Wednesday, July 29, 2009

University City Dining Days at Marigold

West Philadelphia/University City has its own week of Dining Specials separate from the rest of the City at least once a year. Kim and I have taken this opportunity the past two years to go out and eat at a restaurant we normally don't go to. Restaurants participating in Dining Days will offer prix fixe meals with some choices for each course, with restaurants offering dinners from $15 to $30. Kim and I chose restaurants from the highest tier because we felt these restaurants offered the best value in terms of food. Last year, we had a very nice meal at Rx and so this year, we though we'd try another neighborhood BYOB, Marigold Kitchen.

For Dining Days, the menus are usually pared down from the restaurants normal offerings, but they will still to include vegetarian options for appetizers and entrees, which Kim obviously appreciates. As Marigold is a BYOB, we brought a bottle of red, a Wyndham Estates Shiraz, Bin 555. It was medium bodied, juicy and fruity, exactly what we both like in a wine pared with food. For an appetizer, I had a piece of crispy pork belly with fried green tomatoes on a bed of arugula with a buttermilk dressing and Kim had a salad of radish and snow peas. I really liked the balance the tart tomatoes added when eaten with the fatty pork belly. Kim tried a piece but was not impressed. Then, I had a perfectly prepared piece of seared salmon with dill potatoes and english peas and Kim had a Kalamata Olive pasta tossed with some vegetables. That salmon was the best salmon that I have even had made for me in a restaurant--it was just medium rare in the middle, a little bit translucent, and well rested so that it was evenly done throughout. Dessert, however, was a mixed bag. The blueberry biscuit was very good, but the peach cobbler with black pepper ice cream was a disappointment. The cobbler crust and ice cream were both overly salty and the cobbler was too small.

This is the second time Kim and I have been to Marigold, and the second time we were thoroughly satisfied. We always vow to go back but for some reason or another we just need the extra motivation to get going.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Kim's 3rd Annual Summer BBQ

Since Kim's been in Philly, she's hosted a BYOM (bring your own meat) BBQ at her house for co-workers and friends. This year's BBQ was the third iteration and like the past two times, it was a great success. However, like in previous years, in order to host people at her house, the backyard first needed to be cleaned up. Alex and I helped Kim clean up the trash that migrates into the back and I bought a truckload of top soil to fill up holes and mulch to cover the large expanses of dirt. After all this work, the backyard looks great, I only wish I had taken a picture of what it looked like before for comparison.

For the BBQ, Kim made pasta salad, potato salad, dip for chips, rice crispie treats, cake cookies, and bought much more. I bought chorizo and zucchini, made guacamole, burgers, and hot wings. We also bought a lot of good beer and wine. Of course, many of our friends brought food to share too. Jeongsik brought delicious Korean-style chicken for the grill; Lili brought some spicy spaghetti; Ihab prepared some Middle-Eastern seasoned chicken kebabs; Anna Maria made several appetizers with prosciutto; Josh brought for the grill, tomatoes cut in half topped with garlic pepper Jack cheese, and basil; Zhenxi picked blackberries for us. Erme made some delicious cupcakes, which Lili's kids really enjoyed helping ice and decorate! And many (Daisuke, Aileen, Chris...) also brought drinks to share too, I was just too busy grilling to remember what everyone added to the party. But needless to say, no one went home hungry or lacked drink.

It was a lot of fun and well worth the time and effort it took to clean up the backyard. Now that all the hard work is done, I think Kim should host more BBQ's since all we would need to do now is invite some people and put some charcoal in the chimney starter!

Some people asked what was in my wing recipe, so I thought I would share it: you season the chicken wings equal parts chili powder, paprika and Lawry's Seasoned Salt with some fresh ground black pepper and then marinate them in hot sauce (I like Texas Pete's) overnight. Then I drain them thoroughly to make sure the marinade doesn't drop on the coals and smother the fire. I grill them for about 6-8 minutes on each side under medium-hot to hot coals to crisp the skin and then move them to the side to finish cooking through. The wings have bones that help keep the moist, but also requires more time to cook through

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Nice Weekend

Kim and I both had a great weekend. Well, I had a nice weekend, but Kim only had a partly nice weekend what with her parking ticket, dryer and washer going missing, no internet...

On Friday, after work, I drove to the Airport to pick up my sister from her flight out of Raleigh. She came home for her 10 year high school reunion and it was nice to see her and talk for the hour or so drive home to my parent's. We got home to have dinner with my Dad and then sat around the table talking until my Mom got home. I spent the night there because the next day I had a picnic with the Brandywine Bonsai Society, in nearby Kennet Square, Pa. The picnic/auction was just okay because I forgot to bring cash so it was just a really long picnic for me.

I had to get back into the city though because Ihab had some work friends over to his house for a small party on in his outdoor patio/backyard area. I did not know what to expect from his yard since I've seen some gnarly backyards in the city (Kim), but Ihab's was really nice. The area was mostly paved over with concrete with some established trees and little gardens dotting it. The trees also provided a good amount of shade to keep it cool. Like always, Ihab made some great food, grilled some veggies, spicy burgers, Middle-Eastern chicken skewers, and some Lebanese staples. Kim, Tina, and Anna Maria all brought desserts. Kim made a lemon bundt cake, Tina brought some Swedish cinnamon buns and candies and Anna Maria brought some outstanding cheesecake from Midtown. Even Kim, who normally doesn't like cheesecake had a big slice and loved it.

The next morning, Kim and I met my parents and Frances at Ocean Harbor in Chinatown for Dim Sum. I haven't had dim sum in a long time, so I was really excited to go to Ocean Harbor. The food, as expected was great, and we had really good service from the waiters that kept our water glasses full and brought us a fork and knife for Kim. The cart ladies were helpful, bringing veggie dishes for Kim as well, as the good stuff for me: chicken feet, beef organ meat soup, shrimp dumplings, fried taro balls... For those of you considering going to dim sum, I would almost insist you go with someone who is Chinese or at least speaks Chinese. You need to assert yourself with the service staff and let them know who's the boss--white people are just too polite sometimes! After lunch, we walked around a little bit and saw some crazy old lady get caught stealing lychees from a streetside grocer.

And to cap off the weekend, Geoff had us over at his house for a fresh summer dinner. He made two cold soups, a savory strawberry soup with apricots and Vidalia onions and a gaspatcho. Next, we had a "Thai" cucumber salad, the recipe for which Justin got from a Meijer's in Ohio. And finally, Geoff made fritters from zucchini and other vegetables served with a yoghurt and herb sauce. The dinner was very nice, but what really made it fun was getting the chance to spend time with friends and catch up.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Cooperstown and the Hall of Fame

Kim, brother Joey, Alex, and I went on a trip to Cooperstown, NY this past weekend to tour the town where baseball was invented, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and Ommegang Brewery. For me, this trip was the combination of two of my favorite things: fancy beer and our national pastime.

We started our trip early (at least for me) on Saturday morning and went to pick up Joey in Wenonah, NJ and see his new digs. His new place was much bigger than I expected and was very pleasant. From NJ, we then drove about North towards Cooperstown. The drive up was pretty short because traffic was moving briskly and we were catching up on stories. After about 5 hours, including a quick break for lunch, we arrived in Cooperstown for the first destination of our trip--Ommegang Brewery.

Ommegang is an American Brewery owned by Belgian company Duvel that makes very good versions of popular Belgium styles. The location in Cooperstown was chosen because it was once the hops-growing capitol of the US in the late 1800's and was already a tourist destination. Luckily we arrived at the Brewery right as a tour was beginning so we just jumped right in. The tour was very interesting as they showed us everything from the kettles where the grains are cooked and the fermentation vats in the brewering room to the bottling machinery and storage areas. The highlight of the tour of course was the free tasting of five beers: Witte (white ale), Rare Vos (amber ale), Hennepin (farmhouse or saison ale), Abbey ale (Trappist Double), and the Three Philosphers (Trappist quadruple ale). Although Alex could not participate in the tasting, he was a good sport to watch us gobble down several oz of each beer.

Following the tour of the brewery, we went to the hotel to unload the car and get settled in before dinner. Joe and I took a nap while Kim and Alex hit the hotel pool. When they got back, we headed out to Downtown Cooperstown to see the sights and grab dinner. We walked into Doubleday Field and visited several stores that sold mostly junk, but some gems were: a Phillies 2008 World Series edition of Monopoly and a really cool hat for the minor league team, the Montgomery Biscuits. The Monopoly set was $40 and they did not have a hat that fit me, so we I ended up walking away empty-handed.
The next morning, we woke up at 8 and got a pretty good free breakfast at the hotel before heading out to the Hall of Fame. It was cool that the admission tickets were printed with a Phillies themed graphic to commemorate their WS win last year. The Hall, as expected, was great and filled with all sorts of memorabilia from the founding of baseball in early 1800's to uniform pieces worn by players in the 2008 WS. It was amazing to bats used by Babe Ruth in his 60 HR season, Lou Gehrig's Uniform the day before he retired, Willie May's glove, and several Hank Aaron HR balls. My favorite article from the 2008 WS exhibit was the bat Joe Blanton used to hit a HR in Game 4 of the Series last year.

It was a fun trip, although too short, but I felt that we got to see everything that we were interested in. And according to Joe and Kim, the renovations the HoF made to exhibits really added to the fan experience.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

4th of July Fun

Yesterday, Mike, Alex and I spent the 4th of July holiday with our good friends the Wodnicks. Beth's parents opened their home (and pool) to us for the celebration. It was a big crowd, including the whole Wodnick clan, Megan Smith and Kelly. I had the idea for the Wodnicks to host an Independence Day party because Mike and I have been traveling a lot the past few weeks and we wanted to spend the holiday near home and the Wodnicks had a pool. For the past two years, the three of us have gone to Coney Island and see the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, but this year was just as fun without the long drive.

Mike and Alex came prepared for wiffleball (Mike brought 6 wiffle balls and 2 bats) and they were not disappointed. After John went over the house rules, the games were ongoing throughout the afternoon with almost everyone taking part at some point. However, the large quantity of good food and drink made it more difficult to get up and into the game. Then, we all cooled off in the pool before a BBQ feast with plenty of grilled meats and veggie burgers, salads, and fresh vegetables and tons of deserts.

After a rousing game of Apples to Apples, we headed out onto the golf course right behind the Wodnicks' house to watch the fireworks display. Everyone had fun oohing and aahing and picking their favorite kind of fireworks. It was a such a beautiful day, made more fun by good friends, good food and good fun.

Picture Mike took using the Fireworks as a flash strobe

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

My vacation wrap-up

After a good week in Tennessee at the Great Smoky Mountains with Kenny, I cannot say that I am happy to be home. Of course, it was nice to see friends and everyone at work again, but I do not enjoy waking up before 10am nor do I enjoy going into work and spending 8 hours inside from the fresh mountain air and sunshine. Kenny and I had fun on our family vacation without the rest of the family and the rush of having to go everywhere and do everything.

That said, we visited almost everything in and near the National Park. We started out in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg at the North end of the Park in Tennessee. We climbed the tallest peak in the Smokies, Clingmans Dome on the NC/TN state line. We rafted near the east end of the park near the Pigeon River and spent the rest of the day hiking in Cosby. We saw Laurel Falls in the middle of the park and Abrams Falls in the very West of the Park by the Cades Cove, where there was a primitive road and a preserved fronteir settlement. And we camped at the south of the park in Smokemont, where I caught my first trout and we slept in our tent by a babbling creek.

All in all, it was great trip. We saw everything we wanted to, ate junk food, and still had time to watch TV in our hotel room. I would definitely camp again with Kenny!

You can see the rest of the pictures here on my Facebook album