Life in Philly
Overall, we had some nice spring days this month, though toward the end of the month it got rainy and humid.
We went up to Fox Chase a few times, to say goodbye to Tom’s childhood home, as well as to grill with Dennis. We got some excellent sausages at Rieker’s, and also brought up some veggies and scallops from the farmers’ market.
We saw the new Star Wars movie, Solo, which we both thoroughly enjoyed, as well as a BYO screening of Dr. Strangelove at the Roxy, which was fantastic. I don’t know why I never saw Dr. Strangelove before, as it seems like something my parents should have known about and shared. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like Solo- if you just want action, it’s totally entertaining, and if you’re a hardcore fan who follows the Star Wars canon, it has so many fun moments, like seeing Han meet Chewie, and seeing them get the Millennium Falcon. Not to mention that L337 was a hoot with her droid liberation.
We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see a couple exhibits, including one on American Modernism 1910-1950, as well as an exhibit on 1960s design.
We continued to buy as much asparagus as we can handle, while we can. We tried Doc Pickle’s olives for the first time, which was fun. We also saw our first strawberries toward the end of the month. I think I may have given up on getting fresh cut flowers at the market and bringing them to work – they are nice at first, but just too messy!
This was my first month getting a 4 bottle club shipment instead of two. So far, so good. I really enjoyed the three that we’ve tried, though I confess by the end of the month we still hadn’t tried the riesling, as we hadn’t had the right food opportunity. I tried ordering extra wines from their bottle shop for the first time, but they didn’t arrive by the end of the month (free, but slow-ass shipping), so I’ll have to report on that next time.
Per my pattern for the last few months, I got my club shipment + 6 extra bottles from the bottle shop. As with last month, I am concerned about the declining selection I’ve seen since I started this at the beginning of the year. This was the first month where there was really nothing to get excited about. I replaced a few bottles in my club shipment, but ironically, it turns out the ones I didn’t think I’d like were the ones I liked the most – a riesling and a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. From my bottle shop shipment, the only thing to get excited about was an Oregon Pinot Gris “Concern Worldwide”, which benefits charity. It’s not as if I’m going to cancel any time soon, but I do hope the selection improves.
This month’s theme was Washington State, which excited me initially in theory, but turned out to be kind of sucky. There was an oaky chardonnay (blech) and an OK red blend (blend of what? who knows). This was another one of those months that made me want to cancel the subscription (why spend $65 including tax + shipping on 2 bottles of wine I don’t want???), but since I started this last July, I want to see it through for one more month, so that I will have an entire year to judge, before I quit. So, we’ll see how next month goes, and I’ll cancel regardless, and then I’ll write up the entire year.
It was a good month for home cooking, thanks in part to all my Rancho Gordo beans.
This month’s Rancho Gordo inspired meals included:
- Tom improvised a hoppin’ john, with Eye of the Goat beans, based on a version he had had at Snap Kitchen. In addition to the beans, it included roasted sweet potatoes (spiced with smoked paprika), brown rice, hummus, beans, spinach, and pine nuts. Delicious! The Eye of the Goat beans are so pert and perfect.
- Raquel beans with broccoli rabe, from New Vegetarian Cooking – this recipe was delicious and highlighted the Raquel beans so well.
- Black beans & asparagus over wild rice – I used Ayocote Negro beans for this, and I roasted the asparagus instead of serving it raw. The preparation was so tasty, and over wild rice, it was even better.
- I used San Franciscano beans to make flautas for lunch several times – these beans may have stolen my heart away from pintos, they are so rich and delicious.
- Bryant Terry’s hominy and spinach in tomato-garlic broth – this recipe appears in Rancho Gordo’s Guide to Posole, but originally comes from Afro Vegan. The broth was so rich and delicious and was such a wonderful pairing with the hominy.
- Paste e fagioli from Preserving Italy – this time I used Rancho Gordo cranberry beans and Semolina conchiglie from Los Angeles. This recipe is so consistently fabulous, you can’t go wrong. I think I liked it better with more delicate white beans, though.
- Posole Verde from Rancho Gordo’s Guide to Posole – I think this stands up to any posole I’ve gotten from a restaurant, and had just the right amount of heat. It was crying out for pulled chicken, though. This would be perfect for tossing in some leftover rotisserie chicken.
- I made rio zape beans in a simple charro beans recipe. Rio Zape was one of the first Rancho Gordo beans I bought, and in my first preparation, I didn’t really get why they were so special, but this second time, I could see how they were similar to but so much richer than pinto beans. It really helps to try these beans side-by-side.
I have to say, I have really been enjoying both kinds of Rancho Gordo oregano as well – the dried leaves unfurl the way good tea leaves do.
Other highlights from eating in this month include:
- I made a nice romesco sauce from sad peppers and blanched almonds – we served this with tilefish as well as with asparagus omelettes, initially, but after that we snacked on it with crackers or whatever was on hand. I like this almost as much as muhammara!
- scallops w/asparagus risotto (improvised)
- wok-fried asparagus with walnuts (repeat)
- spring vegetable pad thai (repeat)
- Persian tamarind salmon
- jade noodles
- chicken with yogurt-za’atar marinade (improvised)
- mahi mahi with brown butter corn (repeat)
This was also a good month for dining out, especially due to some time off from work.
On my own, I went to Danlu with a colleague and really enjoyed it – I got duck with noodles. On my way home from work one day, I finally tried my first Philadelphia water ice! It was a strawberry daiquiri from Siddiq’s Water Ice – the bar has been set very high. I had a few lunches by myself on my days off – Marathon Grill (al fresco), where I had a nice veggie sandwich, Tria Taproom, where I had a tasty falafel wrap, and delivery from Rooster Soup Company, where I had a delicious mushroom cheesesteak. I also had jury duty one day and finally got to try a corn dog from Fox & Son.
We had a nice evening at Cafe Lutecia‘s Tuesday night BYOB, since we hadn’t done that in awhile. We also had a pleasant dinner with Dennis at Moonstruck. We went to our usual neighborhood places several times for both brunch and dinner – Southgate, Los Camaradas, and Jet Wine Bar. We also tried Chick’s for the first time – it was way too loud, but the beer was good, and we loved the Spicy Boy pizza.
Toward the end of the month, we had a mini-staycation of sorts, including:
- lunch at Little Nonna’s – this was decadent and ever so pleasant, sitting out on the back patio. We especially loved their roast pork sandwich – it might be the most tender and delicious I’ve ever had.
- brunch at Blue Corn – Tom got the huevos divorciados, and I got the huevos rancheros – both were a breath of fresh air, and the cafe de olla was delightful as well.
- lunch at Second District Brewing – I will never get tired of the Czerw’s pierogis they have there, and we had the most amazing special hot dog – it was topped with green papaya salad, spicy peanut sauce, and crushed peanuts. A delightful, lingering lunch, and 1/4 the price of what we spent at Little Nonna’s.
- lunch at Sabrina’s – this was our first time at the Fairmount location, which was a pleasant surprise – much more casual and diner-y than South Philly or University City. We stopped there on our way to the art museum, which was convenient. The food there is just Too Much, but it had been awhile, so it was good to go there again.
- dinner at Amis – this is always a special treat, and we loved how quiet it was on a Wednesday evening.
- breakfast & lunch at Suraya – this is our new favorite place! I wish it was closer. We meant to do this as part of a Fishtown crawl, but ended up just spending the entire time (about 3 hours) there. We started with a course of coffee (Stumptown!) and pastries (kouign amann and jalousie). While we waited for the lunch menu to be available, we had another course of za’atar + labne flatbread, with extra toum and chile sauce. Next up, we ordered the shish taouk sandwich, mushroom hummus, and crudite, with 961 Lebanese Pale Ale. Everything was delicious, and the presentation was gorgeous. We finished up with some 961 red ale. On our way out, I bought some orange blossom water, since they carry the best brand, and I’d rather buy it from them than online. Love love love! Too bad we didn’t take any pictures!
- wine & snacks at Harper’s Garden – this turned out to be about what I expected – all style and no substance. It is a beautiful space, and the drinks and food were quite good, but the service blows and the scene is douchey. I still wish it had been a Tria, but I suppose even if it was a Tria, they wouldn’t have been able to avoid the scene. Best for us if Tria stays south of Chestnut, though we are still resentful of them closing Tria Fitler Square to supposedly open this wine garden that never happened and have it taken over by this lame restaurant group.
- I made 2 more kinds of pickled asparagus – one was from the cold pack spicy green beans recipe I really like, and the other was a cold pack version of the same hot pack version I made last month from Saving the Season. There’s still technically one more cold pack pickled asparagus recipe I wanted to try, but I might wait until next year.
- I started the process of making homemade bacon, using a recipe from Preserving Italy. I didn’t want an entire pork belly, so when I saw some pork belly for sale that was already sliced, I bought 2 slices. I made a curing salt mixture per the recipe and let it age in the fridge for a week. Next month it will be rinsed in wine and will continue to cure for another 3-5 weeks.
- We saw the first strawberries of the season, so I tried a simple strawberry jam recipe from Preserving Italy. It was a good reminder that I am out of practice with canning. So much of it is about timing – my jam was ready but my jars weren’t in place, and in the 30 seconds it took to take my jars out of the oven and put down a towel and set up the funnel, my jam burned and got overcooked. The jam was boiling too hard when I poured it into the jars, such that the headspace came out all wrong by the time the jam settled. Oh well, there are at least 2 more strawberry jam recipes I want to try, so better luck next time. I hear the strawberry crop this year was pretty small, so I might only have one more chance this year.
- It’s still a bit too early for tomatoes, but I saw some lovely heirloom tomatoes at Whole Foods that were supposedly local, so I bought them to make some caprese. The first one was mealy and not at all delicious, so I turned the second one into fermented tomato salsa (recipe from Ferment Your Vegetables). It’s good to have tomato salsa around again!
- I had bought some tomatillos at Whole Foods to make posole, and I saved half of them to make a batch of my favorite salsa verde, which I had also run out of. Unfortunately, I experienced my first jar explosion in the canner; the boil was too rapid and it flipped the jar over. All that was salvaged from that batch was a small 4 oz jar. Lessons learned!
- I canned a new batch of wine soaked carrots from Preserving Italy. I had bought some nice looking rainbow carrots from the hydroponic vendor at the Fitler Square farmers’ market, but unfortunately several of the carrots were quite woody (I’d never seen such a thing!). I’m sort of hoping the the hot pack process might have softened those carrots, but we’ll see.
- The only new preserve I opened this month was a peach almond marsala conserve I made last summer from Preserving Italy. As with all of my peach preserves, this was also delicious! The marsala adds a delightful touch, and the sliced almonds make for a fun texture. This one was a keeper.
- In my Malazan re-read, following Wertzone’s Better Malazan Reading Order, I finished Night of Knives (NoK), read The Bonehunters (TBH), Return of the Crimson Guard (RoTCG), Stonewielder (SW), and started Reaper’s Gale (RG). I like this reading order so far, which integrates Steven Erikson’s and Ian Cameron Esslemont’s separate Malazan Book of the Fallen and Malazan Empire series. In the past, I had read both series separately, but I am enjoying reading them in this side-by-side manner. I think NoK works well before TBH, I appreciated RoTCG infinitely more in this placement than I had previously, and SW flows perfectly after RoTCG. Apparently there is some controversy about whether RoTCG should come before or after RG. I admit that right after TBH, I wanted nothing more than to go straight to RG, so it was frustrating to wait, but I got over it, and actually it was quite satisfying to go back to RG after the 2 Esselmont books. There is one plot point in RoTCG that would seem to take place after, not before RG, so I wonder if that is a continuity error on the part of the authors or if in fact RG should be read before RoTCG. Maybe next time I’ll try it the other way to see how it feels. NoK and RoTCG are still poorly written, and have terrible copy editing, with punctuation and spacing errors abounding, so my overall opinion of those books did not change. However, I now realize and appreciate how crucial the events of RoTCG are to the overall timeline, so despite its flaws, I think it is a must-read for any fan of the main series.
- I read two Star Wars books this month: Leia, Princess of Alderan, and Lords of the Sith. The Leia book was by Claudia Gray, so of course it was good. I liked it a lot, though it wasn’t at the level of Lost Stars or Bloodline. It still had lots of juicy reveals for the canon and good character development for Leia – part earnest, part “do you know who I am” entitlement, part learning some humility. And we got to meet a young Admiral Holdo. Lords of the Sith was fine. It had some interesting character development for Darth Vader, and it was kind of cool to read about Cham Sandula, but I thought it was bizarre that Cham never references his daughter Hera whatsoever. Jerk.
- I finished The Night Masquerade, the final book of the Binti series. It got off to a slow start, but what an ending! I really enjoyed it, as I have the rest of the Binti novellas.
- I read Defy the Stars, my first Claudia Gray book that wasn’t a Star Wars novel. It was so good! I seem to be enjoying sci-fi books with POVs from an AI; Abel might be the most sympathetic AI I’ve read yet, except for Breq in Ancillary Justice. I really want to read the sequel, but the Free Library doesn’t have it on Overdrive yet.
- I read La Belle Sauvage, the first book of Philip Pullman’s new Book of Dust series. As with The Golden Compass, I was immediately drawn into this world. It was very well written, and I look forward to the next entry in this series.
- I started Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which is the second book of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series.
Last Month’s Update