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Who Is Maria Baniel?

Maria Baniel
Maria Baniel is a good friend of Garden State Woman who believes in the organization's Mission to empower New Jersey women through education. She is also an independent wine consultant who is putting together and will lead our June 10th wine tasting event to be held in the Mansion at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, NJ starting at 6 p.m.

There are plenty of wine tasting events being held throughout New Jersey so we challenged Maria to come up with a theme or concept that will make our event stand out from the crowd. She came up with a really great idea.

Our event on June 10th will feature domestic and international wines hand-crafted by women wine producers. Women purchase more than 50 percent of all wines sold in the U.S. Increasingly women are moving into the industry in key roles including as sommeliers and winery owners. At our wine tasting Maria will discuss the backgrounds of the sparkling, white and red wines included in the tasting.

Maria has a remarkable background that includes two engineering degrees from Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken and a successful corporate career that included several years with Oracle in a high level director position managing six states. She put her career on hold to raise her two children.

During the intervening years Maria also took on volunteer work and eventually ended up heading the now substantial Roots & Wings Foundation, a non-profit that provides support for teenagers once they age out of foster care.

Now with the kids into their high school years Maria is again evaluating her options and instead of returning to the corporate world she has decided to pursue her passion for wine. Growing up in an Italian family Maria learned from a very early age to appreciate wine and its importance at the dinner table. From that early introduction to wines Maria has developed her knowledge and enjoyment of wines.

She reads about wines constantly and attends many, many wine tasting events each year from small intimate affairs to large gala-like fund raising events. She has traveled to Europe visiting many wine regions in addition to the wine regions of the U.S. Maria organizes wine tasting events for various New Jersey clients including non-profits for fundraising events. She truly enjoys sharing her knowledge of wine in order to educate others.

Given Maria's extensive corporate and non-profit leadership experience Garden State Woman has extended an opportunity for Maria to become involved in the Board of the now 3 year old Garden State Woman Education Foundation.

You will certainly enjoy yourself at our upcoming June 10th wine tasting event. Maria will be a great discussion leader for all of us to learn from. Garden State Woman had the opportunity to interview Maria regarding her life-long passion for wine.

GSW: How did you develop your interest in wines? Where did the interest come from? How long ago?

My interest in wine began at an extremely young age. My family made their own wine each year. At home, wine was treated as a beverage no different than iced tea or soda and was at our every meal. However, it wasn't until I graduated college that I realized that others treated wine differently. I was intrigued by this disparity which then heightened my interest even more. From there my passion grew.

GSW: How have you gone about learning about wines, particularly those from other countries?

Taste, taste, taste! For every wine I taste I take the time to learn all I can about the region, grapes, vintage, and winery. The approach to learning about domestic versus international wines is the same. In fact I spent most of my early years learning first about European wines since they intrigued me more. Traveling to the various wine regions is an incredible way of getting first-hand knowledge about the wines and how they are produced. You walk away with a greater appreciation for the vines, the earth, and the wine makers.

GSW: Are there any good books, web sites or magazines that you can recommend to anyone looking to develop their knowledge of wines?

There are almost too many books published on wine today. If you're just beginning to learn about wine, I highly recommend Kevin Zraly's Window's on the World Complete Wine Course book. Mr. Zraly was the wine director at Windows on the World where he developed the Windows on the World Wine School. Popular wine magazines are Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast. There are plenty of websites including those from the previously mentioned magazines, and There are also many blogs on the internet as well.

GSW: You help people and organizations organize and host wine tastings. Tell us about that. What are the keys to having a successful wine tasting?

The key to any successful wine tasting is to invite guests that are truly interested in learning about wines and expanding their palate. The wine theme is also important to create an ambiance for the event. Most importantly, I encourage responsible drinking. Learning how to spit is an art onto itself!

GSW: Is the wine industry dominated by men or are women becoming increasingly involved?

The industry has traditionally been male dominated. Women have made great strides and are now making their mark on the wine world. Some of the most respected wines today are made by women. It's a known fact that women have a heightened sense of taste and smell. It would only be logical that we would excel in this industry.

GSW: Can you recommend your favorite under $25/bottle Champagne? White wine? Red wine? Desert wine?

It all depends on what I'm having for dinner but let me recommend some affordable types of wine in each category. For a sparkling wine I would suggest an Italian Prosecco or Spanish Cava. There are plenty of good white wines in this price bracket, but a Portuguese Vinho Verde is an incredible value at under $10. With red wine, look towards South America. For a dessert wine, try a port. Finally if you like to serve a cheese course at the end of your meal, I recommend a Canadian Ice Wine.

GSW: Do you have a wine cellar at home? If so, please describe what you have collected? How do you decide what goes into your "cellar"?

I do have a cellar. My cellar is well diversified as I like to collect wines from many regions. I tend to have more bottles of my favorites like Barolo and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. My wine collecting philosophy has changed over the years. In the past, I followed the ratings of the critics but then realized that I was accumulating a cellar of wines that others thought of highly. I now only collect wines that I have tasted, that my husband and I enjoy, and most importantly complement my cooking style. That guarantees that I pull a great wine from my cellar every night.

GSW: How do you go about buying wines for your cellar?

Today I make most of my wine purchases on-line. I was always at the mercy of my local liquor stores in search of wines for my cellar. Now I use the internet to not only locate the wines anywhere in NJ but also to find them at the best price.

GSW: We invite all of our web site visitors to share their wine interests, questions, recommendations with the rest of us by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

To register sign up here.

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A Unique Total-Body Fitness Program

At first glance, it looks like a cannonball with a handle. In reality, it is a kettlebell (or girya), a strength training, conditioning and cardio tool that was once the mainstay of Russian weightlifters. Now it is a training tool used in select gyms throughout the country and touted as a one-stop exercise program.

Jenny Rossilli, a speech pathologist and mother of two, was introduced to the kettlebell when she was looking to get in shape after her second child. After taking a class with a friend in the secret service, who uses kettlebells as part of their training regimen, she was hooked. Not one to do things in half measure, Jenny decided that she didn’t only want to train with the kettlebell, she wanted to become certified to instruct others. She traveled to Minnesota, one of the few places in the country that offer certification programs, and became a Certified Russian Kettlebell Instructor (RKC).

Following her training, Jenny and her business partner opened a training studio in Fairfield, NJ. NJ Kettlebells offers both one-time introductory classes and on-going training. According to Rossilli, most women should start with an 18lb weight. While it is possible to do the exercises on your own, she recommends taking at least one introductory class to learn the proper form and technique.

“The kettlebell is an amazing training program. Training only three to four times per week, for about half an hour, will give tremendous results,” says Rossilli. “Unlike traditional training programs, the kettlebell offers cardio, toning, strength training, conditioning and fat burning all in one. It is an efficient, total body workout that anyone can do.” Although “quick feet are happy feet,” quips Rossilli, she has never had an occasion where the kettlebell has slipped out of anyone’s grasp and been launched across the room, but does recommend taking precautions like chalking your hands.

Because it is not high-impact and is low stress to joints, the kettlebell can be used by anyone – both Jenny’s 7 year old daughter and 65 year old mother-in-law train with the kettlebell. Additionally, it is often used as part of physical therapy and rehab for pains and injuries, including the back and rotator cuffs. While the program might need to be modified for certain conditions, most people can benefit from kettlebell training. Individuals with injuries or pre-existing conditions should consult with a physician before beginning the training.

For more information, or a class schedule, visit the NJ Kettlebells website at

The Beez Foundation

The second semester of her freshman year of college, Jenn Beisswanger was thrilled to realize her dream of becoming of Nittany Lion as she transferred to one of Penn State University’s campuses. Unfortunately, after only one week in her new school, Jenn experienced a grand mal seizure and a few days later, in January of 1998, surgery was performed by the Cancer Institute of New Jersey to remove a lemon-sized tumor in her brain.

In April, a second surgery was performed, this time at Memorial Sloane Kettering, and 90% of the tumor was removed. After an MRI in August indicated that the tumor was still growing, Jen underwent 6 weeks of radiation, trekking into NYC for treatment at MSK.

In remission, Jenn returned to Penn State in 1999 and completed both her second semester of freshman year and the first semester of her sophomore year. In December 1999, a routine MRI showed that the tumor was again growing and was more aggressive than previous. After another year of treatment, in January of 2001, her team of doctors determined that Jenn had exhausted all traditional treatment options and suggested that she undergo a stem cell transplant. Despite her valiant struggle, at the age of 22, Jenn succumbed to an infection following the transplant.

 Because Jenn was diagnosed with brain cancer when she was 18, she was treated as a pediatric patient and was moved by the younger children that she encountered. Her compassionate nature gave her the ability to focus on others, even during her own battle. In fact, she once left her hospital bed in the middle of the night to offer help to an elderly woman experiencing great pain. During the course of her treatments, Jenn volunteered at the hospital, reading to pediatric kidney dialysis patients, and worked as a camp counselor.
Determined to do something positive in her daughter’s memory, and to continue Jenn’s legacy of compassion to other pediatric cancer victims, Susan Giardina developed the Beez Foundation. Her first step was to put together an advisory board, comprised of Jennifer's friends, local business executives and doctors from the Cancer Institute of New Jersey, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and Robert Wood Johnson Hospital, to provide guidance and to review grant proposals for research funding.
With the help of her advisory board, a three-fold mission was created for the Beez Foundation:
  1. Educate people of the prevalence of brain cancer in children (it is the #2 cancer in kids behind leukemia and the number one pediatric cancer killer) and to make parents more diligent in recognizing the symptoms
  2. Provide seed money to support the first phase of research in brain cancer     
  3. Offer patient services for children and their families as they battle this disease
 The Foundation created a number of fund-raising activities to raise the capitol necessary to fulfill their mission. Keeping with Jennifer's philosophies, most are family-oriented, fun events within the local communities and designed to have a strong community bond with local businesses and organizations cooperating in the various events. The most popular of these activities is the annual Rubber Ducky Race, on the Delaware Raritan Canal. In their last run, they dropped 5000 ducks into the canal, each sponsored for $5 a piece. The “owner” of the winning ducky wins a donated cruise. In addition to the Duck Race, the foundation also has a strong sponsor in the Somerset Patriots baseball team. For seven years, the Beez Foundation has run the Diamond Derby, which allows kids to run the bases on the field following Sunday home games, and has passed out materials and information on The Beez Foundation and pediatric brain cancer to game attendees. The Foundation is also developing a program called “Art from the Heart” which collects decorated hats to be passed out to children who have lost their hair from cancer treatments. 
As a result of their fund-raising efforts, The Beez Foundation has donated $125,000. These funds seeded brain cancer research, which has resulted in a white paper presentation by one of the doctors they funded. Money has also been allocated to support patient/family services, including sponsorship of 400 nights at the Ronald McDonald House, annual sponsorship of a camper at Paul Newman’s Double H Hole In the Woods camp, and sponsorship of a woman authoring a children’s book about cancer.
To volunteer or to participate in the fund-raising activities, please go to


Winter Bird Gardens

When we think of gardens, bright and colorful blossoms, sunshine and summer come to mind - not the cold, bleak and snowy months of winter. But what if we designed our gardens to attract birds that would bring color, movement, and sound to our yard through the winter? We might find ourselves staring out at our garden, captivated by the view, just as we were in the summer.
To attract birds to your garden, start at the top and work down. Birdhouses installed in nearby trees or on posts draw the eye and the birds to a specific area. With so many colors and styles of birdhouse to choose from, you can create a bird habitat to accent any home style. From the traditional to the truly unique (try, birdhouses accent your personal style while offering your winter visitors a place to nest out of the cold. You should also give your birds a place to play. Like your birdhouse, birdbaths can be traditional, bright and bold statements or a “bubbler” for something playful with soothing water noises. Just like when we played in the sprinkler as children, birds like to play in the water!
The next step is to plant bushes and flowers that will attract your feathered friends. To draw the flighty and delicate hummingbirds, plant Monarda, Lobelia, Salvia, and any other red flowers. Finches love the Rudbeckias, like Blackeyed Susans and Coneflowers, for their centers full of seeds. Trees and shrubs that produce berries are also a favorite - try new varieties of Crabapples, Hollies, or Viburnums. Ornamental grasses can make great nesting material; Leave them up all winter and cut them back in the spring. Cedars and Hollies also make great nesting places and protection for the birds in the winter.
Finally, tempt the birds with food. Have your children make pinecones with fruit or peanut butter and ropes of cranberry or popcorn. Once you know which types of birds have come to nest in your garden, select the type of seeds they like best and keep your feeders full. Remember to keep birdfeeders clean and squirrel-proof and look after the “ground feeders” too – toss a little seed on the ground for them!
Bird gardens also make great science projects for children as they learn to identify birds, know what type(s) of seed they prefer, the difference in their chirps and behavior. For example, did you know that the Junco's come to feed when snow is coming?
To discuss designing your own bird garden, contact Elizabeth Johnston, Landscape Designer, at 973-445-3643.

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