(Would have been papaya) mango salad

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This would have been papaya salad, except for one key problem. There was no green papaya. Not in the store on the day that I was suddenly struck with an inexplicable need for easy-to-make, fresh, tangy, leaves-your-taste-buds-tingling green papaya salad. There was mango. And so, a change of plan. You wouldn't think something so basic as swapping ingredients would seem like a big deal for someone who routinely experiments in the kitchen. It's not. But then again, in this instance changing even spur of the moment, random plans felt oddly like something worth celebrating. Because for someone who revels and takes pride in being spontaneous when it comes to learning and playing with kids, exploring trails, and throwing ingredients into a bowl then baking them, I realize I can sometimes be alarmingly inflexible. Sometimes over very little things, like papaya salad. But life constantly reminds us that flexibility is key to cultivating happiness. Even with tiny examples. Even with juicy, fresh, tangy would-have-been-papaya-but-is-now-mango salad like this one. Isn't it pretty? Refreshing, too. Plus, so quick and easy to make.

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Sometimes it takes a change of location to open up new understanding about what you have always known about yourself. To spark a revitalized commitment to change, or at least try. This week, on a rainy day in Keswick in England's Lake District, Felix and I curled up one morning reading little square book after little square book of Roger Hargreaves Mr. Men series. Anyone else grow up with those? We finished with Mr. Worry, and I was appalled by the way every single one of round blue Mr. Worry's worries were real life worries that occupy some portion of my conscious brain pretty much every hour of every day. Every. Single. One. Funny when you're a cartoon circle, with wavy lines representing a furrowed brow. Not so much as a generally happy, healthy, striving person who would like to ease off on the building of those furrows. 

I get a lot of self-reflection opportunity from children's  books and programs these days, that genre being the only non-work related media I have been able to make time for. Sometimes the greatest revelations come from simply noticing what sticks. Like, a Sesame Street clip where Ernie makes a video and sings a song about having to change the plan to a protesting Bert.  I should probably be embarrassed to admit how often I call upon the chorus in order to calm my overreactive brain when it needs time to process a turn of events. 

So much worry stems from not having a secure plan. I don't have the kind of bold confidence that overrides that wish for guarantees. But as crucial as the forward thinking and the planning is, the crux of life is mostly the detours, right? Or at least the open eyes and joyful acceptance for what life is offering on your plate, moment to moment.

In Switzerland, we planned to go one morning to Jungfraujoch, "the top of Europe", known for breathtaking views, icy air, and a connection with James Bond. As it turned out, we couldn't make the trip work--because of money, time, logistics, practicality for Felix. We went instead to Mannlichen, taking a train through Wengen, a vehicle-free mountain town, followed by cable car, where we had the most splendid day of our trip. Sunshine, stunning scenery, a  perfect family hike and, as a huge bonus, a charming and unexpected mountaintop playground that was super fun for all ages.

I'm a little embarrassed to be sharing such a plush change of lucky plans to pad out a point. Part of the truth is, I just want to do all I can to record that special day and save it. And another truth is, for every joyful unexpected outcome there is a curveball that just sucks. I wish there were ways to reach into the unknown ahead and weed out the aches, the grief, the injustices, the outrage, and replace them all with Mannlichen mornings. All I can do is practice finding my own balance of thoughtfully going with the flow. Some days that's about peanuty-sauced mangos--or papayas--peppers, purple cabbage, and carrots that look like a rainbow and taste like sunshine.  

Papaya--or mango--salad

  • 1-2 underripe mango (or mango and papaya)
  • 1 large carrot, peeled
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 cup shredded purple cabbage
  • 2-3 T creamy natural peanut butter
  • 1 tablespoon coconut sugar or honey (*optional)
  • 2 tablespoons lime juice
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • Spinach leaves to serve
  • 2 T ground dry roasted peanuts to serve
  1. Whisk peanut butter, lime juice, coconut sugar or honey if using, soy sauce and chili garlic sauce in a large bowl.
  2. Use a food processor to shred mango, carrot and red pepper.
  3. Add shredded mango and vegetables to bowl. Add dressing and lightly but thoroughly toss together. Taste for seasoning. Mound in serving bowls lined with with spinach leaves beforehand. Sprinkle with peanuts and serve.