October 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

Most of the interesting things that happened this month in Philadelphia were during our staycation, which I’ll discuss more below. Other than that, the highlight was going to our friend Emily’s for a “Tea & Kittens” party, in which she served an English afternoon tea and we got to meet her new kittens. I brought over some black currant jam I had made earlier in the summer, and Tom made scones. Emily made a delicious spread of tea sandwiches and even more scones with clotted cream.

Tea & Kittens

New York

My childhood friend Heather was in New York for a few weeks for work/school, and she invited me up for a get-together with another childhood friend, Melissa, who lives in NYC. I took a bus up and back the same day, and the three of us got together for lunch and a walk on the High Line. It was great to see them, and all in all, a nice little trip.

Friends

Staycation

At the end of the month, at long last, it was our week long staycation in Philadelphia! We’ll blog about it in more depth at SuperPlus Eats, but in the meantime here’s a rundown:

Day 0: We got off to an unofficial kickoff after work on Thursday, with cocktails at Friday Saturday Sunday and Rosario’s pizza delivery at home.

Cocktails at Friday Saturday Sunday; Rosario’s pizza at home

Day 1: I still had to work on Friday, but Tom had the day off and went to 3 movies! Afterwards we met at a South Philly classic Italian-American place, Dante & Luigi’s. We shared appetizers of roasted peppers and broccoli rabe. I got the perciatelli bolognese, their specialty, which was a veal ragu with bucatini noodles.

Dante & Luigi’s

Day 2: We started the day with a trip to the farmers’ market, followed by brunch at Cuba Libre. We enjoyed the chips & dips and some brunchy cocktails. I had the brunch paella for my entree, and we shared some churros for dessert. It was OK but I wouldn’t be in a big hurry to return. After that, Tom went to a movie, and we had dinner at home.

Brunch at Cuba Libre

Day 3: This was a pretty special day, in which we were joined by Tom’s brother Dennis. We started with brunch at Walnut Street Cafe, which was delicious. Afterwards, we visited Cira Green, then went down to the Walnut Street dock to catch a boat tour to Bartram’s Garden. As with our last Schuylkill River boat tour, we really enjoyed the trip and the very informative guide. We had 2 hours at Bartram’s Garden before we had to catch the boat back, which included a 1 hour guided tour and 1 hour on our own to explore. None of us had been to Bartram’s Garden before, and we all loved it. After the boat tour, we were able to grab a beer at 24 Cafe before Dennis headed home, and we went home and cooked up some scallops.  We finished the evening with a movie at the film festival, Lady Bird.

Bartram’s Garden

Day 4: This was another fun day. We started the day with breakfast at Sam’s Morning Glory Diner, where I got the neighborhood frittata (provalone, spinach, red peppers). Afterwards, we visited the new Museum of the American Revolution, followed by a beer at Twisted Tail. Tom went to the movies, and then later we met up for dinner at Barcelona Wine Bar. We shared cheese, charred tomatoes, shishito peppers, octopus, and meatballs, along with some lovely glasses of wine. Afterwards we checked out ITV for a cocktail.

Zagar in South Philly on Day 4

Day 5: This was a bit of a lazy day. We had originally set this day aside, without any movies, thinking we would go on more of a day trip outside the city. However, we both got a little sick, and it turned out to be raining most of the day, so instead it was just a nice peaceful day at home to relax. We went out for lunch at Dan Dan to get some spicy noodle soup, and then for dinner we went to a new place in the neighborhood, Trattoria Carina, for some Italian comfort food. Both outings were wonderful.

Lunch at Dan Dan
Dinner at Trattoria Carina

Day 6: This was another fun day. We had breakfast at On Point Bistro, where I got a proper huevos rancheros. We went to a movie together, the Norwegian movie Thelma. Afterwards we headed up to Fishtown for dinner at Root wine bar. It was happy hour, so we enjoyed some of their innovative gin & tonics, as well as a bunch of appetizers and wines by the glass. The fennel zeppoli and mushroom croquetas were real standouts, as were the mushroom toast, tomato toast, and cheese plate.

Huevos Rancheros at On Point Bistro
Gin & Tonic at Root

Day 7: This day was a little hit or miss. We had wanted to go to Porto, a Portuguese restaurant, for breakfast, but found out it was permanently closed. We went to Hawthorne’s instead, which was OK; the breakfast was nothing special, but overall we did like the vibe. Tom went to the movies, then we met up for drinks at Bar One and then dinner at Monsu. We both got the menu turista at Monsu, which is a total steal for $40. In fact it was far too much food and we both stuffed ourselves and felt super bloated afterwards. I would definitely go back, though, just pace it differently and try to mix in more vegetables. I got calamari, rabbit agnolotti, beef cheek, and panna cotta.

Spicy Negroni at Bar One

Day 8: The day got off to a special start with lunch at El Compadre. As with last year’s visit to South Philly Barbacoa, we were treated to outstanding food and hospitality. The cafe de olla alone is worth the visit, but we also really enjoyed the chicken mole tortas. Chef Cristina treated us to some complimentary apple bread as well as some pumpkin atole. We definitely need to make it back here more often. After lunch, Tom went to the movies, and then we met up for dinner at Melograno, an Italian BYOB not far from where we live that we had been meaning to get to for 6 years. The food and service were excellent, and we look forward to going back there as well. I had a chestnut pasta with vegetables, as well as a smoked tuna appetizer with cannellini beans.

El Compadre

Day 9: We started the day with our weekly trip to the farmers’ markets, this time having to stock up on more food since staycation was almost over. After that we went to brunch at Blue Duck on Broad, which might have been the biggest disappointment of staycation. The food was actually OK (I got the duck benedict, which was most memorable due to the use of potato rolls and not so much for the duck), but the vibe sucked – no draft beer, too many TVs, too many bros. We went to a movie together, 11/8/16, which turned out to be our last movie of the film festival. Afterwards we got a drink and some calamari at Whetstone, then went home and cooked dinner.

Duck Benedict at Blue Duck on Broad

Day 10: Last day of staycation! A big rainstorm came in so we didn’t go to any movies, though we had originally planned to see at least the animated shorts and possibly also the live action shorts. Our original brunch plans didn’t work out, either, but we made up for it by visiting Sweet Lou at Rex 1516 and had a delightful brunch there. I got the chipped brisket, which was excellent, and Tom got the fried chicken & waffles. We went home and relaxed the rest of the afternoon, then finished staycation at Pumpkin. Our courses included butternut squash soup, purple sweet potato, sunflower seed risotto, sausage for Tom and salmon for me, chocolate cake for Tom and panna cotta for me.

It was all over too soon. I want another week!

Farmers’ Markets

Tomatoes are definitely winding down – I still bought a few large tomatoes as well as some green tomatoes, but cherry tomatoes are done – they’re still at the farmers’ market but they don’t last more than a day. No more corn, zucchini, or peaches. We’re still buying plenty of peppers, but we’re not quite ready for winter squash. We did buy a lot of apples, so it appears that’s the easiest way to ease into fall!

colorful tomatoes

We made a special trip to Headhouse farmers’ market one week, where we got pink oyster mushroom from Queen’s Farm, a delightful radicchio, and some amazing Anadama bread from High Street on Market.

Headhouse Farmers’ Market

Wine

I got my biannual wine club shipment from Tablas Creek. We enjoyed all three of the whites, but the three reds all need to age some more before we open them. I made an extra order of a new wine they offered for the first time this year, a picardin, but it was way too fruity for our tastes; we can’t drink it, so we’ll save it for cooking.

The state store wine club this month was nothing to write home about. There wasn’t really a theme other than “new releases.” The red was a Ribera del Duero, which was fine. The white was a Napa chardonnay, which was unsurprisingly too oaky and fruit for us.

Dining In

We didn’t cook much this month due to Staycation. However, earlier in the month we did have some very nice home cooking successes:

Scallops with pea puree – photo by Tom Ipri

Dining Out

Most of this month’s dining out is described above in Staycation, however before that we did have a few other lovely outings. When my dad was still in town, we had brunch at Noord, which was probably my favorite brunch of the month and perhaps even the whole year. The hospitality was excellent; I felt like I was dining with family. The food was amazing: fresh hot rustic bread, bottomless French press coffee, and seasonal vegetables including some wonderful heirloom tomatoes. I can’t wait to go back! We also took my dad to Pumpkin, which meant we actually went there twice this month. Turned out we hadn’t been for 3 years, so we’re making up for lost time.

Brunch at Noord

I had a day off for the holiday that shall not be named, and we had a delightful lunch at Cheu Noodle Bar.

Cheu Noodle Bar

DIY

This month’s Food in Jars Mastery Challenge was a choice between pressure canning or dehydration. Well, pressure canning definitely wasn’t happening due to equipment, and anything interesting with dehydration would involve a dedicated dehydrator, so that didn’t happen either. Yeah, I accidentally dehydrated some herbs by leaving them out, but that doesn’t count. So, I didn’t participate in this month’s challenge, but finished up the last of the projects I had previously bookmarked in Preserving Italy and Saving the Season.

First off, I wanted to make stuff with green tomatoes:

  • green tomato preserves from Preserving Italy
  • green tomato chutney from Saving the Season
  • pickled green tomatoes from Saving the Season

I also wanted to finish up an idea I had last month to make crushed tomatoes with all different colors of heirloom tomatoes. I just like the idea in winter that I could make a “red” sauce that is actually green, yellow, or orange.

Multi-colored crushed heirloom tomatoes. Photo by Tom Ipri

I made one more batch each of peach butter and apple butter, primarily for gifts. I really loved how the color turned out on my apple butter, which involved 1 honeycrisp, 1 mutsu, 1 stayman winesap, and 1 crimson crisp. The crimson crisp added a lovely pink hue to everything.

The last few things I wanted to make included:

  • roasted red pepper escabeche from Saving the Season – I used esplette, cherry bomb, and red serrano peppers, in lieu of red jalapeño
  • pickled green beans from Saving the Season (cold pack)
  • fennel relish from Saving the Season

When we went to Headhouse farmers’ market they had some Anaheim green chilies, so I just couldn’t resist making another batch of salsa verde.

Finally, though this is ahead of schedule for the FIJ mastery challenge, I decided to make a fruit paste, the apple-pear paste from Preserving Italy. It looks great!

Apples and pears for fruit paste

We opened a few jars from previous months’ preserves:

  • small batch tomato sauce from Preserving Italy – this turned out well
  • first batch of crushed tomatoes from Saving the Season – a bit unremarkable, but this was my first try, so we’ll see how the others turn out
  • hot sauce – I’m still so pleased with how this turned out
  • apple butter and peach butter – these are just leftover bits that didn’t get canned, but they’re fun nonetheless
  • green tomato preserves – this was also a leftover bit, but man, this is definitely one of my favorites of the entire year – green tomatoes + vanilla is such a lovely sweet & savory combination
  • black currant jam – we opened this to bring to a tea party, and it was just lovely with scones. I like how the tartness balances out the sweetness
  • spiced tomato jam from Preserving Italy – this was more like a marmalade in texture – it must have been lemon zest + chili peppers that created the effect. It’s very different from the Sean Brock version that was more ketchup-like in texture.

Books

  • I started the month reading Illuminae, which is a bit hard to explain, but sort of a space opera. It was definitely not a good experience on the Kindle due to its elaborate, artistic layout; the Kindle did not allow for zooming appropriately, so many pages were just lost to me. I’m sure it’s much more immersive in print. Either way I was not into the epistolary style with the story being told via documents, chat messages, etc. It reminded me of not-so-good teen novels I read when I was focusing on YA lit in library school. But despite my dislike of the format, by the end I did get into the story and wanted to find out what happens next. I’ll just have to read the sequels in print.
  • Next up I read a Star Wars canon novel, Rebel Rising, Jyn Erso’s story from the time Galen was abducted and her mother died, to the beginning of Rogue One. Unlike the Rogue One novelization, Jyn’s voice felt authentic and believable. She had quite the rough life, and it worked for me to have her reach her nadir and completely give up on hope just prior to the events of Rogue One, making the movie all the more impactful.
  • We got a few cookbooks on sale from Amazon. Tom got the Apple Lover’s Cookbook, which is really fun both for the recipes as well as apple nerdery. So far we’ve made apple risotto and an apple walnut radicchio salad. I also got Fermented Vegetables, which was a good addition to my fermentation collection, but much more focused on large batch crock fermentation, which means I’ll be unlikely to try most of the recipes anytime soon.
  • A Gathering of Shadows – I finally got this from my hold list; it’s the second book of the Shades of Magic series. I read it really quickly because it’s so engaging; I love this series and can’t wait to get the next one!
  • Akata Warrior – I started this toward the end of the month but did not finish; it’s really good so far!

Last Month’s Update

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September 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

The month got off to a nice start with Labor Day weekend. We walked to the Delaware river to take some photos, stopped by Headhouse farmers’ market, and went to see a movie, The Trip to Spain. The movie was mostly as enjoyable as the two previous installments, but it ended quite strangely and I wasn’t sure where it was going.

SummerFest

In the middle of the month, we took a walk to Paine Plaza to see the new All Power to All People installation, and we had a fun excursion to a Phillies-Dodgers game. Incredibly, despite the fact that Kershaw was pitching, the Phillies won.

All Power to All People, at Paine Plaza
Dodgers at Phillies

Tom’s brother Dennis got a new grill, so we went up to the Northeast to try it out. Dennis supplied veggies and shrimp, and we brought fresh swordfish and corn from the famers’ market.

Grilling in Dawg’s back garden

At the end of the month, my dad came to visit, and we enjoyed the Secrets of the Schuylkill riverboat tour.

Secrets of the Schuylkill

Farmers’ Markets

We still enjoyed a lot of summer produce this month, but the tomatoes are starting to go away already. I’m finishing up my wish list of summer preserves, so I’ll need a new hobby!

9/9/17

Wine

The September wine club’s theme was Women Winemakers. For the Aficionado tier both wines were from Lane Tanner, the winemaker for Lumen Winery in Santa Barbara County. I was familiar with her wines due to her long history of making wines in the Santa Maria Valley under her own label and with Zaca Mesa, Hitching Post, and Firestone. I love her low-alcohol style that really lets the grapes express themselves. We enjoyed the grenache blanc with our summer grilling, and the grenache at Pumpkin BYOB.

Dining In

On Labor Day, we made a delicious feast using recipes from The Indian Family Kitchen. We tried her recipe for burgers, which was absolutely delicious, and we served it with a variety of chutneys from the book, including date chutney, onion chutney, peach chutney, chile jam, apple relish, and cucumber raita.

Labor Day burger & chutneys from The Indian Family Kitchen

Other fun things we made this month included:

Syrian omelette
Chicken with pastis. Photo by Tom Ipri

Dining Out

This was a pretty fun month for dining out. On my own, I enjoyed the very last Friday half day of the summer on September 1 and took myself to baology to enjoy some Taiwanese snacks. They have a great combo deal where you can get potstickers, gwa baos, and ruen bings. I had veggie postickers, mushroom gwa bao, and a pork ruen bing. When I was in Taiwan I didn’t know what ruen bings were called but I used to get them at the night markets often. These were even better than the night market versions, due to the local Berkshire pork and other outstanding ingredients. I wish they were open longer hours! I also tried the Roast food truck and had some delicious Filipino Cebu style lechon (I watched them carve the whole suckling pig in the truck!) and garlic fried rice.

baology

We had some nice brunches this month, including at Rex and Mixto. We also went back to Cafe Lutecia for their BYOB for the first time in awhile. We enjoyed hanging out at Jet on Sundays with Amanda, especially as it turned out it was her last month there as she moves on to a new opportunity.

Colombian Breakfast at Mixto
beef cheek stew at Cafe Lutecia

When my dad was in town, we tried several new restaurants, with an emphasis on seafood, including Pinefish for dinner, Ippolito’s for lunch, and Indeblue for dinner. The experience at Ippolito’s was fantastic. My dad picked out a fish, which they cooked for us and split three ways (served with clarified butter), and they also cooked up some delicious chard. We ordered a couple jumbo lump crab cakes and enjoyed our meal there. They were so nice, bringing us some extra habanero balsamic vinegar to try and letting us try some seafood salad. We also really enjoyed Indeblue; we had been there before for brunch and snacks but never for dinner. We got the crispy spinach chaat as always, but also tried an amazing mushroom dosa and tandoori shrimp. I ordered a goat curry, Tom got some delicious pork vindaloo, Dennis got lamb, and my dad got seafood – all with a variety of naan, including one that was stuffed with cheese(!).

Pinefish
Ippolito’s

DIY

This month’s Food in Jars Mastery Challenge was fruit butters, which I had really been looking forward to, because I grew up with lots of apple butter in my life and love it but had never made it. I started by reading Marisa’s post on how to make fruit butters in general. I have to admit that initially, I was frustrated with the non-recipe vagueness of the process (no clear amounts, no clear cooking times). So my first instinct was to try a recipe with more precise instructions. I chose the spiced peach butter recipe from Saving the Season, which included added sugar, molasses, and bourbon. At first I was disappointed by this recipe, as the added sugar made it too thick and jammy, not at all like the smooth consistency I was used to in apple butter. So I decided to embrace the vagueness and go back to the original Food in Jars post and get over my frustration. What it boils down to is you can take pretty much any quantity of fruit, cook it for about half an hour until it’s soft, puree it, then continue to cook it down until it’s done to your satisfaction, about another 1 1/2 to 2 hours, then season (I used a few sprinkles of cinnamon, allspice, and nutmeg), jar, and process for 10 minutes. This can be done in a saucepan, in the oven at 300˚F, or in a slow cooker with the lid propped open. I tried peaches using the saucepan method and apples using the oven method. Both turned out great, but the oven method was easiest as it required the least stirring. I don’t have the type of slow cooker that can be propped open so I didn’t bother trying that. I love that these don’t need any added sugar! A week later I made another batch in the saucepan, this time using pears. I’m glad I got a food mill, as it made for a nice smooth puree. I plan to make some more peach and apple butter as I think it will make great gifts. Going back to that first batch of spiced peach butter from Saving the Season, it hadn’t yielded enough to can, so it was in the fridge as a snack. It actually grew on me over time, not as a fruit butter, but more like a fruit paste. So I ended up making some more of that as well!

peach, pear, and apple butter

So, last month’s challenge was low temperature pasteurization, which I wasn’t interested in because the only examples provided were all for cucumber pickles, which I don’t really care about. But as it happens, I had a pickled peppers recipe on my to-do list for this month, and I didn’t realize until I started making it that it was a low temperature pasteurization recipe, so I ended up completing the August challenge by accident. This method requires sustaining a temperature of 180-185˚F for the duration of water bath processing (30 min), which is very difficult without an immersion circulator. I spent about 2 hours fiddling with one of my small burners and a thermometer trying to find a sweet spot where that temperature range could be sustained. My electric burners simply don’t maintain the same temperature, they always get hotter and hotter, even at the lowest setting. So it was a delicate balance of getting to the right temperature, keeping a close eye on it, and adding some cooler water (but not too much) if it started to get too hot. I would not do this again without the proper equipment. Whether or not it was worth it, we’ll find out in winter when I open the pickled peppers! But I’m glad I at least tried it.

Pickled Peppers (Low Temperature Pasteurization)

In addition to the new challenges, I continued to work on a lot of preservation projects this month, taking advantage of the summer bounty and continuing to refine my skills. I’m getting better at not over or under filling jars (most of the time). I’ve learned that denser things like BBQ sauce and fruit butters take longer to “ping”, and I’ve learned not to skip the step of de-bubbling hot packs with a chopstick. With jams, I just trust the thermometer when it gets to 220˚F rather than worrying about less reliable visual cues to tell if it’s ready. I’ve also learned some other tricks, like adding vinegar to my canner to keep mineral deposits from forming, and keeping a kettle of boiling water handy to replenish my canner for long processing times when too much water evaporates.

A few follow-up notes from last month:

  • We ate the peach chutney from last month, and it was fantastic
  • I popped open the cocktail onions, they were aiight, but they’ve never really been my thing so I can’t get too excited about them I guess.
  • We used the fermented pimenta moida from last month to marinate some pork tenderloin, it was great! I made some more this month since esplette peppers were still available

Here are the new preserves I made this month

  • sweet & sour roasted peppers with capers from Preserving Italy (preserved in oil, not canned) – this is delicious. Since it’s in the fridge, we’ll be enjoying this in the short term before opening any of the canned peppers. It’s basically a peperonata.
  • chile jam from The Indian Family Kitchen – we ate this over Labor Day weekend and it’s delightful. I’m glad I made enough to last the whole year because we only get red chiles during summer, and the color is fantastic.
  • smoked paprika tomato jam from Saving the Season – I had a wee taste of it before canning, this is going to be great
  • spiced tomato jam from Preserving Italy – ditto
  • peach jam w/champagne from Saving the Season – I’m not so into jam but I’m looking forward to this one. The recipe said you could use champagne, rosé, or sauvignon blanc, and I used the latter. I’ve said this before, but I love how so many recipes from Saving the Season utilize alcohol for acidity.
  • BBQ sauce from Saving the Season – I was intrigued by this because it contains both tomatoes and peaches, as well as a kitchen sink full of other flavors, like porcini mushrooms and lapsang souchong. It cooks down a LOT, so the first time I made it, it didn’t actually yield enough to can. We enjoyed it in the fridge, though, so I decided to make some more. I doubled the amount I made the first time and still didn’t yield enough, but I mixed it with the leftovers from the first batch and finally had enough to can one 8 oz jar.
  • fig jam from Preserving Italy – again, I’m not too into jam, but this will be great with cheese.
  • mustard from Saving the Season – for mustard, I usually alternate between a simple recipe with beer, or David Lebowitz’s recipe, so I thought I’d try this one for something different. I found it to be too dry, but I’m very pleased with the spiciness.
  • roasted tomato sauce – I love this method of making sauce, it’s so easy! I will definitely do this again.
  • spicy pepper relish from Saving the Season – I can’t wait to have this with some hot dogs
  • Heirloom tomato sauce from Saving the Season – I’ve been experimenting with a variety of different tomato sauce recipes and finally got around to trying this one out. I found it to be somewhat similar to the passata recipe from Preserving Italy. Yield was pretty low – 3 pounds of tomatoes only yielded about 12 oz. In the future I think I’d stick to the roasted tomato sauce recipe above, or the small batch tomato sauce recipe from Preserving Italy.
  • fermented hot sauce from Ferment Your Vegetables – I actually had no intent of making hot sauce this summer, but I bought “too many” hot peppers one week at the farmers’ market and didn’t want them to go to waste. I’m glad for this happy accident, as this is the first batch of hot sauce I’ve made that finally came out properly! I’ve been disappointed by my hot sauce attempts in the past, as they always end up separating. I’m not sure what was different this time other than using a food mill and erring on the side of a thicker, sriracha-like consistency, but whatever it was, it worked!
  • Colombian hot sauce (Aji Picante) – this was pretty tasty, but I think it would be best with meat & potatoes, two things I don’t eat much of. It only lasts about 10 days in the refrigerator, so I didn’t get too much use out if it.
  • whole tomatoes – I got a mix of red & yellow romas, about 1 pint, but once they were packed in the jar it wasn’t quite enough to prevent some floating. I’ll be interested to see how these turn out and if it’s worth the trouble, since whole tomatoes require so much more processing time (85 min!).
  • chunky salsa – I wasn’t satisfied with the salsa recipe I canned last month. This one is so much better! Whatever I did it was the perfect amount of heat, and the consistency is just like restaurant salsa. We will definitely enjoy this come winter.
  • candied jalapeño (aka cowboy candy) – OK, people had been raving about this all summer on the Food in Jars Facebook group, so I had to try it out. It produces this leftover hot and sweet syrup that I saved in the fridge – it’s like jalapeño honey, great with cheese. I’m sure the peppers themselves will also make a delightful spicy, winter snack.
  • tomatillo ketchup – I had a wee taste of the leftovers, it was so good, I can’t wait to eat this later!
  • canned green tomatoes from Saving the Season – I wasn’t initially interested in green tomatoes, but once they started showing up I got intrigued. I look forward to frying up some fried green tomatoes with these.
  • salt-preserved green tomatoes from Preserving Italy – again, I initially skipped over this recipe when I first got the book, but now that green tomatoes are in season it caught my eye. This one’s interesting because it ferments for a few weeks before being packed in olive oil, salt, and fennel seed. I started the ferment toward the end of September and will finish it off next month.
Peach BBQ sauce in progress
Roasting peppers
sweet & sour roasted peppers with capers
canned green tomatoes
September 2017 preserves
September 2017 preserves
September 2017 preserves

For repeats, this month I made:

  • more salsa verde from Saving the Season – we keep eating it so I will keep replenishing as long as tomatillos are in season
  • more crushed tomatoes from Saving the Season– this was from one very big, lovely yellow heirloom tomato. I was so charmed by its appearance that I now want to make more crushed heirloom tomatoes in different colors.
  • more fermented pimenta moida – this time I fermented the peppers with brine rather than just salt, which seemed to help it ferment better. I drained the brine when it was done to keep a thick paste-like consistency.
  • more fermented tomato salsa from Ferment Your Vegetables – I’ve got to stock up before tomatoes go out of season
  • more fermented tomato sauce from Ferment Your Vegetables – ditto
  • more fermented escabeche, this time with radishes in addition to carrots, jalapeño, onion, and garlic (taco pickles) – I haven’t tried it yet, but it smells fantastic.

Books

  • I started the month by reading the Reckoners series by Brandon Sanderson: Steelheart, Firefight, and Calamity. It has an intriguing premise (basically evil X-men), but it was so poorly executed. The main character’s trait of coming up with really stupid, annoying similes (and worse, calling them metaphors) was truly awful. The amount of machinations it took to end the book and wrap everything up was incoherent and ridiculous. I read plenty of YA and don’t usually feel that it panders down, but this is an exception. All in all, the series was entertaining and had some engaging characters and ideas, but I wouldn’t recommend it for adults.
  • Obelisk Gate – this finally came up on my hold list, and it was a welcome break from Sanderson in that it’s beautifully literary in a way that Sanderson never will be: rich and nuanced with skillful writing. I had forgotten a lot about The Fifth Season, and it was interesting to find that it’s practically impossible to find a summary of it online; the publisher must be quite skilled at pulling any possible spoilers. Anyway, this was an excellent read, and well-deserving of all its awards. I added the next book to my holds, but I’m sure it will be a few months before I get to read it.
  • A Darker Shade of Magic – I really enjoyed this book and can’t wait to read the rest of the series. It was a smart, thoughtful fantasy romp that struck a good balance between being just plain fun and overly obtuse. Shortly after I read it, it appeared in a Tor.com article, Five SFF Worlds Tied Together by String Theory, which features two other series I love, and so I guess parallel worlds is a Thing I like that I didn’t know I liked! Anyway, I would recommend this book to everyone.
  • Heir to the Jedi – I know the bar is not that high for Star Wars novels, but this was just OK. With Luke Skywalker as a first person narrator, and events taking place shortly after the Battle of Yavin, it would be out of character for him to be anything other than young, naive, and not very smart, but it was really boring and annoying be stuck in his POV the entire time. The story itself read like a monster-of-the-week episode from Star Trek rather than a novel-length adventure, and there was very little character or plot development. Luke’s female counterpart was much more interesting than he, and I would rather this had been a dual POV novel so that we could have learned more about her. The only interesting part of the whole book was when [spoiler], and Luke felt the dark side of the Force for the first time, without knowing that’s what it was. I did grow to like the alien character whose culture speaks in math – I have to admit that (p + l) + (a + n) = pa + pn + la +ln was a funny joke (I have foiled your plan!)

Last Month’s Update

August 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

Wiz Kid

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

Washington, DC

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

Palmer Alley, Washington, DC

We had several good meals, including:

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

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

“Eggs” at NMWA

Farmers’ Markets

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

Wine

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

August 2017 state store wine club

Dining In

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

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

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

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

Other home cooking highlights from this month include:

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

Dining Out

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

Friday Saturday Sunday – photos by Tom Ipri

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

Jet Wine Bar

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

chilaquiles at Los Camarades

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

DIY

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

A few follow up notes from last month:

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

New things I made this month:

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

Books

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

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

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

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

Stitch Fix

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

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

Last Month’s Update

July 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

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

Farmers’ Markets

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

July 8
July 15
July 22
July 29

Wine

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

July wine club

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

Dining In

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

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

Dining Out

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

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

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

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

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

DIY

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

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

Books

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

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

Last Month’s Update

June 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

It was a pretty good month in Philadelphia. At the beginning of the month we went and saw Wonder Woman, which was great. The weather was OK for the most part, so we took a few walks on the Schuylkill. We went to a nice garden party hosted by a couple we know who lives nearby. My place of work announced suddenly that they would be giving us half days on Friday all summer. I didn’t do anything too exciting my first Friday – I had sliced open my finger pretty bad on a blender blade the previous weekend, so I used that first half day going to the doctor to make sure it was healing OK. But after that I went to a threading salon, which I had been meaning to do for years, and the following Friday I checked out the new pop-up beer garden in University City, so that was fun. I’ll have to think of some more ideas for next month, both in terms of pampering as well as things like museums.

University City PHS pop-up garden
One Riverside
CHOP

Travel

We took our first-ever trip to New York City together since moving to Philadelphia. My friends David, Erika, and Ella were in NYC so that David could attend the SABR convention, and they invited us up to attend a Mets-Phillies game. We ended up having a free afternoon once we got there, and ended up at the Guggenheim, which was a special treat! I had no idea the museum had so many Kandinskys and all the expressionist art that I love. After that, we walked through Central Park and then found a place to cool off before taking the subway up to Flushing. The game itself was fun, and there were so many good food options to choose from at the ballpark, but we went with David Chang’s Fuku spicy chicken sandwiches. We stayed overnight and headed back to Philly the next morning. It was our first time taking the MegaBus, which was great on the way up and not-so-great on the way back; I’d do it again, but now with a little more info on which seats to reserve. We even got back to town in time for the farmers’ market!

Guggenheim
Central Park
Fuku spicy chicken sandwich at the Mets game

Farmers’ Markets

I am STILL dying for tomatoes; there was one week where we were lucky enough to snag a box of cherry tomatoes (the last one on the table), but for the most part June has still been tomato-free, which is super sad. However, we did get plenty of summer squash, peas, green beans, cherries, and cucumbers this month.

6/17/17
6/24/17

Dining In

A few of the fun things we made this month were of our own invention:

  • a Philly-style breakfast hash with provalone, broccoli rabe, and long hots
  • scallops and polenta with a king oyster “scallop” and fermented tomato sauce
Philly-style breakfast hash
sea scallops + mushroom “scallop”

For internet recipes, we enjoyed:

Brown butter scallops with burst tomato basil pasta

We also made a few recipes from The Indian Family Kitchen cookbook: a delightful green bean and roasted fennel salad, and a wet seafood rub that we used with Shore Catch cod from the farmers’ market.

green bean salad from The Indian Family Kitchen

Dining Out

We had a few fun date nights this month, including Pizzeria Vetri and bulgogi burgers at South Gate, and a few brunches out, including Sidecar and Marathon.

Pizzeria Vetri
Bulgogi burgers at South Gate

The highlight of the month was a special date night at Zahav, which we had reserved months in advance, in order to use an Open Table gift certificate. We splurged on the chef’s tasting menu, which included Zahav’s famous pomegranate-braised lamb shank, as well as salatim, hummus, and mezze. We could definitely make a meal just from the salatim and hummus, it was so much food! Everything was delicious, and the service was outstanding. We look forward to going back again sometime, as well as getting the cookbook to maybe make some of the salatim ourselves.

DIY 

I made a LOT of DIY food projects this month – it gives my brain something to do other than think about work.

  • I finished the fermented escabeche (carrot, onion, jalapeño) pickles I started last month – we ate them quickly, they were gone within a week! I would definitely make these again and again.
  • I made a lemon-coriander shrub, inspired by a drink at Friday Saturday Sunday. As with any shrub, I found it too sweet, despite the vinegar, but it seems more versatile than the strawberry shrub I made last month.
  • I started a batch of fermented soy sauce and miso, with recipes from DIY Fermentation, after buying some dried soy beans and koji starter. These will both take 1 year, so I’ve set them aside and try to leave them alone
  • I used the leftover pickle juice from the escabeche to make a pickled hard boiled egg – delicious!
  • I made a carrot & fennel agrodolce from Preserving Italy – a little too sweet, but still very tasty.
  • I made a couple half sours from DIY Fermentation, using some small Kirby cucumbers from the farmers’ market. They were spicy and crunchy, and although I used black tea for tannins rather than grape leaves, they weren’t at all discolored.
  • I made sour cherries in boozy syrup from Preserving Italy. – they’re good, but they’re not pitted, so one just has to be careful.
  • I sprouted some garbanzo beans to make sprouted hummus from DIY Fermentation. The week before I had tried sprouting some other grains that didn’t turn out very well, but the garbanzo beans sprouted really easily. The hummus is a bit more raw and gritty tasting than with cooked garbanzo beans, but it’s interesting. I’m just so spoiled with the Zahav hummus recipe, but I can see this version appealing to people on a raw diet.
  • For the Food in Jars mastery challenge (a bit late for the May cold pack preserving challenge), I made spicy pickled green beans, using fennel seed instead of dill seed – it tastes like pepperoni pizza! This recipe is a keeper.
  • I made David Lebowitz’s black currant jam (jam was the June Food in Jars challenge, so I’m mostly caught up). I haven’t actually tried it yet.
  • I made fermented ketchup from DIY Fermentation – it didn’t really get very bubbly, so I think using whey from store-bought yogurt wasn’t very effective, even though it is local yogurt. Either way, it’s still delicious, with delightful spices.
  • I made David Lebowitz’s tonic water – I tried making a gin & tonic with it, but it overwhelmingly grapefruity to the point of distraction. I don’t think I would do this again.
  • Finally, I made some granola, using a 5-ingredient recipe I saw on a morning flight home from Vegas many years ago
drying sour cherries
soy sauce day 5
carrots and fennel agrodolce
sprouted garbanzo beans
spicy pickled green beans

Books

I didn’t read too much this month, at least not anything too substantial. I started with v.7 of Saga, in which a whole lot of crazy stuff happened. After having read so much Old Man’s War last month, I read The B-Team, the first installment of The Human Division, the 5th book of the series, which was originally published as 12 serialized parts. I wasn’t particularly motivated to continue, though, so I lost some reading momentum. Lindy West had been making the interview rounds on several of the podcasts I listen to, so I finally read her book, Shrill, which I had won in a Goodreads giveaway earlier in the year. I am not a huge fan of the memoir genre, but this one got progressively better as it went along. I also read a short story by Wil Wheaton, Dead Trees Give No Shelter, as I’ve been enjoying the re-boot of his podcast as well. I was just thinking to myself, geez, when I first got my Kindle, I put some Free Library ebooks on hold and never heard anything, when I finally got a notification that my hold was available and checked out to me. Given my experience with academic library ebooks, I expected Overdrive to be a pain in the ass. But it was incredibly smooth and easy to get the library book on my Kindle, and it even showed up in my Shared library so that Tom could read it, too! I was very pleased with the experience and made sure to put some more books on hold so that I can save some Kindle $. The book in question, by the way, was Catalyst, a Star Wars novel that introduces the characters from Rogue One. I thought the book was really interesting and provided a lot of insight into the characters, making the events of Rogue One all the more heartbreaking. Tom had checked out the Rogue One novelization from his library, so that was a natural follow up to finish the month. I didn’t like the Rogue One novel as much as the movie, as I thought it actually made Jyn Erso seem weak and flighty instead of strong and bad-ass.

 

 

May 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

Spring has not been behaving. It’s been mostly cold, then hot, then cold, and it’s been raining on and off. Where are the nice days in the 70s?!

View from the Walnut St bridge on a nice day

Overall, though, despite the weather, we’ve had a nice month in Philly. We took a South Street West walking tour via Jane’s Walk, led by our friend Marcus. We learned a few new things and enjoyed the company of our neighbors. We also went to our local neighborhood street festival, Plazapalooza. We even made it to our local beer garden twice this month!

Gray’s Ferry Triangles on the South Street walking tour
PHS South Street beer garden
Demolition begins at The Royal

Farmers’ Markets

It’s been a great month at the farmers’ markets, with asparagus and strawberries just about every weekend. We had to go 2 weekends without the Rittenhouse farmers’ market, which was a great excuse to go to Headhouse and get all the extra goodies there.

Headhouse farmers’ market bounty

Dining In

We’ve been able to keep up with a lot of home cooking this month. Here were some of our favorite new recipes:

No-fry Italian fried chicken
Apple cider chicken marsala
Beef asparagus stir fry
Shaved asparagus pizza
Roasted salmon from The Indian Family Kitchen
Spanish-inspired scallops

We’ve continued to try recipes from my friend’s food blog, A Good Carrot, though no longer in official recipe testing capacity. These were all delicious:

Cumin roasted carrots, Selva’s summer pilaf, salmon with za’atar salsa verde

Dining Out

We’ve been out a few times this month, mostly local favorites in the neighborhood, not much in the way of new places.

At the beginning of the month, we had a fun time at a Basque wine class at Jet Wine Bar.

We got out for a few brunches, which we hadn’t done in awhile – once at SouthGate, and once at Rex 1516.

Brunch at SouthGate

We went out for drinks and snacks after work a few times, both at Friday Saturday Sunday and at Tria Fitler Square.

Friday Saturday Sunday

We had an enjoyable date night one night at Sawatdee.

Curry pad thai at Sawatdee

At Plazapalooza, we finally tried Phoebe’s BBQ food cart, and at Headhouse Farmers’ Market we finally got to try Mom Mom’s Polish Food Cart.

Phoebe’s BBQ
Pierogis from Mom Mom’s Polish Food Cart

Finally, on Memorial Day, since we had the day off, we tried Butcher Bar for the first time, thinking we were in the mood for some meat in lieu of BBQing ourselves. Afterwards we treated ourselves to a drink at Village Whiskey.

Memorial Day lunch at Butcher Bar and Village Whiskey

DIY

We made a few things this month, starting with a new batch of homemade mustard. I tried a recipe for asparagus preserved in oil from Preserving Italy; it came out pretty well (though still not photogenic) compared to other preserved asparagus recipes I’ve tried, so I might try making another batch before asparagus season is over.

homemade mustard

I haven’t really been keeping up with the Food in Jars Mastery Challenge, but a few months late I did finally make a shrub for the first time, with strawberries and black pepper. It came out very nice, but I’m not sure how much I’ll use it.

Strawberry shrub -> gin cocktail

Tom got back into bread-making, this time with homemade biscuits. We enjoyed them with some fresh strawberries & cream.

Tom’s biscuits

Toward the end of the month I was itching to start fermenting again, so I got some early tomatoes from the farmers’ market to make some salsa, and I also started a batch of fermented escabeche (Mexican-style pickled carrots, onion & jalepeño).

Books

I started the month by finishing Midnight Taxi Tango, the second book in Daniel Jose Older’s Bone Street Rumba series. It was fine, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the first book. I don’t remember what inspired me to do so, but I decided to re-read John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, which I had first read in 2009. It was as good as I remembered it, and I continued with the second book in that series, The Ghost Brigades, which I had never read before and also enjoyed. Then, finally (!), Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Fate came out, which is the last book of the Fitz and the Fool series and which I had been waiting for for a long time. It was a very satisfying end to a series that I was very invested in, and neatly wrapped up many storylines. However, I would have to say that it was a bit too obvious; it has less emotional impact because nothing was particularly unexpected, and I basically predicted the ending 2 years ago on a Robin Hobb forum. Anyway, that didn’t prevent me from re-reading it right away. Once I got through that, I picked back up with Old Man’s War and re-read The Last Colony and Zoe’s Tale (both tell the same story but from different POVs). Tom had told me about a cheap book on Kindle, DIY Fermentation, from which I got some interesting ideas for future projects.

Stitch Fix

I got a Stitch Fix for the first time in awhile. It was a good feeling, I definitely missed it (too bad I can’t afford to do it more often). I kept a beautiful skirt and a red top, and sent back a red purse, a white top, and a blue cardigan. We didn’t get a chance to take pictures, but I’ll try to take some next month. In the meantime here are some screenshots:

 

 

Last Month’s Update

April 2017: The Month in Tom and Holly

Life in Philly

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

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

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

Negronis on the patio

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

Farmers’ Markets

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

Dining In

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

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

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

Dining Out

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

huevos rancheros at Tio Flores

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

Sp0tburgers
Friday Saturday Sunday

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

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

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

Brigantessa

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

Carrot confit at Friday Saturday Sunday

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

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

DIY

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

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

wine-spiked carrots

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

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

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

Books

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

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

Last Month’s Update