Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!!!!

We wish you all the best in 2009 and beyond.

Our January newsletter is almost finished, great articles and information about what is going on at the Birch Center. If you are not on our newsletter list you can sign up here. Lots of exciting things in store for 2009!

If there is anything you'd like to see us address or discuss or offer in 2009, please let us know, either with a comment on the blog, or you can email us at

Talk to you soon!

Lots of love,
Melissa and Dave

Friday, December 26, 2008

Raw Latkes!

Above: my amazing raw latkes with raw applesauce.

We still have a three more nights of Chanukah, enough time to make and enjoy these amazing sweet potato latkes (potato pancakes) I came up with!

You do need a dehydrator for this recipe (unless you have an oven that can bake on a very low temp....)

I wish I thought to take a picture before I was eating the very last one (isn't that strange that the thought occurred to me, literally, halfway through the last latke?)

But I will make them again tomorrow, so I'll take a picture then. (picture posted above.)

Here is the recipe:

1 large sweet potato (the orange kind), grated
3/4 large onion, grated
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp tamari
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup ground flax seed (to hold it all together.)
chili powder and/or paprika and/or black pepper (I used chili and paprika because we don't have black pepper, but I think black pepper would be nice.)

Mix ingredients together, and adjust seasoning.

Form into latke shapes (potato pancakes - round and flattened) and dehydrate on 105 degrees for 10 - 12 hours (although I started eating them much sooner...they are so good and they really taste just like potato pancakes!)

Serve with apple sauce (I made raw by putting peeled, chopped apples in a blender.)

An easy raw sour cream would go something like this:

In vitamix or other strong blender, blend:

cashews (if you soak them, they'll be softer - a good idea if you have a regular blender)
lemon juice
water (add slowly, until the right consistency.)

Or, if you have the time and inclination, try something with probiotics and a few days of culturing, like this recipe from

I didn't make the sour cream, though.

Just the latkes and apple sauce were heavenly!

With Joy and Love,
~ Melissa

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!

We hope you are enjoying this wonderful holiday season.

If you are looking for some very family-friendly entertainment this holiday season, here is a movie we watch on youtube (year round) though it is especially appropriate this time of year (as it is Christmas themed.)

It's called A Muppet Family Christmas, and it brings together the entire cast of muppets: from The Muppet Show, Sesame Street, and Fraggle Rock. Lots of great music and good cheer, and Jim Henson even makes a quick cameo at the end (I think this was filmed around 1986.)

It's in five parts. Here is the link to part one. If you like it, it will take you to the other parts:

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Happy Chanukah! Happy Solstice!

Happy Chanukah!!! - Chanukah starts tonight at sunset: 4:57 pm.

Today is also solstice - happy winter! The solstice occurred today, Sunday December 21, at 7:04 AM in Pittsburgh

Today (Sunday) we'll be hosting a family knitting group at The Birch the office will be open from 10:30 am until about 12:30 (Steeler game is at 1!)

If you are in the south side today, please feel free to stop by...for a cup of tea and to say hello, to peruse the books we have for sale to raise money for the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, or to buy a gift certificate at 10% off.

We hope you are having a great holiday season!

Melissa and Dave

Friday, December 12, 2008

Around Pittsburgh this Holiday Season

Holidays are such a great time around Pittsburgh! Here are some fun things to do:

Phipps - the winter flower show is fabulous this year! I just love the displays of animals made from all natural materials. And Santa is at Phipps again this year: Saturdays and Sundays, 11 am - 2 pm.

Holly Trolley - The Holly Trolley is free on Saturdays and Sundays with stops at Station Square, Macy's, and other places downtown. What a great way to see the all the displays of the holiday season.

The Nutcracker - at the Benedum. Wow! We saw it for the first time today and loved it! Ella could not help but dance in the aisle (luckily we went to the school matinee, and no one seemed to mind.) Our friend Erin must have had the day off today (sadly for us!) but she will be in future performances as Marie, The Snow Queen and The Sugar Plum Fairy, depending on the performance. I just loved how they made it local to Pittsburgh in so many ways (the mansion was from Shadyside, the carriage was Heinz....)

So so many other things, too. A Christmas Carol at the Byham...Chanukah begins December 21 - which is also the winter solstice - this year. There is a Raw Food Holiday Meet Up at Maggie's Mercantilein Oakland on December 14. Just so many festivities.

Please feel free to share your favorite thing to do this season in the comments! I don't want to miss anything! Thank you, and happy holidays!

The Book List

Here it is!

10+ of my favorite books. May they lead you to enlightenment, well being, and joy!

  1. Meditation, An Eight Point Program by Eknath Easwaran. I had been looking for this book ever since I read another book by Easwaran: Gandhi the Man.I love this author and the Meditation book did not disappoint. And now I am reading The Bhagavad Gita (on Easwaran's recommendation.) I'm reading Eliot Deutsch's translation...but Easwaran also has a translation of the The Bhagavad Gita and his three volume The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living.

  2. No Death, No Fearby Thich Nhat Hanh. Here is another author I can't get enough of.

  3. Green for Lifeby Victoria Boutenko. Green Smoothies! She also wrote Raw Family: A True Story of Awakening,which is a definite page-turner about how she and her family regained their health (the four family members had: mom - obesity and heart disease, dad - crippling arthritis, sister - asthma and brother - type 1 Diabetes). After research and soul searching she threw away all the cooked food and filled the house with fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and it is incredible how they all healed!

  4. The Simple Living Guideby Janet Luhrs. This is such an inspiring book, and turned me on to Cob building, money saving principles from the book Your Money or Your Lifeby Joe Dominguez, as well as many other things.

  5. The Power of Nowand A New Earthby Eckhart Tolle. Did you see the 10 part interview Oprah did with Tolle (online) about the book A New Earth? It was amazing. You can download it for free at

  6. The Anastasia books. These are a nine book series, written by a Russian author about a young recluse from the Siberian wilderness who lives off the earth and has amazing innate abilities - to see, heal, understand.

  7. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutritionby Paul Pitchford. Still my favorite go to handbook on all things nutrition, especially in that it has an Asian medicine perspective.

  8. The Web That Has No Weaver : Understanding Chinese Medicineby Ted Kaptchuk. If you are interested in Chinese Medicine, I still think this is the first place to turn.

  9. For raw food preparation, my favorites are Ani's Raw Food Kitchenby Ani Phyo and RAWvolution: Gourmet Living Cuisineby Matt Amsden.

  10. Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guideby Thomas Elias and Peter Dykeman is my favorite book when I'm out foraging.

  11. I need to add just one more. The Contrary Farmerby Gene Logsdon. And while I'm on the topic of back-to-the-land and grow-your-own-food, check out Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Lifeby Barbara Kingsolver. I loved both these books.

No-Sew Dream Pillows

In our last newsletter, I wrote an article about making dream pillows. (You can sign up to receive our monthly newsletter here.) Recently I got some feedback by my good friend (and very inspiring young woman) Bethany, about making them without sewing!

She put the herbs into a sock and tied it up - how easy!

Here are some herb mix ideas:

  • Pleasant dreams (keep nightmares away) Rosemary and mint (or rosemary and lavender...lavender is more relaxing.)
  • Remembering your dreams: Rosemary and Mugwort
  • Creative Dreaming (kick your dreams up to the next level!) Mugwort alone, or with lavender
  • To help sleep: lavender alone or with chamomile and/or hops

Another great sock (or bag) idea: to make an eye rest. Along with the herbs add some uncooked rice to the sock (or bag) and tie it.

These would make such great homemade gifts! A special touch: with the dream pillow give a blank journal for recording dreams. You could also decorate the cover of a blank journal to make it a dream journal (I did that one year.)

The eye pillow idea came from Bunny Berry of Raw Fu fame, and she just opens bags of Celestial Seasoning herb tea to fill her sock (along with the rice.) I believe she said that some kind of Orange Spice tea was her favorite.

I love all these creative ideas...just in time for the holidays!

Monday, December 8, 2008

It is in giving that we receive...

Hi everyone!

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.

Our December newsletter just went out, with articles about making dream pillows, keeping uplifted during the holiday time, and our book sale, in which 100% of proceeds are being donated to The Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.

If you are not on our mailing list, please join today.

I'm very excited about our book sale fundraiser, and hope to make it a regular event at the Birch Center. When you come in for an appointment, make sure you check out the sale table. There are great titles on there like Son Rise: The Miracle Continues
by Barry Neil Kaufman, The Power of Intention
by Wayne Dyer, and Quick Vegetarian Pleasures: More than 175 Fast, Delicious, and Healthy Meatless Recipes
by Jeanne Lemlin.

We are suggesting a donation of $3 a book, $5 for 2. If you have any books you'd like to donate, bring them by! 100% of the proceeds are going to the Greater Pittburgh Community Food Bank.

Here is the prayer (which I am meditating on lately, a la the book Meditation: A Simple Eight-Point Program for Translating Spiritual Ideals into Daily Life
by Eknath Easwaran...more on that great book later) from which I took the inspiration:

It is by St. Francis of Assissi, and the translation I am including here is from Easwaran's book, pages 29 - 30:

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness; joy.

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console,
To be understood as to understand,
To be loved as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

We hope you are having a wonderful day.
Enjoy the weekend...we'll be back in the office on Monday.
Happy Thanksgiving!
Dave and Melissa

Monday, November 10, 2008

Antibacterial Soap

Yesterday our November newsletter went out. I mentioned as a way to stay healthy through the winter: Wash your hands, but not with antibacterial soap.

But then I never said why.

I meant to explain that, sorry!

There is controversy about the antibacterial soap...this is what I have heard:

  • it is getting into our ground water and killing fish and plant life.
  • doctors are finding that when everyone uses it, it becomes less effective for them in hospitals.
  • using antibacterial soap regularly kills off "good" bacteria that live on our skin and in our bodies and actually protects us and keeps us healthy
  • upsetting the balance of flora on our skin and in our bodies can actually cause yeast overgrowth (yeast and bacteria usually keep each other in check.)
  • using the antibacterial soap can also cause some "bad" bacteria to grow into super strong strains.

Thanks for the questions...I'm sorry I left it out.

If you are not on our mailing list, please join today! You'll receive our newsletter every month, as well as some freebies available to subscribers, such as the articles, 10 Ways to Improve your Health Right Now, and Achieving Optimal Health.

Thanks so much.

~ Melissa

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Raw Thanksgiving Recipes

Thanks everyone for all your feedback and suggestions to our newsletter and blogs!

Here is a popular question we have been getting lately: What are some raw food ideas for Thanksgiving and Holiday meals?

The following are a few recipes we have put together, and are planning on having on Thanksgiving.

Butternut Squash Soup

3 cups peeled, chopped butternut squash
2 peeled chopped apples
5 pitted dates
1 cup apple juice + 1 cup water (or all water)
1 Tbsp cinnamon
ice if using a vitamix, so as not to heat soup while mixing.

Put all ingredients in blender or vitamix and blend. Serve and enjoy.

Raw Mushroom Stuffing

1/2 cup soaked sunflower seeds
1/2 cup soaked pumpkin seeds
1/2 cup soaked walnuts or pecans
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
2 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
1/4 onion
1 clove garlic
juice of 1/2 lemon (or more to taste)
Tamari, miso or sea salt to taste
1 cup chopped mushrooms, marinated with some tamari and garlic
1 Tbsp sage
1 Tbsp thyme

Put all ingredients except mushrooms and spices in food processor and pulse until mixed. You may want to do the nuts/seeds first, pour into a bowl, and then do veggies next so they don't get overmixed. Taste and adjust seasoning. Pour into bowl and add mushrooms, sage and thyme. Mix, adjust seasoning, serve and enjoy.

Veggie patties

1/2 cup cashews
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup chopped cauliflower
1/4 onion
1-2 cloves garlic
(Pulse above ingredients in food processor and pour in bowl)
1 carrot
1 stalk celery
2 kale leaves, stemmed and chopped
1/2 red pepper
lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
1 Tbsp miso or tamari
(Pulse these ingredients until well chopped and mixed, and add to top ingredients)

Mix, form into patties and place on dehydrator. Dehydrate at 105 degrees overnight, flipping once after about 6 hours.

Enjoy with your favorite salad, and you have quite a meal!

And for dessert:

Chocolate "Cream" Pie

1 1/2 cup pecans
3/4 cup pitted dates

Mix above in food processor and press into bottom of pie pan. This is the crust.

4 - 5 bananas
1 avocado
1/4 cup honey or agave nectar
1/4 cup cacao powder
bit of vanilla extract
pinch of sea salt

Mix in food processor and pour into the pie pan. Refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Apple Crumble

4 apples, peeled and chopped into inch cubes
squeeze of lemon

Chop apples and place in serving bowl, squeeze lemon on top.

For crumble:

1/2 cup pecans
1/4 cup raisins
1/4 cup pitted dates
1 tsp cinnamon
pinch sea salt

Process in food processor, then sprinkle over apples.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Foraging Friday: Cracking Black Walnuts

Here is our first video! We wanted to show you how to get into those black walnuts that you may have foraged last month. We hope you enjoy it:

Also, our November e-newsletter is due out any day! If you are not on our email list, please sign up now! We will also be sending subscribers a special report: The Ten Most Important Things you can do to Improve Your Health within the week, and you won't want to miss it.

Thanks so much!
~ Melissa

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Victoria Boutenko on Rawkathon

I just watched an amazing interview with Victoria Boutenko on Rawkathon. If you are interested in health, healing from all sorts of conditions, and other very interesting information, watch this interview. It is up for free until 8 pm tomorrow (Wednesday, October 22.)

Victoria Boutenko is the author of Green for Life, as well as her previous books Raw Family and Twelve Steps to Raw. More information about her can be found at

Enjoy this amazing interview! (And others as well - Rawkathon posts two free interviews a night, through Saturday night.)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Sad loss...

I'm so sad to report that a wonderful Pittsburgh holistic doctor - she was actually my doctor and the doctor of many of our clients - Dr. Amy Stine, died Monday in a rock climbing accident in WVa.

The full story is here.

Dr. Stine was a wonderful and supportive woman, and an intelligent doctor with an open heart and an open mind. She herself knew of many wholistic remedies, and often recommended patients receive massage, acupuncture, chiropractic and other modalities of care if she felt it was in their best interest.

Her practice was often full, but she regularly opened it again to let more people in. So many people wanted to see her and just loved her as a doctor; she was very unique to the area.

She was an excellent doctor, a wonderful woman, and will be missed by many.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Steel City Sunday - Bicycling

We had a low-key weekend...the Steelers didn't play today so we had to make due....

Ella learned how to ride her bicycle this weekend without training wheels! So we went to FreeRide in the East End and found the perfect bike for her. What an excellent place, check it out if you get a chance.

Dave also participated in a health fair at the new Vitamin Shoppe, down at the Waterfront, talking to people about acupuncture. It has opened where the Boston Market used to be, and they are having a nice opening sale, so if you use vitamins, supplements, green powders, raw food bars and the like, now might be a good time to stock up!

And, we haven't seen it yet, but downtown Pittsburgh is all lit up! Not quite for the holidays yet, but if you visit you'll see that they have lit up lots of the buildings and churches, and it sounds beautiful! (October 10 through November.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Foraging Friday

It's foraging Friday, and today we did indeed go foraging. Above is a picture taken a week or so ago of me and Ella cracking into our black walnuts (she with a hammer, me with a rock)...I LOVE them!

Today we hiked around Frick Park and not only found an enormous abundance of black walnuts, but we finally came across (and tasted) some hickory nuts. To me, they tasted like black walnuts, only a bit sweeter.

And, we have to send a special thank you to our friend Grace, who graciously called to offer us some deliciously ripe paw paws that her friend Taylor had found while in Berkeley Springs, WVa! Thanks for sharing!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Steel City Sunday - Pittsburgh is 250!

This year is Pittsburgh's 250th birthday...and this was quite a birthday weekend!

We began the weekend on Friday downtown with the Gallery Crawl, taking a free swing lesson at Aurthur Murray dance studio. We saw live dance by the Pillow Project, which was an extra special surprise treat as Ella's gymnastics teacher is in the dance troup. What a thrill for Ella to see her!

Saturday we picked our pumpkins out at Schramm's Farms and Orchards, and then watched the spectacular fireworks celebration for Pgh's 250th. What a display! We watched from an excellent vantage point on the south side slopes, and were able to see fireworks launching off buildings, barges, point state park, pnc field and bridges. Wow!! (The youtube video at the end is the finale, but you'll see it was hard for the person to take in the entire scene from such a close view as they were. I really enjoyed the set-back view we had...too bad our camera battery fizzled yesterday.)

Today we did the 8th annual Step Trek on the south side slopes...Ella walked the entire "church loop." When we arrived at the raw food potluck she was fast asleep.

But what a great potluck...delicious food, delightful company, and as always, so much to learn. There is a movie being made about a wonderful young woman named Bethany who healed herself from so many incredibly complicated conditions...including paralysis (she was in a wheelchair for three years) and nerve degeneration (condition from birth) with raw foods. You'll find information at

And here is that fireworks finale video:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Wellness Wednesday: Rawkathon

There's a free online health event coming up that some of you may be interested in...

It's called Rawkathon, put together by Kevin Gianni (who did Raw Summit a year ago.) Rawkathon consists of one-on-one VIDEO interviews with 15 of the best known raw and living food pioneers, and they'll be broadcast for us all to watch or listen to in a few short weeks, starting on October the 19th.

If you are interested in signing up or getting more information, you can sign up for free here.

Here is a list of who will be interviewed:

  • Matt Monarch ~ A Candid Look into the Life of a Raw Foodist

  • Dr. Gabriel Cousens ~ How to Heal your Body and Transform your consciousness with raw and living foods

  • Victoria Boutenko ~ Simple Ways to Transform your Diet and Stay Raw

  • Dr. Doug Graham ~ Key Elements to Optimal Health

  • David Wolfe ~ Superfoods to Regenerate, Rebuild and Reenergize your body

  • Mike Adams ~ Cut through the media hype to get and stay healthy

  • Viktoras Kulvinskas ~ Overcoming Obstacles to Reach Your Health and Wellness Goals

  • Nomi Shannon ~ Cleansing Lessons

  • Raw Food Chef Cherie Soria ~ how to Raw-food-ize your kitchen

  • David Rainoshek ~ Why People fail on raw and vegan and how to ultimately succeed

  • Frederic Patenaude ~ Real Life Experiences and how to deal with falling off the plan

  • Rick Dina ~ The Science behind Why raw food works

  • Karen Knowler ~ How to transition from cooked to raw

  • Jameth Sheriden ~ Quality Raw food health products

  • Happy Oasis ~ Tribal Experiences from around the world.

Be part of this amazing event...all at no cost! Sign up today, it starts October 19!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Wild Edible Walk

We had our wild edible walk today! The weather held beautifully and we had a great turnout of interested, interesting people. Thanks so much to everyone who came.

We saw edible and medicinal:

  • plantain (plantago major and minor)
  • red clover
  • dandelion
  • mugwort
  • burdock
  • lambsquarters
  • garlic mustard
  • sumac
  • evening primrose
  • mulberry tree

and we saw poison:

  • white snake root
  • crown vetch

we brought along to show:

  • quickweed
  • amaranth
  • black walnuts
  • paw paw

we talked about making:

  • pesto
  • vinegar
  • oils
  • tinctures
  • dream pillows with mugwort
  • green smoothies
  • salads

I hope everyone takes advantage the list of resources that we gave out! Here are some highlights:

Wildman Steve Brill: pictures, illustrations, stories, recipes
Prodigal Gardens - lots of great pics, info and recipes
Harmony Hikes Wild Edible Page - videos and information

The book we use (that we had with us today) is: Edible Wild Plants: A North American Field Guide

And don't forget this blog! You can sign up for email updates (upper right margin).

Also, please sign up for our free monthly e-newsletter, which has information about local wild edibles as well as information on our upcoming events. We'll definitely do more wild edible walks next year, starting early in the spring.

Thanks again!

~ Melissa

Friday, September 26, 2008

Foraging Friday: Staghorn Sumac

Today we went out and gathered staghorn sumac, to make a lemonade-type of drink for people to sample at the Wild Edibles Walk tomorrow. (We forgot the camera when harvesting, but the above link takes you to Wikipedia...great pics and info.)

Above are the sumac clusters on the table, and below I've put them in a jar.

I'm filling the jar with cold water (cold water preserves the vitamin C). I'll fill the jar to the top and let it sit overnight. Tomorrow morning I'll strain and add sweetener like honey, agave nectar or maple syrup to taste.

The Wild Edible Walk is tomorrow (Saturday, September 27)! We will have the walk rain or shine, unless it is a total downpour or there is thunder and lightning. We're meeting at 10 am on the south side riverfront park...the upper trail. If you have a question about the weather and the walk, call our office after 9 am Saturday, and we'll have a message on the machine letting you know whether the walk is on or not.

We hope to see you soon!

~ Melissa

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Raw Dinner and other news

Last night we had our raw demo and dinner at the Birch Center! I had so much fun -- what an amazing group of lovely people! Thank you so much for everyone who came, it was so much fun to get to spend time together like that.

I really enjoyed the Squash Soup. Here is the recipe for that:

3 cups peeled and chopped butternut squash
2 apples (peeled, chopped)
2 cups apple juice
2 cups water
6-ish dates
1+Tbsp cinnamon
some ice to keep cool while blending

Blend all ingredients in high speed blender until smooth. It was really good!

And someone earlier asked for the final recipe to the chocolate sauce. Here it is:

Equal parts:

hemp oil
honey or agave nectar (maybe slightly more sweetener if you want to hide the nutty taste of the hemp oil)
raw cacao powder

also: 1 tsp vanilla extract and sprinkle of salt


We had it on top of an apple crumble: sliced apples topped with chopped pecans and dates.


In other news:

There is an upcoming potluck (and lecture about the food/cancer conncection) with the Pittsburgh Raw Food Meet-Up Group. This will be October 5 in Allison Park. It's free...just join the meetup and you can keep up to date with raw food potlucks and events.


Also: our Wild Edible Walk is scheduled for this Saturday, Sept 27 at 10 am. The weather forecast is showing possible rain. We plan to walk if it is overcast, drizzling or light rain. If it is a downpour or has thunder or lightening we won't walk. We'll have a message on our answering machine by 9 am Saturday morning, so if you're in doubt, just call (412) 381-0116. If you haven't joined our mailing list, please click here and join...then we can keep you up-to-date with all the latest.

Thanks so much!

~ Melissa

Monday, September 22, 2008

Way down yonder in the paw paw patch...

We found paw paws today! We were in the patch yesterday, but didn't see any. We double checked that the trees were paw paws, then went back today with our good friends Wendi and KDCat from, and we struck gold!

Here are three paw paws - all were soft and ripe and delicious! Most others we found weren't ripe yet, still too early. The ripe ones were sweet and soft and tasted like cardamom with a hint of lemon.

Yesterday I found some interesting information on paw paws on line, in this blog.

I do still have one unripe paw paw that Dave knocked off the tree (thinking it was ripe) that I will bring with me to the Wild Edible Walk on Saturday, Sept. 27. They look like green mangoes, but are actually native to this part of the world. It's so nice to eat delicious, seasonal, local, native, WILD fruit!!

...It is curious that I've never seen paw paws, mulberries, or black walnuts - all local - at any farmers markets or even the coop. Yet bananas, of course, are everywhere, all the time. Hmmmmmm...

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Black Walnuts

Wow, a whole week went by since the last post? How did that happen?

This past week we foraged for Black Walnuts, which are in season right now! They are falling off their trees and they look like tennis balls on the ground (same color, shape and approximate size.) Unfortunately I didn't take pictures (I will next time!) but you can find out more about harvesting black walnuts from wildman Steve Brill's website (pictures, description, recipes - click plants, then black walnut.) There is also good info with pictures on black walnuts here.

You can actually make a little money gathering these and selling them to hulling stations: about $10 - $13 per one hundred pounds (hulled). However, if you take the time and energy to shell them, you can actually sell them at markets and such for $10/pound. (We just plan on eating ours.)

We found them in our neighborhood around the South Side Slopes, and today we went to Schenley park and found a great tree there (on a little out of the way path by a creek, so beautiful!)

We step on the green shells to get the walnut out, then we gathered them into a bag (wearing gloves, and even so, my fingers got stained.) We'll dry them and then get a nutcracker and nutmeat pick to open them and extract the meat.

We'll have some to demonstrate at our Wild Edible Walk this coming Saturday, September 27! Unfortunately we didn't see any Black Walnut trees down on the southside riverfront trail, but we'll bring the green walnuts and once you see them you'll be able to find them yourselves...they are very easy to spot once you know what you are looking for!

And there a still a few spots left in our Raw Foods Dinner and Demo, coming up this Wednesday, Sept 24. Please give us a call if you want to come: (412) 381-0116. I really feel it will be a very fun evening! The menu is:

  • green smoothie
  • butternut squash soup
  • raw burritos with spiced nutmeat, corn salsa, and guacamole
  • tomato basil salad
  • nutmilk chai
  • fruit with chocolate sauce

Finally, a woman contacted me who REVERSED her diabetes at the Tree of Life Refuvenation Center in Patagonia, AZ. Her acupuncturist has some reservations about staying on an all raw diet through a cold winter, and she wanted input from me (as an acupuncturist familiar with raw foods.) You can read about her and my response here.

Til next time ~ (which will hopefully be sooner than this last time, and include pictures!)

~ Melissa

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Steel City Sunday: Palace of Gold

In an attempt to stay true to the themes of this blog, today I'll share with you a place we visited yesterday, just over an hour outside Pittsburgh. We ventured to New Vrindaban, WV (outside Wheeling) to visit the Palace of Gold.

The Palace itself is an amazing, ornate tribute to the man who brought the Hare Krishna movement to the US: Prabhupada. It was built by disciples - who had no previous building skills - in the 1970's as a place where Prabhupada could come and stay and do his work of translating Sanskrit texts into English. Along with a tour of the palace and a walk through the palace's beautiful gardens, we visited the temple and talked to many people who live there today.

The community was so friendly and open, and had organic gardens and even runs a small farm training center. The animals we saw (cows and goats) were happy and healthy. It was really a pleasure to discover this hidden gem so close to Pittsburgh!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Tomato Basil Salad

This is the best salad of the summer so far! My four year old gobbles it up. It is definitely going to find it's way onto our menu for the Raw Demo and Dinner coming up on September 24!

It's easy: five simple ingredients:

  • 3-5 heirloom tomatoes, depending on size - right from our garden. so many heirloom varieties, delicious!
  • 2 Tbsp chopped basil - right from our garden. mmmmm
  • 1 small clove garlic (we finished all our garden garlic!)
  • 1-2 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt (I've been using that Himalayan salt.)

Chop tomatoes and basil. Crush (or chop) the garlic. Mix olive oil and sprinkle of salt to taste.

Sooooo good...and the "sauce" you'll find at the end is amazing - you'll definitely want to drink this (or sop it up with bread or something.)


Monday, September 8, 2008

Foraging Friday - Monday Edition

We had such a beautiful time camping at Raccoon Creek State Park this weekend for Ella's birthday. Yesterday we went on a hike to find the Healing Mineral Springs, a spa destination site of the 1800's. On the way we were all stung by this plant:

Ella got welts on her leg, Dave on his arm. I was stung as I pinched the flowers in my fingers, explaining why it was not nettles, even though it looked like it. Well, it IS nettles! The nettles I am familiar with have flowers that bloom up and down, while these flowers spread out. So, I learn something new every day.

We rubbed plantain leaves on the stings and welts which caused the pain and itching to stop and the welts to disappear. The book at the part office said you could rub jewelweed on as a remedy as well. Once we found the iron-rich cold mineral springs we went under them and any residual anything completely disappeared.

But we were more careful walking back, as the mile+ trail was literally overgrown with flowering, stinging NETTLES!

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Treatment Tuesday: The Earth Element and Digestion

To the right is a picture of Raw Squash Soup, which is beneficial to the Earth element, and which we will be enjoying in our upcoming Raw Foods Demo and Dinner, September 24, at the Birch Center.

Late summer is officially here! In Chinese Medicine, late summer (and all changes in season) relates to the Earth element, which is about digestion, and is the center of our health. The colors of the Earth element are orange and yellow, which are also the color of many foods coming into season right now: squash, corn, peaches, pumpkins. These foods have a sweet flavor and in moderation are beneficial to the earth element.

In Chinese Medicine, having strong digestion is very important to overall health. No matter what people come in to see us for, we always get around to asking about digestion, because it tells us a lot of information about the state of overall health.

If this element is weak, we may see digestive systems such as gas, belching, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and IBS, but we will also see symptoms such as fatigue, bruising, muscles aches and heaviness. Mentally a person may just not have their "get up and go", and will rather nap or sit around the house. They may worry or obsess about things, and may even have insomnia, even though they are so tired during the day.

Acupuncture treatments can help support the Earth element and alleviate these symptoms. There are also wonderful Chinese herbal remedies such as Bu Zhong Yi Qi Tang and Gui Pi Tang which help balance this element, and are chosen very specifically to match what is going on for each individual. For more information or to schedule an acupuncture appointment, calls The Birch Center at (412) 381-0116, or email

Here are some other ideas which you can do at home to help balance your Earth element:

  • Eat green foods, especially leafy greens, which are thought to have a bitter property and relate to the fire element, which is the "mother" of the earth element and thus helps strengthen it.

  • Though sweet is the flavor of Earth, avoid overly sweet and processed foods, which tend to weaken this element. Avoid foods with sugar, corn syrup and white flour.

  • Eat your heaviest foods in the morning, from 7 am to 11 am, when the energy in the Earth element (digestion) is strongest. Stop eating by 7 pm in the evening, when the energy in this element is the weakest. This is an incredibly important and powerful thing you can do to balance this element.

  • In Chinese Medicine, it is recommended to lightly steam your food for easier digestion. In following a raw foods diet - which is usually not recommended when the earth element is weak - I find that including a lot of green leafy vegetables and blending the food (green smoothies or energy soups), is actually an excellent way to boost this element.

  • Processed fruit juice (bottled from the store) is too sweet and not recommended. However, if you freshly juice fruits yourself, always cut with plenty of water and add some green juice: some spinach or Romaine leaves in to help balance the sweetness.

  • Get outside! This way your body can absorb the last of the warm sunshine and can really mesh with the season.

  • Moderate exercise (outdoors is best) will also help this element, as exercise keeps the energy of the whole body flowing. When energy becomes stagnant, this often causes the wood element in our body (responsible for the smooth flow of energy) to attack and weaken the earth element.

Our September newsletter is about to go out, and there is an article all about late summer, the Earth element and your health. Sign up here for our newsletter now, so you don't miss it! Also, there are still spaces available in our Raw Foods Demo and Dinner. To sign up please call us at (412) 381-0116.

Thanks, and enjoy this beautiful time of year!

In Health,
~ Melissa Sokulski, L.Ac.
The Birch Center for Health

Friday, August 29, 2008

sketching again...

A couple of years ago I began sketching daily, and I kept an online journal of some of my sketches.

Yesterday I began sketching a bit again...inspired by the yoga I've been doing (and a bit by the Olympic gymnastics.)

They're a bit light because I did them in pencil, but I think you can see them.

(I also posted this on my Raw Food and Juice Blog...sometimes it's confusing having two.)

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Healthy Homes - An Introduction to Vastu and Feng Shui

Today I was reading Yoga+Joyful Living Magazine, and I learned about Vastu, or the "yoga of design." It's like feng shui, which I've been thinking a lot about lately as we try to make our home more healthy and comfortable.

What I've always liked about the yoga/ayurvedic/Indian systems is that their five elements are: fire, water, earth, air and space, which makes more sense intuitively than the Chinese five elements: fire, earth, metal, water and wood. Of course, having studied the Chinese five elements and the whole acupuncture system, it makes a lot of sense to me now and I love working within that tradition. Yet the five elements of fire, earth, water, air and space are what I would have guessed the five elements to be, looking around at the world.

Vastu and Feng Shui (which translates as wind and water) are both about how the energy flows in the home. The ideal of course, is to have a smooth flow, a sense of harmony, without energy becoming stagnant or rushing out anywhere.

In Vastu as in Feng Shui, different areas of the home correspond to the different elements. The correspondences are slightly different between the two, and being more familiar with Feng Shui I am a bit more comfortable with their corresponding directions/areas. However, there are certain principles of Vastu that stuck with me after reading the article:

  • "The principles of Vastu connect the dweller of the Vastu home with the subtle laws of nature, such as the energy grid of the earth, beneficial earth energies and cosmic energies from the sun." (from p.58 of the July/August, 2008 issue of Yoga+Joyful Living.)

  • I love the idea of space being an element, versus being ignored. The universe (and ourselves) is mostly space, but we are always so much more focused on the stuff.

  • In Vastu, as in most philosophies of healthy home living, there is emphasis on natural materials: tile, stone, wood, brick, bamboo, etc. Natural fibers like cotton, silk, wool, hemp, flax and linen are also nice elements to bring into the home decor.

  • Beauty is an important element of Vastu. You can follow all the rules of good energy flow, but if the space is not beautiful it is not fully Vastu.

  • The way to beautify the home is to look to nature: space is decorated with stars and luminous bodies, the earth is decorated with plants, trees, mountains, oceans, etc. The beauty you choose for your home should nourish your soul.

I'm going to try to include more posts on Healthy Homes, Feng Shui, and healthy cleaning tips (using essential oils is an amazing way to enhance good qi in the home!), since that is so much of my focus right now!

Peace and Health,
xoxo ~ Melissa

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Acupuncture and the Olympics

Have you been watching the Olympics? Having competed in gymnastics myself (oh so long ago!) I especially enjoy watching the gymnastics.

It turns out that American gymnast Nastia Liukin - the winner of the women's all around - receives weekly acupuncture treatments! (And also regular massage, both available at the Birch Center, check out our services page.) Very cool! I've seen it written quite a few places, but one article I found to share with you can be found here.

I also read that basketball player Yao Ming has been using Traditional Chinese Medicine (which usually consists of acupuncture, tui na massage and/or herbal medicine) to treat an injured foot.


Upcoming Events

In other news: we have two upcoming events that we're very excited about! If you didn't receive the message in your email yesterday, then you may not be on our mailing list. You can sign up using the box on the right hand bar of this blog (below "About Birch Center"), or simply click here.

In conjunction with PASA (Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture), we're hosting two events during their Local Food Week in September.

On September 24 we'll have a Raw Food Demo and Dinner right at the Birch Center. On the menu are: green smoothies, butternut squash soup, nutmeat burritos with salsa and guacamole, nutmilk chai and fruit with chocolate sauce for dessert. More details and registration information can be found on our events page.

Also, on September 27 (Saturday morning) we'll be doing a Wild Edible Walk! So many people have asked about doing one this year. I hope you will join us. We'll be sampling sumac lemonade, and you'll receive handouts and recipes. For information can also be found on our events page.

We hope to see you at one or both events, and please sign up for our mailing list if you haven't already!


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thankful Thursday: Great Vacation

We're back from a great, whirlwind vacation! We headed east, visiting friends all along the way. We stopped at our friends's new farm in NY, visited cousins there as well, bumped into long lost friends in a Boston whole foods market (!), visited other friends in Boston (with three of the kindest girls ever for Ella to play with), visited Chinatown with those friends:

went to the ocean with friends in RI, visited more friends outside Worcester, MA where Ella was treated to a hilarious swinging poi routine by "the funniest guy in the world":

back to NY, then home. All in one week: phew!

So, we're back in the office now and returning calls and emails.

See you soon!

~ Melissa

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Treatment Tuesday: Getting treatments

This week I have to share that I have begun to receive regular acupuncture treatments again (from Dave), and what a great reminder for how great acupuncture feels and its incredible benefits!

As many of you already know, the feeling of receiving acupuncture is so amazing. I can feel my energy flowing, and just get such a sense of balance of peace. Time is transcended, and at the end of the treatment I am so grounded and more present. I just love it!

I also want to share that I have really noticed the toll the computer takes from me. Recently I read an interesting article. I wish I remembered exactly where so I could share with you the link. It asked the reader to identify the one thing that if we got rid of from our life, our life would be closer to our ideal. It could be a habit, a thing, whatever. I thought I couldn't think of anything, but really I just didn't want to admit that for me, right now, it's the computer.

However, I do use it productively for business, so I'm not chucking it out the window altogether! I will log on around once a week to read and respond to emails, update blogs (this one and my raw foods blog), work on newsletters (I owe you all one!), and other handouts and articles for the office.

So I will be updating, but if you do want to get in touch, we are still in the office every day, so please give us a call! We love to hear from you. If you email I will of course get back to you, but it may not be as fast as I usually do. But we really value your questions and input, so please keep them coming!

Thanks so much!
~ Melissa

Friday, July 11, 2008

Foraging Friday: Plantain leaves - Plantago

Plantain (Plantago) is one of the most common edible and medicinal weeds around. It is definitely in your yard (unless it has been chemically treated to kill weeds.) It's along roadsides, growing through the cement, and anywhere you find grass. There are two common kinds around here: Plantago major, with broad round leaves and a long green flower stalk (flowering now), and Plantago minor, with thinner leaves and a long stalk which has a smaller top, encircled by little white flowers (like a UFO).

Plantago Major:

Plantago minor:

Pictures aren't totally may do better with an internet image search, or Wikipedia. The blue flower in the background is not's a bachelor button that found it's way into the picture. (Also edible.)

The leaves are edible and can be used in salads, though now that the plant is flowering the strings in the leaves get tougher and they are less tender and enjoyable for salads. I marinated this bunch that I picked the other day:

...and put them in the dehydrator for delicious chips. (Marinade = olive oil, lemon juice, tamari, garlic and chili powder.) I have also been adding them to smoothies. Notice the parallel veins of the leaves - that is one way to identify them.

Medicinally they can be chewed up and then placed on bee stings to take the pain away. You can also steep the leaves in olive oil for 2-6 weeks. The oil is very soothing to the skin and relieves itches; great to put on insect bites. In Chinese medicine the seeds are used to treat urinary and bladder infections, and also for constipation.

The book Edible Wild Plants by Elias and Dykeman states that there are no poisonous look-alikes. Still, it is best to have someone show you the plant before you begin to use it if you are unsure about identification. Plants are powerful medicine! Please visit our services page if you'd like me to come and show you and your family and friends what is growing near you.

(By the way, this is different from and unrelated to the plantain that is like a banana. That genus is Musa, while the genus of the green I am talking about is Plantago.)