Philly Trip

My husband and I took an overnight trip to Philly a couple days ago. While I look for concerts I want to go to in the DC-Philly corridor, he looks for computer security conferences. In this case our desires aligned. He told me he planned to go up to Philly for a conference and it just so happened to coincide with the night Dawes was playing in Philly. I had seen them at Wolf Trap last summer, but had left wanting much more as I felt like their set got cut short because of Wolf Trap’s curfew and Shovels & Rope playing longer than I think they should have as one of the openers. So I was eager to see them again and when I realized that I could ride up with my husband and drag him to the show I put that plan into motion.

We drove up early Friday morning and I dropped him off at his conference and then went to see if I could check into our hotel super early. They didn’t have any rooms available so I just dropped off the car and my stuff and wandered around for awhile. It was cold and snowing the whole day, so it wasn’t the best weather to walk around in but the wind wasn’t blowing so it wasn’t completely terrible either. I wound up sitting in Barnes & Noble for awhile reading to kill time before my first plans for the day.

It eventually dawned on me after I made these plans that I was going to be in Philly on a Friday afternoon. I have mentioned here on more than one occasion my love for WXPN, the University of Pennsylvania radio station. It’s what I listen to at work all the time, and every Friday they do a Free at Noon concert. I have obviously never been able to go in person, but as soon as I put two and two together I put this concert on my schedule for the day. They only announce who’s playing about a week beforehand and then open up the site for claiming your free tickets to it. I would have gone no matter who was playing, but I was pleased that it wound being Amy Helm who I like. She’s the daughter of the drummer from The Band, Levon Helm. She sang a lot with him and did a lot of backup singing, but now has two albums of her own out. My favorite song off the new album is actually a cover a Milk Carton Kid’s song “Michigan”. I was hoping she would play it and it was by far the best song of the performance. The whole thing was great though. She went from playing the mandolin to the keyboards and then just singing sweet harmonies in an acapella hymn with one of her band mates.

It was great to actually be in the room for a change instead of just streaming it from my office. I felt weirdly overly surrounded by old, white guys though. I finally decided it was because that’s who has time to be at a concert in the middle of the day, a bunch of old retired white guys. Some day I’d like to be able to do it again, but that’s obviously not going to happen any time soon.

After grabbing some lunch I headed to the Mutter Museum. It had been on my list for a long time, but was just something I had never gotten around to doing any of the other times I’ve been in Philly. My husband was mad that I was going without him, but I told him afterwards that I’m glad I wasn’t with him. I read most of what’s on museum placards, but I’m also a fast reader and do skim some of the finer details. He will literally read every single word on every single item on a display case. I probably would have been done an hour before him if we were together. If you’re not familiar with the Mutter Museum, it’s located at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and is a collection of medical specimens, equipment, and models collected by Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter. It was an interesting collection and I’m glad I went, but I don’t feel the need to ever go again.

Friday night we obviously went to the Dawes concert, which is what I went to Philly for. Every so often Dawes likes to do tours where they do a bunch of An Evening with Dawes shows, meaning that there’s no opening act and you just get them playing for 2 and half to 3 hours. It was my first time at the Fillmore Philly. If I ever go again I might pay extra money to get premium seats in the balcony. It’s a 2, 500 standing room only venue aside from a few elevated seats in the back of the main level and the seats in the balcony. I pretty much can’t see much at SRO shows unless I’m all the way up front, which doesn’t happen often. I’ve generally found if I can get far enough the back if it’s not a completely sold out show then I can see over the crowd, but if this wasn’t sold out it was close to it so even though I did stand as far back as I could I couldn’t get enough distance between me and people in front of me. I wasn’t completely out of luck, but I could pretty much never see more than one band member at a time depending on how the crowd moved and how I was craning my neck. Dawes was great as usual. I was happy to get to hear them play or a good long time. I was hoping that they would play my favorite song off of their new album, Passwords, but I figured it was a long shot and sadly they didn’t. That was my only real disappointment with the night. It seems like they’ve decided on the three songs their going to play from that album, and “Mistakes We Should Have Made” isn’t one of them. I always hate when I fall hard for a song that’s deep into an album that I know a band is never going to play live unless somewhere down the line they do a show where they play all the way through an album. Overall it was a good night though and worth going up to Philly for.

Saturday morning we met up with my friend Erin and her family for brunch at a place in Logan Square called Urban Farmer. If you’re ever in Philly and looking for some place to eat near the Franklin Institute, The Barnes Foundation, or even the Philadelphia Museum of Art I would recommend this place. The brunch food was great, so I’ll go ahead and assume their other meals are as well. I had brioche French toast with hazelnut butter and cranberry compote and some of the best breakfast sausage I can remember eating any time recently. It was of course great to catch up with my friends too. I’m glad we get to see each other generally at least once a year and sometimes more since Philly isn’t that far away. Who knew when we met in 8th grade and only living in the same city for 2 years that we’d still be friends and hanging out when we were 40.

Our final stop before heading back to Baltimore was the The Barnes Foundation. We wound up getting some hotel deal that was a partnership with the Visit Philly tourist bureau whereby participating hotels offered guests free parking, 2 tickets to the Barnes, a Lyft credit, a coupon for $20 off at some restaurant and 2 free ice skating coupons. We were mostly in it for the free parking because parking in downtown Philly is super expensive and most places don’t give you in and out privileges with your car which makes the parking rates rack up even more if you go in and out of the garage. We actually wound up picking our hotel partly based on the fact that the hotel had valet parking that gave you in and out privileges since we knew we wanted to drive to the concert. The valet experience was kind of annoying since it wasn’t run by the hotel and I wound up dealing with trying to drop the car off and get it back out again right at morning and evening rush hour with people parking their for work. At any rate the deal save us $50 in parking. The bonus for us was the 2 free tickets to The Barnes. I had just gone back in August, so I wouldn’t have bothered to go again this soon but I figured we shouldn’t pass up the free tickets. It was actually interesting to go back because even in these few short months since I had been there they had rolled out a whole new digital experience that was very cool. The museum is laid out so that everything is hung as it was in Albert Barnes’ original home, so there are no labels on anything on the wall. There are paper booklets in each room that will give you the title and artist of everything, but they have now created a digital site you can use on your phone. You just pull up the site and then take photos of the art and it will pull up information about it on your phone. Sometimes it’s just the bare facts about the piece, but other times there is a lot more context about the artist, art, or it’s place in the collection. I did have to catch myself to make sure I was actually looking at the art too and not just staring at my screen, but for the most part I thought it was great and really added to the experience. As my husband said it has now ruined him for all other museums. He of course also wanted to be able to dig into the code and find out how everything worked.

It was an excellent couple of days in Philly, and I’m glad I turned my husband’s one day conference into a fun overnight trip for us.

 

 

Year of the Cookie

I’ve made no secret here about how the past couple of years have really worn on me psychologically. At the beginning of 2018 I felt like I really needed to do something to try and bring a little bit of joy into the world while also doing something to try and get me out of my funk. Also, around the same time I got an e-galley of the Sally’s Cookie Addiction cookbook. There were many delicious looking cookie recipes in it, but there is no way I was going to have any reason to try that many cookie recipes. That sparked my idea for Year of the Cookie. I thought I love to bake and people love eating my baked goods so why not send a little joy out into the world by making people cookies.

I put the word out on my social media accounts telling people that I had declared 2018 the Year of the Cookie and if they wanted to receive some cookies at some point during the year they should fill out the Google form I created, which in addition to name and address asked people what their allergies and dislikes were so I could hopefully make sure people got cookies they would like and be able to eat. I also found some take out containers that were cheap and would just fit inside the smallest USPS flat rate shipping box so that I could pay for all the shipping online for the ones that needed to be mailed.

I basically made cookies whenever I had a chance. Sometimes that meant several weekends in a row and other times there were long stretches in between batches due to travel and other life events. I tried to give everyone around a dozen cookies, but it mostly depended on how many fit inside the container I bought. Since most recipes make 2-3 dozen cookies multiple people got the same kind of cookie and I was able to give out multiple batches at a time. There wasn’t much rhyme or reason as to who got cookies in a given batch other than whether it didn’t have something they disliked or were allergic to in them, whether the cookies seemed like ones kids would like if the receivers had kids, and whether I just wanted to be able to drop cookies in the mail or whether I had time to drive around Baltimore dropping them off in people’s mailboxes.

My only other rule was that I wanted people to be surprised when they got them. Several people said oh I figured you would just bring me cookies at some point when we were already getting together, but I wanted people to receive a nice surprise one day when they opened up their mail (Year of the Cookie also taught me some of y’all don’t check your mail on the regular based on when I know they were delivered and when you let me know you got them.) or walked in their front door. Multiple people let me know that their cookies came at the perfect time when they were having a really crappy week, and I’m glad that serendipity worked out but am also just as happy for the people who just got a little bit of joy in their day. It made me feel good to see my cookies pop up on people’s social media and know I made someone’s day.

I also loved the people who told me how much they loved this project and were really happy following along with it even though they didn’t want any cookies of their own. That was something I hadn’t anticipated, and it’s nice to know that I brought even more joy into the world than I thought I would be when I started this project.

I do have a list of all the types of cookies I made during the year, but I unfortunately don’t know what the exact recipes were for all of them. I often just googled for a recipe and didn’t keep track of which specific one I used when it was a pretty generic cookie. The list of cookies is below. I linked to the recipes I know that I used. The ones with (SCA) beside them are recipes that came from the Sally’s Cookie Addiction cookbook, and most of those recipes are not online.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies (SCA) – These were the first cookies I made for the Year of the Cookie, and I think it was one of my favorites.

Funfetti Chocolate Chip (SCA)

Homemade Berger Cookies – I thought the cookie part of these was decent, but the cookie is kind of beside the point with Berger cookies. The fudge topping tasted nothing like a Berger cookie. I’ve been wanting to try these again but swapping in my own attempt at the frosting.

Ginger Pistachio (SCA)

Rolled Sugar Cookies

Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip – These tasted good, but I thought they turned out a little flat.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chai Spiced Shortbread (SCA)

Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

Reese’s Pieces Peanut Butter Cookies (SCA)

White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

Chocolate cookies with Chocolate and White Chocolate Chips

M&M Cookies

Lemon Ricotta Cookies 

Lemon Sugar Cookies

Funfetti Cookie Pizza (SCA)

Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies – I’m not sure what recipe I used for these, but you wouldn’t want to use it anyway. They were blah enough that I wound up not even sending these cookies to anyone.

Koulourakia (Greek Easter Cookies) – I don’t know what recipe I used, but it was one without sesame seeds

Toffee Chocolate Chip Pecan Cookies – These were probably my favorite cookies that I could make for any occasion.

Brownie Cookies

Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie – This recipe says you can use a 10-inch or 12-inch skillet, but I made it in a 12-inch skillet and I wouldn’t make it in anything smaller.

Oatmeal Raisin Cookies – I hate oatmeal raisin cookies. Raisins are the devil’s fruit and these cookies are evil because they too often masquerade as chocolate chip until you’ve bitten into one. I swore when I started this project that I would not bake any cookies with raisins in them, but when my uncle, aunt, and parents visited me in May they were all going on about how delicious it oatmeal raisin cookies are and how it is really too bad I wouldn’t make any, so because I love my family I went against my own rules and sent the these cookies.

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Soft Ginger Cookies – These cookies were probably my favorite overall cookie from the year, but they seem very season specific so they can’t be an all around go to cookie. They are super soft and almost melt in your mouth. This recipe is definitely a winner.

Eggnog Cookies – I don’t really like drinking egg nog because I don’t like the consistency, but I like the flavor of eggnog. These cookies are the perfect delivery system for that eggnog flavor.

It was a really fun project and I’m glad I did it, but to answer the question everyone has been asking as the year comes to a close, no I will not be doing it or something else in 2019. I will still be baking, but not on this scale. Also cookies are really the only realistic food I could do this with. Nothing else mails as well. It also was not a cheap project between the supplies for the actual baking and spending $7.20 on every batch that had to be sent via the mail, so I think I’ll be giving my wallet a little bit of a break in 2019 too. I’m super happy I made 2018 the Year of the Cookie. It did exactly what I wanted it to do and more.

New Orleans

I recently went back to New Orleans for the first time in 7 years. I was going for the ALA Annual Conference, which was there this year. The last time I went was in 2011 the last time this conference was there. The Ritz Carlton was one of the conference hotels this year so I decided I would take advantage of the conference rate to stay at a fancier hotel than I normally would. Apparently that also tipped it so that my husband decided he wanted to join me on the trip. I can’t say that staying at this particular Ritz Carlton felt as fancy as other Ritz Carltons I’ve been in, but I’m really happy my husband decided to come with me.

The opening keynote on Friday was Michelle Obama being interviewed by Carla Hayden, Librarian of Congress. She talked about Becoming, the memoir she is writing due out in November. It was a great conversation and it made me miss the Obamas in the White House even more than I already do.

After the opening keynote I met up with my husband for dinner. He’s a vegetarian so it was quite the challenge to find places where there was something on the menu that he could eat while also letting me enjoy New Orleans style cooking. Friday night we wound up at a place called G.W. Fins, where I had one of the best meals I can remember having any time in the recent past. Everything started off great with little biscuits they serve. The person who sat us warned that they were addictive and we should pace ourselves. I’m glad the guy serving them only came by our table twice because I definitely didn’t need to eat a third one, but I would have had a hard time turning it down. For my entree I had parmesan crusted sheepshead. It’s a fish I had never heard of before, but it’s basically some type of mild white fish. It was amazing and it was heartbreaking to not be able to take my leftovers with me. If you’re ever in New Orleans I highly recommend this restaurant.

We of course started off Saturday with beignets at Cafe du Monde for breakfast. Saturday was my major conference day. I hit up the exhibit hall in the morning with my husband who I got a free exhibit pass for. I went to a couple of programs that unfortunately were not that good. One was too basic for me and one provided some very terrible copyright information. I spent a couple hours staffing our copyright booth and answering people’s copyright questions in between people asking if they could take my picture at the booth. I finished the day off with a committee meeting.

Saturday night was the one night I didn’t make reservations for ahead of time. That wound up maybe not being the best idea as it took us awhile to find somewhere to eat that had availability and could feed my husband.I originally thought we might walk over to Frenchman Street and find somewhere to eat over there or on the way and then listen to some jazz in some of the bars over there. My feet were too destroyed by the end of the day to make that a viable plan, so I wanted to stick around somewhere closer to our hotel. We wound up at someplace called Mr. B’s Bistro because their website assured us they took walk-ins. The food there was okay, but not nearly as good as G.W. Fins. I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there, but it will do in a pinch.

Since my original music plan didn’t work out we wound up at Preservation Hall instead. I can’t complain about that. We got out of dinner just in time to get in line for the 9 pm show. We even managed to get in early enough that we got to snag a seat on a bench right in front of the fan, which made it only slightly less oppressively hot. I have no idea how those guys play 5 shows a night in that non-air conditioned space during the summer.

Sunday we decided to try Cafe Beignet for breakfast instead because there was one much closer to our hotel than Cafe du Monde. While I appreciated being able to get a banana and some iced chai along with my beignet, the beignets were not nearly as good. They were much more dense. I guess there’s a reason Cafe du Monde is the gold standard of beignets.

I had one committee meeting I had to be at on Sunday morning, so I went to that and then I called it a conference. I was paying out of my own pocket to go to this conference, so I didn’t feel bad in treating it somewhat like a vacation as well. We met up with one my friends for lunch at a place called Magazine Pizza, which met the criteria of being veggie friendly for my husband and having gluten free options for my friend. It was great to catch up with her. Since she is the only other person I know at least personally who goes to at least as many concerts as I do, I was happy to introduce her to my husband so he’s knows I’m not the only crazy music fan out there.

Speaking of being a crazy music fan I found out there was a Cajun Zydeco music festival going on in Louis Armstrong Park. We walked over there and found some shade to sit in and listened to some music for awhile. It was nice to get out and do something that actual people who live in New Orleans were doing rather than just hitting the more touristy places. Also sitting outside and listening to live music is one of my favorite things, so this was a perfect way to spend the afternoon in my opinion.

Sunday night we had reservations at a place called Brennan’s. I didn’t love my blackened red fish. Somehow the seasoning felt sooty even though everything was covered in tons of butter. I was much happier with the rock shrimp that came on the side as well as the zucchini and summer squash mix. I was very pleased with the squash, which is usually mushy and not my favorite. This still had a nice crunch to it.

Monday we basically had time to hit up Cafe du Monde one last time before heading back to the hotel to get showered and ready to head to the airport. It turned out to be a really nice trip. I’ve lost a lot of my normal conference pals in recent years as people have rotated off committees and stopped paying to come to the big conferences. With my husband there I ate at much nicer places than I would have on my own, and it was nice to spend the time with him.

Friendsgiving

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. The food is delicious and feels special because it’s really the only time of year that you eat it. There’s no pressure for figuring out gifts like there is at Christmas. Instead it’s a time to give thanks for all the things we already have.

One of the things I’m very thankful for is my friends. And one of the other great things about Thanksgiving is that it does lend itself to large gatherings of friends over a delicious Thanksgiving meal. I’ve participated in these Friendsgivings in various forms. Sometimes it’s like this year getting together with friends I don’t always get to see that often anymore over a delicious meal prior to the holiday. Sometimes it’s gathering together a group of Thanksgiving orphans who aren’t spending the holiday with their families on the actual holiday to share a Thanksgiving dinner, or gathering together with friends and having a potluck dinner with everyone’s Thanksgiving leftovers.

It’s always fun to see all the variations on the standard Thanksgiving food recipes that people have. Also there are always the random things people have that for some reason whether cultural or family tradition always show up on their Thanksgiving table. I’m still not ever eating that sauerkraut weirdo Marylanders think is Thanksgiving food though.

This year I had the pleasure of attending three different Friendsgiving meals over the last few weeks leading up to the holiday. They were all wonderful gatherings with friends, some of whom I definitely don’t get to see nearly enough anymore. I loved getting the chance to catch up on each other’s lives, share food, great conversation and laughter, and remember that these are all the things I’m thankful for. It’s been hard to focus on the good things this year, so it was nice to have some great reminders that there are still lots of simple good things in this world.

A Good Sheet Cake

Sometimes there’s nothing like a good sheet cake. You know the ones that come covered in the sickeningly sweet buttercream icing. The key is to have a really good sheet cake though. There are plenty of garbage sheet cakes out in the world getting your hopes up and then dashing them when you take a bite and realize they’re covered in that oil slick of whipped icing instead of buttercream (that stuff should be outlawed) or the cake is super dry.

There’s a local grocery store in Baltimore called Eddie’s and they make a fantastic sheet cake. We always get one at work for our student worker appreciation lunch. This year’s lunch was this afternoon and I enjoyed the heck out of my piece of cake. I even managed to snag a corner piece, which means more icing for me. I know some people hate it, but I love it.

I know theoretically there are better desserts out there made from less industrial ingredients, but sometimes all I want is a piece of good old buttercream sheet cake. My wedding cake came from a Publix grocery store and was essentially a glorified sheet cake, and I loved it. I’ve been to plenty of weddings with fancy cakes from bakeries that I have found to be far less tasty than my grocery store cake.

I don’t have cause to have good sheet cakes in my life very often, but I always look forward to this at least one day per year when I get to indulge in this horribly delicious treat.

DC Day

Awhile back my husband, knowing that I like the band The Head and the Heart, pointed out to me that they were going to be playing at D.A.R. Constitution Hall in DC. I had already seen, but decided not to go because I didn’t feel like going all the way to DC and was hoping they would swing back through Baltimore later in their tour as they had in their previous tours. He pointed out to me that he was going to be in DC for a conference that day, so if I decided to get tickets I could come down and meet him and we could go. So I went ahead and bought tickets. Of course two weeks after I bought tickets, they announced a show in Baltimore in December. Looks like I’ll just have to see them twice. Poor me.

Anyway, shortly after buying tickets to the concert my former boss passed away and I saw that the memorial service was going to be in Olney, Maryland the same day as the concert. After looking up where the heck Olney was and realizing it was in DC suburbs, I decided it didn’t make sense to go back home in between. Instead it made more sense for me to drive into DC and spend the afternoon there. So I made plans to do just that.

The memorial service was lovely. They had ten people speak and share stories and remembrances. It was a very fitting tribute to man who was loved by many, and tried to live life to the fullest despite his long battle with MS. He will be missed.

After the memorial service I headed to my friends Alison and Dave’s house. They just bought a house in DC and happily they were free so we could hang out yesterday afternoon. I got to check out their new digs, and spend some time with them. Now that Alison sadly no longer lives in Baltimore I obviously don’t get to see her as often. They still come up this way a lot, but I know once they settle into their DC life more and more I know that drive will seem even less appealing. Alison and I thought about going to a museum briefly, but I had no slept well and was really tired so we decided just to hang out their house until dinner.

One of the problems with D.A.R. is that there is nothing else immediately around it in terms of commercial things like stores and restaurants. Within a mile or so there’s a handful of places, but you still don’t have a very big selection if you want to grab drinks or dinner before a show. I made us reservations at Founding Farmers, which I had heard good things about and is insanely popular based on the number of people waiting to get in there. Perhaps at one point it was amazing and is now just resting on it’s popularity, or maybe it’s just one of those places that has a reputation for whatever reason that it doesn’t really live up to. After waiting almost an hour after our reservation time for our table (normally that would have made me leave a place, but in this case there wasn’t really anywhere else to go), the food was just middling. I’m not sure why everyone was fighting to get in there. At least everything came out fast since we were pressed for time by the time we got to sit. The carrot cake was tasty too.

Because dinner took so long we did miss the first bit of the opening band, Declan McKenna. I didn’t know them going in, and after seeing what I saw of their set I wasn’t really sad that I missed part of it. They weren’t completely terrible like whoever the opening act was the first time I saw The Head and the Heart in concert, but their music didn’t do a whole lot for me.

Last night was the fourth time I’ve seen The Head and the Heart in concert. Once at the Newport Folk Festival and then once on each of the tours they’ve done for their three albums. They always put on an excellent show. Last night was no exception. They obviously played a good chunk of music from their new album, which I really like. They still tend to play a lot from their first album as well, which the crowd eats up. At this point especially for those songs but for some of their more recent material as well, it was really just one big sing-a-long with the crowd. That doesn’t work with every band, but it totally does with them and I was happy to be able to sit there and sing with everyone. I’m already looking forward to seeing them again in December.

Apple Cider Donuts

There are many things I love about fall, but one of them is apple cider donuts. I don’t know if they’re a new phenomenon (probably not), if they just weren’t a thing in the places I previously lived, or if I just somehow was unaware of them, but I don’t ever recall hearing about apple cider donuts until I started my current job 12+ years ago and one of my co-workers brought them in. Now I very much love them and look forward to their appearance in the fall.

At least near me they’re not that easy to get though. There is one farm I know of that sells them, but it’s a 30 minute drive for me to get there so it’s not like I’m driving up there frequently to buy donuts. It kind of surprises me that none of the orchards that go to the farmers’ market we go to every weekend sell them, but it’s probably for the best. I really shouldn’t have easy access to them for my own good.

I met some friends at the Perry Hall Apple Festival at Chapel Hill Farm yesterday. They too sell apple cider donuts in their little store, so after enjoying our time at the festival I stopped in on the way out and bought a couple of containers. There’s a chance someone will bring some into work once, but it’s also quite possible these will be the only apple cider donuts I get this season, so I’m going to savor them.