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.


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