Escape to the Caribbean with “An Embarrassment of Mangoes” by Ann Vanderhoof

by | May 26, 2021

blue ocean and beach
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Last updated on July 25th, 2023

Photo of Baie de Margot, St. Martin, by Conovane Tremor

What if you could just sail away to the Caribbean?

By Carolyn Ray, Editor

This is one book I haven’t been able to put down. Not only is it calling me to the Caribbean, but it’s also a treasure trove of tasty new cultural and culinary experiences, from Chesapeake Bay crabcakes to Bahamian conch to  Pina Colada Cheesecake.  Using the recipes scattered throughout the book, I couldn’t resist making the fried plantains with nutmeg and rum for dinner! Delicious!

Ann Vanderhoof’s An Embarrassment of Mangoes — an account of a two-year midlife break during which she sailed from Canada to the Caribbean — was an Amazon Top Ten Book of the Year for Travel and a national bestseller in Canada.  The book is described by Quill and Quire as “an odd mixture of a book – part travel journal, part culinary tour, part Cruising for Dummies (“cruising” is a term habitués use to describe life aboard a pleasure boat).”   From August 1997 to August 1999, Ann and her husband, Steve, sailed from Toronto to the Caribbean and back on a 42-foot sailboat named Receta, Spanish for “recipe.”

Theirs was the dream trip of every armchair traveller who’s ever eyeballed a yacht and wondered, “What if?” As I think about my plan to travel full-time, this one definitely hit a nerve, although I don’t think I would have Ann’s patience for living on a sailboat for two years! Would you?

About the Author

Ann writes for magazines such as Gourmet, Islands, and More. When she’s not on her sailboat, Vanderhoof lives in Toronto. An Embarrassment of Mangoes — an account of a two-year midlife break during which she sailed from Canada to the Caribbean — was an Amazon Top Ten Book of the Year for Travel and a national bestseller in Canada.

Her second travel memoir, In The Spice Necklace: A Food-Lover’s Caribbean Adventure (2010), Ann shares the sensory delights of travelling by water and preparing local dishes along the way. The recipes she includes have been tested in her tiny galley kitchen aboard Receta — everything from Stewed Lambi (conch) to Cream of Callaloo Soup to Piña Colada Cheesecake.

woman eating mango

Book Club Discussion Questions (June 16, 2021, 8 pm EDT)

  1. What’s your favourite part of the book?
  2. There are two parallel voyages in the book: Ann’s physical journey, from Toronto to the Caribbean and back, and her personal journey. Mangoes, in the broadest sense, is about making a change in one’s life. And about how that one basic change — in my case, quitting my job and heading south on a sailboat — was a pebble dropped into a pool, spreading ripples of change outward. How does Ann change as the book proceeds? Does her voice as the book’s narrator change?
  3. What advice would you give to someone who is contemplating doing something like Ann did? Have you ever done something like this?
  4. Which do you think was more difficult for Ann, making the decision to go — or coming back?
  5. Some reviews say that the “weather was another character in the book.” Ann says: “The weather was indeed an unpredictable character with whom I had a very personal, and emotional, daily relationship; a character that helped drive the direction and plot of the book and create dramatic tension.” What places have you been to where the weather created ‘dramatic tension’ in your travels?
  6. For Ann, sailing is a kind of escape. She also says that her passion for travel is connected to cooking: “the door it opens to new tastes, new ingredients, and new ways of preparing food. (My favourite place to buy souvenirs when I travel is the local grocery store and market.) For me, cooking is more than putting dinner on the table — it’s a way of unwinding after a hard day, sharing with family and friends, and escaping to other places when I can’t leave home.” What is your ‘escape’ when you travel? What things do you most enjoy?
  7. On the trip, Ann is constantly learning new things – what is a learning you have from your travels that has deepened your experience?

As the CEO and Editor of JourneyWoman, Carolyn is a passionate advocate for women's travel and living the life of your dreams. She leads JourneyWoman's team of writers and chairs the JourneyWoman Women's Advisory Council and Women's Speaker's Bureau. She has been featured in the New York Times, Toronto Star and Zoomer as a solo travel expert, and speaks at women's travel conferences around the world. In March 2023, she was named one of the most influential women in travel by TravelPulse and was the recipient of a SATW travel writing award in September 2023. She is the chair of the Canadian chapter of the Society of American Travel Writers (SATW), a member Women's Travel Leaders and a Herald for the Transformational Travel Council (TTC). Sometimes she sleeps. A bit.


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