After many years of living in New York, I finally made it to the Russian & Turkish Baths in the East Village.  I can’t believe I waited this long!  It’s great and funky and feels like a throwback to a different time… in Russia.  You leave your valuables in a personal cashbox at the front desk, grab a towel and a robe and then head to the changing room.  There are some large, plastic slippers for you to wear, but I was definitely wishing I had brought my own, very hygienic, personal ones from home.  As I walked around the spa, there must have been a ratio of 10:1 men to women.  It really made me appreciate the sign at the top of the steps leading down to the bath; it states that men must keep their shorts on at all times during co-ed hours.  At the bottom of the stairs is a cold plunge pool.  A narrow corridor goes off in both directions with different doors that lead to various experiences of hot.  I must have looked bewildered because a middle-aged guy, in “shorts”, immediately swooped in and acted as my tour guide.  He pointed out where I should start my experience, down at the end of the corridor with either an aromatherapy steam room, or a dry sauna and then pointed to two other rooms on opposite sides of the pool and said to save those for later because they were “really” hot.  I started with the steam room and sat on the lowest level so I could hold out for as long as possible, about twenty minutes on my first go, before getting up for a cold shower.  Next, I ventured into the redwood sauna.  The conversation in the sauna was lively to say the least, some real East Village characters in there.  Again, ratio 10:1.  The discussion among the men ranged from the pope, “Whaddaya think Jesus would say if he came back?  You think he’d want all these popes?  He’d redistribute the wealth of the Vatican, that’s what he’d do!”  I was living in Rome when the previous pope was inaugurated and it was a stunning display of wealth and power.  I didn’t realize until then just how powerful the Vatican still is in the modern day world.  Things seem to be a bit tamer this time around with the new pope’s more humble and reserved choices, even in fashion, but Sauna Guy may have a point.  After a half hour in there, when the talk got less interesting, wrestling and local crime, I was ready for another cold shower and a rest.  This time, I noticed a girl with what I thought was a mud scrub on her body, but turned out to be a mixture of coffee grounds and water.  Apparently, with all those antioxidants, it’s good for cellulite and stretch marks, who knew?!  I just drink the stuff and way too much of it.

The hottest room in the baths is way in the back, it’s called the Russian Room and the sign reads, “radiant heat”.  I was going to skip it for my first experience, but I had to take a look.  The room was amazing, big and cavernous with rock walls and tiers of horizontal bench seating.  The heat was super strong and quite dry.  It immediately burned hot on my face and the top of my head.  People were clustered around a spout of freezing cold running water, filling  buckets and dumping it over their heads.  At first, I was timid with the icy water, splashing just a bit on my face.  After a minute in there, the full bucket suddenly didn’t seem so cold.  A guy, yes another guy, we are still in the ratio, sitting next to me offered me his homemade salt scrub in a little plastic take-away container: olive oil his friend brought back from her land in Greece, Himalayan sea salt, eucalyptus and lemon oil.  It felt great to rub into my skin and after rinsing off with the stunningly cold water my skin was super soft.  I took a long rest after the radiant heat room and ended up talking with a couple guys next to me about the benefits of a high alkaline diet.  One of them had beat cancer by focusing on alkalizing his blood by cutting out animal products, starchy grains and by eating mostly veggies and fruits.  The other guy was an athlete ,who radiated health and drank from a water bottle that had something floating in it, which actually alkalized the water as he drank it.

I felt healthy and great as I walked home in a relaxed and dreamy state.  After sweating out all those toxins, I  drank coconut water and a green juice for dinner; culinary indulgence would be for another day.  But, I was already imagining what clean food I could make for myself the following day…

Oil and sauce  Shredded Carrots

Pumpkin Seeds

HIJIKI SEAWEED SALAD WITH EDAMAME (adapted from love, eric & sanae, a macrobiotic cookbook
Hijiki is rich in fiber and loaded with calcium and other minerals.  I used ponzu sauce instead of mirin, which the original recipe calls for, and reduced the amount of soy sauce.  Ponzu sauce has a touch of sweet and tangy like mirin, and even includes mirin in its ingredients, but also has soy sauce, rice vinegar, kombu and citrus.

 Serves 5

2 ounces hijiki
1 cup purified water
2 tablespoons sesame oil
a large shallot, sliced
2 tablespoon ponzu sauce
2 carrots, shredded
1½  tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup edamame
¾ cup roasted pumpkin seeds (optional)

Rinse the hijiki and soak for 10 minutes.  Reserve soaking water.

In a large pan, warm sesame oil.  Add shallot and cook until soft.  Add ponzu and cook for another minute.   Add hijiki and carrot, along with ½ of the hijiki soaking water.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 20 minutes.  If the mixture gets too dry, add more water, it should stay moist.

Add soy sauce and cook for another minute or two.  Remove from heat and stir in edamame.  Let it cool and serve garnished with pumpkin seeds.