August 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It was a lovely August – the weather was nice just about all month, and I got to enjoy the last month of my Friday half-days at work. There were some days I was busy with work-related stuff or doctor appointments or was just too tired to do anything, but on the other days I did some pampering, including a facial, manicure, and haircut. I didn’t take myself out to eat as much as I’d like, but I did try Wiz Kid, the new vegan fast food place by the folks at Vedge and V street. It was one of the better vegan cheesesteaks I’ve had (complete with rutabaga wiz), and I especially like the okonomiyaki fries.

Wiz Kid

I forgot to mention last month that I started a project to transcribe some of the musical themes from Game of Thrones, both to try and learn the motifs better so that I can catch the plot-related musical cues in the show, as well as the get my ear back into shape. I bought some blank sheet music paper and used an online keyboard to bang out the Stark and Baratheon themes and write them down. It was slow going at first, but after awhile I didn’t need the keyboard anymore and could just rely on my ear, just using the keyboard afterward to verify. It was definitely a lot like trying to re-learn a language in which you used to be pretty fluent but haven’t spoken in years. I didn’t get any farther on the project this month, but I do hope to pick it back up and finish the rest of the major themes.

Washington, DC

At the beginning of August, we took a nice trip down to Washington, DC, where I attended a work-related conference. The location of the conference hotel was great – very close to lots of restaurants and museums, sort of on the edge of Penn Quarter, near the convention center. We took the MegaBus both ways, which as with our trip to New York, was great on the way there and miserable on the way back.

Palmer Alley, Washington, DC

We had several good meals, including:

  • Momofuku CCDC, once for dinner and once for lunch. I liked that it was pretty casual and affordable considering it’s a David Chang place. The service was excellent, as was the food.
  • Zaytinya – we went here for lunch and got the fixed price mezze, which was delightful, as well as a flight of Greek rosés.
  • Acadiana, two times just getting some bar snacks. My cousin David had recommended this place ages ago. We really enjoyed the deviled eggs and catfish sliders.
  • Farmers & Distillers, three times – Tom had scoped this place out, and in turned out to be delightful for breakfast, but a bit of a letdown for dinner and drinks
Momofuku CCDC
Zaytinya
English breakfast at Farmers & Distillers

While I was conferencing, Tom had time to go to museums and take lots of pictures. On our last day, I joined him to go to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, which was excellent.

“Eggs” at NMWA

Farmers’ Markets

Sadly, I didn’t take many pictures of our farmers’ markets hauls this month, even though this is the best time of year for produce, simply because there is just so much to unpack that taking it out and photographing it is kind of a hassle. But trust that it was full of tomatoes, corn, summer squash, and peppers!

Wine

This was our second month of the State Store wine club, and I was pleased that it turned out to be Rhone-focused (after last month I worried that everything would just be California). We got a Marsanne and a Vacqueyras, both of which were enjoyable.

August 2017 state store wine club

Dining In

Early in the month I made my first try at homemade canned tomato sauce (see DIY section below), and it wasn’t long before we broke into the first can and tried it out with pasta. It was seriously the one of the best tomato sauces I’d ever had – definitely an incentive to make more!

We also made several meals using my homemade tomato jam from last month, including mahi mahi, chicken, and scallops. That tomato jam (from Sean Brock’s Heritage) is addictive and more like a ketchup or BBQ sauce, excellent with every kind of meat. We also made chicken with my homemade nectarine murabba from last month, but that wasn’t worth writing home about.

In the spirit of keeping with seasonal ingredients, we enjoyed these summer-y recipes:

Braised chicken w/tomatillos
Scallops w/yellow beets & cucumbers
peach pizza
corn pasta
chicken pepper stew – photo by Tom Ipri
summer garden pasta
chicken & peaches – photo by Tom Ipri

Other home cooking highlights from this month include:

  • eggs with pinto beans
  • cornmeal-crusted tilefish w/tarragon butter
  • clams & spaghetti in parchment from Marc Vetri’s Rustic Italian Food
Eggs with pinto beans
cornmeal-crusted tilefish
clams & spaghetti in parchment – photo by Tom Ipri

Dining Out

We’ve been trying to spend more time at SouthGate and had a great meal there early in the month. We also had an excellent after-work meet up at Friday Saturday Sunday.

Friday Saturday Sunday – photos by Tom Ipri

We’ve been trying to make it to Jet Wine Bar every Sunday to hang out with Amanda, and we’ve had the fortune of having some brunch and snacks as well.

Jet Wine Bar

We finally made it to Los Camarades for brunch – we had been burned years ago where their hours weren’t as posted, but it was certainly worth the wait.

chilaquiles at Los Camarades

Another place we had wanted to go for ages was Giwa – we finally got delivery and it was excellent. Sure, I wasn’t sure how dolsot bibimbap was going to travel (no they did not deliver it in a stone pot!), but overall it was great, plus I was able to get a couple of bottles of Giwa’s housemade hot sauces as part of the delivery as well.

DIY

This was another very productive month for homemade preserves, mostly from Preserving Italy and Saving the Season. This month’s Food in Jars Mastery Challenge was for low temperature pasteurization (or steam canning as an alternative), which I wasn’t particularly interested in, so I continued to try to build my skills with hot pack canning. So far I can say every recipe I’ve made from Saving the Season has been exceptional; while other sources seem to vary both in terms of quality and quantity, the Saving the Season recipes have been extremely reliable.

A few follow up notes from last month:

  • the fermented green beans from last month were delicious – they’re spicy and punchy, great for snacking
  • the tomato jam from Heritage was fantastic! I used it in several recipes mentioned above. It’s more like a butter than a jam, which makes it interchangeable with ketchup or BBQ sauce in many instances.
  • the nectarine murabba was unremarkable – the cardamom and rose water didn’t really come through
  • I finished the raspberry vinegar but haven’t tried it yet
tomato jam

New things I made this month:

  • Small batch tomato sauce from Preserving Italy – I already opened some, and wow this was great! However I did have some issues with yield. The first time I made this recipe, 2 lbs of tomatoes yielded 8 oz of sauce. The second time, I planned for a similar yield, but I guess it didn’t reduce as much (?) because 3 lbs yielded 24 oz, basically 2x what I expected. I’ll have to keep practicing to see if it has to do with the tomatoes themselves or what.
  • Chinese pickled cucumbers – these were pretty tasty for refrigerator pickles, but I didn’t finish all of them. I would like to try them with congee as the authors suggest.
  • hot and sweet pickled peppers from Preserving Italy
  • pickled zucchini from Preserving Italy
  • more wine-soaked carrots from Preserving Italy
  • fermented shallots – this was basically improvised, with a salt brine, an allspice berry and some black pepper. I let it ferment at room temperature for 2 weeks before putting it in the fridge. I haven’t tried it yet, but my thinking is this would be a way for keeping some shallots around for those odd scenarios when you find yourself needing them but don’t have any, like for a vinaigrette or whatnot.
  • salsa verde from Saving the Season – I was intrigued by this recipe due to its use of tequila and basically followed it as is, but subbing poblano peppers for New Mexico green chiles (I did look into prices for shipping NM green chiles but don’t really have the freezer space to make that a reality). I opened it right away, and it was great! I will definitely need to make more of this.
  • roasted tomatillo salsa from Food in Jars – I halved the recipe, omitted the cilantro, and added 1 tbsp tequila as inspired by the Saving the Season recipe above. I can’t wait to try it!
  • corn relish from Saving the Season – I made this twice, starting with a small batch, and after trying it, making some more. It’s not quite spicy enough, but this will be a good corn salsa in winter when we’re missing summer flavors.
  • roasted pepper relish from Saving the Season
  • passata from Preserving Italy – it smelled amazing, I can’t wait to try it
  • zucchini relish – I used a combination of the confetti relish recipe from Saving the Season and this recipe online – we’ll see how it turns out, though it did lose quite a bit of liquid while processing
  • cornichons from Saving the Season – this is a refrigerator pickle recipe, for which I used Mexican gherkins from the farmers’ market. They’re not as dense as typical cornichons – they’re juicy and have a pop in the mouth –  but the flavor is great.
  • tomato salsa from National Center for Home Food Preservation – this was my first “official” canning recipe from NCHFP, but frankly it was boring as shit. We’ll see how it turns out, but based on tasting before canning, my hopes are low.
  • Canadian ketchup from Saving the Season – I went with the smooth versus chunky version, but it looked awesome. This recipe appealed to me due to the mix of tomatoes, peaches, apples, and pears.
  • fire-roasted tomatoes –  I love the way the skins just pop off using this method. I will definitely try the sauce version of this recipe.
  • cocktail onions from Saving the Season – I started this in August but it will take a few weeks and will finish in September. This one is fun because it starts as a ferment in a salt water brine but finishes with a vinegar brine and water bath canning.
  • fermented pimenta moida – a few months ago there was some Portuguese recipe that needed pimenta moida that I’ve since forgotten. But at the time, I found that the pepper paste was hard to find on Amazon, and I’d be better off making it myself. There are vinegar-based and fermented versions out there, but of course, I go for the fermented version. I had to wait until late summer when hot red peppers were available, and ended up choosing the esplettes from Z Food Farm as the closest I’d likely be able to find to the Portuguese shepherd peppers. Unfortunately my batch was small enough that it was still difficult to blend, both with an immersion blender and with a food mill. So I ended up giving up and leaving it chunky. Like I said I can no longer remember why I wanted/needed pimenta moida in the first place, but I hope I can use it.
Chinese pickled cucumbers
salsa verde
August 2017 preserves – photo by Tom Ipri

Books

This month’s reading update is brought to you by the Free Library of Philadelphia! Everything I read was either via FLP Overdrive or physical library books.

I started the month with Children of Dune, which I enjoyed nearly as much as the first Dune book and much more than the 2nd book. This was contrary to what I had heard, which was that each Dune book got progressively worse. But I’m going to stop here for sure.

Next, I finally read the 3 books published so far in Brandon Sanderson’s second Mistborn series (aka the Wax & Wayne, including Alloy of Law, Shadows of Self, and Bands of Mourning), which takes place several generations after the original Mistborn and has sort of late 19th/early20th century level technology. I had put this off for awhile, because 1) I don’t love the original Mistborn series that much and 2) I am not at all into steampunk. However I found myself proven wrong on all fronts. While I feel like the original Mistborn tries too hard in terms of its fascinating yet complicated magic system(s), I don’t find that it gets in the way of the story in the second series the way it does in the first (perhaps because most of the explanatory groundwork is already out of the way). The characters in Wax & Wayne I also find infinitely more compelling – not that I don’t like Vin, Sazed, and Kelsier, but the original trilogy was so dark and depressing, and this one is lighter and more fun, while still dangerous. It’s also fun to find the original characters and storyline now far enough removed that they’ve taken on legendary status, while you as the reader know how the actual story panned out. Finally, I enjoyed this series because it’s not often that you get a follow up fantasy series in which you see how technology in that world evolves hundreds of years later. There will be 1 more book in the series, so I will look forward to it.

Finally, I checked out Land of Plenty of Every Grain of Rice after hearing a podcast interview with Fuchsia Dunlop. Mostly these were test drives to see if I wanted to buy either cookbook, but I didn’t get a chance to make anything. I would definitely buy Every Grain of Rice. There were a few recipes from Land of Plenty that I’d want to make, but for the most part most of the recipes I was interested in were repeated in Every Grain of Rice, anyway.

Stitch Fix

I got a Stitch Fix toward the beginning of the month and kept everything: a blue flutter sleeve blouse, a black top, a black & white striped top, a plaid skirt, and a necklace. I think the neckline on the black & white top is weird, but it wasn’t worth the trouble to return it since I liked everything else.

Napean Sea RD Ralie Flutter Sleeve Blouse
WS Yancey Raglan Eyelet Lattice Knit Top
41Hawthorn Jordanne A-line Plaid Skirt
41Hawthorn Lawford Knit Top
Bancroft Anderson Filigree Necklace

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August 2016: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

This month, we got things off to a good start by going to First Friday. We hadn’t been in nearly 5 years, when we first moved here. We went to dinner in Chinatown first, then walked through the art galleries in Old City. We finished up with a drink at Good King Tavern on our way home.

Other than that, ugh, it was the hottest August in Philly ever, so we stuck to air conditioning when we could.

We did go on a nice walk after a rainstorm, up and down the Schuylkill boardwalk, and got some good pictures of reflections.

Farmers’ Markets

The best part of August for sure is summer produce. We’re still getting lots of tomatoes, corn, zucchini, and peppers.

Dining In

We made some really good lunches this month. Some of my favorites were corn panzanella, Mexican quinoa, tomato & corn salad, peach panzanella, french lentil salad with blue cheese, and 3 bean Israeli couscous salad.

After getting some hot green peppers from the farmers’ market, I ended up improvising a fish curry.

One weekend Tom improvised a scallop dish with roasted corn, white beans, and tomatoes. Another weekend he improvised a clam dish with farro, corn, pepperoni, and shishito peppers.

We made polenta with roasted cherry tomatoes, corn, and pesto:

We also made a delicious chicken cacciatore:

One weekend Tom made slow cooker carnitas tacos w/peach salsa

We tried a new recipe for harissa salmon (a week later we did the same recipe with cod, too):

I also remade a favorite from last year, summer chilaquiles

And toward the end of the month we tried a new recipe, summer bolognese:

Other recipes without good pictures include:

Tom also made another round of homemade pizza!

Dining Out

Speaking of pizza, the best thing we did this month was finally order Mexican pizza from Rosario’s Pizzeria. I stayed home each Friday this month to prep the class I’m teaching in Fall, and that first Friday I ordered myself a La Mexicana pizza with chorizo, roasted corn, tomatillo sauce, poblano peppers, and fresh avocado (pictured below). The next week we ordered a chicken tinga pizza. All the toppings and the crust are delicious, so it’s my new favorite pizza place.

As mentioned at the beginning of the post, we ate in Chinatown on our way to First Friday – specifically, we went to Vietnam Restaurant. Tom had been there before, but I’d never been. We had a great meal and especially enjoyed the sausage and vermicelli.

Later in the month we had a nice date night at Audrey Claire.

DIY

I made a few more pickle recipes from Ferment Your Vegetables: zucchini bread pickles and pickled peppers. The zucchini bread pickles used black tea and spices and were really interesting. The pickled peppers used oregano and are straight up delicious.

I tried the fermented hot sauce recipe from Ferment Your Vegetables, but this one didn’t work for me any better than past recipes I’ve tried. I don’t know what it is, I just don’t seem to have a knack for this (yet). (On the bright side, I finally got over my Tapatio vs. Cholula issue and have learned to embrace Cholula hot sauce, so it’s fine if I don’t have homemade hot sauce.)

The fermented tomato salsa I made last month turned out great so I made some more. I also made more hummus and harissa for snackies.

I hadn’t made bitters in awhile, but after finally acquiring some more cayenne pepper I did make a new batch of healing bitters.

I hadn’t made cold brew coffee in awhile, either, and since it’s been so hot, I made a few batches this month. I tried a new (to me) ratio based on Food in Jars and it worked really well. This is way less concentrated than what I’m used to but I think that’s a good thing.

Finally, my favorite DIY project from this month was peperonata – definitely a keeper!

Books

Tom bought Saga v.6 so I’m caught up on that series for now.

I heard a recommendation a few months ago for Planetfall, I think via Mary Robinette Kowal on Writing Excuses, in which the recommendation was something to the effect of “I can’t explain it, just read it.” I’ve been in a bit of a rut after I finished Dancer’s Lament last month, so I requested this via interlibrary loan and burned right through it. I really liked it and would pass on the same recommendation – just read it!

Tom shared an article with me on Pocket, 8 Parts of the Star Wars Expanded Universe That Should Have Stayed Canon, that I finally got around to reading in the wee hours some night when I couldn’t sleep. As a result, I ended up buying the Star Wars Dark Lord Trilogy, which is my first entree into the Expanded Universe (Legends). I have now leveled up like 100x in Star Wars nerddom. So far I’ve only finished the first book of the trilogy, Labyrinth of Evil, which takes place after the Clone Wars animated series and leads right up to Revenge of the Sith. (In the meantime, we’ve made it up to Season 6 in Clone Wars so this is good timing.) So the writing is complete shit but the storyline is really interesting. I’ve been supplementing by cross-referencing in Wookiepedia, now I know more than I ever wanted to know about things like the 7 lightsaber forms. But I’m also worried about how reading non-Canon stuff might be messing with my brain. Oh well. Rather than going deeper down the non-Canon path, if I’m gonna read more Star Wars novels, next time I’ll try to pick something next that is in Canon, though there are still a few more Expanded Universe books I want to check out.

I started reading Throne of the Crescent Moon, which is great so far, I’ve just been distracted by other things. More on that next month!

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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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