📖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)

📖East of the West:🍸crabapple mash

📖: 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.

crabapple mash

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 

for garnish:
apple slices 

  1. combine all ingredients in a mixing glass with ice, and stir
  2. pour into a bourbon glass, straining out the ice
  3. add ice
  4. 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)