📖The Coffin Tree: 🍸living things

📖: Wendy Law-Yone’s The Coffin Tree (1983)
🍸: living things

Why this book?

The Coffin Tree is Wendy Law-Yone’s first book and novel. The daughter of a well-known publisher, editor and politician in Burma, Law-Yone left her home as a stateless person and resettled in the U.S. in the early 1970’s. Her background and experience as a refugee influence her work, particularly in The Coffin Tree, which is about a young woman and her half-brother who escape Burma after a political coup. After arriving in America, they are deeply affected by the trauma of resettling in a nation that is unkind and indifferent to migrants like them. The novel follows the psychological unraveling and recovery of the protagonist, for whom memory serves as both a source of trauma and healing. This book is a key work in the Asian American canon that explores mental illness through the experience of assimilation.

Why this drink?

The first line in Wendy Law-Yone’s novel is: “Living things prefer to go on living” — opening up a story about Burmese refugees, mental illness, trauma, and resettlement.

In Burma, toddy is a spirit made from the fermented sap of palm trees, called toddies. Since I can’t get my hands on real toddy, I created a hot toddy as a nod to the author’s Burmese American background. To include some kind of tree sap in this cocktail, I used maple syrup infused with lemongrass and ginger. Both whiskey and rum are popular spirits in Burma, so try this out using either spirit and let me know which you like best!

living things

1.5 oz whiskey (or try a black spiced rum instead!)
2-2.5 oz English breakfast tea 
0.5 tbsp lemon juice 
2-3 tsp maple syrup infused with ginger and lemongrass, to taste

for garnish:
thin slivers of fresh ginger, lemon wheel, & lemongrass stick 

  1. steep English breakfast tea in 2-2.5 oz of hot water
  2. combine all ingredients in a mixing glass and stir well until the maple syrup fully dissolves
  3. serve in a heat-proof glass or mug
  4. garnish with fresh ginger, lemon wheel, and lemongrass

*To make the ginger and lemongrass infused maple syrup, heat your favorite maple syrup in a pan over low heat until the syrup becomes liquid. Pour the liquid over freshly grated ginger and sliced lemongrass in a jar and tightly seal it until cool. Strain out the ginger and lemongrass after the syrup cools.

Quarantine substitutions:
No English breakfast tea? Any black tea will do! Or experiment with another tea of your choice.

No fresh ginger or lemongrass? Use powdered ginger instead, and you can omit the lemongrass.

If you do not have maple syrup, make a demerara simple syrup by boiling a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water in a pan, just until bubbles appear. While still boiling hot, pour the syrup over the ginger and lemongrass in a jar and tightly seal it until cool. Strain out the ginger and lemongrass after the syrup cools.

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees (2006)

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