April 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

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

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

Negronis on the patio

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

Farmers’ Markets

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

Dining In

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

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

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

Dining Out

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

huevos rancheros at Tio Flores

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

Sp0tburgers
Friday Saturday Sunday

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

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

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

Brigantessa

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

Carrot confit at Friday Saturday Sunday

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

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

DIY

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

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

wine-spiked carrots

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

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

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

Books

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

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

Last Month’s Update

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April 2016: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

Except for a snow storm at the beginning of the month (!) it was a pleasant Spring-y April.

In the middle of the month, we went with a friend to a free Philadelphia Orchestra concert, which was great. We sat on the side of the second level and were pleased to find that the view was not the least bit obstructed, and in fact, the seats were even more comfortable; it felt like being in a VIP box.

On the last day of the month, we spent a day weeding Tom’s mom’s yard.

Farmers’ Markets

Asparagus finally arrived on April 23! We’ve found that 5 bunches only gets us from Saturday to Monday so we need to start getting more…

Dining In

We’ve had some good luck with rosé at the state store this year. I was shocked that the Chestnut St store had a few cases of Domaine de la Fouquette and quickly bought 2 bottles (these are long gone but it was nice while it lasted)

We usually get cod from Shore Catch on most weekends, but I’ve started to get really tired of it, so we tried something new: swordfish! I’ve just been using a simple recipe that involves pan-frying in butter & olive oil (3 minutes on each side), and finishing off with some white wine. It’s really good!

One weekend I made Turkish fried eggs in herbed yogurt for brunch, which was delicious. Tom also made Baked egg and chorizo enchiladas, which came out quite well. We returned to a successful recipe, Brown butter scallops with parmesan risotto, which was just as good as we remembered it.

Now that we have asparagus, recipes are out the window and it’s just asparagus everything, all the time…

Dining Out

The highlight of the month was attending one of Cafe Lutecia’s weekly BYO nights. Cafe Lutecia is a wonderful French cafe that is normally only open for breakfast and lunch, but lately, on Tuesday nights only, they have been opening for BYO dinner. We went one night on a whim and can’t wait to go back. There were multiple crostini set out on the bar to choose from; we selected one with duck rillettes & cornichon, and one with Spanish chorizo & peppers. Next, we had an order of tomato salad with goat cheese while we decided what to do next. We moved on to escargot and frog legs, and finished up with a charcuterie plate and a cheese plate. The entire experience was delightful, and so far, it seems to be a neighborhood secret.

Cafe Lutecia

We had two really fun experiences at South Gate this month. First, we stopped there for dinner after the Philadelphia Orchestra concert, and I had the best dolsot bibimbap. Next, one Saturday on the way home from the farmers’ market, we saw them setting up for brunch! Ever since they’ve opened, we’ve hoped they’d have some daytime hours. It turned out to be a soft opening for their brunch menu, and we were delighted to give it a try. We both had green tea Belgian waffles, topped with Korean fried chicken, citrus chili syrup, and honey butter. We also shared an appetizer of kimchi deviled eggs. We’re so thrilled about this new brunch option (and also, the option of just hanging out there to have a beer during the day on weekends).

Brunch at Southgate. Photo by Tom Ipri

DIY

I continued to explore lacto-fermented pickles by improvising a recipe, with carrots, ginger, garlic, golden beets, allspice, and cloves. The carrots taste great, but the beets are a bit boring.

I also decided to try my first kvass. I really wanted to do a carrot kvass, because I love carrot juice and really like the idea of carrot-based beverages. Ferment Your Vegetables has a recipe for Moroccan Carrot Kvass, which sounded great, so I got that started. I had already purchased an airlock, but alas, had forgotten to buy a bung to put it in; luckily same-day shipping on Amazon Prime came to the rescue. I had some leftover golden beets so I did add one beet to the recipe, hoping it would add some color. About a week in, I also added some fresh tumeric. It was all progressing to be quite lovely, then at about Day 9 it turned into slime. Like, Ghostbusters ectoplasm slime. So, down the drain it went. I’m a bit crestfallen about this but I’ll try again with a different recipe next month.

Books

This month, I was obsessed with Ann Leckie’s Imperial Radch series. Last month, I read Ancillary Justice, and loved it. This month, I read Ancillary Sword and Ancillary Mercy, books 2 and 3 of the trilogy. I loved them so much I proceeded to read all 3 again, within the span of a few days. I am still ready to re-read them AGAIN, only I can’t because Tom is now reading Ancillary Justice and I don’t want to steal it from him. I was so absorbed in Ancillary Sword in particular that I did not ONCE skip ahead, which is pretty amazing because it is a terrible habit of mine and I can’t think of any other book that I’ve read straight through without succumbing to the temptation. It seems most people like the first book best, and I can’t blame them, because so much of it involves the reader being challenged and dropped into the story without knowing what’s going on (much like Steven Erikson does in his novels), that when you finally do realize what’s going on, the reward is very high. I think the first book is great, but I actually really enjoy the 2nd and 3rd books more because I love seeing the main character come into his/her own. I like that at the end of the day I don’t know the gender of any of the characters and that’s OK, although, I am slightly amused that my mental impressions of the genders of two of the main characters are opposite of what their genders are purported to be. I don’t even know what that means, but I like the fact that readers are challenged to move beyond that.

The last half of the month, I was biding my time until April 26, when the next Steven Erikson book, Fall of Light, was released. I’ve only just begun reading it, but it is great so far.

In the meantime, I picked up The Restaurant Critic’s Wife from the library, which I had been curious about since the author is the wife of the Philadelphia Inquirer’s restaurant critic. Unfortunately it was so bad I couldn’t finish it, though I did skip ahead to the end to see if it got any better, and it didn’t. I don’t know if “mommy-lit” is a thing (like “mommy blogs”), but if it is, this is a puke-worthy example. The only thing that could redeem this book is a sequel: The Restaurant Critic’s Ex-Wife (though this title would also be problematic because, much like in this book, the main character’s identity would be defined by her husband’s). In said theoretical sequel, Lila will have dumped her controlling loser of a husband, her kids will be older, and she will return to being the kick-ass career woman she was before she got saddled with a husband who wouldn’t “let” her work, or have friends, or have a life of any sort. The Restaurant Critic, inspired by the “coming out” of his counterparts at the Los Angeles Times and New York Times, will have abandoned his anonymity, realizing his obsession with it was also partially responsible for the failure of his marriage, and try to get her back, but Lila is way too good for that shit. They end up as friends, still co-parenting their children and perhaps going on less fraught restaurant dates, but each happily single. In the meantime, readers will learn all sorts of interesting things about hotel management and be inspired to pursue a master’s degree in hospitality so they can be as cool as Lila. That would be much better than this book, in which even the fact that it takes place in my neighborhood couldn’t hold my interest. The author’s note in the acknowledgements that her actual restaurant critic husband is not QUITE as controlling as the fictional character, is not funny, and is in fact disturbing. I honestly hope that he is actually NOTHING like this character, otherwise she should run screaming and he should die in a fire, because NO ONE should put up with that kind of abuse (Side note: I actually really like the writing of the real-life restaurant critic so I hope it is the former). The more I think about the sick relationships in this book (other than Sebastian, the only character who is the least bit of a friend to Lila), the more I am disturbed that anyone would find this story “cute”, “charming”, gods-forbid “romantic,” or “heart-warming.” Blech.

Stitch Fix

I scheduled a “Spring” fix for the beginning of the month and was so pleased with it I kept everything! My stylist said it was hard to choose, and so I scheduled a Spring Part 2 for next month to see what else I can get. I’ve particularly found Spring and Summer fashion difficult in Philly (I still can’t figure out the weather here) so I’m looking forward to more help. Items pictured below include a green blouse, a gray blazer, a blue & green dress, a lovely mint-colored chunky necklace, and a beige (reversible!) tote.

Holly1 2016_04_10
Sylvester Split Neck Blouse, Kaylie French Terry Blazer, Kaeylyn Laser Cut Two-Tone Reversible Tote
Holly3 2016_04_10
Kessie Knit Faux Wrap Dress, Leapona Gem Statement Necklace, Kaelyn Laser Cut Two-Tone Reversible Tote

Last Month’s Update

April 2015: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

OK, NOW it’s finally Spring!

Spring 2015 in Rittenhouse Square

Television

I’m not huge on television, but we have a new streaming set up that is pretty sweet. Tom got us MLB.TV, which is perfect for Spring, it’s so fun to be able to watch baseball! We are blacked out of the Phillies games, but we’re able to watch the Dodgers (my team), which is awesome. On top of that, I decided to take the plunge and buy an Apple TV unit so we could get HBO NOW and stream Game of Thrones, legally. It’s seriously one of the best things I’ve ever bought. Between Netflix, Hulu Plus, MLB.TV and HBO NOW, we are set.

Dining In

One of our cooking highlights for the month was Stir Fried Clams with Black Bean Sauce, which Tom made twice. There is this awesome black bean & garlic sauce that I used to use all the time, years ago, that we bought for the recipe, and it’s so great to have it around again.

Stir fried clams with black bean sauce

For Easter dinner, we made Shore Catch scallops with farro and kale pesto. It was still too early at that point for any spring vegetables (have to wait for May for those), but the kale pesto was a nice touch.

Scallops with farro and kale pesto

I’m always looking for new ways to cook cod, since it’s one of the better kinds of local fresh fish we can get here in Philly. I adapted a trout amandine recipe for cod and it was delish.

Cod amandine

Toward the end of the month, one week we got chicken breasts instead of legs for a change of pace. I made Middle Eastern Chicken and Couscous Wraps with Goat Cheese, which is a total keeper of a recipe (sorry, no good pics). It made fantastic leftovers, which Tom was able to take with him on a plane trip to Denver.

Dining Out

The new Tria opened in Fitler Square, which we had been highly anticipating since the previous restaurant in that space, Dmitri’s, closed. Within its first week of being open, we must have been 3 times. It’s definitely our favorite new place in the neighborhood!

Tria Fitler Square

Later in the month, a friend was visiting from out of town and fortunately was adventurous enough for us to head down to East Passyunk to finally try Brigantessa. While we didn’t have any of the “rare” pizzas (this time), we did have a lovely spring pizza with ramps & burrata, as well as several delicious homemade pastas, and some excellent Italian beers. We look forward to getting there again soon.

Brigantessa

Books

I completed my re-read of Steven Erikson’s Tale of Malazan Book of the Fallen series, finishing Dust of Dreams (book 9) and The Crippled God (book 10) this month. When The Crippled God first came out in 2011, I rushed through it, skipped to the end to see what happened, and didn’t really ever absorb the whole thing because it was too intense and I didn’t really want the series to end. This time, I really took my time, and man, what a way to end a series. The entire 10 book experience is so rich, I’m left feeling like I want to start all over again and uncover even more. I’m actually surprised it only took 4 months to re-read all 10 books; I was thinking it would take me all year. Though I wish it included spoilers, I also really enjoyed Tor.com’s Malazan Reread of the Fallen as a way to get additional commentary and perspective along the way.

This month I also read My Name is Not Easy, a fantastic young adult fiction book based on the experience of Native Alaskan youth attending boarding school in the 1960s. Though I completed coursework for a MA degree in American Indian Studies, as well as a minor in American Indian studies for my BA, I was unfamiliar with many of the events of this book that were specific to northern Alaska. Overall this was a compelling read, and I recommend it for both adults and teens.

On SuperPlus Eats

No posts on our food blog this month! Hopefully next month one of us will write something about asparagus recipes and other Spring goodness.

On Tom’s Blogs

Last Month’s Update