazilian-style fish stew – I got red palm oil on a fun excursion to try Mom’s Organic Market. I love the color and savory flavor of this oil and look forward to more things to make with it.
  • Zahav chicken marinade w/Amba (mango pickle) – I was able to get a jar of Amba from Goldie as part of my delivery. It had a very interesting flavor – sour & funky.
  • Achari chicken – this also used the Amba. Definitely a keeper for a chicken breast recipe.
  • Laquered shrimp and scallops – this is based on an Anson Mills recipe, using Carolina Gold rice flour coating. Next time I make an Anson Mills order, I will get some oat flour to do this properly, but in the meantime we are just using the rice flour, with a bit of smoked paprika and cayenne. I love the way the rice flour doesn’t smoke, and it sticks so well.
  • Now that asparagus is back, we’re enjoying it with everything, but our omelettes are certainly a highlight
  • This is a bit silly, but Tom got a box of mac and cheese from Whole Foods, and it was one of my favorite things.
Brazilian-style fish stew
https://www.flickr.com/photos/htomren/39970759960/
asparagus omelette

Dining Out

The highlight of the month by far was going to Vetri Cucina to belatedly celebrate Tom’s 50th birthday. This was really something else; I’m so glad we finally made it there. The chef’s tasting menu and wine pairings were worth every penny, and I thought it was quite a bargain compared to other tasting menu experiences I’ve had in LA, Vegas, and Chicago. It might even be the best meal I’ve ever had; it’s certainly up there. Between 3 people, we were almost able to try the entire menu; I love the way they gave us each different dishes with each course, as well as dishes they put in the middle of the table for us to share. The wine pairings were exquisite. Everything was excellent, but standouts included all of the pasta (especially the ricotta ravioli) and the pistachio flan. We’re already talking about excuses to go back.

Vetri Cucina – photos by Tom Ipri

We went to SouthGate nearly every week, either for dinner or brunch, which I am just loving. I’m so glad we’re finally becoming regulars.

Octopus Confit at SouthGate – photo by Tom Ipri

I hope in the future to try more delivery food when I’m working from home. This month I tried Goldie Falafel, which lived up to expectations.

Goldie falafel sandwich with schug tehina

I got to try a veggie grinder from Rittenhouse Foodery one day when I took a vacation day, and had some nice chicken pho from Bistro Southeast when I was home sick.

veggie grinder at The Foodery

My dad came to visit during the middle of the month, so we had a few nice meals. Highlights were brunch at Standard Tap and dinner at Audrey Claire. We also enjoyed trying the new location of Yards Brewery.

Audrey Claire

In Chestnut Hill, we had beers at the Chestnut Hill Brewing Company, and dinner at Cin Cin, which was quite good.

At the end of the month, at our friend Heather’s suggestion, we tried Ristorante La Buca, which was a kind of old school Italian American restaurant in Washington Square. Everything was quite good; it’s nice not having to go to South Philly for that style of food. We also enjoyed trying Writer’s Block Rehab for the first time.

Writer’s Block Rehab

DIY

Making:

  • I finished up my 2nd try at Indian lemon garlic pickles from Indian Fmaily Kitchen – this time I kept a close eye on the salt preserve throughout the month and did scoop out some mold at one point. Instead of re-using potentially slimy spices from the month long salt brine, I added fresh Indian bay leaves, chili peppers, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds at the end. I still did use some of the leftover lemon salt brine, despite reservations, but strained it and measured it out so as not to use too much. I think last time, I left the garlic cloves whole, but this time, I noticed they were supposed to be sliced. I had bought mustard oil, so this time I used mustard oil to heat the spices rather than vegetable oil. As the brine was boiling, I did notice some foaming, and wasn’t sure if it was due to the presence of oil or some funkiness with the salt brine, or neither or both, but it did seem to dissipate. I water bath canned for 10 minutes. So I hope these additional precautions make for a better jar of pickles this time. I haven’t tried it yet, but I hope to next month.
  • I made the pickled asparagus recipe from Saving the Season. In retrospect, I should have cold packed, but I followed the recipe, which called for blanching. I want to try asparagus again a few different ways with cold pack, since I want the end result to be as crisp as possible. I feel like I was really out of practice with canning, even though it’s only been a few months!
  • I made a new batch of Healing Bitters, since I had gotten a cold.
Indian pickled lemon & garlic

Using:

  • I finished off the last jar of crushed green heirloom tomatoes – it was nowhere near as exciting as I had hoped to have different colored crushed tomatoes. To the contrary, the non-red tomatoes have been quite boring.
  • I found my first failed seal 😦 It had to happen eventually, but it’s still sad. Sorry, pear butter, maybe next year.
  • I opened my jar of tomatillo ketchup – we had it with salmon. I like it, but it’s harder than I thought to find a use case.
  • I used the fermented scallions I started last month- they were pretty good, actually. They weren’t crispy, but OK to throw in a stir fry if you don’t have fresh scallions. I don’t think I’d do this again unless I was desperate to preserve the end of a bunch.
  • I opened the last batch of spicy green beans from last year – they were mushier than previous batches, but I’m not sure if it’s because they were older (made last June) or just overcooked at the time.
  • I opened our last jar of salsa verde – I’ll look forward to tomatillos so I can make some more!
  • I tossed jars of pickled zucchini and pickled green tomatoes to free up space in the fridge. Zucchini is definitely not on the list of things I need to preserve in the future; we’ll enjoy it when it’s fresh, and it’s mostly fine when out of season. I don’t like the flavor that pickling imparts to zucchini, so I just don’t want to eat it.

Books

  • For my Malazan re-read, I started and finished Midnight Tides in print, and started Night of Knives on Kindle. I’m trying to follow Adam’s reading order this time around. Midnight Tides was excellent as always. Now that I bought the Kindle version of Night of Knives, I hope to get more out of it; my print edition is a very early printing and is so rife with errors, I’ve had trouble getting into it in the past.
  • I bought and read Black Tides of Heaven on Kindle, and really enjoyed it. I am trying to get more accustomed to they/them pronouns used in a gender neutral sense, and this really helped. I look forward to reading the sequel.
  • I got We Were Eight Years in Power from the Free Library but didn’t finish the whole book before my loan expired. I really enjoyed what I did read, though, and placed a new hold so I can try to finish it in the future.

Last Month’s Update

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