A Mango Mojito Ganesha Would Appreciate

On the counter sits a Costco box of mangoes. I’m a slut for mangoes, and my husband knows that, so he surprised me with them last week when he did the Costco deed. I was thrilled, but I knew the greener ones in the box would all ripen at the same time. And, since my family isn’t into more adventurous culinary forays like Adzuki Bean Mango Stir Fry with Cilantro Lime Coconut Sauce or even Mango Salsa, on the Fourth I decided to use the mango for what the gods intended—alcoholic beverages. Okay, not all the gods. But I think one in particular would appreciate this recipe.

Mangoes play prominently in Hindu legend. Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity, for example, is often depicted holding a mango. A magic mango, as legend tells, which he won in a competition against his brother, Kartikeya. The parents, Shiva and Parvati, frustrated with the brothers’ squabbling over the mango promised the fruit to the sibling that could go around the world three times and return the quickest. After realizing that a mouse was simply not quality transportation to travel the world three times, and certainly no match for the peacock his brother was zipping around on, Ganesha relied instead on both political and semantic acumen. “Ganesha said that Shiva and Parvati were his parents and were his whole world. He had asked Shiva and Parvati to stand together and had circled them three times and had taken the mango.” Although the lesson here is supposed to be something along the order of wisdom can come from travel or staying home and truly understanding one’s own kin is precious, I’m thinking brother Kartikeya could have used a mango mojito after pulling up his peacock to this type of sycophancy.

But back to mojito mojo. Here’s my novice’s recipe. Realize that I can never leave a recipe alone. I always have to do something to make it my own. I started with a couple recipes on line and worked from those.

1. First, have a good playlist on. Here’s a few of the songs from the list I was listening to at the time of working on this recipe:

Knee Deep (Zac Brown Band with Jimmy Buffet)
Island Woman (Pablo Cruise)
Beach in Hawaii (Ziggy Marley)
Don’t Rock my Boat (Bob Marley)
You Ku’upio (Willie K)
If I had a Boat (Lyle Lovett)
Does Your Mama Like to Reggae (J. J. Cale)
My Little Grass Shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii (The Mills Brothers)
Cowboy Boots and Bathing Suits (Jerry Jeff Walker)
Southern Cross (Crosby, Stills, and Nash)

There are more…typically my playlists have about forty or more songs. But you get the idea.

2. Next, it helps to have mint growing in the back yard. I do. A lot of mint growing in a big pot on the patio. Go cut the some of the mint stalks with nice green leaves all the way up. I prepared three mojitos yesterday, so I needed three stalks of mint. When I came in to wash the mint, I noticed some tiny (and I mean tiny) black gnats of some variety. I had to drown their asses, roll the mint in paper towels, and drown their asses again. A black gnat in your mojito just doesn’t say “this is living” to me.
Chop up the mint, but not so finely that it looks like green slime. Nice larger pieces is pretty in the glass.

3. Cut some lime wedges. Take a lime wedge for each glass, split the sucker, slide it around the top of the glass. Set it aside. It’s going to be in that glass soon.

4. Dip the glass rim into a plate with turbinado sugar. I found it didn’t stick perfectly, but just enough to have a bit of sweet here and there on the lips.

5. In each glass, put the equivalent of about five good size mint leaves (chopped somewhat). These need to be crushed in the glass. Of course, a drink mortar (is that what they’re called?) is nice for this. A spoon works too. I used the end of a wooden spatula. One must be inventive when short on supplies.

6. Take the lime wedge and squeeze into each glass. Then drop that sucker in there. Maybe take another half lime and squeeze liberally into the three glasses. I did. I like lime.

7. Mango puree or mango nectar. Some recipes call for mango puree; others call for mango nectar, the kind you get in a can. This all depends on your taste and your access to fresh mangoes. Obviously, given my ripened mangoes, I went for the puree. A blender works great for this. (Plus, if you have some left, put it over vanilla ice cream later.) Drop several tablespoons of the puree into the bottom of the glass. Again, it all depends upon how much mango you want in the drink. Remember, there’s vitamin C in mangoes, so you can’t go wrong here. This is about your health after all!

8.*****Add simple syrup—probably two tablespoons or so to the growing concoction in each glass. (Making simple syrup is a step you’ll want to do ahead of time. Again, that’s why it’s good to have a longer playlist. Simple syrup can be made by mixing 1 cup of sugar and ½ cup of water in a saucepan. Bring it to a low boil, and stir it constantly for no more than five minutes. Cool this.) Some recipes say just add sugar. I’m thinking these people are lazy amateurs and don’t deserve mojitos. Seriously. Make the damn syrup.

9. Fill glass with maybe a half cup of club soda, and fill the glass with ice. Top with a jigger or so of Myers dark rum. Lightly stir. (If you stir too much, you’ll de-fiz the soda. Not good.) You may want to add a bit more soda now. Another idea is to add just a touch of the mango nectar in a can. Now you’re talking best of both worlds! Go for it. YOLO and all that shit.

10. To top off your masterpiece, de-leaf the sprigs of mint leaving some nice leaves at the top—one sprig for each. Take a mango and do a hedgehog slice job on it. What’s a hedgehog slice job you ask? Well, I learned this from a friend who owned a bed and breakfast in Captain Cook. Anybody who’s been around mangoes for a while knows how to do this, but for a mango virgin, here’s how to cut one:

11. Slice on the wide edge, around the pit. If the mango is truly ripe, you’ll be able to twist the mango in half. Taking the side without the pit, make slices the length and cross wise to the skin only. Then flip the mango inside out. Here’s a quick little video to show you just what I mean: Cutting a Mango Hedgehog
12. Skewer pieces of mango onto the de-leafed mint spring, place in the glass and serve smugly. Then sit back and listen to a play list of your liking that takes you to an island in your mind. And make a toast to Lord Ganesha who understood that flattery can prevent you from having to saddle up a mouse and ride it around the earth three times. Good for him.

For some versions of the Mango story:

Stories from Hindu Mythology: Ganesha wins the mango

Indian Stories for Children: The race for the mango

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A She Wolf and Other Roman Women

(Written in Rome, August, 2009)

Having a vague grasp of the story of Romulus and Remus, those twins raised by a benevolent wolf, I have been pleasantly surprised to hear of the alternative interpretation of who truly nurtured those boys into early adulthood.  Gaetano, our guide in Pompeii, first clued us into this version of the myth of Rome’s founders. The less known and touted portion of this myth is that it was not a wolf at all that raised the boys, but a harlot, for “she wolf” or “lupa” was shorthand for courtesan in ancient Rome. They received their names for howling at men in their bidding for customers. It also may have been that the shepherd Faustulus, who myth tells us found the boys in the wolf’s den, lived in a dual income relationship with his wife, Acca Larentia, and it could be that income came from her notorious activities. As with all myths, the retelling by various ancients and various factions of ancients blends and sifts the tales to their particular likings. In any case, myths often have tiny seeds of truth, and any kernel of truth of twins being raised by a wolf seems farther fetched than twins being raised by a woman who turned tricks. And certainly, an “Eternal City” would attribute its roots probably morequickly to wolf milk and teat than to a lactating strumpet.

But women standing just behind the curtain of male myth in Rome’s origins doesn’t stop at saving the baby asses of these two brothers. To begin with, the boys’ mother, Plutarch and Livy told us, was none other than Rhea Silvia, a priestess. She received a forced honor as a Vestal Virgin from her uncle Amulius, who had a shitload of gold, but not the rightful inheritance as King. No, that right was her father’s, papa Numitor. Uncle Amulius living before the medieval chastity belt, placed Rhea Silvia in the position of forced celibacy, for he wanted no rightful heirs that could challenge his poached throne.  Vestal Virgins found to be deflowered were buried alive.  If they kept their knees together for thirty years, they could live their lives in luxury, be certain that their blood would never be spilt, and even marry once their thirty years were up. Not a bad deal, really.

Enter Mars, literally. Mars. Some say it was seduction. Some say rape. I wasn’t there mind you, and we all know that law disallows the past activities of the defendant to be introduced during trial, but let’s just say that Mars, being the God of War, had a proclivity for mindless violence, dominance, and mayhem. So the possibility that he charmed and seduced this woman who had family pressures and the possibility of live burial on her seems less likely than rape. Circumstantial evidence—“he said, she said”–to be sure, but let’s look at the statistics. Anyway, the outcome was pregnancy, a tough situation for a Vestal Virgin.

Rhea Silvia bore twin boys, Romulus and Remus, and they were spectacular male specimens. This pissed off Amulius tremendously, and he imprisoned the recovering mom and ordered the twin boys to be put to death. Of course, kings never do their own dirty work (can you say Dick Cheney?) and Amulius outsourced the nasty task to a servant.  Luckily for Romulus and Remus (and the history of Rome) that the servant had a soft spot for babies. He placed the little ones in a basket and laid it on the banks of the flooding Tiber River. The rising waters picked up the hapless cargo and delivered the brothers gently downstream where the “she wolf” discovered the two.

Of course the two brothers grew up, their youthful years as myth and history pinpoint at around 771-753 BC.  When around 18 and full of testosterone, the young men eventually encountered their real grandfather, Numitor and their evil great uncle Amulius again after a kerfuffle over some sheep.  Their grandfather discovered the true identity of Remus, and when Romulus returned to assist his brother, he incited a revolt in the city and in the melee, old ornery Amulius, was killed. The brothers then released their imprisoned mother.

You’d think the two would have figured the Gods had favored them and that familial harmony would be better than a usual goat sacrifice as thanks. But no. These two could not agree on which hill to establish the new city. Would it be Palatine Hill or Aventine Hill? Romulus preferred Palatine; Remus Aventine. They consulted flocks of birds as omens. Even that did not solve it, for they both saw flocks that gave them the answers they wanted. (Again, I’m thinking of the Bush Administration looking for WMDs here.) Remus saw six vultures; brother Romulus saw twelve. Compromise was not something they evidently learned along the way. Romulus, convinced twelve vultures trumped six started a trench on Palatine. Remus having none of this leaped the trench, a bad omen I guess for starting cities in 753 BC. It was enough to enrage Romulus to the point that he slay Remus for his brother’s broad jumping antics. Romulus then declared himself King, named the city after himself, and completed the city.

Rome grew, filling up with males from all varieties of life’s harder edges. Of course, just like an early western mining town, something essential was missing, for even though Romans were flexible in their sexual tastes, women still filled that civilizing niche. Without women, Romulus and Rome had a demographic problem on their hands.

Romulus hatched a plan. He’d go to a neighboring tribal area, throw a hell of a party, invite the locals, the Sabines, known for their lovely women, ply their men with plenty of wine, and then when the signal dropped, capture the women. This is what is later known as The Rape of the Sabines. They captured daughters and the younger women in the crowd and whisked 700 women back to the all-too male Rome.

The Sabine men, once sobered and sufficiently armed and organized under a guy named Titus Tatius, retaliated, marching on Rome, wanting their women back. They got help from a young girl named Tarpeia who opened a gate for the Sabines on the deal that she’d receive some cool arm jewelry in exchange. She got the jewelry. That and Sabine shields from the men as well, dying under the weight of it all. (Myths always have to teach women not to want too much.)

The ferocious battle continued until the Sabine women rushed onto the battle grounds with babies in their arms, pleading with both sides to stop the madness. They cried to their new Roman husbands as well as their Sabine fathers and brothers, “live in peace as one people.” Suddenly, all the adrenaline and testosterone drained from the scene. Big, burley Roman warriors and outraged Sabine men looking for vengeance stopped and sang “Kumbaya.” Romulus and Titus Tatius decided to rule jointly, doubling the size of Rome. Birds chirped, bees buzzed, and small little furry animals procreated.  Why? Because women, yes women, talked some sense into the men.