June 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

What a start to summer. The month started off hot & humid, then got nice and cool for the middle of the month, then ended with a horrendous heat wave. In the middle part, there was some lovely deck weather and time to take nice, long photo walks all over the city. It was an eventful month for Tom, as his childhood home was sold. I got to visit Temple’s Ambler campus, which was simply lovely in terms of landscape architecture. We attended one protest, but missed another. I finally got a haircut, for the first time since before my job interview last summer – I have no idea why I waited so long, but I’m pleased regardless.

Temple University Ambler Campus
Pence protest at Rittenhouse Square – photo by Tom Ipri
Fitler Square

Farmers’ Markets

This month definitely started out spring (strawberries, asparagus, peas) and ended in summer (cherries, apricots, and even a tiny box of tomatoes!). This is the first year I cared about or even noticed when apricot season is – I hadn’t realized it was so much earlier than peaches. I grew up with a ridiculously productive apricot tree in our backyard and got apricot-ed out by the late 1980s. Perhaps I’m finally ready to get over that, but baby steps. I had forgotten what a delight apricots are to work with, what with how they halve with just your hands and can be pitted so easily. They have a lovely, bright flavor as well as color – but no need to go overboard, they’re still not peaches.

6/9/18
6/16/18

Wine

Plonk

This was another excellent month with Plonk. I enjoyed all 4 bottles in the June club, plus the three bottles I had purchased separately toward the end of last month. We also finally tried the outlier from last month’s club, an Australian riesling, which was lovely and surprisingly dry. I would like to order more from Plonk, but my only reservations are the slow shipping and the fair but still high-for-me prices. It will just have to be more of a splurge than something I can do regularly.

Tasting Room

I’d have to say this was another so-so month with the Tasting Room club. I really enjoyed the pinot blancs and Côtes du Rhone blancs, as well as another surprisingly dry New Zealand sauvignon blanc. However, they really need to stop sending me pinot grigios, and I didn’t care for the pinot noir. I still haven’t tried the prosecco. I’m going to take a break from Tasting Room for the month of July, and then resume in August, going down to 6 bottles instead of 12. Maybe by then they’ll add some more wines to their selection; right now I feel like there’s nothing in their inventory that fits my profile that I haven’t already tried.

State Store

This month’s theme was New Zealand and included a sauvignon blanc and a pinot noir. I haven’t had the pinot noir yet, but the sauvignon blanc had heavy tropical fruit, unsurprisingly, and I just didn’t enjoy it. This was my final month of my 1 year test run with the state store’s “Aficionado” club, and frankly I couldn’t hit “unsubscribe” fast enough. I look forward to re-purposing the $$ I was spending on this experiment toward something more reliably enjoyable.

Dining In

I continue to enjoy making lots of different bean recipes with my Rancho Gordo heirloom beans. This month featured:

  • pizza beans! (Royal Corona beans) – the recipe definitely lived up to the hype, and I LOVE the giant Royal Coronas.
  • spring minestrone verde (Marcella beans) – this was delightfully green and springy.
  • Boston baked beans (Raquel beans) – this was very good, but I want to experiment with different baked bean recipes.
  • California tamale pie (Cassoulet beans) – this was great!
  • polenta with borlotti beans & tomatoes (Anson Mills polenta, Rancho Gordo cranberry beans) – this was fine, but I think I’d prefer white beans rather than borlotti.
  • red wine pinto beans – so good!  It is an absolute must to make this with Benton’s bacon -it is one of my favorite bean preparations to date.
  • chili sin carne (Ayocote Negro beans) – this chili packs a punch, thanks to Rancho Gordo New Mexico chile powder! It was a very interesting recipe, as it has no tomatoes; the preparation reminds me more of a mole.
  • tomato butter bean skillet (Royal Corona beans) – OK but nothing special, I don’t think it really highlighted the beans well.
  • white beans & roasted garlic dip (Marcella beans) from New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone – we served this with scallops & green beans. It was pretty good, but too salty, and it didn’t last long.
  • black bean curry (Midnight Black) – this was very good, though I would leave off the potatoes next time. The bean broth was heavenly.

I’ve been keeping notes and finally figuring out some best practices with certain beans, as far as whether or not and how long to soak, but practice is still needed! Toward the end of the month I tried using the pressure cooker to cook beans for the first time, and I might be a convert. It doesn’t save THAT much time but it does save a lot of babysitting – you can just let the beans go do their thing and they come out perfectly with minimal effort. I’m glad I got over my fear of the pressure cooker and tried it, as I think it will make it much easier to cook beans in the summer without heating up the apartment.

spring minestrone verde
chili sin carne
borlotti beans with tomatoes and polenta

Other than beans-

  • shakshuka – I’ve made this any number of times before, but this time Tom cooked and followed the recipe properly! Charred veggies make all the difference – in the past I’ve ignored that part, much to my present regret.
  • lacquered scallops – this time we made the lacquer properly w/oat and rice flour (thanks to an order from Anson Mills) with carrot romesco (inspired by an Instagram post from @gwsabatino)
  • one pot harissa chicken – this was fabulous. We made the David Lebovitz version, which is based on a Melissa Clark recipe, so we’ll have to try the original sometime.
  • pistachio and lentil dip – this was a nice substitute when my hummus went bad!
  • “Triple-the-fish seafood hotpot” from Half Baked Harvest
  • sesame noodles with asparagus from New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
  • salt & pepper walnuts from New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone
  • spicy chicken with red palm oil – I was looking for another use for red palm oil and this worked nicely
  • ricotta gnocchi with asparagus and prosciutto – it’s always nice to make this once every spring
  • chicken w/porchetta salt, lemon, garlic, herbs – this was based on an Instagram post by @domenicacooks, and was a good excuse for me to make the porchetta salt from Preserving Italy
  • skate from Shore Catch, prepared simply with rice/oat flour lacquer and butter, served with arugula salad with fresh cherry tomatoes, fresh mozz, and lemon olive oil
One-pot harissa chicken
lacquered scallops over carrot romesco
shakshuka – photo by Tom Ipri
Lacquered scallops over white bean dip – photo by Tom Ipri
ricotta gnocchi with asparagus and prosciutto – photo by Tom Ipri

Dining Out

We didn’t go out too much this month, but did have some nice meals at the usual spots, plus a few new places. We were so glad that TALK finally opened, and it was nice to try Twenty Manning’s new brunch.

Audrey Claire
Tio Flores – photo by Tom Ipri
Twenty Manning Grill – photo by Tom Ipri
TALK – photo by Tom Ipri

DIY

Making

    • I made strawberry jam with pinot noir from Saving the Season. Strawberries are so foamy! Though there are more strawberry preserves recipes I want to try, I stopped after this batch as I didn’t want to get overwhelmed with jam, plus the strawberries were really attracting flies
    • I made two cherry recipes: spiced cherry preserves and cherries in red wine cold pack.
    • I finished the homemade bacon from last month – after 2 weeks it had lost nearly 50% of weight(!), which was way too much. I didn’t expect to check on it so soon – next time, if working with such small quantity, I will be sure to check sooner. It was only supposed to lose 20-30% of weight over 3-4 weeks. So it might be too dry, more like jerky, but we’ll see. I sliced it up and put in the freezer and look forward to using it!
    • I did a few things with apricots: apricot anise jam from Preserving Italy and honey-spiced apricot halves.
    • As mentioned above, I made porchetta salt from Preserving Italy

Using

  • Asian plum sauce – we opened this and tried it with chicken and fish
  • Bread & butter pickles – these were surprising! I honestly had low expectations, but the cucumber was still crisp (even after a year), and while they were sweet, they had a very pleasant flavor, like my mom’s spiced pickled peaches. I probably wouldn’t make them again, but this was a good recipe.
  • I finally opened my LTP pickled peppers – I wish I had opened them sooner. They are basically perfect, and I would definitely use this method again.

Books

  • In my Malazan re-read, I finished Reaper’s Gale and started Toll the Hounds, both of which are hardcover/paper. Reaper’s Gale remains one of my favorite Malazan books, so that was great, but Toll the Hounds is one of my least favorite, so I haven’t gotten very far; I took a break once a bunch of my library holds came in on Kindle.
  • I finished Down Among the Sticks and Stones, the second book in the Wayward Children series – this was hard to finish as I didn’t really get into it at all. It was boring staying with just the two characters, Jack and Jill, and just visiting their one portal world. Not to mention IMHO they were some of the least likable characters from the first book, so it was hard for me to get into a story just about them, though of course it did bring insight to their characters and their actions from the first book, plus gave a more in depth look at a portal world experience from beginning to end.
  • Reaper at the Gates – I bought this the day it came out and loved it – this series continues to be great and I can’t wait to see how it ends.
  • Phasma – I really liked the narrative structure of this one, flipping between torturer and captive, but not really getting into Phasma’s head at all until the very end. It actually had me on the edge of my seat, even reading while walking since I couldn’t put it down.
  • I read several Star Wars comics via Kindle (on Tom’s iPad) – starting from the beginning of the canon timeline, including Darth Maul and Obi-Wan & Anakin. The art was well done in both, and both stories contributed well to the overall canon.
  • Last Shot – it had a very cool ending, but it was a bit dull getting there. The flashbacks were disruptive and didn’t pay off until the end – not to mention one of them is clearly a continuity error and needs to take place several years before the book says it does. But L3 is the best!
  • Beneath the Sugar Sky – I liked this almost as much as the first book of the Wayward Children series and certainly more than Down Among the Sticks and Stones. It was a return to Eleanor West’s School for Wayward Children and featured a variety of characters who had all been to different portal worlds, and you actually get to travel to several different portal worlds.

Stitch Fix

I kept 4 things, which I don’t like to do because it never works out economically (it’s cheaper to keep all 5 things because of the discount than it is to return 1 thing you don’t like; if you’re going to return 1 thing, you need to return 2 things in order to actually save money), but that’s how it goes. My favorite thing is a green shirt and black skirt. The earrings are nice, and the dress is pretty, though I’m a little paranoid about how snugly it fits due to my belly.

41 Hawthorn Kerensa Tulip Sleeve Blouse, Le Lis Malia Zipper Detail Skirt
Kut from the Kloth Mollee Knit Dress

Last Month’s Update

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May 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

Overall, we had some nice spring days this month, though toward the end of the month it got rainy and humid.

We went up to Fox Chase a few times, to say goodbye to Tom’s childhood home, as well as to grill with Dennis. We got some excellent sausages at Rieker’s, and also brought up some veggies and scallops from the farmers’ market.

We saw the new Star Wars movie, Solo, which we both thoroughly enjoyed, as well as a BYO screening of Dr. Strangelove at the Roxy, which was fantastic. I don’t know why I never saw Dr. Strangelove before, as it seems like something my parents should have known about and shared. I can’t understand why anyone wouldn’t like Solo- if you just want action, it’s totally entertaining, and if you’re a hardcore fan who follows the Star Wars canon, it has so many fun moments, like seeing Han meet Chewie, and seeing them get the Millennium Falcon. Not to mention that L337 was a hoot with her droid liberation.

We went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see a couple exhibits, including one on American Modernism 1910-1950, as well as an exhibit on 1960s design.

spring day at Temple University
Tom’s childhood home sold – photo by Tom Ipri
Walking around the neighborhood: Marian Anderson recreation center

Farmers’ Markets

We continued to buy as much asparagus as we can handle, while we can. We tried Doc Pickle’s olives for the first time, which was fun. We also saw our first strawberries toward the end of the month. I think I may have given up on getting fresh cut flowers at the market and bringing them to work – they are nice at first, but just too messy!

Wine

Plonk

This was my first month getting a 4 bottle club shipment instead of two. So far, so good. I really enjoyed the three that we’ve tried, though I confess by the end of the month we still hadn’t tried the riesling, as we hadn’t had the right food opportunity. I tried ordering extra wines from their bottle shop for the first time, but they didn’t arrive by the end of the month (free, but slow-ass shipping), so I’ll have to report on that next time.

Tasting Room

Per my pattern for the last few months, I got my club shipment + 6 extra bottles from the bottle shop. As with last month, I am concerned about the declining selection I’ve seen since I started this at the beginning of the year. This was the first month where there was really nothing to get excited about. I replaced a few bottles in my club shipment, but ironically, it turns out the ones I didn’t think I’d like were the ones I liked the most – a riesling and a New Zealand sauvignon blanc. From my bottle shop shipment, the only thing to get excited about was an Oregon Pinot Gris “Concern Worldwide”, which benefits charity. It’s not as if I’m going to cancel any time soon, but I do hope the selection improves.

State Store

This month’s theme was Washington State, which excited me initially in theory, but turned out to be kind of sucky. There was an oaky chardonnay (blech) and an OK red blend (blend of what? who knows). This was another one of those months that made me want to cancel the subscription (why spend $65 including tax + shipping on 2 bottles of wine I don’t want???), but since I started this last July, I want to see it through for one more month, so that I will have an entire year to judge, before I quit. So, we’ll see how next month goes, and I’ll cancel regardless, and then I’ll write up the entire year.

Dining In

It was a good month for home cooking, thanks in part to all my Rancho Gordo beans.

This month’s Rancho Gordo inspired meals included:

  • Tom improvised a hoppin’ john, with Eye of the Goat beans, based on a version he had had at Snap Kitchen. In addition to the beans, it included roasted sweet potatoes (spiced with smoked paprika), brown rice, hummus, beans, spinach, and pine nuts. Delicious! The Eye of the Goat beans are so pert and perfect.
  • Raquel beans with broccoli rabe, from New Vegetarian Cooking – this recipe was delicious and highlighted the Raquel beans so well.
  • Black beans & asparagus over wild rice – I used Ayocote Negro beans for this, and I roasted the asparagus instead of serving it raw. The preparation was so tasty, and over wild rice, it was even better.
  • I used San Franciscano beans to make flautas for lunch several times – these beans may have stolen my heart away from pintos, they are so rich and delicious.
  • Bryant Terry’s hominy and spinach in tomato-garlic broth – this recipe appears in Rancho Gordo’s Guide to Posole, but originally comes from Afro Vegan. The broth was so rich and delicious and was such a wonderful pairing with the hominy.
  • Paste e fagioli from Preserving Italy – this time I used Rancho Gordo cranberry beans and Semolina conchiglie from Los Angeles. This recipe is so consistently fabulous, you can’t go wrong. I think I liked it better with more delicate white beans, though.
  • Posole Verde from Rancho Gordo’s Guide to Posole – I think this stands up to any posole I’ve gotten from a restaurant, and had just the right amount of heat. It was crying out for pulled chicken, though. This would be perfect for tossing in some leftover rotisserie chicken.
  • I made rio zape beans in a simple charro beans recipe. Rio Zape was one of the first Rancho Gordo beans I bought, and in my first preparation, I didn’t really get why they were so special, but this second time, I could see how they were similar to but so much richer than pinto beans. It really helps to try these beans side-by-side.

I have to say, I have really been enjoying both kinds of Rancho Gordo oregano as well – the dried leaves unfurl the way good tea leaves do.

Raquel beans with broccoli rabe
hominy with spinach in tomato-garlic broth
pasta e fagiole

Other highlights from eating in this month include:

Jade noodles. Photo by Tom Ipri
Persian tamarind salmon. Photo by Tom Ipri

Dining Out

This was also a good month for dining out, especially due to some time off from work.

On my own, I went to Danlu with a colleague and really enjoyed it – I got duck with noodles. On my way home from work one day, I finally tried my first Philadelphia water ice! It was a strawberry daiquiri from Siddiq’s Water Ice – the bar has been set very high. I had a few lunches by myself on my days off – Marathon Grill (al fresco), where I had a nice veggie sandwich, Tria Taproom, where I had a tasty falafel wrap, and delivery from Rooster Soup Company, where I had a delicious mushroom cheesesteak. I also had jury duty one day and finally got to try a corn dog from Fox & Son.

Danlu
Siddiq’s water ice

We had a nice evening at Cafe Lutecia‘s Tuesday night BYOB, since we hadn’t done that in awhile. We also had a pleasant dinner with Dennis at Moonstruck. We went to our usual neighborhood places several times for both brunch and dinner – Southgate, Los Camaradas, and Jet Wine Bar. We also tried Chick’s for the first time – it was way too loud, but the beer was good, and we loved the Spicy Boy pizza.

Cafe Lutecia
Moonstruck
Chick’s

Toward the end of the month, we had a mini-staycation of sorts, including:

  • lunch at Little Nonna’s – this was decadent and ever so pleasant, sitting out on the back patio. We especially loved their roast pork sandwich – it might be the most tender and delicious I’ve ever had.
  • brunch at Blue Corn – Tom got the huevos divorciados, and I got the huevos rancheros – both were a breath of fresh air, and the cafe de olla was delightful as well.
  • lunch at Second District Brewing – I will never get tired of the Czerw’s pierogis they have there, and we had the most amazing special hot dog – it was topped with green papaya salad, spicy peanut sauce, and crushed peanuts. A delightful, lingering lunch, and 1/4 the price of what we spent at Little Nonna’s.
  • lunch at Sabrina’s – this was our first time at the Fairmount location, which was a pleasant surprise – much more casual and diner-y than South Philly or University City. We stopped there on our way to the art museum, which was convenient. The food there is just Too Much, but it had been awhile, so it was good to go there again.
  • dinner at Amis – this is always a special treat, and we loved how quiet it was on a Wednesday evening.
  • breakfast & lunch at Suraya – this is our new favorite place! I wish it was closer. We meant to do this as part of a Fishtown crawl, but ended up just spending the entire time (about 3 hours) there. We started with a course of coffee (Stumptown!) and pastries (kouign amann and jalousie). While we waited for the lunch menu to be available, we had another course of za’atar + labne flatbread, with extra toum and chile sauce. Next up, we ordered the shish taouk sandwich, mushroom hummus, and crudite, with 961 Lebanese Pale Ale. Everything was delicious, and the presentation was gorgeous. We finished up with some 961 red ale. On our way out, I bought some orange blossom water, since they carry the best brand, and I’d rather buy it from them than online. Love love love! Too bad we didn’t take any pictures!
  • wine & snacks at Harper’s Garden – this turned out to be about what I expected – all style and no substance. It is a beautiful space, and the drinks and food were quite good, but the service blows and the scene is douchey. I still wish it had been a Tria, but I suppose even if it was a Tria, they wouldn’t have been able to avoid the scene. Best for us if Tria stays south of Chestnut, though we are still resentful of them closing Tria Fitler Square to supposedly open this wine garden that never happened and have it taken over by this lame restaurant group.
Little Nonna’s
Roast pork sandwich at Little Nonna’s. Photo by Tom Ipri.
Huevos divorciados at Blue Corn. Photo by Tom Ipri
Cafe de olla at Blue Corn. Photo by Tom Ipri
Papaya dog at Second District Brewing
Pierogis at Second District Brewing. Photo by Tom Ipri

DIY

Making

  • I made 2 more kinds of pickled asparagus – one was from the cold pack spicy green beans recipe I really like, and the other was a cold pack version of the same hot pack version I made last month from Saving the Season. There’s still technically one more cold pack pickled asparagus recipe I wanted to try, but I might wait until next year.
  • I started the process of making homemade bacon, using a recipe from Preserving Italy. I didn’t want an entire pork belly, so when I saw some pork belly for sale that was already sliced, I bought 2 slices. I made a curing salt mixture per the recipe and let it age in the fridge for a week. Next month it will be rinsed in wine and will continue to cure for another 3-5 weeks.
  • We saw the first strawberries of the season, so I tried a simple strawberry jam recipe from Preserving Italy. It was a good reminder that I am out of practice with canning. So much of it is about timing – my jam was ready but my jars weren’t in place, and in the 30 seconds it took to take my jars out of the oven and put down a towel and set up the funnel, my jam burned and got overcooked. The jam was boiling too hard when I poured it into the jars, such that the headspace came out all wrong by the time the jam settled. Oh well, there are at least 2 more strawberry jam recipes I want to try, so better luck next time. I hear the strawberry crop this year was pretty small, so I might only have one more chance this year.
  • It’s still a bit too early for tomatoes, but I saw some lovely heirloom tomatoes at Whole Foods that were supposedly local, so I bought them to make some caprese. The first one was mealy and not at all delicious, so I turned the second one into fermented tomato salsa (recipe from Ferment Your Vegetables). It’s good to have tomato salsa around again!
  • I had bought some tomatillos at Whole Foods to make posole, and I saved half of them to make a batch of my favorite salsa verde, which I had also run out of. Unfortunately, I experienced my first jar explosion in the canner; the boil was too rapid and it flipped the jar over. All that was salvaged from that batch was a small 4 oz jar. Lessons learned!
  • I canned a new batch of wine soaked carrots from Preserving Italy. I had bought some nice looking rainbow carrots from the hydroponic vendor at the Fitler Square farmers’ market, but unfortunately several of the carrots were quite woody (I’d never seen such a thing!). I’m sort of hoping the the hot pack process might have softened those carrots, but we’ll see.

Using

  • The only new preserve I opened this month was a peach almond marsala conserve I made last summer from Preserving Italy. As with all of my peach preserves, this was also delicious! The marsala adds a delightful touch, and the sliced almonds make for a fun texture. This one was a keeper.

Books

  • In my Malazan re-read, following Wertzone’s Better Malazan Reading Order, I finished Night of Knives (NoK), read The Bonehunters (TBH),  Return of the Crimson Guard (RoTCG), Stonewielder (SW), and started Reaper’s Gale (RG). I like this reading order so far, which integrates Steven Erikson’s and Ian Cameron Esslemont’s separate Malazan Book of the Fallen and Malazan Empire series. In the past, I had read both series separately, but I am enjoying reading them in this side-by-side manner. I think NoK works well before TBH, I appreciated RoTCG infinitely more in this placement than I had previously, and SW flows perfectly after RoTCG. Apparently there is some controversy about whether RoTCG should come before or after RG. I admit that right after TBH, I wanted nothing more than to go straight to RG, so it was frustrating to wait, but I got over it, and actually it was quite satisfying to go back to RG after the 2 Esselmont books. There is one plot point in RoTCG that would seem to take place after, not before RG, so I wonder if that is a continuity error on the part of the authors or if in fact RG should be read before RoTCG. Maybe next time I’ll try it the other way to see how it feels. NoK and RoTCG are still poorly written, and have terrible copy editing, with punctuation and spacing errors abounding, so my overall opinion of those books did not change. However, I now realize and appreciate how crucial the events of RoTCG are to the overall timeline, so despite its flaws, I think it is a must-read for any fan of the main series.
  • I read two Star Wars books this month: Leia, Princess of Alderan, and Lords of the Sith. The Leia book was by Claudia Gray, so of course it was good. I liked it a lot, though it wasn’t at the level of  Lost Stars or Bloodline. It still had lots of juicy reveals for the canon and good character development for Leia – part earnest, part “do you know who I am” entitlement, part learning some humility. And we got to meet a young Admiral Holdo. Lords of the Sith was fine. It had some interesting character development for Darth Vader, and it was kind of cool to read about Cham Sandula, but I thought it was bizarre that Cham never references his daughter Hera whatsoever. Jerk.
  • I finished The Night Masquerade, the final book of the Binti series. It got off to a slow start, but what an ending! I really enjoyed it, as I have the rest of the Binti novellas.
  • I read Defy the Stars, my first Claudia Gray book that wasn’t a Star Wars novel. It was so good! I seem to be enjoying sci-fi books with POVs from an AI; Abel might be the most sympathetic AI I’ve read yet, except for Breq in Ancillary Justice. I really want to read the sequel, but the Free Library doesn’t have it on Overdrive yet.
  • I read La Belle Sauvage, the first book of Philip Pullman’s new Book of Dust series. As with The Golden Compass, I was immediately drawn into this world. It was very well written, and I look forward to the next entry in this series.
  • I started Down Among the Sticks and Bones, which is the second book of Seanan McGuire’s Wayward Children series.

Last Month’s Update

April 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

All in all, it finally feels like spring, despite some “psych” moments in the first half of the month where it got cold and rainy again. It was a rough start, with a few nice warm days, then quick turn-arounds to cold, gloomy days again, but by the end of the month it was mostly consistently nice out. The trees had better luck blossoming this year than last year, though the cherry blossoms got quickly blown away by a storm. We took a few nice walks on the South-Christian extension of the Schuylkill Banks trail, as well as an excursion across the river to see the CHOP complex.

With spring comes the return of baseball! It’s been nice to have the sounds of the game on the evenings and weekends.

My dad came to visit and we hit a few museums, the National Museum of American Jewish History and the Penn Museum of Archaeology. We had been to the American Jewish Museum before, and as with the first time, we really enjoyed the special exhibit, which this time was about Leonard Bernstein. It might have been one of the better exhibits I have ever seen, anywhere. We had never been to the Penn Museum before (or at least, I hadn’t), and I was very impressed with its extensive collections. One of the special exhibits was about all the human damage and cultural relics lost in the Iraq and Syria wars, and it was extremely moving. Their North American exhibit might have been one of the better Native American exhibits I have ever seen, in that it truly emphasized contemporary voices, reminding us that they are still here, and included modern native art side-by-side with historical pieces.

Leonard Bernstein’s Piano at the National Museum of American Jewish History – photo by Tom Ipri
Iraq-Syria exhibit at Penn Museum – photo by Tom Ipri

I had an excellent facial at Oggi Salon and am kicking myself for not going there sooner. Not only is it the only Guinot salon in the area, it’s actually cheaper than the natural organic place I was going across town. I think when I moved here I once saw an old lady with a fur coat and a ton of makeup coming out and thought it would be too Rittenhouse for me. But it was quite friendly and relaxed. I look forward to going back soon and clearing up this damn acne that’s been insidious since December.

I bought myself this cute earring tree, and it’s such a small thing, but it makes such a big difference to have all my earrings organized and available rather than having to dig for them in a box. The little tray at the bottom is handy for throwing things in when I’m too lazy to put them away properly, and then I can hang them up later.

I started working from home on Fridays and I truly love it. I also had some big changes at work this month, with some organizational changes that increased my portfolio and nearly doubled my department size. I am looking forward to the new challenges and opportunities this brings.

Toward the end of the month, Tom had a work thing up in Chestnut Hill, so I met him there for dinner. We hadn’t been there for several years, and it’s always nice to remember how cute it is.

At the end of the month, the Philadelphia Film Society held a weekend-long Spring Fest version of the Film Festival, which was delightful. Tom and I went to RBG and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, both of which were inspirational and tear-jerking. I hope PFF does this every year!

Farmers’ Markets

I was good toward the beginning of the month at getting flowers for my office, but got lazy toward the end.

In the middle of the month, we saw our first asparagus! This seems earlier than last year, so that’s a fun treat, we weren’t even expecting it.

asparagus – photo by Tom Ipri

Wine

The Tasting Room by Lot 18:

This month I got two bottle shop orders and one club shipment. I definitely enjoyed everything I ordered from the bottle shop, including some rosés and a Muscadet. The club was good for the most part, but there were two wines that didn’t thrill me, a Gewurtztraminer and a Bordeaux Blanc. I enjoyed a Gruner as well as several Italian white table wines. I noticed when I made my second bottle shop order that the selection seemed to be on the decline – I hope this picks back up soon so I can continue getting a nice variety and trying new things.

bottle of wine
This is an Art Project rosé

Firstleaf:

I finally gave up on this and canceled my subscription. This month’s club was another where everything was OK, but nothing was great, and the selection was extremely dull. There were more annoyances like having a wine’s varietal listed as “French white wine,” and it looked like next month they were gonna ship me a bunch of pinot grigios and chardonnays, so no thanks.

Plonk:

This was another fun shipment. I got two white varietals I had never heard of before: Cococciola from Italy, and Tressalier from France. Both were wonderful. Since my 3 month subscription was up, I re-upped on a monthly basis and increased from 2 bottles to 4.

State Store:

The club shipment was very late again this month, but I was pleased with what we got. The theme was Tuscany, so one can’t really go wrong with that. We haven’t drunk these yet, but there is a Super Tuscan red, and the white is a Vermentino-Trebbiano blend.

I should say we only went to the state store proper a few times this month, but did get some good stuff. It’s a great time of year for rosés, I got a very nice Lugana, and Tom found a nice small batch amaro. Tom also at one point got some wine from Whole Foods; while it was nothing special, I thought it worth noting that it was not significantly different from regular state store prices, as I would have expected more of a markup.

Dining In

I joined the Rancho Gordo Bean Club, so it’s been a fun month trying out all kinds of heirloom beans. Toward the beginning of the month, before I had joined the bean club, we had some delightful black bean chili made from ayocote negro, rio zape beans with cumin and chili from New Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, Turkish white bean stew using Marcella beans, and fish and posole stew using Rancho Gordo’s hominy.

fish and posole stew

Then we got the bean club, which included Raquel, Eye of the Goat, Cassoulet, Pinto, Cranberry, and San Franciscano beans, as well as extras of crimson popping corn and cinnamon. So far I made rajma from Eye of the Goat, and clams with Cassoulet beans. Almost as much as the beans themselves, I’ve been loving the bean broth, which turns out to make a great substitute for chicken broth. We’ll be making more of these over the next month.

Rancho Gordo Bean Club Spring 2018 – photo by Tom Ipri
Rajma with Eye of the Goat beans

Other than our new beans, some favorite recipes from this month included:

  • Garlic scallops – this was a repeat, but always great
  • Brazilian-style fish stew – I got red palm oil on a fun excursion to try Mom’s Organic Market. I love the color and savory flavor of this oil and look forward to more things to make with it.
  • Zahav chicken marinade w/Amba (mango pickle) – I was able to get a jar of Amba from Goldie as part of my delivery. It had a very interesting flavor – sour & funky.
  • Achari chicken – this also used the Amba. Definitely a keeper for a chicken breast recipe.
  • Laquered shrimp and scallops – this is based on an Anson Mills recipe, using Carolina Gold rice flour coating. Next time I make an Anson Mills order, I will get some oat flour to do this properly, but in the meantime we are just using the rice flour, with a bit of smoked paprika and cayenne. I love the way the rice flour doesn’t smoke, and it sticks so well.
  • Now that asparagus is back, we’re enjoying it with everything, but our omelettes are certainly a highlight
  • This is a bit silly, but Tom got a box of mac and cheese from Whole Foods, and it was one of my favorite things.
Brazilian-style fish stew
https://www.flickr.com/photos/htomren/39970759960/
asparagus omelette

Dining Out

The highlight of the month by far was going to Vetri Cucina to belatedly celebrate Tom’s 50th birthday. This was really something else; I’m so glad we finally made it there. The chef’s tasting menu and wine pairings were worth every penny, and I thought it was quite a bargain compared to other tasting menu experiences I’ve had in LA, Vegas, and Chicago. It might even be the best meal I’ve ever had; it’s certainly up there. Between 3 people, we were almost able to try the entire menu; I love the way they gave us each different dishes with each course, as well as dishes they put in the middle of the table for us to share. The wine pairings were exquisite. Everything was excellent, but standouts included all of the pasta (especially the ricotta ravioli) and the pistachio flan. We’re already talking about excuses to go back.

Vetri Cucina – photos by Tom Ipri

We went to SouthGate nearly every week, either for dinner or brunch, which I am just loving. I’m so glad we’re finally becoming regulars.

Octopus Confit at SouthGate – photo by Tom Ipri

I hope in the future to try more delivery food when I’m working from home. This month I tried Goldie Falafel, which lived up to expectations.

Goldie falafel sandwich with schug tehina

I got to try a veggie grinder from Rittenhouse Foodery one day when I took a vacation day, and had some nice chicken pho from Bistro Southeast when I was home sick.

veggie grinder at The Foodery

My dad came to visit during the middle of the month, so we had a few nice meals. Highlights were brunch at Standard Tap and dinner at Audrey Claire. We also enjoyed trying the new location of Yards Brewery.

Audrey Claire

In Chestnut Hill, we had beers at the Chestnut Hill Brewing Company, and dinner at Cin Cin, which was quite good.

At the end of the month, at our friend Heather’s suggestion, we tried Ristorante La Buca, which was a kind of old school Italian American restaurant in Washington Square. Everything was quite good; it’s nice not having to go to South Philly for that style of food. We also enjoyed trying Writer’s Block Rehab for the first time.

Writer’s Block Rehab

DIY

Making:

  • I finished up my 2nd try at Indian lemon garlic pickles from Indian Fmaily Kitchen – this time I kept a close eye on the salt preserve throughout the month and did scoop out some mold at one point. Instead of re-using potentially slimy spices from the month long salt brine, I added fresh Indian bay leaves, chili peppers, coriander seeds, and fennel seeds at the end. I still did use some of the leftover lemon salt brine, despite reservations, but strained it and measured it out so as not to use too much. I think last time, I left the garlic cloves whole, but this time, I noticed they were supposed to be sliced. I had bought mustard oil, so this time I used mustard oil to heat the spices rather than vegetable oil. As the brine was boiling, I did notice some foaming, and wasn’t sure if it was due to the presence of oil or some funkiness with the salt brine, or neither or both, but it did seem to dissipate. I water bath canned for 10 minutes. So I hope these additional precautions make for a better jar of pickles this time. I haven’t tried it yet, but I hope to next month.
  • I made the pickled asparagus recipe from Saving the Season. In retrospect, I should have cold packed, but I followed the recipe, which called for blanching. I want to try asparagus again a few different ways with cold pack, since I want the end result to be as crisp as possible. I feel like I was really out of practice with canning, even though it’s only been a few months!
  • I made a new batch of Healing Bitters, since I had gotten a cold.
Indian pickled lemon & garlic

Using:

  • I finished off the last jar of crushed green heirloom tomatoes – it was nowhere near as exciting as I had hoped to have different colored crushed tomatoes. To the contrary, the non-red tomatoes have been quite boring.
  • I found my first failed seal 😦 It had to happen eventually, but it’s still sad. Sorry, pear butter, maybe next year.
  • I opened my jar of tomatillo ketchup – we had it with salmon. I like it, but it’s harder than I thought to find a use case.
  • I used the fermented scallions I started last month- they were pretty good, actually. They weren’t crispy, but OK to throw in a stir fry if you don’t have fresh scallions. I don’t think I’d do this again unless I was desperate to preserve the end of a bunch.
  • I opened the last batch of spicy green beans from last year – they were mushier than previous batches, but I’m not sure if it’s because they were older (made last June) or just overcooked at the time.
  • I opened our last jar of salsa verde – I’ll look forward to tomatillos so I can make some more!
  • I tossed jars of pickled zucchini and pickled green tomatoes to free up space in the fridge. Zucchini is definitely not on the list of things I need to preserve in the future; we’ll enjoy it when it’s fresh, and it’s mostly fine when out of season. I don’t like the flavor that pickling imparts to zucchini, so I just don’t want to eat it.

Books

  • For my Malazan re-read, I started and finished Midnight Tides in print, and started Night of Knives on Kindle. I’m trying to follow Adam’s reading order this time around. Midnight Tides was excellent as always. Now that I bought the Kindle version of Night of Knives, I hope to get more out of it; my print edition is a very early printing and is so rife with errors, I’ve had trouble getting into it in the past.
  • I bought and read Black Tides of Heaven on Kindle, and really enjoyed it. I am trying to get more accustomed to they/them pronouns used in a gender neutral sense, and this really helped. I look forward to reading the sequel.
  • I got We Were Eight Years in Power from the Free Library but didn’t finish the whole book before my loan expired. I really enjoyed what I did read, though, and placed a new hold so I can try to finish it in the future.

Last Month’s Update

March 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

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

fuck this shit

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

We were thrilled by the Star Wars Rebels season finale!

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

Backstage at the Kimmel Center!

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

Schuylkill Banks

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

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

Farmers’ Markets

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

Wine

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

This is the only wine I liked this month

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beer

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

Dining In

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

Dining Out

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

DIY

Making:

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

Using:

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

Books

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

Stitch Fix

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

Last Month’s Update

February 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

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

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

Travel

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

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

Denver
green chili smothered breakfast burrito

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

Library of Congress
The Afghan Grill

Wine

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

This was the only remarkable wine from my Firstleaf shipment.

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

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

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

Dining In

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

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

For internet recipes, we made

Seared scallops with pistachio dressing
Crispy mustard roasted chicken

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

Dining Out

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

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

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

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

breakfast burrito at Tio Flores
Ethiopian food at Almaz Cafe

DIY

New projects:

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

Past projects we opened:

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

Books

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

Last Month’s Update

January 2018: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

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

Farmers’ Markets

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

Wine

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

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

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

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

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

Dining In

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

sesame tuna
apple brie soup

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

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

Dining Out

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

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

DIY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 2018 preserves

We opened some previous months’ preserves:

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

Books

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


Last Month’s Update

December 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

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

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

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

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

Farmers’ Markets

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

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

Frecon Farms Wæs Hæl

Wine

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

Birthday

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

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

Brunch at SouthGate

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

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

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

chilaquiles divorciados

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

Friday Saturday Sunday

Christmas

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

homemade bread
orecchiette with tiny lamb meatballs

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

croque madame
Paella

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

strata
Pork with Applejack and Dates

We also made 3 batches of cookies:

peanut butter sriracha cookies

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

Chopper hat and Chopper shirt

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

The Dandelion

New Year’s

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

Dining In

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

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

Dining Out

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

Southwark – photo by Tom Ipri

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

Mandu at SouthGate
chilaquiles con carne at Tio Flores

DIY

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

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

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

Books

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

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

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

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

Last Month’s Update