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Coming out of hibernation

For the second year in a row, I’ve neglected my exercise routine in January and February.

Hibernated is more like it. The frigid temperatures outside kept me from power-walking, and the cold corridor inside from the YMCA locker room to the swimming pool kept me from back-stroking. At any rate, those are the reasons I tell myself.

So, with spring beckoning, so does the urge to get out and move my arms and legs — even if they are somewhat stiff from lack of concerted use.

Massage will help ease that stiffness.

That’s why I invite others who, like me, are re-invigorating their exercise regimen to come in for massage. Get the kinks out. Ease the soreness. Ease into spring with a smile and a spring in your step.

Stretches of the Month

Muscles in and around the face can benefit from stretching just as much as larger muscles in the body. Stretching the eyes muscles can lead to improved vision. Stretching the tongue can leave one limber of speech and song.

The two groups can be coordinated in one routine. Stick out your tongue as far as possible for a count of two (one one-thousand, two one-thousand). Lift the tongue toward the ceiling and raise the eyeballs up at the same time for the same count of two, then lower tongue toward floor, looking down with the eyeballs at the same time. Bring tongue and eyeballs left, then right. Slant the tongue up toward the left, doing the same with the eyeballs, then lower right, then upper right, then lower left. Repeat the routine 10 times.

In the shower, after the hair is wet but before shampoo is applied, gently grab your hair and gently pull to awaken the scalp. Do this at various parts of the skull.

When lying down, use the thumb and index finger on each side to hold the lower inner part of each ear, right above the earlobe. Pull each ear gently toward the opposite wall and down toward each shoulder. Hold for 10 breaths. This is good to help relieve TMJ (temporomandibular joint) syndrome.

Technique of the Month

Returning the shoulder blade, or scapula, closer to the neck where it belongs helps relieve area tension. To do so, the therapist places his palms atop the shoulder blade, then gives it an upward and side twist toward the neck, much as if he were turning a steering wheel without any power steering. Repeat 10 times; do to the other shoulder blade as well.

Hike of the month

I love Brookdale Park.

In my high school years, it was my biking destination where I could rest and savor the ice cream I purchased from nearby Applegate Farm. In my college years, it was my running destination, the halfway point of a 10-mile run that began and ended in my hometown of Clifton.

Now it’s my walking destination, the end point of a house-gazing saunter along Ridgewood Avenue in Glen Ridge from which I plunge into the tree-canopied paths of the park. There, on the approximately 1.7-mile perimeter path that borders Glen Ridge, Bloomfield and Montclair, I encounter dog-walkers, rose gardens, tennis courts, play swings, stadium seating, softball and soccer and archery fields. I dip down little knolls, amble up rolling hills, connect with part of a yellow-blazed 30-mile Essex County path that meanders from Newark to Millburn.

But right now, I am content to work out of my wintertime exercise funk by staying close to home in a woodsy patch I know well, and love.

Recipes of the month

While, thankfully, the majority of winter is now behind us, the transition to warmer weather can still bring snow and ice and cold rains, as well as winds that are more often chilly than balmy. That’s why it’s still important to continue to consume warming foods, such as those included in the following two recipes.

World’s Best Braised Green Cabbage

(Adapted by Steve Petusevsky of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel from “All About Braising” by Molly Stevens)

1 medium head green cabbage, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges
1 large yellow onion, sliced ¼-inch thick
1 large carrot, cut into ¼ inch rounds
One-fourth cup vegetable broth or water
One-fourth cup extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt and fresh-ground black pepper, to taste
One-eighth teaspoon crushed dried red chili flakes
Good quality aged balsamic vinegar, for serving, optional

Heat oven to 325 F. Lightly oil a large gratin dish or 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Trim cabbage. Peel off and discard outer leaves. Cut cabbage into 8 wedges. Arrange wedges in baking pan; they can overlap some but try to make a single layer.

Scatter onions and carrots over all. Drizzle with broth or water and oil. Season with salt, pepper and pepper flakes. Cover tightly with foil and slide into middle of oven to braise 2 hours until vegetables are completely tender. Turn cabbage wedges with tongs after about an hour. If dish seems to be drying out, add a few tablespoons water.

Once cabbage is completely tender, remove foil, increase oven temperature to 400 F and roast 15 minutes until vegetables begin to brown. Serve warm or at room temperature sprinkled with coarse salt. A splash of balsamic vinegar enhances sweetness. Makes 6 servings.

Tomato-braised Cauliflower

(From “Lidia’s Italian Table” by Lidia Matticchio Bastianich)

It’s a side dish that is also good as a sauce for pasta.

Makes 6 servings

1 head cauliflower (about 2 ½ pounds)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup diced onions
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
One-half teaspoons peperoncino (crushed red pepper)
Salt
2 cups cored, peeled, and seeded, vine-ripened plum tomatoes or 1 (16-ounce) can Italian plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, drained and seeded

Pull off the cauliflower leaves and cut out the core. Break the cauliflower head into florets no larger than one-and-a-half inches.

In a large casserole, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Add the cauliflower, bay leaves and peperoncino and season lightly with salt. Cook 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, crush the tomatoes by hand.

Add the tomatoes to the cauliflower and cook, covered, until the cauliflower is very tender and most of the liquid has been absorbed, about 30 more minutes. Check the cauliflower after about 20 minutes: There should be just enough liquid to lightly coat it. If there is more, finish cooking the cauliflower, uncovered. Season with salt and serve hot.

Until I see you again on my massage table and share my Heartful Touch with you … be well.

Dennis Sprick
The Heartful Touch
Massage and CranioSacral Therapy

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