You know you’re in love when you can’t get someone out of your mind, when you miss them every minute of everyday. When you heart beats faster at the sound of their voice, when you smile at the sight of their picture, when all you want to do is take in their scent and lie in their arms, you know you’re in love. My friends, in love I am.
Chocolate Cake and Pinol from Choco Museo Cafe. Antigua, Guatemala.
As I’ve meandered through Central America – from the beaches of Panama, through the forests of Costa Rica, to the pueblos of Guatemala – this love has been all-consuming. My hands have been begging for the touch of a wooden spoon, my nose dying for a whiff of homemade chocolate chip cookies being pulled from the oven. My eyes have been yearning for the mere glimpse of a spice cabinet and my ears waiting in anxious anticipation for the gentle clap of kneading bread on a countertop. It is the timeless act of cooking with which I am in love. Beware future men in my life, you’ll have to compete with whisks and sauce pans for my attention.
My journey was, of course, driven by food. I fended off the piropos of Panama City to buy the freshest ceviche I have ever eaten. Really, the boat the shrimp came off of…I saw it. I hiked up a small mountain to find the best coffee Costa Rica has to offer. Despite loads of sunscreen and a scarf wrapped around my head babushka style (Yes, I looked hilarious. No, there are not pictures), I still managed to get sunburned. I roamed the streets of Guatemala sampling every kind of street food I could get my hands on. Miraculously, I didn’t get sick.
Preparing fried chicken at the biweekly market. Chichicastenango, Guatemala.
My food adventures, however, did not lessen my longing for my kitchen. I dreamt of spending a day consumed by cooking. It would start as one of those quiet days. I would wake up early and lie in bed with the sunlight softly falling on my covers as I drifted in and out of sleep. It would unfold flawlessly. Grocery shopping at the finest markets. Eating a simple lunch. Cooking the afternoon away to the tune of Jack Johnson. Eating (again) dinner with my parents around the dining room table. Tidying the kitchen quickly yet calmly. Then, finally, falling asleep as I pondered breakfast the next morning. Perhaps steel cut oats with strawberry jam and a sprinkle of lemon zest.
I have dreamt of this day for three weeks and on my first full day back in the States, Friday, that day came. It happened to be a little more chaotic than I imagined, but hey, that’s life. I’ll take what I can get.
The results of my cooking class at El Frijol Feliz. Antigua, Guatemala.
I had a lot of time to think on my adventure. Probably too much. Among my many realizations or, perhaps more accurately, reaffirmations, was this one: I take advantage of the small things (and the big things actually too…um, that roof over my head…) in life far too often. As a token of my appreciation for all the big and small things they’ve given me, I wanted to prepare a dinner for my parents inspired by my travels. This, of course, in no way makes up for all those years of supporting me. Just think of all those dirty diapers changed, clothes washed, and meals cooked. Not to mention agonizing band concerts attended and countless softball games endured. And then there’s the whole paying for all of that…Regardless, I made dinner. A dinner inspired by Guatemala to be exact. We started with this very mango dish.
Apparently I caught the tail end of mango season in Guatemala, and thank goodness I did. Every morning and afternoon the central road of Panajachel, where I stayed for a week taking Spanish classes, was filled with men and women selling ripe, juicy mangos. For five quetzales, or the equivalent of about sixty-five cents, I would get an entire mango sliced and arranged neatly in a tiny plastic bag. Their mangos, for the record, are not like our imported mangos. No, no. They’re twice as big. We clearly get the shaft. You could chose to eat it simple, or plain, but I always noshed on mine with salt, ground pepitas, and freshly squeezed lime juice. Some kind of chile powder or cayenne pepper was occasionally an option as well. The recipe below is essentially a table friendly version of this glorious “mango in a bag”, which has now traveled from the streets of Guatemala to my house in Chicago. What a journey it was.
Pepian, a traditional Guatemalan dish, prepared at El Frijol Feliz. Antigua, Guatemala.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack (midday and midnight), you name the time and this dish will fit the occasion. It’s nice to have something so versatile (and easy!) in your cooking repetoire, isn’t it? Feel free to add chili powder or cayenne pepper if desired. Grind the pepitas as finely as you like. I used a mortar and pestle grinding mine to about the texture of table salt.
2 mangos, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
2 teaspoons lime juice, freshly squeezed
1/2 teaspoon lime zest
Fine grain sea salt, to taste
2 teaspoons pepitas, ground
In a small bowl, combine the first four ingredient. Stir gently. Sprinkle pepitas over the mango just before serving.