Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Review: The Spice Necklace

The flap reads: Spices and herbs are the heart and soul of Caribbean cooking, adding more to the pleasures of the table here than perhaps more than anywhere else. In The Spice Necklace, award-winning food and travel writer Ann Vanderhoof embarks on a voyage of culinary discovery, as she follows her nose (and her taste buds) into tiny kitchens and fragrant markets, through rainforest gardens and to family cook-ups on the beach, linking each food to its traditions, folklore, and history.

Oh man, did I ever enjoy this book! Now, when I think of Caribbean cooking, the word "jerk" immediately comes to mind, and I am not a fan of spicy foods at all. But The Spice Necklace really opened my eyes up to the enormous variety and versatility in Caribbean cuisine. Actually, the word "jerk" doesn't even appear in this volume, which surprised me; but then again, Receta (Spanish for recipe), Ann and her husband Steve's boat, didn't travel to Jamaica in this book, sticking instead to the Windward and Leeward Islands, which include Trinidad & Tobago, Grenada, Martinique, St. Kitts & Nevis, and Dominica, amongst others. Having taken a two-year break from their bustling lives in Toronto, Ann & Steve embark upon a sailing adventure around the Caribbean, eating, cooking, and discovering a cuisine as they go.

Ann & Steve don't just stay on their boat, either, enjoying the more immediate luxuries of freshly caught fish and local markets. They often rent a lemony vehicle and drive well off the beaten tourist path to seek out the most unique culinary experiences a particular island has to offer. They endure a horrendous drive in the Dominican Republic to taste dishes made with local goats who feed on wild oregano; they hunt fresh water crayfish in the rain forest of Dominica; they seek out decadent tarts called "The Torments of Love," a specialty of Guadaloupe; and they eat a vegetarian and locally-foraged Rastafarian feast back in Dominica. They visit rum distilleries, cocoa and vanilla plantations, and while all this is happening, Ann provides a fascinating glimpse into the production, history, folklore, and personal stories of the people who make, grow, harvest, and cook a seemingly endless array of exotic ingredients - many of which we take for granted here in North America.

Each chapter is a delight and I found myself so looking forward to whatever Ann & Steve encountered next in their travels because I knew it would be something cool and unexpected. I was never disappointed. And bonus - this book comes with over 70 recipes, too! I plan on having a Spice Necklace-inspired family dinner using recipes from the book!

The one recipe I have made already is the Grenadian Banana Bread with Chocolate, Nutmeg, and Rum, found on page 21. I even went to the liquor store to buy rum (though I didn't want to invest in a relatively expensive bottle of dark rum when I could get a mini of amber rum for $7). This banana bread is unlike any I've ever had before; the spices hit the back of your mouth just as the rum starts tingling on the tip of your tongue. This is no mere banana bread; it's a sensual experience to savour. Kind of like the book!

The only thing I didn't like about this book was that (apart from not having any pictures in it), it didn't have an index, and I found myself quite frustrated at time trying to keep information straight in my mind because I couldn't easily reference it via an index.

Nevertheless, this book is a keeper, and despite its lack of photos, Ann has a web site here where she has a photo gallery.

1 comment:

Kim said...

This sounds like a really good read. Plus, I love that it actually has recipes too. I love to bake with rum. I bet that banana bread was wonderful


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