Thursday, March 17, 2011

Cook the Books Review: An Embarrassment of Mangoes by Ann Vanderhoof

As one terribly winter-weary North Country resident, I was glad to have an armchair sea voyage to warmer climes courtesy of Ann Vanderhoof in her book "An Embarrassment of Mangoes" (Doubleday Canada, 2003).  This fun book is the current selection of The Cook the Books Club , a bimonthly foodie book club and was chosen by my CTB cohort Deb of Kahakai Kitchen.

Vanderhoof's book is about the two-year sailing trip that she and her husband Steve made from their home in Toronto down through the Caribbean. Long distance sailing holds no appeal for my hobbity self, but I was glad to have this vicarious vacation in a dust jacket while foot upon foot of snow and other variants of frozen precipitation visited my home pretty much every couple of days these many long winter weeks. It was nice to imagine myself basking in sunshine, sipping a rum punch and bopping to soca, that combination of soul and calypso music that screams "party time!"

The author's prose is very descriptive and certainly lauds the wonders and beauty of cruising around the West Indies, but she doesn't gloss over poverty in the region or the down side of sailing.  I loved her passage about the day long chore of scrubbing, washing and repacking of foodstuffs when stashing new provisions to avoid bringing bugs on board. Vanderhoof was lucky to make friends with a Grenadian buddy, Dingis, who is a master in the kitchen and offered to teach her some of her cooking secrets.

I was entranced by the description of Dingis' lobster curry, so despite the very dear cost of the crustacean, I got one steamed at the fish counter of my supermarket and brought him home, scarlet and stiff, in a waterlogged paper bag.  I cracked the meat out and then stuffed the shells into a pot with some vegetable trimmings collected in my freezer stash and boiled it all up for a delicious lobster broth that was later cooked up into a lobster-scented rice.

The lobster rice served as my base for Dingis' Lobster Curry (recipe on page 127 of the book).  I was surprised that the lobster wasn't overwhelmed by all the seasonings in this dish; curry powder, peppers sweet and hot, garlic, onion, ketchup and vinegar.  The next time I would use poor man's lobster, i.e., chunks of monkfish, or maybe some large shrimp, because of the cost, but the sauce was really luscious.

A delicious Island dinner needed a toothsome ending, so I also made up some Mango Crisp (p. 133), which had a great zing from some chopped crystallized ginger.

There's still time to join in the fun at Cook the Books. Deb will be accepting entries from readers who like to head for the kitchen after reading a great book until Friday, March 25th. Be sure to stop back to CTB headquarters after the deadline to see the roundup of Embarrassing Mango posts and then to see which entry will be picked by our special guest judge, our esteemed author herself, Ann Vanderhoof!


Deb in Hawaii said...

Glad you enjoyed the book. I get sea sick pretty easily so I liked "sailing" vicariously with the author instead of experiencing it myself. ;-)

Love that you splurged for the lobster--the curry and rice look amazing (I just want to lick the bowl with that sauce!) and of course the mango crisp is the perfect dessert.
Great picks!

Claudia said...

Looks like a case of great minds here:) I did the lobster curry too! And, now I want to try that mango crisp as well. It sounds so good.

Anonymous said...

What a great post! Lobster curry, eh? While it sounds heavenly...I won't make it a threesome! LOL! I want some of that mango crisp though! Thanks for sharing!!

Jessica said...

Great picks for the recipes, They all look tasty. The Mangoe Crisp is high up on my list as well, I love the idea of the ginger with it. Many times I have used books with exotic locals to "escape" the Northern New York winter. Hope this one did the trick for you!

Simona said...

You are courageous! I have managed our big Dungeness crabs (someone else did the cooking), but I think lobsters are outside my range. Very nice feast, from beginning to sweet end.