Cashew Cheese Cake with Cocoa Nibs

Cashew Cheese Cake with Cocoa Nibs

This vegan raw cheesecake is creamy, beyond delicious and a festive addition to any table. 

An added benefit, it is packed with protein from the nuts, and is dairy free.

All seasons – Prep time / 25 minutes  Inactive raw cook time 6-8 hours, for soaking nuts and 2-3 hours to set.


2 1/2 cups cashews

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup water, filtered

1/2 cup maple syrup

1/2 cup lemon juice, fresh

1/8 tsp sea salt

1 tbsp vanilla paste

18 cup cocoa powder, optional


1 cup pitted dates (medjool
dates if available)

2 cups raw almonds

1/16 sea salt

1/4 tsp vanilla or almond extract

1 tbsp water


1/2 cup Cocoa nibs edible flowers, or berries

Line the bottom of a 6” spring pan with parchment paper, including around the sides.

This will make a taller, more dramatic cake.

Use a 9” spring pan for a shorter but larger cake.  Both work well.

For the filling – Soak raw cashews for 8 hours or overnight in filtered or spring water.  Drain, and pat dry in a single layer.

Combine all the ingredients, (except cocoa powder) in a good quality food processor and blend for 5-7 minutes. ( It takes that much time for a creamy texture. )  Do not rush this.

If you have a Vitamix, it will take about 3 minutes to become creamy.

If adding Cocoa powder, mix 1/8 cup of powder with enough warm water to make creamy.  Then gently fold it into the cashew mixture by hand, to make swirls.

Crust –  Put all the ingredients, except water in a food processor and pulse several times until well blended. Add 1 tbs water and mix until fully combined.

Assembly –  Place the crust ingredients in the lined pan and press down until even all around.

Pour in cashew mixture and smooth with a small rubber or offset spatula. Make sure the cake is even all around.   Sprinkle cake with cacao nibs in whatever decoration  that  pleases you.

Place the cake in the freezer for at least 2-3 hours. When removed, place edible flowers, berries, or some herbs on top . Take out 15-20 minutes before serving. Freezes well for up to a month.

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Why Sharing Stories Have Measurable Health Benefits

Why Sharing Stories Have Measurable Health Benefits

Hello friends,

write about food… You might pose the question?, what does story sharing and the health benefits that go with it have to

do with food?

For over a half million years food and the search for it have influenced both human and historical development.

Food has meaning for each of us. It evokes nostalgia for days gone by, and those memories can be as nourishing to our spirits as a warm cup of hot cocoa on a winter night.

Food is an imperative element of human survival, and feeds our very soul. As such, anecdotes have taken their rightful place in our kitchens. We all have a memory, a story, that’s connected to food that brings a warm smile. In turn, makes us feel happy…

A memory that comes to mind is making ricotta pies at Easter with my grandmother. Rolling out the sweet

stretchy dough that hangs over each pie pan, pouring in the sweetened creamy ricotta, then dropping in maraschino cherries, before gently folding over the dough.

This brings me back to happy days. I can still smell the perfumed bubbling of pies in the oven, as the crust turns into a light golden hue.

It brings a feeling of connection, calm, and great pleasure.

Where is that happy place in time for you? We know from decades of studies, that centenarians live a long healthy life because happiness, and eating well, are at the core. If you are lucky enough to have a wise elder in your life, you know they love sharing their stories…

I like to call this narrative medicine, food for the soul.

To your good health…

For scheduled Cooking Classes in Asheville, Visit:

Women Making Music – Spotlight on Mary Kay Williams

Women Making Music – Spotlight on Mary Kay Williams

Mary Kay Williams is one motivated woman! She’s living her life so loud, that for many days after our interview, I was inspired to get some stuff done myself! Born and raised in the part of upstate New York “where they pronounce their ‘r’s’ ” she grew up in a house of technical engineers and science- minded family members in Rochester.  She credits her mom, Maureen, and her side of the family for passing down the creative gene.

One of the longest interviews I’ve ever conducted, we discovered we have a few things in common. She warned me up front that she is fancifully erratic; preferring to jump around and joyfully succumb to her A.D.D. We both love to talk about ourselves, and boy did we do just that!

From our respective zoom call rooms, the first thing I noticed was her headwear; A darling black chapeau with gold buttons.  Turns out, she made it using material that was originally meant for another item she decided to scrap and reconstruct. Not one to waste fabric, this college educated fashion illustrator repurposed herself a modern take on the kicky bucket hat! I knew I was in for an amusing sit-down!

A large chunk of her Mary Kay Arts business was formed to promote her artistry as a retail caricaturist. She manages a successful career within the festival, amusement park and cruise ship circuit.  With a bubbly exuberant vivacious personality, it’s no wonder her lines are notoriously the longest.

But, all this happened in what she refers to as “the before times.” Like most of us, she’s shifted and pivoted and realigned strategies to find her virtual sweet spot, taking on custom orders and the like, making her way around the financial constraints the pandemic has caused.

Fortunately, her brain provides a ceaseless supply of ideas and keeps her bucket list continuously full. There’s a steady pen-stroke of items crossed out and accomplished on that list besides! Her zealous re-imagining, re-inventing and repurposing all things art, manifests through awareness and alignments with like-minded collaborators and colleagues. She has spearheaded consortiums with other artists and formed lasting partnerships.

“Here’s my list, in order of how much I love doing them: Singing! Lindy Hop Dancing! Art of all kinds! Writing! Acting! I’m the sort of person who is able to see patterns; I bubble around things. I’ve created a lifestyle and a path that is multifaceted to honor all my interests and talents. As it turns out, I attract and look for people who have attention deficit! I’ve met transplant surgeons who are piano virtuosos for instance. Multi-talented people are everywhere!”

Now that she’s matured into her late fifties, she feels this pull to harness and focus her “goddess powers” toward inspiring and guiding others. Creative people, people who don’t think they’re creative, are the people she aspires to attract and bring together for a creative workshop weekend event. She’s proven time and time again during her self-made cosmopolitan existence, that she can do whatever she sets her mind to!

As we swing around to the subject of music, I learn that she played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz in 5th grade. She slayed the part and she slayed THE song! I discovered that the stops and starts with music were for her, deliberate and necessary.  Still, she can’t believe there ever was a time in her adult life that she didn’t sing.

In her 30’s she began to pursue music in earnest. Her Uncle Billy is a Blues singer and after they performed together at a family reunion, he encouraged her to start going to Blues and Jazz jams around Rochester.  The domino effect that committing to these weekly sit-ins realized was a female music group she and her late sister, Terry, formed called “Twisted Covers.” She also met a guitarist and singer whom she would perform with as a duo for two- plus years. She found great pleasure and was darn good at arranging harmonies and what a thrill it was to perform them at coffee houses and small café’s.

The Barley’s Jazz Jam is where Mary Kay and I first met in early 2020. Her reputation for having all the right vocal chops preceded her, and boy did she not disappoint! With a full house on a chilly night, the warmth from her lighthearted and goofy demeanor brought us together in laughter and sway. As she seduced us with her pitch perfect ballad, the lushness of her voice made me and everyone present respond in kind with lauding applause and whistles. I took out my phone and set a reminder to contact her for an interview.

“For at least a decade now, my absolute number one love has been music.” So now, as the pandemic gives her new time (because she doesn’t lack energy, believe me!) she is making music the centerpiece. This feature, I dare say, is just what the Minstrel Doctor ordered! 

Whether it’s singing or speaking or acting in front of an audience, Mary Kay is fearless and brilliant. “The feeling of singing, in and of itself, makes me yearn to do more of it.”

Though there’s not much out there in TV or computer land to evidence her creamy, ample and expressive song renderings, take it from me; she’ll be producing, arranging and recording at least an LP, just in time to release in the after times!

“I have a mission in life to blaze a trail and do everything! I can’t imagine that I was given this much talent if my purpose is not to use all that I was given.”

Peggy Ratusz is a vocalist, vocal coach, writer and booking manager

Ways to Look Flawless in Photos

While it is increasingly easy to edit your own photographs to make sure you look your best, there’s not much you can do to stop someone else taking an unflattering picture (short of screaming “No!” at the top of your lungs). Here are ten quick and smart tips that will help you to look gorgeous and polished in photos, saving you a lot of time you might otherwise have spent airbrushing or cringing in embarrassment.

 To make sure you don’t end up with a double chin in photos, drop your shoulders to elongate your neck and try to lean your face forward by approximately half an inch. This change won’t make your posture look odd in photographs, but it will make sure your face looks slimmer.

 Always be aware of nearby light sources when you’re being photographed indoors. Standing below a light will cast uneven shadows on your skin, while standing in front of a bright lamp can make you look washed out. You’ll look your best in shots where you are facing a window that provides soft natural light.

 Leave your nude lip glosses and dark red lipsticks behind if you know you’re going to be in a lot of pictures. Bright lipsticks will make your mouth look perkier and create a youthful look, while darker colors artificially age you by shrinking the lips.

 It can be difficult to look happy without looking crazed when you are asked to grin on command, but there is an art to creating a perfect smile. Placing your tongue directly behind the teeth helps to create a natural, friendly grin.

 When it comes to other makeup, focus on your eyes. Curled eyelashes, dramatic eyeliner and effective mascara will give you a captivating and seductive look.

 If one of your main issues is blinking in photographs, practice briefly closing your eyes for a second just prior to the photograph. If you slowly open your eyes just as the picture is being taken, you should be able to circumvent the blinking curse.

 Make sure that the person taking the photo is shooting you from above. Photos taken from below create double chins and place the focus on cavernous nostrils, while images snapped from above tend to make the subject look slimmer and more elegant.

 For a more slender body shape in photos, place your hand on your hip and angle your body so that you are slightly turned to one side. As a bonus, this pose typically provides a flattering angle on the face as well.

 To combat red eye, take a quick look at a bright light before a photograph is taken. Your pupils will shrink, dramatically reducing your chances of looking demonic in the image.

 Finally, try to get used to being photographed and work to build your self-confidence. A huge part of looking good in pictures is being natural, happy and proud of how you look.

Relieving Menstrual Pain

Relieving Menstrual Pain

 What is dysmenorrhea?

Dysmenorrhea is a medical term that means “painful periods” and unfortunately 50%-90% of menstruating women experience it every month. It’s ironic that such an important and life-giving biological function can have such an agonizing physical and emotional impact on us. There are a number of ways to decrease menstrual pain and to increase quality of life, allowing for a more amicable monthly visit from Aunt Flo.

What causes menstrual cramping?

Dr. Vicky Scott is the founder of Asheville Gynecology and Wellness, an integrative GYN practice in Asheville, N.C. She is board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology, lifestyle medicine, as well as integrative and holistic medicine. She explains that as women get closer to their period the body starts producing prostaglandins, which are inflammatory compounds that cause the uterus to contract and release its lining. This can cause cramping. Cramps can also occur with an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone, particularly when estrogen levels are too high or progesterone levels are too low.

The following are the most common symptoms of dysmenorrhea:

• Cramping and pain in the lower abdomen

• Low back pain

• Pain radiating down the legs

• Nausea

• Vomiting

• Diarrhea

• Fatigue

• Weakness

• Fainting

• Headaches

It is very important to see a gynecologist to address any underlying causes of dysmenorrhea. Other conditions that can cause cramping, pelvic pressure, low back pain, heavy or prolonged periods, and gastrointestinal issues include the following:

Endometriosis is a condition that causes the tissue that usually lines your uterus to grow outside the uterus.

Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is a common hormone disorder affecting approximately 1 in 10 women of childbearing age. This is when the body tends to produce higher than normal amounts of male hormones. Symptoms include heavy periods, prolonged periods, excessive facial and body hair, weight gain, trouble losing weight, acne, thinning hair, or hair loss.

Fibroids are noncancerous growths that develop inside or outside of the uterus. They range in size from as small as a seed to large masses that can cause an enlarged uterus. The symptoms vary depending on the number of fibroids, their size, and location.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is a bacterial infection of the female reproductive organs. It’s usually caused by sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. Symptoms include painful intercourse, bleeding during or after sex, foul-smelling vaginal discharge, burning sensation when urinating, fever, and spotting between periods.

Adenomyosis is a thickening of the uterus. It occurs when the endometrial tissue that lines your uterus grows into the muscles of your uterus and can cause your uterus to grow two to three times its normal size.

An intrauterine device (IUD) is a small birth control device that’s inserted into your uterus. There are different types of IUDs available, some containing hormones while others are hormone-free. They’re safe for most people, but they can occasionally cause side effects, including severe menstrual cramps, irregular periods, and heavy menstrual bleeding.

How to treat painful periods

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, help reduce menstrual pain by inhibiting prostaglandin activity, and reducing inflammation.

Acetaminophen (Tylenol) is another option if NSAIDS fail to work, or upset the stomach.

Hormone therapy such as the birth control pill, skin patches, or a Depo-Provera shot may prevent ovulation and reduce the severity of menstrual cramps. They can also make periods lighter, shorter, and less painful. This is not an option for women who smoke, have a history of blood clots, high blood pressure, or cancer.

Regular exercise increases endorphins which can decrease pain.

A heating pad across the abdomen can help relax the abdominal muscles.

Pelvic floor physical therapy can relieve pelvic floor pain associated with excessive tightening and cramping by helping shortened and contracted muscles to stretch and relax.

A hot bath with aromatherapy oils such as lavender, chamomile, and sage can be soothing.

Give yourself an abdominal massage by placing your hands over your navel. Begin by making small circles in a clockwise direction. This should be done slowly with moderate pressure for about a minute. Then gradually increase the size of the circling until you are rubbing the entire abdomen.

Food as Medicine

Dr. Scott often recommends proper nutrition and dietary changes to support a healthy and pain free menstrual cycle. Foods eaten can either increase the estrogen effect or reduce it. There have been studies that show that women who eat a high fiber and low fat diet have less estrogen levels and less painful cycles. Here are some dietary and lifestyle recommendations from Dr. Scott:

Eat whole grains such as brown rice, whole-grain bread, and oatmeal.

Eat vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, carrots, sweet potatoes, Swiss chard, and Brussels sprouts.

Eat legumes such as beans, peas, and lentils.

Eat fruits such as apples, mangoes, berries, and oranges.

Avoid caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco.

Avoid refined grains such as white bread, refined cereals, and pastries.

Avoid fatty foods such as doughnuts, cheese, French fries, and potato chips.

Reduce stress: psychological stress may increase your risk of menstrual cramps.

Drink herbal teas such as chamomile, ginger, lemon balm, fenugreek, peppermint, and cramp bark which contain anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic compounds.

Supplements such as vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin B-1 (thiamine), vitamin B-6, and magnesium may effectively reduce menstrual cramps.

A Traditional Chinese Medicine Approach

In Chinese medicine, the most common reason for menstrual cramping is because of the stagnation of blood circulation in the lower abdomen. Acupuncture is a safe and effective technique used to increase blood flow, relax contractions, and move stagnation.  Researchers at The National Institute of Complementary Medicine at Western Sydney University in Australia conducted a study to compare the efficacy of acupuncture for the treatment of dysmenorrhea. The researchers found that, in all cases, acupuncture led to a significant reduction in the intensity and duration of menstrual pain after three months of treatment.

Yoga as Medicine

Vinita Khatavkar is a seasoned yogi who teaches in the Asheville area. She has been practicing yoga since 1989 and says that regular practice of asanas (yogic postures) and pranayama (breathing techniques) are beneficial for relieving menstrual pain. Every asana can be held for 5 to 6 deep breaths or for a longer duration if it helps with the pain. She notes that inversions such as headstands and shoulder stands, as well as deep twists and backbends, should be avoided while menstruating.

Natasha Kubis is a licensed acupuncturist and certified yoga teacher.
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