An Embarrassment of Mangoes

Wouldn’t you like to quit your job and sail off to the Caribbean? Not a pipe dream for Amy Vanderhoof and her husband who leave Toronto for a two-year respite. If you’re not convinced to at least ride to the beach after
the introductory chapter, “Island Time,” you are colder than you think.

In An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude, Vanderhoof documents their abandonment of day jobs in Toronto – a place with 10 months of winter – to sail to warmer climes on their sailboat, the Receta. Along the way to the West Indies, she describes not only the beauty of the land and sea, but the food. Each chapter includes an adventure: new friends, local culture, good eating – then ends with a recipe.

Surviving their initial sail from Toronto to the Chesapeake Bay, they make it to the secluded Smith and Tangiers islands. When Vanderhoof describes the mouth-watering soft-shelled crab sandwiches and crab cakes from the only place to eat blue crabs – Maryland – you will be drooling. The recipe may be worth a try, but as a former Marylander, I can’t imagine eating blue crabs outside of Maryland.

The book’s pace is ambling and easy; some of the details seem unnecessary, and there really is no story.  They end planning the next escape.

Despite the solitary beaches and amazing food, the work of sailing – with weather scares and close calls – demonstrates the courage of their undertaking. But the book is comfortable and can be taken in doses. If you make it to the end, you will be rewarded with one-pot coconut brownies.

In Hawaii – where I’ve escaped – on land (less work than Vanderhoof’s sail) – mangoes are dropping from the trees now; one local tree has the fruit wrapped in plastic bags to catch them as they drop – or maybe to keep passersby from picking the ripe fruit that hangs low. And the Honolulu Star-Advertiser ran a short piece with mango advice and recipes…

Vanderhoof has a new book with more recipes and new adventures – The Spice Necklace: My Adventures in Caribbean Cooking, Eating, and Island Life – might be worth another vicarious sail.