Author Archives: Bix

Plain Navy Beans

When I know I’m going to be home for a few hours, I put a pot of beans on the stove, dried beans. It’s usually in the morning since I get up early. If I didn’t cook them then, they wouldn’t get cooked. I could probably do it with my eyes closed… rinse unsoaked beans, into pot with water, simmer. Nothing gets measured. Often I don’t even have a plan for them. These are this morning’s navy beans. I like them plain with salt and pepper.

Mount Athos “Vegetables In Terracotta”

First, a big thank you to Forumholitorium. I like this recipe so much I’ll probably make it for the rest of my life. Thank you to the Mount Athos Monks too, for developing it and sharing it.

Below is the original recipe for Vegetables In Terracotta from Mount Athos’ website. I was surprised they have a website since this 60 Minutes episode, which appears to have been published in 2011, says, “There are no newspapers, no radio, and no television on Mount Athos. There are a few telephones.” The website even sells products. Maybe things have changed. Women?

Mount Athos Vegetables In Terracotta

3 onions
200 g. leeks
200 g. carrots
200 g. celery
200 g. tomatoes
200 g. peppers
200 g. eggplants
Salt, pepper
Lemon juice

Cut the vegetables into slices, add salt, pepper and lemon. Cover the clay pot with the lid and cook the food for 60 minutes at 250 degrees.

And here’s my version, scaled down. The amounts are approximate:

Mount Athos Veg Pot

1 medium onion
1 cup leeks
1 carrot
2 stalks celery
2 cups tomatoes
1 cup peppers
1 cup eggplant
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
Juice of 1 lemon

This my first attempt, a data point. I left out the ground pepper so I can taste the basic recipe. I can always add it later. I increased the tomatoes from 1 cup to 2 cups because I’m not sure how dry this will be and I didn’t want it to stick. I’m hoping the vegetables sweat down. I put it all into a 5-quart dutch oven, tossed it with salt and lemon, covered it, and began roasting.

After a half-hour I checked it. Nothing was going on. The carrots weren’t even hot yet. I increased the temperature to 280. This was looking like it might take two hours, not one.

It took 2.5 hours at 280 degrees, to my liking anyway. It probably would take just 2 hours if I started at 280 and didn’t open it every 15 minutes to check it! It’s absolutely delicious. Not what I was expecting. The eggplant and lemon give it a Greek flavor. And I was surprised but the carrot and celery worked. They were the last vegetables to soften and even in the final product they were still al dente, but they made it. Carrots added a hint of sweetness and celery added that background minty flavor.

The next time I make it I will cut the vegetables smaller, something that works on a big spoon instead of a fork, because the sauce is sooooo good! The tomatoes and other vegetables cooked down so even though I added no fluid it had a great sauce. The eggplant thickened it a bit. By the way, the eggplant skins (this was a purple globe eggplant) melt in your mouth, no need to peel.

This is a great way to use up lots of vegetables hanging out in the fridge. It was about 7 cups of raw vegetables that cooked down to 2 cups. Amazing.

Below: Raw, coarsely sliced. I’d cut the pieces smaller next time. I thought a 5-quart dutch oven was going to be too big. It wasn’t:

Into the oven. The monks probably used a wood-fired hearth. Some monasteries still don’t have electricity (no refrigerators):

After 2.5 hours. It really cooked down:

This is a 2-cup container and it holds the whole recipe:

I ate a bowl warm from the oven with bread. I also minced some and added it to leftover red lentil soup. It’s also good over warm rice.

Mediterranean Diet Post 4: The Men Of Mount Athos

Mount Athos monks still eat the traditional Mediterranean diet. Greece is shown in white; Mount Athos is shown in red. Crete is the large island at the bottom of the map. Source: Wikipedia

After the Second World War and their Civil War, Greece was devastated. In 1952, they joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and began to rebuild. Their traditional ways of eating were giving way to Western influence.

It’s hard to find a group of people alive today that still follow the traditional diet. But there is a place. It’s on a secluded peninsula in northeastern Greece: Mount Athos. The entire population is male and has been for almost a thousand years. Women are forbidden, even female animals: “Female animals, chickens, cows, ewes, nanny-goats, mares, and sows are also barred except for female cats, female insects and female songbirds.” Although it is geographically secluded, it is not genetically secluded. Men, many young and well-educated from all over Europe (Romania, Moldova, Georgia, Bulgaria, Serbia, Russia) live in monasteries there. So, if they are in good health, it may be more a result of their lifestyle than their genes. And, yes, they are in good health:

How Do Mount Athos Monks Stay So Healthy?, CBS News, December 2011

[The monks] live long lives with shockingly low levels of cancer and heart disease. Alzheimer’s is virtually unheard of.

“What seems to be the key is a diet that alternates between olive oil and non olive oil days, and plenty of plant proteins”, Haris Aidonopoulos, a urologist at the University of Thessaloniki, told The Independent in 2007. “It’s not only what we call the Mediterranean diet, but also eating the old-fashioned way. Simple meals at regular intervals are very important.”

The results seem impressive. The health of 1,500 monks was studied between 1994 and 2007. None had developed lung or bowel cancer. Only 11 had prostate cancer, a fraction of the international rate.

The Guardian published a photo essay of Mount Athos monks. Here are a few of their photos:


Working: (Is that an apricot tree in the upper left-hand corner?)

Some monks chose to live, not in monasteries but in smaller, more modest communities called sketes:

There are 20 monasteries on Mount Athos. Wikipedia has a photo of all 20. Some beautiful buildings. Here are two:

Iviron Monastery:

Zograf Monastery:

Mediterranean Diet Post 3: Religious Fasting

This is a continuation of my post, Mediterranean Diet Post 2: Focusing On Greece.

About 95% of the inhabitants of Greece belong to the Eastern Orthodox Church. So, on top of dealing with the effects of war and food shortages a half-century ago, they were fasting. And they were doing so joyfully.

The following study found that fasting associated with the Eastern Orthodox Church could lower serum cholesterol and body mass index (BMI). It included a description of the fasting diet which I’ve reproduced below.

Effects Of Greek Orthodox Christian Church Fasting On Serum Lipids And Obesity, BMC Public Health, May 2003

Orthodox Christian holy books recommend a total of 180–200 days of fasting per year. The faithful are advised to avoid olive oil, meat, fish, milk and dairy products every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year. Additionally, there are three principal fasting periods per year: i) a total of 40 days preceding Christmas (meat, dairy products and eggs are not allowed, while fish and olive oil are allowed except on Wednesdays and Fridays), ii) a period of 48 days preceding Easter (Lent). During Lent fish is allowed only two days whereas meat, dairy products and eggs are not allowed. Olive oil consumption is allowed only at weekends, iii) a total of 15 days in August (the Assumption) when the same dietary rules apply as for Lent with the exception of fish consumption which is allowed only on August 6th. Seafood such as shrimps, squid, cuttlefish, octopus, lobsters, crabs as well as snails are allowed on all fasting days throughout the year. The Greek Orthodox fasting practices can therefore be characterized as requiring a periodic vegetarian diet including fish and seafood.

The variant of vegetarianism followed during fasting periods by Orthodox Christians, with a diet of vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, olives, bread, snails and seafood, is a type of the so-called Mediterranean diet.

They also abstained from from alcoholic beverages and wine.

The population for this study came from Crete (which was one of Ancel Keys’ Greek cohorts in the Seven Countries Study). But these fasting rituals formed the foundation for a way of eating throughout Greece and neighboring countries.

When people fasted, they ate less, and they changed the food they ate. This change led to a diet that was essentially vegan. It had less fat, less protein, more carbohydrate, and more fiber than a non-fasting diet. Their non-fasting days were still austere compared to our Western diet. The study found:

The most important finding of this study is that most serum lipid variables decreased significantly over the fasting periods. Fasters, as compared to controls, had decreased levels of mean end- total cholesterol, LDL-C, LDL/HDL-C ratio and BMI.

Greek Orthodox Fasting Rituals: A Hidden Characteristic Of The Mediterranean Diet Of Crete, British Journal of Nutrition, August 2004

The longevity and excellent health status of the population of Crete has been attributed to its lifestyle and dietary habits. … The Orthodox Christian dietary regulations are an important component of the Mediterranean diet of Crete characterised by low levels of dietary saturated fatty acids, high levels of fibre and folate, and a high consumption of fruit, vegetables and legumes.

A Church adage:

Abba Daniel of Sketis: ‘In proportion as the body grows fat, so does the soul wither away.’

The traditional Mediterranean diet that is coming into focus here, the one that has a reputation for improved health and long life, is quite modest compared to the one being promoted today.

Mediterranean Diet Post 2: Focusing On Greece

One great thing about the internet is that there is so much information at our disposal. One not-so-great thing about the internet is that there is so much information at our disposal. I have to focus. In this post, I’m going to focus on Greece.

From Mediterranean Diet Of Crete, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, December 2000:

[The diet of Crete] has been shown to be related to the lowest rates for coronary heart disease and cancer mortality compared with the diets of the other populations of the Seven Countries study … including other Mediterranean populations.

Crete is not the only Greek island with a reputation for health and longevity. There’s also Ikaria, a Blue Zone, The Island Where People Forget To Die.”

Yet Greece and its islands have a long history of conflicts, both externally and internally. They suffered mightily during the Second World War. By 1941, “more than 100,000 were thought to die in famine.” Their Civil War which followed was also devastating:

Many Greeks left their home country in search of a better life. They were unable to feed their families and make a living during these periods of instability.

Addressing Ikaria:

The island suffered losses in property and lives during the Second World War as the result of the Italian and then German occupation. There are no exact figures on how many people starved, but in the village of Karavostamo alone over 100 perished from starvation.


The village of Anogia, Crete before it was destroyed by the German army in 1944. –ExploreCrete

The Germans occupied Crete during WWII:

After the general retreat from Greece in October 1944, the Germans, along with some Italian battalions, remained in Crete. … [But] they were cut off. … The food problem was a serious one both for them and the inhabitants.

Men who might have been with their families, farming and contributing to food provision were instead imprisoned:

The military prison camp of Makronisos opened during the civil war for communist or left-sympathizer soldiers aiming to force their compliance. It was closed after the end of the military junta in 1974. … The Civil War left Greece in ruins and in even greater economic distress than it had been following the end of German occupation. – Wikipedia

Robert McCabe photographed Greece in the 1950s. This was after their Civil War and before Western tourism.

His depictions of the people reveal the daily struggle for survival in stark tones: faces creased by wrinkles, intense, clear eyes, people toiling, children getting by on the basics yet still smiling.

What do you see here? I see a poor, exhausted, hungry population. Their Civil War formally ended in 1949 but fighting continued into the early 1950s, just a few years before Ancel Keys’ collection of food records. So, the backdrop for the Mediterranean diet in Greece, the diet that is renowned for improving health, is one of poverty and adversity.

Can you think of other diets where adversity and frugality gave rise to better health? I can think of two: the sweet-potato-based Okinawa diet that islanders were eating at the end of World War II, and the high-carb diet Cubans were eating in 1980 during their Special Period when they lost trade with Russia. “The primary sources of energy during the crisis were sugar cane and rice.”

15-Year-Old Greta Thunberg: “It Is The Suffering Of Many That Pay For The Luxuries Of Few”

Every sentence, every word, of this 2-minute speech is powerful. She is something else.

Teen Activist Says Leaders Not ‘Mature Enough’ To Take Action On Climate Change, Washington Post, 15 December 2018

“My name is Greta Thunberg. I am 15 years old. I am from Sweden. I speak on behalf of Climate Justice Now. Many people say that Sweden is just a small country and it doesn’t matter what we do. But I’ve learned you are never too small to make a difference. And if a few children can get headlines all over the world just by not going to school, then imagine what we could all do together if we really wanted to.

But to do that, we have to speak clearly, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. You only speak of green eternal economic growth because you are too scared of being unpopular. You only talk about moving forward with the same bad ideas that got us into this mess, even when the only sensible thing to do is pull the emergency brake. You are not mature enough to tell it like is. Even that burden you leave to us children. But I don’t care about being popular. I care about climate justice and the living planet. Our civilization is being sacrificed for the opportunity of a very small number of people to continue making enormous amounts of money. Our biosphere is being sacrificed so that rich people in countries like mine can live in luxury. It is the sufferings of the many which pay for the luxuries of the few.

The year 2078, I will celebrate my 75th birthday. If I have children maybe they will spend that day with me. Maybe they will ask me about you. Maybe they will ask why you didn’t do anything while there still was time to act. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you are stealing their future in front of their very eyes.

Until you start focusing on what needs to be done rather than what is politically possible, there is no hope. We can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis. We need to keep the fossil fuels in the ground, and we need to focus on equity. And if solutions within the system are so impossible to find, maybe we should change the system itself. We have not come here to beg world leaders to care. You have ignored us in the past and you will ignore us again. We have run out of excuses and we are running out of time. We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people. Thank you”.

What Is The Mediterranean Diet? I Aim To Find Out.

Mediterranean Sea. Wikipedia

I’m curious about the Mediterranean Diet. Everywhere I look, fruits, vegetables, and beans are on the list. But I also see copious amounts of oil, more nuts than the average person can afford, alcohol every day, sometimes several times a day, and daily servings of meat, fish, eggs, and/or dairy. Something doesn’t make sense. All this animal food and fat and alcohol shouldn’t equate with health. I also have a hard time believing that the Mediterranean region which has been ravaged by war for hundreds of years supported populations that were so prosperous they could eat this way. Historically, eating animal food was a luxury. Also, many descriptions of the Mediterranean diet say to avoid processed foods but many others include bread and pasta which are processed foods. There doesn’t seem to be a clear definition. What exactly is the Mediterranean Diet? Is it really healthful? I’ll be exploring the answer over several posts.

First, an actual Mediterranean Diet does not exist. The style of eating that became the “Mediterranean Diet” was first described by Ancel Keys about 50 years ago:

Ancel Keys and his Italian colleague Flaminio Fidanza and their SCS [Seven Countries Study] colleagues were central to the modern recognition, definition, and promotion of the eating pattern they found in Italy and Greece in the 1950s and ’60s, now popularly called “The Mediterranean Diet”. Ancel Keys was the first researcher who associated the traditional Mediterranean diet with a low risk of CHD. However, the Mediterranean diet does not exist. The Mediterranean Sea borders 18 countries that differ markedly in geography, economic status, health, lifestyle and diet.
Mediterranean Dietary Patterns In The 1960s, Seven Countries Study

The 7 countries in Keys’ Seven Countries Study were:

United States

The Seven Countries Study was formally started in fall 1958 in Yugoslavia. In total, 12,763 males, 40–59 years of age, were enrolled as 16 cohorts, in seven countries, in four regions of the world (United States, Northern Europe, Southern Europe, Japan). One cohort is in the United States, two cohorts in Finland, one in the Netherlands, three in Italy, five in Yugoslavia (two in Croatia, and three in Serbia), two in Greece, and two in Japan. The entry examinations were performed between 1958 and 1964 with an average participation rate of 90%, lowest in the USA, with 75% and highest in one of the Japanese cohorts, with 100%. The study has continued for more than 50 years.

Sit-Stand Desks

What do you think?

The Ups And Downs Of Sit-Stand Desks, Eurekalert, 12 March 2019

[The review] examines the effects of a sit-stand desk [SSD] in the following domains: behavior, physiological, work performance, psychological, discomfort, and posture.

“The study found only minimal impacts on any of those areas, the strongest being changes in behavior and discomfort,” said Baker [professor of occupational therapy at Tufts University].

Their work showed that use of a SSD effectively got participants to sit less and stand more and that the device made users more comfortable at work. However, many frustrations with SSDs stem from the physiological outcomes. Early adopters were fed the idea that these desks would be the miracle cure for obesity, but users were not achieving the results they expected. According to the review, physiological effects were the most studied, but within that domain, there were no significant results with regards to obesity.

“There are health benefits to using sit-stand desks, such as a small decrease in blood pressure or low back pain relief, but people simply are not yet burning enough calories to lose weight with these devices,”

Chambers [lead author, professor of bioengineering, University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering] noted that the current research is limited because many of studies were done with young and healthy subjects who were asked to use the desk for a week or month at most. Since some of the significant benefits are with cardiovascular health or muscle discomfort, it may be beneficial to perform additional studies with middle-aged or overweight workers.

The Effect Of Sit-stand Desks On Office Worker Behavioral And Health Outcomes: A Scoping Review, Applied Ergonomics, January 2019