📖Dear Diaspora: 🍸dream of green

book titled Dear Diaspora, propped next to a cocktail in a tall glass garnished with mint, cucumber, and Thai chili pepper

📖: Susan Nguyen’s Dear Diaspora (2021)
🍸: dream of green

Why this book?

Where is the beginning and where is the end — of memory? of grief? of youth? This collection of poems explores the tender edges of loss and longing, through a kaleidoscope of memories, from a girlhood full of desire. In a series of interconnected poems, Suzi — with her questions, Google searches, and letters to the diaspora — steps from the greenness of childhood into a new awareness of who she is, now with her father gone.

The way that the poems circled back and forth through different points in time makes the book feel like a dream. There is even a whole section that documents the stories of Vietnamese boat people through obituaries, letters, interviews, confessions, and memorials, rooting Suzi’s narrative within a larger chorus of voices throughout history. 

The book’s fluid movement through time is like a representation of what I’ve felt growing up in the Vietnamese diaspora. From the generation before us, we hear about the war, the fleeing, the place we left behind. The past bleeds into our present and future, and the things that happened before we were born somehow become our memories too.

When language can no longer contain the vastness of Suzi’s grief and desire, the poems turn to the lushness of nature. Through blades of grass, tree branches, open fields, and the green light of morning, Susan Nguyen’s voice shines. I look forward to reading more of Susan Nguyen’s writing!

Congratulations & happy #pubday, Susan! Thank you for gifting me a copy of your gorgeous book (I felt seen reading it), for co-creating this drink with me, and for giving it a fitting name — a reference to your poem “Dream of Double.”

Why this drink?

DEAR DIASPORA’s pairing is a spin-off of a mezcal mint julep. I incorporated greenery through the use of mint, cucumber, jasmine tea, and lime. I also added a touch of fish sauce and chili pepper, which, along with the fresh aroma of mint and cucumber, remind me of Vietnamese dishes like bánh xèo, bún chả giò, bánh cuốn…

closeup of two glasses of the "dream of green" cocktail, garnished with mint, cucumber, and Thai chili pepper
Susan mixed this drink at home and shared photos with me.
Love the use of the green peppers to stay on theme! 💖🥂
(photo by Susan Nguyen)

book titled Dear Diaspora by Susan Nguyen, propped next to a cocktail in a tall glass garnished with mint, cucumber, and Thai chili pepper

dream of green

2 oz mezcal
4-5 slices of cucumber
1/2 oz freshly squeezed lime juice
1/2 oz strongly brewed jasmine tea
~1/2 oz honey chili fish sauce syrup
(To make this syrup, combine 1/2 oz honey, 1/2 oz hot water, 5-6 thin slices of Thai chili pepper, and 2 drops of fish sauce, and stir until the honey dissolves.)*

for garnishes:
mint bouquet (4-6 sprigs), long cucumber wedge, generously slices of Thai chili pepper**

  1. In a steel tin or tall glass, muddle cucumber, and strain out the muddled cucumber, leaving behind the juices only.
  2. Rub the interior of the tin/glass with the mint bouquet to release the herb’s aromatic oils. Do not crush any of the mint leaves because this will result in a bitter taste.
  3. Add mezcal and approximately 1/3 oz of honey chili fish sauce syrup to the cucumber juice in the tin/glass, and stir gently with a bar spoon.
  4. Fill half the tin/glass with crushed ice, and stir for about 10 seconds until the outside of the tin/glass is frosted.
  5. Add lime juice and jasmine tea, add more crushed ice until the tin/glass is about 2/3 full, and briefly stir.
  6. Fill the rest of the tin/glass with crushed ice, until it’s heaping. Firmly pack the ice into the tin/glass to prevent rapid melting.
  7. Add the mint bouquet and a long wedge of cucumber for garnishes. Drizzle approximately 1/4 oz of the honey chili fish sauce syrup over the ice, and top with 2 thick slices of chili pepper.
  8. Enjoy with a straw!

Notes: 🥂
*When making the honey chili fish sauce syrup, add fish sauce at one drop at a time, and add more to taste, as needed.
**I used red Thai chili peppers, but you can use the green variety to add even more greenery to your drink!

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds (2016)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Mango and Peppercorns: 🍸hy vọng

📖: Tung Nguyen, Katherine Manning, and Lyn Nguyen’s Mango and Peppercorns (2021)
🍸: hy vọng

Why this book?

“Hy vọng,” which means hope in Vietnamese, is the name of the famed Vietnamese eatery that Tung Nguyen and Kathy Manning opened together in Miami in 1980. It all began shortly after the fall of Saigon in 1975, when self-taught cook Tung escapes Vietnam and arrives to live with Kathy, a grad student who volunteers to host displaced Vietnamese refugees. MANGO & PEPPERCORNS documents the ups and downs of how these two women built a business, life, and family together, across cultural differences.

This memoir includes 20 recipes that serve as a window into different points of Tung’s past life in Vietnam, her friendship with Kathy, and her daughter Lyn’s experience of growing up in their unique family. There are recipes for traditional Vietnamese fare, like phở and bún bò Huế – many of which are infused with Tung’s memories of Vietnam. There are also instructions for Tung’s original Hy Vong creations – like squid salad and chicken in pastry – that showcase the breadth of her culinary skills outside of VN cuisine.

In my family, no one keeps a written record of their recipes, so I was excited to hear about this new book. Now I can get my hands on instructions for Vietnamese dishes that I’m always so hungry for! 🤤

Why this drink?

In honor of Hy Vong’s special mango sauce, I made a mango margarita with peppercorns. The combination of these two ingredients “so different, yet somehow so right together,” just like Tung and Kathy.

hy vọng

2 oz mezcal
1.25 oz mango nectar
½ oz oz ginger syrup
1 oz lime
a dash of tumeric
salt, cayenne pepper, and peppercorn (use the green kind if available)

dried mango slice lightly coated with salt and cayenne pepper

  1. Rim your glass with a mixture of sea salt, cayenne pepper, and ground peppercorn.
  2. Shake all liquid ingredients and turmeric with ice.
  3. Strain into a chilled glass over fresh ice.
  4. Garnish with dried mango slice or fresh mango.

Another round, please! 🥂
You might also like:
Monique Truong’s The Book of Salt (2004)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖The Son of Good Fortune: 🍸hello city

📖: Lysley Tenorio’s The Son of Good Fortune (2020)
🍸: hello city

Why this book?

“I’m not here, I’m not really here.” Excel repeats this mantra to himself to escape from the present and become invisible. From an early age, Excel has learned that he and his mother Maxima are undocumented immigrants from the Philippines.

With his secrecy and fear, teenaged Excel feels like he can only go so far. He works at a local pizza shop, lives at home with Maxima instead of going to college, and spends most nights on the roof of their apartment alone. He lives by a freeway that has two Targets on either side, and one day, he walks from one storefront to the other, counting the 1,084 steps he took to “just to get to a place exactly the same as where [he] started.”

So when Excel sees an opportunity to move to Hello City with his new girlfriend, he takes it. He leaves Maxima behind without looking back, but circumstances force him to return to reconcile with his mother and reflect on the choices they’ve made and will continue to make as a family.

For me, this poignant novel felt like a modern spin on “The Prodigal Son,” with a focus on what it means to belong, be seen, and self-determine one’s future in a country where being undocumented is criminalized. Lysley Tenorio’s prose is clear and straightforward, and he balances the gravitas of this story with quirky details, wry humor, and a curious prologue that draws you in.

The portrayal of Excel and Maxima’s relationship was especially moving for me because Maxima — with her resourcefulness, sacrifices, and conviction — reminded me of my own mom, who immigrated to the US as a single parent. Maxima is such a multi-layered and unique character, and I still wanted to learn more about her by the time I reached the last page.

October is also Filipino American History Month, so I highly recommend picking up this novel and then following it up with Lysley Tenorio’s debut book Monstress if you haven’t yet!

Why this drink?

For this pairing, I chose a recipe with calamansi as a nod to Maxima and Excel’s Filipino roots. (This recipe comes from the now-closed Krystal’s Cafe 81 in NYC.)

hello city

1.5 oz mezcal
0.5 oz Cointreau
1 oz lime juice
1 oz calamansi juice
0.5 oz agave syrup
splash of orange juice

for garnish:
lime or calamansi wheel

  1. combine all other ingredients in a shaker, and shake with ice
  2. serve with ice
  3. garnish with a lime or calamansi wheel

Quarantine substitutions:
*If you don’t have any calamansi juice, you can sub it out for freshly squeezed orange juice.
*If you don’t have any agave syrup, use a simple or demerara syrup instead.

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Her Body and Other Parties: 🍸the green ribbon

📖: Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties (2017)
🍸: the green ribbon

Why this book?

Today is the last day of Latinx Heritage Month, and since it’s also spooky season 👻, I’m featuring Carmen Maria Machado’s debut collection of eight short stories that portray female sexuality, desire, power, and passion through a mix of both real and surreal horrors.

From an isolated artist residency colony in the woods to a remote island during a global pandemic (TOO real 😰), the varied settings for these stories alone make them creepy — not to mention the appearances of ghosts, a hook-handed killer, and faded women who reside in the seams of prom dresses! What could make these tales even scarier? So much of this collection seems to be about what can haunt us — whether it’s shame, guilt, self-hate, or trauma — and how much of these experiences are tied to the control, stigmatization, and erasure of women’s bodies in contemporary culture.

What I liked most about this book is Machado’s bold experimentation with different forms of storytelling. She weaves together pop culture horror tropes, folk tales, Gothic literary styles, and satire with unconventional narrative structures to create dark and erotic stories, sometimes with a cheeky edge. For example, one story is told completely through a series of episode synopses from a LAW & ORDER: SVU-like show, and in another, she adds stage directions, instructing readers to use specific voices for each character’s dialogue. In another instance, she even asks you, the reader, to “give a paring knife to the listeners and ask them to cut the tender flap of skin between your index finger and thumb” to recreate the sound and feeling of an obstetric procedure mentioned in the story. Yikes, that gave me chills!

Why this drink?

There was something intriguing and surprising about each story, so I gobbled up the entire collection like Halloween treats 🎃 This pairing is a reference to the opening story “The Husband Stitch”  — a clever retelling of “The Green Ribbon,” which comes from a scary old French tale that was later popularized by Washington Irving in 1824 and adapted for children by Alvin Schwartz in 1984. 😱 If you haven’t heard “The Green Ribbon” yet, I’d recommend reading Machado’s version first!

the green ribbon

1.5 oz mezcal
1 oz lime juice
0.5 oz triple sec
0.25 oz demerara sugar syrup
0.25 tsp matcha

for garnish:
black lava salt and lime wheel

  1. combine all other ingredients in a shaker, and shake with ice
  2. rim glass with black salt
  3. serve with ice, if desired
  4. garnish with lime wheel

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women (2017)

Let’s discuss!

Finished the book? What did you think about it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

📖Exit West:🍸open door

📖: Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (2017)
🍸: open door

Why this book?

To cross boundaries in the world of Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West, you need to first find an open door. This is no easy task: while many portals exist, it is uncertain which will actually transport you to a different place. Once you find one, you simply step through the threshold. You might end up in a woman’s bedroom closet in Australia, an abandoned mansion in England, or at a refugee camp in Greece. It doesn’t matter because what’s on the other side appears to be better than what you are leaving behind.

The novel’s main characters, Nadia and Saeed, harbor this hope as they hastily leave their war-torn country through a magic portal. During their journey of exile, they find that (not unsurprisingly) the “doors out, which is to say the doors to richer destinations, were heavily guarded, but the doors in, the doors from poorer places, were mostly left unsecured.”

To illustrate this, Hamid intersperses the couple’s story with vignettes of other individuals who move through “doors out” and “doors in.” In doing so, the author expands the novel beyond a story that is just about refugees to one that is also about the implications of global mass migration. It makes a statement about how “migrants” and “natives” see and treat each other upon arrival, once boundaries have been crossed and blurred.

What I love so much about this book is how marvelous, yet understated the magical realism is, because the book is not so much about the fantastic doors, how they work, or how it feels to move through that mode of transport. It is more about what happens before and after the threshold has been crossed. It is about how the choice to grant or deny entry to migrants says a lot more about the gatekeepers than about those who seek to step through.

Why this drink?

Like the open portals in the novel, this drink is magical! The secret is the butterfly pea flower infused syrup, which changes from blue to purple once we layer on the spirits and lime juice. Also, the book cover is eye-catching — so the drink should be, too.

open door

1.5 oz mezcal 
0.5 oz Italicus 
0.75 oz fresh lime juice 
2.5 oz still or sparkling water
1 oz butterfly pea flower infused simple syrup*

for garnish:
lime wedge

  1. combine and stir spirits in a mixing glass
  2. combine and stir lime juice and water in a separate glass
  3. pour butterfly pea flower syrup into a highball glass, and add ice
  4. add the alcohol mixture over the syrup and ice, then top with limeade
  5. garnish with lime wedge

**how to make butterfly pea flower infused simple syrup: Steep butterfly pea flowers in boiling water and wait until cool. Pour white granulated sugar and butterfly pea flower infused water into a pan (using a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio) 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. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007)

📖Difficult Women:🍸glass heart

📖: Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women (2017)
🍸: glass heart

Why this book?

To kick off Women’s History Month this March, I’m recommending one of my all-time favorite books, Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women, a collection of witty, poignant, and quirky short stories that feature a diverse group of women who are often deemed difficult by mainstream culture. The stories are as surprising and varied as the women they are about.

What makes this book such a rich reading experience is Gay’s use of language and storytelling. Her super sharp and funny observations can make you laugh out loud in one story, while her simple, unassuming details can evoke a deep sense of loss and vulnerability in another. As always, Gay’s writing is so sharp in its concision and precision, that upon finishing her short stories, I wish we had more words to read, and more women to meet.

Why this drink?

This drink takes its name from one of the stories in the book, “Requiem for a Glass Heart,” about a glass woman born from thunder striking on a sandy beach. Smoky, spicy, and salty, this cocktail is bold and uncompromising, like all the daring and “difficult” women in Gay’s short story collection. With a black salted rim and a rich pink hue from the blood orange, this drink is a perfect match for the book’s cover.

glass heart

2 oz mezcal
3 oz fresh blood orange juice
1 oz pureed dragonfruit
0.5 oz lime juice
0.5 oz Thai chili pepper infused demerara simple syrup*

for garnish:
Thai chili peppers
blood orange wheel
black lava salt
ground cayenne pepper

  1. rim glass with black lava salt & cayenne pepper**
  2. shake all ingredients with ice & pour into a coupe glass
  3. garnish with blood orange wheel & 2 thin slices of Thai chili pepper

*how to make chili-infused syrup: Pour demerara sugar and water into a pan (using a 2:1 sugar-to-water ratio) 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 with 2 chopped Thai chili peppers. Cover the jar with airtight lid until cool.

**how to rim a glass: Dip the rim of the glass in lime juice. On a plate, mix the salt & ground cayenne. Roll the rim of the glass in the salt/pepper mixture until the rim is fully coated.

if you do not like your drinks as spicy: Add fewer chili peppers to the infused syrup, or make it with no peppers at all. Go easy on the cayenne on the rim (it’s hotter than you think!) and omit the chili garnish if needed.

Another round, please! 🥂

You might also like:
Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (2014)