Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pacific Island Veggie Sliders

It's been a hard winter, and I've been dreaming of escape to the tropics of Hawaii. When it came time to plan for last week's Revs tailgate, I surrendered to my hankering for pineapples, coconuts, and summer burgers with some pacific island-ish veggie sliders.

It took me a really long time to figure out how to make a decent veggie burger patty. I've tried dozens of recipes and found them all to have nearly the same frustrating flaw: mushy textured patties that fall apart when cooked. This challenge was magnified when I decided I'd prefer to omit egg (a common ingredient used to bind together veggie patties) in favor of making a vegan burger.

Discovering Angela Liddon's Moroccan Yam Veggie Burgers was a game changer. After following (and loving) the recipe exactly as-is a few times, I began experimenting by using the original recipe as a base, but substituting the spices, the type of beans, and/or the filler veggies. This recipe base works well for a few reasons:
  1. Flax meal in place of egg binds the ingredients together.
  2. Using the right amount of dry starch (ground rolled oats) helps the burgers to be sticky, but not gooey.
  3. Excess moisture is limited. It's easy to forget about all the excess water that comes along with loading vegetables into your patty. This recipe base doesn't use too many wet, watery vegetables.
  4. Baking the burgers first ensures they'll hold up well on the grill or in the pan. 
I went all-in on my tropical theme by topping my burgers with pineapple salsa and a quick slaw and serving them on King's Hawaiian sweet rolls. If you can find these rolls in your local grocery store, it's worth the extra effort! 

Pacific Island Veggie Sliders 
adapted from Moroccan Yam Chickpea Veggie Burgers at Oh She Glows

1.5 cups sweet potato, peeled and grated
3 garlic cloves
1 small knob fresh ginger
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons flax meal mixed with 3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2-3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt or pink himalayan salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons barbecue sauce*
4 tablespoons Trader Joe's Soyaki**

*I used some leftover homemade barbecue sauce I had in my fridge - really any plain or sweet barbecue sauce you have will do the trick.
**I cut corners by using this pre-made soy sauce with ginger, garlic, pineapple, and sesame seeds. You could substitute any similar sauce or make your own.

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Peel sweet potato and grate using a cheese grater OR the grating attachment on a food processor (this is a huge time saver!) until you have about 1 1/2 lightly packed cups. Place in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Remove grater attachment from food processor and replace with regular "S" blade. Add cilantro, garlic, and ginger and process until finely minced.
  4. Add drained chickpeas to food processor and run until finely chopped, but leave some texture. Scoop this mixture into the mixing bowl with the sweet potato.
  5. Grind the oats to a flour using the food processor. Stir this into the mixing bowl along with the flax mixture. 
  6. Stir in the sesame oil, chili powder, salt, pepper, barbecue sauce, soyaki sauce (or whichever soy sauce variation you're using) until thoroughly mixed. Adjust seasonings to taste. 
  7. Using your hands, shape mixture into 12 small slider-size patties. Place patties on baking sheet and bake for 12 minutes. Flip and bake another 10-15 minutes, until golden and firm. Cool on the tray.
This recipe is vegan and can be made gluten free if you use a gluten free tamari or teriyaki sauce in place of the Soyaki, gluten free rolled oats, and an alternative bun of your choosing. I served my burgers with a quick coleslaw, pineapple salsa (both recipes below), and a slice of avocado on King's Hawaiian sweet rolls.

Quick Sort-of-Hawaiian Slaw
4 cups shredded green cabbage

2 green onions, thinly sliced
1 handful cilantro, chopped (also optional)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons canola mayonnaise
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
a few dashes of hot sauce, to taste
salt & pepper, to taste

Whisk together garlic, ginger, canola mayo, tamari, rice vinegar, sesame seeds, and hot sauce in a medium bowl. Add in cabbage, cilantro and scallions and toss until well coated. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Pineapple Salsa
2 cups fresh pineapple, diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
1/4 cup red onion, diced
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and diced
zest and juice of 1 lime
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

Stir all ingredients in a medium bowl. Cover and refrigerate until you're ready to serve.

Assemble your burgers as you please.
A side of Polynesian pineapple seitan skewers seemed just right.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

5 Things I Love About Being a School OT (Happy Occupational Therapy Month!)

April is Occupational Therapy month! In honor of OT month, I'm taking the opportunity to share a little bit about what I do in the hours of the day someone actually pays me for.

When I tell someone I am an occupational therapist, 7 times out of 10 they either respond with a polite, puzzled nod or ask, "Do you help people find jobs?" When I go on to say that I am an occupational therapist in a public elementary school, the typical follow up question is "What job does a kid have?" I will be the first to admit that my profession has a bit of an identity problem.

So, what is occupational therapy?
Let me take a shot at simple explanation: occupational therapists are health care professionals who help people of all ages participate in the things they want and need to do through the therapeutic use of everyday activities (occupations). This may include teaching a skill, adapting the environment, modifying a challenging task, and educating the client/family in order to maximize participation in and performance of daily activities, particularly those that are meaningful to the client.

Chances are, there are meaningful, important "occupations" in your daily life besides your just may not really think about them until something gets in the way of doing one. Driving a car, preparing your dinner, playing a sport, putting on your own shoes, going to the grocery store, making out with your girlfriend. All occupations.

At school, a kid's job is to play, learn, and take care of himself. When a student is having difficulty with some aspect of participating in his school day due to a developmental delay, disability, or injury, an occupational therapist's job is to help find a way for the student to participate in the full breadth of school activities.

5 Things I Love About Being a School OT: 
  1. I never sit still. My job of chasing kids through obstacle courses, playing with shaving cream, and hanging from swings is wonderfully active. I work with students in many different parts of the elementary school. Over the course of the day, I move from classroom, to gym, to classroom, to playground, to art get the idea.
  2. I work both independently and as part of a team. Though collaborating as a member of several talented teams is integral to my job, I also have ample opportunity to work independently. I love the balance of community and autonomy.
  3. Science and art collide in OT. Therapeutic interventions in OT are built on foundational knowledge of kinesiology, biomechanics, neurology, psychological and developmental sciences, but creative problem-solving is what sets OT apart from other rehabilitation and medical professions. As an OT, I am constantly challenged to come up with alternative solutions and my imagination is put to the test. A kid can't seem to sit still and is always tipping/falling out of his seat? Try tying an old bicycle tube around the legs so he can wiggle and kick his feet without disrupting the whole room:
    photo from
    Student can't remember how to hold a pencil in an efficient grasp? Teach her the "pinch and flip":
    photo from
  4. My schedule rocks. Unlike many teachers, I have some freedom to build my own schedule. I don't have unbridled control, but the option of changing caseloads, schools, and schedules year-to-year is always available. And, yeah, as I type to you from a plane on my way to Florida for April Vacation, I have to admit that working on the public school calendar is pretty rad.
  5. Helping kids feel successful is unmatched by any other reward. Sometimes helping kids meet their goals is a struggle. I've worked with children and families who encounter seemingly insurmountable obstacles every single day. But when a beaming kiddo bounces up to me in the hallway to proudly exclaim "I tied my own shoe!", it reminds me why I do what I do. Helping children feel independent and accomplished is self-serving, because it makes me feel independent and accomplished.
Want to learn more about Occupational Therapy?
Check out this brochure from the American Occupational Therapy Association or visit!


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Race Recap: Rutgers UNITE Half Marathon 2015

I signed up to run the Rutgers UNITE 2015 Half Marathon on April 12 to kill two birds with one stone: Visit my family in New Jersey and run a tune-up race to test out race preparation, gear, pacing, and fueling strategies for my quickly approaching first marathon in May.

On the bus ride from Boston to NJ, I wrote down the following goals:
  1. Start conservatively.
  2. Practice fueling, gear, and pacing by feeling.
  3. Finish strong.
  4. Build confidence for marathon. 
Before I re-hash my own race day experience, I must talk about...


This is how the official race website describes the half marathon course:
"This course is 13.1 miles of collegiate beauty that will take your breath away. Rutgers University is one of the oldest, largest and most beautiful campuses in the country. The UNITE Half Marathon at Rutgers does indeed UNITE runners of all abilities from elite to novice.

The point to point route passes by the recently renovated Rutgers Stadium, historic College Ave Gym and finishes down College Avenue to thousands of fans!"

Now, I love Rutgers University. New Jersey is my home. My grandmother and sister are both proud Rutgers alums. It's a fantastic university. But, let's not kid ourselves here. The only thing about Rutgers that will take your breath away is the smell of the Raritan River. The course was flat and fast and I enjoyed seeing places on campus I remembered visiting. I suppose it was sort of point to point, in that it started in one place and ended in another...but it looped around, crossed itself, and had no fewer than 4 hairpin turns. Yes, it did finish down College Avenue. In front of maybe a couple hundred fans and one group of frat bros playing Cornhole.

Don't let my cynicism deter you from signing up for this race! The dinginess and Eu De Pork Roll are part of Rutgers' charm! I merely wish to share my bemusement about the liberally scenic description of New Brunswick, NJ.

All right, on to the recap!

I snapped awake in my step sister's twin bed to the sound of my alarm at 5:15. Being unabashedly Type-A, I had laid out all of my clothing and gear the night before (with my bib already pinned to my shirt and my race fuel packed in tiny Ziploc bags). I got dressed in under a minute.

I crept downstairs, trying not to wake my dad's puppy, and prepared my tried-and-true pre-race sprouted grain english muffin with almond butter and banana. I felt surprisingly hungry and washed breakfast down quickly with a big glass of water. I crawled back into bed with my alarm set for 6:30, but got up at least three times before the alarm went off to use the bathroom. Three cheers for pre-race nerves! I attempted to calm said nerves by listening to some relaxation music on my headphones while staring at the ceiling.

At 7:10, with my backpack jam-packed for the inevitable end-of-day bus ride back to Boston, my sister and I pulled out of the driveway to make the 30-minute drive to Rutgers University and the start line at Busch campus. Have I mentioned how much I love my sister? She hauled my hobo butt around all weekend long and stood around waiting to cheer me on at the race. She's pretty great.

At 7:45, my sister dropped me off as close as she could to the race start at Werblin Rec Center on Rutgers Busch Campus. She planned to drive over to park near the finish area at College Ave. I jogged my way to the port-a-potties, but quickly calculated that it was not worth risking a late start to wait in the massive queue.

The starting chute had pace leaders holding signs for each predicted pace group from 8 minutes/mile to 11 minutes/mile, but there were no official corrals and 3000 runners were sardined between metal gates lining the chute, so it was impossible to push my way forward without being a big jerk. I lined up next to the 11 minute sign, accepted the fact that it would take me several minutes to cross the start line and prepared myself for a first mile of bobbing and weaving through runners. I squished my new Jaybird wireless headphones into my ears and set my Garmin while the race announcer readied us over the loudspeaker. Conditions were nearly ideal for a race: Sunny, temps in the low 50s, no wind, flat course.

Bob and weave, I did. The gun went off at about 8:10, and I crossed the Start line a few minutes later. The lateral exercises I've been incorporating in my training came in handy as I side stepped around runners and burst forward through any seam I could find. We ran over potholey roads in an area my sister referred to as "The Livingston Warehouses". I focused on creating myself space in Mile 1 and then settling in to a conservative, but challenging pace in Miles 2 & 3. The miles were well marked with large flags, but there were no clocks. This was just as well, since I was attempting to pace this race by feel instead of by clock. Fewer distractions to obsess over.

Just after the Mile 4 marker, the course looped on itself in the opposite direction, so we could see runners starting in on their mile 2. Between miles 4 & 5 I passed a little girl holding up a poster board sign with a big star in the middle and the magic-markered words "Press Here for Power!" Little girl, you are awesome. And you gave me some serious power! I managed to avoid looking at my watch for this stretch.

MILES 7-10
After passing the Mile 6 marker we crossed back over the start line, running in the opposite direction past the rec center, before turning down a driveway and making our first hairpin turn around Mile 7. More than halfway! I pulled out the carefully packed fuel from my shorts pocket and promptly fumbled the homemade, delicious date puree packet to the pavement. No time for stops. Fortunately, I did not drop the Honey Stinger chews I'd packed as backup and I chomped a few of these down as I carried on. I spotted my dad on the side of the road between Miles 8 & 9 and gave him a toothy grin and a wave. Feeling pretty great here, I finally allowed myself look down at my watch. It occurred to me I might actually be lining up a PR. We crossed a "scenic" highway overpass. Mile 10 was spent on a bike path in Johnson park that had two hairpin turnarounds.

MILES 11-13.1
Somewhere around Mile 11, we crossed over the beautiful Raritan River before running a circle around a gazebo in Buchlech park. Still feeling surprisingly comfortable, I decided to let it fly and smiled smugly to myself as I passed two women I'd been trailing for the last three miles. I don't feel the least big guilty for being smug. It's a race, dammit! Once we exited the park, I knew I had less than a half mile to go. There was a small hill that felt big up College Ave, and then an all out downhill sprint to the finish line, where I grinned at my dad and sister.

Apparently, the "conservative" and "run by feeling" approaches suit me. I ran a PR of 1:34:50, finishing 8th overall for women and 1st in my age division. Conditions were nearly perfect for racing. By not being fixated on clocks and watches and splits, I was able to push the pace and stay relaxed at the same time. Huge confidence boost going into my last 6 weeks of marathon training!

Running a half marathon totally solo was a novel experience for me. I am so grateful to my dad and sister, who came out in the early morning to cheer me on!

I did find myself wondering about the weird post-race food bag I was handed at the athlete tent...

Who wants to stand around eating canned peaches in syrup and warmish yogurt with a spoon at the finish line of a half marathon? What's wrong with a banana?

I know that sounds awfully whiny, so I'll counter it by saying I dug the hefty and impressive finisher medal and am always thrilled to add a mug to my collection.

After the race, the kind folks at the front desk of the College Ave Gym were kind enough to let me dodge into the locker room for a quick shower. I'm sure the guy next to me on the 4 1/2 hour bus ride back to Boston appreciated this! I will admit that a 4 1/2 hour bus ride after a half marathon probably wasn't the most advisable decision. But, hey, had to get home somehow.

It was a good day.

And, extra bonus - I didn't realize I'd won my age group until I received a surprise package two weeks after the race. A huge age group winner medal!

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Almond Date Truffles

Let's talk about dates.

Not just any dates. Not your run-of-the-mill common date or deglet date. Not the kind of date that tastes fine enough but is really just a glorified raisin sold in a plastic pouch. I'm talking about the crown jewel of dates. I'm talking about medjool dates.

When I come across good ones at the store, I absolutely cannot resist buying. Amber brown, big and plump and sticky and sweet. Lots of athletic nutrition nerds hail them as "nature's fuel" because they're full of glucose for fast energy as a pre- or during-workout snack. I like to think that justifies me eating them like candy for an any-time-of-day snack.

I've been eyeing almond date ball recipes around the web for ages, but I've never gotten to testing one out. Probably because my dates never last long enough in the fridge to make their way into a recipe. There are tons of date ball recipes out there, and this recipe from Sara Forte at Sprouted Kitchen is a pretty classic version.

I saved mine to enjoy in celebration after Juan Agudelo's excellent goal in the New England Revolution's Saturday night win over Columbus Crew.

They're delicious. You should make some.

Almond Date Truffles
Makes 18
Recipe by Sara Forte, Sprouted Kitchen

  • 20 medjool dates, halved and pits removed
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup almond butter
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/3 cup natural cocoa powder (or cacao if you can find it)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup toasted almonds, finely chopped
  1. Put the dates and vanilla in a food processor and run until a chunky paste forms. Add the almond butter and pulse a few more times. Add the coconut, cocoa powder, salt and cinnamon, and pulse again. The mixture should be a tad crumbly, but press between your fingers and stick together. If it seems too wet to hold in a ball, add more coconut, if too dry, add a touch more almond butter or a splash of water. 
  2. Roll a heaping tablespoon of the mixture between your palms to form a ball. Repeat with remaining mixture. Put your chopped almonds on a plate and roll each truffle in the almonds (apply a bit of pressure to get them to adhere). Place the plate in the fridge to chill for at least an hour. Truffles will keep covered in the fridge for a couple weeks.
I rolled a few of my truffles in unsweetened coconut flakes instead of almonds. You could be creative here. I bet they'd taste great rolled in a mixture of cocoa powder, cinnamon, and a teeny pinch of cayenne pepper. Or in pistachios. Or sesame seeds. Or you could mix a little instant espresso powder in with the paste before forming balls. Possibilities are endless! 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

18 Miles of Running Mantras

As I dip my toes into the ocean of distance running, I've begun to spend a lot of time alone with my brain and body. I'm learning that I can either let my brain be the boss of my body, or I can use my brain to be the boss of my body.

There is often a moment in a long run where it feels a little terrible and a lot impossible.
It's that low point where my legs start to feel like lead and a sneaky voice hiding in my brain seeps in with negative thoughts, telling my body:

You can't hold this pace.
Slow down.
You can't do this.

Why do you do this to yourself anyway? You should quit.

The voice does its best to fill me with doubt and worry when I'm tired and scared of the unknown.

The Oatmeal comic artist/ ultramarathoner Matthew Inman refers to this voice The Blerch.

When endless piles of knee-deep snow forced my first month of long marathon training runs to the treadmill in the basement of the YMCA this winter, I couldn't imagine how I could possibly make it through the miles of staring at a concrete wall on a human hamster wheel. Enter The Blerch. But, then, I started to discover that I could Beat The Blerch if I took control of my own voice. If I made my voice keep repeating the things I wanted to hear, my body listened. I reminded myself that running is something I do because it feels good. The Blerch faded to white noise. And so, my cheesy love of running mantras was born.

My running mantras tend to fall into one of three categories:
  1. Body Cues
  2. Dedications
  3. Motivators
Body Cues are the least emotional and most rational type of mantra I use. I repeatedly tell my body what I want it to do, in simple and specific terms. This helps me find and maintain form and rhythm. I use a body cue mantra to start off my run and then later if I start to feel my form breaking down. Body cues are also especially helpful when I'm really struggling to be positive. Yeah, maybe I feel like crap. And maybe I can't fool myself with a half-hearted, "You're almost there!" mantra. At least I can muster a concrete and logical physical instruction. Some of my go-to body cues include:

Quick, light steps. 
Elbows back.
Shoulders over hips. Hips over knees.
Breathe In. Breathe Out. This one's a tried-and-true classic, with good reason. It's the easiest to focus on.

Dedications are the for the miles where I step outside what my body is experiencing for a moment to think about the people I love. Running is a pretty selfish pursuit of mine. More often than not, I do it alone, on my own terms, because it  makes only me feel good. Well, dedicating miles to others is admittedly self-serving, too. Thinking about the awesome people I have in my corner inspires me to keep moving forward. And dogs. Duncan pretty much always gets a mental shout out when I'm running.

Motivators are my positive self-talk mantras. They're often on the touchy-feely side. Sometimes they're silly. Other times they're pop culture references. And sometimes (okay, a lot of times) my motivators are merely thoughts of the good food I will eat when I get home, because I most certainly feel motivated by imagining myself shoveling a slice of pizza in my face. Whichever words I choose to repeat, I've found that thinking about what I want to happen is far more effective than thinking about avoiding what I don't want to happen, so it's imperative that I phrase things in the positive. "Bring it home." is more motivating to me than "Don't give up." Though they're saying essentially the same thing, "Don't give up." lets The Blerch tell my body that quitting is a possibility. Some of my current favorite motivating mantras include:

Hit Cruise Control. Despite having read a thousand running articles advising me to start longer races conservatively to save fuel for negative splits in the latter miles, I inevitably bound off when the gun fires and start running faster than I should. So at mile 3 or 4, I make it a point to find a settled pace and cruise. Extra bonus if I plan my Spotify playlist well enough that Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers  Runnin' Down A Dream comes on while I'm repeating this mantra.

Stay on Target. This is how I tell myself to maintain a steady pace when I kinda start to drag. Yes, that's right. I am referring to this:

You can stand anything for 10 seconds. 
This is a new mantra I've just adopted from the quotable Netflix show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy's motto is to take everything in life 10 seconds at a time. Then, if you make it through 10 seconds, start a new 10 seconds! Kimmy developed her 10 seconds mantra for survival while kidnapped in an underground bunker...but it works for me when I feel overwhelmed (in running or life).


Release the Kraken! This catchphrase is called out by Zeus in the 1981 film The Clash Of The Titans (and by Liam Neeson in the 2010 3D remake). I shout it silently to myself near the end miles of the run or race when I allow myself to cut the reins and run no-holds-barred. It's usually the most exhilarating part of my run.

Bring it Home. I end each run by bossing my body with The Boss in mind.

Decide what to be and go be it. This lyric from the Avett Brothers song Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise finds its way into my brain every single time I'm running. Of all of the mantras I use, this is my favorite and the one that makes me feel the most feelings. It also gets me out the door when my alarm goes off at 5:00 am and it's cold and raining and I don't feel like running. Repeating it to myself reminds me that all the things I choose to do are, in fact, my own choices. I decide. Most of what I hope to accomplish will take a lot of work. I can do work.

To tackle my first-ever 18-miler on Friday, I wrote down a planned mantra for each mile on a piece of paper and shoved it in the zipper pocket of my handheld water bottle. As you can from the cross outs, some of the mantras went by the wayside while I ran. Miles 9-11 are frequently my tough miles. At mile 9, my body felt fine, but my brain was struggling. The funny thing is, now that I've been practicing this strategy for a few months, the saying my body needs to hear just pops into my head when I need it.

For more on running mantras:

A Runner's World piece on Magic Mantras
A podcast from Marathon Training Academy about Marathon Pacing (credit to this podcast for giving me the mantras "Release the Kraken" and "I eat hills for breakfast.")

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...