Mango Royale

As much fun as college can be sometimes, it often just sucks.

life is just tragic.

life is just tragic.

There are just those days, you know, when the weather is just too chilly for your favorite shorts, when there’s dozens of freshman Intro Biology students swarming you during your TA hours asking how to run a T-test, when one of your friends is ignoring you and it’s really your fault, when people say things about you and it’s unwarranted and just not nice, and on top of that, there is just no way you can memorize all of the endocrine influences on meiosis II in the production of spermatids in the seminal vesicles.

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someone two doors down from me is passionately playing the bongo drums during finals week and it is helping nothing.

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isn’t this much better than reality?

Everyone has their own coping mechanisms, though, and like many a capable and wronged young woman, food will never not love me. But don’t get me wrong – I’m not one to wallow in grocery store brownies and Twix bars. That’s all fine and good, and but it’s like a short-term, shallow, superficial kind of comfort, a fling that’s devastating in hindsight. Everything is all right for the moment, but suddenly the chocolate is gone and you can’t even think about wearing clothes the next day because you feel sluggish and unattractive and empty, despite just having consumed 643 calories in Mars and Hershey products.

the bones of my enemies

the bones of my enemies

I’ve heard of people joining fight clubs or wrestling teams to get over a broken relationship or being fired from a job. A clever approach, I think, but for me to exert myself, there must be food. Consequently, I find refuge in making food rather than in just eating it. Bad grade on my last Endocrinology test? I’mma whip this cream until it turns solid. Woke up late for my music class? Gotta crush graham crackers until they are a mere semblance of their previous selves. One of your closest friends just yelled at you and took your food? CHOP MANGOES AND PRETEND THEY’RE HIS BODY.

BURY THEM!!!! #ANGER

BURY THEM!!!! #ANGER

But enough about my anger for now. There will always be anger. But you know what there won’t always be? Ripe mangoes. I decided to make mango royale, a Filipino ice box cake, in celebration of spring and a constant temperature over 50 degrees Fahrenheit. But life has killed the dream I dreamed, because the advent of Vermont spring does not bring with it ripe, plump mangoes the way it does in California or in Taiwan. Instead, it sheepishly offers mango-shaped bricks better suited for self-defense and not for eating.

This proposes a huge problem for mango royale. Most of the recipes I studied stated that it would be best to use very soft and slightly over-ripe mangoes. In baking with fruit in general, it’s best to use fruit that’s a little bit past its prime. But what to do about my predicament? Modern technology has the answer, and the Internet never fails: we shall MICROWAVE THE MANGO.

the master at work

the master at work

No, really. After browsing a couple of E-Hows titled something like, “How to Ripen a Mango in the Microwave”, I cut some holes in my mangoes to let the steam out and to pseudo-ripen them evenly, as suggested by said websites. Then I wrapped them in paper towels for – again for even ripening – and chucked them in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time. The E-How said for only 10 seconds at a time, but these mangoes were that rock solid. Like, if my ab (I currently have one general ab) felt like one of those mangoes, man, I… I don’t know what I’d do. I’d probably use it as an excuse to eat more.

look at that valiant effort. tiff vs. mango, lesgo

look at that valiant effort. tiff vs. mango, mango clearly wins

Unfortunately, E-How proved itself less than a guru in how to ripen very raw fruit in 20 minutes. Not only that, but upon taking the mangoes out of the microwave and beginning to peel them, I burned myself on one of the mangoes. Who’s ever heard of anyone burning themselves on a mango? You have, now, that’s who. There goes my chef cred.

It turned out okay in the end, though, because the cream filling of the ice box cake was so unbelievably sweet that the unusually tart flavor of the mango was actually very welcome. The only problem was that they were a bit hard, especially because I had put the cake in the freezer for three hours to set. This made the consistency of the cream delightfully like ice cream, but made the hardness of the mango like ice.

layers. layers like an ogre

layers. layers like an ogre

obligatory fork shot

obligatory fork shot

Still, the cake tasted fantastic. I thought the cream part would be uncomfortably heavy because it incorporated an entire can of condensed milk, which is viscous and thick as hell. Freezing the cake lightened up both the flavor and the density of the cream part, however, which then complemented the crushed graham cracker crust beautifully. Like I said, the only lacking part was how hard the mango pieces on top were, but you can’t have everything. And given the awkward state of the mangoes to begin with, I’d say the mango royale turned out pretty well.

smile! there's cake!

smile! there’s cake!

It inherently proves, I think, the efficacy of my method of dealing with life’s problems. When life gives you lemons, my God, you make lemon cream cheese cookie bars, obviously. While you make whatever food you choose, you take out your anger on that mixing bowl! Be as violent as you never could be in polite hipster society, and lose twelve pounds in the process. Then, when the food is ready to be eaten and you’re exhausted, devour everything you just made and gain back all those lost pounds. There’s been no net change, per se, but you know you’ll be okay. Even if the mangoes are unripe and you can’t memorize any more estradiol pathways, things will be all right. There will always be hope. And even when there’s no hope, there’s still cake.

Mango Royale

Mango Royale

Recipe adapted from Ang Sarap, NY City Eats, and A Thirst for Life. Pictures by Olivia C. and Ben M.

Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

College is not a time for eating well.

unf. sexy lady.

not well at all.

My supremely health-conscious, gluten-free, vegan mother would be appalled to learn of the 2 AM feasts consisting spicy Korean instant noodles and entire cookies-and-cream chocolate bars that my friends and I have the night before a huge Endocrinology exam. It’s like there’s this inevitable positive relationship between my grades and my caloric intake: the better I do in school, the fatter I get. A fine price to pay, I think. Bow down to the 20-year-old Asian female metabolism! You know you want it.

But there are some times when you want to put some effort into your poor dietary habits. If you can’t eat classy things, then you make your nasty shit comfort food with as much class as a college dorm kitchen can offer. Enter Hiroshima okonomiyaki, or the Japanese version of the ULTIMATE COMFORT FOOD.

action shot: sexy falling noodles hanging on for dear life

action shot: sexy falling noodles hanging on for dear life

yeah i'd tap that

yeah i’d tap that

In Japanese, okonomi means “what you like”, and yaki means “grilled” or “cooked”. It’s like the chef’s version of YOLO: instead of You Only Live Once, it’s I COOK WHATEVER THE F*CK I WANT, H8RS GON H8. In my defense (in case you’re reading this, Mom and Dad), there’s cabbage, green onions, and bean sprouts in it, which makes it exemplarily healthy. Going from bottom to top, you have: a layer of fried egg; a thick layer of spicy yakisoba; bean sprouts, seaweed, green onions, and cubed daikon; winter cabbage; and a crispy pancake garnished generously with seaweed and bonito flakes to finish. Oh, and bacon. Between the yakisoba noodles and the vegetables there is a sizzling layer of bacon, crispy at the edges and chewy in the middle – just how I like it, and oh, how I’ve missed it. Dining hall bacon is a travesty.

the state of college dorm kitchens is a greater travesty that you didn’t even think was possible

the state of college dorm kitchens is a greater travesty that you didn’t even think was possible

Unlike the popular Osaka version of okonomiyaki, which just tosses or mixes all of the ingredients together, Hiroshima okonomiyaki layers each of its ingredients. This makes it terribly difficult to put together, especially when you have to transfer layers of noodles and shredded cabbage across a stovetop into different frying pans. Okonomiyaki is usually cooked on a griddle so the transferring of okonomiyaki components as the dish grows taller throughout the cooking process is a bit more expedited and a lot less messy.

not the most efficient system

not the most efficient system

I also didn’t have okonomiyaki sauce, which tastes like a sweeter and thicker version of Worcestershire sauce, and you could definitely tell that the okonomiyaki needed it. But hey, I’m in the middle of Nowhere, Vermont, where highly specific and regional Japanese sauces are a little bit hard to come by. In the meantime, over-peppering the yakisoba noodles and using a little bit of pickled daikon (white radish) will make do.

The pickled daikon was offered to me graciously by my beautiful friend who was preparing ingredients to make kimbap over the weekend. We had driven for over an hour earlier in the day to go to the nearest Asian foods store for ingredients. The drive itself took an hour, but the entire trip to the Asian foods store took 45 extra minutes because for that extra amount of time we sat in the school parking lot trying to figure out how to start the rental car, which happened to be a hybrid. I’m from Northern California, so you’d think that I’d know how to drive a hybrid, but I’m a loser 20-year-old  who can’t drive (… BECAUSE I TAKE PUBLIC TRANSPORT. EXTRA ENVIRONMENTALLY FRIENDLY. #BOSS) and she’s from Southern California so she of course has never been exposed to a hybrid.

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work in progress

We spent 45 minutes trying to figure out how to start the damm car. This involved pushing every single possible combination of buttons, rifling through the useless “How to Car” pamphlets in the glove compartment, and barging into some poor lady’s office in the building next to the parking lot, crying “WHERE IS ZIPCAR OFFICE HELP PLEASE” while – it was a rental car, remember – the minutes ticked away slowly.

Obviously we eventually figured out how to start the car, but my friend and I agreed that this embarassing tale would never be told, so lets keep this between you and me. (Forgive me, Tiffany.) The hour-long car ride had a therapeutic effect on our memory of this recent trauma. A big bowl of pho and screaming our heads off to Robyn might have helped a little too.

So in the end, we saved the day because we are just really clever. No okonomiyaki sauce, but at least the store had bonito flakes. They were horrifically expensive (could’ve gotten eight $1 sweet teas at Mickey D’s for that tiny condom-sized pack of bonito flakes what) but the taste does remind me of home. And home is comfort because the Asian foods market is a 2 minute walk away, not an hour drive. Vermont. God.

LAYERS! so many LAYERS! that's why it's so thick IT'S FULL OF SECRETS

so many layers that’s why it’s so thick IT’S FULL OF SECRETS

Like I said, okonomiyaki really is the ultimate comfort food. There’s bacon, which kind of explains everything, but there’s also fried egg, noodles, and a savory pancake – a crepe, really. There are vegetables to soothe your guilty conscience as you look at your exponentially expanding waistline the next morning when your orange skinny jeans no longer fit.

you can laugh at the fat girl or you can join her in eternal happiness

you too can find happiness

Still, I like to think that I live life without any regrets. I can’t exactly promise that the okonomiyaki helped with studying for my Endo test, but long after I forget the negative feedback pathways that glucagon has in the liver, I’ll know this: I’m never going back to instant ramen again.

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Hiroshima Okonomiyaki

Recipe adapted from Otafuku Foods and Cooking with Dog. Pictures taken by Ben M. and Tiffany P.