Tag Archives: tomatoes

a tomato a day

This year has been a bountiful year for tomatoes where I live, and given my CSA membership and friendship with a successful gardener, I am certainly supplied with an abundance of tomatoes. But this post is not actually about that kind of tomato.

The tomatoes I’m talking about are chunks of time: I’ve been using the Pomodoro technique to get my work done. I’ve mentioned before that I have found this method of working in timed stretches to be helpful to my productivity.

A little more than a year ago, July of 2013 to be specific, I started to meet regularly with another PhD student from my program to commiserate and work on goals together. One goal I set was that I would work at least one tomato, that is a 25-minute stretch of time focused on the task, on my own research.

With all my other obligations for group research as well as parenting and home commitments, my own research had been regularly getting pushed to the back burner. While I’d work in impressive bursts for upcoming deadlines, such as when preparing for conference submissions and presentations, l would regularly go days or even weeks without looking at my own research when the other obligations had their own crunch times. I might make reasonable progress during the week, but a busy weekend or school vacation would come up and push all thoughts of my research out of my head. A family crisis or even a fun time like a family trip would come up, and even longer would go by. When the time would come for me to dig back into my research, it would feel alien to me. I actually had the experience of reading papers I’d written almost as if they had been written by someone else. (I’m happy to say that I did at least find them to be interesting and well-written!)

Since making the commitment to myself to do at least a tomato a day on my own research, I have made much steadier progress. There is much greater continuity, and I feel connected to my projects. Some days I manage to put in more time on my research, but I’m happy to say that I have always managed to get in at least one tomato before bedtime. (I had to give up on getting the tomato in before midnight at some point–there were days when I was travelling when it just wasn’t feasible.) Friends and family have come to know about my daily tomato.

Over the past year, there have been times when I have really wanted to just go to bed, or at least just goof off, at the end of a full and exhausting day, but I have not let myself off the hook. Even when travelling. Even when falling asleep at my laptop. 25 minutes is always an amount of time I can fit in. Even when the work is not my best or most focused, the gains to my sense of continuity have been immeasurable. I can much more easily pick up where I left of the day before.

I am feeling connected to my research every day in a way that I haven’t before.

speaking of tomatoes

Speaking of tomatoes, which I have been doing often lately, I came across this bit of news:

Dutch stage tomato fight against Russian sanctions

I had heard of people throwing tomatoes in protest, but more in a public shaming of a politician or performer sort of way. Not as a mass political protest. Especially where the protest involves protestors throwing tomatoes at each other.

And then in trying to find the link to the above-described story, and googling “tomato throwing,” google kindly filled in “tomato throwing festival,” thus leading to the further discovery that there is even an annual tomato-throwing festival in Spain: La tomatina.

I am currently coping with an excess of overripe tomatoes myself, but the only throwing I had in mind for them was towards the compost pile…


An almost overripe tomato from my kitchen counter. I have no plans of throwing this tomato at anyone. If I don’t manage to include it in some sort of tomato sauce, it will be thrown in the compost pile.¹

¹ Truth be told, I am only including this photo because I have been posting so many photos lately that it felt somehow wrong to not include a photo of something. And seeing as I don’t have photos of actual tomato-throwing activities, I took this rather uninteresting photo just now in my kitchen.

fresh tomato photos (friday foto finder: tomato)

This week’s friday foto finder theme is “tomato.” While I certainly have taken many a tomato photo in recent years, I have also already posted many of them. Happily, here in New England, it is the season for fresh tomatoes. Indeed, this year, they are especially bountiful. I have joined a CSA again this year, and the tomatoes have been plentiful there. In addition, a close friend and neighbor has been experimenting with growing hydroponic tomatoes on her deck.

The experiment has been very successful, and she harvests many tomatoes each day. When I stopped by her house this afternoon, she had these guys all lined up to get a bit more time ripening in the sun. They caught my eye, and jogged my memory about the theme for fff this week. So, for a change, instead of digging through my photo library, I have some fresh photos.


I like the tomatoes’ rather menacing shadows.


Here, I liked the the low angle of the sun lit up the leaves.

Somehow, tomatoes have made very regular appearances on this blog, both in terms of photos and as a topic of discussion. Tomatoes, in fact, seem to be a running theme in my life, what with my use of the pomodoro method. It would seem that this is (at least) my 12th post with a tomato base. And it is probably safe to forecast that tomatoes will appear again here.

To see what other tomatoes have been served up for the fff theme, pay a visit to the friday foto finder blog!

Pomodoro: Using tomatoes for good (or evil)

Wondering why tomatoes have been on my brain? It’s because I have joined the Cult of Tomato.

Well, not really. But I have been using time management strategies that are inspired by the Pomodoro Technique. In the late 80s, some guy (not the tomato guy, at least as far as I know) developed a system involving using a timer to break down work times into manageable chunks. He named the technique Pomodoro, which is the Italian word for tomato, as the timer he used was a fairly standard tomato-shaped kitchen timer.

In a probably over-simplified way, the basics of the technique are:

  1. Pick a task to work on (typically one that is large and will take a lot of time and concentration)
  2. Set a timer for 25 minutes (a “tomato”), and dig into the task.
  3. Stay focussed on the task until the timer runs out.
  4. I said stay focussed on the task!
  5. Once your 25 minutes of intensive, focussed work is finished, you get a break! Step away from your work for 5 minutes or so.
  6. Seriously, take a break. This part is important.
  7. Once your break is up, set your timer again, and dive back into the work.

I’d heard of the Pomodoro Technique before from a friend of mine from grad school, who successfully used it to actually finish her degree. I think it was about the time that she told me about it that I found and downloaded an app to use.

And that was as far as I got.

Fast forward about 2 years to the spring of this year, and I read a post Veronica wrote about her decision to start working on projects using a timer method. She asked if any of her readers wanted to join her, and I commented that I was game to try Pomodoro. And  try it, I did.

I liked it.

Using tomatoes has helped me in a few main ways:

  •  It has helped me stay on task.
    For 25 minutes, barring unforeseen interruptions, I work in a concentrated way on my designated task. If, in the course of this tomato, I have the urge to look something up or to check on something else or do whatever puttering around beckons, I put the urge on hold until the end of the tomato. I know that my break will come up soon, and I can dive into puttering then. (Admittedly I often take longer breaks than 5 minutes.)
  •  It has helped me recognize smaller chunks of time as viable for getting work done.
    My schedule is often broken by appointments or other obligations, and sometimes I only have an hour or 2 to tackle my work. In the past, this would lead to me thinking “no point in getting started with that now. I’ll barely have time to get started.” With tomatoes, an hour or two suddenly becomes 2 to 4 viable chunks of work time. Because I can be focused, I actually get more done in those chunks than in previous larger but more nebulously structured lengths of time.
  • It has given my work more continuity
    Since managing my time in this way makes it easier for me to keep going on projects even when my time is limited, I am more likely to work on the projects on any given day. Meaning that fewer days go by without me touching a big project. This helps quite a bit.

I use a little app called Pomodoro that seems to be largely defunct and no longer available, but I think it was free when I got it. There are a whole bunch of other apps available that do more-or-less the same thing. (The more that that I like from the app I use is that it logs your tomatoes. You type in your task when you start a tomato (or it leaves the last task in by default) and then it has a little log where you can see your tomatoes listed by date, with task specified. It helps me track how long some projects have taken. (Usually longer than I’ve expected.)

For more on tomatoes, check out the Pomodoro Technique website. (The full technique involves more than just the timers, but I haven’t delved much into it.) I also found this blog post from a couple of years ago to be very insightful, plus it gives reviews and descriptions of some of the apps that were available (and many that still are). A quick search for “pomodoro” on the Apple App Store shows more than a dozen apps available, many tomato-themed, and ranging in price between free and $19.99. (Most are under $5.) And if you want something more concrete, you can even buy a wind-up tomato-shaped timer.

I highly recommend trying out a timer-based time management technique for anyone who has struggled to deal with dauntingly large, nebulous projects. Like finishing a degree. Or plotting to take over the world.

a dozen tomatoeufs

Back in the summer of 2007, I participated in a CSA, and found myself frequently overwhelmed by produce. Case in point: for several weeks in a row, I received 10 pounds of tomatoes a week. For people who do things like make pasta sauce and can it, this sort of bounty probably sounds wonderful. For me, who did neither, it was about 9 pounds of tomatoes too many per week.

I made it through, with many tomatoes shared with friends, many caprese salads, and probably a certain amount of compost.¹

I also had fun taking photos of the tomatoes. One week I had a large number of little egg-sized tomatoes, which inspired me to play with my food. (The yolk is a little round yellow tomato.)

¹ I also produced a fair amount of tomato posts, including a tomato ThThTh list, and a post about excessive tomatoes, in which I actually first posted these photos.²
² It’s so funny to go back and look at some of my old posts. I was a posting maniac back when this blog was in its infancy. Also, I was often pretty damn funny. If I do say so myself.³
³ Apparently, I do.

musings on the tomato (and suspected pseudonyms)

One of my tangential work-related projects has involved developing materials for labelling disfluencies¹ in speech, especially as they interact with prosody. Disfluencies include a number of phenomena such as filled pauses (um, uh) false starts (Hey! Those are my pa- trousers!) and unexpec- -ted … pauses or lengthening of woooords or partsss of words.² Disfluencies occur very frequently in natural speech, especially in spontaneous speech.³

Since they occur so frequently, it should be really easy to find examples of them, right? Well, yes and no. The trouble is that we’ve been looking for examples that we can redistribute, as part of training materials. Some of the materials we have used in previous research has not been licensed in this way. (A lot of people made such recordings before even imagining the web, let alone that their voices might show up there.) So, I have been on the hunt, on and off for several years, for materials that are suitable: high quality recordings of spontaneous speech produced by native speakers of American English. Those constraints right there limit things more than you might think. And then add on to that the desire to find things that have been released into the public domain, or shared with a creative commons license allowing derivative works and redistribution.

I don’t remember exactly when I came across the Internet Archive, and considered it as a potential resource for finding such soundfiles, but searches had been only moderately fruitful. But when I found the tomato guy, the Internet Archive bore fruit.

Buried among hundreds of podcasts, I found Musings with Sherman Oak, and I found Sherman Oak rambling about eating a tomato. This podcast was not only chock-full of examples of disfluencies, but tagged as public domain. And on top of that, I found it hilarious. If you have a minute, go have a listen to Sherman talking about tomatoes. (The whole episode is only 3 minutes and 17 seconds, but you can get a pretty good idea from the first minute. Or jump ahead to one of my favorite bits, around 1:30: “raw tomatoes are an evil vile thing.”)

I have no idea who Sherman Oak is. Sherman had a blog for a while, also called Musings with Sherman Oak. The blog has very little content, and a suspiciously large number of typos and other quirks. Which is completely in character with Sherman Oaks.

But I have this strong suspicion that Sherman Oak is a just that: a character. I think there’s a strong possibility that it is an actor or comedian, or comedian-actor, creating Sherman. In fact, I have a candidate: Thomas Lennon. (He was on, and one of the creators of, Reno 911, and has done a lot of stand-up and sketch comedy.)⁴

Listening to Sherman, I had this sense that I recognized his voice. And poking around more through some videos of Thomas Lennon on YouTube, I haven’t yet found anything that dissuades me.⁵ In fact, if Sherman Oak is not a character of Thomas Lennon, then he should be.

¹ Yeah, I just linked to Wikipedia. For a much denser and more academic discussion of disfluencies, see Shriberg’s 1994 dissertation.
² i.e. segmental lengthening that is not obviously in the service of phrasing or pitch accents.
³ Spontaneous speech typically is contrasted with read, elicited, or rehearsed speech.
⁴ He also, as is the case with many actors, lives in L.A. There is a district of LA called Sherman Oaks, which could be a coincidence. He is also from a town in Illinois called Oak Park. I only know these things from reading his Wiki page. I never previously had any cause to stalk him.
⁵ See, for example, this interview [youtube] or this stand-up bit [youtube].


Some tomatoes grown by a friend of mine in her garden. I did not eat them, though I have been known to enjoy a tomato. Even a raw one.

the great tomato debate

In the US, we are frequently subjected to the debate over the tomato’s status: Is it a fruit or a vegetable?

The answer, of course, is “yes.”

Because the real question is whether you are asking the question from a botanical or a culinary standpoint.

Botanically, it is unquestionably a fruit:

In botany, a fruit is a part of a flowering plant that derives from specific tissues of the flower, one or more ovaries, and in some cases accessory tissues.

But so is a bell pepper. Or zucchini. Or a butternut squash. But because these things are regularly cooked or included in savory dishes, they are considered vegetables. Culinarily, at least in the US and many European countries, tomatoes are treated as vegetables. You find them cooked into sauces and stews, roasted with garlic, or you might eat them raw, chopped up with herbs and olive oil on bruschetta. They go in the salad with lettuce and onion, not the salad with strawberries and melon.

However, in other parts of the world, the tomato’s status as a fruit is more widely accepted. I remember an occasion where we had a bit of a semester-end party on the last day of a particularly intensive class. People signed up to bring things. A guy from Korea signed up to bring some fruit, and he brought a little box of grape tomatoes, and it led to an interesting discussion.

I remembered this when we were served this dessert at the conference banquet¹ in Shanghai back in May:

The fruit salad consisted of chunks of melon, and grape tomatoes. Aside from my interest in the appearance of tomatoes in a fruit salad, it was a thoroughly disappointing dessert. Which, I suppose, was fitting.³

So, do you want to weigh in the debate?⁴

¹ Sadly, as is often the case with large-scale meals, the quality of the food was pretty mediocre. Pretty much everything I tried was bland.²

² Of course, my options were somewhat limited by my largely vegetarian diet constraints. So I didn’t partake, for example, of this soup. I did, however, appreciate that I was able to easily identify this as chicken soup. Other items that were served to us without explanation were more mysterious.

³ Did I mention the food was mediocre? The food was mediocre.

⁴ And if so, do you want to weigh in using pounds or kilograms?