December 8, 2012

The Spice Necklace: A Food-Lover's Caribbean Adventure

This book is a great follow-up to Ann Vanderhoof's An Embarrassment of Mangoes which I'd read and enjoyed some time ago. Both books are about years the author and her husband spent sailing around the Caribbean, and especially about the foods they discovered and learned to cook.

I admired the book immensely for its diligent focus and beautiful organization. The chapters really hang together, with themes like chocolate, spices, cocktails, seafood, foods eaten at Carnival, Christmas, etc. yet they are so well-written and varied, with trips to the various islands woven in, that I never got to thinking, "That's enough about chocolate." Well, OK, bad example.

It is a travel book and it does get you excited about visiting the islands of the West Indies, but more than that, it's a book about people and above all, about the food they cook and enjoy. Vanderhoof and her husband are sociable; they get to know people on the islands, visit them in their homes, and especially learn to cook their food. Every chapter ends with three or four or more mouth-watering recipes. I cooked two of them, and both were good, although the chicken one (with onions, tomatoes, chutney, peanuts, cilantro, coconut milk, lots of garlic, etc.) called for whole chicken pieces, so it was greasy, and next time I'd adapt it and use my usual boneless skinless.

True to its title, the book is an amazing chronicle of spices of all kinds, inspiring me to kick it up a notch with my seasonings. Fresh-ground nutmeg, which I have never used, is often featured, along with limes, ginger, cilantro, lots of hot peppers, and even surprisingly, curry, from the islands' multicultural past and present.

The author's website reflects the relaxed and happy tone of the book and includes gorgeous photos of her Caribbean adventures and even a few recipes.

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