Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Vanderhoof's Spice Necklace

The Spice Necklace / Ann Vanderhoof
Toronto: Doubleday, c2010.
480 p.

I read the first book by this author, An Embarrassment of Mangoes, quite a few years back and recall thinking it was okay, nothing special. Rich people running off for a year in the tropics, ho hum. Of course, back then I rarely read nonfiction and was not such a big fan of food writing. So when I received this book from the publisher, I thought, oh, that looks interesting, and promptly put it aside.

However, I began to read it over my break and realized it was actually really great fun. This book details the second trip Ann Vanderhoof and her husband took around the Caribbean, a two year hiatus in their sailing boat, leaving behind their busy Toronto lives. It details all the people they have met in their sojourns, fascinating people in unfamiliar surroundings. And for each chapter, which revolve around spices, there are three or four recipes at the close. Yummy recipes. I've already marked a few that I want to try out, including Grenadian Spice Bread, a loaf made with nutmeg (Grenada's primary export), rum and chocolate, irresistible, really.

The writing is fluid and entertaining, and had a lot more information about the places they visited and the people from those places than about their own angst and reasons for fleeing Toronto again. Which was nice. I was certainly more interested in their actual experiences than their reasons for visiting in the first place! Each island is really brought to life with descriptions of flora and fauna, a bit of history, some particular food that each place is known for, and of course, the people who live there. The stories of Ann and her husband trying out 140 proof alcohol made me laugh, and the stories of their randomly coming across amazing fry bread just made my mouth water. Luckily the recipe was included.

I enjoyed this book, finding it a good one to pick up and put down in between other readings, and I've found a bunch of new recipes to try out (even if there were a lot of things a vegetarian had to overlook...). It's even made me want to go back and reread her first book again, to see if my older self has a different opinion than my younger self did. This reading experience felt like a holiday in itself, and brought the locations they visited into three dimensional life. Really enjoyable.
***Addendum: until March 10, Canadians can enter to try to win a copy of this book from the publisher...Good luck!


  1. I also liked the first book by this author and will have to check this one out; great review---thanks

  2. I'm always on the lookout for interesting travel memoirs, so I'll have to remember this one. Thanks!

  3. Love the title and the cover!

    I'm curious...did the book feel culturally sensitive? I know that that's a ridiculously PC term, but I've gotten really into Caribbean lit in the last year, so the setting makes me a bit nervous.

  4. "like a holiday in itself"...sold! I've been meaning to pick this one up.

  5. Diane - I have only vague memories of reading the first one, but I am serious that I want to go back to it now.

    softdrink - it is quite a trip, 2 yrs travelling around the Caribbean on their boat...worth a read for sure.

    B.Kienapple - happy I had a hand in convincing you...and let us know if you try any of the recipes. Grenadian Spice bread is on my to-do list :)

    Eva - I think it is culturally sensitive, in that they are friends with a number of locals and tell their stories without too much of themselves in it. That said, it is a book by and about Ann and Steve, so of course their experiences do shape the tale. But I felt like you got a good feel for each island and the inhabitants and way of life without judgement or stereotype overtaking the narrative.

  6. Great review! Now I want to read it!

  7. I'm seeing (and hearing) Ann Vanderhoof everywhere this weekend! I saw her at a cookbook store in Toronto yesterday, and heard her interviewed on the CBC this morning.

    I had won a proof copy of the book from the publisher a while ago, for review, and am only a few chapters into it. But I'm finding what you observed: that it's a great book for picking up and putting down. Each chapter is its own fascinating tale, both about the local culture and about the foods Ann and Steve discovered in specific places.

    I'm really looking forward to getting further into the book. I just love the interweaving of the food theme with the descriptions of the daily lives of the people these two encounter in these islands.

  8. Aleksandra - I hope you get a chance to read it, it was entertaining & enjoyable.

    Phyl - I am so jealous: I saw she was going to be at the Cookbook store & wished I could be there. I also liked how each chapter stood alone and was so evocative of the area they were in at the time.

  9. fabulous mix: travel and food! Plus my parents used to sail in the Caribbean quite often. I think I'll get this for my mom.

  10. This sounds quite fascinating. I love learning about spices.


Thanks for stopping by ~ I always enjoy hearing your comments so please feel free to leave some!