Tag Archive | health

Soup, glorious soup!

Hot soup

Why have I written a book about soup?

After all, I’m a gardening writer and also write on camping and fiction.

I am also, however, a keen cook and grower of fruit, vegetables and herbs, with a lifelong interest in good nutrition.

And on top of all that, in recent years I have had an ongoing battle with weight. Certainly I am genetically disposed to weight gain – but the main reason I whack it on is because I eat too much and am very fond of wine!

Every so often I have to pull myself together and go on a diet to get back into some sort of shape. I’ve found that by far the most effective way of doing this is eating soup at least once, twice or even three times a day.
Which is fine with me because I love soup and have always enjoyed making it – creating new recipes as I go. It’s easy, it’s fun to make, its economical and it’s a great way of using up left food and vegetables that are past their first freshness.

Others, too, have found that substituting soup for solid meals leads to a fast but sustainable weight loss.


Think of this:

If you took the solid matter in a bowl of soup – the meat, the veg, the other ingredients – and put it on a dinner plate, it would look pretty meager. You’d swallow it down in a gulp or two and still feel hungry. This is what happens when we “go on a diet” – we reduce the amount of food we eat, and the type of food we enjoy, so that we don’t take on board so many calories/kilojoules.

Now put that same quantity of food into a bowl of soup. Because the main single ingredient of soup is water, it stretches the overall food content much further yet fills the stomach in the most satisfying way. You feel “full up” immediately and that feeling lasts quite a long time.

This is the secret of a good soup: It fills you up, satisfies your taste buds, gives you all the nutrition you need – yet is light on calories in comparison with a “solid” meal.

We all eat too much today – and anyone who isn’t in that fortunate position is not likely to be reading this blog – or my book. Unless we are in training for some sport, or have a job that requires long hours of hard, physical labor, we ingest far more energy (in the form of calories and kilojoules) than we can use. A large bowl of soup that contains meat, fresh and dried vegetables, pulses, grains, herbs and other edibles will give us as much nutrition as we need in any one meal, bearing in mind we will eat and drink other things during the day. Even a hearty vegetable soup, perhaps with cheese or tofu added, will be full of nutrition.

Of course I’m not advocating we live on soup. But for those wishing to lose weight, a soup diet is the most effective diet there is to balance weight loss with good nutrition – until the desired weight is achieved. And even after that I’d advocate a “soup day” once or twice a week to help you stay slim.

I’ll be posting other articles on this blog about the virtues of soup – not just for slimmers but for oldies and tots and invalids too. Meanwhile, you can buy Slim with Soup at for only $3.99 at

At least check out the link and see what you think. And you can find more information about the book by clicking on the My Books tab above.

Herbs, health and hot tips

A fine pot of mint

A fine pot of mint

A collection of newly-potted herbs on a sunny patio

A collection of newly-potted herbs on a sunny patio

There was a girl once who put her faithless lover’s head in a pot and grew basil from it. That’s according to Keats, anyway. Obviously she had relationship problems and no gardening writer of good repute would recommend so drastic a horticultural practice!.
All the same, growing herbs does make even the saddest and dreariest life better
You don’t have to be a New Age back-to-the-earth type to benefit from this life enhancing experience and you don’t need a lot of land either. If you live in an apartment in New York, or Sydney, or London, or Hong Kong, you can still put a bigger buzz into your life by growing at least one herb in a pot. Pot plants are good therapy and a lot less messy and troublesome than pets. Think a pot of thyme can’t love you back? You’ll never know unless you try it.
As a gardening writer who has been growing herbs for decades I actually recommend using pots and containers because this way you can better control them. Most common culinary herbs (the only type I bother to grow) are very easy to cultivate but they do have their funny little ways. Pot culture means you can give them just the right amount of sun and shade, food and water, protection from bad weather and badder insect pests.
So here are my Ten Top Tips for growing herbs in pots – trust me, you’ll find this a very life-enhancing experience.
1. Grow only those herbs you actually enjoy using to flavor your food. Otherwise it’s a waste of time and effort.
2. Choose those that suit your climate. There are few places on earth where ALL the common culinary herbs can be grown year round (unless you have a heated greenhouse). Most herbs can be grown in summer wherever you live; only in warm temperate to tropical climates can you grow most herbs in winter, though it’s possible to cultivate thyme and rosemary in a sunny spot in a heated apartment as long as the heating is never switched off!
3. Pick a sunny spot. Most herbs thrive only in full sun for at least six hours a day. A windowsill facing the sunniest aspect will do fine.
4. Plant in a good potting mix – this will nourish your herb nicely for most of its life whereas a cheap mix will become hard and claggy and either not drain well or become water-repellent.
5. Water regularly but not too much – herbs don’t like to be permanently drenched. If your plant starts dropping leaves or looking sick it needs better drainage so try re-potting. “Crocking” – using broken up pots or large pebbles or small bits of wood at the bottom of your part will improve drainage.
6. Fertilize lightly every couple of weeks with a weak solution of liquid fertilizer. Even if your potting mix already contains (according to the packet) slow-release pellets. I find this latter type of plant food is not really appropriate for herbs grown in pots, but nowadays it’s generally included in the better quality potting mixes anyway.
7. Protect potted herbs from extreme weather such as frost, hot and drying wind, hail or very heavy rain. The beauty of cultivating pot herbs is that they can be moved about to optimize growing conditions.
8. When buying, and unless growing from seed, choose plants that look fresh and healthy in the pot; avoid anything that looks too straggling and has obviously been there so long it’s starting to outgrow its container. I grow my herbs from seed but if you are buying seedlings you get better value from those in punnets of (say) four to six little plants, to be potted on, than larger single specimens in one pot.
9. If you are harvesting your herbs regularly you won’t need to cut them back – just make sure they don’t get too tall or straggly as they will lose vigour and flavor. Trim regularly for longer and better growth.
10. Don’t try hanging on to a herb past its use-by date – unlike diamonds, herbs are NOT forever! Annuals need to be replaced once they have flowered and begun to “bolt”. Perennials become straggly – repot them once a year and give them a good trim back but when they are obviously past their best, chuck ‘em out. After all, herbs are cheap!

And if there’s anything else you want to know about growing herbs, look for updates on this website or buy my lovely, cheap and very informative book on the subject at http://www.amazon.com/Herbs-Money-GardenEzi-Books-ebook/dp/B008R9JIUE


New herb book

My new book in the GardenEzi series

At last, my new herb book is available for sale as a Kindle e-reader download from Amazon http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008R9JIUE. Cost is only $4.95 and it may well be the best five bucks you’ve spent in a long time!

The book is called Grow Herbs – Make Money and shows you how to turn herb-growing from a hobby to a small backyard business, following the GardenEzi Five Step program.

Those interested can find more information about this book on my website and gardening blog at  www.wix.com/jrlakemedia/ezibooks

Growing herbs has been a major part of my life for 40 years or so now  and yes, for some of those years I’ve made a dollar or two out of them but mostly I’ve grown them just for my own pleasure.

There is something essentially satisfying about growing herbs.  Humans and those plants we have chosen to designate as having culinary and/or medicinal value have an ancient association and I think those  who still get pleasure from planting and harvesting our crops of parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme like to feel a continuing part of this tradition.  Also, growing herbs is easy.  Vegetables and fruit demand a lot  from the gardener whereas herbs are cheap to buy, either from seed or in pots, and need very little attention.

I have refined my herb-growing practices over the years so that today I grow only the chosen few.  When I first started I tried growing just about anything that could be classified as a “herb” so that at one point my herb garden boasted about 45 different types of plant.  I was an avid collector; joining a herb society, sending away for new and exotic species or varieties, and raiding the gardens of others with my knife and scissors.   I read madly, built up a herb book library, concocted exciting new recipes, tried my hand at drying and otherwise preserving leaves and flowers, harvested seed in season, dosed my family with hideous concoctions.  Indeed, my medicinal compounds rivalled those of Lily the Pink and though we all survived I soon lost interest – and faith – in the efficacy of such potions when compared with modern drugs manufactured by those with better knowledge, methods and equipment than I possessed! (Though I still think a cup of chamomile tea is soothing to the nerves and that mint tea aids digestion).

My interest in culinary herbs, however, has endured.  After all, I love to cook and so a source of fresh herbs is essential to me.  And though I no longer believe in herbal remedies to cure disease I do (as a horticulturist and scientist) believe in the benefits of herbs in promoting good health.  Like most plants, they contain their share of vitamins and minerals as well as the free-radicals  and anti-oxidants that so many of today’s health gurus tell us are essential for our wellbeing.  For me, though, it’s their taste that really matters.  What are Italian tomato-based recipes without basil?  Or salmon without dill? Or lamb without rosemary? Or just about anything without parsley?

During the many years in which I’ve grown herbs I’ve had a variety of gardens, from large acreage to a courtyard.  Today I have a very small area of garden around the house under cultivation and this gives me just enough room to grow the dozen herbs I consider essential for my kitchen.  This include the Top Ten mentioned in my book – parsley, sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, basil, dill, mint, coriander (cilantro) and chives – plus fennel and so-called Vietnamese mint.  Where I live, fennel is a substitute for dill in the hot season, while Vietnamese mint is a suitable taste substitute for coriander.  I also, some years, grow chervil as a cool season extra.

While some of my larger or mat-forming herbs (fennel, oregano) are grown in-ground most are kept in pots.  This enables me to move them around as necessary to take advantage (depending on time of year) of sun or shade.  These days I grow from seed rather than from cuttings, using mostly commercial seed because it is easy and has good, reliable variability.  Harvesting and storing your own seed is quite hard work and the viability rate is a lot lower – I’ve been there and done that and now I have other interests that consume my time so my herb-growing can’t be allowed to take up more than, say, one hour a week.  Yup, that’s all it takes me nowadays to keep my kitchen well-supplied and help out a few friends as well.

I do think that one of the handy things about learning to be a good herb-grower is that it IS one of those hobbies that can make a profit.  It’s not difficult at all to expand your own growing program to produce pots and fresh herbs for sale.  And from that small step it’s possible to build up that program to a small backyard business that won’t make a fortune but WILL bring in some extra income for relatively little effort after the setting-up process.  That’s why I wrote Grow Herbs – Make Money, to show how this could be done.  It’s not for everyone, but for those looking for some extra money growing herbs is not a bad way of getting it.

I love my herbs!  Indeed, they have been one of the enduring loves of my life and have never let me down.  If I lived in a tiny flat with a window box I’d still grow a small selection of them.  The smell, the feel and the taste of them enchants my daily life – if you’ve never tried growing them yourself, please give it a go.  You’ll find herb-growing good therapy as well as good fun!

The Breath of Life

When I launched my latest gardening book two weeks ago I spoke about the benefits of gardening for health and fitness, even for the physically challenged.  People then asked me if I had any more tips?  Yes, I said, do yoga and learn to breathe.

To breathe is to live

Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  After all, we all breathe, from our first breath to our last.  It’s one of those things we just take for granted, unless of course we are stricken with a lung disease or condition, such as cancer, tuberculosis or emphysema, when the very act of drawing air into our body becomes a painful battle.

Yet, one of the important things I learned when studying to become a yoga teacher was that while breathing might seem like doing the what comes naturally, few of us do it properly.  In fact unless we are taking strenuous exercise we use only a fraction of our lung capacity.  This is why most of us are not nearly as healthy as we should be.

Then, when I became a horticulturist, writing gardening books and speaking to gardeners, I was once more reminded of the importance of doing deep breathing to improve circulation and help relax muscles when doing all those gardening tasks – weeding, mowing, pruning, planting, digging – which cause stiffness and back pain.  I believe gardening is one of the healthiest activities we can undertake (you’ll find more articles on my blog about this soon) but we’ll avoid the usual aches and pains if we also learn how to breathe and stretch.

We go on fad diets, swallow so-called “natural” remedies, try various forms of exercise, run to the doctor every time we have the merest sniffle…

BUT…what we don’t do IS LEARN HOW TO BREATHE!

Master the art of breathing properly and you’ll be healthier and happier.  Your sex life will improve!  Your brain will work more efficiently!  You’ll become rich…well, no you probably won’t; I just wrote that to keep your attention.  In fact for the purposes of this article I’m deliberately adopting the style of those old hard-sell self-improvement ads.  Even though I’m not selling anything.  Because this IS important.


Think about it:

Breathing is the way we draw oxygen into our body and oxygen is the very stuff of life for everything on our planet.

The more oxygen (within reason) we absorb into our bloodstream, via our breathing apparatus, the better we’ll be.  Oxygen enriches the blood and energizes all our organs, it stimulates the brain, helps us build muscle, keeps our hair shining and our eyes bright. It helps us to resist disease by boosting our natural immune system.

Yet most of us are starved of oxygen and don’t even realise it!  Nor will we learn this from our doctors, most of whom seem abysmally ignorant about the need to breathe properly. Yet, just by mastering the simple technique of deep abdominal breathing we will maintain a higher level of health and fitness.

No, breathing won’t cure cancer.  But it WILL certainly strengthen your system to fight back against curable forms of cancer and overcome drug side effects.

So how do we do it?  Well, it’s very simple.  And it’s free!

Stand with your legs comfortably apart, back and neck straight (this exercise can also be done sitting down cross-legged)

Place your hands on your abdomen ,  just under the rib cage

Breathe deeply by inflating the BOTTOM of the lungs; don’t gasp but draw the air in very slowly.  You should be able to feel your abdomen swell out as you do so.  Once you feel that the bottom part of your lungs is fully inflated, gradually fill them from the bottom upwards.  BE VERY CONSCIOUS OF WHAT YOU ARRE DOING so that the lungs become fully inflated in three stages – bottom, middle and top. Until you feel that your lungs can hold no more breath.

Now breathe out again, letting the air go from the TOP of the lungs first, then from the middle, then forcing it right out from the bottom so that the lung sac is as empty as possible.  This will help rid the bottom of the lungs of fluid and harmful bacteria.

Okay, practice this a couple of times until you are sure you’ve got it right.  Now develop this into a rhythm – breathe IN to the count of four to completely fill the lungs, hold the breath for the count of two, then let it out again, top to bottom, to the count of four.

And that’s all there is to it!

Do this simple breathing exercise ten times every morning when you first get up. The immediate benefit is that you’ll find you have more energy to face the day.  All the other benefits are more subtle but be assured all that oxygen and improved lung capacity will be doing wonders for your overall health.  Ten deep abdominal breaths a day is my basic minimum, done every morning as I start my simple yoga routine.  But of course you can do it as often as you like…the more, the merrier.  Another ten deep breaths at lunchtime, and before you go to bed, will double and triple the benefits.


As we age our lungs, like so much else about our bodies, lose their elasticity.  This leaves us more vulnerable to chest infections and illnesses such as pneumonia.  The lungs retain fluid at the bottom and in this viscous mix nasty things lurk. Obviouly we can’t go around all day long breathing from the abdomen.  But we can considerably improve our oxygen intake, and also the elasticity of our ageing lungs, by expanding and filling them with air at least once a day – in fact the older we get the more important it is to breathe well because we get a lot less aerobic exercise then we did when young.


Be prepared to cough when you first start abdominal breathing.  This is good, because coughing is how we clear our lungs of all the junk that can lead to chest infections.  The deeper you breather, the more you cough.  It sounds revolting but a little coughing each day is good for us!  But don’t worry, once your breathing routine is underway you’ll find yourself coughing less.  Unless you have a lung infection or chronic lung disease, in which case of course you’ll cough more.

In fact this is one of the useful side benefits of abdominal breathing – it acts as a monitor for the condition of your lungs.  In my case, I know immediately I start breathing whether my lungs are congested or not.  Such congestion is often caused by allergy to pollen, air pollution or dust mites and I take immediate steps to deal with those problems, including a thorough coughing fit and extra breathing sessions throughout the day until my lungs feel clear.

So there you go…take a minimum of ten deep abdominal breaths a day and I promise you it will change your life.