Simple Pleasures.

Simple Pleasures.
Irish soda bread on its way up North with Noah.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Power Stretch: A New Option For Tight, Achey Muscles

I warehouse all my stress in my muscles. That's why I exercise like a maniac---to release pent up tension so my head doesn't spin off my body.  But all the yoga, running, and spinning in the world still can't keep me from feeling achey and bitchy after sitting and fretting at a computer all day. 

Now I know what can help. And I know what might just be sweet salvation for many stiff, chilly, and stressed out souls this holiday and winter season. A nice…….long……gentle……assisted stretch. If you live anywhere near me, you can find it at Power Stretch Studios in Upper Montclair.

The Back Story:
I was feeling particularly stiff and sore last week, after laptopping on a hard wooden bench at Java Love for a few hours with my friend Pat. The day's headlines had only added to my seized-up state. As I hobbled across Bellevue Avenue, the awning for Power Stretch Studios caught my eye. 

In an almost trancelike state, I wandered in and chatted up the owner, Hakika DuBose. Apparently, this young and curly former dancer has been quietly stretching out stiff Montclairians for a few years now. Her growing client base--ranging from 8 year olds to 80 year olds--- has helped her move from various back office spaces to her new storefront across from the Bellevue Theater uptown. 

I wasn't asking too many questions, as Kika (which she calls herself) described her Kika Method. But whatever Kika was telling me about passive stretching and muscle release sounded pretty damned good. I arranged to return for a 6 PM session.

The Session
I showed up in comfortable work-out clothes, filled out a few forms, and sat down for a brief orientation. After Kika flipped through a decidedly low-tech presentation about the stretch method that she herself has devised, we entered a small white room with a soft rubber mat on the floor. (yes, I'm  getting closer and closer to a full-blown rubber room.)

Kika stood behind me and gently guided my neck and head from side to side and around in half arcs. She used some sturdy pressure to help me get the most out of some lateral stretches. Then she sat me down with my legs out in front, placed a long ruler vertically between my legs and asked me to stretch my arms as far as I could out on the floor in front of me. She put a gentle hand on my shoulder and  asked me to remember the number I reached: it was 18.

Over the next 50 or so minutes, Kika carefully used her arms and hands to guide and ease me through myriad standing and seated stretches. It was far more relaxing, nurturing, and enjoyable than a do-it-yourself stretch class. But there was still work involved. The best way I can describe the experience is that it's sort of a cross between a massage, yoga, and, I dunno, Rolfing? (though, to be honest, I've never been Rolfed.) Maybe a smidge of Feldenkrais in there, too?

By the time the session wound up, my breathing was in sync with our movements and I felt deeply relaxed and--yes---supple. The proof in the pudding? Kika had me stretch out on that ruler once more. This time, I reached 26--an increase of 8 whole inches. Pretty cool, I must say. Though I didn't need the ruler to tell me the stretching had done me good.

Caveats and Questions:
Being a health and fitness writer, I couldn't help but pepper Kika with questions before and after my session. Turns out that, besides having an MFA from Montclair State University and certification as a personal trainer, she has no formal accreditation in bodywork or physiotherapy. And yet she says she is treating everyone from athletes to paralysis patients. 

That's a bit of a red flag for me--to say the least. In other words, I don't think I'd risk sending my fragile and stiff mother-in-law or anyone else with serious orthopedic or health issues to her at this point. 

However, for those of us who are sturdy and in good health, but could use some sweet, nurturing release, Power Stretch seems like a safe and delicious bet. I'd go so far as to say that if Kika goes ahead and gets a degree in physiology or some other certification to give her some cred and some tread, she could be sitting on a gold mine. And a franchise concept, at that.

Kika has a few staffers who also do stretch sessions. They are trained by Kika. I personally would opt to work with Kika herself, at least for starters.

A 45-minute session costs $60; an hour is $70.  A 20-minute head and neck session is $20. Kika also hands out cards for free 15-minute intro sessions.

The Upshot:
Considering the cost,  I might be hard-pressed to fork over $70 for a stretch when I could be indulging in a massage for similar dinero. But after all is said and done, the feel-good glow of stretching might outlast what I take home from the massage table. And if someone wants to gift me a stretch, I'll be all over it! If you end up giving Power Stretch a try, please let me know what you think. And if you know of anyone else who's doing similar work, I'm all ears.


Sunday, November 2, 2014

Turn-the-Clock-Back Roasted Tomatoes

Ho hum. The grey days of November are here. Summer's warm caress, milky nibs of sweet corn and  bawdy scarlet tomatoes have slipped away for another year. And, sniff, sniff, this biting cold Marathon Sunday will be cloaked in darkness faster than you can say "finish line," as we bid daylight savings time adieu.

I'm cheering myself up tonight with these super-cinchy roasted tomatoes from Ina Garten. No, they can't compare to their perky and juicy summer forbears. But I gotta tell you--they get those Proustian daydreams going.

A bracing whallop of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sugar and chopped garlic, followed by a stint in a 450 degree oven, acts like culinary CPR on even the most haggard plum tomatoes. They emerge looking glamorous and rich as an Italian countess. That dignified tomato-y taste comes back and the cottony pulp of off-season fruit becomes supple, worldly, and, well, sexy. These are, if you please, sultry tomato cougars to summer's blushing and buxom babes.

Sometimes I serve these as an extra side, topped with chopped basil or whatever herb I have around. Sometimes, I'll shower them with freshly grated Parm or chunks of gamey feta. On really lazy nights, I'll nestle these ruby red beauties next to a bed of scrambled eggs and call it dinner. They're also an excellent topper for crostini and can work magic on any sandwich.

So I've presented my argument. Curious? Run out now and grab 12 plum tomatoes from the nearest supermarket. No need to be picky. Follow this recipe and I promise, summer dreams will be yours to savor tonight. And all winter long.

12 plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise, cores and seeds removed
4 Tbsps. good olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsps. balsamic vinegar (use a little more if you run out before you sprinkle all of the tomatoes)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
2 tsps. sugar (you can use a little less if you must, but don't omit)
1 1/2 tsps. kosher salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil. (Don't skip this step unless you want to scrub the pan all night.) Arrange tomatoes on pan, cut side up, in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle the garlic, sugar, salt, and pepper over the tomatoes. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes, until the tomatoes are concentrated and beginning to caramelize. DONT dry them out. They should be sort of flat and collapsed, but not wrinkly or tough like sun-dried tomatoes.

Serve warm or at room temp.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Uber Simple and Supremely Tasty Black Bean and Corn Salad

Too busy with back-to-school BS to cook anything interesting? This simple, healthy black bean and corn salad will change your game.

My girlfriend Bianca passed this recipe on to me when we first moved into Montclair. My son Ben soon adopted it as his hands-down favorite salad. I'm tempted to send him a vat of it, now that he's settling into his freshman year of college (and complaining about the food). But I'm not so sure how it will travel.

You, however, can whip it up in a flash. And once it's done, you’ll want to slurp this stuff right out of the bowl. Serve it as a side one night, sneak some for a snack the next day, and spoon it over grilled fish or pan-seared chicken breast for dinner that night. Try to cut the bell pepper, onion and tomato into pieces about the same size as the black beans. Of course, that’s not a must, but it refines the dish.

Ben and Bianca's Black Bean and Corn Salad

2  12-ounce cans black beans (no need to use dried)

One 12-ounce can (or a bit more) yellow corn (nice if you can use fresh sweet
corn cut off the cob, but not a deal breaker. I use canned all of the time.
I like yellow corn for this salad. Looks brighter; white sort of washes out.)

1 large green bell pepper
1-2 jalapeno peppers, diced very fine (adjust amount depending upon taste and hotness of the chile)
1 small onion
1 large tomato (or more if you’d like)
¼ cup chopped cilantro (or to taste)
Juice of two limes (or to taste)
¼ extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
A few dashes of Tabasco (to taste)

1.     Rinse and drain beans and corn.
2.     Combine in bowl with bell pepper, jalapeno, tomato, cilantro, and onion.

3.     Add lime juice and olive oil. Taste, adjust dressing acidity. Add salt and pepper to taste. Before going crazy with the jalapeno, let the salad sit for a while—the hotness take a bit of time to come out fully. Now you’re ready to add those dashes of Tabasco. Enjoy. 

Friday, March 7, 2014

Kick-Butt Cauli Mashed Potatoes

I SWEAR to you that this is not turning into a low carb, gluten-free, vegan, Paleo, SCD blog. I also swear that I won't post another cauliflower recipe for a while. It's just that I have become a bit obsessed with this amazingly versatile veggie of late. And I can't help myself from sharing this crazy good "I can't believe it's not potatoes" cauliflower mashed potato recipe.

In case you're late to the game, my cooking has taken an interesting turn in the last year, due to the fact that a member of our family was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease. He's following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, which is grain-free and has proven to be near miraculous for his health.  And since I'm his cook, I've discovered some incredibly inventive and healthful recipes that have kept him and the whole family happy over the past several months.

Last blog, I wrote about cauli rice. This time around, I'm talking potatoes. Just like cauli rice, caulipotatoes fill that "carb" spot on the plate that can often feel sad and lonely on a grain-free diet. Like cauli rice, cauli potatoes soak up gravies and pan drippings admirably. Like cauli rice, cauli potatoes are low carb. Here's the main difference: While  no one will think cauli rice actually IS rice, cauli mashed potatoes can really truly be mistaken for the real deal. They're super creamy. Rich and delicious. And with the help of a little sauce or gravy, you really could miss any hint of the fact that there's a cruciferous vegetable in the mix. My husband and I actually prefer these to real mashed potatoes. They taste cleaner and just a tad more elegant. My Crohny adores them, too. And these "potatoes" can do what other potatoes do: Just the other night, I sautéed up some ground beef with onions and garlic, threw in some peas and tossed the mix into a casserole dish. I slathered the cauli potatoes on top, baked the dish up for about 25 minutes and I had shepherd's pie. Miraculous.

Without further ado, I give you the recipe for magic. It's from Danielle Walker's dynamite cookbook, Against All Grain. Dare to try these and let me know what you think.

5 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 head cauliflower, trimmed into florets
1/4 almond milk, warmed (I use a scant 1/4 cup of full fat plain yogurt at room temp)
3 tablespoons melted butter (or ghee--I use butter)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
Dash cracked black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
2. Place garlic cloves in a small, heatproof dish and drizzle with the olive oil. Cover and roast in the oven for 15 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, put the cauliflower in a saucepan with a 1/2-inch of water. Cover and steam for 10 minutes. Drain the water completely and place the cauliflower in a food processor.
4. Squeeze the papery garlic skins to release the cloves. Add the garlic to the food processor, along with the almond milk (or yogurt), melted butter (or ghee), salt, and pepper. Process until smooth and fluffy. (I let the machine run for a good long while--may 3 to 5 minutes-- so the potatoes are absolutely smooth. You don't want any cauliflower texture in there if you're planning on fooling fellow diners.)

Eat well!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy New Year - The 2013 Free Cookbook Is Out!

Your free cookbook, busting with healthy cooking ideas, grain-free and gluten-free recipes, easy chicken dishes, best cookie recipes ever, family cooking strategies, and my usual banter is ready to jump through the ether into your computer. Want your free PDF? Shoot me an email:

P.S. My New Year's Resolution is to obsess over keywords. How am I doing?