Life in Philly
It was a great month overall, though the heat in Philly was rather oppressive at times. Luckily, we spent a good portion of the month in California. 🙂 When we got back from vacation, we had a visit from my friend Sarah for a few days, and Tom got some very good news about his job (more on that later). We saw Star Wars Episode IV at the Mann Theater with the Philadelphia Orchestra, which was fantastic. We also went to a Phillies-Dodgers game with work colleagues, where we had delicious hot dogs (it went into extra innings, but the Phillies won; I was actually rooting for the Dodgers, so boo). I was saddened by the passing of Jonathan Gold; I’ve never really reacted to a “celebrity” death before, but this one really got to me. On the last day of the month, I took a work day trip to State College; it was interesting to see more of the rural PA countryside.
We had a wonderful vacation to California for my friend Anton’s wedding party. We’ve been on so few proper vacations, as most of our travel ends up being work-related, so this felt long overdue.
We flew into San Jose, and started our trip in Cupertino, which was the location of the wedding hotel. It was a little funny to be in the place where the iPhone factory settings default to – there were certainly Apple office buildings everywhere. However, it wasn’t just an office park suburban hellscape – while there was not a ton of stuff immediately near our hotel, within about a mile’s walk there were a great deal of tasty Asian restaurants and other food options. After a long day of planes and airports, we were in the mood for something cool and light, so we opted for Rootstock Wine Bar and had a few snacks. The next morning, we found a pretty good breakfast place, and then after relaxing the rest of the morning, we headed to the wedding party.
The wedding party was held in Sanborn County Park in Saratoga, aside a grove of lovely redwood trees. It was a perfectly relaxing, chill setting. The marriage ceremony had been held the day before at San Francisco City Hall, so this was a social get-together. There was a delicious spread of Filipino food, as well as a taco truck and churros truck, and Anton and colleagues provided live music. Afterwards we headed back to our hotel and enjoyed some excellent gin and tonics at the bar.
The following morning, we found a great breakfast place in West San Jose, which I’ll call Absolutely Bill’s Cafe, where I had some excellent chilaquiles. We took Highway 17 down to Santa Cruz. I had only been to Santa Cruz once in the mid-1990s didn’t know quite what to do or where to go, but we parked in a metered spot, added all our quarters, and headed toward the pier. I really liked the view from the boardwalk and all the tasty-looking seafood, but unfortunately we didn’t really have time to enjoy much of it – we just took a nice stroll and took photos. Next time I would certainly like to stay longer and see more of the city and get a bite to eat.
After Santa Cruz, we continued driving to Monterey. We found a place to park and headed to Fisherman’s Wharf for lunch, ending up at Abalonetti. We got an appetizer of Gilroy roasted garlic, which ended up being a whole garlic bulb for each of us! I got calamari tacos, and Tom got fish & chips. After lunch, we walked around and went to the Salvador Dali museum.
After that we headed to Carmel-by-the-Sea, where we would be staying for the next three days. Oh, it was heaven! When we checked into our room, I noticed there was no air conditioning and was a little concerned. But we opened the window and there was such a lovely ocean breeze, which was even better. I loved that it was a good 20 degrees cooler there than anywhere else. Once we were settled, we walked around town a little bit. For dinner, we hadn’t done a whole lot of research, but ended up at a decent Italian place nearby, Bistro Giovanni.
The next morning we had a lovely breakfast at The Village Corner, then headed down to the beach before it got too hot & crowded. Ah, the beach! It was a pretty steep walk, which was fine on the way down but quite the effort on the way back up. We hadn’t previously been thinking about wine tasting in Carmel, but once we realized there were so many tasting rooms, we decided to check it out. Before lunch, we tried Albatross Ridge, which had a lovely tasting room, and quite excellent local Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. We went to lunch at Dametra, which had looked tantalizing the night before when we were seeking dinner, but turned out to be just OK – we both had rather dry falafel. After lunch, we went wine tasting at Caraccioli Cellars, which featured a very nice sparkling and an excellent rosé, as well as nice Chardonnay and Pinot. We relaxed back at our room for awhile, then had a wonderful dinner at Cultura. I have to say it was one of the better modern Mexican places I’d eaten at, ever. In addition to our food, the wine & cocktails were excellent. We were especially pleased with the barrel aged mezcal negroni, which used St. George’s Bruto Americano in place of Campari.
The next morning we had breakfast at Lafayette Kitchen and returned to the beach for another walk. Afterwards, we decided to repeat our pattern from the day before, with a wine tasting before lunch & after lunch. First, we went to Wrath, which was my favorite Carmel winery of the trip. All of the pinot noirs were outstanding, and they had several lovely sauvignon blancs, including one in a can. Of all the tasting rooms we visited, this was the winery I most wished shipped to PA. We had lunch at Grasing’s Seafood, which was overall unimpressive. I did get a small portion of expensive abalone, but it was overshadowed by the excellent heirloom tomatoes it was served with. After lunch, we went to two somewhat disappointing wine tasting rooms, Scratch and Hahn. As with the day before, we spent some time relaxing in our hotel room, then went to dinner at Yafa, which was our best meal in Carmel. After dinner, we went back to Cultura for some after-dinner drinks.
On our last morning in Carmel, while there was another breakfast joint we wanted to try, we ended up back at Village Corner since we had enjoyed it the first time. We spent the remainder of the morning relaxing in our room, waiting as long as we could to check out, because we so didn’t want to leave! We just got into such a wonderful relaxy zone while we were there. We had originally thought about having lunch in Big Sur en route to Paso Robles, but Highway 1 was still partially closed, so instead we went back up to Monterey for lunch. We took the “17 mile drive” in Pebble Beach from Carmel to Monterey, which was quite lovely.
Rather than stopping back at the wharf, we ate at a place slightly off the beaten path, Monterey’s Fish House. Google told us to take a weird back way back to the 101. The whole way down to Paso I was regretting even thinking about adding this to our trip, as I was having Carmel withdrawal. It didn’t help that when we finally got to Paso a few hours later, it turned out the hotel I had picked out was way more out of town than I thought it would be. Next time, Paso Robles Inn or bust! It was hot and we were tired and it was a pain in the ass walk to downtown, even though it was only a mile, since it was not very pedestrian friendly. We stopped at Thomas Hill Organics for a glass of wine, and we thought we had secured a reservation at The Hatch for dinner. When we got to The Hatch, it turned out to be a weird blip in the Yelp Reservations system and they didn’t have our reservation at all. They still seated us, but rushed us out. The food was OK, but not remarkable, so it was all rather disappointing. Luckily this was almost made up for by some excellent after-dinner drinks across the street at Fish Gaucho, which boasted one of the best mezcal selections I’ve ever seen.
The next morning, we had a good Mexican breakfast at Los Robles Cafe. After walking around town a bit, we got in the car and drove to Tablas Creek Vineyard for a tasting. It had been so long since I had been to Paso, it’s sad to say that Adelaida Road didn’t even look familiar anymore, but it was a lovely drive. We had a very nice tasting there, but we didn’t want to mix more drinking and driving, so that was the only place we stopped. We came back into town and had a nice lunch at Farmstead Kitchen before heading back to our room to relax. For dinner, we trekked back into town and ate at Jeffry’s Wine Country BBQ, followed by a wine tasting at Indigenè Cellars. Both were in a little back alley behind where Artisan used to be – it was kind of a cool setting, it felt very different for Paso. I don’t know how to explain it, but Paso 10 years ago had more extremes, like stuffy/fancy and provincial/low-brow with nothing in between, and now there is this layer of places that are both relaxed/casual and high quality, which didn’t used to exist, and I love it.
The next morning, we had an amazing breakfast at Kitchenette in Templeton, from the former Artisan folks (thanks to our pourer at Tablas for the hot tip). It was casual counter service, but super good, fresh/local food. We didn’t linger long in Templeton, but even a short drive through town made me want to spend more time there, and made me regret that we didn’t make it to McPhee’s. Templeton just has a small town, old-West feel with so much good food & wine. While we didn’t stop for any further tastings, we also found our way to the Tin City section of Paso, that has an amazing concentration of tasting rooms plus a brewery. It’s a definite must for next time.
Despite our enjoyable breakfast, we were ready to bust out of there and make our way back to Monterey for lunch. We made the drive, and returned to Fisherman’s Wharf to try a different place. We ended up at Scales, which was one of the places we had considered on our first day. I have to admit I had been a little turned off by the blatant hawking on the outside, but once on the inside it was quite lovely and serene. My beers kind of sucked, but our artichoke & calamari appetizer was excellent, and Tom and I both enjoyed our entrees. Tom got a seafood pasta, and I got a mixed seafood grill with swordfish, salmon, and shrimp. After our lunch, we drove back to San Jose, to a hotel near the airport.
We had arrangements to meet Anton for dinner, so we only barely had time to drop off our stuff before it was time to head out again. We were tired of driving, so we took a Lyft to Redwood City. The place he had picked out (Vesta) had a great pizza menu, and we opted for most of their seasonal specials: an heirloom tomato & burrata salad, roasted carrots, cherry pizza, and peach pizza. After dinner, we headed back to Anton’s place to visit awhile longer. And then, sigh, it was time to head back, and then get up early for our flight back to Philadelphia.
I probably get more homesick each time I go to California, and this was no exception. We only brought back a few souvenirs in person, including a bag of locally roasted coffee beans from Carmel, and a bottle of wine from Tablas Creek. After our return, we bought some more things online to remind us of our trip, including:
- Pepper Plant hot sauce – this was at every single restaurant we went to on the Central Coast, from San Jose even down to Paso. Apparently it’s a local favorite!
- can-shaped beer glasses – they had these at Jeffry’s BBQ in Paso, and I don’t know why, but I’m totally enamored with their form factor. I’ve been steadily breaking water glasses at home and it was getting time to order more pint glasses anyway, so these fit the bill. I don’t recall seeing them before the trip, but now that I’m aware of them, I’m seeing them everywhere.
- can caps – I had no idea these were a thing, but we saw them at one of the wine tasting rooms in Carmel that sold wine by the can. Every once in awhile I do want to save the partially opened contents of a beer can, so these are great.
- Bruto Americano – thank goodness the State Store carried this online. We had it in a cocktail in Carmel and really liked it. FINALLY a Campari substitute we can get our hands on!
Despite loving our vacation, we were quite anxious to get back to the farmers’ market. On our first weekend back, we got in late on a Saturday, so it was a good excuse to go the Headhouse Farmers’ Market on Sunday. We got some wonderful Anadama bread from High Street and some lovely tomatillos, as well as corn, tomatoes, and a skate wing from Shore Catch.
The following week we were back at Fitler and Rittenhouse and I was glad to get plums, cherries, tomatoes, peaches, and corn so I could start preserving again.
My monthly club shipment didn’t arrive until after we got back from California, which is really late in the month even for Plonk and their slow-ass shipping. We drank two of them when Sarah was visiting, so I didn’t really pay close attention to them, but they were good. The real standout was Caiatì, 100% Pallagrello Bianco, an indigenous grape from Campania.
When we returned from vacation, it was time for our quarterly Rancho Gordo bean club! Here’s what we got this time:
- Alubia Blanca – little tiny white beans, so cute, but very delicate
- Azufrado – brilliant, excellent substitute for cannellini, very meaty white bean
- Domingo Rojo – excellent red bean, makes a deeply flavored broth
- Flageolet – surprisingly green, vegetal, delicate. Good substitute for yellow wax bean, good salad bean
- Scarlet Runner – big, meaty, like a dark version of Royal Coronas
- Yellow Eye – creamy, delicious, sturdy, perfect for baked beans
- Spelt – basically, farro. Very nice quality, with a rich, nutty flavor. I didn’t realize there were 3 kinds of farro, and this is the long grain kind.
Here are the bean recipes we tried this month:
- Drunken beans with Eye of the Goat – this was disappointing – I am tired of the bean recipes that call for cooking with beer
- Easy curried beans with Raquel – super good!
- Veggie burgers with Midnight Black – these were fantastic! I cooked the black beans with dried chipotle, so good!
- Alubia blanca & corn with scallops
- Flageolet and Domingo Rojo in 3-bean salad
- Azufrado with shrimp, sausage & arugula
- Vegetarian baked beans with Yellow Eye
- Caribbean red beans & rice with Domingo Rojo
- Scarlet runner bean “bourgignon” – bean broth, mushrooms, garlic, onion, carrots, pinot noir, flour, over pasta
Other memorable home cooked meals from this month include:
- Chicken with Zahav parsley-onion marinade. This might be my favorite marinade of the three chicken marinades in the book – I would love to do them all at once with kabobs
- Japchae! I finally bought some sweet potato glass noodles, so these were fun to make at home, such a light, satisfying summer recipe with veggies
- We made skate wing twice, using the Anson Mills lacquer (rice flour & oat flour), with cayenne, chili powder, and cumin
- Swordfish tacos! Swordfish cooks so much more easily and consistently when we cube it and bake it in the oven, as opposed to pan frying in a skillet. It was the perfect combination of moist and flaky.
- For the 4th of July, we met Dennis for lunch at Tio Flores and visited the South Street beer garden
- Naturally, we were happy to get to SouthGate after our vacation – it’s a comforting place to go when we get in late from the airport. We also went there for dinner following my long day at State College.
- When Sarah was visiting, we visited Cafe Lutecia for BYO dinner, and Little Spoon for breakfast
- We enjoyed brunches at Twenty Manning and SouthGate
- Apricot jam with maple and vanilla from Saving the Season – I’m still on an apricot kick
- Plum preserves from Preserving Italy – I scorched it a little, so I hope it’s OK
- Cherry preserves with pinot noir from Saving the Season – this was my first time buying or using powdered pectin. I used a can of Pinot Noir, which was a convenient way to use wine for cooking without opening a whole bottle.
- Peach chutney from Saving the Season – this time I was able to use fresh turmeric instead of powdered and I think it made a big difference. I added nigella seeds (as inspired from The Indian Family Kitchen), but forgot to add bourbon, so I’ll need to make another batch
- Tomato sauce from Preserving Italy – as usual, I’m disappointed in the low yield
- Fermented escabeche pickles (carrots, jalapeño, onion, garlic)
- Salsa verde from Saving the Season
- Roasted tomatillo salsa – I prefer the salsa verde recipe above, but this one is good to have around for chilaquiles
- Sweet & sour roasted peppers (oil preserve) from Preserving Italy
- Honey-sweetened apricot-thyme jam (this was my first time doing a jam with no granulated sugar! YOU GUYS, this is amazing, I had to immediately buy Naturally Sweet Food in Jars)
- Chunky tomato salsa – this was a hit last year, so I was looking forward to making more
- Peach slices in bourbon (maple-sweetened) from Naturally Sweet Food in Jars
- Amy’s tomato jam (honey-sweetened) from Naturally Sweet Food in Jars
- Italian plum conserve from Naturally Sweet Food in Jars
- One of the apricot-maple jam jars didn’t seal, so I put it in the fridge – it is friggin delicious. I wish I had more of it.
- We’re continuing to enjoy the LTP peppers
- We finished the Asian plum sauce (with chicken)
- We finished an earlier batch of salsa verde
- I continued Toll the Hounds, but didn’t get very far. Partly because it’s the slowest, dullest book of the Malazan series, and partly because it’s a print hardcover, and I spent much of the month traveling and prioritizing Kindle books.
- I read Trail of Lightning, which was absolutely fantastic. It helped that I had studied Diné Bahane’ in college, so the idea of a 6th world and many of the references made sense. This has to be one of my favorite post-apocalyptic scenarios.
- I started Catch 22, but didn’t finish. This book is such a joy – every chapter makes me laugh. It holds its place as my favorite novel.
- I read Star Wars Aftermath 1, Aftermath 2, and started Aftermath 3. This series was surprisingly good. Mister Bones may be my new 4th or 5th favorite droid. All of the characters were engaging, and I had no idea the series would be so sexually progressive. I’m a new Chuck Wendig fan!
- I read Children of Blood and Bone, which was wonderful. I look forward to the next book in the series.
- I read Evernight and was extremely disappointed in it. I picked it up since I like Claudia Gray but without knowing much about it. If I had known it was YA vampire I would imagine I would have run screaming; or, maybe at one point I knew that but wanted to give it a chance. Either way, in the beginning I hated it because it was just awful prep school snobbery. Then the vampire shit started and it got even more awful. I read some reviews, and the people who didn’t like it were mad about the twist; I didn’t mind the twist at all, I thought that part was clever, I just thought it was awful because of the shitty, sick, controlling relationship. You guys, abuse is not romantic, full stop. I can’t believe I even finished this book, but I am certainly not continuing the series, and I would not recommend it to anyone.
- As mentioned above, I finally bought Naturally Sweet Food in Jars. When I started the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge last year, I was immediately horrified by all the sugar in so many preserving recipes. I’ve been following Food in Jars for many years, but I’m a bit surprised that Marisa doesn’t discuss this issue more and use it as an opportunity to promote the book, which only uses natural sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, and dried fruit. I would personally be happy to never use granulated sugar again, so I look forward to making as many of the recipes in this book as I can, as well as learning how to make these adaptations myself.
Last Month’s Update