Ring in the New Year with 5 Creative Resolutions

Add "sample small plates" with friends to your 2012 Chicago Bucket List.

Ring in the New Year with 5 creative “must dos” that are sure to add some fun to your usual list of resolutions. Sample bite-sized portions of new-to-you cuisines; have an up-close animal encounter at Shedd Aquarium or Lincoln Park Zoo; meet new people while exploring new interests at Joffrey Ballet or The Second City; and discover Chicago while playing Foursquare. Complete one of these fun adventures in the coming year, and you’ll have great stories to tell next New Year’s Eve.

1. Sample Small Plates and Experience New Types of Cuisine: Whether you’re a person who is a little hesitant to try new types of food, or you’re a hard-core foodie on a never-ending quest to experience new cuisines and flavors, sampling cuisine at a restaurant that features “small plates” is the perfect way to go. These dishes won’t fill you up on their own, but they’re great to share with friends. Order a handful for the table, and you’ll have a belly full of delicious new experiences.

Here is just a sampling of some restaurants offering small plates in Chicago. For Spanish tapas-inspired small plates of meats, fish, and seafood try Mercat a la Planxa (South Loop). Just-opened Japanese street food and ramen noodle shop Slurping Turtle (River North) and Chef Takashi Yagihashi’s bustling restaurant Takashi (Bucktown) make for unique Asian adventures.

For freshly made charcuterie (meat dishes like sausage, ham, or pâtés) as well as fresh seafood, delicious vegetables, and fresh bread, all steeped in Mediterranean flavors, try lunch or dinner at The Purple Pig (The Magnificent Mile), a unique collaboration between four chefs: Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia, Scott Harris of Mia Francesca, and Jimmy Bannos and Jimmy Bannos Jr. of Heaven on Seven.

If you’re celebrating a special occasion, or just want to enjoy a fun weeknight out, small plates of James Beard award-winning French food can be found at Chef Paul Kahan’s restaurant Avec (West Loop).

2. Have an Up-Close Animal Encounter: You’ve been to the zoo; you DVR everything on Animal Planet and National Geographic. Now it’s time to get up close and personal with an animal encounter at Shedd Aquarium or Lincoln Park Zoo. At the Shedd’s animal encounters, you can be a trainer for a day, pat a beluga whale, waddle with some dapper penguins, or even get a behind-the-scenes tour of the aquarium’s animal healthcare center and aquatic galleries.

The Lincoln Park Zoo invites you to channel your inner Jane Goodall at Secrets of Animal Training on Saturday, February 25 (open to teens and adults, 16 and up). Younger animal lovers can prep meals for animals at Junior Zookeepers, Saturday, February 11 or Thursday, April 26 (open to third and fourth-graders). Slightly older kids also get to prep zoo food but get the added privilege of cleaning animal habitats at If I Ran the Zoo… Saturday March 3, 10am-4pm (open to fifth through eighth-graders.)

3. Set the Barre High at Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Classes: The Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago don’t just present world class performances, they also welcome dancers of all ages and ability levels into their studio for classes in ballet, hip hop, tap, yoga and more!

Get fit or just have fun at Joffrey’s Adult Open Division classes, which are offered on a drop-in basis: perfect for people who are only in town for a little while, or who don’t like making plans too far in advance. If you’re already a pro, make a date to attend an upcoming master class, like one on African dance offered on Monday, January 16.

Hubbard Street offers workshops that get your whole family to move, on the 3rd Saturday of every month through May, 11 am-12 noon. Find calm together through Yoga (February 18, for parents and youth ages 6-13), get movin’ in Family Hip Hop (April 21, for parents and youth ages 6-13), dance through your favorite stories, or create a family dance all your own (March 17 and May 19, for parents and children ages 3-8). Family workshops are offered on a drop-in basis.

On a budget? The Joffrey Academy offers Free Friday classes for adults at scheduled times each month. Hubbard Street offers pay-what-you-can yoga on Tuesdays at 6:00pm-7:15pm, Thursdays at 7:45pm-9:00pm, and Sundays 11:30am-12:45pm.

4. Discover Your Inner-Comedic Genius at The Second City: The Second City is a world renowned improv comedy troop, best known for its many illustrious alumni, from Tina Fey and Amy Pohler to Bill Murray, John Belushi and Gilda Radner. Their school offers classes for all ability levels, whether you want to learn improv comedy basics, try your hand at comedy writing, have a staged sword fight, or write songs in the style of Flight of the Concords or Tenacious D. If you’re short on time, try a weekend drop-in class, or a 3-day or week-long immersion class. Semester-long classes are also offered, and (we’ve heard) are a great place to start lifelong friendships and forge creative collaborations. See The Second City’s website for a full course catalog.

5. Earn Explore Chicago’s Windy City Badge for Foursquare: Eat a frisbee-sized donut, see a mummy, hear hot jazz, or see a movie classic as you embark on a quest to earn a (virtual) badge of honor in 2012. The Windy City Badge for Foursquare, a free game for your smart phone features over 20 locations, handpicked by our staff to ensure that you have a really fun time while discovering Chicago’s hidden gems. To play, download Foursquare’s free app, then check-in at five of the locations on our list to earn your badge and instant bragging rights.

The Windy City Badge is the fourth badge that we’ve created for Foursquare: our other badges take you to Chicago movie locations, invite you to eat Chicago-style hot dogs, and help you discover the roots of the Chicago Blues.