Exploring Philadelphia with my Parents

My parents recently drove from South Carolina up to Philly for a week’s visit. It’s always fun to (re)explore your city with new guests, and this was no exception.

By far, our greatest new discovery is the Independence Seaport Museum. The large space houses two floors of Philadelphia maritime history, complete with displays from the Ship Model Society and in-action boat building at the Workshop on the Water. Adjacent to the museum are two historical boats to crawl around on – the cruiser Olympia (launched 1892) and the submarine Becuna (launched 1944).

If you are planning a trip to Philly, we will definitely take you there. Look how happy it makes people:

Dad on the Olympia

Dad on the Olympia

Luke on the Olympia

Luke on the Olympia

Mom on the Olympia

Mom on the Olympia

Dad and Luke on the Olympia

Dad and Luke on the Olympia

Fun!

Fun floor signs!

Another highlight was a walk through Independence Park, followed by a trip to City Tavern. This has become our go-to spot for a sightseeing break. Plus, it’s fun to try the historical beer recipes.

Dad at City Tavern

Dad at City Tavern

We had lots of great meals and wonderful conversations over the course of the week.

Family at El Vez

Family at El Vez

Finally, we took a mini-vacation to Atlantic City for a little fun at the casino. Luke was the big winner of the night (no surprise!) – turns out penny slots are entertaining and profitable!

Luke in the casino, Atlantic City

Luke in the casino, Atlantic City

It was lovely having my folks in town. We are super excited to have Luke’s parents here in May!

NYC and NYE

The work week between Christmas and New Year’s is always a tricky one. Your brain and body know that you should still be on vacation, and yet there is work to be done. By the time the following weekend rolled around, Luke and I were both ready for another escape. Luckily, our friends Tara and Alex arrived in NY from Chicago and invited us up for a visit!

We hopped in the car Saturday morning and made the much-talked-about-but-never-attempted drive up 95 to New York. The road was calm, we suspect due to the light snow that began to fall right as we were leaving. In less than two hours, we made our way through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, across the bridge to Staten Island, and across another bridge into Brooklyn.

We had a hunch that on clear days, the views of Manhattan from either bridge were pretty great. Today, however, we had to settle for drawing an imaginary cityscape in rough proximity to where we remember the famous buildings to be. Is that the top of the Chrysler building? Or a bird?

This was our first trip to Brooklyn, and we were delighted to find it even more hilly and slope-like than we’d imagined. It’s also a lot bigger than we’d expected, encouraging us to make an on-the-fly decision about which section to explore over our lunch break. While Luke kept his eyes on the road, I tracked down the one place in Brooklyn I’d always wanted to visit – Catbird.

CatbirdPhoto credit: catbirdnyc.blogspot.com

Catbird
Photo credit: catbirdnyc.blogspot.com

Catbird is a small store in Williamsburg that sells the most beautiful, delicate jewelry. The online store is my go-to spot for daydream shopping, and the in-person store is equally enjoyable. Several people gathered around the few cases of goods, and while my initial reaction was to stare them down in the hopes that they would step aside and let me ogle alone, I realized two important things: 1) Most of these people were actually intending to buy something and 2) My stare-down technique is not as menacing as I’d hoped. Nevertheless, the store is lovely.

Around the corner, we ducked into Fornino to warm ourselves inside and out with wood-fired pizzas. So many amazing specialty pizzas to choose between, Luke opted for the Patate E Salsiccia (Mozzarella, Cherry Tomato, Fennel Sausage, Fontina, Fingerling Potato, Roast Peppers) while I chose the Margherita Classica (Tomato, Mozzarella, Basil, Olive Oil, Parmigiano).

After lunch, we strolled along the neighborhood streets and made our way to waterfront. Still no real views of Manhattan, and the wind, rain, and snow made it quite brisk. Soon, we were seated in a coffee shop for another round of warming.

Finally remembered to take a picture with both of us!

See Manhattan? Nope.
Photo credit: Luke

By mid-afternoon, we returned to our car and finished the drive up and over to Long Island. Greeted by Alex’s family, we quickly found ourselves surrounded by enormous plates of pasta, eggplant parmesan, and crab salad. Delicious!

That night, a group of us took a trip into the City. Our destination – the Phish show at Madison Square Garden. The 45-minute train ride was a great combination of beer, friends, and conversation. Arriving at MSG, we stopped in the basement to enjoy $1.99 beers before heading into the show, where dancing and more dancing took place. Another train ride back, this one a little quieter as we’d all exhausted ourselves.

Sunday morning, we gathered around the kitchen island to drink coffee and continue catching up with each other. Alex and his father set up a small film projector to review several reels they’d recently found at his grandmother’s house. Around lunchtime, several of Alex’s cousins and their families arrived and a feast of sausage and peppers, pasta, pizza, and more eggplant parmesan ensued. Luke and I commented that we need to make eggplant more of a feature in our cooking – so yummy, every time.

Alex and Joe working on the projectorPhoto credit: Luke

Alex and Joe working on the projector
Photo credit: Luke

As we loaded up our car and thanked our awesome hosts for a wonderful weekend, we were given bags to pack up our favorites from among a long table of sweets – cannoli, cookies, cakes, and candies. Hugging our sweet friends good-bye, we began our drive back across the bridges, finally catching a clear view of Manhattan.

As we crossed the state line from New Jersey back into Pennsylvania, I realized that I had Tara’s drivers license in my purse (from the concert). Shoot! A few phone calls later, and Tara was hot on our trail, making it to Philly not long after we did. It was great to show her our apartment and neighborhood, and grab one more hug before she headed back to NY. All in all, it was a whirlwind, wonderful visit.

New Year’s Eve was a quiet affair – cards and champagne, and nudging each other awake until midnight. We made jokes about becoming old, while also relishing in being far removed from the chaos taking place in the streets outside.

On New Year’s Day, we woke early, filled our travel mugs with coffee, and walked over to Broad Street for the famous Mummers Parade. This is, hands down, the strangest and funniest thing we’ve done in Philly. After reading countless articles about the history of the parade, I still can’t confidently tell you what it’s about. Our experience with it was watching many groups perform song and dance numbers, all with beers in hand and wearing make-shift costumes with themes like Elvis, High Vis, and Frogs. Elaborate (and not so elaborate) floats followed behind, along with bead throwers, ribbon-clad judges, and U-Haul trucks to transport the props. It was amazing.

Mummers Parade

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

Mummers Parade

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

Mummers Parade 2013

Mummers Parade 2013
Photo credit: Luke

An Owl and Penguin Christmas

Luke and I spent a quiet Christmas at home this year. We’d both been working long hours with little rest or relaxation, so a four-day weekend cozied up in our pajamas came at exactly the right time.

Friday afternoon, we walked to the markets to gather supplies for our holiday feast. Eggs, cinnamon, ginger and apricots would soon start turning our apartment into a bakery of delights!

Up first, gingerbread cookies in the shapes of our three favorite things – Owls, Penguins, and Wisconsin!

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Stamping out Wisconsin cookies
Photo credit: Luke

Saturday morning, we started our annual holiday puzzle. The theme for this year was Penguins in Space. Holiday music and/or romantic comedies played in the background — When Harry Met Sally, While You Were Sleeping, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters — but we did stop puzzling long enough to give our full attention to our favorite, It’s a Wonderful Life.

Putting penguins together while watching movies

Putting penguins together while watching movies

We opened our presents under the tree with a bottle of Prosecco on Monday night, and woke up early Tuesday morning to check our stockings. Our very own version of Hoyle’s Rules of Games meant it was time to learn something new – starting with 7 Up.

Happy face! New Sauté Pan!

Over the course of the weekend, we took full advantage of our (small) kitchen. Our yummy meals included:

Mushroom Stroganoff with Salad

Roast Chicken with Sage Cornbread Stuffing

Porterhouse steak with Potato-Leek Gratin

Poached Eggs in Spicy Tomato Sauce

and Pozole (a delicious spicy Mexican soup with a hominy base).

Luke also baked up a storm, including: Chai Cinnamon Rolls, Coconut Cupcakes (a mini version of my grandmother’s famous cake), a Roasted Butternut Squash Pie, and Julekage (which is the most delicious bread filled with apricots and cranberries soaked in brandy).

While Luke was in the kitchen, I was nearby to serve as sous chef, bartender, dj, and cleaning assistant. I tried my hand at a few new dishes and also made my go-to all-time favorite Caramelized Onion Dip to spread on everything. I do love dips!

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes

Adding toasted coconut to the tops of our cupcakes
Photo credit: Luke

Another indulgence – reading for fun! After a long conversation about books we love, I decided to revisit a few of my old favorites, including A Moveable Feast (liked it even MORE this time), Murder on the Orient Express (still great), and The Housekeeper and the Professor (nice, but not as satisfying as I remember the first read being).

On Christmas afternoon, we bundled up for a walk in the fresh air. We ventured over to the Schuylkill River and walked north to the boathouses, passing the famous Waterworks along the way.

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Waterworks
Photo credit: Luke

The dam, with the boathouses in the background

The dam, with the boathouses in the background
Photo credit: Luke

The weekend was a great time to reflect on the year, and to dream about possibilities for our future. Happy holidays, everyone!

“Rocky” and the Art World

My aunt Lisa came to visit from Illinois this weekend. While the wind and cooler temperatures tried to slow us down, Philadelphia’s hometown hero inspired us to brave the weather as we made our way across the city.

And our reward…

Lisa and Rocky

Lisa and Luke after running up the “Rocky Stairs”

How lucky am I to get smiles like these? Very.

We also visited Independence Hall, where both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written and signed. Here we paid homage to Philadelphia’s other hometown hero, Benjamin Franklin, and I left with even more inspiration for my Revolutions class next semester.

That’s really George Washington’s chair up there

Lisa, Luke and I ate a lot of good food, enjoyed delicious margaritas, and spent a lovely weekend catching up with each other. We are looking forward to another visit from her in the spring.

Delicious breakfast sandwiches before Lisa’s flight home

To round out the weekend, Luke and I curled up at home with giant bowls of popcorn and documentaries about the art world.

The Art of the Steal made us hesitant to visit any of the art museums in Philadelphia:

Alternatively, Waste Land inspired us with the power of art and humanity:

We recommend both.

When a friend comes to town

One of the best parts about moving to a new city is having your old friends visit you. This weekend Luke and I were lucky enough to have our first house guest – our good friend Andy. Seeing Philadelphia with fresh eyes, spotlighted by bright sunshine and brought to life with a fall breeze, gently reminded us to appreciate our picturesque neighborhood.

It was also the perfect opportunity to visit a lot of places we’d dog-eared for “some day.”

Dinner at Lemon Hill on Friday night was the perfect spot to settle in for comfort food, delicious cocktails, and long overdue catching up.

We kicked off our Saturday with $2 bloody marys at 12 Steps Down, a great local bar adjacent to the Italian Market.

Photo credit: Philly.com

After meandering through the Italian Market, sampling cheeses and daydreaming about kitchen equipment we can’t afford, we made our way to Taqueria La Veracruzana for an amazing lunch of chilaquiles, tacos de jalapeños rellenos, and burrito al pastor.

Photo credit: Dine Indie

Shopping on South Street is always an adventure, but I can’t believe it took us this long to step into Wooden Shoe Books & Records. I made a beeline for their section on Revolutions in Latin America, and will definitely be back when prepping for my class next semester.

Photo credit: Wooden Shoe Books

After dinner at Karma in Old City, we strolled across town to Rittenhouse Square and back, zigzagging between historical walking tours, frat boys on a scavenger hunt, and girls hobbled by their (too) high heels.

For a nightcap, we went into Tattooed Mom, a nearby two-story bar with pool tables (finally!) and stiff drinks.

Photo credit: Drink Philly

None of us remembered our cameras, but it was almost better that way. It was a lovely weekend of shared new experiences with lots of great conversation and being in the moment.

Philly Restaurants – Rave Reviews

Although I don’t love the word “foodie,” Luke and I do love to try new restaurants, order unusual dishes, and try to recreate them at home. Since we’ve been in Philly, we have been cooking most of our own meals, but on special occasions, we’ll venture out to try new-to-us places. Recently, we’ve enjoyed two incredible meals within walking distance of our house.

Little Fish

Little Fish is a charming BYOB seafood restaurant that specializes in using fresh ingredients in inventive new ways. There are only ten tables in the place, and the tiny kitchen is a two-man-band of awesomeness.

Little Fish – a lot of magic happens in their small kitchen

We started our meal with a sampling of East and West coast oysters alongside homemade bread with chimichurri sauce. Our starter plates consisted of a red snapper ceviche and (heavenly) seared scallops in a corn chowder with pistachios. Our entrees were halibut served with a fish cake, tomatoes, and olives, and shelled lobster served with seared duck (!) and rice. Just as we were about to shy away from dessert (so full!), we learned that the pie selection for the evening was huckleberry served with fresh cream. So, yup, we made room for that, too.

I captured each dish with my camera, but the dark atmosphere of the restaurant (which I enjoyed!) didn’t make for great photos. So you’ll have to use your other senses to imagine the loveliness of this meal.

Zahav

We went to Zahav Monday night for our anniversary dinner (yes, we like to celebrate!). Our friend Veronica recommended it after reading good reviews, and we received generous gift cards from family and friends to help us plan a perfect meal out. The restaurant recently received a James Beard Award, and I must say, it was nothing short of spectacular.

The tasting menu ($39/person) met all of our needs and then some. We started with salatim (8 small salads) and hummus-foul, brought deliciously to life with fava beans. For our mezzes, we enjoyed watermelon salad with feta and pistachios, crispy haloumi served over dates and walnuts, sweetbread schnitzel, and roasted zucchini with cheese, hazelnuts, and white anchovy paste. Then the entrees! I had seared salmon with spicy tomato stew and couscous. Luke went all out with duck kabobs seasoned with foie gras, pistachios and saffron.

Dessert was a combination of nectarine sorbet with Turkish Delight and rugelach made with hazelnuts and dates. We also sampled delicious cocktails from their bar, including the Desert Rose (gin, hibiscus, grapefruit and cucumber), Smoke on the Water (cachaca, Hungarian pepper, and lime), and A Wee Saint’s Dram (scotch, cinnamon, honey and lemon).

No pictures for this one, either. We were too busy enjoying the food and celebrating our first year of married life. (Clink!)

If you are planning a trip to Philadelphia, and you should be, I highly recommend both restaurants for your “must-do” lists. Yay for foodies!

Hello from Philadelphia!

Luke and I had a wonderful sendoff from our friends in Chicago over the last few weeks – lots of good food, great conversations, and tearful well-wishes.

Luke’s birthday celebration at Konak

After celebrating Luke’s birthday on Friday night, we hit the road bright and early Saturday morning for our drive to PA. We towed our car so we could ride together, turning our 14’ U-Haul into a tractor trailer-sized rig for the road. We opted to stay on local highways to enjoy the scenery while avoiding toll plazas and angry drivers.

Our rig

We stayed fortified over the long drive with Gigio’s Pizza (our Chicago favorite), Goldfish, and Sour Patch Kids.

Luke enjoying Gigio’s Pizza on the road

Everything about the move went smoothly, from picking up the truck and tow dolly to the movers that helped us load and unload all of our worldly possessions. We donated, sold, and recycled so much of our stuff before we left that we are having a hard time believing that we still have too much stuff. But we do. Our small apartment is definitely going to challenge us to prioritize what we need and what we don’t.

Our neighborhood is even better than we remembered. Great coffee shops, bars, restaurants, hidden parks, grocery stores, and friendly people fill the adjacent streets.

Our apartment is also lovely – three rooms plus the bathroom – once we get it organized, it is going to be just perfect for our year here. Pictures soon! The neighbors are nice, the streets are quiet (especially given that we have at least five hospitals within walking distance), and the air is already starting to smell like Fall. Maybe that last part is wishful thinking, but it’s exactly this kind of contentment and optimism that is surrounding us in our new home.

Now that we are here, we’ll plan to post regularly to the blog. We hope you’ll follow along.