Take a Hike and Exercise Your Mind and Body

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Many of us spend too much time indoors, whether due to work or other responsibilities. Now is the time to get out, get active and breathe in some fresh air.

Explore your town or state to find the best places to hike. Many trails can be traversed easily with just a good pair of sneakers. Others are more arduous and may require a pair of hiking boots. Hiking is something you can do anytime, either by yourself or with a partner or group, and trails can be matched to your level of ability. It’s a great way to enjoy nature and get away from the hustle and bustle of our sometimes fast-paced world. Stroll under a canopy of trees while birds and other wildlife serenade you. Let yourself relax and forget your troubles. Or if you prefer, push yourself up a steep incline and revel in the satisfaction of making it to the top.

There are some important items to bring with you, whether you’re taking a short walk around a park or a long trek through the mountains. Water, of course, is number one on the list. It’s important to stay hydrated while doing any form of exercise. Bug spray or some kind of tick repellent is also critical, and make sure you wear high quality socks. It’s also a good idea to bring along some healthy snacks, and yes, bring your phone, but only use it to take pictures. Also pack an extra pair of shoelaces, just in case.

If you want to take your hike a step further, try geocaching. What is this, you ask? As defined by Wikipedia, “Geocaching is an outdoor recreational activity, in which participants use a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver or mobile device and other navigational techniques to hide and seek containers, called ‘geocaches’ or ‘caches’, at specific locations marked by coordinates all over the world.” Doesn’t that sound interesting? When you find a cache, remember to sign and date the log book and return the item exactly how and where you found it. A cache can be any number of things: a toy, trinket, a book, or something else that has some kind of meaning to the person who left it behind. For more information, go to https://www.geocaching.com/play.

If geocaching is not your thing, you can make up your own games as you walk along. How many pine cones can you fit into your pockets? Who can spot the first squirrel in a tree, or the first bird’s nest? What is the first animal track you see? These are just a few examples, but use your imagination to make it an adventure.

Written for The Country Register published across the U.S. and Canada.

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Back to School Memories Don’t Have to End in Childhood

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Even though I’ve been out of school for many years, September still brings a sense of excitement to me. It’s time to put away the carefree summer attitude, shed the shorts and bathing suits, and get back to serious business.

As a child, I always looked forward to end-of-summer shopping trips with my mom to pick out new clothes, notebooks, and pens and pencils. It was a time to start again after the lazy days of summer and get back into a routine with my teachers and friends. Because no matter how great summer might have been, I was always bored by the middle of August. The schedule of getting up early and catching the school bus, which I couldn’t wait to be done with in June, was something I actually looked forward to once again. I also loved learning new things, so getting my new text books and class assignments was invigorating.

Maybe this is why I continued my education long after high school. Even as an adult, going back to school still brought a thrill, and yes, I bought myself new clothes and notebooks and everything else I remembered from my youth. I found that it was never too late to learn a new skill or perfect an old one.

For example, have you always wanted to crochet, sew or knit but didn’t know how? How about quilting? Then look through this issue and find out who is giving lessons and once you learn, there are plenty of places to go for yarn, fabrics, and anything else you may need for your new hobby. Or, have you always wanted to bake scrumptious desserts, or practice making Asian cuisine? Then sign up for cooking classes in your community.

September is a time to begin again, and not just for children or young adults. Skills can be learned at any age. Think about something you would like to do, then go about finding a class or tutor who can help you do just that. It’s never too late to expand your horizons and try something new.

Written for The Country Register across the U.S. and Canada

Showcase Salutes Goodman’s Restaurant and Deli

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This year, Goodman’s Deli and Family Restaurant in Berkeley Heights is celebrating their 75th anniversary. In recognition of this milestone, they will be offering some great specials during Berkeley Heights Restaurant Week, which will take place from September 9th through the 16th.

Originally located in Elizabeth, Goodman’s moved to Berkeley Heights back in 2000. Don Parkin, the current owner, purchased it in 2010. His main goals were to play a role in the preservation of Jewish Deli cuisine and to introduce Chicago specialty products to the surrounding communities, such as the Chicago Style Hot Dog and the Italian Beef Sandwich. His other goal, which has now come to fruition, was to introduce Eastern European specialties like Beef Stroganoff, Chicken Paprikash and Hungarian Goulash. These are dishes that can be difficult to find on other restaurant menus in the area. Many traditional items such as Matzo Ball Soup, Chopped Liver, Hot Corned Beef, Hot Pastrami, Brisket, Stuffed Derma (Kishke) and Potato Latkes figure predominantly on the menu. You can also find Stuffed Cabbage, Borscht, Poutine, and Kreplach Soup (a traditional meat filled dumpling served in their famous Chicken Orzo Soup.) Most of the main dishes are family recipes that have been passed down from the Goodman and Parkin families for many years.

As you can see, the Jewish deli is the main emphasis of this establishment, but there is something for everyone. “We have a diner style menu, with breakfast all day, and burgers and wraps to round out what we bring to the table,” said Don. You can also find a good variety of salads and numerous specialty sandwiches including Sloppy Joes. Many homemade desserts, such as Rice Pudding, Bread Pudding and Death by Chocolate are also on the menu. They offer dine in, carry out, catering and delivery (Goodman’s utilizes some well-known services to handle this aspect of the business.)

What makes this restaurant different is not only the dishes they offer, but the high quality of the ingredients they use. In order to maintain these standards, Don procures his produce and meats from specialized sources in Newark, Elizabeth, Chicago, Brooklyn, and the Bronx. “Because of the specificity of our menu, we have very select providers,” explained Don. The dishes are made with fresh ingredients in-house and 85% of the menu offerings are cooked from scratch every day.

The types of patrons who come in are wide and varied – young to old – or as Don said, “from bris to shiva” – and everyone wants a good breakfast, everyone wants good ethnic food. He reported that many of his customers come in regularly, with about 75% being repeat customers. “We know many of our customers by name, what they like to order and how they like to have it served,” he stated. Price points are different throughout the menu, so there’s something for every budget.

Don mentioned that regionally there aren’t many Jewish delis around anymore. Fortunately for the community and surrounding areas, he plans on staying in Berkeley Heights for many years to come.

Goodman’s Deli and Restaurant is located at 400 Springfield Avenue (in the Stop & Shop shopping center) in Berkeley Heights. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm and Sunday and Monday from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm. For more information, please call 908-898-0900 or go to their website at http://www.goodmansdeli.net.

Written for The Showcase Magazine

Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Tip of the Month – Avoiding Fall Driving Hazards

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Everyone knows that winter can bring driving challenges, with snow and ice sometimes covering the roadways. But did you know that fall can be just as hazardous?

Those beautiful colorful leaves that we all admire can cause slippery roads, especially after a rainfall. Wheels can easily lose traction when driving over them, especially if you’re going at a high rate of speed. Those leaves can also cover up traffic lines and mask potholes and other hazards. Children also like to play in leaf piles, so don’t ever drive over one.

In addition, fall means that kids are back in school and playing sports, so there are more cars and buses on the roads. Keep in mind that it’s not only illegal, but dangerous to pass a school bus when its lights are flashing. Being later for work or an appointment isn’t worth risking a child’s safety. Open schools bring more pedestrian traffic as well, especially in the mornings and early afternoons.

Fall is also deer mating season, and those gentle creatures can cause major accidents when running out into the roads. Keep your eyes open, especially around dawn and dusk. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety cautions that you’re 3.5 times more likely to hit an animal — especially a deer — in November than at any other time of the year.

Another important thing to do is to check your tire pressure. According to http://www.AARP.org, “Since fall weather rapidly changes from warm to cold, your tires will often expand and contract. This can lead to a loss of pressure.” Improperly inflated tires can lead to loss of control if you need to make a sudden stop and even cause blowouts. Also make sure the treads on your tires are sufficient to maintain traction on the road.

So, what can you do to keep yourself and others on the road safe this season? Drive a little slower, keep your distance from the car in front of you, maintain your vehicle properly, including keeping the windshields clean, and as always, pay attention to your driving and environment, whether it be road conditions, other drivers, pedestrians or wildlife.

Contributing Author: Susan Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

Published in local news outlets.

Fall Festivals are Full of Fun for the Entire Family

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Festivals can soon be found in abundance this time of year. Who doesn’t like eating kettle corn, drinking hot apple cider and enjoying live music while walking around in the cool, crisp air?

If you’re not sure where to find these events, The County Register can help. Since each issue is tailored to your area of the country, look through the paper to find the fairs that are closest to your home town. You’ll soon find yourself and your family bobbing for apples, carving pumpkins, and possibly taking a tractor ride. Or how about trying to find your way out of a corn maze? Some festivals also include children’s rides, classic car shows, games of chance, and many other fun activities that one doesn’t get to experience all year round. Others even have petting zoos, pony rides and raffles. Many of these events are a perfect way to spend an autumn day that won’t break the bank.

These old-fashioned activities never get old, especially for children. They will also learn that electronics are not necessary to have fun, and time away from computers and televisions can be time well spent. Plus it’s a great way to make family memories and enjoy the great outdoors at the same time.

Some of these events are held on farms, which is an ideal location to show children where our milk, fruits and vegetables come from. City children especially don’t always understand how food gets into their supermarkets and on to their tables. This can be a wonderful learning experience for both children and adults alike.

So next time you’re planning a day out, check the latest issue of The Country Register to see what’s happening in your area. I’m sure you’ll find a festival or two that you and your whole family will enjoy.

Written for The Country Register

Showcase Salutes Hacienda Mexican Restaurant and Grill

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Walk into Hacienda in Berkeley Heights and you will know right away you’re in a Mexican restaurant. The burnt oranges, rustic yellows, and avocado greens that cover the walls, combined with the Mexican tapestries, paintings and colorful pottery, will transport you to a place south of the border.

Pass through the semi-private dining room and continue farther into the restaurant, and you’ll see that this theme continues. The main dining room with its fanciful tiles, fancy sombreros and fireplace make for a cozy setting, and a side room has comfortable booths with plentiful seating. The staff adds to the welcoming atmosphere, and many of the patrons come back again and again not just for the delicious food, but also for the servers who attend to their needs.

Gilma Kieffer Acosta has owned Hacienda for 20 years and prides herself on the unique dishes she has personally developed for the restaurant. Along with the traditional tacos, enchiladas, and burritos one would expect, there are also many surprising and delightful combinations on the menu that she finds are often the most popular. Dishes such as Camarones Diablo, which consists of baby shrimp sprinkled with lemon and marinated in garlic, olive oil, tomatoes and peppers, and Steak and Portabella Strips, which are sautéed with soy sauce, tomato sauce and Dijon mustard, are a couple of favorites. And of course, many of these dishes are served with a variety of sides, from refried beans and Mexican rice, to guacamole and even French fries! There are many types of Mexican food from many different regions, and Hacienda doesn’t confine itself to the standard, everyday dishes.

Gilma believes the food she serves should be high-quality and healthy. Everything in the restaurant is made from scratch (there are no cans to be found in the kitchen), the meats are lean and the vegetables fresh. The homemade chips with Pico de Gallo sauce and tortillas are all natural and very tasty. Also try out some of the soups (two of which are vegetarian) and the salads. There is even a children’s menu for the little ones to enjoy.

In addition to the usual soft drinks and iced teas, they have Jarritos Mexican Carbonated Fruit Flavored sodas in varieties such as strawberry, lemon, sangria and mango. These are definitely fun and worth a try. Otherwise, the restaurant is BYOB, so feel free to bring along your favorite choice of alcohol to accompany your meal.

While at the restaurant, one of the customers told me she has lived all over the United States, and loves this restaurant because it has some of the best Mexican American food in the area. She dines here regularly and she and her husband just brought their two young boys in to introduce them to the wonderful mix of flavors as well as to celebrate her birthday.

Gilma stated that Hacienda is a true family restaurant, where they welcome input to ensure they are satisfying all of their patrons. She and her staff enjoy serving the community and look forward to doing so for many more years to come.

Hacienda is located at 579 Springfield Avenue, Berkeley Heights, NJ 07922, and is open Monday through Thursday from 11:00 am to 2:30 pm for lunch, and then 4:30 pm to 10:00 pm for dinner, on Friday and Saturday from 11:00 am to 10:30 pm, and on Sunday from 12:00 pm to 10:00 pm. For more information and menus, please visit http://www.haciendamexicanandgrill.com and for reservations, please call 908-665-8565.

Written for The Showcase Magazine