Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Year of Trying Something New

From The Tricycle Gardens Urban Farm Event.  We'd never cooked for someone else's event, and I don't much like getting my pic. taken, but that night was so much fun! 

In September of 2010  I launched a tiny yet highly rewarding  project. The goal: to try two new things each week, record them and when possible read up about them. Also, if I was experimenting with something new in the kitchen to note it, and jot my recipe down. My little notebook is now completely full. Looking back on it has turned out to be a wonderful reminder of all the past year had to offer as well as  things I've already forgotten but loved and need to revisit.  It has also proven to be an interesting account of how my own tastes have changed just in the last year alone.  When I first looked back over my notebook this past fall I realized I'd been re-wired.  I'm much more likely now to go with the unknown, like Acupuncture Happy Hour, The Listening Lounge, Farm to Family in Mechanicsville, or try that new author, restaurant, album, technique, or even just a new way home. As I've found, venturing to try one new thing often leads to a whole long list of new experiences.

Here is my original post... and below that is a short list of some of my absolute favorite foodie finds from my year of something new. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Time To Try Something New

One of the great things about the local foods movement is that it pushes you to break old habits, mix up your routine and try new things. That certainly was the case for me. I eat, shop, cook, and think about food differently. I have met a host of great new people, made new friends, and visited great places I would have never thought to go.
That said, most of us are creatures of habit, and I am one shining example! Three years into my own local food adventure I had once again falling into a fairly entrenched routine. I go to the same market nearly every single week, to the point of having never made it several of our areas other markets this summer. Once at the market I make a bee line for my same four or five favorite vendors each week. This is my grocery shopping and I'm getting it done. I've even fallen away quite a bit from trying out new things there.
Same market, same foods, most often with the same preparation. Thank goodness for seasonality or that old trap of eating way too much of just a handful of food would have had me for sure.
Well a few weeks ago, with October rolling in I gave myself a pinch. I promised myself that I would start exploring again, not just the markets, but all the great stuff around me that I'm taking for granted.
I set a very easy goal. All I need to do is try two new things a week. They could be foods, music, restaurants, places, authors, recipes etc. Sometimes life can seem exhaustingly busy. When money, time, and energy is limited, I know it's easier to go for the safety of the well tested track, but I've found the smallest effort has lead to great rewards. Whether I like each thing or not, half of the fun is just in the mini- adventure of discovery. I've found a really affordable wine that I love, a mouth watering wheel of cheese that required 15 minutes of perilous dirt road driving to get, and I found out that I really like the Chicken of the Woods Mushroom.
On this weeks list... Kohlrabi, and the Lion's Mane mushroom to name two. Happy Discovering!

Lion's Mane Mushrooms with butter and parm. over pasta with Rockfish
I tried that Lion's Mane mushroom, but the Kohlrabi had to wait till spring.

 Some of these "new" things are embaressingly simple and familiar to many people.  Some I had tried before, but never consciously.  I had perhaps never really given some of these their due attention.  With so many great things out there It was hard to narrow it down to so fewThese tend to be the ones that were not only fabulous, but changed my viewpoint to boot. Oh, and that Gouda mentioned above goes without saying!

1. From Thanksgiving 2010 : Smoked Salmon (and smoked trout) I had always avoided this one, and really it just hadn't been put in front of me all that often.  I owe my lovely first taste to my friends the Foxes.  It was wild sockeye salmon with crackers, cream cheese, and horseradish etc. It was perfect.  Shortly after this I was invited to dinner at another friends house.  The starter, their own salmon catch from a yearly trip to Michigan smoked for them by a specialty smoker up there.  Now I was hooked, and was ordering salmon here and there, once over corn and chive pancakes. I learned that it's not always so good, and I'm grateful to my good friends for providing me such a fabulous first bite.  
2. From an early December 2010 Christmas Party; Latkas with Applesauce: Somehow I just never wanted applesauce on my potatoes.  My entry note from this one says simply "Hey, its Good!"  Thanks, Vanessa.
3. Early December 2010; Red Zinfandel: Okay, I'm sure I'd tried this one before somewhere along the way, but I'd never really paid attention to it, to it's flavor, its alcohol content (!), where it comes from and why.  I went on a Red Zin tear that winter. A big California grape, I discovered my favorites tended to have an alcohol content of around 15.5%.  At a Red Zinfandel tasting it was explained to me that the Red Zin grapes are larger with a higher flesh to skin ratio producing more sugars than some other grapes.  Thus to get a non-sweet Zin. the alcohol content is rather high. Watch out. 
4. From December 2010 and 2011: Fruit Cake:  Again... really, this seems impossible given my time here on earth. Yet, if I had tried it before it must have been decades ago, and a less than positive experience.  I owe my new found love of fruit cake to my mother-in-law whose amazing three year long liquor basting process has shown me the light. Delicate, soft, and moist her fruit cake is a fine example of why this stuff is still served up in millions of homes despite the intensely bad rap this traditional treat has received.
5. From January of 2011:  Apropos coffee, and Aziza's Cream Puff:  So here again is something about which I had sadly been mislead.  Somewhere, or some-wheres in my past I had sampled a thing called a cream puff.  They were always about the size of a ping pong ball and tasted like gritty sugar.  I bet the last one I'd tried was early high school.  I began to read the reviews of Aziza's and this amazing cream puff.  The size of a grapefruit, it's made of light flaky pastry,  filled with a dense silky whipped cream and topped with chocolate.  Not a huge fan of sweets generally, I've made the trek back there multiple times since and tried several other wonderful treats there... but along side some of their savory delights it's that cream puff that keeps bringing me back.
6.From January 2011: A Weekend Morning Cappuccino: Perfection on a lazy morning. I'd long ago (by which I mean a solid 15 years) given up on heading out to the coffee shop on a weekend morning, and I used to manage one.  A single Sunday morning visit to Lamplighter for a meeting with a good friend reminded me of how valuable that supposedly unproductive indulgence can be.  Not to mention the coffee and sandwiches are amazing. Another of my favorite spots for a cappuccino and amazing hot sandwich is Cafe' Espresso in the near westend.  The atmosphere here is really up my alley with a warm and inviting at home feel that includes a large "Take a book, Return one Later" honor system bookshelf filled with books that run the gamut from new bestsellers, to the classics.
7. February 2011; Rancho Gordo and the value of "fresh" dried beans: A big thanks to Erin for this one.  A revelation.  All dried beans are not equal.  After seeing, and trying their beautiful heirloom beans I became a complete convert.  The only hitch, the price.  That said, it inspired me to grow and save my own. These tender and delicious beans totally changed my perspective on the subject.
8. From March 2011; Seeing Gary Naban Speak: You may know him from his works such as 'Renewing America's Food Traditions,' or 'Coming Home to Eat.'  His book 'Why Some Like it Hot' was a turning point for me. Seeing him speak for his more recent book 'Chasing Chilies' was an experience largely filled with the amazing congregation of people who cared enough to be there.  I got to meet so many interesting people including Tanya Denckla of 'The A to Z  Guide to Growing Organic Food.'  This talk was part of the outstanding lecture series held at UVA at their School of Architecture.
And great stuff like this dinner held in honor. I was not there but check out the sources. 
9. From May of 2011; Kohlrabi: After years of just laziness I finally tried the stuff.  Delicious raw, and roasted, it's incredibly fresh tasting and versatile. 
10. From August 2011; Ellwood Thompsons Cheese Tasting: For $5 a person we sat in the closed to the public Ellwood's cafe, and sampled several Virginia cheeses served on at a time with an appropriate cracker or bread along with information on the process, farm, and parings. Sorry to see it go. The attached link will take you to their well- done listing of local cheeses and meats carried in their "Indulge" department.


  1. That is awesome, Shan. So glad you had a fun year- making new discoveries is definitely what keeps life interesting! Love that picture of you too!

  2. Great idea! I love the thought of having a notebook full of little food memories at the end of the year. Thanks for sharing.