Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Greek Yogurt and Fresh Fig Parfait

At work there is a small fig tree that I have been waiting to ripen up for weeks. Once they started to look very dark and one side sagged a little bit with the weight of the seeds and sugar inside, I knew they were ready. Figs have such a narrow time window in the store, and I think they're best used within a few days of picking, otherwise they almost disintegrate. On the occasion I can find them, I like them mixed into Greek yogurt.

I remember the first time I had Greek yogurt. I was actually in Greece. I had seen Nigella Lawson use it to blend with hummus for a dip, and it looked so luscious. My first morning in Athens I got a big cup of it at breakfast. I expected it to be like the most amazing whipped cream, but was totally shocked when it practically punched me in the face with sourness. I thought it was nasty, but at the time my reference point for good yogurt was Yoplait so that's no surprise. Now I love Greek yogurt and know it needs to be mixed with something just the way the Greek people at breakfast had it, drizzed with honey and sometimes with walnuts. Unfortunately, I didn't notice the honey pot by the yogurt until I had taken that first yucky bite.

This is more like a method than a recipe. You can use any seasonal fruit---I like berries a lot. If you are watching your sugar, you can substitute some (like I did here) or all of the honey with stevia or other low-glycemic sweetener. I like to use a little honey though, not really for the sweetness, but more for the floral taste and aroma.

This makes two breakfast servings or two to four dessert servings.

Greek Yogurt and Fresh Fig Parfait
Printable Recipe

1 1/2 cups Greek yogurt (0%, 2%, of full-fat, depending on your taste)
1 packet stevia, to taste (or use more honey)
dash of cinnamon
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tbsp honey
4 medium fresh figs, trimmed of their stem and diced
1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1. In a small bowl, blend the yogurt, stevia, vanilla, and half the honey. Spread onto your serving bowl.
2. Sprinkle over the chopped figs. Drizzle with remaining honey. Top with chopped walnuts. Chill until serving. If keeping in the refrigerator longer that overnight, add walnuts just before serving so they don't lose their crunch.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday Musings: Happiness Project, September

I made it through my first month of my Happiness Project! In a short time, I am already learning great lessons. But first, how did I do? Here were my goals:

1) Make bed every day
2) No dirty dishes in the sink at the end of the day
3) Evening tidy up (15 minutes)
4) Clear closets and drawers
5) Tackle nagging tasks
6) Keep a food diary
7) Follow my "to do" list
8) Repair, reuse, re-purpose, or get rid

I made my bed 100% of the time! This made me happy because pulling back the covers at night became a lovely part of my bedtime ritual. It made me feel taken care of. The bed is a huge chunk of the space in a bedroom, so when it's messy, your whole bedroom looks messy. I love the order it created. I also got faster at making it, so it was less of a burden. Plus, the pleasure of seeing it look so nice and crawling into orderly blankets at night made it totally worth it. 

How did I do on the rest of the goals? Not quite as good. Doing dishes is a struggle for me, but I feel what I learned about making my bed started to be applied towards the end of the month. I enjoy cooking, but who wants to make a mess on top of a mess? 

The best thing about my August goals is that they got me thinking about worth. It's easy to put our worth in what we do for a living and disregard the normal tasks in life. I mean, when was the last time you gave yourself a mental high five for vacuuming? But when I started to think about these tasks as just as important as my day job, I started to feel more congratulatory towards getting them done. I go to work, and work hard and can pat myself on the back for that. But why can't I do the same thing about accomplishing "mundane" tasks? It actually motivates me and adds happiness to my life knowing I can say to myself that I did a good job for cleaning out a drawer. It's energizing and does add to my happiness and sense of self worth.

The one tasks that I really didn't enjoy was keeping a food journal. I don't feel like it added a lot to help me. I never took the time to look back to see when I splurged (which I don't actually do a lot for the following reasons), plus I often eat the same types of foods, almost all my meals are home cooked, and don't bring home junk food so the food journal wasn't that informative. 

My inspiration quote for September is:

"If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete." -Jack Kornfield

I found how much congratulating myself on everyday tasks can be energizing and fulfilling. Now I want to put myself higher on my "to do" list as another way to reaffirm my worth. When I am last on the totem pole I feel dead tired and it's hard for me to see the value in me. By doing the things I need to do to make me feel good, I will have the wherewithal to get through the tougher tasks in life. Therefore, September is all about making choices that help me to feel cared for.


1. Exercise
2. Eat a salad
3. Practice a self-care ritual (Treat yo' self!)
4. Read a personal growth book
5. Meditate
6. Meal prep

In a combination of organization and self-care, I'm going to focus on meal prepping. This typically happens on the weekend (when I get a chance), but having healthy meals makes me live my life better because I feel good and organized. I don't like frantically running after work to get dinner or feeling so hungry I might have a meltdown. I specifically want to plan more salads, especially since my garden is still producing. There's nothing like a salad to make me feel like I care about my body.

I ended up joining a gym last month because I felt like I needed a more communal experience. My gym is so awesome I actually call it a spa since I have a hot tub, sauna, indoor and outdoor pools, and massage chairs. It feels like a treat to go because I end my workout with the massage chair. Exercise not only helps me take care of my body, but afterwards I do feel amazing. I'm worth the effort.

My self-care ritual can be anything from painting my nails to putting on a face mask. It's a pocket of time where I focus on doing something that makes me feel pampered.

For personal development I'm going to meditate and read a personal growth book. My form of meditation is coloring. I have a grown-up coloring book that has illustrations from Jane Austen's books. When I'm coloring, I tune everything out and just focus, which feels really meditative. Sometimes I get outside the lines and I actually like when it happens because it's a practice on not taking myself too seriously. I have a lot of personal growth books I've been meaning to read, so in my next Monday Musings post I'll tell you what I ended up reading!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Tomato and Summer Squash Parmesan

Most of my summer has been spent in the vineyard, but I did manage to pick up a new hobby. I live in a back house, which is a rental behind a main house. My neighbors in the front house moved away in July, and left a garden behind. I watched it over a couple of weeks as it started to be swallowed up by weeds. Then I noticed a tomato ripening, and I realized I needed to rescue the garden! It has at least 10 tomato plants and about 2 yellow squash and 3 crookneck squash plants. There are several eggplants and a watermelon plant, but they haven't produced too much. There are 3 pepper plants, but they also are less productive. I have since planted sugar pumpkins, beets, mesclun mix, various herbs, marigolds (for prettiness), and radishes. The radishes are just starting to be ready to harvest, and the sugar pumpkins have buds! I hope to get some pumpkins before the season is over.

Thanks to my adopted garden, I've been enjoying tomatoes and squash all summer. I was starting to become overwhelmed by the amount of tomatoes and squash, so I cooked up a bunch of them in this casserole. If you don't have a garden, try to get ripe roma or "on the vine" tomatoes, which are meatier and sweeter than regular hothouse tomatoes.

Tomato and Summer Squash Parmesan
Printable Recipe

4 tbsp olive oil, divided
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp dried marjoram
2 lbs summer squash or crookneck squash, thinly sliced (about 1/8", easily done with a mandolin slicer)
2 lbs roma or "on the vine" tomatoes, thinly sliced (about 1/4")
4 oz grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Add 1 tbsp oil to a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook until tender and lightly browned, about 10 minutes.
3. Blend remaining oil with basil, oregano, and marjoram.
4. In a 11" x 13"non-reactive baking dish, place half of the squash on the bottom. Top with half the onions, then half the tomatoes. Drizzle over half the herb oil. Season with a little salt and pepper. Repeat another set of layers with remaining squash, onions, tomatoes, herb oil, salt and pepper. Cover with foil and bake 40 minutes.
5. Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle over Parmesan. Bake 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Rest 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Monday Musings: My Happiness Project

I've been evaluating what makes me "me" lately. Part of my motivation is the podcast "Happier" with Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft. I've listened to it for the past couple of months, going through the backlog of over a year's worth of podcasts. I started from the beginning, where advice for happiness included making your bed every day and following the one minute rule...if a task can be done in one minute, do it. Examples include hanging your jacket in the closet rather than tossing it in a chair or doing a minute of tidying before heading out the door. Overall, the approach of the podcast is to focus on good habits as a way to achieve happiness, rather than some sort of non-quantifiable metaphysical meditations. As I've listened, I've started to learn a lot about myself.

I am a huge fan of projects. I love crafting and working towards goals. My latest project is my own Happiness Project, which is helping me flesh out who my authentic self is based on the tendencies Gretchen describes in her podcast and blog. You can take her quiz here. My results indicate I'm a questioner, though I have some tendencies towards rebel. Which means I like to do things only after careful consideration (must have data!), and therefore my motivations are all internal. My other favorite comparison is alchemist vs. leopard, where alchemists tinker with their nature and leopards don't like to change their spots. I'm a total alchemist. I love trying new things, especially with regard to exercise and eating habits. True to alchemist nature, I've tried to exercise and eat certain ways that just seem like a struggle, especially when combined with my questioner nature because I need something more than bro science to back stuff up. But I've started to accept that arbitrary nutrition and exercise advice doesn't work for me (ie: eat chicken, rice, and broccoli without question, and you have to exercise for x minutes a day, y times a week), so now I do what makes sense to me. Gretchen describes many different tendencies in human nature. I have yet to figure out some of my other tendencies, but I'm enjoying the process.

I started my Happiness Project mid-July. I didn't feel like I needed to start on a Monday or at the beginning of a month. For me, when I'm ready to start something, I just start it while I feel the motivation or I end up overthinking it and get stuck in analysis paralysis and never begin at all. Therefore the first "month" of my happiness project was 2 weeks of July and all of August. My plan was to focus on improving my energy. One thing that drains me are tasks that never get done and only become more inconvenient over time. These include small things like making the bed or washing the dishes (my least favorite chore), or bigger tasks like cleaning out drawers and closets. My inspiration quote came from Gretchen, "outer order contributes to inner calm." This is a variant of a mantra I've followed since I was an undergrad "messy bed, messy head." Basically, clutter is distracting! 

Gretchen provides a checklist on her website, but I made my own Excel checklist with all the resolutions I wanted to accomplish for the month and taped it on the wall next to my bed so I can check off what I accomplished each day. Across the next year on my project, I was to make goals that are quantifiable. Making my bed every day is quantifiable. Smile more is not. How do I know if I've smiled more? It's not something easy to be conscious of.

Here are my goals for the month:

1) Make bed every day
2) No dirty dishes in the sink at the end of the day
3) Evening tidy up (15 minutes)
4) Clear closets and drawers
5) Tackle nagging tasks
6) Keep a food diary
7) Follow my "to do" list
8) Repair, reuse, re-purpose, or get rid

So far, I have 100% adherence in making my bed! I love having my bed made because it's a great surface for folding laundry or packing my suitcase with no risk of an item getting trapped in messy blankets. I stick to my "to do" list most days; on the weekend I'm more flexible. I've gotten rid of some clothes, cleaned out a bathroom drawer, and taken care of a couple tasks that were just sitting on a side table needing to be done. I do need to get better about not leaving a few dishes in the sink at night. I just forget about them and by the time I see my checklist I'm too tired to care. My favorite part of the project so far is all the data I'm generating from my checklist...I know I'm getting stuff done because I have a visual.

Next month I'll give a final report on the first month of the project and talk about my September goals!

Overall, why do I want to do this project? It's not to seek delirious happiness, but rather contentedness for myself and my environment.

Friday, April 8, 2016

What I Ate Wednesday: Thursday Edition, 21 Day Fix with Paleo Meals (4/7/16)

On Wednesday I was standing in the vineyard and realized I forgot to take a picture of my breakfast for my What I Ate Wednesday post. D'oh! So I figured it wasn't a big deal, I'll just track my meals on Thursday. It would be interesting to take pictures and post them on a non-normal day (ie: traveling) so you can see the things I choose and restaurants in order to attempt to stay on track, but that's not going to happen this week.

I didn't eat badly while on my work trip this week, but I definitely had too much salt. Ready to get back to normal until my work trip next week. But I hope the more work trips I go on, the more streamlined things get. 

I started the day off with my Shakeology shaker cup full of water to help flush out some of the excess salt/water hanging on to me. Normally I cook my breakfast and have Shakeology for a snack, but I felt I needed to start the day with plenty of vitamins. I mixed the strawberry flavor with water and a cup of frozen mango and peaches. I look exhausted in these pictures. My eyes were burning they were so tired. But you can see my new haircut in this pic! I cut off about 4 or 5 inches. And you can see my new scarf from a local vintage shop!

We were on the road a long time these past couple of days. I also had some black coffee, which was necessary.

1 red, 1 purple

Mid-morning I had an orange container of chopped pecans and a Cara Cara orange that I mangled while peeling. I was going through my notes from the last few days while I had my snack. I've been out of school a long time, but I still go back through my notes and highlight and make extra notes with a different ink color. Nerd and proud of it.

1 purple, 1 orange

I'm so thankful to me last Saturday for prepping food! I had some Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo made from the 21 Day Sugar Detox cookbook by Diane Sanfilippo, cauli rice from Trader Joe's, and roasted sweet potatoes that were in the freezer section on clearance at Target. I made up a bunch of plates and put them in the freezer to grab as I need. It may look blah and beige, but it tasted so delicious! I can definitely recommend this recipe and cookbook! A couple alterations to the recipe: I used 3 lbs of boneless meat, which is 12 servings. The 3 lbs of bone-in chicken thighs is supposed to yield 4 servings according to the recipe, but there weren't any at Trader Joe's. It worked out well because the recipe made a lot of sauce...half a blue container per serving, approximately. The recipe has you place sliced onion, ginger, and garlic on the bottom of the crock pot, so after I removed the chicken I blitzed everything with my immersion blender so the veggies would thicken the sauce.

1 red, 1/2 blue, 1 yellow, 2 tsp, 1 green

I don't normally have Shakeology twice in one day. If I have it for breakfast, I'll have a protein snack later in the day with Greek yogurt. But I just came back from a trip so I don't have any Greek yogurt. I also didn't drink my Shakeology for 2 days, so I have a bit extra. This is chocolate with unsweetened vanilla almond milk (8 oz) and a few oz of water. This is my normal mid-morning snack. Fuji apple on the side.

1 red, 1 yellow, 1 purple

Here's my Shakeology stash in my desk drawer so I can grab one and put it in my back pack before heading to the field:

I ran an errand after work, then stopped to get fresh produce. Since my workout was delayed, I made a little pre-workout snack of cottage cheese and grape tomatoes. I've loved the combination of tomatoes and cottage cheese since I was a kid. I don't eat cottage cheese a lot, but it's a pretty good source of protein and is a great option if you don't have time to cook.

1 red, 1 green

Dinner was from the freezer again, yay! This is a slow cooker chicken with tangerine that I've been working on. These asparagus spears were also on clearance at Target, and they were horrible. I don't think I've ever had frozen asparagus before, and I will never have them again. Look how sad they are! This was about 1.5 green containers, and I couldn't finish them. So yucky.

1 red, 1 tsp, ? green

I ended up having a few cashews to finish up my blue container for the day. Half a blue container is four cashews, and I wasn't going to take a photo of four cashews. That's just silly business.

1/2 blue

I didn't eat all my containers today. I got an extra red, but skipped some green, a teaspoon, and a yellow. I feel like intuitively my body is making up for the erratic eating during my travels. Of all the containers to skip, green is not the one that I would choose, primarily because I don't want to mixx out on phytonutrients. Friday (today) my appetite is more normal. Doing the Fix and eating Paleo at the same time may take a bit more practice as I travel, but I'm all in.

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