April 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

We started the month by going to a few movies in the Philadelphia Film Society XPN Music Film Festival, Stop Making Sense and Singles. I had never seen Stop Making Sense before – it was really well done and gave me a much better appreciation of the Talking Heads. Singles is one of my favorite movies, but I’m not sure I had ever seen it on the big screen. I think it holds up wonderfully, and it’s still such a great soundtrack.

It’s finally spring, I guess. It’s a huge bummer that the unnatural warm weather in February followed by the cold weather in March messed up most of the blooming flowers. Some of the white flowers had come out early in February and then all withered up without coming back. The cherry blossoms were super sad looking, and the tulip trees didn’t bloom at all. The redbuds seem to be blooming normally, but a lot of the other trees have gone straight to leaf. Nonetheless I still got some nice flower photos this month, even if it they weren’t as plentiful as in years past.

I switched out my wardrobe for warmer weather, and though we have had some beautiful days where we were able to enjoy the outdoor patio, there have also been gloomy days where I’ve had to get the long sleeved shirts and jackets back out from the closet.

Negronis on the patio

Since Tom had the day off for Good Friday, I took the day off as well and we went to see the Frogs: A Chorus of Colors exhibit at the Academy of Natural Sciences, and took a nice long walk afterwards.

Farmers’ Markets

Given how this spring was so messed up, weather-wise, I was extremely grateful that 1) we didn’t have to miss out on asparagus and 2) we didn’t have to wait until May! We finally got some asparagus the third week of the month and I’m sure we’ll be eating as much of it as we can until it’s gone.

Dining In

Since the official launch of A Good Carrot, the first big round of recipe testing is over, but I did get to test a few more recipes this month:

Other than that, here are some highlights of the recipes we tried this month that turned out really well:

Middle Eastern garlic & herb chicken
Pappardelle with chicken ragu
Roast cod with garlic butter, bulgur pilaf with broccoli

Dining Out

We went out a lot more this month, which was nice. We started the month by trying Tio Flores for brunch, which was a pleasant surprise; the food was great and it was not at all crowded.

huevos rancheros at Tio Flores

We had a fun day off mid-month, where we went to Sp0tburgers for lunch, followed by drinks at a few places not worth mentioning, but ending up at Friday Saturday Sunday.

Sp0tburgers
Friday Saturday Sunday

I had jury duty, which meant a couple fun lunches near the courthouse, including The Rib Stand at Reading Terminal Market, and Rooster Soup Company. I really enjoyed my bacon, latke & tomato sandwich at Rooster Soup Co, and the service was super friendly as well.

rib sandwich combo at The Rib Stand
Bacon/Latke/Tomato sandwich at Rooster Soup Company

We re-booted Date Night toward the end of the month and had a lovely night at Brigantessa, including a fennel citrus salad, Stella pizza, and dessert. The following week for date night we ordered tacos from Quetzally, which was a fun treat. We also had a pie date mid-week at Magpie.

Brigantessa

Tom’s brother Dennis came to town one night and we had a wonderful dinner at Friday Saturday Sunday, including carrot confit, maitake toast, brown butter gnocchi, lobster bucatini, roast chicken, and a steak. The chicken is my new favorite restaurant chicken since Meritage closed.

Carrot confit at Friday Saturday Sunday

We found ourselves at Plenty a few times in the evening and wondered why we aren’t there more often. Once was to meet a friend who was passing through on a road trip, and the other was for some after-dinner drinks. They supposedly have an amaro float that we keep meaning to try but haven’t gotten to it yet.

We ended the month by trying brunch at Lou Bird’s, which was quite good. I had a croque madame on challah, and Tom had vanilla pancakes.

DIY

I finished the New World Rye sauerkraut from Ferment Your Vegetables that I started last month – it came out very tasty, and we enjoyed it as a condiment with hot dogs.

I made a batch of wine-spiked carrots from Preserving Italy, which came out great – they’re slightly sweet and vinegar-y, but not too much so. They also have some black peppercorns that give them a nice spice.

wine-spiked carrots

My fermented garlic honey was FINALLY supposed to be done at the end of the month, after 3 months. I had gotten some pH strips to test it and it seemed not quite acidic enough yet so I decided to continue to leave it out and test again in a few weeks.

As mentioned above, I fermented some horseradish from the farmers’ market that we ended up serving with brisket. It smelled really bad while fermenting and I thought it had spoiled, but once I took off the airlock and discarded some of the brine above the weight, it turned out everything under the weight was fine. Phew!

Oh, and I finally tried the pumpkin spice kimchi I made a few months ago. I didn’t really care for it, so I tossed the rest. But I also tried the green bean kimchi I made last year and it was still great!

Books

Thanks to the Kindle (and $2.99 sales!), I’m about to meet my reading challenge of 25 books for the year, and we’re not even halfway through the year. I read 10 books this month, including:

  • The White Mountains – one of my childhood favorites
  • The White Queen – not really my style, but I was entertained, and it did inspire me to read up a bit more on the history of the English royalty, which I missed out on by taking Ancient Medieval instead of AP Euro for my world history requirement in high school.
  • Night of Cake & Puppets – at first it looked cheesy, but I was completely charmed and loved it. Ridiculously sweet, and I loved being immersed back in the Prague setting of Daughter of Smoke & Bone.
  • Dune Messiah – huge disappointment as a follow-up to Dune
  • A Taste of Honey – starts off seeming a bit conventional but jumps around in time in a way that is really intriguing, giving the story a twist at the end
  • Outlander – a reminder why I do not like either romance or historical fiction; a teeny bit of druid time travel is not enough to make this sci-fi/fantasy. It kept my interest enough to finish it, but I felt gross afterwards.
  • Anansi Boys – I enjoyed this quite a bit. I had forgotten it was related to American Gods, but between reading this and seeing good things about the American Gods TV series, it makes me interested in trying to read American Gods again.
  • Half a King – I’ve read Joe Abercrombie’s First Law series, which was good but a bit too violent for my taste. This new series, Shattered Sea, is apparently marketed toward young adults; I wouldn’t have been able to tell, but while it’s still gritty, it wasn’t quite so graphic. The main character is smart and a pleasure to get to know. I liked the book a lot, enough to want to keep reading and get the next book in the series.
  • Half the World – this continues Half a King, but while the main character from Half a King is still important, he is no longer a POV character; the POV characters are two new characters, a young man and a young woman, both of whom defy gender stereotypes in different ways. By the end I was really starting to like the way women subtly wield power in this very male-centric tough guy sort of world. I want to continue the series, but the Kindle pricing really gets you with series, where they make the first book really cheap to draw you in, the second book reasonable to keep you going, but the last book is above my self-imposed price limit for now.
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – I started this in February with a print copy, but it filled me with too much despair to finish, though I did skip around enough to know what happened. Tom bought it on Kindle this month, and between him reading it and the TV series coming out, I was motivated to pick up where I left off, this time on Kindle, and finally finished. I’m glad I did. We’ve seen the first few episodes of the TV series so far, and I think it’s amazing.
  • Midnight Taxi Tango – I started this toward the end of the month but am only about 25% through. This is a continuation of Half Resurrection Blues, which I read in March. So far it’s not growing on me yet, but I really like a new bad-ass female character, Reza.
April 2017 books read

Last Month’s Update

March 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

After an unseasonably warm February, it got cold again in March, culminating in a NorEaster storm, which we were fortunate enough to miss most of because we were in California! After our return, we still had to trudge through snow and ice on un-shoveled sidewalks for another few days.

Yuck

I had my oral surgery to remove a benign cyst, which had been postponed from last month. I’ve never been one to fear or even dislike the dentist’s office, but this ranked up there as one of the most unpleasant procedures I’ve had. My mouth was a mess for a good few weeks, and it’s possible that I may experience side effects in the future, including loss of feeling in the roof of my mouth, as well as potential loss of my two front teeth, due to the fact that the surgery disrupted a nerve as well as my roots. Hopefully not. In the meantime, I won’t be able to bite into anything with my front teeth for a few more months.

California!

The highlight of the month was a somewhat last minute trip to California for my cousin’s wedding. The wedding was in Goleta, so we spent two nights in Carpinteria and one one night in Buellton. The weather was absolutely gorgeous. We enjoyed the small-town beachiness of Carpinteria and enjoyed food and drinks at Jack’s Bistro, Corktree Cellars Wine Bar, and Island Brewing. The wedding was lovely, and it was great to spend a little bit of time with my family. The day after the wedding, we drove to a few wineries, including Cambria and Zaca Mesa, then came back through Solvang. For dinner, we went to the Hitching Post, which was excellent. We had a couple bottles of local wine, and shared appetizers of hot quail legs and poblano pepper stuffed with cheese and shrimp. I had smoked duck, Tom had baby back ribs, and Mike had a pork chop, all of us taking advantage of the Santa Maria style BBQ. We finished up with some smoky negronis, which was a nice way to close out our trip. We got up ass-early the next morning to drive down to LAX…

…and then all flights to the east coast got canceled due to the storm. Luckily we made due by taking the light rail down to Long Beach, where we drank some beers at Congregation Ale House (Beachwood BBQ is closed on Mondays else we’d have been there), found a hotel, did some laundry, walked on the beach, and had another dinner with my brother Mike at Padre, a place we that had been on our Long Beach list from last year. So while it was a little stressful dealing with the travel delay, it wasn’t bad to have another day in California, even if it did mean missing out on a snow day off from work.

My California album:

Jack's Bistro

 

Tom’s California album:

Randy's Donuts

 

Baltimore

Toward the end of the month, I accompanied Tom on a trip to Baltimore for a few days, where he attended the ACRL conference. It was a quick and easy train trip down, and we enjoyed a few days of eating lots of crab and biscuits, as well as visiting with some friends who live there and/or were also there for the conference.

My Baltimore album:

Inner Harbor

 

Tom’s Baltimore album:

Stained Glass at Baltimore Pennsylvania Station

 

Farmers’ Markets

Nothing exciting this month, but I did get a beautiful cabbage – half was used for recipe testing, the other half was turned into sauerkraut!

Dining In

Most of the cooking I did this month was recipe testing for A Good Carrot, a food blog which will officially launch in April. Those recipes included:

Of these, my favorites were the chicken and pinto bean stew, from which we enjoyed leftovers for awhile, the zucchini hummus, which was quicker and easier than traditional hummus, and the broccoli basil pesto, which we used three times, once with salmon, once with shrimp, and once with chicken. I also really liked the soothing thyme honey tea, which really helped with my lingering cough.

Shaved Zucchini Salad with Garbanzo Beans & Herbs + Shrimp with Broccoli-Basil Pesto and Farro. Photo by Tom Ipri
Chicken and Pinto Bean Stew. Photo by Tom Ipri

In addition to recipe testing, I cooked some special meals for the weekend after Tom’s birthday (described more below!), and I also finally got some 1732 meats guanciale and made pasta alla gricia. Toward the end of the month, after being disrupted by travel several times, we finally got back on track with home cooking and made tandoori-spiced salmon with cucumber-pomegranate raita, tagliatelle with yogurt & onions, coq au riesling, and baked pasta with merguez and harissa.

Coq au Riesling. Photo by Tom Ipri

Dining Out

Other than Tom’s birthday and our travels out of town, we didn’t eat out at all in Philadelphia this month! The closest we came was breakfast before work one day at La Va Cafe.

Burekas at La Va Cafe

Tom’s Birthday, Part 2

As mentioned last month, Tom’s birthday fell in the middle of the week, so our celebrations were mostly the weekend before (in February) and the weekend after (in March).

Our dining out excursion was to one of Tom’s favorite Philadelphia restaurants, Victor Cafe, where we had a wonderful dinner. Earlier in the day we went to a movie, and since we got to the restaurant a little early, we enjoyed some pre-dinner drinks in the lounge.

Victor Cafe

Since the previous week’s birthday brunch recipe had gone awry, we did a do-over, this time with a Croque Monseieur breakfast casserole, which turned out great.

Baked croque monsieur casserole

I also made us a snack of queso fundido alla tequila, and a dinner of chicken enchiladas.

Queso fundido alla tequila
chicken enchiladas

DIY

My garlic honey, started in January, is just hanging out, in month two. It will be ready near the end of April.

garlic honey in progress

I started a batch of New World Rye Kraut from Ferment Your Vegetables, since I had some extra cabbage. It’s a simple sauerkraut with caraway seeds. It won’t be ready until mid-April, but it already smells wonderful.

Books

This month is probably a new reading record for me, thanks to the Kindle, which makes it easier to impulse buy books when you’re still on a high from the last one, especially books in a series.

I started the month by finishing Daniel Jose Older’s Half Resurrection Blues, which I really enjoyed. It was the first in a series, so I’ll probably read the next book sometime soon. Next up, I read Ahsoka, a Star Wars book I had been wanting to read since it came out last fall, but hadn’t wanted to buy it hardcover. I have a friend who didn’t think much of it, but I liked it quite a bit. Next, I read Binti, which I had bought but not read some time ago, and its sequel, Binti : Home. These are fantastic; I really like Nnedi Okarafor’s sci-fi. On our trip to California, I read Dune for the first time. It was nothing like what I thought it would be, in a good way. According to reviews, Herbert kind of peaked with Dune and each sequel gets successively worse, but I do want to at least read the 2nd book and maybe the 3rd. In the meantime, I read Daughter of Smoke & Bone, which I had bought for Kindle years ago and hadn’t read. In fact it had been so long since I bought it, I didn’t remember anything about it, not even its genre (turns out, it’s young adult fantasy) or what had inspired me to buy it in the first place, so it was interesting going in cold. It turned out to be the first book of a trilogy, and completely addictive, so I bought books 2 and 3 as well. I enjoyed them all so much that I re-read the whole trilogy again the following week. That left me with a bit of a post-series crash where I wasn’t sure what to read next. I ended up reading Bloodline, a Star Wars novel about Princess Leia; it got off to a slow start, so much so that I got bored and gave up for a few days, but I did eventually finish it by the end of the month, and by the end I enjoyed it and wanted to know what was going to happen next.

Last Month’s Update

February 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

At the beginning of the month, we attended Philadelphia’s March for Humanity.

We saw a few movies in the theater, including LaLa Land and a 25th anniversary screening of Wayne’s World. Both were kind of disappointing. Luckily we redeemed this by seeing Hidden Figures at the end of the month, which was wonderful.

Due to my dentist’s referral after an oddity in my x-ray, I saw an oral surgeon, who diagnosed me with a benign cyst, which I’ll need to get removed. I had scheduled the removal but came down with nasty flu and had to cancel. Being sick again so soon after the rotten cold I had over the holidays was a drag.

The weather is crazy. We had a NorEaster, giving us the first snow day (only a delayed opening for me, I still had to go to work at 11am) of the season. The snow didn’t last long, though, and by the end of the month we basically had an early spring, with weather in the 70s, and daffodils blooming.

snowy Penn, February 9
daffodils in Fitler Square, February 25
daffodils in Fitler Square, February 25

Farmers’ Markets

I didn’t end up taking any pictures this month, but this time of year the markets aren’t too exciting. Here’s a squash, which ended up becoming soup:

Dining In

I continue to do recipe testing for a friend of mine who is starting a food blog. This month’s recipes included:

Sliced eggs with garlic & parsley
Sliced eggs with garlic & parsley
Roasted beet salad with garlic cumin vinaigrette
Roasted beet salad with garlic cumin vinaigrette
fruit tart in a nut crust
fruit tart in a nut crust

Other than that, highlights from dining in this month included:

dan dan noodles. Photo by Tom Ipri
dan dan noodles. Photo by Tom Ipri
roasted chicken with clementines
roasted chicken with clementines
mushroom ragu
mushroom ragu
charmoula-spiced salmon with za'atar vegetables
charmoula-spiced salmon with za’atar vegetables

Dining Out

We barely went out this month, except for Tom’s birthday (below). All we really did was go out for drinks a few times at Tria Fitler Square and Friday Saturday Sunday. One Friday night we intended to go out for date night but just ended up ordering Rosario’s Pizza for delivery instead.

beers at Tria Fitler Square
beers at Tria Fitler Square
Carrot Confit at Friday Saturday Sunday
Carrot Confit at Friday Saturday Sunday
cocktails at Friday Saturday Sunday
cocktails at Friday Saturday Sunday

Tom’s Birthday, Part 1

Since Tom’s birthday fell in the middle of the week toward the end of the month, Part 1 was in February and Part 2 will be in March. To kick off his birthday celebrations, we went to an “old world vs. new world” tasting at Jet Wine Bar, followed by beers at Rex 1516.

new lamps at Jet Wine Bar. Photo by Tom Ipri
new lamps at Jet Wine Bar. Photo by Tom Ipri

The weekend before Tom’s birthday, we celebrated with family at Radice. I also tried to make a special birthday brunch dish of Spanish breakfast casserole, but since it got burnt to a crisp, Tom will get a second birthday brunch next weekend!

Spanish breakfast casserole
Spanish breakfast casserole

Tom’s actual birthday fell on a Tuesday night, which was nice because it was a good reason to go to Cafe Lutecia‘s BYOB night. It was also Mardi Gras so Cafe Lutecia had some themed decor and food.

Cafe Lutecia
Cafe Lutecia

To be continued in March!

DIY

I continued fermenting the batch of garlic honey that I started in January. It was still really bubbly and frothy at the beginning of the month, but mid-month it calmed down. 2 more months to go!

garlic honey, day 5
garlic honey, day 5
garlic honey, day 20 or so
garlic honey, day 20 or so

I also made a batch of butternut squash kimchi:

Tom made a few more successful attempts at bread, including rosemary focaccia and pita bread!

rosemary focaccia
rosemary focaccia
pita! Photo by Tom Ipri
pita! Photo by Tom Ipri

Books

In the beginning of the month I finished Octavia Butler’s Dawn and then read the rest of Lilith’s Brood, which was really great. I skimmed through Carrie Fisher’s The Princess Diarist and was too bored to finish. I started The Handmaid’s Tale, which is so disturbing and scary and hits way too close to home. So I’m still working on that.

About midway through the month, Tom and I both bought Kindles! We had been meaning to do so for a long time. I was particularly curious as to whether it would help me with 1) getting more comfortable with e-reading and 2) encourage me to read more. It’s still new, but so far I have found both to be the case. In the future, I think I’d like to upgrade to a fancier Kindle so that I can read color comic books, but in the meantime, even the low-end Kindle is really great.

With the Kindle, I read a few Star Wars novels that were next on my list, including Lost Stars and Ahsoka. Toward the end of the month I started Half Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older.

Last Month’s Update

January 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It got cold and even snowed a bit at the beginning of the month, but since mid-month it’s been unseasonably warm. The boots I bought for ALA Midwinter 2010 in Boston (the very first boots I ever owned, since I didn’t need any on the West coast) finally cracked to the point where I can’t wear them anymore so I had to get some new ones. Good thing, as they’ve kept my feet dry and comfortable during protests. Who knew.

Lombard Street in January
Lombard Street in January

Travel

In what will likely be my only major work trip this year, I went to Atlanta for the ALA Midwinter Meeting. Overall it was a good conference, as usual; I saw a lot of really relevant presentations, gave a lightning talk, and got to see W. Kamau Bell.

It hadn’t occurred to me when making these travel plans that I’d be away for the inauguration and subsequent women’s march. Luckily the good folks in the Office of Diversity, Literacy, and Outreach Services organized a meeting point for people to attend the Atlanta’s March for Social Justice & Women. Although we got soaked in the rain, I’m glad I got to participate.

Atlanta March for Social Justice & Women
Atlanta March for Social Justice & Women

One of the main reasons I wanted to go to Atlanta was to see my friend Suzie. We went out on my last night, and I’m glad we got to see each other.

I didn’t really focus on food this trip, but made multiple visits to Alma Cocina and enjoyed Max Lager’s and Truva. On my last day I also got to go to the Sweet Auburn Curb Market.

On my way home, it was late and I had just missed the airport train, so I used Lyft for the first time. That got me home a lot sooner, was cheaper than a taxi, and was a relatively pleasant experience, so I’ll certainly consider using it again.

Farmers’ Markets

Here’s a picture of the farmers’ markets where everything is covered in snow:

Snowy farmers' market
Snowy farmers’ market

Dining In

We started the month by making something special for New Year’s Day: slow cooker french dip sandwiches.

slow cooker french dip
slow cooker french dip

Between now and April I’ll be recipe testing for a friend of mine who is starting a new food blog. I think it’s great the way she’s going all in and is taking the extra time and effort to work with recipe testers. Some highlights from this month included:

For Christmas, my brother got me a cookbook, The Indian Family Kitchen, so I tried to cook at least one recipe a week from the book. These all turned out great:

  • Chai smoked sea bass
  • Mixed herb salad with honey pecan dressing
  • Drunken chicken
  • Steamed scented fish
  • Vegetable biriyani
  • One pot chicken
  • Wilted mustard greens

Other cooking highlights from this month include:

Beef Daube
Beef Daube

Dining Out

We’ve been spending some more time at Friday Saturday Sunday. Since it opens at 3pm it’s perfect for a late afternoon weekend drink.

Friday Saturday Sunday
Friday Saturday Sunday

We tried out Cinder and were impressed with their beer selection as well as their ciders. The Rose Bowl was on and Penn State was playing so we had to pretend to talk about football but we winged it OK.

Cinder
Cinder

We finally made it back to Bing Bing Dim Sum! Everything is so good there it’s hard to try new things when we want to repeat some of the wonderful dumplings we’ve had before. But it was worth it – we tried their soup dumplings, spicy lamb dumplings, and turnip cake.

Bing Bing Dim Sum
Bing Bing Dim Sum

DIY

It’s been a busy month for making stuff from scratch!

Tom has made more progress with his bread making, including hearty bread and corn muffins.

Hearty Bread. Photo by Tom Ipri
Hearty Bread. Photo by Tom Ipri

I made a few things from Preserving Italy, a book which Tom bought me for Christmas:

  • bitter citrus marmalade, made with citrus from my dad’s Arizona backyard
  • fig walnut “salami”
  • pickled mushrooms
bitter citrus marmalade
bitter citrus marmalade

I also made some more ferments from Ferment Your Vegetables, this time concentrating on things available in winter:

  • pickled butternut squash, which was used to make delicious winter squash hummus
  • garlic honey (this won’t be ready for 4 months, but it’s fascinating to watch)
fermenting butternut squash
fermenting butternut squash
fermenting garlic honey
fermenting garlic honey

I also made some pickled mustard greens, which had been the missing ingredient from our dan dan noodles.

Books

I finished reading the Wonder Woman graphic novel that Tom had gotten me for Christmas. It definitely made me more hyped for the movie.

For most of the month, I read Tom’s new compilation of short stories, Surviving Paradise. The stories all take place in Las Vegas and are mostly tinged with despair, with perhaps a small dash of hope. I really enjoyed it and look forward to it being more widely available.

I picked back up with reading Dreams from My Father, and I started reading Dawn and The Princess Diarist, but didn’t finish any of these yet.

Last Month’s Update

2016 in Review

Photos

Here are my 9 most-liked photos from Instagram in 2016. I was surprised that most of them came toward the end of the year. Only one was not a food picture.

Here is a set I put together on Flickr of my favorite photos from 2016:

wake (me) up (inside) (save me)

 

Life in Philly

This was our fifth year in Philly – I had my five year work anniversary in September. On the anniversary of the day we moved into our apartment, I took a picture to show how much the western skyline has changed as viewed from our window

During our annual Staycation, we visited the new viewing deck at the top of One Liberty Place and got some great views of the city

Speaking of the skyline, a few new buildings have neared completion, the FMC Tower and CHOP:

FMC Tower
FMC Tower
CHOP
CHOP

We had fun this year going to several BYO movies at the Roxy, including Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Clerks. We also managed to see the Philadelphia Orchestra several times, and saw the silent film Metropolis with live organ at the Kimmel Center.

We went to the Spruce Street Harbor Park in spring, checked out a few pop-up beer gardens in the summer, and walked through the new Christmas Village at City Hall in the winter.

Pennsylvania’s liquor laws loosened ever so slightly, so we are finally able to get a little bit of wine from out of state, but only direct from the winery and only if that winery has a PA license. So far that’s only one place I’m interested in, which is Tablas Creek. But it’s been fun to get a few things from Tablas and I look forward to visiting the winery in person again, perhaps next time we’re in California. The other positive thing about the law is that hours at many of the state stores have been extended, and now all our local stores are open on Sunday.

We didn’t take too many long walks on the river this year. However, we did explore a few new (to us) neighborhoods. In February, we hiked up to Brewerytown to visit Sp0tBurgers new brick & mortar location, and we also hit up Crime & Punishment Brewing Company while we were there. Toward the end of the year we walked down to Girard Estates and tried Philip’s Steaks and the new Brewery ARS. Other than that, we walked all the way to Northern Liberties several times, and as usual we walked all around town for Staycation.

Here’s my complete Philadelphia 2016 set on Flickr:

GO AWAY

 

Travel

I went out of town three times this year.

At the beginning of the year, we visited Boston for the ALA Midwinter meeting. On the first day I had a preconference at Harvard and got to visit with my friend Aimee who lives in Cambridge, which was so nice, especially spending some time with her kids. It was my first ALA conference in over a year, so during the conference I got to reconnect with a ton of people, which was so rewarding personally and professionally. We had a great time eating our way around Boston, too. I look forward to going again!

Harvard

 

In June, we went back home to Long Beach, California. It was my first time back since 2012! It had been far too long. It was wonderful. We stayed at the Beachrunner’s Inn, a little B&B in my old neighborhood. We managed to visit most of our favorites as well as try some great new places. The weather was beautiful and I could have stayed forever!

Long Beach, CA

 

In September, I went to a conference in Columbus, Ohio. It was my first time staying and hanging out in downtown Columbus and I really liked it. I got around on foot really well, exploring downtown and the Short North, and took the free downtown bus my last day when it was raining. It was very kind of hippie and hipster and urban at the same time.

Short North

 

Dining In

Our favorite condiment of the year is Huy Fong Chili Garlic Sauce! We’ve put it all over our fish, veggies, and chicken to great success.

We finally figured out how to cook swordfish, so that gives us some more options at the farmers’ market.

We also finally started using a panini press from my dad, which has been great for sandwiches and toast. We also finally started using an oven thermometer from my brother, which has really helped with cooking meat. Tom started making homemade pizza from time to time, which was a joy.

I tracked most of our meals last year in a Google calendar, which has provided some interesting insights. We ate in over 80% of the time; without prior years’ data I can’t be sure, but it certainly feels like more dining in than in years past. Looking at my financial management software, I see that my restaurant expenses went down by 40% from the previous year, so there definitely does seem to be a trend toward more cooking and less going out. We certainly had our share of throwing things together, but we also tried 150 new recipes this year, which averages to nearly 2-3 new recipes per week, which seems like a quite a bit.

There are too many recipes to mention, but a few that stand out from this year include:

We had a new chicken recipe almost every week of the year, so those were the most interesting and exciting to me overall. I also just love cooking in summer with all the corn, tomatoes, and zucchini, I just can’t get enough of those flavors.

Here’s our Dining In photos from 2016:

Huevos Rancheros at home

 

Dining Out

Toward the beginning of the year we were still enamored with a few new 2015 openings, Buckminster’s and SouthGate. Unfortunately Buckminster’s didn’t make it through the year, but we enjoyed it while we could.

My favorite new restaurant we tried on a date night was Samsom Kabob House on South Street, which had recently relocated from Samsom St.

We finally ordered Mexican pizza from Rosario’s pizza and it’s been really fun trying different pizzas on the menu. It’s actually the first time we ever had pizza delivered in the 5 years we’ve lived here!

One of our favorite coffee shops, Cafe Lutecia, started offering Tuesday night BYO dinners, and those was by far the best casual dinner experiences of the year.

During our October staycation we tried a lot of new (to us) restaurants. The standouts were Sate Kampar, South Philly Barbacoa, Kanella Grill, and Cafe La Maude. We also really enjoyed our first afternoon tea at The Dandelion.

For my birthday we had a great dinner at Hungry Pigeon, and for Tom’s we had a lovely night at Victor Cafe.

Toward the end of the year, a neighborhood favorite, Friday Saturday Sunday, reopened after having been sold & remodeled. We hadn’t actually been to the original, but we stopped by the new iteration and really love it.

We haven’t been to Rex every Thursday like we used to, but we still try to make it to there and Jet when we can!

Here’s our Dining Out photos from 2016:

Townsman

 

DIY

This year my DIY efforts were focused on fermentation, specifically vegetable fermentation. My cousin Jenny got me a great book on Wild Fermentation, and I had some luck with several of the recipes. My favorite might be the simple farmer’s cheese, even though that’s not even fermented. I tried sourdough starter and ginger bug, but our apartment just wasn’t warm enough. I found, though, that the temperature of our apartment is perfect for vegetable fermentation. I bought Ferment Your Vegetables and did primarily vegetable ferments for the rest of the year, including a kimchi, a sauerkraut, and lots of pickles. The only thing that I really didn’t care for was kvass – partly user error on my part and part just not liking the finished product all that much even when it turned out correctly. Favorites for the year were probably the fermented corn salsa, tomato salsa and tomato sauce.

fermented tomato sauce
fermented tomato sauce

This year I added hummus to my regular projects; as with the Di Bruno Bros crackers recipe, I always keep a batch of hummus around for snacking. Though my local stores stopped carrying some of the ingredients I needed, I’m now buying garbanzo beans and tahini online and it’s working well.

Books

I met my goal on GoodReads to read 25 books, which was a higher goal than I had set for myself in previous year. Here is my year in books: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2016/131968

My reading this year was more diverse than in some years, yet still dominated by fantasy. Unlike last year, I didn’t spend the year re-reading any big series. The best non-fantasy things I read were Between the World and Me and Americanah. The newest Erikson book came out, and I totally loved the new Esslemont book. I completely loved the Ancillary series by Ann Leckie – it was the first book(s) in a long time that I couldn’t put down, and re-read immediately upon finishing. I also really enjoyed Shadowshaper by Daniel Jose Older. In a descent into complete nerddom, I started reading Star Wars novels and am now sucked in. Toward the end of the year I also really enjoyed Ember in the Ashes and then immediately bought the sequel.

2016 books, except for library books that have been returned
2016 books, except for library books that have been returned

Other

My friends Jodi and Amy recommended a clothing rack – this feels like the dumbest/most obvious achievement in adulting ever, but it really makes a big difference to be able to dry my clothes properly rather than over the back of a chair.

I made some financial progress, paying off 2 credit cards by the end of the year and getting my student debt under $20,000.

I did StitchFix all year and feel like I really made some progress in figuring out how to dress myself. I now have 4 blazers I really like, as well as several skirts, blouses, and dresses. I’ve figured out some stuff on my own as well, thanks to the combination of StitchFix and Pinterest. I keep a list of outfits near my closet to try to decrease the stress of dressing in the morning, but this only helps slightly.

2016 Goals Redux

Last year I made some loose/informal “ideas” for 2016, so I thought I’d check in to see how I did.

  • Make lunches to bring to work. We did a decent job at this, though it came more in spurts. There are definitely some weeks where I didn’t prepare lunches at all, and some weeks where we prepared lunches some days and not on others. I didn’t actually track this, so I can’t point to any data, but my sense is we brought lunches more often than not, whether that was leftovers or something we made specifically. We did find a few lunch recipes we really liked, including mujadarah and harissa lentils. As much as I love grains, though, they do get boring.
  • Track meals/recipes in a Google Calendar. Yes, I did this, and kept up with it all year. It gave me some interesting data about our habits (see Dining In section above) and it was really good to see how much we are cooking and trying new recipes. I didn’t specifically set out to do so, but I’ve also been doing weekly meal planning in Evernote as well. Since I write over the Evernote list each week, it’s nice that the Google calendar serves as more of an archive, while Evernote serves as more of a temporary to-do list each week.
  • Send real (paper) birthday cards to people in the mail. Fail. Nope, I didn’t do this at all. However I am on a mission to do this in 2017.
  • Drink beer > wine. Nope, didn’t do this either, at least not at home. The best I can say is I now tend to almost always order beer rather than wine when we go out, especially to Rex, so I guess that’s something.
  • Keep in better touch with people. No, I did not do a good job of this, in any medium.
  • Don’t overthink social media. Ha! I got worse at this, not better. I hardly posted anything at all, and the election has only made this worse.
  • Exercise more. Nope, though I did join the gym at work, which gives me even more opportunity to do so, if I make an effort to schedule it.
  • Keep writing. If what I meant was keep up with this blog, then yes, I did this. However, I barely posted to SuperPlus Eats at all, so I’d like to do better at writing elsewhere.
  • Make more things. Yes, I did this. While I don’t make bitters very often anymore, my fermentation experiments were pretty much year round, and that was fun. I didn’t get around to making homemade Christmas ornaments as I had hoped to, but maybe next year.

What I found in thinking about this was there were things I didn’t specifically set out to do or conceive of as goals in 2016 that happened anyway:

  • I didn’t explicitly set out to do so, but I have been dressing better, thanks to StitchFix and Pinterest.
  • I didn’t explicitly set out to do so, but I have made charitable giving more of a regular habit than a one-off thing when something terrible happens.
  • I didn’t explicitly set out to do so, but we did a lot more dining in, and a lot less dining out, as discussed above.
  • I didn’t explicitly set out to do so, but I made progress with my debt. I haven’t calculated exactly what it would take to make this happen, but theoretically I would like to be out of debt by the time I’m 50 (#GenXGoals).

2017 

What’s in store? Well, in terms of travel, I’ll be going to Atlanta for ALA Midwinter, and Tom will be going to Baltimore for ACRL, to which I plan to tag along. We don’t have any other out-of-town trips planned for now, though of course we’ll do our annual Staycation in October. Other than that, same old same old. Hopefully in 2018 we’ll take a big trip for Tom’s birthday so this year might be more about hunkering down to save up for that.

Here are my “ideas” for this year, in no particular order:

  • Continue to make things. This year I want to try more canning since I finally have the equipment for it.
  • Get in the habit of using the work gym at least once a week.
  • Send birthday cards in the mail, like I said I was going to do last year. So far I am on track and have bought cards for everyone with January birthdays. Cards are a lot more expensive these days than the last time I did this, but that’s not the point. The hardest part is actually getting people’s mailing addresses, but actually that has been incredibly pleasant, because just the act of asking for the address in the first place creates additional one-on-one interactions with people I care about.
  • Blog more on SuperPlus Eats
  • Continue trying to bring lunches to work
  • Make more things from cookbooks, not just online recipes
  • Invest in a Kindle and see if that helps me adjust to e-reading.
  • Call politicians
  • Keep up with meal planning and tracking
  • Continue to make progress on paying off debt
  • Try to have more non-social-media interactions with people, whether that’s email, hand written letters, phone calls, etc.
  • Take more people pictures

December 2016: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

Winter came a few weeks early with some very chilly weather, but luckily it warmed back up a little for the holidays. I finally switched out my short-sleeved shirts for long-sleeved shirts in my closet.

First snow, December 17
First snow, December 17

On the way home from my work’s service award luncheon, I stumbled upon the AMOR statue, which came to Philadelphia for the Pope visit last year and may now be staying permanently. Until recently, it had been at the Art Museum, but now it’s on the Parkway near Sister Cities Park.

The best thing for sure to happen this month was Star Wars Rogue One! We saw it on opening night at the Prince Theater, and then again over winter break. On opening night there was this great Star Wars themed brass band, Wookiedelphia, playing in the lobby [video]. We really loved the movie and both put it pretty near the top of all Star Wars movies.

Wookiedelphia
Wookiedelphia

I didn’t take too many festive Christmas photos around town this year, as they look the same as usual, but here’s a picture of Mister 1801, with Tom’s reflection in the window.

Mister 1801
Mister 1801

Birthday

I had a very nice birthday week. We started a little early by having a BYOB dinner at Cafe Lutecia.

Cafe Lutecia
Cafe Lutecia

The night before my birthday, I left work early, and we went out to dinner at Hungry Pigeon, preceded by cocktails at Southwark. The food and wine at Hungry Pigeon were outstanding, and we had a nice cozy table by the window with lovely Christmas decor.

Hungry Pigeon
Hungry Pigeon

On the day of my birthday, Tom cooked for me all day. We started the day by going to the farmers’ market as usual. For brunch, we had egg pancake rolls. In the afternoon, we had a nice wine & cheese snack. For dinner, we had Taiwanese beef noodle soup, slow roasted carrots over coffee beans, and gougeres for dessert.

Birthday summary
Birthday summary

The day after my birthday, we met up with Tom’s family for brunch at In Riva. Although it was too cold for sitting outside, it was still a nice view, and we had delicious appetizers and brunch dishes.

In Riva
In Riva

Christmas

We made a bunch of delicious food for the holidays. For Christmas Eve, we made Eggy Puds for brunch, and for dinner we had a Sicilian seafood stew (with halibut, salmon, and scallops) and squid ink linguine (with shrimp and clams).

Eggy Puds
Eggy Puds
Christmas Eve dinner
Christmas Eve dinner

On Christmas Day, we went out to Parc for breakfast. For dinner, we made a Zuni Cafe roast chicken along with bread salad for the drippings, and roasted carrots with an orange glaze.

Christmas dinner
Christmas dinner

The day after Christmas, we went up to Fox Chase to see family and had prime rib, bourbon mashed sweet potatoes, fig & blue cheese salad, gougeres, and grilled asparagus.

Day after Christmas Dinner
Day after Christmas Dinner

Tom and I exchanged some delightful gifts. We will certainly be baking bread and making preserves in the new year thanks to some of these cookbooks!

Christmas gifts
Christmas gifts

Unfortunately there were two downsides to this Christmas. One, I was sick with a cold the entire time and couldn’t taste anything. Two, due to the late start to this semester, I was stuck grading papers the entire time. I finished the last round on Christmas and turned in grades the next day. I wasn’t able to start tasting food until Wednesday the 28th!

Christmas greens
Christmas greens

Winter Staycation

We had the week off between Christmas and New Years and made this into a low-key mini-staycation. Our goal wasn’t to go very far, but to visit some favorites in the neighborhood, go to some museums, see some movies, and perhaps try a few new places on the way.

For movies, we saw Moonlight and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (again).

For museums, we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for the Mexican Modernism exhibit, and the African American Museum of Philadelphia for the i found god in myself exhibit, on the 40th anniversary of Ntozake Shange’s for colored girls…

Philadelphia Museum of Art
Philadelphia Museum of Art
African American Museum of Philadelphia
African American Museum of Philadelphia

We visited some old favorites, including Cheu Noodle Bar,  South Gate and Cafe Lutecia.

Breakfast sandwich at Cafe Lutecia
Breakfast sandwich at Cafe Lutecia

We tried some new places, including Banh Mi and Bottles, Friday Saturday Sunday, Philip’s Steaks, and Brewery ARS.

I had a bowl of pho at Banh Mi and Bottles, which I wish I could say more about, but despite all these jalapeños I was not able to taste anything that day due to my cold. I’ll need a do-over!

Banh Mi and Bottles
Banh Mi and Bottles

Friday Saturday Sunday quickly became one of our new favorite places. We had maitake toast, carrot confit (carrot yogurt, burnt coconut crumble, fermented salsa verde), and roasted potato gnocchi. We enjoyed wines by the glass with our food, and then finished with some of their tasty cocktails.

Stigmata cocktail at Friday Saturday Sunday
Stigmata cocktail at Friday Saturday Sunday

Our cheesesteak adventure involved a long walk down to Girard Estates. After walking around the neighborhood, we hit Taproom on 19th for a beer, then headed to Philip’s Steaks. The cheesesteaks were totally up my alley (sliced, not chopped), with thick cuts of beef. We tried one regular cheesesteak and one “old fashion” with roasted tomatoes and long hots. We took our steaks to Brewery ARS to try this brand new small brewery. They had 3 beers on tap, all of which were excellent. We look forward to trying more of their beers as they are able to expand their production.

Stephen Girard Park
Stephen Girard Park
Philip's cheesesteaks and beer at ARS Brewery
Philip’s cheesesteaks and beer at ARS Brewery

On New Year’s Eve, we stayed in, went to the farmers’ market and the gym, and had leftovers. Tom baked his first batch of bread, and I started my first batch of preserves!

Tom's carrot bread
Tom’s carrot bread

Farmers’ Markets

We only took one farmers’ market picture this month but this is pretty representative:

Dining In

It was another great month of cooking tasty recipes, besides those already mentioned above:

Breakfast tostada, because why not
Breakfast tostada, because why not
Almond crusted flounder with vanilla sauce; cider-braised delicata squash
Almond crusted flounder with vanilla sauce; cider-braised delicata squash
Chicken adobo and garlic fried rice
Chicken adobo and garlic fried rice
Five Peppercorn Halibut
Five Peppercorn Halibut

Dining Out

We met some friends up in Fishtown, which gave us an excuse to re-visit Sancho Pistola’s for some delicious tacos. On the way back, we also tried City Diner for a chill place for some late night drinks. On my last day of work before the holidays, Tom had the day off so he met me for lunch at JG Domestic, which was one of our holiday traditions when we used to work together in University City.

Grilled cheese & red pepper soup at JG Domestic
Grilled cheese & red pepper soup at JG Domestic

I’ve already mentioned Friday Saturday Sunday above in our Winter Staycation, but I’ll mention it again here because it was definitely one of the best meals of the month!

DIY

We had some leftover apple cider after Thanksgiving, so I tried leaving it out to make hard cider and apple cider vinegar, per the instructions in Wild Fermentation. Both turned out OK but I didn’t think it was worth the trouble to do it again.

Fermenting cider
Fermenting cider

From my new Preserving Italy cookbook, I made a batch of oil-preserved butternut squash with mint, which I look forward to trying. I also started a batch of bitter citrus marmalade, thanks to a bunch of backyard fruit my dad sent me from Arizona.

Oil-preserved butternut squash with mint
Oil-preserved butternut squash with mint
Citrus from Arizona!
Citrus from Arizona!

Books

After a few months, I finally finished Kitchen Confidential. Meh, I like Anthony Bourdain, and there were a few interesting chapters, but I thought most of it was obnoxious.

Once I finished teaching for the semester, I read The Fifth Season, which I had wanted to read for awhile. I had a hard time starting it (actually I had tried to start it months ago on the Kindle version and couldn’t do it on my phone so I bought it again on paper), but once I got to a big reveal that brought the storylines together, I was sold and really enjoyed it. I do want to read the sequel, but I’m not in a huge hurry, just because I don’t think the same narrative technique that I enjoyed so much can work again.

To finish up the year, I started reading the graphic novel The Legend of Wonder Woman, which I am enjoying very much so far, thanks to Tom for getting it for me for Christmas!

StitchFix 

These photos are from last month’s Stitch Fix – we didn’t get a chance to take photos in time for my November post, so here they are, a bit belated. This was my first time with a new stylist. I kept three items: a burgandy sweater, a black pencil skirt, and a green-striped blazer.

RD Style Kara Cowl Neck Sweater and Lysse Abrie Pencil Skirt
RD Style Kara Cowl Neck Sweater and Lysse Abrie Pencil Skirt
Tart Salma French Terry Blazer and Lysse Abrie Pencil Skirt
Tart Salma French Terry Blazer and Lysse Abrie Pencil Skirt

On SuperPlus Eats

Our Staycation blog posts are finally up! Start here for the Staycation 2016 index.

Last Month’s Update

November 2016: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

This hasn’t been a great year for fall color, but there’s a little bit more of it:

University of Pennsylvania
University of Pennsylvania
Rittenhouse Square
Rittenhouse Square

They put the “FMC” on the FMC Tower this month:

Walked by where they were staging the
Walked by where they were staging the “M” and “C” near the Walnut St Bridge
FMC Tower, now with branding
FMC Tower, now with branding

We made it over to the new Christmas Village at Dilworth Plaza on our way to Reading Terminal Market to pick up some groceries for Thanksgiving. I liked it better there than at Love Park. I was also glad that we ran into an anti-Trump protest march on the way.

Photo by Tom Ipri
Photo by Tom Ipri

Thanksgiving

This year for Thanksgiving we had two dinners, one for just the two of us on Thursday, and one with the family on Friday.

For Our Thanksgiving, we made:

lemon poppyseed pancakes
lemon poppyseed pancakes
Thanksgiving dinner
Thanksgiving dinner
Baked apples
Baked apples

On the next day, for Thanksgiving #2, Dennis made turkey and cranberry sauce, and Tom’s mom made green beans with peppers and peas with bacon. In addition to cheese and wine, Tom and I contributed:

Thanksgiving #2
Thanksgiving #2
pumpkin stuffed with everything good
pumpkin stuffed with everything good

Thanksgiving #2 had the added bonus of Tom’s cousin and her boyfriend joining us, who were really great to visit with. Overall it was a really nice holiday weekend, some much needed rest, and of course delicious food.

Farmers Market

We only took one picture this month, as we were prepping for Thanksgiving, but this is pretty representative of the season right now:

Pre-Thanksgiving farmers' market shopping
Pre-Thanksgiving farmers’ market shopping

Dining In

We made a bunch of fantastic chicken recipes this month. As usual, the chicken recipes are not very photogenic:

Cranberry balsamic chicken
Cranberry balsamic chicken
Garlic paprika chicken
Garlic paprika chicken

We also made braised fish, pot-roast style, and shrimp Mozambique. Tom made a homemade lamb kofta, inspired by the kofta at Kanella Grill, with dried apricots and pistachios.

Lamb kofta. Photo by Tom Ipri
Lamb kofta. Photo by Tom Ipri

Finally, I tried a Dutch Baby for brunch one day and it worked out really nicely.

Dutch Baby
Dutch Baby

Dining Out

We didn’t get out too much this month. We ordered in another Mexican pizza from Rosario’s – this time, chicken mole. This was very good – in my top three of the pizzas we’ve ordered so far, with the La Mexicana and Choriqueso.

We had an impromptu date night at Tio Flores, which we really enjoyed. It was sad that we hadn’t been to a Mexican place so nearby, but we had been quite skeptical given how much we dislike another nearby bar operated by the same owners. However, at Tio Flores, in addition to some very good food, we had friendly, prompt service, and it was a relatively quiet and mellow atmosphere. Now that we know we like it, I’m sure we’ll be back more often.

Tio Flores
Tio Flores
Margaritas at Tio Flores
Margaritas at Tio Flores

Toward the end of the month, we enjoyed Sunday Supper at Rex 1516. Unfortunately not many people signed up, but it was a fantastic menu and we really enjoyed all the food and drink pairings. The brisket and burnt-end beans paired with Edmund Fitzgerald porter was especially good.

Dessert at Rex 1516
Dessert at Rex 1516

Books

After watching the author’s interview with Patrick Rothfuss, I ended up reading and very much enjoying Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes and A Torch Against the Night. I found the story and the characters very engaging, and I thought the second book added a lot of interesting layers. I look forward to the next book, although it will be awhile!

I finally finished reading the third and final book in the Star Wars Dark Lord Trilogy, Dark Lord : the rise of Darth Vader. I had started it months ago, but the writing is not that great, so it was a bit of a struggle. Story-wise it’s an interesting look at the events immediately following Episode III, showing the struggles of Darth Vader as he comes into his own, as well as some Jedi that survived Order 66. It might be the last non-Canon thing I read for awhile. Next up in the Star Wars universe, I want to read Lost Stars, Bloodline, Ahsoka, Tarkin, and Catalyst.

Last Month’s Update