July 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

This wasn’t a bad July, all things considered. Despite being hot most of the month, it wasn’t intolerable, and some days were even nice out. We were able to spend a nice evening on a friend’s rooftop, and also take a nice walk on the Schuylkill in the evening, topped off with some ice cream enjoyed outside at the Gray’s Ferry Triangles. I still have had half days on Fridays this month, some of which I’ve spent on errands like doctor appointments and going to the SEPTA office to deal with my lost key card, but I still squeezed in a bit of pampering (threading and a pedicure) as well as a nice quiet lunch by myself at Walnut St Cafe.

Demolition at The Royal
South Philly rooftop view
Schuylkill walk
Ice cream at Igloo

Farmers’ Markets

The month started auspiciously, as we made it back from New York in time to still go to the Saturday farmers’ market and get our Shore Catch seafood. Still, we didn’t get any tomatoes until the second weekend of the month, and we weren’t able to get into full tomato bounty until the very last farmers’ market of the month. We’ve really been enjoying all the other summer fruit and vegetables, though, and I’ve been doing lots of preserving (see DIY below).

July 8
July 15
July 22
July 29

Wine

I decided to make a separate section for wine since I started up a monthly wine club subscription from the state store. Not that I want to support the state store, but I figured I may as well try to see what they have to offer. I got the “Aficionado” level subscription, which is medium-priced – a little more than what I typically pay for state store wines, but still very reasonable for the type of quality that would make a subscription worthwhile. I hope it results in us trying (and enjoying) some slightly higher level wines that I wouldn’t have ordinarily splurged for. The cheaper “Discovery” level just looked like crap wines, which I can get anytime. Anyway, the first month was all California, which I might have rolled my eyes at if it were all Napa & Sonoma, but at least one was Central Coast. We got a very nice Rhone blend from Paso, and a Napa chardonnay that was surprisingly not over-oaked. I liked them both and look forward to seeing what we get next month, though I do hope they mix in some imported wines and that it doesn’t always end up being domestic.

July wine club

As long as I’m talking about wine, it’s also worth mentioning that I ordered a few wines from Tablas Creek, one of the few wineries I like who ship to PA: their Picpoul Blanc, which I had been wanting to try for years, and their Vermentino, which is so perfect for summer. The picpoul was very good; much more substantial and full-bodied than French versions, but not mind-blowing enough that I would have to get it again right away. While I was at it, I ordered some of Tablas’s olive oil, which is my latest favorite EVOO.

Dining In

We made a lot of fun things this month, including:

soaked buttermilk pancakes, topped with duck egg
brats from Rieker’s, homemade sauerkraut
Roast chicken with plums and sprouted lentil salad (Photo by Tom Ipri)
Caprese
corn fritters

Dining Out

After returning from our trip to New York at the end of June, we spent most of 4th of July weekend indoors to stay out of the heat, but we did make it out a few times, including drinks & snacks at Tria Fitler Square, breakfast at Hungry Pigeon, and dinner at Audrey Claire.

Early in the month, we got delivery from Philadelphia Chutney Co for the first time. We’ve been wanting to go there for years and I only recently figured out that they deliver. I was having a hankering for dosas – it turns out dosas don’t transport that well, but they were still good, and the other dishes we ordered (lamb tikka masala and veggie korma) were delicious.

We went up to the Northeast a few times, and had a delicious meal as usual at Moonstruck. I also met a friend for happy hour at Root in Northern Liberties, which was great.

Finally, we got back into regular visits to Jet Wine Bar on Sundays, where we love hanging out with Amanda, and we’ve enjoyed the food from Chef Yasi.

Audrey Claire
Amaro tasting at Plenty
Delivery from Philadelphia Chutney Co
Moonstruck
Jet Wine Bar

DIY

This was another busy month of DIY food projects, both fermenting and canning. Unless stated otherwise, recipes are from Saving the Season, Ferment Your Vegetables, or DIY Fermentation.

  • fermented slow pickled red onion – this looked cool, as it involve spiking a red onion with whole cloves, like I used to do with oranges when I was a kid, making air fresheners for Christmas. But it was WAY too clove-y and I ended up tossing it.
  • fermented carrots with garlic, onion, za’atar, & Aleppo pepper – this was a made-up fermented pickle that turned out pretty well, but it bubbled like crazy, and the carrots got too soft, even though it was only a week before I put it in the fridge.
  • cultured buttermilk from DIY Fermentation – for this I had to buy buttermilk culture, and I learned about clabbering! I was worried that my apartment would be too cool (thanks to air conditioning) but it clabbered perfectly fine, and the result was marvelous. We made buttermilk pancakes, buttermilk chicken, and buttermilk biscuits, plus I had a little buttermilk leftover to culture some cream for cultured butter. I would definitely make my own buttermilk again rather than buying store bought.
  • fermented raspberry vinegar from DIY Fermentation – this is a 6 week ferment, so I started it, but it won’t be done until next month. So far so good, and it smells great. The only problem is it attracts fruit flies!
  • fermented tomato salsa from Ferment Your Vegetables – I love this so much, and now that tomatoes are back in season, I had to make more.
  • fermented tomato sauce from Ferment Your Vegetables – ditto.
  • fermented peach chutney from DIY Fermentation – sorry, but this was terrible. I think I will steer clear of fermented fruit (other than wine/vinegar and tomato stuff) – I don’t really care for the taste or texture, plus using whey as a starter is a pain in the ass and I’m too lazy at this point to try water kefir.
  • sprouted lentils – I followed some basic sprouting instructions online in order to make the sprouted lentil salad from The Indian Family Kitchen. I’m glad I looked it up – turns out that 1/2 cup lentils easily yielded 4 cups of sprouts after about 3-4 days. I did buy some sprouting lids but otherwise no special equipment, just a quart jar tipped upside down into a bowl, moved into a colander for the last day.
  • peaches in grappa syrup (cold pack) from Preserving Italy – had to buy grappa from the state store, oh darn, hope it won’t go to waste…
  • four pepper jelly – this was a belated follow-up on the Food In Jars Mastery Challenge from March – I was just waiting for peppers to be in season. I haven’t tried the jar that I processed, but I had some leftover that went straight to the fridge and it’s marvelous. My first jelly success!
  • pickled melon (cold pack) from Preserving Italy – this was inspired by a visit to Tria Fitler Square in which we had pickled melon & prosciutto crostini. I got a very ripe cantaloupe from the Fitler Square farmers’ market and made 1 pint – it’s very spicy and the melon is super soft. I’d do this again but would prefer honeydew melon, slightly less ripe.
  • blueberry chutney – I wanted to make a chutney, and this was inspired by a blueberry chutney I loved from the Pike Place Market in Seattle back in the day. I wasn’t sure if this recipe was safe for canning so I just put it in the fridge (haven’t tried it yet)
  • fermented green beans – I was thumbing through Saving the Season and saw that the author recommended making fermented green bean pickles over canned green bean pickles. Other than a green bean kimchi, I don’t think I had fermented green beans before, so I was intrigued. Since I’m fairly comfortable with vegetable fermentation at this point, I didn’t feel the need to follow a recipe very closely, so I used some flavors that worked really well in a canned green bean recipe I had made last month, including red pepper flakes and fennel seeds. Normally I only ferment vegetables for about 1 week but this one I’m letting go for 2 weeks so I’ll have to report back next month.
  • blueberry gin jam from Saving the Season – I wanted to do more with blueberries and this recipe called out to me due to the gin. I haven’t tried it yet but I hope it’s awesome. Also, this recipe required a food mill, which I had wanted to buy in order to make tomato sauce, but this pushed me over the edge to actually make the purchase.
  • Asian plum sauce – I had some leftover plums and so this was very small batch, but enough to can 1/4 pint. I haven’t opened it yet but I’m actually kind of excited for it.
  • cultured butter from DIY Fermentation – I’ve been making homemade butter for years, but I had never cultured it before. I took advantage of my homemade buttermilk in order to culture some cream and then make butter. It takes an extra day, but I love the richness.
  • Peach marsala almond conserve from Preserving Italy  – there’s so many things I want to make from peaches, but this one stood out due to the marsala. This is another batch that I haven’t tried but look forward to enjoying later.
  • bread & butter pickles – first and foremost, I still don’t understand why these are called bread & butter. I’ve fermented cucumber pickles several times, which have turned out well, but I was intrigued by the idea of a canned pickle that would last longer. We’ll see how these taste in winter!
  • crushed tomatoes from Saving the Season – I want to try a lot more preserved tomato recipes over the next few months, but this was my first attempt. I figure we use crushed tomatoes on a pretty much weekly basis, so this was a logical place to start. I followed the instructions but still got big time separation between solids and liquids after the water bath. I’m sure it will still taste fine, but this needs more practice.
  • peaches in syrup (hot pack) from Saving the Season – again, I want to do all the peach recipes, but this was particularly appealing due to 1) the addition of Earl Grey tea,  2) the option to add brandy (I used bourbon), and 3) this month’s Food in Jars Mastery Challenge was hot pack, and so I wanted to get more practice with hot pack preserves.
  • peach chutney from Saving the Season – see above, I want to preserve ALL THE PEACHES. I mostly followed the recipe from Saving the Season, but I also took some inspiration from the mango chutney recipe in The Indian Family Kitchen. As with some of the other preserves from this month, I haven’t tried it yet, so I’ll have to report back later.
  • nectarine murraba – this was another lovely sounding recipe, but it didn’t say it was safe for canning, so it’s in the fridge. I look forward to having it with some chicken or fish or cheese snackies.
homemade cultured buttermilk
homemade fermented raspberry vinegar in progress
July preserves (photo by Tom Ipri)

Books

If you look at last year, before we got our Kindles, there were plenty of months where I didn’t read (or finish) a single book, so it’s a reflection of the Kindle that I now feel bad about “only” reading 4 books this month. All of this month’s books were acquired via the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Overdrive service, which I am loving.

  • Tarkin – not bad as far as Star Wars novels go, but also not that memorable. It was good context for the character, especially after reading Catalyst and Rogue One last month.
  • Half a War – I wasn’t prepared to shell out the money for this, but thanks to the library, I was able to finish the final book of this series. As with the second book, this book introduces a new strong female POV character, so I liked that. It provided some awkward closure for the main characters from Books 1 and 2, so in a way it was satisfying, but in a way, meh.
  • A Confederacy of Dunces – oh my goodness. I had heard of this book but honestly had no idea what it was about. I’m so glad Tom borrowed it from the library and was able to share it with me via our shared Kindle library. This is certainly the best example of American literature I have read in a very long time. Just hilarious and genius. READ IT.
  • Adnan’s Story – as an Undisclosed podcast listener, this was mandatory reading, but again, it wasn’t something I had really wanted to shell out for so I was glad to get it via the library. By the end, I was totally underwhelmed. The writing was fine, and I enjoyed learning more about Rabia’s personal life. I liked the specifically Muslim perspective she was able to provide to some events of the case, which were illuminating. But overall, if you’ve listened to Undisclosed, there wasn’t that much new information. And unfortunately I just find it really difficult to engage with non-fiction.

Last Month’s Update

July 2016: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It’s been really hot and gross pretty much all month, with quite a few thunderstorms. On the plus side, there have been some really beautiful sunsets.

The Democratic National Convention was in town, but unlike with the Pope visit last year, it ended up not really affecting us directly, in terms of getting around, etc.

Sadly there’s not too much to say about our month in Philly since we spent most of it inside trying to stay cool!

Farmers’ Markets

Tomatoes were really late this year, but they’re finally here. We’ve been getting lots of tomatoes, corn, and summer squash. I’ve been too lazy to take pictures every week, but here is a representative haul:

Dining In

As it’s been too hot to go out, we’ve been doing a LOT of cooking in.

One of our new things is to do a “fancy” pasta on Friday nights, which still feels as easy as lazy pasta, but more celebratory. In addition to the below recipes, we also fancied up some easy non-recipe dishes by 1) using fresh instead of dried pasta and 2) topping it with burrata!

fresh fettucini with tomatoes, olives, basil, and burrata

As usual, we get chicken and seafood every weekend at the farmers’ market. Occasionally we supplement with seafood from Di Bruno Bros. That means we’re pretty much always on the look out for chicken and fish recipes. We tried quite a few new ones this month in addition to repeating some favorites, like shrimp & corn chowder, fish in parchment, fish with red pepper sauce, and chicken souvlaki. We also tried chicken brined with feta cheese, but that was a bit boring.

Scallops with tomato-olive salsa

We also tried cooking a whole sea bass. Shore Catch sells them already gutted and cleaned so I thought it might be easy, but I was wrong. I consulted a few branzino recipes and stuffed the fish with lemon and thyme, with lots of olive oil, salt & pepper. The fish itself was delicious, but this is definitely something I’ll leave to professionals in the future. It sure made me appreciate the delicate hand of restaurant servers who carve the branzino tableside, and it also makes me appreciate how much those whole branzino dishes cost, as there is a lot of labor involved.

We’re still trying to make lunches to bring to work, but really only one recipe this month was a true success. In addition to lunch, this was fantastic for brunch with eggs on top!

Despite it being hot, we made a few big batches of things on the weekends, like veggie chili and stewed pinto beans, that we were able to use during the week for lunches and/or weekend brunch. We also made a standby, summer vegetable enchiladas.

This is a tasty egg dish I made with stewed pinto beans, corn tortillas, eggs, cheddar & jack cheese, homemade queso fresco, and homemade fermented corn salsa

In addition to all the veggies, it’s also peach season. We tried a few savory peach recipes that both turned out great. In addition, Tom made a delicious honey-vanilla mascarpone dip that we enjoyed with plain peaches for dessert.

Peach-burrata pizza

Dining Out

As mentioned above, we barely went out this month. On 4th of July weekend, we went up to Fox Chase to visit family and had a nice lunch at Hop Angel. On 4th of July itself (a Monday), we went to brunch at Tria Fitler Square.

We did a few date nights toward the end of the month. The first was at Ralph’s, the oldest Italian restaurant in the U.S. It was good to cross it off the list, but overall we weren’t too impressed. The service was lousy, the wine was terrible, and the food was good (the veal parm was fantastic) but overall not as good as some of the other South Philly Italian-American places we’ve tried.

Veal Parm at Ralph’s

We also had a date night at Sawatdee, one of our favorite Thai restaurants. It was during the DNC, so afterward we went to Rex1516 where they were having a few DNC cocktail specials (Martini with regular Bluecoat gin, Martinez with Bluecoat barrel aged gin).

DIY

The availability of summer produce has opened up some more opportunities for vegetable fermentation with recipes from Ferment Your Vegetables.

Inspired by a visit to SouthGate last month, I made a batch of green bean kimchi, which turned out delicious. I also made a fermented corn salsa and a fermented tomato salsa, both of which have been great to have around. The corn was a particularly active ferment, so it was fun to watch it bubble away. I’m not a huge fan of cucumber pickles, but I decided to try a small batch of spears anyway, and I loved how they tasted with the black pepper & mustard brine, with plenty of garlic.

July ferments

I also give ginger beer another try, since one of my theories as to why my previous attempts didn’t go so well was the weather. Well, I did get it to bubble this time, so something worked. However, it still went flat when I bottled it. I used a growler for bottling, maybe that wasn’t airtight enough. When I get the energy to try this again, I’ll try to use swing-top bottles.

Stitch Fix

Once it got really hot, I was ready for some new summer clothes. I ordered a StitchFix box for mid-July, but was a little disappointed this time around. I kept two tops, but sent back a top, a maxi dress, and some jeweled sandals. I scheduled another one for about a week later, and was annoyed that it seemed especially tone deaf following the previous return, as they sent yet another maxi, and PANTS during hot-ass summer. However, from the second fix, I kept a top, a skirt, and a beautiful dress. I debated keeping the second maxi dress – it was gorgeous, but I just can’t see an opportunity to wear it, unless, you know, I’m like vacationing on the beach, which isn’t happening. I got a load of compliments on the dress I kept.

Katniss Crochet Yoke Top
Katniss Crochet Yoke Top
Montgomery Cross Front Knit Top
Montgomery Cross Front Knit Top
Bastille Tulip Sleeve Blouse, Sadie Printed Swing Skirt
Bastille Tulip Sleeve Blouse, Sadie Printed Swing Skirt
Millie Textured Knit Dress
Millie Textured Knit Dress

I also made some small progress in buying things for myself without the aid of StitchFix. I bought a few long necklaces from Etsy (pictured below), as well as some shoes from Earth (the shoes are in all the pictures above), all of which worked out well. I am particularly pleased with the combo of bright red shoes with a red necklace that I got this month. Still, I made some mistakes – after being annoyed with my first StitchFix box I ordered some stuff from Eddie Bauer and had to send almost all of it back. I still can’t quite be trusted to dress myself, but baby steps.

These are the necklaces I bought on Etsy
These are the necklaces I bought on Etsy this month

Books

It’s hard to believe that at the beginning of the month I was still reading Dancer’s Lament. Well, I finished it and loved it. Esslemont is redeemed, though, I look forward to getting back to me re-read of Erikson’s Fall of Light, because even though both authors are writing in the same world, I love Erikson’s increasing richness in his use of the English language.

I did a quick read of Daniel Clowes Patience, a graphic novel which Tom had checked out from the library. It was a really interesting, trippy story, and might be my favorite of Clowes’ works that I’ve read.

I checked out The Sympathizer via interlibrary loan. The writing was excellent, and I was enjoying the story, but I knew I wasn’t going to have enough time to finish it before I had to turn it back in (I didn’t start reading it until the week before the due date), so I skipped around and ended up reading a disturbing rape scene that made me not want to keep reading it at that time. I think I would like to come back and revisit the whole book sometime when I have more time to read the whole thing.

Last Month’s Update

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.

 On SuperPlus Eats

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Last Month’s Update