When ice many inches thick covers a lake, its waters are not meant to be entered by anything except what lives there.
But that's exactly where I found myself in early March, half-submerged in a frigid Pelican Lake in Breezy Point and hurrying toward a step ladder to return to the warmth of a nearby changing tent. As part of Team Shock and Thaw, including fellow Brainerd Dispatch employee Tammy Woitalla and my friend Mandi Churchill, I took part in the Polar Plunge March 3 at Breezy Point Resort. Together, we raised more than $700 for the Special Olympics while intentionally soaking ourselves and our '80s-inspired clothing in water nearing the freezing point.
Experiences of the body, mind or tastebuds-nothing is off-limits in my journey to appreciate life and try new things. While my month began by jumping into a body of water, it ended with a learning experience about food often made with the creatures of the sea-a sushi-making class.
The class was March 22 at Forestview Middle School, an offering by Brainerd Community Education taught by Matt Annand, co-owner of 3 Cheers Hospitality (the company behind Prairie Bay in Baxter, Sherwood Forest in Lake Shore and the Iron Range Eatery in Crosby). While I've long enjoyed sushi, creating the rolls is a cooking skill I'd never tried.
Sushi, Annand explained, is little more than seasoned rice-it does not refer to what's rolled in the middle, whether that be fresh, raw tuna or Spam (yes, that's a thing). Those who say they don't like sushi might as well say they don't like sandwiches, he told the class. That's how varied the dish is-one could eat sushi every day of the week without ever eating uncooked seafood.
That being said, I am not perturbed in the slightest by eating (most) raw fish or seafood. That was not part of the challenge for me. Instead, I wanted to learn the techniques behind creating an aesthetically pleasing and mouthwatering sushi roll. And, I wanted to take a community education class-something I've yet to do in Brainerd.
Annand offered tips on not only rolling the rice, but how to create the perfect sushi rice in the first place. The seven-year veteran of cooking instruction classes gave me permission to share his technique here, in line with his mission of making cooking an approachable skill for anyone who wishes to learn.
Combine three cups of rinsed sushi rice with four cups water in a saucepan. Bring to a boil before turning down to a simmer and heating on low for 20 minutes. Annand said the rice should be cooked perfectly every time-each grain separates, but it will also stick together when squeezed. Some choose to season the rice with salt, sugar and vinegar, but since Annand uses seasoned rice vinegar to moisten his hands while rolling, he found those additions unnecessary.
From there, using a bamboo rolling mat, the potential combinations for sushi rolls are limited only by the imagination.
While busy creating the rolls I would take home to enjoy, I met Joe and Sarah Porisch, who shared a workspace with me. The couple regularly takes community education classes, Sarah Porisch said, as do their children. So what drew them to the sushi class?
"I saw this and I thought that would be a fun date night," Sarah Porisch said.
The two noted learning new skills is not out of the ordinary for them. It staves off boredom and satisfies a desire to achieve goals.
"If I do the same thing every night whatever it is, it doesn't matter what it is, I'm going to get bored of it," Joe Porisch said. "The more I can do, I like doing different things, going to new places."
"I think we're both goal-oriented," Sarah Porisch added. "So it's always fun to find a new goal and to learn new things about it. And finding things that we like to do, too, because so much of, when you have three kids still in school, a lot of our world revolves around them. So it's fun to find things that we can do and get excited about."
While personal fulfillment is a clear motivation for most who venture to try new things, learning a new skill is linked to enhanced memory function in older adults. A study published in the journal Psychological Science asked a group of older adults to engage in activities with "high cognitive demands"-quilting, digital photography or both-for more than 16 hours a week for three months. Test results from these adults were compared to those who engaged in nonintellectual social functions or low-demand cognitive tasks, showing those who learned new, difficult skills had marked improvement in memory function.
The skill of trying new things is one in and of itself to develop, so in my opinion, why not start sooner in life?
Of the new things I've tried so far this year, the Polar Plunge took the most courage. A word my friends and family would never use to describe me is "daredevil." Jumping off a swing at a playground was the extent of my thrill-seeking as a child. I've never done a cartwheel, or dove headfirst into water, or undertaken any real physical challenge with much risk involved.
My avoidance of these activities, I think, is a combination of an intense fear of injury and a discomfort with not being good at something. It's easier and more enjoyable to do things you're already skilled in.
But as I've become older, I've loosened up (some). I've learned discomfort is OK, that I don't need to excel at everything, that sometimes the most rewarding experiences come from those moments when despite wanting to retreat to warmth, you go ahead and jump into a frozen abyss anyway.
UNCHARTED is the monthly column chronicling the new life experiences of Community Editor Chelsey Perkins. Perkins may be reached at 218-855-5874 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.