The Best Half Marathon I Never Ran

“That seems like the worst deal of all time,” my friend Katy told me, after I explained that I was doing long training runs for a half marathon I’m not doing. “So you’ll put in all the hard work,” she continued, “without the day-of excitement of running in the race?”

I agreed it was a very unique approach. But I was more excited to cheer on my lifelong friend, Hayley, in the race than I was about doing it myself. Instead of registering as well, our compromise was that I would accompany her on long runs.

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What I didn’t think about the time was that 8 and then 9 miles would feel a lot more natural for one of us who trained for that distance than it would for the other who did not.

But that’s really a personal problem.

Come race day, my original plan was for Brandon and I to bike to Uptown so that we could then be nimble and follow Hayley around on her path. What I didn’t factor in is an 8 am race start means we would need to start biking …before 8 am… on a Sunday. The drinks we had the night before and the rain the morning of made that plan worse and worse. Driving to uptown, instead, gave me even more respect for what Hayley was taking on.

Brandon and I met up with her husband, Ethan, and their dog, Lola, who had a lot of questions about why we were standing in one place in the rain. The course is two laps through a Lake Harriet and Lake Calhoun/Bde Mke Ska loop, which made it easy to see her at the 6 mile mark and walk over to the 13 mile area. (Sharing this if you’re interested in running or watching this race next year)

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At the 13 mile area, the spectators had a new level of energy that made me consider jumping into the race, or at least jogging in place. In particular, was a couple that was cheering on each and every person turning the corner for their last .1 miles as if it were their best friend completing the race.

“Turn and burn, baby, let’s take it home!!!!” They screamed, hunched over hands on knees, like a head coach dialed in for the last minute of the most important game. They jumped up and down, and were feeding off the energy of each other.

I was in awe.

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First of all, I really wanted to get to the bottom of if they even knew any runners in the race. Which made me wonder, is this how they met? Were they just cheering on strangers like crazy, then caught each other’s eyes across the street, and thought, wow we have a lot in common? 

I was also envious of the effect they were having on the runners, and wondered why I wasn’t bringing the same energy. I encouraged our group to head up stream so we could be a little appetizer to the real cheer leaders down the way.

Rather than watching the runners, until Hayley arrived of course, I was mainly watching this couple. It brought me to tears thinking about how impactful it is to hear that encouragement as a runner.

It is the exact encouragement they need, in a moment where they feel like they have nothing left to give. It’s amazing how strangers cheering you on can validate the sense of accomplishment you should have after 13 miles, but for some reason in the moment, all you can see is the .1 you haven’t yet reached.

Since race day, this couple has stayed with me. I’ve been sharing this story with all of my yoga students, encouraging them to be this level of enthusiastic, but for themselves.

As amazing as it is to hear compliments, praise, and cheers from others, it can’t truly resonate until we believe it ourselves. It’s incredibly difficult for external validation to overpower our own talk track we have playing on repeat.

When we’re not being nice to ourselves, it’s hard to genuinely appreciate and convey what we admire in others. We know comparison is the thief of joy for the person doing the comparing, but I think it also steals from the person being complimented. It shifts from “this is something I truly admire in you,” to “this is something I wish I liked about myself.”

My #couplegoals cheer leaders weren’t inspiring runners by brushing them off, saying “Good for you, I’d never be able to do anything remotely close to this.”

They inspired by being present and fully engaged in the moment, making each and every runner feel seen. The runners I saw Sunday have carried on to their daily lives, and they may no longer have those enthusiastic cheer leaders top of mind, but I’m sure they remember how they made them feel.

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So, I’ll likely never see these people again.

But they’re what I’ll remember most from this race, which made me think of my students and whoever reads this.

It can be hard to see in ourselves how we inspire and change those around us. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have impact.

As Drew Dudley explains in his Ted Talk, there’s people out there, like strangers watching a half marathon in the rain, who just haven’t gotten around to telling us yet how we’ve changed their life.

Whatever you may be taking on this week, don’t hesitate to recognize what you’ve accomplished so far.

Even if it seems counter intuitive, when we’re intentional about directing praise inward, it makes it easier to appreciate other’s accomplishments and cheer them on.

And you can take my word for it, those sidelines are not a boring place to be.

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My First Marathon

One week ago, I was lined up with more than 7,000 runners waiting for the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon to begin. Some were listening to music, bouncing around, or starting to shed the sweats they layered for the start line. I was doing yoga, per usual, in  the little space I carved out for myself, and couldn’t help be intimidated by the people around me.

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Should I have worn a garbage bag over my torso? (A question I never thought I’d ask) I wondered what they ate for breakfast, or if I should have gotten to the corral sooner.

I was distracted from these thoughts when the emcee asked who was running a marathon for the first time. I threw up my hands and cheered, and tears came to my eyes.

When is the last time you did something for the first time? Whatever doubts I had about the next 26.2 miles were nothing compared to the intrigue of the unknown. I told myself, this is the last time you will run a marathon for the first time. You will compare any future race to this one, so you need to make this experience exactly what you want it to be.

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Whether you’re interested in running a marathon, or want to be the best cheerleader for someone else taking this challenge on, here are my takeaways and some of the best advice I received-

1. My fanny pack of love notes: On one of my long runs, I thought about a gratitude practice I could have during the race. I landed on asking friends and family to write notes with words of encouragement or anything they’d like me to read during the race. It took a bit of vulnerability to request this from others, but I’m so glad I did.

I had just over 26, and was able to open a note each mile. I would ABSOLUTELY recommend it, and can’t imagine this race without that ritual. Each mile marker, instead of thinking about how many more miles I had, I was excited it was time to open another note. I can’t thank my note writers enough!

2. “Just have fun and don’t be nervous, it’s not like you’re going to win!” This was 100 percent accurate, in fact, here’s who won, by literally running twice as fast as me. Truly, my number one goal was to have fun. At some points in my training, this seemed like a very unrealistic goal. But just like how my idea of fun being getting up at 6 am for yoga, or planning a great carpool, I had a blast running this marathon.

I was smiling ear to ear for 90% of it (here’s a hot take- what if the race was only 20 miles??) and because winning was off the table, I paid attention to my pace but not my time. That meant stopping to talk with and take selfies with the amazing cheerleaders that navigated closed roads and big crowds to watch me. I wouldn’t have done it any other way.

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Friends, Ingrid and Cyrus, mile 7
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Family friends- Taylor Ann, Owen (who ran out to hug me), and not pictured, Josh! Mile 10
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The soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Finlay!! The kisses from Lola were a game changer. Mile 13 and Mile 21
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My boyfriend and his wonderful family who visited for the weekend! Mile 17.5
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This put some pep in my step- Meeting our Senator at mile 24!!

3. Be flexible with your training: Enter the race with curiosity rather than a rigid plan. There will be surprises along the way, and this mindset will help you be present to embrace the happy ones— the INCREDIBLY enthusiastic dad that ran alongside his daughter, yelling, “ARE YOU SEEING THIS? LOOK AT HER GO!!!!”— and it will help you patiently assess the uncomfortable ones— like a stomach ache for the first 3 miles from a bigger breakfast.

Rather than reacting to this, I noticed it, and thought logically about where it could be coming from. Throughout training, I didn’t each much before my runs, which was more of a bad habit than best practice. I told myself the ache had to go away as I burned calories with each mile, and it did! Rather than going into a downward spiral about how I shouldn’t have tried something new, I postponed eating any gels until mile 7 because my body had enough fuel. You are always in control.

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Not the end of the race, or even a mile marker, just a really spirited street 🙂

4. “When something starts to hurt or get tired, think about how amazing your elbows feel. Notice the wind blowing in your hair.” This made me laugh when I first received it, and when I opened it mid-race. I can tell you one thing about a marathon, your elbows will not fail you.

I often tell my yoga students to notice everything they are doing, the space and strength they are creating, because it’s so easy to notice what we can’t do. That’s what I love about this- there is beauty in every moment.

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I loved this view crossing the bridge from Minneapolis to St. Paul

5. Lastly, carry a mantra with you. This was great advice from another yoga teacher, and I have another friend to thank for the mantra I chose. Inspired by Irene Fernando’s TedTalk, I borrowed the phrase “why not me?” If 7,000 runners are going to finish this race, why not me? If someone is going to make it up this hill, why not me? If there’s going to be someone that has fun for 26.2 miles, why can’t that person be me?

Rather than stemming from competition, this mantra reminded me that all of the strength, endurance, focus, positivity, and passion I needed to complete this goal was already within me. P.s. this question drives Irene to take on amazing challenges and make an impact in her community- you can learn more here.

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If you said encouraging words once, if you tracked my number on the race app, or followed me around the Cities on race day, thank you for being a part of this journey. While I can’t run a marathon for the first time again, I’d be very surprised if it was my last.

#VoteIrene

I am very rarely at the cusp of trends. I tend to watch from the sidelines to see if a fad is here to stay, and then decide my plan of action.

This is something I miss about living in a sorority house. Information travels fast, and at Alpha Gam specifically, I could get ten different takes on a new place, fashion item, class, or topic just by sitting down for dinner.

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One of my greatest takeaways that I brought into the working world was how to collaborate and delegate. I learned it the hard way, by drowning in silent auction donations as a freshman holding my first leadership position as Philanthropy Coordinator. I silently made note when I noticed the boundless skills of the diverse women around me.

There was too much to be done, and too much that could be done, to do it alone. If I didn’t have an answer, someone did. If I didn’t have a skill, a connection, a resource, a sister did. Slowly, I realized our network was limitless, and that we might all be able to bring that spark to the communities and groups we encounter.

I remember one day, our alumnae Chapter President, Irene Fernando, and Recruitment Advisor, Ashley Harville, came to the chapter house during Monday night dinner. I was struck by their approachability. They showed me how I wanted to be an alumnae to the chapter. To be involved, relatable, and connected.IMG_0030 copy

In 2015, they stood in front of me and one hundred other senior sorority women, at an event Ashley planned and Irene was the keynote speaker.

She shared how the thought of “if someone is going to graduate and transform leadership, why not me?” changed the scope of what she believed was possible.

This question led her to wonder, in a dorm room with friends ten days into college, wouldn’t it be cool if we changed the world and Students Today, Leaders Forever (STLF) was born. (Find full speech here)

Last week, they stood in front of me again. This time in Ashley’s backyard, introducing Irene, this time as the DFL endorsed candidate for the Hennepin County Commissioner for District 2.

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#HypeCrew Meet and Greet at Ashley’s cozy NE home

Despite my delayed awareness for trends, once Irene announced her campaign last fall (the first candidate to do so) I knew I needed to be involved somehow.

Now, when I see the Vote Irene lawn signs, I have the reaction of Will Ferrell in Elf finding out Santa is coming- “I know [her]!!!” Working closely with Irene in our community makes me truly certain of her ability to lead, innovate, and transform Hennepin County.

Before this campaign, I didn’t know that the Hennepin County Commissioner was a role. I didn’t know it managed a 2.4 billion dollar budget, which put into perspective is more than the combined income of Beyonce and Jay-Z. I didn’t know how many decisions were being made and dollars allocated that directly impacted my neighborhood and community.

“In the face of outrageous circumstances, we are called to fight for the common good.” Irene Fernando

With this administration and current state of politics, I think everyone is wondering aloud or to themselves, what can I do. Sometimes that question is so overwhelming and the solutions seem so grand, that we do nothing at all.

I was stuck in this place for quite some time. I wanted to learn from all sides of the aisle that I stayed stationary and listened. As someone who rarely stops talking, I had a feeling this wasn’t the worst thing. What I was reminded of in this time, is that we didn’t need to figure this out alone.

For some, the curious question of “Why not me?” will lead to starting an organization or a campaign. For others, it’s recognizing how you can support what already exists.

Ashley and Irene have again paved the way for me, to display how sisterhood evolves. Irene’s #hypecrew is made up of Alpha Gams. And in that crew, there is a role for me, off the sidelines, that answers that scary question of, what can I do?

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Ashley is the queen of hosting
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Can we take a moment…

Today, Hennepin County Distict 2 Minnesotans, that answer is you can take part in a local primary election, and believe in what’s possible by voting for Irene Fernando.

“My future, and our future, is thanks to the told and untold stories of those who came before us. Ordinary people who chose to pave a path when there was none. Everyday people who risked some of themselves for the opportunity, for the responsibility to make a change.”

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Maya’s on the lookout for voters

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Marathon Training- Scrappy Style

I have always been driven by curiosity. And FOMO.

That’s why when the opportunity to join Team Comcast for the Twin Cities Medtronic Marathon arose, I knew I needed to be in on it. With five half marathons under my belt, I always had interest in doing a full marathon, but was too intimidated to pull the trigger. Thank god for FOMO.

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Hal Higdon Training Schedule, I mainly pay attention to the distances per week

When I trained for half marathons, I would do a long run each week, adding on a few miles each time. I wouldn’t bring water, mid-run fuel, or listen to music because it was distracting and it had never felt necessary. I figured I would do all the same things for the full distance, but with the guidance of a real training schedule (above) to tell me how to add that mileage on.

I later realized how many times I was telling myself, “this is the way it’s always been done” in reference to something I’ve never done.

If there’s one thing you could gather from this blog or from knowing me, it’s that I’m not great at following directions. They bore me. I’m more attracted to intuition, whether in cooking, marketing, design, or training. However, intuition cannot always replace reason, and that revelation hit hard when I was doing my first run past the half marathon distance.

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This 15 mile run compared to nothing else I had ever done. I needed to stop and stretch every couple of miles and was really only motivated by sticking to my training schedule and the fact that I wasn’t near home.

My legs felt like cinder blocks I was dragging along, but I kept going like this until 15.5 miles and walked the rest of the way home. Feeling lightheaded and pale, I thought about how the cars passing must be thinking about how sad I look. They must be thinking, “Aaaand that’s why I’m not a runner,” rather than “I bet that’s someone who just ran the longest distance in their life!” Based on how painful achieving that goal was, it didn’t feel like much of an accomplishment at all.

After consulting a few marathon-running friends, I realized my body didn’t fail me, I had failed my body.

Turns out, I had completely depleted my electrolytes by running that distance on little-to-no food prior, and only stopping for water once. The lead of my first aid/CPR class said I may have even been in shock.

Thinking about the 11+ miles I still needed to achieve after that run made me wonder if I could actually do this. This glass-half-empty mindset is a slippery slope. That’s the one thing I don’t like about sharing my marathon training with others, they’re always doing math for you. They ask about the longest distance you’ve run, and then calculate how much longer you still have to go. It’s really quite uplifting.

Before giving up on that, I needed to fully embrace that I’m not the expert, and that scrappy plans can only get you so far. Clearly doing it my way wasn’t working, so it was time to pivot instead of quit. What’s the point of being curious anyway if there aren’t any surprises?

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New and improved training best practices for long runs:

  • Hydrating the day before my run
  • Eating breakfast before run (I was leaving so early some mornings I didn’t realize I missed this)
  • Running with water bottle though I may order a belt with additional bottles
  • GU Gels for mid-run refuel: rough schedule so far is taking half of one before run, a full at mile 7, and then each 5 miles
  • Marine Collagen for joint recovery- bovine collagen peptides are more popular, but those aren’t pescetarian.
  • Cold shower afterwards (maybe one day I’ll be brave enough for an ice bath)

Maintaining original plans of:

  • Running Tuesday mornings with my early bird bestie
  • Long runs on weekend mornings, directly after I teach (if I go home I get distracted)
  • Cross training with yoga and sculpt throughout the week at my second home, Corepower Yoga
  • Going to Flyfeet Running around once a week so that someone holds me accountable to do sprints!
  • Not listening to music…we’ll see if I can keep holding out of this as my runs get longer. It’s partially for safety reasons (scary people, cars, bikes) but it also doubles as a moving meditation when I can actually hear myself think

17I can say with great pride that as of this week, this revised plan allowed me to accomplish 17.1 miles without pain or doubt. Of course, it was a challenge, but that’s what I signed up for.

I still took breaks, but they were intentional and purposeful rather than out of desperation. Most importantly, it allowed me to prove to myself that I can keep moving forward regardless of any bumps along the way.

I can say with confidence, but not certainty, that I can finish a marathon. But I don’t need to run a marathon today, or anytime soon, that’s for us to find out on October 7. Don’t worry, I’ll save you the math- that’s two long months away.

Butternut Squash Curried Soup

There comes a time for everyone to face their fears. Mine is cutting squash and getting things out of the sink drain/garbage disposal. Apparently I’m the only one who does the latter, because it’s obviously not a foolproof plan.

But people everywhere are somehow cutting butternut squash, and living to tell the tale with all ten fingers. It’s inspiring. I make spaghetti squash in a crock pot to avoid this, but buying frozen butternut squash wasn’t cutting it.

So after the advice of many brave souls, I bought butternut squash (with no plan or recipe) and put it in the oven (whole) at 400 for 10 minutes before attempting any chopping. Magic.

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That brought me to this what-do-I-have-in-my-cabinet soup. It was completely random but filling and delicious. Hope you enjoy!

INGREDIENTS

-1 butternut squash, chopped
-1 sweet potato, chopped
-1 1/2- 2 cups of (cooked) quinoa, I used tricolor from Trader Joe’s. You’ll need just 1 cup uncooked
-4 cups vegetable stock
-1 can diced tomatoes
-1 tbsp curry paste
-1 can coconut milk
-5 shakes curry powder
-3 shakes cumin
-1 tsp ginger garlic paste
-1 tsp sesame oil

DIRECTIONS

1. Bake whole squash at 400 for 10 minutes to soften (option to do this with sweet potato as well)
2. Chop squash and sweet potato as shown above
3. Place veggies in soup pot and add broth. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Stir occasionally.
4. Make 1/2 to 1 cup (dry) quinoa in separate pot in the meantime
5. Add curry paste, tomatoes, coconut milk to soup pot and start to mash potatoes and squash. Simmer for 10 minutes.
6. Mash squash and sweet potatoes again to desired consistency, or remove from pot and blend if you want it super creamy. I prefer some texture.
7. Add curry powder, cumin, ginger garlic paste, and sesame oil.
8. Stir and serve!
Yields ~8 servings

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Superbowl Sunday Veg Buffalo Dip- 2 Ways!

I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 9 years, and people always ask me if there’s anything I miss. To their disappointment, I always say no, and that it’s such a habit, I forget it’s an option.

And then this time of year in the #BoldNorth rolls around. Minnesotans. love. buffalo. chicken. dip. It’s in every crockpot at the tailgates, holiday parties, and you best believe it will be at Superbowl Sunday. And I’m jealous.

So here we are, the first recipe is vegetarian buffalo dip for the guests that don’t want to be eating bird food. Focus on mentioning there’s cheese, keep quiet about the cauliflower.

Health nuts, keep scrolling for the vegan/paleo buffalo cauliflower hummus that is dairy free, gluten free, and still adored by regular food people like my coworkers.

VEGETARIAN BUFFALO DIP

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INGREDIENTS
1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
1 tbsp olive oil
1/8 tsp salt
4 ounces cream cheese
1 cup plain greek yogurt
1/2 cup Frank’s buffalo sauce
1 tbsp ranch seasoning
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Sliced green onion
Carrots, celery, and/or chips and crackers for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt and pepper on baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until tender and slightly browned. When cauliflower is done, lower oven temperature to 350 degrees F.
  3. Add roasted cauliflower to food processor and pulse until finely diced. Add cream cheese, yogurt, hot sauce, ranch seasoning and 1/2 cup mozzarella to the food processor and pulse until smooth and creamy.
  4. Transfer cauliflower mixture to a baking dish. Top with remaining mozzarella and optional blue cheese. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until mixture is heated through.
  5. Remove from oven and garnish with sliced green onion and serve with carrot and celery sticks and/or tortilla chips.
""VEGAN/ PALEO BUFFALO HUMMUS
ingredients
INGREDIENTS

1 head cauliflower, chopped into florets
Sea salt/ himalayan salt and cracked black pepper to season califlower

1/3 cup tahini
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Frank’s buffalo sauce
1/4 cup lemon juice
Sliced green onion (optional)
Carrots, celery, and/or chips and crackers for serving

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Toss cauliflower florets with olive oil, salt and pepper on baking sheet. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until tender and slightly browned.
  3. Add tahini, olive oil, cauliflower, buffalo sauce, and lemon juice to food processor (blender in my case) and pulse until smooth and creamy
  4. Mix in sliced green onion if you’d like
  5. Transfer cauliflower mixture to serving dish. Sprinkle cayenne pepper on top. Cool and enjoy!
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Perfect for our arctic Minnesotan Sundays!

Armenian Stuffed Zucchini

“Is this a monthly thing or something?” my workers asked me as I shared my casual plans for an Armenian dinner with friends.

Yes, yes they are. For about 6 months, my roommates from my time studying abroad have committed to planning the next month’s plans while we’re together. It makes managing crazy schedules and multiple priorities, well, manageable.

If you’re late to the party, catch up on the first three “cultural dinners” that preceded this one.

Come Thursday, I was given a few options for my contribution to our Armenian dinner, but my scrappiness prevailed, and the zucchini’s I needed to use up because the new focus.

Turns out, Armenian Stuffed Zucchini is a thing…

INGREDIENTS (yields 6 stuffed zucchinis, good for 4 people as a side)

-3 Zucchinis, the wider the better
-1 can chickpeas
-1/2 cup kalamata olives
-1/2 cup crumbled feta
-1 medium onion
-1 small can tomato paste
-1 tomato

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PREPARATION (15-20 minutes)

  1. Cut zucchinis in half and core each half, not puncturing all the way through so it can hold the stuffing.
  2. Chop onion and sautée with zucchini “insides.”
  3. Pour chickpeas, feta, and olives into seperate bowl and mash to a stirrable mixture
  4. Once onions and zucchini insides begin to brown, add in tomato paste and bring to simmer
  5. Take off heat, and stir into the mashed chickpea mixture
  6. Chop tomato and set aside for final topping

COOKING (40 minutes)

  1. Preheat oven to 350
  2. Stuff zucchinis with filling to the brim, you should have some stuffing leftover
  3. Place leftover stuffing at base of narrow pan- I needed the zucchini to be close together to help keep everybody standing and fillings in tact
  4. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, vary if zucchini is preferred crunchier/more well done
  5. Add chopped tomatoes to the final dish, and serve!

I promised myself my “pan picture” would turn out better than one’s I saw online, but I’m not sure it’s possible. Now it’s your turn to try!

If you need help convincing to host an Armenian dinner, please see below…