Who is Mango Power Girl?
My name is Mohini. I was born and raised in the state of Gujarat, India, home to the world’s best mangoes. I lived more than half my life in India before moving to the United States, savoring mangoes from farms in my family, and with fresh produce from outdoor markets at every turn in my hometown.
I was inspired by my mother’s genius cooking, for which she won various awards, the opportunity to publish her recipes long before food blogs, and the admiration of the many people she fed so well. Once in a while, I publish something traditionally Indian and inspired by my Mom, such as wonderful stuffed Winter Dates or the sesame seed, puffed rice, and peanut brittle we make every year, called Chikki. When I was growing up, our modest home and kitchen had a “revolving door” for a steady stream of hungry guests. I have learnt by observing the best!
I moved to the United States as a teenager, living in Pennsylvania and later New York. Most of my years in the US have been spent in my beloved New York City. Even when I visited the US as a kid, I felt right at home in New York — it must be the diversity, the crowds, the vastness, the food of course, and the feeling of being connected to the whole world!
I spent much of my time in NYC as many New Yorkers do — surviving! After going to college there, I worked long hours at my corporate job, enjoying the city but not so much cooking. As an immigrant child of a single parent, I worked hard to stay in this country and support my mother, just as much she did to get us here! My breakthrough in life and cooking came later, when I made two of the biggest moves of my life at once — I left the corporate world, and I married Brian.
Being with Brian also meant moving up to the worldly but small city of Ithaca, New York, where we lived for the first few years of our marriage. It was Ithaca that got me doing something I always wanted to and never took time to — I cooked, cooked, and cooked in my tiny 4′ by 7′ kitchenette! I discovered the amazing Ithaca Farmers’ Market, where we met the producers and we could trust the food was grown responsibly. We could have confidence in the ethics of the economics, too. We paid fair prices and without anyone in-between controlling their profits. I learnt to cook with fresh, local, and seasonal food and I made many beautiful meals. In Ithaca I started to think about blogging, but that was not meant to be, yet. I cooked, I picked up more photography, and day by day I developed and re-developed recipes of my own and from my family.
I eventually worked for a community development, microfinance organization in Ithaca, one that completely changed my view of finance. I had majored in Mathematics and Economics at Barnard College, Columbia University, before working on Wall Street, but getting to know the other side of the financial spectrum was my most eye-opening education and satisfying experience. In my daily job, I was helping the same farmers, artisans, and small businesses I was shopping from at the farmers’ market. I saw what a struggle it was for them to do what they believed in, and I saw how they gave to their community the best that they could. My own life was starting to add up, I was learning where I belonged. It was confirmation that when I made sacrifices and left the world of corporate finance, I did so for the right reasons, and I wasn’t going back!
The growing season is limited in Ithaca and its farmers’ market cannot run year-long. That’s a sort of metaphor for how we were starting to feel about everything — limited, if wonderful and it was time to go somewhere else! Brian had wanted to move to Seattle for a long time, so we did! Seattle’s reputation for beautiful environment leading to amazing food and committed environmentalism were the things to make most of. One of the things we love most about Seattle is Pike Place Market, the oldest farmers’ market in America and one of several local markets we go to often.
I have now continued along the path I started on in Ithaca, and I plan to continue using my business skills for the greater good. Deep down in my heart though, I always dreamt of being an artist. I live this dream today in bits and pieces — through my photography, my drawing, my cooking, and through Mango Power Girl!
Why the name “Mango Power Girl?”
I thought of “Mango Power Girl” suddenly as I was going to bed one day. Sometimes memories flood you all at once, so in explaining I will share a few. While growing up in India, I was a girl powered by mangoes. Every year I anxiously waited for Summer, when my mom would buy a crate of alphonso mangoes just for me! I ate mangoes with breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and up to this day I still can!
In school I ran around with a mango-loving group of friends. For my readers who haven’t grown up in India — raw mangoes have a sweet but sour, sometimes tart taste, and we eat them as a juicy snack with salt & red chili powder. My friends and I knew where the best mango trees on our school grounds were, from which we tried to pluck those raw, green mangoes. Sometimes we climbed mango trees, but most times, good aim and a rock did the trick. Occasionally this ambitious task ran over our school break times, and we had to sneak back into the classroom :)
By the Summer of 2007, I had been thinking of starting a blog for a couple years. One night my mango memories came rushing back and the name struck me — in that instant I became Mango Power Girl.
My husband grew up in Ohio. We did not meet until many years later, but across the globe we both grew up watching “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe” on television. When I told Brian my idea for the name “Mango Power Girl,” he replied with a battle cry that any aficionados of He-Man would appreciate — “By the Power of Mango!“ — a geeky motto that still pops up here and in my Flickr stream. And, like Iron Chef Sakai peels apple in one peel, I can peel a ripe mango in one peel :)
How did Mango Power Girl start?
I waited to start this blog for several years, until my husband really pushed me to get it going! In another sense, I had waited all my life. I grew up around fabulous cooks, especially my mother and my uncle. At first I aspired to be just like them and I imitated dishes I loved, trying to recreate them. All at once I realized that cooking like them comes to me naturally, and that doing so also means I create and recreate my own recipes.
I blog to share my experiences, and my values as they relate to food – what I eat and how. I want to bring out the fun and delicious dishes we have at home and encourage more people to cook and cook from scratch! I want people to value whole foods they have available locally, yet explore international cuisine. Plant-based whole food is mostly what I grew up around and it was never boring or repetitive as cooked by mom. We mostly ate at home and everything was cooked from scratch. I ate more fruits and vegetables than I realized, and as an adult I am thankful for that. I remembering seeing a very food items in my life that came out of a plastic packaging and never anything out of tin, the waste we had was almost always compostable.
For my own part, I am also out to prove that vegetarian food done right is beautiful, nutritious, and not boring at all! I care deeply about the source of my ingredients, and also the people who grow them! Hence, I will always support my small farms and local businesses, that bring me those ingredients. I truly believe that supporting our local economies and cooking from scratch have been key in teaching me to live a sustainable life and caring for the environment!
Regarding Photography – I have always loved photography. In fact I come from a family of professional photographers from generations back, but who unfortunately I did not have a chance to learn from directly. My Grandpa was a photographer in 1940s East Africa. He worked for Kodak and photographed many of British Royalty and other dignitaries on their African visits. He was so good he ended up going independent, having his own studio, back when Indians were not known for their photography (sadly, we still aren’t!) I am self-taught, and I hope to make him proud. I like simple food photography in lots of natural light and I like photographing people in their true environment. I have a special place in my heart for film photography and you’ll find some of my analogue work all around my site & my Flickr. I constantly learn from wonderful photographers I’ve met in Seattle and online, especially Flickr, my biggest inspiration before there was any social media!
This blog has pushed me to do what I always wanted to do i.e. be true to myself! Since I started this site, I’ve come a long way. Blogging, sharing my recipes, and part-time photography in my spare time is no longer the case. I am devoting majority of time now getting paid doing what I love to do, I am a freelance photographer blogger. I photograph and share stories of food, people, and culture.
A picture of me selecting raw mangoes (my favorite fruit) with a bag of okra (my favorite vegetable) in my other hand, taken by my husband during our last trip to India. This is a stall in the market where my family shopped for generations.