Category Archives: Food

Pasta con Broccoli

I like broccoli and eat it often. It is one of the most nutritious vegetables you can find; it’s readily available and inexpensive. People who say they don’t like broccoli have probably never had fresh broccoli prepared properly.

Here’s an adaptation of an old family favorite that is simply delicious.

  1. Cut up a head of fresh broccoli into whole or half florets. Use the stems too, but peel them as the skin tends to be tough the farther down from the florets.
  2. Blanch the broccoli in a pot of boiling water for about three minutes or until slightly tender but still crisp.
  3. Remove broccoli from the pot and cut into smaller pieces. Reserve the water to use for cooking the pasta.  If you’re in a hurry, you can cook the past while you finish cooking the broccoli.
  4. Chop a small onion and two cloves of fresh garlic. Sauté with two or three tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet or pot over medium heat until the onion turns translucent. Adjust the heat as needed to prevent it from burning.
  5. Add the chopped broccoli, a couple shakes of salt, a bit more olive oil, and a half cup of water. Add additional spices to taste (I like sweet basil, a bit of oregano and a dash of cayenne pepper.) Stir it up, cover, and cook over low to medium heat, stirring occasionally, until broccoli is tender but not mushy.
  6. Add a pat of butter, stir and turn heat way down to just keep it warm while you cook the pasta. You may want to adjust the salt and seasoning too. You may need to add a bit more water to the broccoli mixture before serving. It should not be too dry.
  7. You can use the reserved hot water (or not, as you prefer) to cook the pasta. Bring it back to a boil, adding enough water for the amount of pasta you will be cooking.
  8. Cook the pasta of your choice (I prefer whole wheat pasta, spaghetti, linguini or even rotini or penne) according to the directions on the package. Drain pasta and place on plates. Top the pasta with desired amount of the sautéed broccoli.
  9. Top it all off with freshly grated or shredded Parmesan, Romano, or asiago cheese and chopped walnuts (lightly toasted or raw). The family recipe used toasted bread crumbs as a topping but I find that it makes the dish too dry, and the nuts are more nutritious and I like the texture.
  10. Add more salt if needed. I prefer to use instead Asian fish sauce which has a bit of extra flavor. My favorite is Lucky brand because it has no preservatives or extra ingredients, only water, salt and anchovies.  
  11. Enjoy.

Staying healthy and keeping things moving

I’ve long believed that good health depends on eating a proper diet, getting plenty of exercise, keeping a positive attitude, and avoiding stress as much as possible. That includes acknowledging our emotions as they arise but not allowing them to control our behavior. Feelings are to be felt and to be recognized as messengers to our rational side that something in our past has triggered a reaction. There is the tendency to blame the person or event that has triggered the feeling and to lash out, but that only causes more pain for ourselves and those around us and leaves us stuck in our patterns. There are many approaches to personal growth that can be effective in helping us to become more happy and whole. I leave it to the reader to seek them out.   

But this essay is about a specific physical problem I’ve had and how I’ve been dealing with it. With advancing age, problems with constipation become more chronic and worrisome. Bowel movements often become less regular and more difficult, the elimination urge less intense, and stools drier and sometimes hard to pass. Over the past few years that has been my own experience. “I’ve tried everything” as they say, and had not found a satisfactory solution, until recently. Although I’ve gotten results from herbal laxatives, magnesium supplements and glycerin suppositories, I’ve been concerned about becoming dependent upon them from continual use.

Now I think I may have found the answer I’ve been looking. It involves the addition of plain wheat bran (not bran cereal) to my diet. I’ve been using it now for several weeks, including it almost daily in many of the things I am accustomed to eating, plus a few new ones. I’ve been adding some bran to the smoothies I make to pour over my homemade granola a few mornings each week, and when I make pancakes or waffles I substitute bran for about a quarter to one third of the flour. I like to bake and I’ve started making bran muffins and it seems that if I eat one or two the next day I have better regularity, stronger urges, and softer stools. Bran, which I buy in bulk at a local supermarket, is inexpensive, has an excellent nutrient profile, and works even better than the expensive fiber supplement that I had been using previously.

Besides the consumption of bran as I’ve described, I take most mornings a teaspoonful of the magnesium supplement, Calm, which is a powder that fizzes when warm water is added. I think that may also be a factor in my bowel improvement but I will try gradually reducing the frequency to see if that makes any difference.

The muffin recipe I use has been adapted from one I found at I’ve reduced the amount of sugar because I find that most recipes make things much sweeter than I like, and because I add raisins which are naturally sweet.

Here’s the recipe in case you’d like to try it.

Classic Bran Muffins
Adapted from


  • 1 1/2 cups wheat bran
  • 1 cup buttermilk
    (You can simulate buttermilk by adding 1 Tbsp lemon juice to a cup measure and filling with milk to the 1 cup mark. You can do the same using almond milk instead of cow’s milk, which I’ve found provides excellent results.)
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil (I prefer olive oil or coconut oil)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4  to 1/3 cup light brown sugar (or more depending on your taste)
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup white or whole wheat flour (or a combination of both)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup raisins


  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin with butter.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the wheat bran and the buttermilk. Let it sit for 10 minutes.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the oil, egg, brown sugar, and vanilla. Add the soaked wheat bran mixture and stir to combine. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Stir just until combined. (If the batter is too stiff, add a little more milk or water).
  4. Mix in ½ cup raisins.
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the 12 muffin cups .
  6. Bake in the preheated oven until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 15-20 minutes.

Here’s the nutritional profile of wheat bran that I found on Healthline at, which in turn is based on data provided at the Self Nutrition Data website:

Nutritional Profile

Wheat bran is chock-full of many nutrients. A half-cup (29-gram) serving provides (1):

  • Calories: 63
  • Fat: 1.3 grams
  • Saturated fat: 0.2 grams
  • Protein: 4.5 grams
  • Carbohydrates: 18.5 grams
  • Dietary fiber: 12.5 grams
  • Thiamine: 0.15 mg
  • Riboflavin: 0.15 mg
  • Niacin: 4 mg
  • Vitamin B6: 0.4 mg
  • Potassium: 343
  • Iron: 3.05 mg
  • Magnesium: 177 mg
  • Phosphorus: 294 mg

Wheat bran also has a decent amount of zinc and copper. Additionally, it provides over half of the daily value (DV) of selenium and more than the DV of manganese.

Not only is wheat bran nutrient dense, it’s also relatively low calorie. Half a cup (29 grams) has only 63 calories, which is minuscule considering all the nutrients it packs.

What’s more, it’s low in total fat, saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as a good source of plant-based protein, offering about 5 grams of protein in half a cup (29 grams).

Arguably, wheat bran’s most impressive trait is its fiber content. Half a cup (29 grams) of wheat bran provides almost 13 grams of dietary fiber, which is 99% of the DV (1).

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How to Wash Vegetables and Fruits to Remove Pesticides

Here’s a great article from the Food Revolution Network.
How to Wash Vegetables and Fruits to Remove Pesticides

An important takeaway for me is this:

Here’s a quick and easy way to wash veggies using baking soda:

Washing produce - tomatoes - in a colander

For leafy greens

    • Fill a salad spinner with greens, then fill with water.
    • Add a teaspoon of baking soda and mix well.
    • Soak your greens for a minute, swish, dump, then rinse, and spin dry.
    • If you don’t have a salad spinner, you can add the greens, water, and baking soda to a bowl, let them soak, drain in a strainer, rinse, then pat leaves dry with a clean lint-free kitchen towel or paper towels.

For mushrooms

There is some debate in the culinary world about how to clean mushrooms.

Some chefs prefer to gently wipe mushrooms with a damp towel. However, to clean mushrooms thoroughly, you can gently scrub mushrooms using a mushroom brush and then rinse them quickly under running water. After that, blot the mushrooms dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towel.

For other veggies

    • Fill a large bowl with water.
    • Then add a teaspoon of baking soda.
    • Add the veggies.
    • Soak for a minute or two.
    • Scrub with a brush.
    • And finally, rinse off the veggies.

How to Wash Fruits

Washing fruit - blueberries and strawberries

Smooth skinned fruits, such as apples, nectarines, and cherries, can be washed in a baking soda bath the same way as veggies.

Berries can be rinsed under cold water in a mesh strainer, then gently patted dry with a clean kitchen towel or paper towels just before you intend to eat them.

Although your instinct may be to rinse off berries when you bring them home, doing so actually increases moisture and accelerates spoilage, microflora, and mold. Which is why it’s best to rinse them soon before you eat them.

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An exquisite film in every aspect

The Biggest Little Farm is inspiring, hopeful, suspenseful, emotional, and beautifully crafted. It demonstrates what is possible when we work with nature instead of trying to conquer it.

Mamak Rhapsody

Here’s a clever Malaysian adaptation of the 1975 Queen hit, Bohemian Rhapsody.

Your food and your health

I’m a longtime fan of Dr. Andrew Weil and consider him to be the foremost leader in the field of holistic health. He is Clinical Professor of Medicine and Director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. His medical philosophy leans heavily toward disease prevention, primarily through proper diet, exercise, and wholesome lifestyle choices.

I recently read his book,  Eating Well for Optimum Health: the essential guide to food, diet, and nutrition , and I strongly recommend it. You will find in this book important information about the various food groups—carbohydrates, fats and protein, critiques of the various “fad diets,” and specific advice on what to eat (and drink), what to avoid, and how to enjoy delicious wholesome foods. Healthy eating does not mean sacrificing satisfaction for health, quite the contrary, it’s just a matter of taking the time to inform yourself of a few basic facts, reading labels, and making the right choices. –t.h.g.

Got gas? Get the Gum Out!

Gumming up our food. Updated March 1, 2015

I confess, I like ice cream, and I used to indulge quite regularly, but not anymore.

My taste buds prefer to be subtly stimulated rather than blasted with combinations of flavors that leave them confused and reeling with cloying sweetness. Many speak disparagingly of “plain vanilla,” but to me vanilla is one of the most delicious (and natural) flavors ever discovered. What other flavor can better complement the taste of warm homemade apple pie, or luscious berries, or fresh tree-ripened fruits like peaches.

Another feature of ice cream that adds to its delight is its texture. What makes ice cream creamy? Well, uh, could it be cream?

If you are not in the habit of reading the ingredient lists on packaged foods you may not have noticed that within the past couple years every commercial brand of ice cream has added one kind or another of GUM—guar gum, carob bean gum, xanthan gum, tara gum, locust bean gum, cellulose gum—are a few of the various kind of gum you will find in familiar brands, even premium brands like Ben and Jerry’s and Haagen Dazs. Breyers, which I used to count on to avoid artificial ingredients and additives has also slipped.

Sacrilege! I say.

I don’t know what has given impetus to this gummy bandwagon, but I can venture an educated guess. First of all, I would expect that gum is a lot cheaper than cream and thus producers are inclined to use it to simulate the texture of the real thing. Secondly, I suspect that it may have something to do with the anti-fat madness that has for many years been hyped by the media. Women especially seem to have been susceptible to the argument that if they don’t EAT fat they won’t GET fat. Hogwash, I say to that, and to artificial sweeteners, too.

A few months ago, I experienced a sudden onset of severe gastritis that has taken many months and a great deal of effort and expense to resolve. I made some drastic changes to my diet, including avoidance of ice cream, though I still consume large amounts of yogurt and cheese, and I use moderate amounts of butter.

I’ve always been careful about what I eat, avoiding foods containing preservatives and other artificial ingredients, yet my suspicions are that the underlying cause of my problem had to do with something in my diet.

Now, a new study that has just been published has heightened my suspicions. A Los Angeles Times report dated February 25, 2015 says “Consumption of emulsifiers, additives widely used in the production of processed foods, promotes inflammatory bowel disease and a cluster of obesity-related diseases known as metabolic syndrome, and may have contributed to the sharp rise in these conditions over the last three decades, says a new study conducted on rats.”

That study, published in the journal, Nature, reports specifically on the effects of two commonly used emulsifiers, carboxymethylcellulose (also called cellulose gum) and polysorbate-80 (also known as Tween 80). The study using mice showed that these additives “induced low-grade inflammation and obesity/metabolic syndrome in wild-type hosts and promoted robust colitis in mice predisposed to this disorder. Emulsifier-induced metabolic syndrome was associated with microbiota encroachment, altered species composition and increased pro-inflammatory potential.”

The study report goes on to say that, “These results support the emerging concept that perturbed host–microbiota interactions resulting in low-grade inflammation can promote adiposity and its associated metabolic effects. Moreover, they suggest that the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to an increased societal incidence of obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases.”

That makes me wonder about the other emulsifiers that are commonly used.

Further background on gum additives can be found at the following sites:

Cellulose gum:

Study Finds Common Food Additive Promotes Inflammatory Bowel Disease And Obesity.

Harmful or Harmless: Xanthan Gum.

The Truth About Guar Gum.

In this day of factory farms, mass marketing, and huge supermarkets, I suppose it’s too much to expect to find products that are wholesome, pure, and unadulterated. Even brands that are labeled “organic” cannot always be counted on.

The bottom line:

  • Read the labels.
  • Inform yourself about the health effects of common additives.
  • Try as much as possible to avoid getting your food from the big corporate producers and suppliers.

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More about the gums that are added to our foods. (Addendum of March 1, 2015)

One good source of information about the various types of gum that are used as food additives is the website of Chris Kresser, M.S., L.Ac According to his website, he “is a globally recognized leader in the fields of ancestral health, Paleo nutrition, and functional and integrative medicine. He is the creator of, one of the top 25 natural health sites in the world, and the author of the New York Times best seller, Your Personal Paleo Code (published in paperback in December 2014 as The Paleo Cure).”

Here’s a brief summary of his postings on gum additives:

Xanthan gum is a largely indigestible polysaccharide that is produced by bacteria called Xanthomonas Camestris. (1) Manufacturers place the bacteria in a growth medium that contains sugars and other nutrients, and the resulting product of bacterial fermentation is purified, dried, powdered, and sold as xanthan gum. (Makes you wonder who first thought to put it in food, doesn’t it?)

Based on the available evidence, the worst xanthan gum seems to be capable of (in adults) is causing some digestive distress in those who are susceptible by increasing stool bulk, water content, and sugar content. But as I just mentioned, those with severe allergies should also be careful.

I recommend that people with digestive problems generally avoid xanthan gum, not because there’s evidence that it could damage your gut, but because its structural properties make it likely to produce unpleasant gut symptoms

Unlike xanthan gum, which is a product of bacterial fermentation, guar gum is derived from an actual food: the guar bean, or Indian cluster bean, which grows primarily in India and Pakistan. ….Because the animal studies showed no harm even at very high doses, guar gum is now being studied in humans as a therapeutic tool for reducing blood glucose and cholesterol levels.

….even small amounts could cause unpleasant symptoms in those with sensitive digestive systems, and I’ve had patients with gut issues improve after removing guar gum from their diet. With that in mind, I think it makes sense to avoid guar gum if you have gut issues, like small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) or IBS, unless you’ve removed it and added it back in without noticing any harmful effects.

Locust bean gum, also known as carob bean gum, is derived from the seeds of the carob tree. During a two-year animal study, rats were given locust bean gum as 5% of their diet, and no carcinogenic or other toxic effects were observed. (12)

I think the same recommendation I gave for guar gum applies here: if you have gut issues, it would probably be best to avoid locust bean gum. Otherwise, I see no indication that it will cause harm.

Based on the available research, gum arabic seems pretty benign, even for those with gut issues. I certainly wouldn’t be concerned about consuming small amounts of it, although as always, be aware of your individual tolerance.

I’m slightly more skeptical of tara gum compared with the other gums because the toxicity results are less conclusive. Also, while all of the other gums have been tested on humans, tara gum has not. That doesn’t mean it’s not safe, because the available evidence indicates it is; it just means we don’t have as much to go on, and it’s always good to be cautious of new food additives.

Gellan gum is similar to xanthan gum in that it is an exopolysaccharide produced by bacterial fermentation. … To test the safety of gellan gum, the diets of ten volunteers were supplemented with gellan gum at approximately 30 times the level of normal dietary exposure for 23 days. (21) Gellan gum acted as a bulking agent similar to xanthan gum, but no adverse effects were reported. However, a rat study with gellan gum supplemented at 5% of the diet for 4 weeks resulted in abnormalities in intestinal microvilli, which is concerning. (22)

I think those with sensitive guts should avoid it just to be on the safe side. For everyone else, I doubt the small amounts found in food will cause a problem, but it might be best to avoid it if possible.

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Farming with nature

From “fir tree desert” to model permaculture farm.

My Travels: 2013-November/December

I’ve been abroad since Nov 13, starting in Istanbul where I gave a presentation at the Green Economy and Commons conference and spent a few days exploring the city. (Here is the link to the conference site :

Istanbul was interesting and I think my presentation went over well. You can see the pictures from my Istanbul visit at,

From there I flew to Kuala Lumpur then a couple days later traveled by bus to Penang.


I stayed almost two weeks in Penang at a small Hotel where I’ve stayed before. I like Penang but this part of it (Georgetown) is very busy and the traffic gets worse each time I visit. Also, lodging costs keep going up as old guest houses get refurbished and new ones pop up.

Penang is a UN world heritage site, very diverse ethnically, racially, religiously, culturally, etc. and, in my opinion, has the best food in the world, much of it vegetarian. Food is still cheap there; how about $1 for breakfast, $2-$3 for dinner? Of course if you want western food you’ll pay more but still less than western prices. Penang was once a British colony, so that influence is evident, including English and Scottish street names and a British fort (Fort Cornwallis) built in the late 1700s . Penang’s population is majority Chinese with a healthy sprinkling of Tamil Indians and Malays. Islam is an ever increasing presence as more mosques and masjids are sited in Chinese neighborhoods.


Two weeks in Penang was enough. I chose to visit Cambodia instead of going to Thailand, taking a flight on December 5 from Penang to Phnom Penh.

My Cambodia visit got off to an inauspicious start. After checking into my hotel, I decided to take a stroll down by the river. I tried to cross the street and got sideswiped by a motorbike; no stitches but my left shin got skinned and bruised. I managed to get to the other side and sat down on a convenient bench; almost passed out but got some aid from a British friend I had been traveling with for some days, and a Polish couple who happened to be passing by. My wounds have fortunately turned out to be minor, no trouble walking, only a little discomfort, and healing is almost complete by now.

I spent only a couple days Phnom Penh then decided to take a minivan to Sihanoukville which is on the Gulf of Thailand. I stayed a week at Otres Beach about 5 km from Sihanoukville. Otres has a nice clean sandy beach, clean water, and a couple dozen guest houses and bungalow places ranging from backpacker dorms and huts to pretty decent rooms with A/C and hot showers. Almost all have free wi-fi and decent internet connections. After two nights in the rather primitive Done Right ($18), I moved a few meters away to the more comfortable and quiet Otres Guest House ($20). There are many places to eat right on the beach and you can hang out all day long on their lounge chairs if you buy a drink ($1-3) or a meal ($2.50-$6.00). Done Right has both “geodomes” and “cubes,” as well a dorm rooms, is run by young  people and meant to appeal to the twenty-something backpacker crowd. As you might expect, there are lots of dogs and cats around, (and consequently, lots of flies) an open-air pool table and ping pong table, so there’s lots of activity from morning to evening, but nights are fairly quiet except when the dogs get set off by something.

At my age, I require something more comfortable and conventional. Otres Guest House provides it. My room was large and I had a desk and chair that provided a decent work station. The beach across the way provides a good diversion when I tire of working.

I had some surprisingly good Greek food in Sihanoukville at a restaurant (the sign reads “Greek Cousine”) that is run by Greek restaurateurs who spend the off season here.

I’m now in Kampot, a charming little riverside town which is a couple hours’ drive toward the southeast, where the lodgings and food are both good and cheap.

I also have Siem Reap (Angkor Wat ) on my agenda and will visit there at some point. I hope to schedule another visit to Phnom Penh to see the “killing fields” and the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum (S-21). Here’s a bit of pertinent history:

“Prior to 1975, Toul Sleng was a high school. When the Khmer Rouge came to power it was converted into the S-21 prison and interrogation facility. Inmates were systematically tortured to extract confessions, after which they were executed at the killing fields of Choeung Ek. S-21 processed over 17,000 people, less than a dozen of whom survived. The building now serves as a museum, a memorial and a testament to the madness of the Khmer Rouge regime.”

Yes, Cambodia has that gruesome history, but so do many other countries, including the U.S., Argentina, etc. The situation now seems quite different. You do notice a dearth of old people, and Cambodian government is said to be corrupt, but that seems to have little impact on the tourist. The people are friendly and helpful and no one has tried to rip me off yet. Still, this is a third-world country and not up to the standards of Malaysia or even Thailand, which have had more time to learn the tourism business.

Organic Consumers Association calls for boycott

Payback Time: Boycott the Brands that Helped Kill Prop 37

They stomped on our right to know. Now it’s time to get even.

Prop 37, the California Right to Know GMO labeling initiative, was narrowly defeated last week thanks to a relentless, deceitful $46-million advertising blitz. Among the largest bankrollers of the NO on 37 campaign were huge multinational food and beverage companies whose subsidiaries make billions  selling some of your favorite organic and “natural” brands.

Brands like Kashi. Honest Tea. Naked Juice. Muir Glen and Morningstar Farms.

It’s time to boycott the companies whose dirty money confused and scared millions of California voters into voting No on Prop 37.  It’s time to plaster their facebook pages with this message: We won’t support you until you support us. It’s time to call their consumer hotlines, complain to their store managers. It’s time to tarnish their holy organic and natural images, to expose their hypocrisy and greed.

It’s time to raise a little hell.

The OCA is calling on all consumers to boycott these 10 organic and natural traitor brands:

• PepsiCo (Donated $2.5M): Naked Juice, Tostito’s Organic, Tropicana Organic • Kraft (Donated $2M): Boca Burgers and Back to Nature • Safeway (Member of Grocery Manufacturers Association, which donated $2M):”O” Organics • Coca-Cola (Donated $1.7M): Honest Tea, Odwalla • General Mills (Donated $1.2M): Muir Glen, Cascadian Farm, Larabar • Con-Agra (Donated $1.2M): Orville Redenbacher’s Organic, Hunt’s Organic, Lightlife, Alexia • Kellogg’s (Donated $791k): Kashi, Bear Naked, Morningstar Farms, Gardenburger  • Smuckers (Donated $555k): R.W. Knudsen, Santa Cruz Organic • Unilever (Donated $467k): Ben & Jerry’s • Dean Foods (Donated $254k): Horizon, Silk, White Wave Tell these companies that if they want your loyalty – and your grocery dollars –  they must do two things:

1.  Speak out publicly in favor of the pending GMO Labeling Ballot Initiative (I-522) in Washington State in 2013, as well as the pending GMO labeling bills coming up in Vermont and other states.

2. Contribute as much or more money to the Yes on I-522 Campaign in Washington than their parent corporations spent to defeat Prop 37.

Prop 37 was narrowly defeated, by dirty money and dirty tricks. But it spawned a huge, national consumer movement that is fired up and more determined than ever to fight this battle until we win the right to know if our food has been genetically modified.  We’re already collecting signatures in Washington State, talking to legislators in Vermont and Connecticut. A 30-state coalition is formulating a plan to collaborate on GMO-labeling laws and initiatives.

You are a part of this movement, and today we’re calling on you, on the millions of consumers who were outraged by the NO on 37’s dirty campaign, to send a clear message to the traitor brands who helped kill Prop 37, in the only language they understand: lost profits and lower sales.

TAKE ACTION: Join the Boycott!