📖: Miroslav Penkov’s East of the West (2011)
🍸: crabapple mash
Why this book?
This month, we will be reading books about crossing boundaries. We will explore stories about individuals who leave their homes — to flee from the political instability and/or to seek more opportunities abroad.
Our first pick for April is Miroslav Penkov’s East of the West, a collection of short stories steeped in the Bulgarian writer’s longing for and memory of home. Each story is a refreshing (and often quirky) surprise, giving the reader a glimpse into the lives of individuals throughout the country’s history of political upheavals — from the era of Ottoman rule, the Balkan Wars, the rise and fall of communism, to the present day, when many young people (like Penkov) leave home for a better life abroad.
Penkov’s tales can be eccentric, funny, absurd, and dark all at the same time. For example, one of the stories is about a grandson in America who tries to order Lenin’s corpse from eBay for his communist grandfather in Bulgaria. After seeing that, how could I not pick up the book?
Why this drink?
This drink is inspired by that story I mentioned above, called “Buying Lenin.” In this tale, a Communist grandfather warns his grandson that reading too many books in English will turn his brains into “crabapple mash.” He tells his grandson to consume communist literature instead, lest he turn into a “rotten, capitalist pig.”
The drink’s apple-infused ingredients is a nod to this nugget of grandfatherly wisdom, and its red color is a reference to the grandfather’s political leaning. The cocktail is also a mashup of an Old Fashioned and Negroni — just like how Penkov’s short story collection is an unexpected mix of folklore, history, and intergenerational narratives.
1.5 oz mulled bourbon with apple, cinnamon, nutmeg, & black peppercorn*
1.5 oz Campari
0.5 oz dry vermouth
0.5 oz mashed apple simple syrup**
1-2 dashes orange bitters
- combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, and stir
- pour into a bourbon glass, straining out the ice
- add ice
- garnish with apple slices
*how to make mulled bourbon: Combine apple peels and chunks in a pot with bourbon. Add ground cinnamon, nutmeg, and black peppercorn, to taste. Simmer the mixture until almost boiling. Strain out the apple bits.
**how to make mashed apple simple syrup: Take the apple bits that were used to mull the bourbon. Muddle them until they turn into a pulpy mash. Pour white granulated sugar and water into a pan (using a 1:1 sugar-to-water ratio), add the apple mash, and heat the mixture on the stove until it starts to bubble. Once tiny bubbles start to appear, immediately take the boiling syrup off the stove and pour it into the into a glass jar, straining out the apple mash. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.
Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s The Thing Around Your Neck (2009)