They say: what you dare to dream, dare to do. Judging from the fact that almost every month, we get a letter from a Canadian Yachting reader who is about to chuck it all in and sail off into the tropical sunset, it is clear that we have lots of daring readers!
Quit your job, sell your house, kiss family and friends goodbye and set sail for the adventure of a lifetime. We suggest you give yourself a bit of time to plan and adjust though. It’s quite a jump from Bay Street to Montego Bay. Why not start by warming up to the tropics with some amazing island food and a good book?
That is what the Galley Guys are doing by preparing some of the island recipes taken from Ann Vanderhoof’s new book, called The Spice Necklace. Her first book, An Embarrassment of Mangoes, gathered great praise while undoubtedly encouraging more Canadian Yachting readers to depart for the Caribbean.
The Spice Necklace is sure to do the same. We invited Ann to join us in the galley last August to talk about her travels, tantalize us with a few of her recipes and encourage us with some great stories.
Her adventure began when Ann and her husband, Steve Manley, devised a five-year plan to leave their high-pressure jobs in Toronto and try out life down south. They bought a sailboat, rented out their house, put all their possessions in storage and sailed to the Caribbean on the two-year adventure that she detailed in An Embarrassment of Mangoes. But it didn’t take long after coming back to Toronto to decide on a return engagement with paradise. Six years later, after replenishing the cruising kitty, they sailed back to the islands. Ann’s second book, The Spice Necklace, which was released in Canada early in 2010, is the story of their adventures on this second voyage.
She was back in Canada this past summer, and the Galley Guys invited her to join us onboard (hoping she would bring along a sampling of her favourite recipes!).
As Ann started unloading ingredients (all available in Toronto, she told us), she described Receta, their 42-foot cutter-rigged sloop. “Receta” is Spanish for recipe, which is a clear indication of their interests. The passage in The Spice Necklace that describes provisioning the boat when they originally sailed from Toronto to the Caribbean will amuse any cruiser. She packed every nook and cranny with long-lasting North American canned goods, not truly realizing that of course there would be plenty of places to buy food in the Caribbean – and that it would be far more fresh, interesting and flavourful than the dull stuff stowed in their lockers!
But they caught on quickly enough once they were in the islands. Ann explained to us that food became their way of meeting strangers and making their way into the fabric of island life. As Ann said, “Food is a common language. Ask a question about an ingredient or a dish in one of the local markets, restaurants, or food stands and people want to help. We learned that food starts conversations.”
It sure got the conversation going with the Galley Guys the afternoon of our visit. She brought along a basket of ingredients to prepare four sample recipes for us: Happy Hour Blue Cheese Spread, Pickled Christophene Cubes, Mango Chow and Geera Pork and Lamb. Reflecting the relaxed pace of island life, the dishes Ann picked could all be served as finger foods, suitable for almost any time of day and perfect for entertaining new friends and acquaintances who find themselves on your boat.
Her samples instantly sold three copies of The Spice Necklace! The intense flavours are unforgettable and delicious. My favourite was the Happy Hour Blue Cheese Spread, served with crackers and slices of christophene (a pear-shaped relative of squash that’s also called chayote). I love blue cheese anyway, but combined with cream cheese and dark rum and sprinkled with pecans, I wanted to make a main course out of this appetizer!
The Pickled Christophene Cubes, Ann told us, are a good accompaniment to cocktails. Seasoned with lime, garlic, onions, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and cilantro, they packed some real heat, thanks to Scotch Bonnet peppers, a close relative of the habañero. As she put together a bowl of Mango Chow – a quick-to-make hors d’oeuvre that uses under-ripe mangoes – she explained these dishes would be called “cutters” in Trinidad – because they “cut” the hunger when you’re having drinks.
The sampling of Pork and Lamb Geera was also mouth-watering. The meat is seared in demerara sugar that’s been caramelized until it’s dark brown, and then seasoned with geera – ground roasted cumin seeds – and hot pepper sauce. Ann served the pieces of meat on skewers, to be dipped in either a mango chutney or a hotter tamarind chutney.
Clearly, these are unique recipes from the islands, yet Ann has been able to easily locate the ingredients in Toronto, and other large centres are likely as well to have what you need to try out the fabulous recipes from The Spice Necklace.
However, the book is also a detailed and compelling story of how Ann and Steve ventured far from the beaten path and into the real island life where they have made many new friends and experienced the sort of Caribbean adventure that so many people dream of.
Happy Hour Blue Cheese Spread
This quick spread became a favorite on Receta when we got to St. Martin, because the store shelves are laden with wonderful French cheeses. I like to make it with creamy, mild Forme d’Ambert, but you can use whichever blue cheese you prefer. Although it’s excellent served with slices of firm pear—also imported and available in St. Martin’s marchés—for a real island twist, I serve it with thin fingers of christophene (chayote) along with crackers, breadsticks or slices of toasted baguette.
4 oz. cream cheese
6-8 oz. Forme d’Ambert or other mild, creamy blue cheese
1 tbsp. dark rum
1/4 cup chopped pecans
Crackers, breadsticks, or slices of toasted baguette
1 Small Christophene (chayote), Peeled and Sliced
1. Combine cream cheese, about 6 oz. of the blue cheese, and the rum in a small bowl and mash with a fork until mixture is smooth. Taste and add a bit more blue cheese if desired.
2. Cover and refrigerate until just before serving to give flavors a chance to blend.
3. Return spread to room temperature before serving. Mound in a small bowl and sprinkle with chopped pecans. Serve with crackers and christophene slices.
Makes about 1 cup.
Excerpted from The Spice Necklace: A Food-Lover’s Caribbean Adventure. Copyright 2010 by Ann Vanderhoof. Published by Doubleday Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
By Galley Guys Greg Nicoll, John Armstrong and Andy Adams