2015 in Review

I haven’t done a year in review on this blog before, but now that I’ve been doing monthly updates for more than a year it seems like an easier task.

Photos

Here are my 9 most-liked photos on Instagram – surprisingly not all food!

hollyphl_2015bestnine

Here is a set I put together on Flickr of my best photos of 2015:

https://www.flickr.com/gp/htomren/JC3N3V

Life in Philly

I think most of the story is best told in the above pictures, but let’s see. It was another ridiculously cold winter as far as I’m concerned, especially with the Polar Vortex. Spring seemed like it took forever to come, but luckily, the rest of the year was pretty pleasant.

Eww

This year, we saw the opening of Cira Green, a new rooftop park in University City. We had a friend move to the neighborhood, so that has made for more social outings. Tom started a new job, which means a change of scenery for him as well as no more walking to work together.

Cira Green

Philly’s major event this year was the Pope visit, for which we got some time off work due to all the transportation closures. Tom and I had a very enjoyable “Popecation”, as detailed in our blog post.

Portapotties for the Pope visit

Travel

Despite the fact the neither Tom nor I went to ALA Midwinter or Annual conferences, we did still manage to get out of town a few times. We each took a few brief, short work trips on our own – me to Austin and DC, Tom to the Denver area. We took a far-too-short trip in August to New Haven, CT for a friend’s engagement party; we look forward to going up that way again and having a longer visit (hopefully this time without the train breaking down!). Finally, we also took a short trip to the Pocono Mountains part of PA for my cousin’s wedding. Not only was it a nice change of scenery, it was good to find out that I have some local family.

Austin, TX
New Haven, CT
Shawnee-on-Delaware, PA

Dining In

It was another good year of making delicious foods at home. We continue to actively use Pinterest to curate recipes and try new things. Some highlights of our home cooking this year include:

  • After watching lots of Mind of a Chef with Sean Brock and reading Sean Brock’s cookbook, Heritage, we ordered a bunch of grains from Anson Mills. The quality was amazing, and we especially enjoyed the Carolina gold rice.
  • I had some sichuan pepper that I didn’t know what to do with, so I looked up a bunch of Sichuan recipes, acquired some additional ingredients, and made quite a few different dishes. Spicy and delicious!
  • I finally made chilaquiles from scratch, including baking tortilla chips. If I had known making chips was that easy in college (without deep frying) I could have saved a lot of money!
  • Thanks to a great ricotta gnocchi recipe, I got over my fear of making gnocchi from scratch.
  • As usual, everything is better with an egg on it. This year, Tom figured out how to perfectly poach eggs!
  • We had some great experiences with French boxed wine from the state store. However, sadly, my local wine ship in CA stopped shipping to PA. 😦
Clams in black bean sauce – a favorite recipe from this year

Dining Out

We had lots of fun eating out this year. Besides new openings, I’d say there was somewhat of a theme of FINALLY trying places that have been in our neighborhood all along.

  • We finally went to Audrey Claire and loved it! Tom had been wanting to go for 20-some-odd years. Not only is it delicious, but it always ends up seeming ridiculously cheap.
  • We finally tried both NY pizza places near our apartment! So far, we like Randazzo’s best.
  • We finally had food at South Philadelphia Tap Room. Man, have we been missing out.
  • Despite having been many times for dinner, we finally had brunch at Standard Tap and Amis, both pretty incredible.
Brunch at Standard Tap

New openings:

  • We were excited for Tria Fitler Square to finally open, after Dmitri’s closed. It is our new favorite Tria, especially since it has brunch.
  • We really enjoy Southgate, the new Korean place across the street from us, but we wish they were open during the day for some day drinking, as well as on Mondays.
  • Toward the end of the year we were able to make it to Buckminster’s, one of our new favorite places.
  • We tried Kanella‘s new incarnation in the former Village Belle space, and it holds its place as one of the best restaurants in the city, but even better with a liquor license.
Tria Fitler Square

New to us:

  • We went to Zeppoli for Tom’s birthday, which also included navigating Patco for the first time. Delicious!
  • We found out that Dizengoff hummus makes for a great lunch on the go, or quick takeout when we’re home sick.
  • We tried the deliciousness that is Brigantessa, including their amaro program. We wish we could go there all the time.
  • Abe Fisher was an unexpected treat. On paper, it seems a little intimidating, but we expanded our horizons by trying new things.
  • I was glad to finally get to Petruce, which was every bit as good as I hoped, though too expensive for regular visits. I don’t know how much longer it will be around, but it was nice while it lasted.
  • We finally made it to Bing Bing Dim Sum and loved it. Much like Brigantessa, if we lived closer to EPX, we’d be there all the time.
burrata at Zeppoli

Places we loved on our Staycation:

  • We were blown away by Victor Cafe – not only was the opera top notch, but the food was some of the best Italian-American we’ve ever had
  • Similarly, we loved the hospitality and the food at Modo Mio‘s Sugo Sunday
  • The Mexican food at Mole Poblano & Blue Corn was excellent
  • We fell in love with the “new” Northern Liberties places Heritage & Bardot

Last but not least, a highlight of 2015 was being asked to curate a guest burger at Rex 1516!

rexburger-instagram

DIY

The last few years for me have been all about making bitters. That tapered off a bit this year, though I still created a new carrot bitters recipe that was well received. My other alcohol-related project was an attempt at nocino, in which I special ordered green walnut months in advance. In the latter half of the year, I tried fermenting my first kimchi and quite liked it. Finally, on a non-food related note, at the end of the year I re-taught myself how to sew and made Tom a Christmas stocking!

Books

This year I set a goal of reading 15 books and read 42. You can see all the books on my Goodreads 2015 reading challenge. I really do need to set my goal higher for next year, but I always have it in my head that I probably won’t read more than 1 book per month.

Toward the beginning of the year I was pretty good about getting some library books to diversify my reading, especially after the ALA book award winners were announced. My favorites of these were Brown Girl Dreaming and My Name is Not Easy.

I spent a good chunk of the year re-reading the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson, and following that with a read of the Malazan Empire series by Ian Cameron Esslemont. I was glad to see how everything finally ended, but overall felt pretty “meh” about the Esslemont books. The Erikson books as as wonderful as ever, and I’m looking forward to next year’s release of the second book in his Kharkanas trilogy.

In August Robin Hobb’s latest installment in the Fitz and the Fool series (Fool’s Quest) came out, and I read it (as well as the previous book in the series, Fool’s Assassin) over and over again. At first I was mad because I thought Fitz was going to live relatively happily ever after at the end of Fool’s Fate, but I’m thrilled to be back in his world.

Other

  • This year I tried Stitch Fix as a way to get some new clothes, without having to pick them out myself, and so far I really love it. I hate shopping, so having a personal stylist is just what I need.
  • Since Tom got a new job part way through the year, we no longer walk to work together, so I started listening to some podcasts. My regular podcasts include Undisclosed, Truth & Justice, Local Mouthful, Fresh Air, WTF with Marc Maron, and Writing Excuses.
  • We did get to see some live music this year, including a Philadelphia Orchestra concert in the park, Friday night jazz at the art museum, and live jazz at Heritage.

2016

So, what’s in store for 2016? Our only planned conference travel is to ALA Midwinter in Boston in January. The other conference I’m planning on attending is in Philadelphia this year. Neither of us have any desire to go to Orlando, so ALA Annual is off the table. Who knows if anything else will come up. Other than work travel, we hope this is the year we make it back to Long Beach, CA for a visit!

I certainly want to keep up with all the food adventures, both dining in and out. Getting up to Northern Liberties and down to South Philly more often would be wonderful. My cousin got me a fermentation book for Christmas so I hope to make more homemade things such as bread and cheese. I hope to read a few books each month and continue to use the library to check out things outside the fantasy genre. Stitch Fix has been great, so I look forward to continuing that through each season. I also look forward to getting another sewing kit to make some more Christmas decorations.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions, but I do have some loose ideas for 2016, in addition to what I’ve mentioned above, which I’ll discuss further in another post.

December 2015: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

We had some crazy warm weather this month, up to the 70s on a few days. I’m not complaining, but it wasn’t all “bermuda shorts” like the media was saying, since it was also raining and muggy at the same time. I might have liked it better if it was sunny, but hey, we can’t have it all. Anyway, as long as it’s not snowing, I’m good.

Christmas in South Philly
Christmas in South Philly
Christmas at Fitler Square

Dining In

Pretty much all of our notable cooking this month was in the context of the holidays, which I’ll talk about more below. Other than that, we did have some success with slow cooker lamb taginebeet gnocchi (which looks more interesting than it tasted), and African chicken peanut stew.

Red & Golden Beet Gnocchi with Beet Greens

Dining Out

We had some great meals out this month, not counting my birthday and the holidays, which I’ll also talk about below.

The highlight was certainly Kanella South, the first time we’ve been back to Kanella since they moved to Front Street. The food was amazing; we had shrimp kebab, octopus with beans, lamb dumplings, village salad, braised rabbit leg, and baklava. We also enjoyed the wine selection and Greek-inspired cockails.

Dinner at Kanella South

We also had a tasty brunch at La Calaca Feliz since we were up that way after seeing Star Wars: The Force Awakens! (Which, by the way, we loved. We saw the movie again towards the end of the month, and also saw the movie Carol.)

Huevos benedicto at La Calaca Feliz: pork belly, poached eggs, sopes, tequila grits

Over winter break, we also got to try some new (to us) places: South Philly Taproom (we had never eaten there before, just had drinks), Buckminster’s, and a preview of the soon-to-be-open Revolution Taco.

3 cheese grilled cheese with tomato lager soup at SPTR

For old stand-bys we had a great brunch at Sidecar (turkey croque madame!), and I had a colorful seasonal pizza from the Pitruco truck at work.

Pitruco Pizza special: sopressata, sweet potatoes, pickled long hots

Birthday

My birthday was a on a Thursday this year, so I took the following Friday off. We started off the festivities Thursday night by going to Rex 1516, and I was floored by the VIP treatment we got there. The crew had bought me these lovely flowers, plus we also had some tasty treats from the kitchen. It really made me feel special.

Birthday flowers. Photo by Tom Ipri

On Friday, we went to lunch at V Street, then had a lovely dinner at Audrey Claire. Our dinner included carrot bisque, grilled romaine salad, shrimp with sweet potatoes, roast duck, and chocolate cake.

Birthday dinner at Audrey Claire

Tom got me some new books to read, which will be a great way to start the new year! Another special treat was receiving a gift of S’mac macaroni & cheese from afar.

Finally, over the weekend Tom made me a dinner of my choosing, which was a delicious beef stroganoff, with ricotta pancakes in cardamom syrup for dessert.

Christmas

Earlier in the month we had gone to the Roxy to a BYO showing of Elf that was really fun. We also took a walking trip to see some of the South Philly Christmas lights, and went to a friend’s “Glühwein” party.

Christmas Eve I unexpectedly had the day off, which was nice because we were able to start baking cookies. We made 3 types of cookies this year: chai snickerdoodles, Mexican mocha crinkles, and ricotta cookies. For Christmas Eve dinner, we had cioppino in keeping with the local Italian American seafood tradition.

Mexican mocha crinkle cookies

We opened presents on Christmas morning and as usual we were both tickled by the thoughtful little things we got each other.

For breakfast on Christmas Day, we continued what has become somewhat of a tradition of going to Parc. We didn’t know when they were opening and ended up getting there a little early, so we walked around Rittenhouse and Fitler Square until they opened. Tom had a delicious pain perdu and I had the croque madame.

Christmas breakfast at Parc

During the rest of the day, we continued baking cookies, and we prepped our Christmas dinner, which was a delicious Cider Apple and Sage Roasted Pork Chops with Brown Butter Gorgonzola Polenta, roasted carrots, and a salad of roasted beets & kale.

Christmas dinner at home

The day after Christmas we went up to Fox Chase to visit family, where we had a turkey since we hadn’t had it for Thanksgiving. It was nice to have a few days to ourselves as well as the time with family.

New Year’s Eve

Another thing that has become a tradition is going to Jet Wine Bar on New Year’s Eve for a glass of bubbly and some tamales. This year’s tamales were the best yet!

NYE tamales at Jet Wine Bar

Bitters & DIY

I did not make any food-related DIY projects this month, but I did make something: a Christmas stocking for Tom! I had bought this kit about 5 years ago but hadn’t gotten around to making it. This year when we got out the Christmas decorations I decided it was time to give it a try. It was challenging re-learning how to appliqué and embroider (and re-learn what those words even mean), but it was fun. I didn’t finish in time for Christmas – it took all month and I spent many full days on it at the end of the month trying to finish it up. But it will be ready to be used next year!

Christmas stocking! Photo by Tom Ipri

Books

Since I spent nearly all of my free time this month working on my sewing project, after I was done grading papers for Fall semester, I didn’t get much reading done. I did finish Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; he is an amazing writer, and it was a powerful read.

I started but didn’t finish Heroes Die by Matthew Stover, which has been on my to-read list once it came out in 1998. It’s a interlibrary loan that can’t be renewed so unfortunately I won’t finish it before it’s due; I did peek ahead at the ending, though, so I get the idea. I’ll have to read it in full some other time, as it is a pretty interesting premise.

Since I finished my Malazan re-read last month, it was hard to let it go, so I did spend the first half of December re-reading Reaper’s Gale, which is book 7 of the main series. The logic was that the latter half of the series I’ve read fewer times, and as the series increases in complexity it wouldn’t hurt to review to the last few books again. I made some good progress and was enjoying it, but I stopped when I got busy, and now that I’ve taken a few weeks off from it I think I’ll be OK with reading some other things, at least until the next Erikson book comes out in Spring!

Stitch Fix

I did get another fix at the end of the month – it didn’t quite work out due to sizing issues, so I’ve ordered another one for early January, and I’ll talk more about both next month. In the meantime, here’s the final picture from my last fix – I love this dress!

Holly 2016_01_03
Gilli Tawnya dress and Market & Spruce Lauderdale knit cardigan

On SuperPlus Eats

Our Staycation posts are up! Here’s an index to all of them:

On Tom’s Blogs

Last Month’s Update

November 2015: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It’s been getting colder but thankfully not cold enough for snow. I’ve barely even started wearing tights and scarves, and I still haven’t started wearing my winter coat. I’m thankful for the mild weather so far and hope my luck holds as we get closer to winter!

This month, Cira Green, a new rooftop park between the Cira 2 (Evo) and Cira 3 (FMC) skyscrapers opened to the public, so we went to check out the city views, both during the day and at night.

view from Cira Green
view from Cira Green

We also had some pretty spectacular sunsets this month.

Music

Some friends invited us out to the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s “Art After Five” series, in which they have live music on Friday nights. That night it was Indian Jazz featuring the Arun Ramamurthy Trio. We really enjoyed the concert, and I bought their album on iTunes the next day.

 

Farmers Markets

This was a good month for colorful food at the farmers markets:

Thanksgiving

This year we were able to cook Thanksgiving dinner for just the two of us:

Wines:

  • Listel Rosé IGP, Languedoc
  • Penya Rouge IGP, Roussilon
  • Dr. Loosen Dry Riesling 2014, Mosel
  • Monferatoo Rosso 2013, Piedmont

Recipes:

Dessert (not pictured)

Pretty much all of these recipes are so good that I don’t think they’ll be leaving the rotation any time soon. The cranberry sauce was new this year, as was the farroto and that carrot-tahini dip, and they were all hits. Another “keeper” idea from this year was getting some classy box wines. While we did have some regular bottles as well, having the boxes around was super convenient both when we needed cooking wine as well as for sipping during all the food prep.

Dining In

Other than Thanksgiving, we made a lot of other tasty things at home this month, mostly featuring poached eggs, including:

Turkish poached eggs with yogurt and garlic:

Pumpkin stuffed with everything good:

Curried lentils with poached eggs:

Dining Out

There’s not too much to say about dining out this month. We did go back to Russet BYOB for a Sunday night supper but didn’t take any pictures that turned out.

I did go to lunch with a colleague at White Dog Cafe and had a fantastic roast pork sandwich:

roast pork sandwich at White Dog Cafe

Towards the end of the month, we went to Pub & Kitchen for brunch and I got this delicious fried chicken with grits, gravy, and an egg:

Fried chicken at Pub & Kitchen

Bitters & DIY

I made a fresh batch of celery bitters this month, but didn’t take any new pictures. Instead, here’s a picture from my first batch in 2013:

Stich Fix

As promised in my last post, here are a few more pics of the clothes I got in my last StitchFix shipment. I’ve been getting a lot of compliments anytime I wear them at work. I’m not getting my next fix until the beginning of January, much as I’d like to get one more often.

Corinna Striped Dolman Top by Market & Spruce
Corinna Striped Dolman Top by Market & Spruce
Heather Lace Detail Tab-Sleeve Blouse by Papermoon
Heather Lace Detail Tab-Sleeve Blouse by Papermoon

Books

I finally read Assail, the 6th and final book of Ian Cameron Esslemont’s Malazan Empire series. I enjoyed it quite a bit and thought it was a relatively satisfying conclusion to the series. Overall it was my 2nd favorite book in the series after Orb Sceptre Throne. I was still not very impressed with the series as a whole, though I do appreciate the background information it provided for characters such as Fisher kel Tath, and I guess Kyle and some of the Crimson Guard grew on me after awhile. It’s still no Tale of Malazan Book of the Fallen.

Speaking of which, after the resurrection of a certain character at the end of Assail, I had to go back and re-read Erikson’s Forge of Darkness to cleanse my palate of Esslemont and get back to the real deal. If you’ll recall, it was actually my initial read of Forge of Darkness last December that got me on this Malazan re-read kick, so here we are full circle. (That is also a reminder that I have now been writing these monthly updates for 1 year!) Man, Forge of Darkness is a good book, but bleak. I’m very much looking forward to book 2 of the Kharkanas trilogy next April.

On SuperPlus Eats

On Tom’s Blogs

Last Month’s Update

October 2015: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It finally feels and looks like autumn. It cooled off enough that we took a nice long walk on the Schuylkill for the first time in awhile. We also went up to Fox Chase Farm for its annual Apple Fest (which is kind of a misnomer, they should just call it Fall Fest, there’s not much in the way of apples!). So far there is not a whole lot of fall color in the city but you can see a bit if it here and there.

Staycation

In years past we have done a Philly Staycation in the month of August, usually for about 5 days, where we take some time off, try new restaurants, and try to see parts of the city we haven’t been to before. This year, August didn’t really work out because Tom had started a new job, so instead we decided to do Staycation during October, when Tom was also planning to take time off to attend the Philadelphia Film Festival. This time we had a whole week off, including 2 weekends, so it was twice as long as previous years. I think we will stick to a whole week in the future! Tom scheduled his movies for the middle of the day each day, so we planned to go out for breakfast/brunch before the movie(s) and dinner after the movie(s) most days. This pattern meant we didn’t really have as much time in the middle of the day for non-food adventures (museums, etc.) as we have in the past, but we still got a LOT of walking in (around 10 miles several days). Other than our neighborhood, we spent most of our time in Northern Liberties and South Philly.

Detailed staycation posts will be on SuperPlus Eats sometime next month. In the meantime, though, my highlights are:

  • Heritage: such a cool space, we ended up there twice, once for drinks, once for dinner, and both times to hear live jazz.
  • Bardot: we loved our drinks and the atmosphere and can’t wait to go back for brunch and/or dinner
  • Victor Cafe: the live opera singing was so moving and amazing, but the food was also some of the best Italian-American food I’ve ever had. This is definitely on the short list for special occasions.
  • Sugo Sunday at Modo Mio: what a steal. For a little under $40 per person, you get an amazing spread of antipasti, 4 kinds of pasta with red sauce, 4 kinds of meat, salad, and several desserts. I’ve never been as big a fan of Italian-American food as as I am of Italian-Italian food, but between this and Victor Cafe I feel like we really experienced it at its best.
  • Blue Corn and Mole Poblano: two Mexican joints in the Italian Market, easily two of the best Mexican places we’ve been to in Philly so far, as far as sit-down meals on the more traditional rather than modern side of the cuisine. I look forward to returning to both.
Heritage
Blue Corn
Washington Ave Pier

Farmers Markets

We’ve been getting lots of apples and are starting to get some winter squash. We got to go to Headhouse Market once this month, which is always a treat, and we got some delicious tatsoi, chard, and carrots.

Dining In

We didn’t do a whole lot of cooking this month, but highlights were shrimp and grits with Anson Mills blue corn grits, and drunken clams.

shrimp and grits
Drunken clams

Dining Out

Other than all the places we went on Staycation, we got out a few times earlier in the month to try some new (to us) places. We went to Whetstone for brunch one weekend and Ela another. (Ela wasn’t new but we hadn’t been there for a long time.) We tried Buena Onda tacos, which was OK but we wouldn’t go out of our way to go back. We also went to Balkan Express Restaurant, which was a delight.

breakfast gnocchi at Ela

Bitters & DIY

I made a batch of apple bitters, and I tried my hand at kimchi! I haven’t found a good use for all that kimchi yet, but I hope to try more in the way of vegetable fermentation.

apple bitters

Stitch Fix

I finally decided to give Stitch Fix a try, since I hate shopping and had heard good things about the service. They send you 5 pieces of clothing, you only pay for what you keep, and the rest you can return for free. For my first fix, I liked most of the clothes in theory, but almost everything was too small, so I sent back everything but this lovely shirt and necklace:

Unfortunately, the second time I wore it, the shirt tore a big hole in the back, so that was disappointing. I got it repaired at the dry cleaners, but I’m afraid that if I wear it again the same thing will happen.

In the meantime, though, not to be deterred, I ordered a second fix right away, and this time I kept everything (if you keep all 5 pieces there is a discount). I really love the dress and shirts I got the second time around. No pics yet, but I’ll take them at some point.

Books

I finished re-reading all 4 books in Robin Hobb’s Rain Wilds Chronicles, and I keep poking more at Fool’s Quest even though I’ve already read it several times now since it came out in August. I don’t know why this series gets me so obsessed.

By the end of the month, I eventually finished Blood and Bone, which I had started last month. I think it says something that I just couldn’t get engaged in this book. I think I may not be giving it enough credit, but I just couldn’t bring myself to care about any of the story lines. I read one review that described it more as horror than fantasy and maybe that has something to do with my distaste for it. The whole thing took place in a suffocating jungle, which was both creepy and monotonous. Unlike earlier Esslemont books, it’s not that the writing was bad, it was just that the characters and setting didn’t do it for me. Anyway, I’m done now, so one more Esslemont book to go and I can be done with the Malazan Empire series, after which I will go back and re-read Forge of Darkness before Steven Erikson’s next Kharkanas Trilogy book comes out in February 2016.

On SuperPlus Eats

On Tom’s Blogs

Last Month’s Update

September 2015: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

The beginning of September meant the beginning of a new semester teaching, so life is much busier these days. I hate it when people act like Labor Day is the first day of Fall, because it’s clearly still summer, weather-wise. This year in particular, even towards the end of September when it started cooling down, I still haven’t gotten the Fall feeling, which is a little weird. I look at pictures from a few years ago and I was already cooking with pumpkins, while right now I’m still clinging to tomatoes.

Labor Day was quiet. I actually had to spend much of the day grading papers, so I couldn’t really do much to enjoy the day off. We did have a nice brunch at Royal Tavern, though.

brunch at Royal Tavern

The biggest thing for Philly this month, though, of course, was the Pope’s visit…

Pope in Philly

The city’s preparation for the Pope’s visit began months ago and it had been quite the topic at work, figuring out if we were going to close, who would have to come to work, etc., due to the extensive road closures and transportation issues. In the end it ended up being treated like a snow day, so thankfully neither I nor my staff had to go to work.

About a week beforehand, the ports-potties started appearing everywhere:

On the Wednesday before the Pope’s visit, barricades started appearing on our street, and by that evening they started towing cars. Our building was in the “traffic box” but not in the highest security zone. Our street was reserved for emergency vehicle use, and by Friday morning there were National Guard stationed on every corner.

Military vehicles outside our apartment. Photo by Tom Ipri.

To capture what the city was like during the Papal visit, I recommend looking at photos from the StreetsDept blog: Popeadelphia Day 1 and Popeadelphia Day 2. I am very excited about the Open Streets movement that has taken off after everyone got a feel for what the city is like without cars.

Our food adventures for the weekend are detailed over at SuperPlus Eats: Popecation. I have an album of my own photos on Flickr: Pope in Philly 2015.

Travel

We were fortunate to be invited to a wedding at the Shawnee Inn and Resort in the Pocono Mountains. The bride is my third cousin, whom I had not previously met, but my dad is pretty tight with his second cousins. It’s a fun coincidence that the bride and groom live in the greater Philadelphia area, and I hope we’ll become good friends.

Anyway, my dad flew into Philadelphia and we met him near the airport. We grabbed dinner at this awesome seafood joint near the airport, A.J. Stephens Crab House & Bar. I hope we can get back there sometime; it felt a world away from Philly, like being in Maryland or the Jersey Shore.

We got up to the Poconos a day before the wedding and spent our time exploring a couple local wineries, as well as the ShawneeCraft Brewery that was at the resort where the wedding was held.

The wedding itself was lovely, on the banks of the Delaware River. My entire photo album is here.

Dining In

Last month, I ordered a bunch of grains from Anson Mills, including:

  • Carolina Gold RIce
  • Farro Piccolo
  • Blue Corn Grits
  • Yellow Polenta
  • Sea Island Red Peas
  • Red Fife Wheat Bread Flour
  • Abruzzi Heirloom Rye Flour

We tried almost all of this at some point this month. The Carolina Gold Rice has been amazing. We had it on its own, as “Charleston Ice Cream,” but we also used it with the red peas to make Hoppin John from Sean Brock’s Heritage cookbook. The grits, polenta, and farro we used as we normally would. Besides the Carolina Gold Rice I really noticed the difference between these products and what we’d normally get at the store when it came to the flours. I used both the rye flour and the red fife flour in my regular crackers, and the difference was amazing.

The other interesting thing we tried this month was shishito peppers. Here’s a photo that combines shishito peppers with Anson Mills polenta:

Dining Out

Early in the month, we had a date night at Petruce, which is a restaurant I’ve been wanting to go to ever since they opened. Everything there is cooked in a wood-fired oven. We hadn’t been there before since it’s expensive, but we used an Open Table gift certificate to cover some of the costs and that helped a lot. It was truly amazing. We had 4 dishes between the two of us: house sourdough bread with tomato butter; fried green tomato with burrata and cornbread; octopus and congee; and lasagna. Everything was SO delicious. Wines by the glass were excellent, but pricy; next time maybe we’d order by the bottle.

My dad visited Philadelphia due to the family wedding mentioned above, and while he was in town we met up at Oyster House, a well known Philadelphia restaurant to which we had never been! We had a very good meal there and look forward to going again. We shared an octopus appetizer, I had a red snapper, my dad had scallops, and Tom had a seafood stew.

Our final amazing meal out for the month was during the Papal visit when we by chance ended up at Bing Bing Dim Sum.

Bitters & DIY

I didn’t make any bitters this month, but I did make a batch of homemade mustard, using David Lebowitz’s recipe inspired by Joe Beef. The mustard recipe I normally use is beer-based, so it was fun to try something that was wine-based instead. This recipe also uses turmeric, which adds a fun, bright yellow color as well as additional flavor.

Podcasts

I added a few podcasts to my regular listening this month. First was Local Mouthful, which is about living the food life in Philadelphia and beyond, hosted by Joy Manning and Marisa Mclellan. It’s really well done, almost like a Philadelphia version of Evan Kleinman’s Good Food. The other was Writing Excuses, hosted by Brandon Sanderson, Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and Howard Taylor. I don’t consider myself a writer, but I find rewarding as a reader to understand more about writers’ creative processes.

Books

Terry Pratchett’s last book came out and was getting good reviews, which inspired me to go back and start reading Discworld. I’ve never been an adherent of strict reading order for Discworld, so I consulted the Discworld Reading Order chart and decided to read the Witches series, which was always my favorite, plus it leads up to the Tiffany Aching series that was the last thing Pratchett wrote. I read Equal Rites and Wyrd Sisters. They were both entertaining but 20 years (?) later not all that great. I’m looking forward to getting further in Discworld, as Pratchett only improves with time.

I started, but did not finish, Blood and Bone, book 6 of Ian Cameron Esselmontt’s Malazan Empire Series. I actually tried to read this book months ago, after I finished the previous book, Orb Sceptre Throne. I wish I had been able to read it back when I was in the mood. There was some Amazon.com drama at the time, in which I had ordered a used copy, but after 1 month it still hadn’t arrived so I had to submit a claim to Amazon. Oh sure, the seller finally responded at that point but still couldn’t deliver it, so so much for that. I was so burnt by the experience that I decided not to try for a used copy again, and I waited awhile before I finally ordered a new copy. Now that I’m finally reading it, eh. I can’t really get into it because I don’t care about any of the characters. More later when I finish it!

I bought a short story from one of my favorite authors, David Anthony Durham, called All the Girls Love Michael Stein. It is a ghost story about cats. I am in favor of more stories narrated by cats, be they ghosts or not.

By the end of the month I was tired of reading that felt like “work” (i.e., Blood and Bone) and just wanted something enjoyable. So I started reading Dragon Keeper, first book of Robin Hobb’s Rain Wilds Chronicles, again. Naturally, it immediately became an obsession, distracting me from other things I was supposed to be doing. But I’m glad to be reading it again.

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August 2015: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It was HOT and steamy most of the month, though it did cool down and start to feel a little autumnal toward the end.

Travel

Sadly, it had been exactly one year since the last time we took a trip together. Last year, it was to Baltimore for my cousin’s wedding. This August, we took a very short trip to New Haven, CT for a friend’s engagement party. Neither of us had been to Connecticut before. On the way there, our train broke down and we were stuck on the tracks for about 3 hours. Other than that complication, we had a nice visit, and the party was lovely. We didn’t have as much time as we would have liked to explore New Haven, but we enjoyed staying at The Study at Yale. Amusingly, The Study is building a new hotel in Philadelphia right near where I work, so now I have a better idea of what that will entail. The hotel restaurant, Heirloom, was excellent, and we got to try some local food for breakfast.

New Haven, CT
Blueberry pancakes with Connecticut maple syrup at Heirloom

Farmers Markets

We are still digging on tomatoes and all the other colorful summer vegetables.

We are especially enamored with a new vendor at the farmers’ market, Happy Cat Farm, which sells these delightful baskets of mixed cherry tomatoes:

Dining In

This was another month with a LOT of home cooking and trying new recipes, so it’s hard to decide what to highlight!

First of all, it wouldn’t be summer without caprese:

A big win in terms of recipes was Roasted Cherry Tomato Carbonara with Burrata:

Roasted Cherry Tomato Carbonara with Burrata

On a similar note, we also really liked Baked Eggs on a Bed of Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

OK, OK, it’s not all about tomatoes. It’s also about corn!

I made a Cheesy Corn and Kale Soufflé, which was much easier than I thought it would be:

I also made some gnocchi with corn, lemon cream sauce, and arugula. This was kind of a recipe mashup. It was inspired by Gnocchi, Sweet Corn, & Arugula in Cream Sauce, but I didn’t like the cream sauce part of that recipe, so I used a Serious Eats recipe for both the cream sauce and the homemade ricotta gnocchi.

Last but not least, I made chilaquiles for the first time! I baked my own chips from corn tortillas, and made my own roasted tomatillo salsa, with tomatillos from Z Food Farm. I’ll write a post about it for SuperPlus Eats next month.

Photo by Tom Ipri

Dining Out

We finally made it to Rex 1516 for their Sunday night Pit Beef special. It was amazing!

Another highlight was going to Brigantessa for date night. Everything was amazing, but especially the Stella pizza (there is an awesome video showing the Stella as well as other rare pizzas at Brigantessa). We loved it so much we went back a few nights later for dessert and flights of amari.

Bitters and DIY

I made a new batch of groundcherry bitters this month. I didn’t take any pictures this year, but here’s a picture from last year:

IMG_3300

Books

Last month I got on a crazy Robin Hobb kick, and that continued through August. First, I read all four books of the Rain Wild Chronicles. It’s kind of a continuation of the Liveship Traders trilogy. I liked all the books, but books 2 and 4 were especially strong. It really does read like two books that were each split in half. I can see how, at the time, readers would have been disappointed in what amounted to half a book, having to pay twice as much and wait twice as long to finish the story. But since I read the whole thing in one go, I didn’t mind so much. I do recommend that any Hobb fans read this quartet, as it fills in some essential pieces of information that is relevant to the new Fitz and the Fool series.

Midway through August, the new Fitz and the Fool book came out, Fool’s Quest. I loved it so much! There were several scenes that made me so emotional, I sobbed out loud. I don’t know how on earth this series is going to wrap up in one more book, but I just love this character and this story. I’m sure I’ll re-read this several times between now and when the next book comes out.

To round out the month, I read several books via interlibrary loan: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng and Loving Day by Mat Johnson. I liked them both more than not, but I don’t have the energy to review them in more depth right now.

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July 2015: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It’s definitely summer; hot and uncomfortable on most days, and I’ve been caught in more than one summer rainstorm on the way home from work.

Toward the end of the month we had a wonderful opportunity to go see all All-Beethoven concert by the Philadelphia Orchestra, outdoors at the Mann Center. I had never been there before. We found a bus that would take us there and back, and fortunately the weather cooperated. It wasn’t quite the Hollywood Bowl, but it was a fun experience, and the performance was excellent. There’s also a great view of the Philadelphia skyline, which was a pleasant surprise.

Farmers Markets

Tomatoes are finally here!

Of course, part of the joy of having tomatoes around, is we can combine them in all kinds of ways with eggs… We recently started getting our eggs from a different farm (Rambling Roots, the same place we get our tomatoes) and are really enjoying them.

Photo by Tom Ipri

Another fun thing about summer vegetables is how easy it is to throw them into some tacos or enchiladas.

Photo by Tom Ipri
Photo by Tom Ipri

Dining In

This has been a great month for home cooking. For some reason, I started meal planning, which I don’t usually do. Usually we just wing it, especially in summer when it’s so easy to just throw some vegetables on some pasta. I don’t know why I started planning things out in advance. I think it has a lot to do with Tom’s new job; now that we no longer walk to and from work together, we no longer have time to talk about dinner on the way home and make spontaneous decisions.

Here are some recipes I tried this month that worked particularly well:

Mapo chicken and spicy zucchini

Photo by Tom Ipri

Variation on Poulet L’Estragon (without tarragon)

Pasta with Vodka Sauce

Sichuan Chicken in Chili Oil Sauce (I roasted the chicken rather than boiling it)

Photo by Tom Ipri

Summer Squash Shakshuka

Last but not least, we got this box of Picpoul de Pinet that has been pretty fun to have around!

Photo by Tom Ipri

Dining Out

We have been super excited for SouthGate to open, which is a new Korean-American gastropub in our neighborhood. More about that on our food blog!

We also tried the new Rittenhouse location of Pizzeria Vetri when we needed a casual place to meet up with friends without reservations on a Friday night. Since it’s so tucked away, it feels kind of secret. We ended up going twice this month, each time as a convenient place to meet up with others without formal plans.

For brunch, we returned to Little Spoon for the first time since they opened, and had some really delicious cheddar chive pancakes with apple yogurt.

Tea

We were intrigued by a post over at Teaspoon & Petals, so we went to Premium Steap and bought a few 2015 vintage Spring teas, one green and one oolong. They are really fresh and delicious, and we’ve been enjoying them as refreshing cold brewed iced tea this month.

Bitters and DIY

I ordered some green walnuts online in an attempt to make nocino, based on a recipe from Saving the Season. I was a little disappointed in how the walnuts arrived – I was only able to use about half of them, since some of them were moldy, and even those I did use were a little speckled. Nonetheless, I’m excited to see how it will turn out. It’s a 40 day steep, and then several months of aging after that.

Books

I started the month by reading Shattered Pillars, book 2 of Elizabeth Bear’s Eternal Sky series. I had gotten a free copy of book 1 at the American Library Association conference a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The series takes place in an alternate, more magical version of the Asian Steppes, and I found in the first book that I liked the idea of setting a fantasy series in our world (or a version of it), with familiar geography. Anyway, I should have re-read the first book in order to re-familarize myself with the setting and the characters, but I didn’t. And unfortunately, I really didn’t get into or enjoy this book very much. Maybe when the next book comes out, I’ll do a better job of re-reading books 1 and 2 so that I can appreciate it more.

Next, I read The Long Earth, the first book in a science fiction series by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter. The premise was interesting, but neither the plot nor the character development was enough for me to get invested in what happens next. Also, the whole thing was so painfully Western/Anglo-American centric that I couldn’t engage with the story without wondering about the diverse voices I wasn’t hearing. In addition, at this point in time (this book was published in 2012) I don’t see how anyone can write science fiction based on a future Earth (Datum Earth in this scenario) that does not directly address climate change. I think the authors did adequately convey the negative environmental and political implications of humans colonizing the newly “discovered” parallel iterations of Earth, but the whole Manifest Destiny vibe still makes me sick.

Next, I read Fool’s Assassin, which is book 1 of a new fantasy series by Robin Hobb, The Fitz and the Fool, which is a continuation of her Farseer and Tawny Man trilogies. Honestly, when I learned that this new series existed, my first reaction was to be angry. The Tawny Man series ending was one of the best endings of any book I’ve ever read, and I really didn’t see any reason to bring Fitz out of retirement. I mean, the last line of Fool’s Fate is “I am content,” and who could want more than that, for a character who has been through so much? Anyway, turns out I was wrong. I got sucked right into Fool’s Assassin and loved it.  Turns out the next book comes out soon, in mid-August, so I don’t have to wait too long to see what happens next. In the meantime, this really got me back into Hobb mode, so I’ve abandoned all other reading plans for the time being and am just re-reading her other books.

To keep me occupied, I also checked out another Robin Hobb book from a series I hadn’t read yet, the Rain Wild Chronicles, which is a continuation of the Liveship Traders series. I’ve never been quite as into Liveship as I was into Farseer and Tawny Man, but I do like it. I read Dragon Keeper, which is the first of 4 books in that series. It was pretty good, but I’m not too committed yet, so I ordered the books via interlibrary loan rather than purchasing them. [Update: ILL was taking too long, mass market paperbacks are cheap, and I was impatient, so I did go ahead and buy books 2-4, which I’ll talk about in next month’s update.]

I was bad this month, in that I didn’t read anything that was not in the fantasy or sci-fi genres. I actually did check out and start reading a somewhat gritty YA book, but it was kind of depressing so I didn’t finish it. I’d like to say I hope I’ll do better next month, but with this Robin Hobb obsession gripping me at the moment I don’t think that’s realistic. I’m just going to not worry about it too much, because pretty soon it will be September and I’ll be so busy teaching that I won’t have as much time for pleasure reading, so I might as well just enjoy the fact that I’m reading at all.

Podcasts

Now that I’m walking to and from work by myself, I’ve started listening to a few more podcasts. This month I’ve been listening to Undisclosed, Serial DynastyUntitled Patrick Rothfuss, Fresh Air, and WTF with Marc Maron. I was really moved by Marc Maron’s interview with President Obama last month and have really enjoyed listening to the show since then. Other than the interview with the President, my favorite so far has been episode 615 with Penelope Spheeris.

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