Branching Out: Week in Review

Last Sunday seems so far away. I had a fantastic week that was jam-packed with long days full of new experiences. In the past, Spring has simply meant seasonal allergies, wardrobe challenges due to unpredictable weather, and the promise of summer right around the corner. For me, Spring has always been a season to rush through. It’s the awkward puberty of seasons and I can’t wait for it to be over. Even as I write this, Seals & Crofts’ serenades me as I daydream about summer breeze. Thank you Pandora Radio for reading my mind.

However, this year has been different. I have tried to embrace Spring for what it is and view it in a new light. My new perspective has taught me that Spring is a time of new beginnings. As everything starts to thaw and bloom, we too can get outside and expand our horizons. Spring is a great time to try new things and recommit to our personal growth. For some of us, this is a great time to review New Year’s resolutions and pick back up where we left off sometime in the first few weeks of February. For me, this is the perfect opportunity to try out new restaurants, recipes, and workouts. This past week I have met some new people and gone some new places and I have had a blast! So without further delay, here is the week in review.

On Sunday, I went to a delightful brunch at Stella’s with the Virginia is for Bloggers group. What started out as a tiny hashtag (#VAis4Bloggers) is now a thriving group of Virginia bloggers. The kickoff brunch that founders Sarah and Liz planned for us was fantastic.

Stella’s interior is gorgeous and the Greek theme is not subtle but not over-the-top either. The owners communicated the theme in a way that makes the restaurant feel authentic, not kitschy. One of the many well-edited features of the restaurant is the black and white Greek movie silently projected in the back corner.

Sarah and Liz brought us free samples and coupons for Love Grown Foods granola and coupons for Chobani. There was even a raffle for some of Sarah’s homemade peanut butter and full size bags of Love Grown granola.

Here’s the swag! Which included one of Gabby’s delicious gluten-free chocolate chip cookies.

I ordered the Black Kale Skillet, which comes with “sauteed black tuscan kale dressed with lemon-dijon vinaigrette, over toasted olive oil bread, kasseri cheese, topped with two fried eggs.” It turned out to be a great choice and I am sure that I will order this again in the future.

The pita dishes, although not vegetarian, looked delicious too.

The staff at Stella’s was so friendly and accommodating. At the end of the meal, our server brought out complimentary loukoumades, which are like Greek doughnuts. Sorry this photo looks blue. I tried to color correct it but still couldn’t get it right. The rainy skies were doing something weird to the natural light coming in through the windows. Guess you’ll have to go to Stella’s and order the loukoumades yourself to get the picture!

One thing that was not brand new this week, but is relatively new to me is trail running. I met up with some friends to jog on the Buttermilk Trail on Tuesday night. We have been training together for the Dominion Riverrock Filthy 5K Mud Run that takes place in three weeks. I hate road running, but I LOVE trail running. This has been a surprising discovery for me this year. Along the path, which doubles as a mountain biking trail, hangs this excellent sign. As my friend Melissa commented, “that’s some effective visual communication.” Consequently the photo made it onto TODA’s 366 Days of 2012 as the photo of the day for April 25th.

On Wednesday, Kyle and I had a dinner date at Acacia for Richmond Restaurant Week. It was my first time at Acacia Midtown (I have been meaning to go for years) and everything was wonderful. I started with the Farmer’s Punch, which is a cocktail made with clement rhum agricole, allspice, pineapple, lime, coconut milk and coconut foam. It was really tasty. It reminded me of the Mixology episode of Portlandia. But still, super tasty and refreshing. And how about those stainless steel straws? I think I need some!

My first course was a pureed kale and white bean soup with grilled ramps, creme fraiche, and smoked paprika oil. It was smiling at me.

The second course was a goat cheese and rosemary tart with mixed baby vegetables, roasted hazelnuts and crispy kale. It was out of this world.

While everything was delicious, dessert was my favorite course. I had the Dark and Stormy which was inspired by the drink of the same name. I am a big fan of the Dark and Stormy. You may recall that I made my own version with fresh cranberries called the Red Sky at Night. This dessert captures all the flavors of a dark and stormy, with rum ice cream, lime sorbet, molasses cake and ginger beer foam. Thank you, Acacia, for a thoroughly enjoyable Restaurant Week experience!

After all those good eats, Kyle and I were due for another long workout in the great outdoors. On Friday I decided to conquer my fear of biking across the James River and I took on the hills of Forest Hill, the pedestrian path on the Nickel Bridge, the traffic on Cary Street near VCU, and the daunting Belvidere Bridge. How cute are our His and Hers Torker bikes? A silver U-District for Kyle, and a copper Graduate for me.

Here is Kyle on the Nickel Bridge, or Boulevard Bridge.

And here is the lovely view from the Nickel Bridge. Kyle almost proposed here once at sunset, but he chickened out. Now that I know that story, I think about it every time I’m looking West over the James River from this spot.

Sure, Spring still means seasonal allergies and wardrobe challenges, but it means new beginnings too. I don’t know about you, but I’m digging this new outlook.

September

I have always loved the time of year when summer turns to fall. Perhaps it is because I was a bookworm who looked forward to the beginning of the school year, or maybe it is because my frizz-prone hair prefers cooler, less humid weather. I think it is mostly because the fall signified new beginnings for me: the first day of school, the start of soccer season, and the initial stocking my closet with cardigans, heavier fabrics, and fall boots. Ever since I started cooking for myself it has meant simmering soups, roasting vegetables, and heating oatmeal loaded with seasonal fruits and nuts.

I gave the blog a little facelift to celebrate the season. These three crisp apples make me think of all things fall. We are not finished with summer yet – mosquitoes are dive-bombing me as I type this while sitting on my balcony with a hot cup of coffee, and I have twelve fresh tomatoes from two coworkers’ gardens on my kitchen counter – but I can feel that fall is almost here. Last week I draped a backup cardigan on the back of my desk chair and I bought ten pounds of spaghetti squash and three pounds of butternut squash for roasting and soup-making.

Every morning as I walk to my car, caffeine-deprived and bleary-eyed, it feels a tad chillier. A deep breath taken as the sun rises over the city feels a little more cool and clear. Every sip of my cappuccino is a bit warmer than the last, and every sunset comes a minute earlier each day. It is almost fall and I love that my favorite season is right around the corner. It is the perfect time to try something new, so expect a flurry of recipes and ingredients as I embrace the most uncertain and adventurous time of year.