Spicy Green Mango

--Living and eating with a dash of whimsy and a sprinkling of spice--

  • I'm a budding food-tographer turned blogger who's insanely passionate about food..real food...the kind that sprouts from the earth and you have to wash it to eat it. Yes, hearty real food. I live to eat and I eat to live and am loving every bit of it! If you're here, then I suppose we share the same passion! Enjoy!

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 12 comments

The theme song from Cheers says it perfectly:  "Sometimes you wanna go where everybody knows your name."  Well, not everyone knew my name (and that's okay for now), but the lovely lady  behind the counter (whose name is Rachel and also happens to be one of the owners) at the newly restored Elmwood Cafe greeted me as if she did and I couldn't be more delighted.  There is something wonderful about walking into a new place and being greeted with a warm smile that makes you feel as if you're one of the regulars.  It speaks to the culture of the establishment: We value our patrons and we care enough to make you feel special.

This was my first impression of the Elmwood Cafe.  I had seen it as it was being renovated from the former Soda Fountain into what it is today: A spacious cafe straight out of a 1920's Pottery Barn catalog supplanted on the corner of College Avenue & Russell.  The entire time I was in there enjoying my fresh-squeezed glass of orange juice, I couldn't help but swoon over Elmwood's interior decor.  It is very cozy and I loved how the interior windows of the cafe allows you to glimpse into Mrs. Dalloway's bookstore next door (although, this might be a slightly biased opinion coming from a bookworm like myself). 

But what makes Elmwood really stand out (at least in my book) is its socially-conscious business model:  half of the cafe's profits will go towards a charitable organization or endeavor based on what their customers decide.  Yes, so the likes of you and I can directly impact where & how our dining dollars will be spent.  As a business student whose passion lies in the realm of corporate social responsibility (CSR), I cannot reiterate how awesome this is.  So, yeah, you'll pay a bit more for your latte or coffee, but you'll also be able to magnify the impact of that extra buck or two to support something that you believe in. 

In a time when our economy is forcing many small mom and pop businesses to close their doors, Elmwood is going against the grain and doing something that may seem mind-boggling to some, but in my book, quite ingenious and pretty darn inspiring. I hope you'll join me in supporting the heart (and backbone) of our economy:  wonderful mom and pop businesses such as Elmwood.  And as I learned in my corporate finance course this week, you should never underestimate the powerful implications of consumer demand. After all, we are the ultimate drivers of the marketplace; let's not forget that.

Walking back down College Avenue, I spotted a cute vintage Volvo--she's a beauty, alright.

Swinging a hat box in hand.  I love decade hopping!

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Contrary to what you may think, I don't normally have a sweet tooth. If anything, I prefer the tartness of fresh tropical fruits over the sugary eye candy that tempts my food-tography.  But then, there are those days that I contradict myself and my sweet tooth begins to feen for some sweet decadence. So, where does one go to satisfy spontaneous sugary cravings?

Berkeley.  Home of my alma mater (Go Bears!); the city across the bay from San Francisco that boosts its own eclectic array of flower children's children from the 60's, political activism, the monolithic Campanile, and quintessential College Avenue. 

Yes my friends, College Avenue: the little strip in North Berkeley that makes me feel like I've taken a step back into the 1920s where hand-churned ice cream can be bought for a nickle and I can walk up to a soda fountain to sip a refreshing lemonade. Although, truth be told:  I have no idea if this was the case during the 20's, but I like to think it was and oftentimes, my kiddish imagination runs amuck, so bear with me now.


Ici (pronounced ee-see) Ice Cream Shop:  Owned by former pastry chef, Mary Canales, of the famous Chez Panisse Restaurant, this is by far the best ice cream I've ever tasted.  It is the sole reason why I can no longer buy the store-bought ice cream.  Theirs is made fresh daily and the flavors are always a surprise.  They churn out the best and most unique flavor combinations I've ever seen in any ice cream parlor, including lemon verbena, honey citron chamomile, rose petal, candied blood orange w/chocolate chip, and passion fruit lime--basically, you name it and they probably have already thought it up.  Oh, and if you're lactose intolerant, don't worry b/c they always have a selection of sorbets to choose from as well. 

But to make the most of your experience, you MUST have your ice cream served in their hand-crafted organic sugar cones that, too, are made fresh and piped with chocolate to seal in the tip.  But be forewarned that if you go on a sunny afternoon, the line can get pretty scary, stretching down the entire block of College Avenue with wait times upwards of 45 minutes.  Luckily, we went there right at 1pm, so many people were still enjoying their lunch.  My advice: Have an early lunch and beat the lines b/c it is soo worth it!

We made a little friend as we were licking our cones outside.  Her name is Coco and she is a cutie pie.  I felt so bad as she longingly gazed at my double scoops of orange chocolate chip (possibly hoping for me to drop my cone), but I knew it was for the best that I indulge for the both of us.

Summer Kitchen Bake Shop:  As I was savoring my ice cream cone, I was lured into this shop by the sight of red raspberries nestled atop chocolate cupcakes with ribbons of silky raspberry-specked buttercream frosting. So, even before finishing my cone, I had my mind made up to bring home some cupcakes.  Little did I realize that it was never slated to make it back home with me.  An hour after walking around Berkeley, I couldn't resist and popped the entire scrumptuous piece of chocolatey yumminess in my mouth.  Omagawd! The buttercream was super smooth, soo airy and had just the perfect amount of sweetness.

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 9 comments

The Thais call it suki.  Japanese call it shabu-shabu. In America, it's widely known as hot pot and in my home, the literal Lao translation is seen joom or 'dipped meat.'  Whatever you call it, it's damn good!  Basically, you have a pot of broth that's been flavored with whatever the heck you want (it's your hot pot, after all) and then uncooked meat, fish or poultry and a fresh medley of vegetables are dipped in the broth to allow them to cook. 

It's the best fix for a dinner party where all you have to do is assemble the ingredients and your guests are the ones doing all the cooking! I would just like to take a moment to thank whoever invented this dish b/c it is genius! No slaving over a hot stove for days. Just unpack, wash, chop and wha-la! Let me repeat: Genius!  

But honestly, the best part about this meal is that it really brings people together.  Your family and guests will be able to eat and play at the dinner table while engaging in jibber jabber and as each ingredient is dipped into the hot broth, the broth itself gets more flavorful.  At the end of the meal, I like to take my little bowl and ladle a heap of this umami goodness so I can sip and fully enjoy the flavors of the meal.  It truly is a snippet of my paradise at the dinner table.

So this past week, in celebration of my mom's birthday, I prepared a savory mix of all her favorites: calamari, jumbo prawns, thinly sliced beef and quail eggs with a healthy side of bok choy, napa cabbage, fresh shitake and enoki mushrooms all dipped in a tangy and slightly spicy tom yum broth infused with slices of fresh baby ginger, galanga, aromatic kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass stalks.  The result: a fragrant, steamy hot pot celebration to remember.

Instead of 1 tbsp of tom yum paste, I usually put in at least 2 tbsp (but of course, season your broth however you wish).

The beginning of a delicious broth.  Can you see the kaffir lime leaves floating on top?
 Tip: To release the citrus fragrance of the leaves, tear each of the leaves and drop them in the pot.

{The little specks of redness are the soy bean and plant oils from the tom yum paste}

Another Tip: To add yet another layer of flavor to my broth, I tear the shitake mushrooms in half and allow its natural earthiness to perfume my pot. The result is nothing short of amazing.

When the pot begins bubbling for at least 10 minutes, it's time to dip to your heart's delight!
{Okay, now wipe that drool off your keypad}

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 5 comments

Whenever I watch Ina Garten work her culinary magic in her dreamy kitchen on Barefoot Contessa, I smile.  It's that cheesy smile that I usually get when I'm dreaming up things that might not possibly be; the smile that keeps me wishing that she and I will someday become neighbors. (Again, a girl is allowed to dream).  Since I probably won't be able to afford a home in the Hamptons any day soon, this daydream will have to suffice for the moment. 

I love how Ina whips up the simplest, freshest meals with special attention paid to the little details (from wrapping her pastries with baker's twine or preparing lobster sandwiches for a picnic on the beach complete with the most adorable packaging) that keeps each of her guests feeling like they're stepping foot into a fine dining palace otherwise known as her home.  It's the smallest things that will really brighten my day, so I have a soft spot for Ina Garten and her whimsical genius.  And besides the fact that she always entertains me with her bubbly giggles whenever she's cooking, I think Ina and I could be really good friends (or neighbors :).

That day she was preparing bread pudding with Jewish challah bread and before she even mentioned what it was, it was clearly evident to me because these breads (which looks as if small dinner rolls have been glued together to make one loaf) are so moist and pillowy, they are ideal for making French Toast.  Anyhow, I got to thinking that I really wanted some French toast of my own, except there was one problem: I didn't have challah! Eek!  What's a girl to do?

Well, you improvise, that's what.  I prepared this French Toast with English muffins that I had in my pantry.  They were delish!  Soft, moist and just the right portion size.  I used two muffins and it takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.  I also squeezed my own cup of citrus juice made from fresh blood oranges, tangelos and Texas ruby red grapefruit, and the result was tantalizing!

French Toast with an English Twist Recipe:
 2 English muffins, split
4 tbsp of butter
1/4 cup of maple syrup
1 tsp of sifted powdered sugar (to remove any lumps)
1 cup of fresh fruit (any variety of colorful berries will do)

Whisk together:
2 large eggs
1 cinnamon stick OR 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used Madagascar Bourbon pure vanilla extract..the best in my opinion)
1/4 cup milk or half/half (I didn't have this and it still turned out great, but I usually use this)
2 tsp sugar (or less)

1. Whisk together the eggs, cinnamon, vanilla extract, milk and sugar until smooth
2. Dredge your muffins in the mixture for 2-3 minutes, making sure it's soaked through
3. Heat 2 tbsp of butter on a skillet under medium flame
4. Place your dredged muffins in the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side or until golden
5. Stack muffins on top of each other, layering the remaining 2 tbsp of butter between each muffin
6. Drizzle with some good maple syrup, lightly sprinkle on powdered sugar and serve it up with a side of fresh strawberries, blueberries and you're golden!

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 6 comments

Food photography.  It pretty much boils down to two key ingredients: aesthetics and taste.  We first feast with our eyes and then with our tummies.  And to ensure that we take the best shots, we also need a nice home for our expensive friends:)

So, tell me then why of all markets entrepreneurs have capitalized on, the market for stylish, women's camera bags has nearly remained untapped until..well, now.  Ever since I became interested in food photography and purchased my first professional (or so I'd like to think) 50mm lens, I have been searching high and low, near and far for the perfect camera bag.  For the most part, much of it has been left to my own boundless imagination.  From countless research and finding that the only camera seems to be for the unassuming photographer who can care less about what bag they're toting around, I've realized that my bag NEEDS to be:

1. Versatile:  Just like I want to be able to take my camera with me and snap random shots wherever I'm at, I want a bag that is multi-faceted and I'd be proud to take with me wherever I go.  As such, my bag also needs to be...

2. Classy and Stylish:  No, I don't want to look like a high school kid with a backpack for a camera bag.  I want to be able to take my bag to work, to play and to the grocery store and on the occasional night out on the town. 

3. Functional:  I need a bag that is intended for lugging around my expensive toys.  My good friend shook her head in disapproval the other day when I pulled out my DSLR from my Whole Foods tote bag with my shirt wrapped around it for safe-keeping. I couldn't understand what the fuss was about, but in retrospect, I knew that my baby needed a new haven--designed just for it.

4. Affordable:  I don't want to have to decide between paying my mortgage or buying a camera bag (so immediately, any designer's name who I can't pronounce is off my list.)  As the saying goes: "If you can't pronounce it, you probably can't afford it."  Well, that works for about 80% of the time, but you get what I'm saying

And alas, my quest finally ended today at a little past midnight.  I just purchased my first camera bag that meets all of my stipulations and I am stoked!  Unfortunately, due to its widespread popularity within the first few days on the market, I had to pre-order mine to ship in mid-May.  That's the bummer, but I suppose good things come to those who wait. 

The bags come in a variety of colors (I, being a sucker for classic, ordered the black one) and are designed by Kelly Moore, a photographer based in Louisiana, who also was fed up with the lack of selection among camera bags.  You can purchase or pre-order her bags at Kelly Moore Bags for $199.   I know, not as dirt cheap as one would hope, but I consider it an investment. After all, the bag is versatile enough that I can take it to work and dinner, so I did the math and figured I would definitely get my money's worth.  Not only that, but I was really digging the photo on her site of the business woman with her KM bag and I thought, hey, that really DOES look professional.  I won't look like a high school kid after all. Immediately, I was sold.

Courtesy of Kelly More Bags.

Here's the Kelly Moore Bag promo video.

Kelly Moore Bag - Promo Film from Joshua Smith on Vimeo.

Additionally, if you want more bags to choose from, my friend just purchased the Ginger bag from Epiphanie created by another photographer, Maile Wilson.  The bag is currently taking a trip with her in Turkey, so I'm excited to hear how it held up as she was sooo thrilled when her shipment arrived.  And get this, it's lightly less pricey then mine at $164.99.  I am seriously tempted to purchase the red one.

Screen shot pictures above courtesy of Diary of a Mod Housewife.

So, there you have it! Choices for foodies who love to shoot! Can't wait to get mine!

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 3 comments

So, it finally appears: the recipe for the namesake of my blog, Spicy Green Mango (salad).  It's inspired from my dear friend who learned it from her mom (ahh..I love it when the art of cooking is handed down from one generation to the next).  We had arranged for a lunch date and she told me she'd be bringing over a savory mango salad to share.  I heard the words 'green mango,' and I instantly knew I'd love it.  When I tasted the tart crispness of the green mangos and the kick of the chili peppers, I swear my tastebuds did cartwheels on my tongue.  The salad is so light and just perfect for a hot, sunny day.  She topped hers with some dried cuttlefish for some protein, but you can stick with the mangoes and you'll still be dancing happily.

Excited by her creation, I dove in and added my own twist.  I really enjoyed the tartness of green mangos and wanted to balance it with some sweetness, so I used meyer lemons.  I commissioned my sister to squeeze them for me b/c we plan on making some lemonade later this week.  Along with meyers, I payed homage to my Laotian roots and sprinkled in some toasted sticky rice powder which really added another layer of flavor to the dish.  But the secret in this entire salad is really the fact that my friend and I use a mandolin to form matchsticks out of the mango.  Slicing it this way keeps it from getting soggy and retains the natural crispness of the mango's flesh.  

And of course, what Southeast Asian dish would be complete without a splash of fish sauce? Not in my house!  You may notice that I do use fish sauce quite a bit in my recipes.  Well, let's just put it this way.  Fish sauce to me is like butter to Paula Dean..yeah, downright inseparable!  I noticed on an episode of Food Network's show, Chopped, that some of the chefs cringed at the seemingly unsightly and un-American use of fish sauce in their dishes.  I felt like hurling my bottle of fish sauce at them for displaying such ignorance.  Seriously?  But of course, being the passive aggressive viewer that I am, I opted to blog about my objection and hopefully encourage each of you to stay true to your own roots and flavors and add a splash of spice to your life.  After all, what's the point of cooking when you can't cook it the way our mommas (and or pappas) taught us, right? Okay, now somebody pass me my fish sauce, I got some cooking to do.

BTW: If you're still skeptical about the use of fish sauce, one of my favorite food blogger couples: White on Rice does a fine job of extolling its merits while presenting a lovely recipe for their Umami Burgers.

Instructions: Combine the freshness and drizzle on the juiciness, toss gently and you're all set!

1 large green, unripe mango, sliced into matchsticks*
*I used a mandolin to slice mine.  So much easier and much faster.

1/2 cup, meyer lemon juice (add a bit more if your pucker level desires)
2 tsp, toasted rice power (see recipe below)
3 packets of Stevia OR 1 tsp of sugar
2 tsp, fish sauce

Garnish with:
3 sprigs of Vietnamese coriander, finely chopped*
1 spring of culantro, finely chopped*
*If you can't find these herbs nearby, you may also substitute with fresh mint

Toasted Rice Powder Mixture:
1/2 tsp, ground chili pepper OR 1 Thai/Lao bird chili
1/2 tsp, sugar
a dash of salt

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 4 comments

...Be sure to wear, some flowers in your hair/If you're going to San Francisco/You're gonna meet some gentle people there..."  Everytime I drive into the beautiful bay area, this song by Scott McKenzie is the background music luring me across the bay bridge.  This past weekend was no different. I'm nearly done with my first year in business school and as fate would have it, I arranged for my self-professed "Me Day in the Bay!" I love it! Except b/c I invited my sister and some great girl friends along, I made it a "We Day!" Oh, it was lovely.  Me or We...everyone should arrange for these days of guiltless pleasure without any real plans, but to simply cruise the Bay area and breathe in the crisp bay breeze, while indulging in the finest epicurean delights to tease and tempt my tastebuds.

The day started off nicely with a trip to the farmer's market at the Ferry Building.  I was on a mission to visit Miette and become (once more) entranced by her charming allure.  And boy oh boy was I! So many people out and about on foot, it really made me miss my college days in the bay.  We were lucky enough to chug down some fresh-sqeezed blood orange, grapefruit and orange juice that was so delicious, it nearly made me fall over with joy.  So, without further ado, here's a documentary of how our day transpired.  Toodles!

So much fresh red (and orange!) chard, cara cara oranges and locally-grown artichokes.

Miette Confiserie in the Ferry Building..even cuter than the one in the Marina :) So much pinks and pastels in time for Easter. 

On our way to spend a sunny afternoon in the Mission District lounging at Dolores Park.

Chocolate chip cookies and double scoops of toasted coconut ice cream cones from the famous (wait in a line that snakes around the corner of Dolores) Bi-Rite Creamery & Bake Shop.

Dinner at Limon in the Mission District.  By far one of the best Peruvian restaurants I've ever feasted in.  Their service was nothing less than impeccable.  They seated us at the lower bar area (w/o reservations..thank goodness we came early) and the 'cebiche mixto con leche de tigre'  was on point! Freshly prepared with snapper, calamari and shrimp drizzled with a tang of citrus and fresh kernels of hominy, all I could wonder was how it could possibly get any better. But oh yes..it did! I practically devoured the cebiche nikei that consisted of the most tender and freshest cut of perfectly sliced ahi tuna one could ever wish for---definitely my favorite.

But the most memorable part of the evening was when the head Chef Alex served up complimentary cebiche shooters to our party b/c apparently, my sister's pork chop was taking a bit longer to cook.  And honestly, we were too busy enjoying our appetizers to even realize the wait.  God, if it's anything that will bring my happy butt back into a restaurant, it is hands down: the service! Thank you Limon for making We Day a 'frickin great day!

And what better way to end a wonderful evening than with a pink strawberry lemon drop...delish!

Posted by Spicy Green Mango 2 comments

When most people think of mochi, they usually think of the Japanese glutinous rice cake dessert that comes filled with ice cream.  Since my days in Hawaii are long gone, but my lusting for some handmade mochi still remain, I have been scouring street corners in search of something comparable (besides the generic kind you can get in the freezer section of most Asian grocers).

Last summer, in the midst of a blistering hot heatwave and my inability to navigate my way through my downtown area, I stumbled upon a little shop that sells..yes, mochii (the extra "i" is copyrighted:)!  I was so ecstatis and giddy. But instead of the usual ice cream dessert, they served mochii in a different way...as a topping on their handcrafted fresh fruit-flavored yogurt.  Now, I know some of my readers are thinking: Hey Spicy, didn't you just bump into a 'wannabe' Pink Berry? And to that I retort..oh, it doesn't compare!  Rather than the usual type of yogurt that leaves you with that overly sweetened dairy aftertaste, their yogurt is a bit more tart and tangy, two things that I absolutely love.

The makers of Mochii always churn out the best flavors of mochii and yogurt every time I've been there.  It's always a pleasant surprise whenever I visit b/c the flavors change daily! Yes, my friends, this means that they don't give you the crap that's been sitting there for weeks.  You can taste the difference in the quality and freshness of their ingredients because the mochii is always so soft, perfectly chewy and with flavors ranging from pomegranate, grapefruit, passion fruit, cherry, strawberry and more, it doesn't dissapoint even the most discerning palate.  The yogurt flavors are also amazing--featuring orange blossom with an infusion of nectarines, navel oranges, strawberries and peaches; mango-mandarin, strawberry acai, and my all-time favorite: blood orange.  I can go on and on about this place, but I think that these pictures will speak for themselves. 

Mango mandarin yogurt sprinkled with grapefruit Mochii and fresh mangos & strawberries :)

Strawberry acai yogurt topped witih tiger's blood (strawberry & blood orange) Mochii

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