Birthdays and Massages

My wife’s birthday spanned three days this year. Friday night was a nice dinner with friends at Flea Street Cafe in Menlo Park. Last night (her actual birthday) was a great dinner at Spasso’s in San Carlos, with my sister and her husband. But Saturday night was interesting on several levels, owing to the makeup of the group, and some good food and wines.

In 2004 we started professional massage training. Out of the blue, on a whim, something healthy that we could do together, and of course share with friends (and ultimately clients who’d actually pay for our skills). Our introduction to massage therapy was two Sundays at a local Junior College, where we were shown some basics in Swedish techniques. The setting was crazy – they didn’t have tables, so we worked on towels on a hard, dirty-carpeted floor, in a large open classroom area. More pain than gain, by the end of the day.

But amazingly, this prompted us to look into, and subsequently sign up for the first of what would be many professional level classes at Body Therapy Center in Palo Alto. The first class we took was Fundamentals of Massage, which consisted of 125 hours of training over 3 months. We learned the basics of Swedish Massage (relaxation technique), Anatomy, Physiology, Ethics, and some Business fundamentals. And it was literally the first day of this class that we met a group of what was to become lifelong friends; one was our lead instructor, another was one of the teacher’s assistants, and two were fellow students, all of whom were at the Saturday night dinner.

Following the Fundamentals class, we then took 125 hours of Advanced Massage and Bodywork. I’m told that we were the catalyst that encouraged 90% of our Fundamentals class to take the Advanced class … something to do with study parties, end of class parties, and massage exchange parties, all of which featured lots of my cooking. Hopefully it was good, but it could just be a lot of starving massage students who appreciated a party and a meal. Who knows.

The Advanced class is what sets this particular school apart from the bulk of massage training programs. This is where you learn in-depth anatomy, kinesiology, pathology, and physiology, as well as how to “read” a body. We were told the first day of class (by one of the dinner guests … I’ll get back to the dinner, trust me) that we’d never look at a body the same way, after taking this class. We learned to watch the way people carried themselves, was something hunched or rounded more on one side than the other? Was one shoulder higher or lower? Did they lean forward or back? Swing their arms differently? And then, which muscle(s) would you work on to potentially correct this? Very interesting stuff.

Subsequent to the Advanced class, we took a 16 hour Hot Stones class, had seminars in advanced neck and shoulders and sidelying technique, chair massage, 125 hours each in Acupressure and Cranio-Sacral Therapy, and Hydrotherapy (required in Oregon). I was fortunate to work as a teacher’s assistant in two Advanced classes and a Chair Massage class. Our final class was a two-weekend Clinical Deep Tissue class, and our school has now moved across the Bay, making it way too difficult to attend any more classes. The jury remains “out” as to how we’ll get any more training. For now, it’s behind us.

Four and a half years after the first day of Fundamentals, I put on a birthday dinner for my wife, which included our original teacher from Fundamentals and Advanced and a couple of the seminars, the chair massage expert, and two of our fellow students, who we’ve been the best of friends with since the first day of class.

You never know when you’re going to run into situations or individuals who’ll make the “grade” and become very special friends. This group is the best. A couple of them (along with another friend who’s since moved to Denver) actually made several trips to visit us in Oregon. And since we returned to the Bay Area, we’ve of course gotten to see them way more often (something about the food at our house, I’m sure). But they’re all rare, very special friends, and we cherish being included in their lives.

The Birthday Dinner:

  • Bay scallop ceviche
  • Pasta E Fagioli soup
  • Amuse bouche of mango sorbet
  • Rib eye roast (boneless prime rib, essentially)
  • Oricchiette with broccoli and proscuitto
  • Nicole’s chocolate cake

The scallop ceviche is a variation of what I’ve done for years, which is basically what I like to taste in a ceviche. Ingredients included fresh bay scallops (the little ones), half a red onion, cilantro, 3 medium tomatoes, celery, avocado, key lime juice, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and Tabasco sauce. Everything marinates (and the lime juice “cooks” the scallops) for about 4 hours, served with white corn tortilla chips.

The soup was a basic pasta e fagioli (bean and pasta). Again, a variation on what I like. White onion, carrots, celery, garlic, sweated in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Diced canned or fresh tomatoes, chicken stock, cannelini and kidney beans, a handful of small pasta of some sort, simmer and season to your taste. Served as the opening course with fresh parmesan.

Mango sorbet served on a Chinese soup spoon, with a sliver of orange rind, for an in-between courses “amuse bouche.”

The rib roast was trimmed of excess fat, sprinkled with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and fresh rosemary sprigs, and wrapped in foil and refrigerated for a couple hours. I cooked it over a basic mirepoix of yellow onions, celery, and carrots, at 325 degrees. Added a can of beef stock at one hour and two hours into the process, removed it from the oven after 2 1/2 hours, when the digital instant-read thermometer read 130 degrees. Let it rest 30 minutes, and it was absolutely perfect.

The oricchiette and broccoli started with some olive oil, garlic, and some incredible proscuitto from Benton’s Country Hams in Tennessee. Small family-operated farm that sells some of the best bacon, hams, and proscuitto I’ve ever had. The broccoli was cooked for about 5 minutes, added to the main skillet, then likewise with the pasta. Quick cooking processs, finished with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of fresh parmesan.

Wines were on the spicy side; Zinfandels from Quivira and Tobin James and a Cabernet from Dry Creek.

Our friend Nicole made an incredible chocolate cake. New Kitchen Aid stand mixer put to the test, and it (and SHE!) passed with flying colors. Like many cooks, I don’t bake much. I do a few things pretty well, but I’m not a big “sweets” person, and tend to cook more than I bake. So having someone bake an over-the-top chocolate cake was a total treat.

Memorable dinner, lots of massage school stories, and a great way to celebrate my wife’s birthday. Friends like these are rare and cherished. We thank YOU for gracing us with your presence.

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