Hallelujah Kale Salad

I have a love-hate relationship with kale. On the one hand, I love the incredible health benefits in this beautifully colorful but pungent vegetable. On the flip side, I don’t like to eat it. Period. End of discussion.

A few years ago, I used my stealthy ninja tricks to sneak more kale into my diet. I had started juicing, because I heard about the almost magical benefits of this latest dietary fad. One of my friends even assured me that her green juices gave her “super powers.” Hmmmmm….I thought to myself, who wouldn’t want that? And I started adding kale to my juices.

Since my martial arts class started at noon, it was always a challenge to figure out when to eat lunch. Eat too close to noon and you feel like you’re going to throw up. Which would certainly defeat your opponent, but there are better ways of doing that. Eat too early and you’re defeated by your own plummeting blood sugar. Having a freshly rendered juice before leaving for the dojo seemed to be the perfect solution.

Until the day when I was feeling exceptionally adventurous and put an entire bunch of kale in my juice before I ran out of the house to go to class. Class always began with a vigorous acrobatic warm up including a complex series of rolls, falls, cartwheels, etc.  After my first 2 rolls I realized I had made a serious error in judgment. I managed to keep it together (if you catch my drift) for the rest of the class, but I assure you, I never did that again!

Recently, a friend of mine shared her kale salad recipe with me. It involves “massaging” the kale to make it soft and tender. Always skeptical, I tried it in spite of my misgivings, figuring I could always put it in the composting if it was inedible. It was delicious! So good that I ate the entire bowl in one sitting, without the dire side effects I experienced from the kale juice. Halleluja! Kale really can be irresistible! So….here it is. My Hallelujah Kale Salad.

1 bunch green kale

1 ripe avocado

1 lemon

sea salt

Mash the avocado in a large bowl. Strip the leaves from the stem, tear into smaller pieces, and toss them into the bowl. Add the juice of half a freshly squeezed lemon and “massage” the ingredients together with your hand. Not only does it soften and tenderize the leaves as you work the avocado into the kale, it’s an awesome way to work out some anger issues. Not that I would know anything about that. (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes right now). Sprinkle sea salt to taste and mix together.

You might want to add a bit more lemon juice. I like things that are tart (like myself), so I actually use an entire lemon. During a creative streak, I tried adding ingredients like garbanzo beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, etc., but it didn’t quite work out. In this salad, the kale stands alone. Enjoy!

Ancient Ninja Secret for Your New Year

Here we are, in the last week of January. Maybe you started the new month (and the new year), with high expectations of working out, going to the gym, or eating healthy. How’s that working out so far?

A lot of us make those New Year’s Resolutions and end up falling flat on our face. Fantastic. One more thing we can feel guilty about. But, I have a better idea. Instead of feeling guilty or giving up completely, I am going to share an ancient ninja secret with you. But, please don’t report me to the Society of Ninja Secrets. They might not like it, and might take away my hard-earned official secret ninja card.

So, here it is–keep moving! Literally, just move. Move your body in every single direction, including forward, backward, side to side, and diagonally. There are many reasons why this is important.

1). First of all, if you can move in any directions or any moment in time, it will keep you safe in an oftentimes unsafe world. When you can adapt to any unexpected change in your environment, it can even save your life.

2). Next, the simple act of moving your body improves your circulation, lymphatic flow, cognition, awareness, balance, flexibility, and cognition.  Moving your body keeps you from getting stuck, both physically, mentally, and emotionally. However, if you are stuck in any way, movement stimulates brain function, gets the creative juices flowing, and helps improve your problem-solving abilities. You can find solutions to problems that you’ve never thought of when you were sitting on the couch waiting for the spring thaw.

3). Finally, ditch the judgment and the self-doubt. Just find new and creative ways to move and explore your environment, just like you did when you were a kid. There is no right or wrong, just opportunities to learn. and that is a nifty little ninja secret that is my late January gift to you. Besides, it’s so good for your health!

Karma Cooties Can Really Bug You

Karma cooties can be a real threat to our health and well-being. We all get exposed to them every now and then, and they can be very infectious. And contagious. However, just like we can protect ourselves during cold and flu season, there are precautions we can take from being susceptible to the little buggers. And the first step is knowing that they exist so you can avoid them.

The first time I heard about karma cooties was about 20 years ago from a friend who was a massage therapist. She told me she had a client that she had to cut loose (in other words, she fired her) because her karma cooties were so bad. “Karma Cooties,” I responded in confusion, “What are those?”  

She explained that we all experience hurts and transgressions in life. You got that right. After all, life is full of hits, and none of us get through this roller coaster of life without our fair share of them. But, some people let those tough times define them, even embrace them, which breaks down their karmic immune system. Okay, she kind of lost me there, but at least I had something to think about.

So I began paying attention. I noticed that some people could suck the joy out of a room by simply walking into it. Or suck the life out of me just with a phone call. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about. You might even have a friend like that, which can be a real problem for you.

I had a friend who was so infected that she was beyond hope, and I finally had to cut her loose. It was awkward, especially since we had been friends for 30 years. But, being exposed to all of that negativity isn’t healthy. Eventually, it breaks down your resistance and draws you in. So, just like you do during cold and flu season, take some precautions to keep yourself safe.

Because staying safe and being healthy is much better than being bugged.

Bavarian Pork With Sauerkraut

I grew up in a home and with an ethnicity that relied heavily on sauerkraut for cooking. I even remember my dad drinking the juice directly from the jar, saying it was good for your health. Blech! Even though I did like sauerkraut as a kid, I really learned to love it as I got older. And luckily, I married a guy who loves it, too. Even if he is from the South. However, neither one of us will drink the juice. But I will cook with it.

I found this little gem of a recipe so long ago I can’t even remember where it came from. The original recipe calls for baking it in the oven, but I prefer cooking it in the crock pot, with a thin layer of the sauerkraut over the pork chops. I apologize in advance to my vegetarian and vegan friends. Having included that disclaimer, here ya go:

1# pork cops 1/4-1/2″ thick

salt and pepper to taste

2 C drained sauerkraut (Feel free to drink the juice and toast to my father’s memory).

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large apple, sliced thin

2 tsp brown sugar

2 TBSP chopped parsley

1 tsp allspice

Brown pork chops and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Set aside.  Toss the sauerkraut with the chopped onion, 1/2 of the apple slices, parsley,and  brown sugar. Place in a baking dish (or bottom of crock pot). Lay the pork chops on top with the remaining apple slices. Cover and bake at 350 for 1 hour, or cook on low for 8 hours in the crock pot.

This dish really hits the spot on a cold winter’s night. And my ancestor’s would be proud!

Merry Christmas to All, and to All a Good Night!

Merry Christmas! No, I am not daft and I haven’t lost my mind, even though I know that’s what some of you are thinking. As some of you already might know, I grew up in a small steel town in Western Pennsylvania. My father was from Czechoslovakia and immigrated to the good old USA in 1939 at the age of 12. It was actually the second time he came through Ellis Island, but I’ll save that story for another day.

Although my mother was born in the States, her parents were from Yugoslavia. Needless to say, I grew up with an interesting heritage and cultural background. Which included celebrating Orthodox Christmas with my mother’s side of the family every year. Woo-hoo! A bonus Christmas. What kid wouldn’t absolutely love that? So, every January 7th, we packed in the car and drove to my grandfather’s house to celebrate his Christmas. And it was a special celebration indeed.

It was a fabulous tradition for me and my sisters, even if my Serbian Orthodox cousins got to skip school and we didn’t. Every year I would put on a campaign to skip school like my cousins did, and every year I was voted down by my mother. She said that they had to skip school so they could go to church. I offered to go to church with them, but that didn’t fly. My mother was a lovely woman, but she was a pathetic negotiator.

Today, I am back in my grandfather’s house to celebrate Orthodox Christmas once again. Of course, a lot has changed over the years, and a lot of people are gone. But, the house is still there, and so our sweet memories. I swear I can still hear their raucous laughter, the loud Slavic voices, and my grandfather belting out songs in Serbian. I’m still surrounded by my cousins and my incredible Aunt Stella, who presides over the family celebration and sits at the head of the table. And I still feel like the luckiest kid in the world, because I still get to celebrate Christmas twice a year.

And I always will.

Simple Steps to a Happy New Year

Here we are at the beginning of another New Year. I find it hard to believe it’s 2019. Where did the time go? Along with the excitement of a shiny New Year comes the resolve of self-improvement through (ack) New Year’s Resolutions.

I personally dislike New Year’s Resolutions because I believe they set us up for failure. And disappointment. Statistics reveal that most people give up in less than 2 weeks! That’s a terrible way to start a New Year, by feeling like you’ve already failed. I have another idea.

Each and every day is a new start, and an opportunity for self-reflection and self-improvement. Or not. After all, life is full of hits and unexpected challenges that can undermine even our best intentions and throw us off track.

It’s important to remember that we are all works in progress. Part of our life journey is how to be kind to ourselves and not to beat ourselves up. Trust me, there are plenty of people out there who will do it for us.

I shudder when I see the sign at the local gym that I drive by every day which blasts in red letters “New Year….New You!” As if to imply that there is something wrong with the current version of you. It’s almost a form of subliminal body shaming. I don’t like that. Besides, I think you’re perfect just the way you are.

But, if you do want to make changes over the next year, take it one day at a time. Start small, and start slowly. Over the next few months I will offer simple tips and steps you can follow to help you achieve your goals, no matter what they are. You can pick and chose which ones make sense to you, and ignore the ones that don’t.

Most of all, never give up on your goals. Or your dreams. Not just once a year, but every single day. I’m your biggest fan, and I believe in you. Happy New Year!

Ballet Bourbon Balls

Just in case you need a snappy new recipe for your New Year festivities, I have a treat for you! This bourbon ball recipe is from one of my ballet teachers from years ago and is a twist on the traditional rum balls.

Every holiday season, my teacher would come to the ballet studio armed with paper plates of Christmas cookies. Her baking skills were surpassed only by her phenomenal dancing and teaching abilities. No matter how hard we tried to resist the temptation of these tasty treats that were certain to wreak havoc on our ballet bodies, the minute she pulled the cellophane off of the plates and the smell wafted across the dance floor, we all folded like a deck of cards.

Her Bourbon Balls were my personal favorites, and after relentlessly pestering her for the recipe she finally capitulated. However, she did swear me to secrecy, and as far as I know she has never shared this recipe with anyone else. And now I share it with you. But please don’t tell her. It will be our little secret.

Nothing about this recipe is healthy, but it sure is tasty and will be a big hit at any party. Just make sure you enforce a 3 ball limit on your guests. These little treats pack a punch!

2 1/2 cups crushed vanilla wafers

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 cup finely chopped walnuts, or you can use a combination of walnuts and coconut

3 TBSP corn syrup

2 TBSP cocoa

1/3 cup Bourbon (use the good stuff–Wild Turkey 101 Proof is highly recommended)

Additional confectioner’s sugar

Thoroughly mix together wafer crumbs, sugar, cocoa, and nuts. Add corn syrup and mix well. Shape into 1 inch balls, then roll each one in the confectioner’s sugar. Refrigerate overnight in a single layer on a waxed paper lined sheet. Roll each ball once more before baking. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven on a lightly greased cookie sheet for about 15-20 minutes until done. Enjoy!

Blinded By The Light

“Blinded by the light” made for a great song title by the Manfred Mann’s Earth Band in the early 1970s.  But, if you’ve ever had a bright light in your eyes, you know that it does literally blind you, at least temporarily. Those rods and cones that live in your retina start going absolutely bonkers trying to readjust to the sudden burst of bright light, leaving you confused and disoriented.

Which is the reason why you should always have a strong, high powered flashlight with you at all times, day and night. And, you should be holding it in your dominate hand.

I know, you probably don’t have the personal real estate available for something as frivolous as a flashlight. After all, that is where your cell phone lives, even when you’re walking around in public. But, I beg of you, as I have many times before, put your cell phone in your purse! Put it there, and leave it there.

If you are ever approached by a stranger and need a quick get-away, a high quality flashlight with a powerful beam of light is the perfect defensive weapon of choice. Even in the daylight, all you have to do is shine the light in their face, temporarily blinding them and giving you the opportunity to get away and to a safe place.

And, you have the additional advantage to get a clear view of the person’s face so you can give a detailed description to the police when you file a complaint. Which you will do, of course. Because we do need to shine the light on the bad guys so we know who they are and can put them away. Yay!

Choose a high quality flashlight with a high powered beam and settings for a strobe light and an SOS. Make sure it has a nice weight to it and fits well in your hand. It will probably feel better than your cell phone. And, it will be far more useful, especially if you ever need to blind someone with the light.

Baked Lasagna With Red Wine

Welcome back to Cheryl’s kitchen, where the food is always good and the kitchen is always a mess. Since this is the first recipe I’m sharing with you, I wanted it to be special. This is a recipe that my mom found in our local newspaper over 35 years ago. Since there were a lot of Italian families in our area, I knew it had to be good. I was right…for once!

Baked Lasagna

3 cloves chopped garlic

1# ground round steak

1 28 oz can tomato puree

1 6 oz can tomato paste and 1 can water

½ tsp oregano

½ tsp basil

¼ cup red wine, plus one full glass for the cook

2 tsp salt

½ cup fresh Romano cheese

1# ricotta cheese

8 oz mozzarella cheese

1# box oven ready lasagna noodles

Preheat oven to 350. Spray a 13x9x2 baking pan or spray with cooking spray or olive oil. Brown the meat with the garlic in a large pot. Combine the onion and tomato puree in a blender and blend until smooth. Add to the meat mixture along with the tomato paste, water, oregano, basil salt, and wine. (You might want to refresh the cook’s glass while you’re at it). Cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Cover the bottom of the pan with 1/3 of the meat sauce. Grate Romano cheese evenly over it. (Ahhh, who am I kidding? I use the pre-grated stuff  from the deli, but please don’t tell anyone. It’s one of my ninja secrets). Place a layer of noodles over it the meat and Romano. Spread ½ of the ricotta over noodles. Grate 4 oz of mozzarella over the ricotta. (If you really feel the need to grate your own mozzarella, go right ahead. I prefer taking advantage of the modern conveniences of cutting corners and buy a package of grated cheese. No, it’s not cheating. Besides, in my martial arts training we had a saying that if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. I believe the same applies to cooking). Repeat, ending with meat sauce and Romano.

Cover tightly with foil and bake for 1 hour at 350. This gives you enough time to kick back, put your feet up, and enjoy one more glass of wine, just in case it is calling your name. When it’s done, remove the foil and let it stand 5 minutes before serving. Enjoy, because you certainly deserve it!