Archives for February 2014

What I Read: February

I mostly use my Nook for reading these days, and I’ll regularly browse the Nook Store and add books that sound interesting to my wish list.  Then, I wait for them to go on sale. I know that one of the perks of an e-reader is the ability to instantly download a book that you just can’t wait to get your hands on, but some of the new releases cost $14.99 and up.  I don’t mind paying this amount—or more—for hard copy books. Maybe it’s because they just seem more permanent when they are taking up space on my bookshelf. I know there are probably licensing agreements and other fees that drive up the cost of e-books, but my personal threshold is $9.99 or below. So, I wait.

The Rosie Project was recommended to me a couple of months ago, so I snapped it up when it went on sale for $2.99 at the end of January.

rosie project

The protagonist of this first novel by Australian author Graeme Simsion is genetics professor Don Tillman. With his carefully scheduled life, dislike of physical contact with other human beings and lack of social skills, he clearly suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, although he seems to be the only one in his life who doesn’t realize it. When he decides that it’s finally time to settle down, he embarks on “The Wife Project” for which he develops a scientific, 16-page questionnaire designed to expedite the process by weeding out unsuitable partners and avoiding the dating disasters that have plagued him for most of his adult life.

Enter Rosie. She is the complete opposite of Don in every way possible (she’s free-spirited, chronically late and a vegetarian, for starters) and he immediately disqualifies her from the Wife Project. But, he does agree to use his professional expertise to help her track down the identity of her biological father and, in the process turns his life completely upside down.

The outcome was totally predictable, as you might guess from this plot summary, which has appeared before in countless books and movies. But, it is a very sweet story, with sharp dialogue and well-developed characters. You should put this one on your beach reads list for this year—if summer ever gets here, that is.

In my January post, I mentioned that I was going to jump on the bandwagon and read The Goldfinch (which, luckily, was also on sale for $7.50). If I had more time to read these days, it would be the kind of book I would devour in a weekend. I’m only around page 250 at this point, so hopefully, I’ll be able to report back next month. If you’ve read it, what did you think?

Restaurant Review: Amis

Amis

Chester and I have been trying to go out, sans Little B, once a month. We were excited that we were able to plan one of our date nights to coincide with a recent visit from Old Original Big Bridget and Bill (Obviously, I’m still working on a new nickname for my BFF. None of these seem to fit).

I sent Bridget a list of restaurants to choose from for our double date and she ranked Amis, as her first choice. I was pretty excited, because I have been dying for more of Marc Vetri’s signature handmade pasta ever since our visit to his namesake restaurant over the summer. Fortunately, Amis provides the opportunity to do so at a considerably more comfortable price point than Vetri.

Amis is Vetri’s take on a Roman trattoria. As such, the menu is relatively simple and the vibe is pretty casual. The interior of the restaurant, however, was more industrial than homey, with modern, wood and metal furnishings, an open kitchen and dim lighting. I loved the pink vases filled with daisies, that provided pops of color on each table.

While sipping our drinks and snacking on olive oil focaccia bread, we perused the menu to select a few small plates to share. Our server recommended one or two per person, but we erred on the smaller side to save room for pasta and dessert.

The arancini, served in a short rib ragu, was the universal favorite. The inside contained creamy aborrio rice and cheese and was fried to a crispy, but not greasy, golden brown.

The next two appetizers were simple, but solid. I would have eaten the avocado bruschetta with pecornio and pancetta with a spoon, but avoided embarrassing myself and my friends by spreading it on the accompanying toast like a normal person. The third dish, creamy buffalo mozzarella, with sweet persimmons and earthy chestnuts was an unexpected, but pleasant combination of flavors.

Our final dish, the sweetbreads, were a real “miss” for me. I know that many people can’t get past what they are (animal pancreas or thymus), but I have had them before and actually liked them. When they are prepared correctly, they have a mild flavor and soft interior. Unfortunately, Amis’ sweetbreads seemed tough and had a greasy aftertaste, as if they had sat in the frying pan for too long.

That’s okay, though, because it gave me more room to overdose on carbs.

My pappardelle pasta, with guanciale and parsnips, was reminiscent of a carbonara. The cured pig cheek has less salt, but more fat than, pancetta, which is traditionally used in the dish. The fat acted as a substitute for egg, in coating the pasta and lending a rich flavor to the dish.

Bridget chose the bucatini with almond pesto and jalapeno. The heat from the peppers, the creamy sauce and the crunchy almonds worked surprisingly well together. I don’t think I’ve ever tasted anything like it. Bill had one the evening’s specials–rotini with chicken. I didn’t try it, but it looked delicious.

Chester was torn between an entree and a pasta dish, so he asked the server if the cacio e pepe was available as a smaller pasta course. She ended up bringing us a complimentary, full portion of the dish so that we could all share it. It’s such a basic dish–just pasta, black pepper and pecorino cheese–but the key is getting the balance of the ingredients just right. Too much pepper overpowers the dish and too much cheesy makes it kind of gluey. Amis got it just right.

For those looking for something other than pasta, there is a short list of “secondi” or entree dishes, featuring seafood, steak, pork and lamb. Since he ended up with a smaller pasta portion, Chester also ordered the roasted lamb shoulder. Pan searing gave it a crispy exterior, but kept the inside tender. It was simply seasoned and very tasty.

How we had room for dessert after all that food, I’ll never know. But, I’m glad that we didn’t pass it up!

I chose the semifreddo sundae, which was another example of a seemingly random grouping of ingredients complementing each other perfectly. The semifreddo, with its buttery flavor and mousse-like texture, was topped with salted almonds, a sweet orange marmalade and a slightly bitter chocolate sauce, for an interesting combination of flavors and textures.

If I go back again though, I’m definitely copying Bridget and ordering the belgian waffle. The waffle itself was light and airy and topped with a generous helping of nutella, vanilla semifreddo and hazelnuts. I mean, really. You just can’t go wrong with that combination.

waffle

Stolen from Bridget’s Instagram

Although we had an early reservation, the restaurant filled up rather quickly during our visit. I’m not sure if this is because our visit took place over Valentine’s Day weekend or if it’s always that way on a Saturday night. Either way, service was on point throughout our meal. Our server checked in with us frequently, but allowed us to take our time with each course.

Small plates range in price from $8 to $14, pastas from $14 to $16 and entrees from $20 to $26. I think this is in line with most restaurants in the neighborhood, but the nice thing about Amis is that dishes are sized pretty well for sharing, so that might be an option if you are budget conscious. You could easily make a meal out of a couple of small plates or a small plate and one of the pastas, too.

Portions were extremely generous and we all left completely satisfied. And, as always, it was wonderful to spend time with great friends, who don’t mind that we’ve turned into old people and like to eat at 5:15.

Little B: Five Months

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And, just like that, another month has gone by.

Since the weather here in Philly has been brutally cold and very snowy during the past several weeks, we’ve spent most of January indoors. I thought about bundling B up in her snowsuit so she could experience her first snowfall, but it has been so nasty that I can’t even stand being out there. I figure that we’ll save that fun for next year, when she actually knows what is going on. In the meantime, we have still managed to have a pretty eventful month.

At the beginning of the month, B had her four-month doctor’s appointment, where she weighed in at 14.1 pounds and measured 24 inches long. She has more than doubled her weight and grown about five inches since she was born.

I was pretty excited that we got the okay from the doctor to start introducing solid foods. She has seemed interested in food for awhile. If someone is eating something in front of her, she watches intently. And, if we let her smell food, she usually grabs for the spoon, licks her lips and drools.

We decided to start with avocado. I was particularly curious to see how she responded to it, since this was one of the few things that I could not get enough of during my pregnancy. Her reaction was priceless, as her facial expressions alternated between delighted and disgusted. Judging from the way she tried to grab the spoon and feed herself, I think she mostly enjoyed her first experience with real food. I’m hoping that we will have a little foodie on our hands.

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Sitting in her high chair for the first time

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“What are you guys doing to me?”

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“Hey, this is kind of tasty.”

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“On second thought. Maybe not…”

In less fun news, we dealt with her first cold. I learned that there really isn’t a whole lot you can do for a baby when they are a coughing, sneezing, feverish mess, except just keep them hydrated, suck the snot of their nose, and give them extra love. I was on a first name basis with the nurse at our pediatrician’s office by the end of the week, as I called every day with a new question or concern. Luckily, they were super nice about it and B was back to her old self by the end of the week. Although I’m not looking forward to the next time, at least I’ll have a better idea of what to do and what to expect when she gets sick again.

Sleep training continues to be a work in progress. About a week after moving her into her crib, we also decided to ditch the pacifier. She would spit it out throughout the night and cry until one of us put it back. Or, she would try to get it back herself by smashing her face into the mattress, which was not at all effective and just plain nerve-wracking for me. The first two or three nights were rough, but after that, she discovered that she sucking on her hand or her tongue provided the same calming effect as the pacifier. I’m kind of glad we got this over with early on, instead of waiting until later when it might have been more difficult to overcome the pacifier addiction.

This doesn’t mean that sleep has been smooth sailing. The only way she gets more than a half-hour in for naps continues to be if someone is holding her or she is dozing in her car seat. At this point, I don’t care if this is what it takes, as long as she naps. She seems to sleep so much better on the nights were she got a decent amount of rest during the day and she is so unpleasant to deal with when she is overtired.

Nights are still rough. After stories, songs and cuddles, she usually falls asleep pretty easily in her crib, but there are many nights where she wakes up every single hour (mostly because she rolls onto her back and startles herself). She seems to forget that the same techniques that help her fall asleep at the beginning of the night can also work at 3 or 4 a.m. I end up rocking her back to sleep, which can sometimes take 45 minutes to an hour, or just bringing her into our room. I know I’m probably setting up bad habits (for both of us) that will be hard to break down the line. But, sometimes I just need a couple of uninterrupted hours of sleep before I have to get ready to go to work. I’ve always been the type of person who needs a full eight hours of sleep to function properly. While I know that it’s going to get better the older B gets, the lack of consistent, quality sleep is the thing I’ve been struggling with the most lately.

When we aren’t fighting the Epic Sleep Battle, we have so much fun. B is so playful and sweet. Chester is particularly good at making goofy faces at her, which set off an endless stream of giggles. She doesn’t seem to find me as funny, but I can usually elicit a similar effect when I tickle her or blow raspberries on her belly.

I’m not sure if this is the age where it starts, but she seems particularly affectionate lately, too. She gives big, open-mouthed, slobbery kisses and when we hold her, she clings on tightly, like she is giving a hug. My favorite thing is when I lean over her and she grabs my face with her hands and makes one of her happy little coos. I like to think that maybe she’s saying that she loves me.

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We’ve been working on sitting upright. She can do it unsupported for about thirty seconds or so before she topples over. When she’s on her belly, she looks like she’s trying to bring her knees up underneath her so that she can crawl. Chester keeps saying that he can’t wait for her to be more mobile, but I’m not quite ready for all of the chaos that that will bring.

The toys she seems to enjoy the most at the moment are the Poppin’ Park Giraffe, VTech Learning Walker (although she can’t use it as a walker yet. She just likes pushing all of the buttons the Dance and Learn Puppy. The latter two tells the same four songs/stories over and over again, and each time her face lights up like it’s the first time she has heard them.

(Side note: I need to find toys that come with other tapes or something. Tapes? I know, I’m dating myself here. But, you know what I mean. Why aren’t more toys like Teddy Ruxpin? I’ve already memorized every single song and story in all of the toys we have and it’s driving me a wee bit insane. I can even hear that stuff in my head when the toys aren’t on).

Like many babies, she is surprisingly into things that aren’t really toys. The rustling sound of a potato chip bag never fails to fascinate her and she loves seems to love the sound that results when she scratches her nails on the sheet in her crib or the throw pillows on our couch.  Her favorite, non-toy source of entertainment seems to be her feet. She loves grabbing them and just in the last week or so has successfully been able to get her big toes in her mouth. It’s disgusting and adorable at the same time.

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I love baby feet. All other feet are gross.

Next month will be B’s half-birthday, which seems particularly momentous. It will be time to plan her first birthday party before I know it (and, believe me, I’ve been thinking about it. I have a theme picked out already!). She is just growing up way too fast!