For the current edition of Cook the Books, we are reading Ann Vanderhoof’s An Embarrassment of Mangoes: A Caribbean Interlude. In the book, Vanderhoof recounts her and her husband's voyage from Toronto to the West Indies in their sailboat, Receta. An interesting voyage, certainly, though not one I would like to embark upon, for various reasons, the first one being that, while I am completely comfortable in the water, I am a lot less so on a boat.
Besides sailors, divers also enjoy visiting the Caribbean. A little piece of my heart is in that part of the world, on Little Cayman, the smallest of the Cayman Islands. We visited it the first time during our honeymoon and have returned every year ever since. During our second visit, we obtained our open-water certification and became divers. I am not yet an underwater photographer, so I have no photos of the island's famous dive sites and their inhabitants. However, if you are interested, here are a couple of videos I found on YouTube, which should give you a sense of what it means to "dive the wall":
- Bloody Bay Wall (the statement about the restaurant is not quite accurate)
- Marilyn's Cut
- Great Wall West
By the way, turtles are noisy when they feed. And eagle rays are amazingly elegant. If you keep still, they may swim very close to you (and truly make your day).
Of the places along Vanderhoof's route, we visited Dominica. Besides diving (on the Caribbean side of the island), during our stay, we did a fair amount of hiking in the rain forest. Dominica is a beautiful volcanic island. While there, one evening, we saw a moonbow, a.k.a. lunar rainbow, which is "produced by light reflected off the surface of the moon rather than from direct sunlight" (source: Wikipedia). We went whale watching on a fishing boat and at some point we found ourselves surrounded by a pod of them (I counted eight whales), standing still on the surface, an utterly amazing experience. We saw beautiful nature both on land and underwater (for example, we dove a nice site called Champagne on New Year's Day). We will not go back, though, as other things of our trip left us with less than pleasant memories. You can see some photos of Dominica on this page of Ann Vanderhoof's site.
As you know, the Caribbean area is subject to hurricanes. In recent years, Little Cayman has been hit more than once and has recovered quite well every time. The resort where we stay (Pirate's Point) is closed during hurricane season. However, we have been there many times during the Holidays and winter can serve you some fairly bad weather. One Christmas Day, this is what we saw from the back porch of our room:
It's a waterspout. The most amazing thing was that a couple of hours after this photo was taken, we were all diving and the sun was shining. I ♥ Little Cayman. I have more images of the island on this page.
As for the cooking component of the event, my plan was to make cream of callaloo soup, based on the recipe given by Vanderhoof. I have actually eaten callaloo while in Little Cayman. Instead of the suggested spinach as a substitute for callaloo, I used mostly baby colored chard and some red Russian kale from my garden. I made some changes to the recipe given by Vanderhoof and the result was disappointing. We ate it, and with all the fresh, organic greens it was very nutritious, but it was not a dish I want to talk about. I am sure the less than pleasing result was due to the changes I made to the original recipe, and therefore, I am planning to make the soup again and follow more closely the given instructions.
I then went back to what had been, after reading the book's title, my original choice: mango sorbet.
We actually experienced "an embarrassment of mangoes" once, but in a different part of the world, namely Australia. We ate our first mango there after hiking to Cook's Look, on Lizard Island, in the Great Barrier Reef. Our guide had brought mangoes for breakfast and he showed us how to cut them into small cubes: up until that point, my experience with mangoes had been nil and I got excited. From that day until our departure from Australia, we ate a lot of freshly picked mangoes (this page has some information on mangoes in Australia).
The mangoes we buy in the stores in California are imported and I find that they are not as good as the ones we tasted in Australia. Also, I find that often, instead of ripening, they become brown inside and at that point they are only good for the compost bin. Luckily, I was able to get two mangoes that reached a nice stage of ripening and became the main ingredient for this sorbet that I have been making for many years with success.
The recipe is from my one and only ice cream and sorbet book: Frozen Dessert, by Caroline Liddell and Robin Weir. You can find the recipe here. To make the syrup (sciroppo), I bring half a cup of water to a boil and then pour it into a jar where I have already measured 125 g (4.5 oz.) of sugar (zucchero). I mix well, let cool, and then use it. The resulting quantity is more than the 200 ml I needed for the recipe (I had 400 ml of puréed mango). In terms of lemon juice (succo di limone), I always use less: this time, I juiced half of a plump Meyer lemon (of which I have a nice supply, thanks to my dear friend Alice and her productive Meyer lemon tree).
This is a really nice sorbetto, very easy to make and a with a clean, fresh flavor. I serve the sorbet fresh out of the ice cream machine and freeze what is left over. (The serving in the photo above is not "fresh out of the ice cream machine," because when I churned the sorbet, it was too late in the day to do a photo-op.)
Final note: In browsing Ann Vanderhof's site, I found this entry on her blog, where she talks about a recent visit to a restaurant on St. Lucia, where, among other things, she had, guess what? mango sorbet!
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the sorbetto al mango audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]