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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March 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

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

fuck this shit

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

We were thrilled by the Star Wars Rebels season finale!

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

Backstage at the Kimmel Center!

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

Schuylkill Banks

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

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

Farmers’ Markets

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

Wine

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

This is the only wine I liked this month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beer

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

Dining In

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

Dining Out

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

DIY

Making:

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

Using:

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

Books

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

Stitch Fix

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

Last Month’s Update

February 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It was a short yet eventful month. The Eagles won the Superbowl, which was exciting for the city yet fairly disruptive. We ended up getting the day off work for the parade, since public transportation had all but stopped running except for getting people to and from the parade. Not being fans of crowds, we did not partake in the festivities. I used the day off to pack for my upcoming travel. We enjoyed a few warm spring-like days, but then it went back to being cool and rainy. Overall I’m really grateful for my new job. My travel reimbursement was all electronic and was processed in record time. The workplace has lived up to my expectations in terms of lively, civil discourse among staff, as well as robust and respectful services for students; for the most part, it’s a place I can stand behind. We went to see Black Panther, which was great, and we were super excited by the return of Star Wars Rebels, which is wrapping up its final season. Rebels S4E10 “Jedi Night” and S4E11 “Dume” were SO emotional!

Hera and Chopper hold hands
image via Star Wars Explained https://youtu.be/-JDYdC1kwso

In other news, I’m pleased that I feel like I’m making some progress on my finances. I transferred an IRA from my credit union to the banking service I use for my other investments. Since my credit union was still in the dark ages and didn’t provide online access to my retirement accounts, I hadn’t contributed in years. Now that I’ve moved it over, I’ll be much better able to start contributing to it again, since I can transfer funds to it electronically. Toward the end of the month, I got my tax refund, and I adjusted my withholdings so I can take a little bit home more per month but still hopefully be in good shape for next year. My speedy reimbursement from work for my travel helped me from taking too big a hit on my credit cards, and hopefully I’ll continue to make good progress paying those off (still hoping to do this by age 50). I was a little concerned when I noticed that my new take-home pay was not THAT much more than at my previous job, despite the raise. After doing some comparisons, I saw the main difference is I’m putting a lot more into my retirement contributions than I was before, which is actually a good thing, so I shouldn’t complain.

Travel

I took two back-to-back trips for work this month, first to Denver, and then to Washington, DC, totaling 8 consecutive days. By the last few days, I was pretty fried. The biggest drag was the weather difference between the two places, meaning I had to pack both bulky winter clothes as well as somewhat lighter winter clothes. I thought my poor bag was going to burst from being overpacked, but it somehow survived the trip.

Denver was pretty good. It snowed one day, but was otherwise pleasant. I absolutely loved the dry atmosphere, though many of my colleagues suffered from altitude sickness. I like downtown Denver overall, what with the pedestrian mall, the free bus, and it’s just overall so freaking clean and easy to get around. I did not care for the dudebro atmosphere at times, especially now that everyone seems high 24×7. I didn’t have time to really seek out anything special in terms of food or drink, but I did eat a lot of Mexican food and green chile, and I had pretty decent beer, but terrible wine. The conference was great – I wish I could have stayed another day.

Denver
green chili smothered breakfast burrito

I was glad to get to DC, where I was joined by Tom. We stayed in the Woodley Park / Adams Morgan area, which I was not previously familiar with, but I ended up liking quite a bit. The absolute best part was The Gin Joint, a bar that has like 100+ kinds of gin, which was right across from our hotel. We also had some enjoyable dinners at some nearby restaurants, including the Afghan Grill and the Lebanese Taverna. The conference was pretty good, too; the highlight was the reception at The Library of Congress. I had been to LoC once when I was 15 but don’t remember anything about it other than getting lost and separated from my parents on the tour. This time was excellent, as we had a special after hours experience. Such a fantastic building!

Library of Congress
The Afghan Grill

Wine

I tried a new wine club, Firstleaf. In my introductory shipment, I got three white wines, all of which were a bit on the fruity side, but fine. Nothing was outstanding. You can rate your wines to inform future shipments, but unfortunately it’s just thumbs-up or thumbs-down, no way to express “meh” or more nuanced opinions. I’m not super confident that the mechanisms are in place to refine this shipment to my palate, but I’ll give it a few months and see what happens.

This was the only remarkable wine from my Firstleaf shipment.

This was my second month with The Tasting Room by Lot 18, and this time I switched to an all-white case, which included two rosés. This club continues to be spot-on in terms of my taste, so I am very pleased. There was only one wine I thought was only OK because it was too oaky. I am overall loving this club, but my one complaint is I’d like to be able to do a mixed club that was more white than red rather than the other way around. I loved the red wines they sent me in my first shipment, but I can’t do 8 reds + 4 whites, as I barely drink 2 bottles of red wine per month.

At long last I FINALLY got my first shipment from Plonk. I was really down on this because I prepaid for 3 months on the 4th of January, but it took until mid February to see any wine. Unlike the other clubs, Plonk doesn’t have much in the way of account management on their website, so if you want to make any changes in your subscription, you have to do it on the phone or email. WUT. NO. Also, when my wine finally shipped, it was via slow-ass ground shipping that inched its way across the country, taking over a week. Anyway, once I got the wine, all was forgiven. These were some of the best wines I’ve had in ages. One was a Sardinian white grape I’d never heard of (Nuragus), and the other was a super minerally Sauvignon Blanc from Santa Barbara. Despite the shitty business model, I’ll probably stick with this since the wines are so good.

Last but not least (no actually, this is least), the State Store wine club had a stupid theme, “Wines to Love,” for Valentine’s Day. The wines were actually OK – a Chablis and a California North Coast Rhone Blend. Both were totally decent, but the clock is ticking on this wine club.

Dining In

I think we did pretty well this month in terms of trying to use more recipes from cookbooks:

  • I made a few more recipes from the Zahav cookbook: Moroccan carrots, and kale & apple walnut salad.
  • From the Dinner cookbook, I made cod with mushrooms
  • From New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, we made spaghetti squash with mushroom ragout.
  • From Jersualem, I made a delightful dish of chard & wheat berries
  • From Preserving Italy, we made spaghetti al limone
  • From Night + Market, I made a version of green papaya salad with green apples rather than green papaya. This was a really well balanced dish that I look forward to making again.
Zahav recipes at home

For internet recipes, we made

Seared scallops with pistachio dressing
Crispy mustard roasted chicken

In other cooking news, I bought a mini-food processor last month, and it’s working out well. Its capacity is very limited, but it does help for small quantity pastes and stuff.

Dining Out

We didn’t go out much this month, but I think most of it was memorable.

We went to brunch at Tio Flores and Southgate, both of which were delicious as always. SouthGate was also an awesome place to go for dinner after a long day of traveling.

We tried to give Keen another chance – we had wanted to go to SouthGate after the Eagles parade, but it was packed, so we had little choice but to go to Keen. We would love for this restaurant to be successful, but sadly, our experiences have been much like Craig Laban’s zero-bell review.

We had a lot of fun for Tom’s birthday. The weekend before, we went to Victor Cafe for dinner and drinks, as is somewhat of a tradition now. On the actual night of his birthday, we went to Almaz Cafe for Ethiopian food, which was fantastic. Afterwards, we had some delightful drinks at Rex 1516, thanks to Paco.

breakfast burrito at Tio Flores
Ethiopian food at Almaz Cafe

DIY

New projects:

  • I started a batch of lemon garlic pickles from Indian Family Kitchen – it’s different from preserved lemons I’ve made before, in that it uses water in the brine rather than packing them tight for the lemon juice. I’ll be interested to see how they turn out next month.
  • I made citrus salt from Preserving Italy – I liked that this just involved air drying, not oven drying, as I had bad luck with trying to make flavored salts last year (forgetting it was in the oven and burning it).
  • I started a garlic paste from Fermented Vegetables – it was my first time trying the bag weight method. I was also trying out new kind of salt (Redmond sea salt). The garlic turned bright blue immediately! But the book says this can happen and there is nothing wrong with it.
  • I made ginger preserved in gin and turmeric preserved in rum from Food in Jars. I’ll be interested to see how well this works for keeping the ginger fresh – the alcohol is supposed to burn off when you cook it, so I’ll see how it works in stir fries.
  • Finally, I canned some apples in calvados syrup from Saving the Season. Even though we can get apples most of the year, I figure it doesn’t hurt to have some put away for snackies, especially given how much we’ve been enjoying having canned peaches around.
citrus salt
preserved ginger and turmeric
apples in syrup

Past projects we opened:

  • peaches with bourbon tea syrup – we preferred the cold pack we opened last month (peaches with grappa syrup) over this one, which was a hot pack. The flavor was still really good, and I knew going in that the white peaches were going to discolor, so it was just a reinforcement to 1) use yellow peaches and 2) cold pack in the future.
  • passata, heirloom tomato sauce, and roasted tomato sauce – we do like these more reduced sauces better than the regular tomato sauce recipe, but we would also prefer that it be seasoned with garlic before canning. I should try making some spicy versions of sauce, too.
  • orange crushed tomatoes – I noticed from this time and last time that the citric acid is really noticeable in crushed tomatoes. I’m seeing the downside of water bath canning tomatoes, which requires added acid, as opposed to pressure canning.
  • blueberry gin jam! I had given some away at Christmas and was glad to finally try it myself. It had good blueberry flavor, not too sweet, but I wish more gin flavor came out.
  • green tomato pickles – we had these with sausage. Meh, they’re all right. A little too savory and pickley for my taste.
  • chile jam – we had this as a glaze for chicken. For some reason it doesn’t seem as spicy as I remember.
  • salsa verde – we opened another batch of this to have with scallops. I am pleased that this is Tom’s favorite salsa and am glad that I made so much of it! It’s also fun that each batch is slightly different, based on what kind of peppers were available at the time.

Books

  • I finished Deadhouse Gates (print)- I cried when Duiker died, which goes to show this book continues to have an emotional impact even though I’ve read it lots of times.
  • Every Heart a Doorway (Kindle via the library)- I really enjoyed the faerie kind of concept, even if the murder-mystery part was pretty predictable. I’ll probably read the other books in this series, but I’m in no rush.
  • The Guest Cat (print via the library)- I read this book because it was part of a book club at my work. I was really moved by the cat – it was a simple, beautiful story. I enjoy when poets write prose.
  • Homegoing (Kindle via the library)- holy crap this was amazing – it was my favorite book in a long time. I read it all in one setting, as I just couldn’t put it down. I look forward to reading it again, especially now that Tom bought it in print.
  • Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Kindle via the library)- this is the second book in Claudia Gray’s Firebird series. I questioned the star-crossed lovers narrative that it started with, but it got more interesting by the end. It ended on a cliffhanger, but the 3rd book isn’t on FLP Overdrive! So I’m not sure when I’ll finish the series.
  • Jerusalem (Kindle, got on sale) – though there was some overlap in recipes, this cookbook was a nice contrast to Zahav because it reflects the broader cooking traditions of many cultures in the city, not just Jewish cooking.
  • Night + Market (Kindle, got on sale)- a very fun Thai cookbook. I love the wine pairings, practical advice, and bold flavors.
  • Thrawn (Kindle, got on sale) – the writing is actually pretty good for a Star Wars novel. I found it to be a really interesting look inside Thrawn’s head, making him a more sympathetic character. Now I’m very curious to see where he’ll be at the end of Rebels
  • I started Memories of Ice (print) as the next book in my Malazan re-read
  • I started New Vegetarian Cooking (Kindle, got on sale).

Last Month’s Update

January 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

Um, this month pretty much sucked. As December ended with a death in the family, January began with the aftermath, with freezing temperatures and snow to top it off. Though I hate snow, I was glad for the two snow days off work, though we didn’t do anything fun, because bereavement. We spent a few days in the Northeast for the funeral, before and after, and started the long, sad process of trying to clean up the house. A week later, I did take a personal day, which we used to see Star Wars: The Last Jedi again, which was fun.

Sunrise in Fox Chase, the day of the funeral
Winter in Philly is pretty much gross

Farmers’ Markets

The first few weeks of January, farmers’ markets were canceled, first due to the holidays and then due to the weather. We were very glad mid-month when the markets were back on schedule, though sadly we did not take any pictures. We haven’t been feeling too bogged down with winter foods yet – on a typical week we get a squash (spaghetti or butternut), broccoli, kale and/or spinach, fresh herbs, mushrooms, onions & scallions, garlic & ginger, coffee, chicken, and fish. We are still seeing occasional peppers, which is nice, and if necessary we’ll supplement with some out-of-season zucchini, green beans, or cucumber from the produce market. Opening jars of last year’s summer preserves has certainly helped supplement as well.

Wine

Inspired by a post in Billy Penn, I decided to try out a few additional wine clubs. Currently I just have Tablas Creek and the ridiculous state store wine club. I’ve been waiting for some of my favorite California wineries to get PA shipping licenses but it just hasn’t panned out. Ideally I’d rather just be able to order retail from my beloved hometown wine store or from a proper wine store in Jersey, or from wherever I damn well please, but since the state of PA won’t let me, I have few options. So I figure, might as well take advantage of what I can, especially if I can try new wines, and save myself a trip to the stupid state store.

Anyhoo, I signed up for The Tasting Room by Lot 18, and Plonk.

So far, I am pretty thrilled with The Tasting Room. One of the things that attracted me to this club above the others is that they send you a wine sampler before you commit to the club in order to best determine your tastes. Many of these sites make you take some dumb online quiz to supposedly determine your wine preferences (do you take your coffee black? do you prefer dark or milk chocolate? the smell of sea spray or tropical forest?). While The Tasting Room did have such a quiz, I’m glad that it was followed up with ACTUAL WINE, in 6 oz mini bottles to avert waste and expense. Of the 6 samples they sent, we loved 5 and hated 1, so it was already off to a pretty good start, but we got the opportunity to make sure that we staved off any future oaky chardonnay shipments before they came. For the first shipment of full bottles, we liked everything, though some more than others. Being able to rate each wine helps curate our future experience. So, it’s like the StitchFix of wine.

I’m already a bit annoyed with Plonk since after a full month I have yet to get a shipment, but they only process them at the beginning of the month. I’m also a bit annoyed that it’s not personalized, but this is not unlike most winery wine clubs so it’s not that big a deal. Better luck next month, and I’ll have something to report!

I’ve been thinking about canceling the state store wine club for awhile, but have just been going month-to-month. This month’s theme was Spain, and both wines were quite good, so this membership survives another month.

Dining In

For Christmas, I got Tom the Half Baked Harvest cookbook, and from it he’s made a few wonderful recipes so far, including sesame fish, veggie burgers, and apple & brie soup.

sesame tuna
apple brie soup

Tom got me the Zahav cookbook, and I’ve made a few things, including tahini green beans, Israeli salad with pickled persimmons, and red pepper salad, along with the hummus recipe I’ve been making all along. Tom also made delicious pita to go with these tasty treats.

In addition to our cookbooks, we made a few decent Pinterest recipes, including garlic rosemary cranberry chicken,  scallop saganaki, and spicy-ginger-lemon chicken.

Dining Out

We’ve started making a habit of brunch at SouthGate, which is most welcome. On our day off, we tried out some sandwiches at Stockyard, which were very tasty, and we also had more beers and snacks at Second District Brewing. At the end of the month, we had an impromptu Sunday Supper at Russet, which was delightful.

local Ploughman cider at SouthGate
whole pig banh mi at Stockyard. Photo by Tom Ipri

DIY

I figured this would be a slow month for projects, but a few managed to materialize.

My dad sent me some unsolicited citrus from Arizona, which I had a hard time using up. I didn’t want to make marmalade again, so instead I ended up making canned tangerine slices with orange blossom water and vodka, using a cold pack recipe from Saving the Season. I look forward to seeing how they turn out.

Last month, I tried a Zahav-inspired cabbage ferment, but it was a complete fail. It probably would have worked better as a quick pickle.

Also last month, I forgot to mention that I made lemon-infused olive oil using a recipe from Preserving Italy. It turned out great and is excellent for salads.

I had leftover white and red wines we didn’t want to drink, which I finally decided to consciously turn into wine vinegar. It will take awhile, but we’ll see if they end up usable. If not, better to try than to just dump the wines down the drain.

This month, I made more wine-soaked carrots from Preserving Italy, which has turned out to be a staple.

For  a fish recipe this month, I made a quick pickled ginger, which turned out delightful. It really tasted just like something from a restaurant, so I was very pleased.

Thumbing through Saving the Season, a recipe for negroni jelly caught my eye. Jellies were something from last year that I feel like I didn’t get enough practice with, and um, we love negronis. This recipe was designed to be a byproduct of  a blood orange marmalade recipe. So, I decided to make both the blood orange marmalade and the negroni jelly byproduct, despite the fact that I really didn’t want  a bunch of jelly in my  life. I made both at the same time, and due to the multitasking, I think I actually screwed up the jelly, as it had the chance to cool down and got too thick. As for the marmalade, I’m not sure yet, I only know there is TOO MUCH of it. I am glad I finally bought a jelly bag, though – it really would have come in handy when I was trying to filter bitters a few years ago.

January 2018 preserves

We opened some previous months’ preserves:

  • salt-preserved green tomatoes: yikes, these were way too salty! I would not make these again.
  • spicy pepper relish – very tasty, though it could be spicier
  • fennel relish – very good, a pleasant, mild relish
  • zucchini relish – interesting! the celery seed really comes through, and the red wine adds to the earthiness
  • yellow crushed tomatoes – not bad, and I do like the novelty of different colored crushed tomatoes
  • smoked paprika tomato jam – we had this as a glaze on fish and it was pretty good
  • peaches in grappa syrup –  awesome! They were not too sweet, the peaches had a great firm texture, you could definitely taste the grappa flavor but it was not too boozy, and likewise there was plenty of vanilla but it was not overpowering. These were the best canned peaches of all time, and I can’t wait to make them again this summer.
  • I gave up on the cornichons and tossed them out. The gherkins were too porous and overall recipe was too tarragon-y

Books

  • Another Brooklyn – another excellent work by Jacqueline Woodson. I just love her writing style.
  • Zahav -Tom got me this cookbook for Christmas, and I enjoyed reading it all the way through. I learned a lot about what makes Israeli cooking distinctive, and I got a lot of good ideas. I made several recipes this month and will continue to do so.
  • Dinner – this was on sale on Kindle for $1.99 and I had heard such good things about it, I decided to try it out. It is really jam packed full of recipes you could put together on a weeknight that are not too elaborate but are still really interesting. I look forward to trying some of these out, and I can see buying the book in paper form so that it would be easier to navigate.
  • Killing Moon – I enjoyed reading N.K. Jemisin’s work in another fantasy world – it was a really well imagined setting and a captivating story. I will look forward to reading the sequel.
  • A Thousand Pieces of You – this was my first non-Star Wars Claudia Gray book and I really liked it. It’s a very interesting inter-dimensional travel story with a bit of mystery and a bit of romance.
  • I started re-reading Deadhouse Gates as part of my Malazan re-read, but did not finish by the end of the month. Sadly it was quite difficult to get used to reading a big heavy hardback after getting spoiled with the Kindle, but I didn’t give up, and eventually my eyes adjusted. It would be nice to own the whole series on Kindle, but that would be quite an expensive investment, so I’ll stick with my hardcover collection for now.


Last Month’s Update

Food In Jars Mastery Challenge 2017

While I didn’t necessarily intend to at the beginning of the year, I ended up participating in the 2017 Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, in which a different food preservation skill was highlighted each month. Going into the challenge, I was familiar with fermentation and some salt preserving, but I had never water bath canned before. Over the 2016 holidays, though, I had bought myself some minimal canning equipment, plus Tom had bought me a preservation book, Preserving Italy, so the challenge was a good opportunity to try these things out.

January: Marmalade

For this challenge, I made the Bitter Citrus Marmalade from Preserving Italy. The timing was good since, although we do not have local citrus in Philadelphia, my dad had just mailed me a bunch of oranges from his backyard in Arizona.

At the time I was pleased with the marmalade, but in retrospect, it…was not that great. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now say I let it cook too long. Once it hit 220º I should have stopped, but I stressed too much about the set point. I have since learned to just trust the thermometer rather than looking for visual cues. Other mistakes I made included not zesting the citrus thinly enough (I had big chunks of peel, which I did on purpose because I thought it would be cool, but it was not cool) and using pint jars rather than smaller jars. To be fair, the recipe called for pint jars, so that wasn’t a mistake per se, but I can’t honestly imagine who could possibly eat enough jam, jelly, or marmalade to justify an entire pint.

The recipe itself was tasty (vanilla bean, mmm), but it was horrifying to me how much sugar was in it (turns out marmalades and jellies have a 1:1 sugar ratio, as opposed to jam which is more like 2:1). I had an open jar in the fridge, and over time, it was just unusable since it was so thick and the sugar had started to crystallize. I ended up tossing the rest of my processed jars (I had given 1 jar to my mother, which I’m now terribly embarrassed about).

Verdict: Even knowing what I could improve in the future, I’m not very interested in making marmalade again, unless there’s a really compelling recipe I’d like to try, and/or if there’s a recipe in Naturally Sweet Food in Jars that contains an alternative to all that sugar. I’m also a bit less likely to enjoy store-bought marmalade now, knowing how much sugar it must contain.

bitter citrus marmalade

February: Salt Preserving

I had previously made saeurkraut, kimchi, and preserved citrus, so I felt comfortable with this skill going in. In February, I tried a few new-to-me recipes, including New World Rye Kraut and Pumpkin Spice Kimchi from Ferment Your Vegetables. The Rye Kraut is fantastic – it’s basically a simple sauerkraut with caraway seeds. We love it to eat it with sausage. I don’t eat a whole lot of kraut on a regular basis, so it’s still in my fridge, but it’s still just as tasty. The Pumpkin Spice Kimchi was made with butternut squash. Interestingly, I had fermented some butternut squash for a different project the month before, so I wasn’t worried that it would be weird or anything, but… I just don’t think it worked that well in a kimchi context. I ended up tossing it.

Later in the year, I came back to this skill and made salt-preserved green tomatoes with a recipe from Preserving Italy. These came out way too salty, so I don’t think I’d try this one again.

In December I made a fresh batch of kimchi using the Everyday Baechu Kimchi recipe from Ferment Your Vegetables, which turned out great.

The one thing I didn’t do for this challenge was make flavored salt. There are several recipes in Preserving Italy that I’d like to try, so maybe I’ll come back to this in 2018 in the boring winter months when I need a project.

Verdict: I think this is a very important skill, and I was glad to get more practice with it this year. In the future I would like to branch out to salt-preserving meats, such as bacon.

Pumpkin spice kimchi

March: Jelly OR Shrubs

I confess I was not very interested in this challenge in March, partly because it was too early in the year for fresh seasonal fruit to make either jelly or shrubs. I did see a few non-fruit jellies that looked interesting (including wine jelly, beer jelly, and herb jelly) but not compelling enough to make.

I came back to this in May when we finally had some fresh strawberries and made a strawberry black pepper shrub. It was fine, I tried to drink it a few times with sparkling water or in a cocktail, but I still find shrubs way too sweet for me. In June I tried again with a lemon coriander shrub, thinking that lemon would be less cloying than strawberry, but no such luck.

In June I made my first and only jelly, the four pepper jelly from Saveur. This actually came out great, but due to the suspended pepper pieces, it is very reminiscent of a marmalade. Still very sweet, but in this case I could forgive the sweetness due to the heat of the peppers. This happens to be the only recipe I made all year that required commercial pectin. In the future, I’d prefer to stick to recipes that only use naturally occurring pectin (from apples, lemon seeds, etc.) rather than using any commercial additive. There is a hot pepper jelly in Saving the Season that I would try in the future; most of the jelly recipes in that book start with apple pectin as a base, which I find appealing.

Verdict: Much like marmalade, I’m glad I made jelly once, but now that I know how much sugar is required, I’m unlikely to do it again, unless there’s a really amazing sounding recipe. I confess that I have yet to invest in a proper jelly bag, so for the sake of learning, I really should do that. As for shrubs, I’m glad I tried, and now that I know the technique, I feel confident I could improvise any number of flavors; the problem is, I just don’t like drinking them (not because of the vinegar, but because of the sugar).

strawberry black pepper shrub

April: Quick Pickles

Having lost my enthusiasm in March, and likewise due to a very late spring in which we STILL weren’t seeing spring fruits or vegetables at the farmers’ market in April, I also didn’t do this challenge in the month it was assigned.

However, in June, I made a quick pickled egg using some leftover brine from fermented escabeche, and it came out great. In August, I made some Chinese pickled cucumbers as well as the cornichons recipe from Saving the Season, using gherkins from the farmers’ market. The gherkins didn’t taste enough like real cornichons (oh well), but the Chinese cucumbers came out nicely.

Verdict: I often don’t give this skill enough credit, but it is a good one to have. Sometimes a quick pickle is just what you need to get a good pickled flavor but still maintain the crispness of your vegetables and have everything taste really fresh. Toward the end of the year I tried to make an elaborate ferment and it turned out all it really needed was a quick pickle. I could definitely use more practice with making this judgment call.

Chinese pickled cucumbers

May: Cold Pack Preserving

At this point in the challenge I was in truly unfamiliar territory, as I had no idea what cold pack preserving even was. I didn’t actually get to this one until June, due to the aforementioned late spring. When I did, I made spicy pickled green beans, using fennel seeds instead of dill seeds (we deemed these “pizza beans” since they evoke a pepperoni flavor). We liked these so much, I made a second batch.

Once I knew what they were, I continued to do cold packs throughout the rest of the year. In July, I made pickled melons, as well as peaches in grappa syrup, both from Preserving Italy. In August, I made cocktail onions from Saving the Season, and in September, I made canned whole tomatoes and canned green tomatoes, also from Saving the Season. In October I made pickled green beans from Saving the Season. Of what I’ve opened so far, the melons and cocktail onions were just OK, but the peaches in grappa syrup were amazing!

Verdict: I’m very glad to have learned this skill and the difference between cold and hot pack preserving. As I gained experienced I learned some of the pitfalls and strategies to avoid them, like making sure you really pack everything tight to try to avoid floaters, and leaving jars in the canner an extra 5 minutes to try to minimize loss of liquid. I think this is a perfect technique for things like green beans so they stay nice and firm, and I’m looking forward to the result with the jars I haven’t opened yet. Next year I want to try this with asparagus and cherries.

spicy pickled green beans

June: Jam

I had made jams before, but prior to this challenge I had always put them straight into the fridge rather than processing them. I am not a big jam eater, so I consciously tried to keep my jam making to a minimum, even though there are so many delicious looking recipes out there. In June, I made David Lebovitz’s black currant jam, mostly because I just couldn’t resist buying some fresh currants in the brief window in which they were in season (also, because David Lebovitz’s recipes are so consistently wonderful). We enjoyed this later in the year paired with some scones at an English tea-themed party.

In July, I made blueberry gin jam from Saving the Season (because gin! I simply love the way so many recipes in this book use alcohol as an acidifying ingredient), and tomato jam from Sean Brock’s Heritage. I have yet to try the blueberry gin jam, though I gave some away for Christmas and heard good things. The tomato jam was absolutely fantastic – I didn’t process it, as I wasn’t sure it was safe for water bath canning, so we just enjoyed it in the fridge.

In September, I tried a few more tomato jam recipes, since we loved the first one so much (spiced tomato jam from Preserving Italy and smoked paprika tomato jam from Saving the Season), as well as a peach champagne jam from Saving the Season, fig jam from Preserving Italy, and chile jam from The Indian Family Kitchen. I love hot spicy jams, and the chile jam was delish. I liked both of the tomato jams, but I preferred the more ketchup-like texture of the Sean Brock recipe.

Verdict: You can’t go wrong with mastering this skill. As I mentioned above, once I learned to just trust my thermometer, I never had a problem achieving set.

chile jam

July: Hot Pack Preserving

Along with Cold Pack Preserving, this was another big learning experience for me. As mentioned previously, at the beginning of the year I certainly wasn’t familiar with the terminology or what cold vs. hot pack even meant. At this point in the year, I had unknowingly already done a few hot packs: spiced pickled mushrooms, wine-spiked carrots, and fennel-carrot agrodolce from Preserving Italy.

In July, once I was more conscious of the skill, I added peach marsala almond compote, crushed tomatoes, bread & butter pickles, Asian plum sauce, peaches in tea & bourbon syrup, and peach chutney to my collection. Through the course of the month, much like with cold pack preserving, I learned a few tips & tricks, including making sure I was de-bubbling with a chopstick, as well as paying extra close attention to headspace. There were certainly times in which a recipe produced less volume than I expected, and I was left with the choice of extra head space or re-housing in smaller jars. As I got more experienced, I learned to anticipate this and do the latter, prepping a variety of different sized jars just in case.

After July, I continued to use this skill for the remainder of the year, especially in August and September in the height of summer produce. In August I made: pickled peppers, tomato sauce, pickled zucchini, tomatillo salsa, corn relish, passata, zucchini relish, roasted pepper relish, tomato salsa, Canadian ketchup, and fire-roasted tomatoes. In September I made BBQ sauce, roasted tomato sauce, spicy pepper relish, heirloom tomato sauce, chunky tomato salsa, candied jalapeno, and tomatillo ketchup.

In October I wrapped this up by making green tomato preserves, green tomato chutney, and hot pepper escabeche.

Verdict: This is quite possibly the most important skill of the year, not only because it includes almost all the tomato canning, but also technically all the jams as well. I’m very glad to have gotten lots of practice with it, and I feel quite comfortable with it now.

July preserving (photo by Tom Ipri)

August: Low Temperature Pasteurization OR Steam Canning

This was one of those months where an alternative challenge was provided in case equipment was a barrier, but in all honesty both techniques needed special equipment. I didn’t even consider steam canning. Low-temperature pasteurization is technically possible without an immersion circulator, but a pain in the ass. As most of the low-temp recipes shared on FIJ were for cucumber pickles (which I don’t actually like to eat), I had no interest, so I decided to skip it.

BUT then in September, I had planned to do some pickled peppers from Saving the Season, and I didn’t realize until I read the fine print of the recipe that it was actually a low-temp pasteurization recipe. I toiled over my stupid glass electric stovetop with my 4th burner canner, trying to keep the temperature between 180 and 185. I probably spent 2 hours before I even added a jar, just trying to regulate the temperature. Of course once I thought I figured it out and added a jar, it fluctuated further. I kept a container of cold water nearby in case the temperature got too high, but then tried also to keep it from going too low. I finally managed to keep a pint of pickled peppers between 180-185 for half an hour, and it sealed, so there is that.

Verdict: In the future, I would totally invest in an immersion circulator, since it would help with low temperature pasteurization but also multi task for sous vide meat and eggs. I do think having whole pickled peppers around in winter will be a good thing, especially since low-temp pasteurization helps preserve crispness, so I am interested in pursuing this further next year. I’m still not interested in steam canning.

LTP pickled peppers

September: Fruit Butter

This was one of the easier challenges of the year. I was actually pretty excited about it because I grew up with fruit butter (both homemade by my mom as well as purchased from local apple orchards), but I had never made it myself. I relied heavily on an older FIJ post, as well as a few recipes in Saving the Season. I am super glad that I had invested in a food mill at this point; it would have been fully possible to just rely on my stick immersion blender, but I think a food mill made for better results. From the basic technique post, I tried both the stovetop version as well as the oven roasted version. I feel like the stovetop version produced the best results, but was the most work. The oven roasted version was easier to leave alone, but not as precise. I would have liked to have tried the slow cooker version, but I don’t have the type of slow cooker that would make it possible to prop it open with a chopstick. Ultimately I made several batches each of apple, peach, and pear butter, and all turned out great.

Verdict: For sure, this was very useful and I’m so glad I finally tried it. As mentioned above, this was a lifetime in coming since I’ve had apple butter in my life since I was a little girl. To finally, 40 some years later, make my own, was pretty powerful. Also this translates well to a few subsidiary skills, including fruit pastes (December) and fruit leather. I LOVE that these don’t require any added sugar, so they’re guilt free to snack on and to give away.

September preserving, with apple butter on the right (photo by Tom Ipri)

October: Drying and Dehydration OR Pressure Canning

As with August, this was another month in which two options were provided for the challenge, in case equipment was a barrier. I didn’t for a second consider buying a pressure canner, though there are plenty of low-acid foods I would eventually like to pressure can. But after examining my options for drying and dehydration, I found that most of the dehydration projects I’d be interested in would require a proper dehydrator. Yes, I can dry small quantities of herbs by just leaving them out, but that didn’t really feel like a skill. And oven dehydrating generally needs to be done at a lower temperature than what my current oven is capable of. I know my mom made fruit leather in the oven when I was young, but I don’t know how low that oven went or if she left the door propped open; my mom definitely did have a dehydrator, though, and that’s where most of our dried fruit came from when I was growing up.

Earlier in the year I dehydrated some cherries for sour cherries in boozy syrup from Preserving Italy. This was tough not only due to the temperature of the oven but also in this case because I didn’t have the right kind of drying rack. In August, I tried drying some grapes to make raisins in the oven, but they got overcooked. In December, I gave this one last try for dehydrating celery, knowing that my oven only went down to 170 but that proper dehydrating needed to go below 150; unsurprisingly, these also got overcooked. My only pseudo-successes with this this year were just leaving herbs and citrus peels out on my counter to dry.

Verdict: I think dehydrating is an important skill, but after several failed attempts at oven drying, I do think a dehydrator is essential for doing this properly, except for things that can be left out at room temperature. For the record, although I did not try it, I also think pressure canning is very important since it is the only way to safely preserve low acid foods, especially meat. While my space constrictions do not allow for this presently, it is something I will think about in the future.

attempting to dry sour cherries

November: Fermentation

OK, so this is something I worked on actively last year, so I was definitely already comfortable with it come November, and in fact I had been fermenting all year by the time this challenge came around. I didn’t actually ferment very much in November, but did a lot between May and September. Nearly all of my (successful) ferments came from Ferment Your Vegetables, but I bought a few new fermentation books this year, including: DIY Fermentation and Fermented Vegetables.

Honestly the new books were more of a bust than not. The majority of things I tried from DIY Fermentation did not work out for one reason or another, whether it got moldy (soy sauce, miso) or just did not taste good (peach chutney, sprouted garbanzo bean hummus); however I was pleased with the fermented ketchup, cultured buttermilk, cultured butter, and fruit vinegar recipes. Despite some of the failures, I have to give that book credit for me branching out into a few non-wild cultures, such as buttermilk culture, as well as the koji culture I bought in my failed attempt to make soy sauce. I didn’t really care for the recipes that required whey as a starter, with the exception of the ketchup. The Fermented Vegetables book was more oriented toward large-batch crock fermenting, which is not my thing, but I do want to try the garlic paste and a few other small batch recipes from that book.

I think my fermentation highlights this year were things I made up myself, as I’m comfortable enough with the technique to improvise. My favorite was an escabeche pickle with carrots, garlic, onion, oregano, and jalapeño. I also really liked my version of pimenta moida made with a paste of fermented esplette peppers.  I am also glad I did a few simple one-ingredient ferments for really basic things to have around for a salad, like fermented shallots, jalapeños, and radishes. I did one ferment from Saving the Season, which was a delicious batch of fermented green beans – for this one, I let it ferment longer than I usually do with vegetables, and I was pleased with the extra sour and tangy result. I also stocked up on the very reliable salsas from Ferment Your Vegetables, and finally made a successful batch of fermented hot sauce.

Verdict: I loved fermentation before and still love it now. The challenge has certainly helped me think more about when fermentation is the most appropriate preservation technique and when it isn’t.

fermenting butternut squash

December: Fruit Pastes

I participated in this challenge a little early and made two pastes in November. I got lucky with my first batch, an apple-pear paste from Preserving Italy that came out perfect the first time. I made this as an alternative to quince paste and it’s just a lovely recipe (as with many recipes in this book, it is heavy with vanilla bean). For my second batch, I followed a more generic recipe to attempt cranberry paste. I baked it a few hours, but it wasn’t nearly enough, as it was still halfway between jam and paste when I gave up. This needs more practice, but it was still very tasty.

Verdict: This was slightly less useful than some of the other challenges, but it was a good extension to the fruit butter challenge. I’ll certainly try it again next year.

apple pear paste

Other

This was not part of the challenge, but the other preservation technique I tried this year was Preserving in Oil. This technique is not USDA approved, so it’s not surprising that this was not part of the challenge, but it does figure prominently in Preserving Italy. Preserving in Oil was something I hadn’t realized I was already doing, for things like my harissa paste where you have to re-cover it in oil each time you use it. I tried a number of oil preserves from Preserving Italy, but I have to say that I didn’t really like the result when it came to using this technique for preserving vegetables. The oil-preserved asparagus, for example, was too mushy, and I just don’t like the texture when the oil’s all congealed in the fridge and you’re trying to fish something out of it. However, I think the technique works great with pastes, particularly with peppers. In summer I made a fermented pimenta moida and topped it with oil, and that’s effectively helped preserve it in the fridge. In terms of flavor, this was also my favorite preservation method for roasted red peppers, even though they don’t last as long.

sweet and sour roasted peppers with capers

Freezing was not part of the challenge, but I think it’s relevant, even if it’s not terribly complicated. Certainly there is some small skill involved, if only to know when/how to blanch things before freezing, etc., as well as knowing when freezing is a better or more appropriate preservation method than canning. Maybe this could have been added to the April challenge (somewhat related to quick pickles) or August (as an alternative to LTP or steam canning, at a time of year when there are plenty of tomatoes to freeze), or October (similarly easy compared to dehydration).

Preserving in Alcohol is probably another thing that could have been added to the challenge as an alternative one month, though it’s certainly not for everyone. The sour cherries in boozy syrup I made would qualify for this, as well as limoncello and a variety of other alcohol infusions. On a related note, I found it completely eye-opening in Saving the Season to find that alcohol could be used instead of or in addition to vinegar or citrus as a way to acidify canning recipes.

Wrap-Up

Though especially toward the end, the FIJ blog did not provide as much in the way of instruction, I am still grateful to the challenge for providing some structure for me to learn and refine some of these preserving skills. Clearly I got a lot out of the books Saving the Season and Preserving Italy; while I could have gone through a lot of recipes in those books without the challenge, I’m not sure I would have picked up on specific skills and terminology like “hot pack” and “cold pack.” I also got a great deal out of the FIJ Facebook group, despite its propensity toward big-time Canning Drama (who knew); while the arguments over canning safety and non-approved preservation techniques grew tiresome (albeit entertaining at times, in a break out the popcorn to watch the train wreck sort of way), at least it did point me toward the National Center for Home Food Preservation in case of any safety questions. Certainly I do want to eventually own all of the Food In Jars books, but based on my experience with the challenge I think my top priorities would be Naturally Sweet Food in Jars (for alternates to sugar) and Preserving by the Pint (since a pint is my max canning size and I never want to produce more than 1-2 jars of any one recipe). Other people in the FB group joked about buying stock in sugar by the end of the year, but if there’s one thing I’d stock up on for the apocalypse, it’s salt.

In terms of equipment, I found that I really didn’t need much other than my 4th burner pot, wide mouth funnel, and a jar lifter. Halfway through the year I did buy a food mill, which I’m grateful for, as it really helped with tomatoes as well as with apples. My instant-read thermometer was a huge asset, as was my digital scale. I only started to appreciate my silicone spatula toward the end of the year, as well as my canning ladle; these were nice to have, but not necessary (though, as a bonus, they certainly come in handy in the kitchen for non-canning cooking needs). I rarely used the magnetic lid lifter thing, and I also never used the silicone trivet, so those were unnecessary purchases. I was a regular visitor to my local hardware store, where I picked up more jars and lids several times a week during the summer, which was more manageable and less wasteful than ordering flats of jars online. I think I mentioned above, in the future I’ll try to stick to smaller (1/4 and 1/2 pint) jars, as pints and larger are just a super unrealistic amount. Another purchase I found really useful for freezing and drying was restaurant-style plastic deli containers in various sizes. For fermenting, I continued to make regular use of my pickle pebbles and plastic lids, but other than that I don’t think any additional equipment is necessary.

In terms of favorite recipes for the year, the tomatillo salsa with green chiles and tequila from Saving the Season and the wine-soaked carrots from Preserving Italy stand out. Anything with tomatoes, peppers, or peaches was a big hit. The spicy green beans were a pleasant surprise, as were the green tomato preserves. Fruit butters reclaimed their space in my heart as my favorite fruit preserves, though my canned peaches are something else. Unsurprisingly, we are eating up all the savory preserves, but have a hard time using the sweeter things. I gave away a bunch of jam during the holidays and still have too much.

salsa verde, possibly my favorite recipe of the year

The Future

Now that I’ve completed the challenge, what’s in store for next year?

Well, I only started using the Saving the Season book in summer, so there are definitely some spring recipes from that book that I want to check out (especially for cherries, and I’m still not quite ready to give up on asparagus). Knowing that in winter, the things I crave the most are tomatoes and peppers, I definitely want to make more of those next year. There are some other fruits I would like to work more with, including apricots, plums, and berries. Certainly if I end up buying more preserving books, there will always be new recipes to try – in addition to the Food in Jars books, I have my eyes on a few others. Also, now that I gained a little experience fermenting with non-wild cultures, maybe I’ll finally get some rennet and get more into cheese making.

I would like to invest in a pH meter to get a better sense of when a certain recipe is safe for water bath canning if it does not otherwise specify – such as with Sean Brock’s tomato jam recipe. A pH meter would help with fermentation, too, and it’s not too expensive (right now I do have pH strips but they’re not very precise). There are definitely some recipes where I would have benefitted from a food processor rather than relying on my stick immersion blender. Although I was not enthused by jelly or marmalade during this year’s challenge, I really should invest in a jelly bag and give this skill more of a chance. To level up, I would like to someday get an immersion circulator to help with low temperature pasteurization as well as sous vide cooking. Certainly someday I would like to try pressure canning, for meat & beans especially, but not anytime soon. Likewise a dehydrator would be great, but I don’t have the space for it. While the 4th burner pot is very limiting in terms of quantity and volume, I’m not sure I see any need for a larger water bath canning setup anytime soon. After a year of accumulating jars, I definitely need a better storage solution in terms of shelving and/or jar containers.

One thing that only hit me during the very last challenge, which seems stupidly obvious now, is that these things really do take a lot of practice. There were certainly cases where I thought I had “mastered” a challenge when really, it was just beginner’s luck, and the next time I tried it, it didn’t go so well. Here’s where I think a focus on technique, as opposed to specific recipes, was really the brilliant part of the challenge. So in that spirit, I will certainly want to keep practicing, though true “mastery” will take more time.

2017 In Review

Photos

Here are my “best nine” photos from 2017 on Instagram (as with last year, only one photo is not of food):

Here are my favorite 2017 photos from Flickr:

Best of 2017

Life in Philly

This was my 6th year in Philly. At the end of the year, I finally succeeded in finding a different job, so that will change my experience in Philly going forward. At the end of the year we also lost Tom’s mother suddenly, which has meant not only a great deal of grieving but also potential changes in our routine as it comes to our relationship with the Northeast. I had oral surgery early in the year, which went OK. Thankfully it was just a benign cyst, but the surgery did result in permanent nerve damage; I still have sensation in the roof of my mouth, but it’s like having “pizza mouth” all the time. I had half-days on Fridays during the summer, which gave me some much needed time for some self care. And, though we have yet to use the grill, we have tried to take better advantage of our building’s patio, relaxing there with adult beverages and our Kindles when time allows. We did get out and about a little bit, including the frog exhibit at The Academy, as well as a Phillies-Dodgers game at Citizens Bank. Toward the end of the year, we took several Schuylkill River cruises (including visiting Bartram’s Garden for the first time), as well as a South Street walking tour led by our friend Marcus.

Philadelphia 2017

Staycation 2017

Travel

It didn’t seem like much, but we did get in a bit of travel this year.

In January, I went to Atlanta by myself for a work conference. While I was there, I visited my BFF Suzie and marched in the Atlanta March for Social Justice and Women.

ALA Midwinter 2017 (Atlanta, GA)

In early March, we were so very fortunate to go to California for my cousin Hallie’s wedding. This was my favorite weekend of the year by far. Not only did we get to stay in Carpinteria, one of our favorite places in the world, and not only was the wedding itself spectacular, but we also got to spend a day in Santa Ynez wine country and have dinner at The Hitching Post. And, to top things off, our flight back to Philly got canceled due to a storm, and we got to stay an extra day in LONG BEACH. Best canceled flight ever!

California 2017

In late March, we went to Baltimore so that Tom could attend a work conference, and I tagged along. We had a lovely time with our friend Dale and enjoyed exploring the Federal Hill neighborhood.

Baltimore 2017

In August, we traveled to Washington, DC while I attended a work conference. We really liked where we stayed and enjoyed exploring new stuff in Penn Quarter, which had changed quite a bit since the last time we stayed in that part of town.  I was also glad to go to Zaytinya for their mezze lunch (a much-needed do-over since the last time I was there).

USETDA 2017 (Washington, DC)

I made it to New York City for the first time since moving to Philadelphia six (!) years ago, not only once but twice. In late June we went up to NYC to meet up with Erika, David, and Ella to attend a Mets game and as a bonus, got to go to the Guggenheim Museum. Later in the year, now that I knew how to navigate MegaBus, I went back to meet up with my friends Heather and Melissa.

New York 2017

Dining In

For the first few months of the year, I was fortunate to do recipe testing for my friend’s new food blog, A Good Carrot. Not only was it all delicious, healthy food, but having to make all this food on a schedule got me much more in the practice of meal planning.

Throughout the year, we enjoyed trying new recipes from The Indian Family Kitchen, a cookbook I had received from my brother last Christmas. Part way through the year, we bought another influential cookbook, The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, which was on sale on Kindle at the time. We made just about all of our holiday recipes from this book and really enjoyed it.

I suppose it’s notable that I joined the State Store’s wine club. Eh, the last thing I want to do is give them more of my money. But I do like wine showing up at my door, and this way I try some more mid-priced bottles that I wouldn’t ordinarily find at my local store. It’s been hit or miss, but I’ll see it out over the course of a year and see how it goes.

I continued to keep a Google Calendar of all of our meals for the past year. However, this year I have no desire to analyze the data for any trends. Sorry.  Without looking too closely at the data, I would say we continued last year’s trend of eating in most of the time, eating out less than we had in previous years. I also think we continued last year’s trend of trying 1-2 new recipes per week. I can certainly say, we continued our trend of having about 1 chicken recipe per week, with plenty of new recipes tried in addition to repeated recipes. Really there was so much good cooking, it’s hard to pick anything that stands out – see my 2017 monthly blog posts and photos below:

Dining in 2017

Dining Out

Highlights for dining out this year included:

Dining Out 2017

DIY

Most of my projects this year were part of the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, as I learned a lot about canning, and continued to experiment with fermentation. The bulk of my recipes came from

Not everything was successful. I tried sprouting, but didn’t really enjoy the results. I tried fermenting soy beans to make soy sauce and miso, both of which failed. I learned that I don’t really care for marmalade, jelly, or shrubs (too much sugar!)

Big winners were tomato jam, pimenta moida, salsa verde, wine-soaked carrots, spicy green beans, peach chutney, canned peaches, and BBQ sauce. I was also pleased with how my homemade buttermilk and quark turned out.

Photo by Tom Ipri

Tom did a great job making bread from the cookbook I got him lat year. Highlights included white bread, pita, biscuits, and corn muffins.

Books

My year in books was significantly affected by my purchase of a Kindle, coupled with my use of the Free Library’s Overdrive subscription. I went way above my Goodreads goal and read 75 books, which is probably the most I’ve read since I was a kid in the library summer reading program. Highlights of the year were Assassin’s Fate (the end of the Fitz & the Fool trilogy, *sob*), Obelisk Gate and The Stone Sky, Confederacy of Dunces, Binti and Binti Home, Strange the Dreamer (I love Laini Taylor!), Shades of Magic, Akata Warrior, and Deadhouse Landing. I’m continuing to enjoy Star Wars canon novels, especially Ahsoka and Bloodline. Sadly it’s kind of hard to read physical books now, once you get spoiled with being able to adjust the type size and being able to read in the dark.

Here is my GoodReads year in books: https://www.goodreads.com/user/year_in_books/2017/131968

2017 Goals Redux

Getting a new job was more of a long term goal, but glad it was finally able to happen.

From last year’s goals, here’s what I DID do:

  • Continue to make things, try more canning – YES
  • Send birthday cards in the mail – YES
  • Continue trying to bring lunches to work – YES
  • Make more things from cookbooks, not just online recipes – YES
  • Invest in a Kindle and see if that helps me adjust to e-reading – YES
  • Keep up with meal planning and tracking – YES
  • Continue to make progress on paying off debt – YES

I think the cooking, canning, meal planning, and Kindle reading have been discussed already, so the main thing I’d like to focus on here is the birthday cards. I did this all 12 months of the year. I don’t regret it, but there are definitely some lessons learned. People are reluctant to give out their addresses these days, which I get, but it was depressing to be rebuffed. Some people also just don’t like mail, which I also found to be depressing. Then there are the male friends whose SOs feel threatened when I send them a bday card. ~sigh~ Bottom line is, despite some awkward interactions, this was mostly very positive, even if only a small handful of people really enjoyed getting a birthday card in the mail, as far as I know. In a very small few cases, it resulted in some continued email or snail mail correspondence, which I enjoyed. Overall it was very expensive, since good cards are not cheap, and I had to buy a lot of stamps (no regrets about that, though). I’d like to keep doing this, but perhaps scale back now that I know who actually appreciated it.

Here’s what I did kinda, but not really:

  • Call politicians – I did this a little, but not enough
  • Try to have more non-social-media interactions with people, whether that’s email, hand written letters, phone calls, etc. – Sort of, but I could do a lot more

Here’s what I didn’t do:

  • Get in the habit of using the work gym at least once a week – NO
  • Blog more on SuperPlus Eats – NO
  • Take more people pictures – NO

2018

It will be interesting to see what’s in store for this year. There is a lot to learn and adjust to with my new job. For work, I’ll be traveling to Denver and Washington, DC, but that’s all I know so far. For pleasure, we’ll be traveling to the SF bay area for a wedding, so I hope we can make a nice California trip out of that. It will be Tom’s 50th birthday this year – we won’t be taking a big trip, but we will be splurging on a nice dinner.  At the beginning of the year, I signed up for a few new wine clubs, so I look forward to seeing how those work out.

Here are my informal “ideas” for next year:

  • continue making things from cookbooks (physical or kindle). If stumped, look to past recipe success, as well as NYT and LA Times
  • continue canning/preserving, this time more focused on practical winter staples and improving techniques, in addition to experimenting
  • continue to make progress with debt
  • figure out a workout schedule – may need to wait until I’m working from home 1 day a week
  • invest more in “home office” though it won’t be tax deductible
  • do something about the furniture situation in apartment
  • continue to send cards, branch out into postcards & letters, maybe even phone calls.
  • continue reading
  • take more people pictures

December 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

This month was my first at my new job, which has meant getting to know a new campus, figuring out my new subway commute, trying new food trucks, etc. I might be slightly obsessed with the different colors and patterns of subway tiles on the Broad Street Line.

We got our first snow of the season, which thankfully didn’t stick around too long. I am not looking forward to winter. We enjoyed a few get-togethers with friends, including a birthday party held at a used bookstore, and a friend’s annual glühwein party. It got miserably cold and snowed again at the end of the month.

Day-after first snow at Temple U
Late-December snow in Fox Chase

We saw the new Star Wars movie and really loved it. Our expectations were low after The Force Awakens, and due to the fact that we’ve grown to like Rogue One and Rebels over the main storyline movies. Nonetheless we loved the new direction of The Last Jedi. The only downside was we didn’t care for the “Black Box” theater at the Prince Theater where we saw it the first time, so we hope to make up for that by seeing it in a proper theater next time around.

Unfortunately the month ended on a very sad note, as Tom’s mother was in the hospital and then passed away suddenly. We are all grieving and are grateful for the love and support of family and friends.

Farmers’ Markets

This month I tried getting cut flowers from the farmers’ market for the first time, in an effort to spruce up my new office. I’m not sure how well this is going to work. The first week, some of the flowers had shriveled up between Saturday when I bought them and Monday when I came to the office. The second week, the flowers had some kind of dry pods that made a huge mess. Still, I like the idea. We’ll see. Winter might not be the best time for this experiment.

We tried some special local oatmeal via Z Food Farm, which was enjoyable during our time off. We also got some great hard cider from Frecon Orchards, which we used both for our cooking adventures and for drinking.

Frecon Farms Wæs Hæl

Wine

There’s not too much to say about wine this month. I was on the verge of canceling the state store wine club, but this month they sent Italian wines, so I’ll keep it for now. The red wine was from Alto Adige, made from 94% Schiava and 6% Lagrein. The white was a sauvignon blanc from Friuli.

Birthday

My birthday was on a Sunday, so we celebrated all weekend. (Normally I would have also taken a day off work, but I couldn’t since I had just started a new job, and it turned out fine since my birthday was over the weekend anyway.)

On Saturday, we had a lovely brunch out at SouthGate. I am not into bloody mary cocktails, but I was intrigued by theirs and decided to try it. I couldn’t finish it, but it was very good and very savory, and it came with a delightful sidecar of spicy soju. I tried their shortrib moco loco for my entree, which was fantastic. We also shared some kimchi deviled eggs, and Tom got the Korean fried chicken with green tea waffles.

Brunch at SouthGate

For Saturday dinner, Tom cooked for me, and made a slow cooked tomato gravy and braciole, which we had over fresh pasta, and which was unsurprisingly delicious.

linguine with red sauce and braciole (photo by Tom Ipri)

For Sunday brunch, Tom made me chilaquiles divorciados, using some salsa I had canned in summer, one roasted tomatillo and one chunky tomato.

chilaquiles divorciados

For Sunday dinner, we went out to Friday Saturday Sunday. We have been to the bar many times, but it was our first time getting a table and eating in the dining room upstairs. As expected, it was excellent. We shared a bitter green salad (with nori caesar dressing – I love the idea of using seaweed rather than anchovies to flavor a caesar), grilled octopus, sweet potato agnolotti, and roasted chicken.

Friday Saturday Sunday

Christmas

For Christmas, we made this into a multi-day cooking affair. On the 23rd, Tom made some homemade bread, and for dinner we had orecchiette with tiny lamb meatballs.

homemade bread
orecchiette with tiny lamb meatballs

On the 24th, Tom made croque madame using the homemade bread from the day before. For dinner, we did our variation on the Feast of the Seven Fishes by making a seafood paella. We only have a 9 inch paella pan for two, so 3 “fishes” were plenty (scallops, clams, and shrimp), but I could see also trying to make room for maybe some octopus and crab meat. We cooked the seafood separately and added it to the top of the paella at the end, which isn’t traditional, but I think it worked better, since that way the scallops got a nice sear, and the shrimp were extra seasoned with smoked paprika and garlic.

croque madame
Paella

On the 25th, for breakfast I made a mushroom strata with the rest of the homemade bread, which was quite good. Despite the bacon and tallegio, it wasn’t as heavy as some stratas I’ve made. For dinner we had cider-braised pork with applejack and dates (recipe from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, only we used applejack instead of Calvados and dates instead of prunes), and an apple-walnut radicchio salad.

strata
Pork with Applejack and Dates

We also made 3 batches of cookies:

peanut butter sriracha cookies

We enjoyed exchanging gifts with each other and a few family members. Highlights included author jersey t-shirts from our local used bookstore, Neighborhood Books – Heller 22 for me, Pynchon 47 for Tom – as well as some cookbooks (Zahav, Half Baked Harvest), ornaments, jewelry, glassware, knitted hats from my mom, hand-blended tea from my cousin Jenny, and a Chopper hat!

Chopper hat and Chopper shirt

For the 26th, we enjoyed a nice afternoon tea at The Dandelion, and for the 27th, we had a delicious meal of red sauce, meatballs & ravioli at Dennis’s, to round out the Christmas festivities.

The Dandelion

New Year’s

For New Year’s Eve, rather than going out for tamales as we usually do, instead we made a cornbread tamale pie. Tom made a batch of beer bread from the Half-Baked Harvest Cookbook, which turned out great. On New Year’s Day, we made cider-brined turkey legs with applejack gravy from The Apple Lover’s Cookbook, which turned out pretty well – I especially liked the gravy.

Dining In

We did a lot of cooking for the holidays, but other than that we didn’t try many new recipes this month. The standouts where spaghetti with spaghetti squash and tadka dhal from The Indian Family Kitchen. Also, for lunches, I enjoyed making the insalata di riso from Preserving Italy, which was a great way to use up various opened jars of pickled things in the fridge.

Otherwise, we looked for inspiration from past recipe success rather than trying new recipes. This included:

Dining Out

We didn’t go out too much this month, other than for my birthday. After my first day of work at my new job, we did go out for a special dinner at Southwark. It was nice to finally sit in the dining room and try the food rather than just sit at the bar.

Southwark – photo by Tom Ipri

In the neighborhood, we spent some additional time at SouthGate, Keen, Friday Saturday Sunday, Little Spoon, and Tio Flores. I really hope for more meals at SouthGate in my near future, I just really enjoy it there.

Mandu at SouthGate
chilaquiles con carne at Tio Flores

DIY

Now that canning season is over, it’s basically back to ferments. I made a batch of fermented radishes and a batch of fermented jalapeños, both to use as toppings/condiments, or for recipes that just call for a small amount. I had some leftover buttermilk from Thanskgiving, so I turned the rest of that into a delicious buttermilk ricotta, with the recipe from Preserving Italy. My pickled mustard greens from last month never quite turned as bright yellow as I hoped, but I went ahead and stopped the ferment once it seemed nothing new was happening. This time of year I can get napa cabbage from the farmers’ market in a reasonable quantity, which I much prefer to the giant heads at the grocery store, so I made kimchi (the “everyday” kimchi recipe from Ferment Your Vegetables). I still had a bit left of my last kimchi, which was still fine, so I mixed in the old with some of the new when it was finished. It was very bubbly, so I’m quite excited to see how this one ages. I also started a sauerkraut based on a pickle we had at Zahav. I was hoping when I got the Zahav cookbook that this recipe would be in it, but it wasn’t, so I improvised. It’s napa cabbage with red onion, sumac, mint, dill, za’atar, aleppo pepper, and clove. It won’t be ready until next month but I look forward to trying it.

We opened a few jars of things canned in summer: roasted tomatillo salsa and chunky tomato salsa, both of which we used in my birthday chilaquiles, and a jar of pickled peppers from Saving the Season. The chunky tomato salsa was very spicy, and I was quite pleased with it. The tomatillo salsa wasn’t spicy enough, but it was still tasty enough that I’d make it again. The canned pickled peppers are naturally more vinegary than the oil-preserved peppers we had just finished up, but I still like them.

I decided to finally give up on the homemade miso & soy sauce I started in June, which were supposed to ferment for a full year. Both had developed mold, which is a lesson learned both in terms of brine level as well as keeping more of a constant eye on things. It’s especially disappointing to have these not work out, since I injured my finger pretty bad when I was making them. Oh well, I still have plenty of soy beans if I decide to try again.

Books

I started the month by reading Vicious by V.E Schwab. I had enjoyed her Shades of Magic series and snagged this in a Kindle sale since the library doesn’t have it. I enjoyed it and will look forward to the sequel.

I was in a lull with my Overdrive hold queue at the library, where I didn’t want to place any more holds until my current holds came up, so I bought another book I had been looking forward to, Deadhouse Landing, the sequel to Dancer’s Lament. So, first I had to re-read Dancer’s Lament. Both were great, and I loved the way Deadhouse Landing expanded the story and introduced more familiar characters and settings. As soon as I finished, I wanted to be back in the Malazan world, so I re-read Gardens of the Moon. I would have kept going, but, some of my library holds came up, and I hit the dilemma where continuing with Malazan would have meant either going back to print (that font is small!) or having to buy things all over again in Kindle format.

After about 6 months I finally got my hold for The Stone Sky, the conclusion to N.K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth series. Wow, what a fantastic ending to the series. This world was so rich, and I felt like there was just as much if not more world-building in the last book as there was in the first book – so much revealed and so much to learn. I highly recommend the whole trilogy.

In the meantime I also re-read Bloodline, in lieu of the new Star Wars movie. It fills in some important plot points relevant to the new trilogy that I wanted to be reminded of.

Last Month’s Update