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Why Sky Zone owner bounced soda from her franchise plan

Rhonda See, owner of Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park, wanted fitness and nutrition consistency. (Charles Lewis/Buffalo News)

Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

For a woman who spends time bouncing on trampolines almost every day, Rhonda See can get really serious.

Especially when it comes to nutrition.

See and her husband, Dale, own Sky Zone Indoor Trampoline Park in Cheektowaga and another soon to set up shop in suburban Rochester.

The Cheektowaga location became the ninth franchise Sky Zone in the corporate chain in November 2011 – and the first to prohibit sales of soda.

That didn’t sit well at first at corporate headquarters, See told me earlier this week during a “What are you eating?” interview for today’s WNY Refresh.

“They told me I could not open unless I sold soda, and I told them I would not open and they could take their trampolines back to California. I did not want anything to do with it unless they were going to let me open with just my healthy options.

“If I give somebody an apple or a banana to pick from, they’re going to pick something. If I give them a chocolate bar or a banana ... I’m an educated woman, I’m probably going to pick the chocolate bar, even knowing what I know.

“So my thing was, I didn’t even want to give kids the option for soda because seeing soda so much, that’s their comfort zone and that’s what they’re going to go for.

“So I told corporate that I would not open unless I could open my way with my healthy options. And they said, ‘OK, if you think you can make it in Western  New York where there are chicken wings and pizza, then go ahead.

“To this day, we’re the highest in the country for concessions.”

See says you can burn 1,000 calories an hour in her 30,000-square-foot joint, 17,000 square feet of which is covered in cushioned trampoline.

The Sees are from the Columbus, Ohio area and moved to Amherst in 2001. They own the region’s Stanley Steamer franchise, as well as the one for Sky Zone. The couple have two children, Faith, 6 and Dylan, 4.

“We’ve always had a huge passion for fitness,” See says.

Sky Zone is tucked into the back of an office complex at 425 Cayuga St., at Cleveland Drive, and sits along one of the Buffalo Niagara International  Airport runways on the northeast corner of the intersection.

“Western New York is a great place to raise a family, it’s a great place for school curriculums, but there’s not a whole lot of (indoor recreation) options,” See said. “This is a difficult state to do business in, so people are gun shy to create an indoor place or do activity in, in general. So I kept traveling to the indoor water park in Niagara Falls. Every time I would go, it was so expensive you could only go three or four times a year, and that was being generous. Here, I wanted to create indoor activity that was reasonable, so all families could play together.

“We took a big leap of faith.”

Trampolines line some of the walls at Sky Zone, so you literally can bounce off the walls. Others are set up for dodge ball and one is a half-basketball court, the kind that can give the shortest kid a sense that dunking is not out of the question.

“We’ve had a 1-year-old jump on trampolines here and a 92-year-old,” See says. Her staff of 65 keeps an eye out for horseplay and size differences of those using the trampolines and addresses both, she says.

Find out more about offerings – including fitness classes that play out on a 5,000-square-foot wrestling mat – by visiting




Solitude at Stella Niagara a welcome respite

Sister Diane Gianadda holds a multimedia artwork created by a participant in the Women's Respite Program. (Charles Lewis/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Sister Diane Gianadda gets lots of help with the Women’s Respite Program at the Stella Niagara Center of Renewal in Lewiston, a program that’s the subject of this weekend’s “In the field” feature in WNY Refresh.

The program is multifaceted, receives money from individual donors as well as foundations, and has picked up volunteers, friends and well-wishers from across the region in its quarter-century history. It’s mission is to give mostly low-income woman a breather from their lives for a few days near a stretch of quiet Niagara River shoreline.

Gianadda, director of the program, has taken on more responsibility in recent years helping with the administration of her religious order, the Sisters of St. Francis, and has turned to Teresa Maciocha to coordinate the respite program and handle many of the day-to-day demands.

Here’s more on the program that I couldn’t’ fit into the print edition, including a reprise of a couple of questions I asked her for Refresh:

How did the women’s respite program start?

When I was working (as a therapist) with Catholic Charities, my work took me into the homes of some very stressed low-income women. I could see that a lot of needs were not being met. Therapy can only do so much and parenting education can only do so much.

I was working with a mom on the East Side of Buffalo who was cooped up in her home all summer with four children. Dad was in jail for having abused a couple of the kids. She didn’t want the kids to go outside because the neighborhood was so dangerous. I was letting her know I wouldn’t see her for a week because I was going on a vacation. When she responded to me by saying, ‘I wish I could have a vacation,’ I was struck with the lack of fairness and justice in this situation.

While I needed my vacation, she needed it 1,000 times more. There was no way for her to ever get out of that place and get some rest and relaxation. I worked with hundreds of people like that, so when I left Catholic Charities, I had some time and space to think about this. Because the headquarters of my congregation is up at Stella Niagara, I thought this place would be ideal to invite women. We want to share our place with other people, and the people who needed to get away would be served well at a place like that.

Along with activities you do with the program, you also have a simple morning prayer?

I have no idea what kind of religious background these women come from, but I know that most of them come with some sort of connection with either a church or spiritual life, and many of them have commented on God helping to get them through hard times.

Do you have any other programs?

Ten, 12 years ago, one of the women said, ‘We need a program for grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren,’ ... so now we have a weekend every year for grandmothers in the spring. That’s really helpful for women who sometimes feel like they’re alone. They were not planning on raising another family and for some unforeseen circumstances they do not want their grandchildren to go into foster care.

We also started a program for women with cancer, . A weekend program, usually in February or March. That program spans income. ... What really bonds them together is the common experience of having a cancer diagnosis. Some are in treatment, some early diagnosed. Some are post-treatment. It’s safe, it’s clean, it’s quiet. It’s simple. It’s not luxurious.

In November  is our spaghetti dinner fundraiser at St. Leo’s church (in Amherst).

This program is run by grants and donations, so every year we’re writing grants, every year we’re looking for donations. Our donations run from a few thousand dollars to $2. In winter. We also have an alumnae weekend so that women who’ve attended before can come back. And we have women who have attended the program join on the coordinating committee so they can help run our program. Our goal is to have the women take some leadership in the program, so they do a lot of different tasks: Setting it up, driving. One of my best helpers has been helping for 25 years.

Some of them say, ‘This is my place to get away, to refresh, to renew.’"

Another thing we do on weekends is we have Playback Theater, which is wonderful. Playback Theater is an improvisational group, local. They come to our program and invite people to share a story about a significant event in their lives. The woman will tell the story and they’ll act it out. It’s a very powerful way of visually expressing an important event. They range from heart wrenching to humorous. It’s kind of therapeutic.

What are the eligibility guidelines for those looking to participate?

For the summer program for moms, low income between the ages of 25 to 45, not actively abusing drugs or alcohol. This is not a therapy workshop, it’s a vacation. Low-income for the grandmothers, too. For the cancer group, women with low incomes are given priority but we take other women, too. They’re all referred by agencies or doctors.

Talk about the number and types of volunteers.

We have some professional helpers. We do provide a small stipend for them. People who come and do arts and crafts, Reiki, message, reflexology. We’ve had a hairdresser come for our cancer weekend and do haircuts. Volunteers drive the women. We have people who bake us treats. The Buffalo Zonta Club support us financially and with all sorts of treats. We have a clothing boutique for the woman. We have these wonderful volunteers who set it up. It looks like Macy’s when we’re done. We have very nice clothing and the women get a 100 percent discount. They can take whatever they like for themselves and their kids. And that takes work.

And then we have the Sisters at Stella Niagara. Many of them are retired. That’s where we have our health center and retirement house, so for many of the weekends, I pair up one sister with a woman guest and the sister prays for her that weekend, and her family.

We have volunteers to help with our family dinner.

There are a lot of good people who help with something like this.

How is the program funded?

Fundraising is always a challenge. We can provide a weekend vacation with all these experiences, room and board, for under $300. That’s pretty spectacular when you think of the good you can do.

We do get funding from the Susan G. Komen Funding Grant for the Cure, the Mercy Circle of Giving, Buffalo Zonta. They’ve stuck with us for years. The Riefler Fund. They’re among the loyal donors.

What do you see as the greatest challenges women, particularly mothers, face these days?

I don’t know. There’s just so much. With the women in our respite program, a lack of support from partners. Limited resources, whether it’s financial or education or employment. Lack of support from friends. And because of their poverty, trying to navigate what they call ‘the system:’ Pubic assistance, schools. Many of them have children with some kind of learning deficit, so they’ve got to navigate the school system, the health care system, the public assistance system. They’re complex systems and to negotiate these things sometimes requires resources they don’t have. Being poor is very difficult.

To donate, or for more info on the Women’s Respite Program, visit, email or mail a check made out and sent to the program at 1301 Ferry Ave., Niagara Falls,  NY 14301.


To lose 100-plus pounds, you watch what you eat

Rachel Miller, a mother of two from Kenmore, became a holistic health coach after losing nearly 120 pounds. Read her tips for success Saturday in WNY Refresh. (Robert Kirham/Buffalo News)

Rachel Miller thought she was eating pretty healthy while a teen in the Town of Tonawanda.

“Growing up, I didn’t feel that we ate a lot of junk, but when I look back we ate a lot of bagels,” she told me for the cover story interview to be published Saturday in WNY Refresh, on her effort to lose nearly 120 pounds – and keep it off for a dozen years. “We would go through dozens and we would eat a lot of white potatoes and a lot of white rice.

“In my college years, when I started to put on more weight, I would think nothing of eating a chicken sandwich and fries and a Diet Coke, which I would never do now.”

Miller is a holistic health coach certified after a yearlong online training program with the Institute of Integrative  Nutrition in New York City. She focuses on nutrition counseling and works with personal chef Pat Koch and with help from Studio Sophia in Kenmore. She shared a closer look at her daily eating habits.

Breakfast: “Usually, it’s one or two eggs with vegetables – spinach, tomatoes, onions, asparagus, whatever I can fit into it. Sometimes, I’ll have an oatmeal. Sometimes I do smoothies for breakfast, fruit, yogurt, protein.” Breakfast comes after a 5 a.m. scheduled workout on five or six days of the week.

Lunch: “I’ll make homemade soups and I’ll eat ‘em sometimes for the week, so I’ll have it prepared. Or I’ll have a salad. I eat a lot of protein: Fish, tuna, chicken.”

Dinner: “It varies. Most of the time, it’s vegetables. I will do grains, like quinoa or a brown rice, and again fish, chicken.”

Temptations: “My weaknesses are sweets, still,” she says. “I will do dark chocolate but I’ve learned how to bake healthy. … I do eat dessert and things I shouldn’t, but the key is moderation. Don’t feel guilty. Tomorrow is another day. You can’t (always) deprive yourself.”

Baking: “I use a lot of substitutes or a lot less sugar. The less sugar you eat, the less you crave, so I find I need less sweet than I used to. So I cook stuff with fruit or a pumpkin bread, but I won’t use as much sugar. I won’t use any artificial sweeteners. It’s all real sugars … including something called Yacon syrup – it’s a sweetener from a plant and it doesn’t make your blood sugar spike – and I will use honey or an organic sugar, but just less of it. I use yogurt a lot.

Rarely: “I don’t do a lot of pasta. I don’t do a lot of meats. If I do, it’s organic. I don’t really do dairy. I drink almond milk.”

Juicing: “I juice my own wheat grass shots. It’s a sweet, acquired taste. They sell them at Organic Cafe. I’ll do green juices. It’s all vegetables and I’ll put it in my juicer. You don’t get the fiber from it, but you get the nutrients. I’ll do cucumber, kale, celery, spinach, whatever you have. It’s a great way for people who don’t like vegetables to get them in. Sometimes, I’ll do this for a snack or breakfast.”

For her kids: I will cook slightly differently for them. I can’t get adults to eat some of the things I eat, either, so it’s a process. It’s slow progress.

– Scott Scanlon

Hamburg studio offers food for the body, spirit

Jill Chiacchia, founder and director of beHealthy Institute in the Village of Hamburg, makes vegetables a major part of her family's diet. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)


By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Jill Chiacchia, subject of today's "What are you eating?" column in WNY Refresh, takes a holistic approach to wellness at the beHealthy Institute in the Village of Hamburg, which she opened at 40 Main St. in March 2011.

“I always like to start with food first – to clean up somebody’s diet,” she says, “but life is so much more than just food.”

That’s why Chiacchia offers an eclectic mix of services designed to nuture relationships, career, spirituality, even promote better sleep.

For some of her clients, one thing she does roles several of those goals into one: Ayurvedic cooking.

“It puts together the ideas of yoga and meditation with different foods, spices and temperature of foods,” she explains.

There are six essential tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent and astringent.

The first four food tastes are pretty easy to distinguish, Chiacchia says. Pungent foods include onions and garlic; astringent foods include many raw fruits, cabbage and brocolli.

Some foods have more than one quality. An orange, for instance, can be sweet and sour.

The trick is to eat a proper blend of foods to bring about the proper balance within the body and the mind. That can vary by personality type.

Chiacchia, 46, relies on a team of teachers and students – she calls them her “tribe” – to share knowledge in a classroom setting, which includes a kitchen, in her Hamburg studio.

Yoga instructor Julia Kress will teach a class Oct. 16 in Ayurvedic cooking and similar classes are planned in the future.

Tai chi, running groups and Feng Shui also are part of beHealthy’s repertoire.

“These all do a lot to help people really believe in themselves,” Chiacchia says.

To learn more about the beHealthy Institute, visit or call 648-3400.

Contributing writer Catherine Yeh Henry helped with this blog


Loss of aunt to ovarian cancer inspires action

Ali Gaston, owner of The Nail Place in West Seneca, shares cancer info with her clients in September.


By Cherie Messore

When Ali Gaston, owner of The Nail Place in West Seneca, lost her beloved Aunt Pam to ovarian cancer in 2011, she did what any niece would do. She cried. And then she got angry at a pervasive disease that kills thousands of women every year. Finally, she did something.

“I had never heard of ovarian cancer before Aunt Pam’s diagnosis,” says Gaston. “I was surprised that something so deadly could have such common and benign symptoms, like bloating, constipation, bladder issues, and fatigue. Most women just write those off.”

Still, 22,000 woman will be diagnosed with the disease this year and only 7,000 will survive.

The owner of a business where women are the exclusive clientele, Gaston decided to take action the best way she knew how: she would tell women about her family’s loss and how they could help other women.

Starting last year, Gaston decided to embrace Ovarian Cancer Awareness every September and use the month as a springboard for awareness building and fundraising. She teamed up with the WNY Ovarian Cancer Project and armed herself with information. Then she put out a spare change jar in her shop at 3806 Seneca St  in West Seneca. Next came awareness ribbons, ribbon-shaped cookies and dog treats for sale and donations from her clientele. Then she applied her trade: she asked her clients to use teal nail polish for their manicures.

“Just one bright teal nail is an invitation to keep the conversation going,” says Gaston. “It’s a visual reminder to be more aware of your health, and to talk to other women.

“Women who ignore changes in their bodies are often the women who are diagnosed in stage four of this disease.  When more women are clued in to symptoms, their survival rate increases.”

Gaston’s goal is to inspire other businesses – large and small – to join in.

“It doesn’t have to be a heavy lift,” she says. “Just having some brochures in the employee break room is a good place to start. Selling awareness ribbons helps, too. It’s said that ovarian cancer whispers, so not only do we have to listen, we have to shout back.”

For more information, visit or The Nail Place's Facebook page.

International doctor who serves the poor visits Canisius tonight

It’s not every day that the region plays hosts to a guest speaker whose mission is to improve health care for the world’s poor, but that is the case today.

Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founding director of Partners in Health, will speak at Canisius College at 7 tonight in the Montante Cultural Center. His lecture, entitled “To Repair the World,” is free and open to the public.

Farmer, a medical anthropologist and physician, helped start an international nonprofit organization in 1987 that, according to Canisius, “provides direct-care services, advocacy and research activities for those who are sick or living in poverty."

The project started in Cange, a village in the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere: Haiti. In the last quarter century, the one-room medical clinic has blossomed into a health complex that includes a primary school, infirmary, a surgical wing, a training program for health outreach workers, a 104-bed hospital, a women’s clinic and a pediatric facility.

Partners in Health also now has operations in a dozen sites in Haiti and in a dozen other countries.

Farmer subscribes to the Catholic belief of “liberation theology” and the importance it places on serving, and teaching, the poor. According to a Canisius press release, he and his colleagues across the globe “have pioneered community-based treatment strategies that demonstrate the delivery of high-quality health care in resource-poor areas.”

Farmer’s most recent book is called, “To Repair the World: Paul Farmer Speaks to the Next Generation.” He will talk about the book, and more, tonight.

The event is presented by The William H. Fitzpatrick Chair of Political Science Lecture Series.

Lupus Alliance to host new patient orientation

The Lupus Alliance of Upstate New York will hold a new patient orientation from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Lupus Alliance office, 3871 Harlem Road in Cheektowaga.

All newly diagnosed lupus patients, their families and friends are welcome.

Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease, often diagnosed after a serious, butterfly-shaped skin rash appears across the cheeks. The condition causes the body's immune system to attack tissues, joints and organs that include the skin and kidneys.

Current literature will be available durng the orientation and a video will be shown. The gathering is free but you must register by calling the alliance at 835-7161.

If generics are so cheap, why don't insurance rates ever go down?

Mona Chitre of Univera Healthcare

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

Two pharmacists who talk about the benefits of generic prescription medication make it clear in today’s WNY Refresh cover story that patients can benefit from these drugs because they are made to the same standards as brand names but tend to cost a lot less.

But what about insurance companies? How do they benefit? And if they’re reaping the savings of covering less expensive generics, how come the cost of health insurance premiums never seem to go down?

These are questions I put this week to Mona Chitre, vice president of pharmacy management for Univera Healthcare and a faculty member at the St. John Fisher Wegmans School of Pharmacy, who counts University at Buffalo Pharmacy School students among her charges.

The short answer is that a greater number of generics don’t drive down the cost of health premiums because insurers tend to drive their savings into offering more specialized drugs to chronically ill patients.

Chitre explained that patents are set to expire on 37 drugs this year and next, which allows generic drug makers who didn’t have to pay for research, development and advertising to use the same formulas to make less expensive copies.

Here’s our exchange involving what happens in the months before a patent expires, and why insurance rates don’t tend to fall when more generics enter the market:

Do brand names generally come down in price when generics enter the market?

Not always, no. Usually what we see, actually, is that right before the drug goes off patent, six months to a year before they go generic, we see tremendous price increases in the branded drug because the manufacturer is trying to maximize their profit.

One or two rare instances, we’ll see the Lipitor, the Nexium try to compete with the generics to keep the market share, but in general the brand remains the same and the generics come in and take the market.

How does this transformation to generics help insurers? What does it mean to insurers and does some of that savings get passed along to customers?

Absolutely. All of us have been able to save money for the upstate New York market. We now have about an 82 percent generic fill rate across our market. This way, patients have access to medications that are affordable, we’re able to manage our premiums with that generic savings and employers can maintain coverage. There’s so much trickle that it’s really a win-win-win with every segment of the health care system.

And because there are so many drugs on the market now, and so many coming in, we might be talking about making a dent in some health insurance premiums over the next little while?

Well, here’s the interesting market dynamic. We’ve been able to really maximize generics. We have a few more years of some blockbusters entering the market. We have Nexium and Cymbalta and Celebrex entering over the next few years, but what we’re balancing against is specialty drugs.

If you think of drugs for rheumatoid arthritis, hepatitis C, for cancer, for MS, they are actually really impacting the pharmacy trend, and thus we need to maximize generics so we can offset these high-cost new therapies, what we call ‘biologics,’ and keep them affordable and ensure that our patients have access to those.


Localvore shares some of her recipes

Kelly Ann Kowalski, program director at Food For All, also helps oversee the raised bed gardens at the Food Bank of WNY on Holt Street in Buffalo. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)


By Scott Scanlon -- Refresh Editor

I'm learning from Refresh readers that I'd better not write about someone who has healthy cooking ideas without including some recipes.

We don't often have room for those in the print edition of the Saturday section, where Kelly Ann Kowalski is featured in today's "In the field" segment, but is boundless, so there are several below.

Kowalski, 45, was born and raised in South Cheektowaga, where she still lives – and gardens.

She lives about a mile or so from the house off French Road where I grew up.

Kowalski has become a force in the Western New York food movement on several fronts. She has been program director the last 13 years with Food For All, a nonprofit based at the Network of Religious Communities building on Delaware Avenue, near Gates Circle. She also has been program director for the Food Bank of WNY Garden Program for the last decade; teaches or oversees cooking demos Fridays at the Grider Street farmers’ market near Erie County Medical Center and Saturdays at the Colden Community Farmers’ Market on Supervisor Avenue in Colden; and is a member of two herbal cooking groups, one at the Botanical Gardens in Lackwanna and another at the Audubon branch public library in Amherst.

Here are some questions I asked her that we didn't have room for in the print edition (some of her recipes  follow):

Statistics on your Food For All website and in your flyer are striking: Nearly one in five children in Erie County and more then one in three in Buffalo live in poverty; 53,000 children in Erie County are hungry or at risk of hunger; more than 90,000 Western New Yorkers turn to food pantries and soup kitchens for assistance, and more than half are children; the number of food stamp cases has doubled in Erie County during the past decade, to roughly 79,000. What do you hear from people when they first get this feel for the magnitude of the problem?

Each group is different, but I think people who are really aware of Buffalo are not surprised. I think what’s changed though, and what’s changed drastically to me, is that there are so many people in the suburbs (involved in these statistics). We find a lot of young people – and I’m talking people under 50 – who have moved back in with their parents and they’re bringing their kids. So now we have three generations in the same household and the older adult, in their 60s or 70s, is helping support their family on their fixed income of Social Security. We hear from everywhere. I just talked to someone from Williamsville this morning.

It’s the older adults that are really struggling, especially with their prescriptions, and they have to take a choice, ‘Do we pay for our prescriptions or do we buy food.’ They have to really go hand-in-hand, not one or the other.

You’re considered an expert on cooking with herbs. What do you consider the most versatile herbs and how to you most often use them?

Parsley is probably the most versatile. You can put it in your sauce, you can make tabouli, you can put it in your salads, make your dish look pretty, put it in your meatballs, your meatloaf. I don’t like cilantro, so I substitute parsley for cilantro.

I think basil’s probably my favorite. I’ve probably made Caprese salad at least once a week this year. Oregano is great for anything you cook Greek, too: Your marinate for your Souvlaki, your Tzatziki sauce, Greek potatoes.

What are the staples of your diet? What about your favorite foods?

I cook what’s in season or I’m one of those people who will open the freezer or refrigerator and come up with a plan. My favorite food, honestly, is my mom’s (Diane Kowalski) spaghetti sauce that I can’t make. She makes it for me at least one or two Sundays a month. I go there for dinner every Sunday. Guacamole is something I’ve been making a lot this year. I was in Albany earlier this summer and Trader Joe’s has this awesome guacamole kit: Two avacados, two tomatoes, one garlic clove, some onion and a jalepeno, and I make it. I shop in places that are on my way to someplace else, because I’m not going to be wasting gas. So everything is ecomonically done, as well. Wintertime, it’s all about the soups.

Below are some of Kowalski's favorite recipes:

Stoplight Sauté

("You have to try this," Kowalski tells me. "You will think about kale in a positive light.")


1 tablespoon olive oil

2 garlic cloves, diced

1 red bell pepper, diced

4 cups kale, chopped

1 cup sweet corn kernels

2 teaspoons salt


Heat oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add garlic and red pepper, heat 3-4 minutes. Add kale and corn and cook until kale is soft and slightly wilted. Season with salt. May be served hot or cold.

Roasted Tomatillo Salsa

(Inspired by Rachel Ray)


12 tomatillos – husks discard and rinsed

2 jalapeno peppers

1 green pepper

1 onion cut into 4 to 5 inch thick slices

2 garlic cloves smashed and peeled

Olive oil for brushing

Salt and pepper

½ cup parsley

1 lime (juice only)


Preheat the boiler. Line cookie sheet with foil – place tomatillos, peppers, onions and garlic on cookie sheet. Brush onion and garlic with olive oil , salt and pepper. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes turning over occasionally. Take out when charred. Let cool, peel and seed peppers.

Using a food processor, coarsely puree peppers, tomatillos, onion , garlic and parsley. Add lime juice and season with salt and pepper.

Lovage Soup


2 to 3 tbls. olive oil

3 sweet white onions – diced

4 potatoes – cubed (leave skins on)

4 cups of vegetable broth (or chicken broth)

1 cup of chopped lovage (use can use the leave and the stems)

Salt and pepper to taste

4 cups of almond milk (or skim milk, half and half)


Heat oil in soup pot, add onions. Once the onions are truculent and potatoes and lovage cook for about 5 minutes. Making sure nothing sticks - add a little more oil at this point if needed. Let simmer for 10 minutes. Then let cool slightly. Add almond milk if you like.

Lemon Balm tea

Cut fresh lemon balm from your garden ( about five leaves for three cups) . Put in a pot of boiling water and let steep for 20 minutes.


You can add honey if you like.

 Russian Cabbage Soup

(Kowalski made this during a cooking demonstration Thursday at the FISH Food Pantry in East Aurora)


3 tablespoons olive oil

1 large chopped onion

1 large head cabbage cut into shreds

1 large peeled and coarsely grated carrot

1 chopped celery rib

1 bay leaf

Black peppercorns to taste

8 cups water or vegetable stock

2 large peeled and coarsely chopped russet potatoes

2 large peeled, seeded and chopped tomatoes or 1 (14-ounce) can diced tomatoes

Salt and pepper to taste


In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, sauté onion in olive oil until translucent. Add cabbage, carrots and celery and sauté about 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add bay leaf, peppercorns and water or stock. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

Add potatoes to soup and bring back to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bring back to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Adjust seasonings.

Remove bay leaf and peppercorns from pot, if desired. Serve soup in warm bowls with dill and sour cream as garnish. Accompany with rye bread, if desired.

What are you eating?: Rob Ray, healthy after hockey

Rob Ray, holding his son Rob Jr., and his crew, from left, Theresa Sacco, Nick Esthimer, Jerry "Hammer" Toms, Jeff Lillis and Rebecca Ventura at Rayzor's Dawg House, 405 S. Cascade St. (Old Route 219) in Springville. (Robert Kirkham/Buffalo News)

By Scott Scanlon – Refresh Editor

When it comes to healthy living, today’s Buffalo Sabres have come light years from the heady days of the French Connection, when Gil Perreault, arguably the greatest Sabre of them all, used to drink five cups of coffee and smoke a pack of cigarettes during most days of hockey season.

If you think I’m joking, check out this Bucky Gleason column from nearly three years ago.

Today’s Sabres wouldn’t dream of putting so much garbage into their bodies, says Rob Ray, whose career with the team roughly bridged Perreault’s and pretty much every player on the team getting ready to head into the 2013-14 season.

Ray, 45, the former Sabres enforcer, amassed 3,207 career penalty minutes – sixth most in NHL history – during a career that spanned from 1989 to 2004.

In the months that followed his retirement, he ballooned from his playing weight of about 220 pounds to “260-something,” he said. But his son Robert John Jr., 4½, who battles food allergies, his daughter Jordan, 9, a picky eater who prefers vegetables (of all things) and his wife, Juliean, who is always conscious about what the family eats, have provided him the inspiration to push, and keep, his weight below 240.

Ray, 45, of East Amherst, has settled into a healthy lifestyle as he prepares to start a new season as the Sabres broadcast color commentator, but he now has a new food temptation – Rayzor’s Dawg House – which he and his close friend Mark Mohr opened earlier this summer in Springville. He says moderation will be key.

He also tells me the Verizon Center is Washington, D.C. has the worst media food on the road in the NHL; and the Tampa Bay and Carolina arenas have the best.

You and a partner recently opened a hot dog stand in Springville. Tell me about that.

He and I have a couple of businesses together. Sprayfoam insulation business and a distributorship for hardwood floors, doors, kitchen cabinets. This is just another adventure. We stay busy.

We met through hunting. Mark spent seven or eight years as a guide in Alaska. So we and another couple of guys go to Alaska every other year and New Mexico every other year. We hunt different things all over. We elk hunt in New Mexico, deer hunt and bear hunt and moose hunt in Alaska. Deer and turkey down here.

Do you eat what you hunt?


Where did you grow up?

In Sterling, Ontario, about two hours east of Toronto, 45 minutes from Kingston. My whole family is up there. We used to spend weekends in the Thousand Islands all the time. That was our area.

Do you weigh about the same now as you did in your playing days?

I finished at about 220 pounds and I’m at about 238 now.

Do you eat differently now?

You eat totally different. When you played, you could eat anything and everything because you wore it off. You burned it off every day. I’m still active. I’ve got a bunch of rental properties I cut all the grass for, so one day a week all you do is cut grass. But kids and work and that sort of thing, if you eat that way, oh man. You’ve got to wean yourself off of eating that way – it was tough in the beginning, but you had to.

Are there particular foods that you just had to give up?

A lot of the fried foods. You’ve got to limit yourself on the pizza. My wife, she’s pretty health conscious and the thing that probably changed our eating habits is my son, he’s 4½ now. When he was born, he was allergic to everything, so we really had to be careful with what we ate. He was allergic to all dairy, and eggs. He still has the peanuts and shellfish. That was kind of an eye-opener.

We went to a lot of organic foods to try to help curb it and not have stuff in the house that would harm him. … He’s anaphylactic to the peanuts and the shellfish. He’s grown out of the dairy and the egg side of it.

What is a typical dinner like for the family?

Usually fish, chicken. Because I hunt a lot, we eat a lot of wild game. A lot of it is elk, venison. It’s real lean. It’s good. Not a lot of burgers, anything with fat in it. My daughter is so picky, it’s usually vegetables with her.

Really? Boy, you’re lucky with her.

She’ll eat vegetables till the cows come home, and a little bit of chicken, but not a lot more. My wife’s pretty conscious of everything we eat.

What are the staples of your diet?

Every morning, we have breakfast. We all do it at the same time. And at night, we all eat together, too, which makes a big difference. We have our meats and our vegetables. Because of my daughter, we always have salad. My son, we try to eat the vegetable side with him, but he’ll eat chicken.

What do you eat on the road?

I travel every game now. Most of the time, the meals are set by the trainer for the Sabres, so when you get on the plane, it’s monitored and it’s fat-free stuff. After the game, it’s a lot of carbs and vegetables. Going to a game, it’s your turkey sandwiches, that kind of thing. Things that are low fat and high protein. So you’re not sitting around having junk every night. You get on the plane at night after a game and there’s fish and there’s chicken and there’s all types of things that aren’t going to drag you down. On the road, it helps.

Are there more temptations on the road to eat bad food?

Where it’s hard is the rinks. The Sabres go out of their way to give you a meal with variety and choice. Most places you go, they don’t. It’s junk. They’re offering it to the media and it’s cheap or free, so they don’t put anything out of any quality. Very few places – and the Sabres are one of them – give a quality, quality meal at the rink.

What’s some of the garbage that you’ve been served?

A lot of places you’re going to go in and it’s going to be fried chicken and a lot of fried foods. They don’t offer a salad, they don’t offer a soup. It’s all pastas and stuff like that, a lot of stuff that’s cheap for them.

Which city has the worst food?

Washington, I think. Washington is not a good spot. It’s a very small salad bar and they always feed you some kind of a stew or something to that effect where they can dish it out to you and you don’t have that opportunity to help yourself. Every other place, it’s there and you can have as much as you want.

Every time you go to Carolina, you know there’s going to be barbecue. There’s pulled pork and there’s barbecue every time you roll into that rink, where the media eats. It’s interesting, it’s cool.

Who has the healthiest food?

Tampa Bay has a huge, probably the biggest, salad bar, with choices. They have a carving station and it’s always either beef or turkey.

How did most hockey players eat when you were with the Sabres and how do they eat these days?

Back when I was playing, especially at the beginning, nobody put any consideration into it. You’d eat your pasta and your steak before the game or the day of the game and that was pretty much it. One of the first things to change was the steak on game day; they eliminated that because you didn’t digest it by game time. It was replaced by the pasta and the vegetables and the chicken and the fish.

They eat so healthy now, it’s ridiculous. Those kids go to the rink now, there’s a breakfast supplied for them. As soon as they’re done (with practice), there’s lunch supplied. They’re on their own for dinner at home. On the road, everything’s looked after for them. End of the game, they go for their meal and it’s all set out for them, it’s all there. They don’t have to worry about anything. And it’s all monitored by the trainer, the strength and conditioning trainer, Doug McKenney.

What do you know about the new Sabres nutrition program they’ve implemented since Terry Pegula bought the team?

It’s there. Before you never had a breakfast and lunch offered to you. It’s there every day now.

What are some of the things the players tend to eat?

It’s all the things that are all protein and carbs. It’s not a fat diet. There’s fish, chicken, pastas, salads, eggs in the morning. It’s not bacon, eggs and sausage, it’s eggs and fruits, that kind of thing.

How has training changed since you were in the league?

Back then, you went to training camp to get in shape. Now, it’s an 11-month-a-year job. Before, the second you were done in April you’d shut it down until the middle of August before you’d even skate again and get in shape, so you never put the emphasis on it.

Do you think most players today realize that the sort of nutrition and training program that they’re getting in the NHL could make the difference for them staying up in Buffalo, having a winning season, that sort of thing?

Oh yeah. At the beginning, I think it’s harder to prove that to them and it would probably be harder to prove that to guys like myself, the older guys, but I think they see what it does for you and I look at the condition these guys are in now, body fat-wise, strength-wise. I think it’s far superior on an average than what we were, because there’s so much emphasis put on it now.

Who would you say are the most fit Sabres?

Marcus Foligno, Patrick Kaleta. These guys work hard. They put a lot into it. That’s their thing. These young kids right now don’t know there’s another way of doing it, they don’t know the way we did it. In Junior now it even starts.

These guys come in here now and (some of them), they have their own trainers. They have everything they need. They go home in the summertime and they have a guy they work out with, they’ve got special therapists. There’s kids now that have their own mental-side-of-the-game people, too. It’s all supplied now, too, by the teams. But before the teams even started supplying them, these kids had this stuff, and they’ve had it since Junior. They know no different. They think it’s part of the game that has always been there, but it hasn’t.

They’re looking for any edge now?

I’ll tell you what, it’s a business now for these guys. You’ve got 20 guys on the team, you’ve got 20 individual businesses. With us, you looked out for each other. I think it was more of a team then. Now, it’s more of an individual game. But they’re so much better prepared now.

Is that what you mean by all their needs are taken care of, so that’s really kind of the difference?

There’s nothing these kids would have to go find or get. It’s supplied for them, so there’s no excuses. Concentrate on playing the game, play the game, that’s all we want you to do. We don’t want any worries, no excuses.

Is there a food you can’t resist?

There’s a lot of foods I can’t resist. Pizza, burgers, milkshakes. Love it.

And now you have a new temptation with this hot dog place.

By biggest fear was going in there and ballooning up to 300 pounds but I’ll tell you what, there’s days I’ll go in there at 8 in the morning and come home at 9 at night and I’ll go, ‘I didn’t even eat today.’ You’re just involved and you’re busy. You’re seeing it and your smelling it, but you’re not craving it.

It sounds like you’ve got some healthy options, as well.

Mark is a total health nut. But I think everyone needs your hot dogs and hamburgs. It’s all moderation. With ours, you get your chicken sandwich, you get your veggie burger. There’s something for everybody.

I hear a lot of people talk about cheat meals.

You can eat whatever you want as long as your not eating it all day, every day.

Would you make any predictions now on who might surprise a lot of Sabres fans in terms of who makes the team, who ends up playing in Buffalo instead of playing in Rochester?

I think a lot of those kids are going to have a chance. Your Girgensons and all these kids who played in Roch last year, your Grigorenkos, they’re all going to get an opportunity because that’s the way things have gone. It’s not going to be one or two of them, there could be five of them on the team this year.

You’re trying to rebuild. You just have to make sure your Tyler Myers and your Drew Staffords and your Ennises, these guys are ready to play, play the way they can play, because they’re going to be such a big part of it, to help these young guys. They’re really going to have to step up and carry the load for these kids.

When it comes to their diets, they can take care of these kids there, too?

Yeah, they’re the models on the ice and the way they live off the ice, as far as the conditioning, they’ve already been introduced to this, in Roch. They’re here in the summertime. It’s not going to be something new to them.

What else of you done to stay in good shape since retirement?

I quit drinking five years ago and I said to my wife, ‘I’ll quit drinking while you’re pregnant.’ And two months after, it was easy and I never went back.

Do you feel healthier not drinking?

Way healthier. There’s no wasted time there. It’s so much better.


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About The Refresh Buffalo Blog

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon

Scott Scanlon is an award-winning reporter and editor who has covered various topics in his quarter-century as a journalist in South Florida, Syracuse and Buffalo. He is aiming to pass along what he is learning these days about health, fitness, nutrition and family life.

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