By Regina Kenner
I realized that I never properly introduced myself when I began writing this column, so for those who are interested, I’ll take advantage of this week’s article and tell you a little about myself. First off, I had a fortuitous meeting with Chris Muldrow a few months back. He invited me to write about ‘anything food’ for Fredericksburg Today, to which I graciously accepted his invitation.
My husband’s career brought us and our two boys here in 1988. At that time, the surrounding counties were considered rural, but the weeds of urban sprawl were beginning to sprout. Lifelong residents touted bumper stickers proclaiming, “Don’t Fairfax Fredericksburg”. Newcomers were approached cautiously by the locals, curious as to why we were inhabiting their quiet community which had remained unchanged for generations. Eventually though, we and our fellow transplants were accepted.
Fredericksburg was, and for the most part remains, a bedroom community. People live here, but the majority do not work here. One need only spend a weekday morning on I-95 to partake in the mass exodus. My husband’s work frequently beckons him to join the masses in the grueling commute northbound. I, on the other hand, opt for local employment, choosing a sane approach to working life. Fredericksburg residents send their children to the local schools, attend local houses of worship, shop at the local stores, and eat at the local restaurants.
With our children grown and on their own, the occupancy of the house reduced by half, for the first time in years, I had extra time on my hands. Although I continued to work, and still do, I was having difficulty adjusting to life as an empty nester. I needed a project or enterprise; something that would captured my interest and connect me with the community that welcomed us so many years ago.
So, during my quest, I read: Novels, lots of novels. Self-improvement manuals. “How to” books: how to grow a beautiful garden, how to write a screen play, how to train your dog for agility competition. (this one ended in a doggie diet and disgruntled glares whenever I pass her cookie bowl now without retrieving a treat). Next up, how to travel on a budget. Ah, now you’re talking. Finally, a topic I could get excited about.
I think, one of the best phases of a trip, is the planning; where to go, what to see, touristy stuff or off the beaten track. But once arrived, spontaneity rules. One of our favorite travel experiences is simply eating out and striking up conversations with our fellow diners. For instance, at a restaurant outside of London, two couples at tables opposite ours, remarked on our ‘accent’ and asked, “Are you Americans?”, and that was all it took. Several hours later we felt as if we were visiting with old friends. Another time in a cafe in Bruges, we encountered an American couple who were living in Europe. They happily entertained us for hours with stories of their travels and their life on the continent. While vacationing in the Tuscan village of Bottai near Florence, we purchased dinner from the same take-out bistro 3 times, not only for the delicious food, but because of the warm welcome we received from the owner and his family with each visit. The lessons we’ve learned is that people everywhere want to live their lives peacefully, enjoy their work and spend time with family and friends, just like us.
A few years ago, we had the pleasure of traveling to Rome with our eldest son and his wife. As a special gift, our lovely daughter-in-law arranged for the four of us to go on a Food Tour in the Testaccio neighborhood. The tour was fascinating. Our guide brought history to life as we sampled our way through one gastronomic period to the next. Pizza, arancini, and bruschetta, laced together seamlessly with aqueducts and the gravesites of Keats and Shelley. Ending at a gelato shop, voted THE BEST in Rome, we all agreed the tour was a highlight of the trip we would not soon forget.
When we returned home we were eager to repeat that amazing experience, so we searched for food tours nearby. Much to our surprise, Fredericksburg did not have an ongoing offering, while neighboring cities had food tour companies operating regular schedules.
“YOU should do it. YOU should start a food tour in Fredericksburg.” The city had earned its rightful place on the culinary map and a Food Tour seemed a logical venture to pursue. The enthusiasm in my daughter-in-law’s voice, was the spark that lit the flame that became, Flavors of Fredericksburg. At last, my search was over.
Flavors of Fredericksburg launched in March of this year. Our tours offer our guests an opportunity to sample foods from our amazing partners, all of whom have grown their businesses from the ground up. Look for more on each of them in future articles.
Our city can honestly claim to be one of the most historic in the nation. On our tour, we only scratch the surface and uncover the deep pre-revolution and colonial roots that weave through streets. We whet the appetites of our guests, then show them ways to explore Fredericksburg’s history in greater detail. We see ourselves as ambassadors, proudly showcasing everything our city has to offer.
I must admit that the tours have been incredibly enjoyable. My husband, who co-guides the tours with me, shares this sentiment. At the end of every tour, we marvel at the kindness shared, friendships formed and gracious complements offered by our guests.
I realized a while back, that it is okay to give oneself permission to be happy even in the face of a world of uncertainty. I believe that my Maker wants me to savor the dulce vita, but more importantly to share it with others and to be grateful for it every day, and I am.
“I am by no means a food critic. My palate is not adventurous. I simply savor the pleasures derived from sharing a meal that brings me together with others.”
Regina is a long-time resident of the Fredericksburg area and the founder of Flavors of Fredericksburg, A Food Tour, Garnished with History.