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.
This recipe is a cross between a white peppermint hot cocoa and a White Russian. It’s perfect for an evening spent wrapping presents, a weekend day spent reading, or time spent watching so-bad-they’re-good Hallmark Christmas movies. It is delicious, and I hope to never know exactly how many calories are in it. (If you do the math, don’t tell me.) If you care even less about calories than I do, you can swap out some of the milk for half-and-half.
This recipe is for one (generous) serving so double or triple as needed if serving a group.
1.5 cups milk
3 oz white chocolate, chopped or grated
2 drops peppermint extract
1 ounce Kahlua
1 ounce Vodka
Toppings: Whipped cream, candy canes, sprinkles or colored sugar
Heat milk over the stovetop. Do not boil.
Reduce heat to low and begin adding the white chocolate to the milk approximately 1 ounce at a time, whisking until dissolved, and then adding the next ounce.
Add in peppermint extract.
In each mug, add 1 ounce Kahlua and 1 ounce vodka. Pour in cocoa.
Make it pretty with your desired toppings, take a picture for Instagram, and enjoy!
Recommended movie pairing: White Christmas (of course!) Recommended book pairing: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
When Hannah Howard started her first restaurant job as a host, she fell in love with the food industry. Food had been a significant part of Howard’s childhood, but it quickly became her calling, and while she found success in her chosen industry, her obsession with food had a darker side: disordered eating had made food into a thing she both loved and feared. At the time of writing Plenty, Howard is a former restaurant manager turned food writer, and she has left binge eating behind but still struggles with body image. In this memoir, Howard not only tells her story, but that of women in the food industry. She writes about chefs, culinary teachers, entrepreneurs, and even a barge captain working in food-related tourism. Plenty addresses being a woman in a male-dominated environment, struggling with body image while working in food, and choosing motherhood while also chasing career goals.
While Plenty examines all the barriers that are unique to women in the industry, it is ultimately a celebration of food, family, female friendships, and chasing dreams. The women she profiles are interesting and diverse, and all of them are people she befriended while at work. She writes about a young chef just starting out, a chef who tired of the sexual harassment in the industry and transitioned to teaching, and woman who became a barge captain in the Bordeaux region, first by default and then by choice. I think the most inspiring story to me was that of Eat Offbeat, an organization which employs refugee women with no previous professional cooking experience but who are talented home cooks willing to learn to cook for a living. Howard also addresses what happened to all of these women during the pandemic, as they adapted to the changing industry.
I think Plenty would be enjoyed by foodies and by women who work in male-dominated industries. It would also be a natural book club selection, because it lends itself to sharing stories about work, family food traditions, and motherhood. If either eating disorders or miscarriage are triggering topics for you, you might want to pass on this. Miscarriage is part of my own story, so I may have spent that part of the book curled up with a box of tissues, crying for both her and me. No regrets for reading it, but I did want to offer a warning to anyone who may need it.
Disclosure: I received a free copy of Plenty on Amazon First Reads. It did not affect my review as I only review books I recommend.
Hannah Howard describes herself as a “writer and cheese maven” on her website, so the only acceptable food offering for a book club is a cheese plate or a charcuterie board. September is a great time to add some fall flavors into the mix, such as figs, pears, apples, and grapes.
Recommended book club menu:
Charcuterie board: One soft cheese and one firm cheese (brie and cheddar pictured), pear slices, figs, sugared prosecco grapes (recipe below), roasted grapes (pictured on brie, recipe also below), baguette, crackers, macarons
Cocktail: French 75 (recipe below)
Mocktail: Apple ginger mocktail (recipe below)
Sugared Prosecco Grapes
The first thing you need to know is that you’ll be draining most of the prosecco, so don’t use a fancy bottle. A $5 bottle works just fine here. Also note my lack of measurements here. You don’t need any terribly specific ratios here as the grapes are merely soaking in the wine. If you are preparing this for a crowd (a couple lbs. of grapes), then you’ll want to use a full bottle of wine. If you are using a small bunch of grapes like I did, you’ll use a third of a bottle at most.
Place grapes in a bowl. Pour enough prosecco over to cover the grapes completely.
Cover and refrigerate overnight (or several hours).
Drain grapes, but don’t dry completely.
Pour sugar into a baking sheet. Add grapes and roll in sugar until coated evenly.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Variation: Prosecco grapes can also be frozen. I didn’t do so here, as this is a fall-themed board, but frozen grapes would be delicious for an outdoor summer party. If you freeze them, just make sure to do so in a single layer so they don’t stick together like a sparkling bundle of disappointment.
Grapes may be a fruit we are accustomed to eating only raw, but that’s a sad underestimation of this delicious fruit.
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 425.
Toss grapes on a baking sheet with olive oil, salt, pepper, and rosemary (if using).
Bake for 25 minutes.
First things first. Do you have simple syrup in your house? If you don’t, it’s easy enough to make at home, but you need to make it a bit in advance as it needs to cool before you use it. I’d recommend making it while your grapes are roasting. Just add equal amounts sugar and water in a small saucepan. (I used 1/3 cup of each.) Heat on low and stir until sugar is completely dissolved. Let it cool.
1 ounce gin
1/2 ounce lemon juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces sparkling wine
Combine gin, lemon juice, and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker with ice.