parting gift

Growing season is quite different in Florida than it is in many parts of the country. Sweltering summers suffocate most budding things, while mild, breezy winters and springs foster a bounty of juicy strawberries, ruby red tomatoes, and sweet onions. I was lucky to be home for part of the Florida harvest season to enjoy my parents’ ever-thriving backyard garden, taking full advantage of the herbs, eggplants, peppers, and tomatoes that sprung up each day and marveling at the beauty of the flowering trees that jutted up amongst the palms.

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But there are some things that actually thrive in the Miami summer sun. Tropical crops, mostly. Carambola, avocado, and the king of all tropical fruits: the Mango.

Daily, while walking my dog, hundreds of green mangoes hung from the trees that dot my neighborhood, taunting me with their unquestionable unripeness. On more than one occasion I thought about plucking one from a branch or giving a tree a gentle shake, but after many a summer of mango picking and eating experience, I know that to force a mango to fall from a tree before its prime time would be somewhat of a sin. So I dashed my hopes of savoring a mango during my stay in Miami, comforted by promises of a mango-filled care package come June.

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And then, a miracle occurred. On the last day I was home, taking one last walk with Chase and my mom up our street, we passed an especially abundant tree in a neighbor’s front yard. “Let’s check the ground,” my mom said. (This neighbor had confessed to my mom years ago that, despite his bountiful tree, he actually hated mangoes, and gave us carte blanche to salvage them from the ground whenever we wanted). Skeptically, I walked toward the tree, doubtful that any mango would have fallen in early May. But lo and behold, right before our eyes was a perfect, unmarred mango. A parting gift.

It was hard as a rock, but given patience, a home in a brown paper bag, a 1,400 mile cross-country road trip in my toasty trunk, and another week and a half long rest on my kitchen counter, it transformed into a soft fruit, flecked with dots signalling ripeness and emanating a honey-sweet aroma that fragrance makers can only dream of bottling.

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I peeled the soft skin and cut the bright orange flesh into neat cubes, then abandoned all tools and used the ones nature gave me to ungracefully clean the last bits of clinging fruit off the pit—the most indulgent part of mango eating. When you have something so pure and so delectable in front of you, there’s little want to alter it with other ingredients. I enjoyed it simply, in a bowl of yogurt and topped with a sprinkling of homemade granola, for a breakfast that I never thought I would have the chance to savor in Chicago in mid-May.

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It is my hope that you are able to fully and simply savor the fruits and vegetables that grow around you this season.

Vanilla Almond Granola

Best when accompanied by fresh fruit and yogurt

3 cups oats

1 cup flaked coconut (I use sweetened)

1 cup slivered almonds

2 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp ground ginger

½ tsp salt

¼ cup plus 2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tbsp honey

1 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325. Combine oats, coconut, almonds, cinnamon, ginger, and salt in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine (I find that using your hands actually works best to really get all of the wet and dry ingredients incorporated). Spread mixture evenly onto a large baking sheet. Bake for about 40 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until lightly toasted. (The granola will continue to cook a bit and will dry out as it cools, so be careful to not overcook). Remove from the oven and place baking sheet on a rack. Allow granola to cool fully before storing in an airtight container. Keeps for a couple of weeks at room temperature, and for a couple of months in the freezer.

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