Moon Flowers, Time Travel, and Millennials at Sea

Serving booktails for Shirley Jackson Award-nominated MOONFLOWER; ANNIE AND THE WOLVES by Andromeda Romano-Lax; Elizabeth Gonzalez James' MONA AT SEA; NO HEAVEN FOR GOOD BOYS by Keisha Bush, and more

Welcome back to The Cauldron! (Bubble bubble)

If you follow me on social media, you know I’ve been brewing up “booktails” like crazy. The Library catalogue is growing so fast, I’m amazed I can keep up. (I mean, I think I’m keeping up…) This means I can’t share every single recipe in each post, but hang on. I will share all your favorites! You’re also free to message me to request a specific recipe.

Before we get to the booktails, I should probably tell you what’s up with my book, THE GOLD PERSIMMON, coming October 5. The wonderfully talented Jen Sikora, to whom I am lucky enough to be married, has designed the compendium of the six cocktails and corresponding mocktails I crafted to accompany the novel, which you’ll receive as a gift if you pre-order. (Why is pre-ordering important? All pre-orders count towards the first week of sales, which determines who places where on bestseller lists. Bookstores also take note. As you know, if something appears successful, that only garners more attention.)

This compendium features the very first booktails I ever created and they are sexy, mysterious, and 100% intoxicating. (No lie. Some of them will knock you on your tuchus.) So please support small presses run by fierce women and order my novel! Or tell your friends to order it! Or your mom! Who will probably find my book weird and ask you what’s all this stuff about sex and dead people, but hey, it’s a conversation-starter!

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Looking for other ways to support my book? That’s easy!

  1. Mark it as to-read on Goodreads

  2. Request the book through your local library or indie bookseller

  3. Post about it on social media (Please tell your friends! Please! I mean it!)

Ok, shameless plug over. On to the recipes!

First up…

This is a startling, surreal, and strangely beautiful collection of fabulist, queer stories and one novella, (where the world has turned into a giant, ever-growing shopping mall, with dangerous magic along the borders.) MOONFLOWER was just nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award, a much-deserved honor, which prompted me to design this booktail.

The florals in this refreshing cocktail complement the book’s botanical imagery and themes, while the absinthe lends an opalescent sheen. The combination is entrancing, just like the book.

I presented this drink atop a moon-like marble platter covered in lavender and blue sugar. In the background are the phases of the moon, also rendered in blue sugar.

MOONFLOWER, NIGHTSHADE, ALL THE HOURS OF THE DAY

Ingredients

1 oz gin 

4 tsp absinthe

.5 oz lavender syrup (see recipe)

.5 oz elderflower (I prefer D’Arbo brand)

.5 lemon juice 

Dry champagne

Instructions

Combine gin, absinthe, lavender, elderflower, and lemon in a shaker with ice. Agitate vigorously, until shaker turns frosty. Strain into a champagne flute or coupe glass and top with champagne. 

LAVENDER SYRUP

Ingredients

1 cup water

1 cup white sugar

¼ cup dried organic lavender

Instructions

Stir all ingredients together in a small pot. Cover and bring to a boil. Then simmer for 15-20 minutes, uncovered. Set aside to cool, then strain into a clean glass or jar. Keep refrigerated. 

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If a novel were a building and a writer an architect, this book would be a masterpiece on par with the Guggenheim. Historian Ruth McClintock is obsessed with Annie Oakley, a fixation that only deepens after she suffers a fateful accident, one that parallels a harrowing experience in Oakley’s own life. When Ruth starts having visions, she begins to figure out the mysteries of Oakley’s past, including her practice of a kind of time travel. But there’s another event on this timeline, something dark and terrible that’s not happening in the past, but the future. This historical-but-not, multi-narrative novel is a must-read!

Annie Oakley was sharp, talented, and not at all a drinker. So this mocktail is elegant in a way she would appreciate, with a bit of tartness and fizz, perfect for a picnic of any era.

ANNIE AND THE WOLVES

Ingredients

2 oz elderflower syrup (I recommend D’arbo brand)

1 oz strawberry syrup (see recipe below)

2 oz lemon juice 

Sparkling water

Mint 

Instructions 

Once the strawberry syrup is ready, add ice, both syrups, and lemon juice to a cocktail shaker. Agitate vigorously for about 10 seconds. Strain into a glass of your choice, such as a martini or coupe, and top with sparkling water. Garnish with a sprig of mint. 

STRAWBERRY SYRUP

Ingredients

2 cups water

1 cup sliced strawberries

1 cup white sugar

.5 oz lemon juice

1/4 tsp rose water (optional)

Dash of cinnamon

Instructions

Stir together all ingredients in a small pot. Cover and bring to a boil, then uncover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the fruit is soft. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain into a clean jar and keep refrigerated. 

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Mona is an excellent student with an excellent job in finance lined up to launch her post-college career. Then the recession hits and she finds herself living at home, trapped in the middle of her parents’ crumbling marriage. Her mother tells her to buck up and attend sad workshops for the unemployed in a church basement, while her dad tries to surreptitiously buy her some weed. She’s snarky and bitter and feels cheated out of the future she was promised. I loved Mona’s sharp wit and meanness, which serve as a shield to hide her fragility and emotional chaos. Read it and see. (Sea?)

For this cocktail, I chose tequila and Blue Curaçao over the traditional Triple Sec or Grand Marnier combo for it’s blue, sea-like look. Coconut water helps blend the flavors and, next to avocado toast, it’s the perfect symbol of Millennial pretension and privilege, or what is perceived as such. Chili powder adds a touch of spice, while coffee cacao bitters are a nod to the coffee Mona is constantly consuming.

In presenting this drink, I chose a reflective base and intentionally used the “wrong” glass (a tall beer glass) to make the vessel fronting this “tableau of woe” seem larger than life. Also, what 20-something has cocktail glasses? (The recipe will not yield this volume, just FYI. But feel free to double, or triple it. Mona probably would.) In the background are self-help books, plus a copy of Sartre’s “No Exit” (“hell is others.”) I also included a pipe and lighter to reference the weed-smoking Mona can’t afford. The pipe is complementary in color, with eyes painted on the bowl and along the stem that are perhaps meant to ward off bad luck, but also reference the opening of the third eye, or inner eye to the self. Seeing ourselves clearly is perhaps the most difficult sight of all.  

MONA AT SEA

Ingredients

1.5 tequila blanco

1 oz Blue Curaçao 

1 oz coconut water 

Dash chili powder 

A few dashes coffee-cacao bitters (or few drops each of coffee bitters and chocolate bitters) 

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a shaker with ice. Agitate vigorously until the shaker feels frosty. Strain and pour into a martini glass. 

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Ronit Plank was born on a kibbutz in Israel where she enjoyed freedom, comfort, and stability. But when her parents moved the family back to the States, things began to fall apart. Soon, her father left. A year later, her mother sent Ronit and her sister to live with him. Meanwhile, she headed off to India to join the infamous cult of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. In her memoir, Ronit loses her mother not just once, but over and over as her mother darts in and out of her life, leaving this child to wonder, what should she do, how should she be in order to make her mother want to stay? Unsurprisingly, this memoir broke my heart. I cried through it, I had revelations about my own childhood and need for acceptance, and yet I was comforted by the story as well.

Those born in Israel are called “sabras,” which means prickly pear. So of course the cocktail needed to include prickly pear syrup. The saffron is a nod to India and the yellow garb of the sannyasins, Bhagwan’s followers. Saffron is also a unique flavor. It has a way of dominating if it’s not well balanced. The sour lemon, a symbol of the pains of life, helps temper and complement the saffron and makes space for the prickly pear to step forward. The chai bitters (also Indian but ubiquitous in America now) are a great complement to all. Lastly, I employed seltzer, which is German originally, but I chose it to represent NYC's melting pot. It has no flavor but it's a bubbly mixer, so you can't miss it, even as it smooths everything else out.

When presenting this cocktail, I chose to separate the ingredients into layers for the visual effect. I recommend mixing the layers before drinking for the best results.

WHEN SHE COMES BACK

Ingredients

1.5 oz chilled vodka

.5 oz lemon juice 

2 tsp prickly pear syrup   

1 tsp saffron syrup (see recipe) 

1.5 oz seltzer to top 

A few drops of chai bitters (or clove/cardamom bitters)

Instructions

Once your saffron syrup is cool, build the cocktail in a clean martini glass. To achieve a layered effect, gently pour in each ingredient from a measuring cup—or other vessel with a spout—over the back of a long spoon. You may allow the spoon to rest against the side of the glass but don’t dip it into the liquid. 

First, pour in the prickly pear syrup. Next, slowly add the vodka, then the lemon juice. Once the juice settles, add the saffron syrup, which will sink to the bottom, though the lemon juice will keep it from altering the colors. Lastly, carefully top with the seltzer and add a few drops of the bitters. 

Using a spoon, gently mix the layers before enjoying in order to get the full effect of the complex flavor palette. It’ll turn raspberry when you do, another transformation.

SAFFRON SYRUP

Ingredients

1 cup granulated sugar

1 cup water

¼ tsp saffron

Instructions

To make the syrup, combine all ingredients in a small saucepan, cover, and bring to a boil. Lower heat and allow to simmer for 20 minutes uncovered. Then remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Strain into a clean jar, cover and keep refrigerated.

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In No Heaven for Good Boys, a seven year-old is sent from his village to the bustling city of Dakar, where he joins his cousin on the streets begging for money to support their marabout, a man who is supposed to give his charges a moral and spiritual education, but instead instructs them in the ways of abuse and neglect. Separated from his mother, who is desperate for his return, Ibrahim is caught up in the many dangers and contradictions of an adult world he doesn’t yet understand. This is a powerful, moving novel. There’s also some magic at work.

Food and drink play a huge role in this book. It’s more than sustenance, it’s about culture, comfort, and security. So as I designed this recipe, I thought about the flavor’s mentioned in the text, like those in the popular Senegalese drinks bissap and gingembre. The resulting drink contains tastes of hibiscus—which is quite sour on its own—ginger, tamarind, and orange blossom. The base is tequila, granting an overall effect of a refreshingly tart hibiscus-tamarind margarita, but it’s made frosé-style, using a tequila slush as a base.

NO HEAVEN FOR GOOD BOYS

Ingredients

1.5 oz tequila blanco

1 oz water

.5 oz lime juice 

4 tsp hibiscus syrup (see recipe) 

1 Tbsp tamarind paste

A few dashes orange blossom bitters

1 large cube of ice, crushed

Mint to garnish

Instructions 

First, prepare the hibiscus syrup. Once the syrup is cool, make the tequila slush. In a shallow, freezer-proof dish, whisk together the syrup, water, and tequila blanco. Multiple the measurements to prepare multiple servings. (Please note the more volume you add, the harder it is for the mixture to freeze so consider using multiple containers or a shallow baking pan if you’re making a batch for more than 3 people.) Cover and freeze for 6 hours, or until slushy-like. 

Once the slush is ready, crush one ice cube for each serving and add to the blender, along with an additional .5 oz lime juice and 1 Tbsp tamarind paste per serving, plus a few dashes of the bitters. Blend on low until smooth. Pour into a coupe glass and garnish with fresh mint. 

HIBISCUS SYRUP 

Ingredients 

2 cups water

½ white sugar 

¼ cup brown sugar

⅓ cup dried hibiscus flowers (available at your local tea shop, or at a variety of online retailers, like Etsy)

1 Tbsp ginger paste

4 Tbsp lime juice

¼-½ tsp rose water

Instructions

Combine all ingredients in a pot and cover, then bring to a boil. Uncover, reduce heat, and let simmer until sugars dissolve and the flowers soften, 20-25 minutes. Some of the liquid will evaporate and the mixture will thicken slightly. Remove from heat and let stand for another 15 minutes as the flowers continue to steep. 

Strain the syrup and discard all solids. Allow to cool completely, then store in a bottle or jar and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Enjoy the syrup in cocktails, sodas, baked goods, or to flavor sauces and marinades.

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Got questions? Ask a mixologist!

Do you have booze in the house but no obvious mixers? Did someone gift you a bottle of weird liqueur you don’t know what the heck to do with? Wondering if the kind of glass you use for your cocktail actually matters? Ask me! I love mixology questions and I have yet to be stumped.

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