How crappy is your weather right now? As a Michigander, my weather is unfortunate, but not shockingly so. We are a resilient people, accustomed to bouncing between winter and spring weather for months.
I’m also very lucky. Many of the surrounding areas have had power outages for days due to a recent ice storm, but I only had my power flicker, which means my oven and microwave have been blinking the wrong time for days, as I am deeply lazy and probably won’t fix it for a month.
If you are currently reluctant to brave the outside and its moody temperatures, may I suggest you pour yourself a cocktail (this one in particular) and open a good book. A book you have been looking forward to reading or a book that you have read a dozen times, it doesn’t matter. Just escape. You deserve it.
Chai concentrate is sold in cartons in the tea aisle. Tazo is probably the easiest to find, but there are dozens of store brands out there. If you prefer not to buy a carton of chai, just brew a very strong chai tea with several bags of chai and add some sweetener. As for the whiskey and amaretto, I used Bulleit rye and Disaronno, but use whatever you like.
2 oz chai concentrate
¾ oz half and half
1 oz rye whiskey
½ oz amaretto
In a cocktail shaker full of ice, combine all ingredients and shake vigorously. Pour into a cocktail glass with ice and garnish with a cinnamon stick.
This recipe was inspired by a port old fashioned I had in Columbus (possibly Dublin, OH?) when I was in Ohio visiting my fabulous cousins. I wish I remembered the name of the restaurant, which was cute and had delicious food. This is a great recipe for an Old Fashioned (or Manhattan) drinker who wants a more festive variation for the holidays. Or for someone who wants to ease into drinking whiskey.
I’m a big believer in customizing recipes, even cocktail recipes, to individual taste. If you are not accustomed to drinking whiskey, you might want to do 2 oz of port and 1 oz whiskey, while a regular whiskey drinker might do the reverse. For most people, I think equal parts whiskey and port will be ideal.
In 1978, Violet and Eric Hildreth are being raised by their grandmother, the renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Helen Hildreth. The children are self sufficient and home schooled and mostly left to pursue their own interests. And their interest is monsters. Vi and Eric are the only two members of the Monster Club, which is writing its own survival guide. “There are two main types of monsters,” they write. The first know they are monsters and the second have no idea and pass as human. Violet and Eric are distracted from their usual summer schedule of monster hunting, library trips, and sneaking into the local drive-in when Gran brings home a girl. A girl who wears a hat to hide scars on her head and who Gran tells them to treat as a sister.
In 2019, Lizzy Shelley has left her childhood name and identity behind, having no desire to be associated with the most famous true crime story in Vermont, but she has never lost her interest in monsters. In middle age, she is a successful monster hunter, reality TV star, and podcast host. She lives in her van, pursuing tips about monsters all over the continental US, minus Vermont. One particular monster plagues her. A monster that abducts young girls during a full moon. A monster she suspects to be the sister she hasn’t seen in decades.
The Children on the Hill was my favorite read of Spooky Season 2022. It’s a bit hard to classify, being a blend of gothic, suspense, and horror. Scaredy cats like me don’t need to avoid this book though. While Children on the Hill could be classified as horror, it’s an old fashioned kind of horror like Frankenstein or Dracula, and there are nods to both of those novels here. This novel is classic in every way from the tension between madness and the supernatural, and the warning against scientific progress at the expense of human morals. Much like in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the primary question here is, “What is a monster?”
Like with every good suspense novel, there are twists even when you think all has been revealed. Fans of mysteries, horror, and both classic and modern gothics will find Jennifer McMahon’s latest novel to be irresistible.
Fall French 77: A cocktail inspired by The Children on the Hill
In The Children on the Hill, Gran loves gin. So much so that she distills her own, with the same patience she gives to her scientific discoveries. So naturally a gin drink would be ideal to accompany this book, so I created an autumn variation on the classic French 77.
I’m fully in fall recipe testing mode here. Some of it–like this fig old fashioned–is delicious and while others need tweaking. (We won’t speak of the muffins I attempted this week. Too many “healthy swaps” for an edible muffin.)
I have decided that this is what we grown ladies need to drink while watching Hocus Pocus 2. The Sanderson sisters would approve. I have no idea what I’m having for dinner tonight, but I know what I am drinking. The sisters would approve of that too.
Cinnamon Fig Old Fashioned
For cinnamon fig simple syrup: ⅓ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon fig preserves, 1 cinnamon stick
2 oz rye whiskey or bourbon
Dash of orange bitters
Half a fresh fig
Cinnamon-sugar blend for rim (optional)
To make the cinnamon fig simple syrup, combine a half cup water, ⅓ cup sugar, 1 tablespoon fig preserves, and one cinnamon stick in a small saucepan. Heat until the sugar and fig preserves are fully dissolved. Let cool. Store in a mason jar in the fridge for up to a week. This will make at least four old fashioneds.
In a cocktail shaker full of ice, combine 2 oz whiskey, 1 oz of cinnamon fig simple syrup, and a dash of orange bitters. Shake vigorously.
Optional step for cinnamon sugar rim: Rub the cut side of a rocks glass and then roll the rim in a cinnamon sugar blend.
Add ice to the glass, pour the contents of the shaker into the glass, and garnish with the fig half.
In August, you can feel summer being rationed. The warm days and nights are no longer endless, and you can feel that the last vacation, the last dinner enjoyed outside, and the last barefoot days will come far too quickly. Did we experience enough? Did we travel? Did we enjoy the flowers and vegetables the earth gave us during these months?
Then at some point, you have had too much. Too much heat. Too much sand in the corners of your suitcase. The days have a laziness that no longer suits you. You begin to crave the day you can turn off the air conditioning. Since childhood, we associate autumn with new beginnings, even decades after we no longer need to do back-to-school shopping.
This is the in-between drink. Before you are ready for pumpkin spice lattes and apple picking and sweaters dyed in harvest colors. When you are still holding on to summer and saying, “This is good. I am content.”
Strawberry Watermelon Frosé
4 cups watermelon, cubed and frozen
2 cups fresh strawberries, plus more for garnish
3 tablespoons agave syrup
1 bottle rosé
Combine all ingredients in a high powered blender and puree.
Pour into glasses and garnish each glass with a strawberry.
What is your favorite summer cocktail? Are you a margarita fan, always ready for a taco and a top shelf margarita? Or are you all about the frosé?
I’m a sangria girl, but I rarely ever have it. It’s a large batch drink if you make it at home, and so many restaurants make shortcut sangrias with cheap mixes and Sprite that I am disinclined to order it on an evening out. Recently, I became curious about what an Amaretto sangria would taste like. Brandy is traditional in sangrias, but I suspected (correctly!) that an almond flavor would complement sangria flavors nicely.
As a note, this sangria is very cherry forward. If you don’t love cherries quite as much as I do, I would recommend a half cup of cherries and a half cup of your favorite berry rather than a full cup of cherries. Also the sugar amount is customizable. I made this with a quarter cup since I don’t love sugary alcohol drinks, but kept the recipe a bit sweeter to appeal to a larger group.
Cherry Amaretto Sangria
1 bottle light bodied red wine (Beaujolais/Gamay or Pinot Noir)
1/3 cup Amaretto
1 cup cherries, pitted
Juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup sugar
1 orange sliced, plus extra for garnish
1 cup sparkling water to top (optional)
Juice your lemon, then stir the sugar into the lemon juice.
Combine all ingredients except orange slices and sparkling water in a pitcher. Refrigerate for at least one hour.
When ready to serve, add the orange slices, ice cubes, and sparkling water. Garnish glasses with orange slices.
How do you celebrate Mother’s Day? Is it a multigenerational event in your family or a day devoted to pampering? Is brunch with mimosas and fluffy muffins a given?
As a stepmom and an infertile woman, Mother’s Day is a bit melancholy for me. I love going to Saginaw and celebrating my mom, but I as much as I love being a stepmom, no holiday makes me quite so “other” as Mother’s Day. So I focus on dessert recipes, new spring salads, and gifts.
With that said, I will not be serving this gin fizz to my mom because she’s a Baptist teetotaler. Instead, I will be mudding strawberries with lemonade and ginger ale to make a mocktail for her. However if boozy brunches are a tradition in your family, I encourage you to either make this for mom or send the link to your husband as a not-so-subtle hint. If Mom isn’t a fan of gin, substitute St Germain (elderflower liqueur) for a sweeter, mellower cocktail.
The Diamond Eye is a novel about the real life Soviet sniper, Lyudmila (Mila) Pavlichenko. When we first meet Mila, she is in her early twenties, raising her young son with the help of her parents. After a scene where Mila’s estranged husband takes their 5-year-old son without her knowledge and teaches him to shoot a rifle that the boy can barely hold, Mila resolves to learn to shoot a rifle with perfect accuracy and to be both mother and father to her son. It is then that she develops her motto of Don’t Miss.
A few years later, Mila is a fourth year history student working as a researcher in an Odessa library when Hitler invades Ukraine. Not wanting her son to live under a swastika, she enlists as a sniper in the Soviet army where her extensive shooting training comes in handy. Armed with patience, perfectionism, and calm under pressure, Mila earns the nickname Lady Death as she shoots over 300 enemy soldiers. While she is initially underestimated for being a small female, she earns the respect and friendship of the men around her, becomes a leader, and even falls in love.
The focus is mainly on Mila’s evolution as a soldier and on her bonds with her fellow soldiers, rather than on wartime gore, but the devastation of war is not glossed over. At one point, Mila meets a teenage girl who was raped by a group of Nazi soldiers. The girl asks Mila to kill them all, and each day, Mila returns to tell the girl how many Nazi soldiers she killed. In another scene, Mila teams up with an elderly Ukrainian ranger whose entire family had been murdered by Nazis, who then took up residence in his house. She helps him to get his revenge and he teaches her how to get through the woods undetected.
The first two-thirds of the novel take place on the battlefields of Ukraine, but in the final third of the book, we move to the US, where Mila is a part of a Soviet delegation tasked with securing the aid of President Roosevelt. At first, I was a bit disappointed when we moved from Ukraine to the US, but my disappointment did not last long, as this part of the story was as engaging as the war scenes. In the US, we see Mila develop a friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, while an American marksman aims to assassinate President Roosevelt and frame Mila. I adored the portrayal of the friendship between the lady sniper and the First Lady. Mila taught herself to be strong, but it is Eleanor Roosevelt who teaches her how to be kind to herself.
The Diamond Eye was my first Kate Quinn novel, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. It would be a great book club selection as there is something for everyone: a strong female lead, a love story, well researched history, likable characters, and a page turning story.
Belgian chocolate, confiscated from the enemy, is the favorite luxury of Mila and her friends on the battlefield. Therefore, you should not feel the need to bake an elaborate dessert for your book club. Instead, let a really good chocolate take the center stage in your dessert board. Fill out your board with fruit, cookies, and any other simple sweet treats that you enjoy.
The Diamond Eye
This is a variation on a white cosmopolitan. Pretty yet strong, it suits Mila perfectly. To be honest, I used white cranberry peach juice here because, well, pandemic grocery shopping. It took me four grocery stores to find any white cranberry juice at all and all of the options were blended. And now that I have documented my struggle, I expect to find white cranberry juice everywhere: the gas station, local diners, hidden in the very back of my own pantry.
As Putin is a monster, this Ukrainian-American urges you to choose a Polish (or American) vodka to make this recipe.
After dinner drinks are the best. From rich glasses of port to dessert liqueurs to coffee drinks, I love them all. And when you are too old to pub crawl on Saint Patrick’s Day, this is the perfect beverage.
What is your go-to drink? If I’m not having wine, I prefer a whiskey based cocktail, like a Manhattan. Manhattans and Old Fashioneds are not for everyone, so here is a friendlier, sunnier take on a bourbon cocktail. Limoncello, a lemon liqueur from the Amalfi Coast, makes everything taste like summer, and here it mellows the flavor of the bourbon. Add some spicy ginger beer and a dash of orange bitters for balance, and it’s pretty much perfect.
An American on the Amalfi Coast
1 oz bourbon
1 oz limoncello
1 dash orange bitters
Combine bourbon, limoncello, and bitters in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake until well incorporated.
Strain into a short tumbler full of ice.
Top with ginger beer and garnish with a lemon slice.