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Read // Eat: Pink Penguin Cocktail from ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’

This Read // Eat guest post comes to us via Alicia of Jaybird fame. When she’s not making a mess in the kitchen, she tries her hand at home DIY projects and elaborate picnics. Go be friends! Twitter / Instagram. 

pink penguin cocktail


Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple is the story of a family: one proudly eccentric mom, one work-obsessed dad, and one precocious teenage girl named Bee.
When Bee’s mom, Bernadette, disappears after some disastrous social encounters, there is no question that Bee will follow her. Putting together clues from emails, faxes and a mysterious package, Bee struggles to track down Bernadette. Though their marriage is far from perfect, her husband Elgie joins the search party in an attempt to both find his wife and bond with his increasingly distant daughter.
The journey takes Elgie and Bee on a cruise to Antarctica, originally planned as a family adventure. There they meet naturalists, all kinds of passengers, and the best part: plenty of penguins.
“It turns out the lady is a scientist at Palmer Station,” Dad said. “And the pink penguin is their official drink.”
I couldn’t find an official recipe for the Pink Penguin cocktail, and the book didn’t give any hints, so I decided to whip up my own. This Pink Penguin is a classic gin fizz with two twists: watermelon juice and the addition of basil to the simple syrup.Though these fresh ingredients may not be readily available on a cruise ship like the one in the novel, I figured I could take some creative liberties for those of us making drinks at home. The Pink Penguin is sweet, but the flavors of peppery fresh basil and herbal gin balance out the watermelon and sugar. I hope you’ll enjoy this while relaxing on a sunny patio somewhere.


Pink Penguin Cocktail from Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
Makes one 8 oz. cocktail
Basil Simple Syrup (makes 2 cups; plenty for later)
a handful (around 10) fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1.5 cups white sugar
1.5 cups water
4 1” chunks of ripe watermelon
½ oz. basil simple syrup
¾ oz. fresh lime juice
2 oz. gin
ice cubes
a splash of club soda
a sprig of basil for garnish
optional: frozen blueberries
In a small saucepan, combine ingredients for simple syrup and bring to a boil while stirring. Once sugar has dissolved completely, remove the pan from heat and let the syrup cool. Strain into a jar to store in the fridge for up to a month.
To make the cocktail, muddle watermelon in the bottom of a cocktail shaker (I mashed it with the handle of a wooden spoon). Add simple syrup, lime juice, gin and fill the shaker with ice. Close and shake until thorough combined, then strain into an 8 oz. glass.
Add club soda to top off the glass and frozen blueberries or ice cubes as desired. Garnish with basil. Extra points for a twee straw.
What’s your favorite literary-based cocktail?P.S. How to throw a J.D. Salinger-themed dinner party and Cheryl Strayed granola.

Read // Eat: Astonishing Cupcakes From ‘The Night Circus’

This Read // Eat  post comes to us via Alicia of Jaybird fame. When she’s not making a mess in the kitchen, she tries her hand at home DIY projects and elaborate picnics. Go be friends! Twitter /Facebook.
Is it midnight wherever you’re reading this? If not, pull the blinds down, flip the light switch and get ready to descend into the world of The Night Circus


“Midnight Dinners are a tradition at la maison Lefèvre. They were originally concocted by Chandresh on a whim, brought about by a combination of chronic insomnia and keeping theatrical hours, along with an innate dislike of proper dinner-party etiquette…

While the midnight dinners are set in London, the primary setting of Erin Morgenstern’s debut novel The Night Circus travels all around the world. Le Cirque des Rêves (The Circus of Dreams), which is only open at night, is just as mysterious as Chandresh’s parties. Every tent contains a spectacle more fantastic than the last, and visitors can never quite tell which ones have been touched by magic.
Both an adventure and a love story, The Night Circus is a colorful tale of a lifelong competition between two gifted magicians. The circus is their playground, where they strive to impress each other with ever more spectacular feats (I won’t spoil them here). Chandresh’s cooks sound like magicians as well, crafting increasingly extravagant dishes for his exclusive dinner parties.
“The desserts are always astonishing. Confections deliriously executed in chocolate and butterscotch, berries bursting with creams and liquers. Cakes layered to impossible heights, pastries lighter than air. Figs that drip with honey, sugar blown into curls and flowers. Often diners remark that they are too pretty, too impressive to eat, but they always find a way to manage.”
As with any wonder of the world, the circus gains devoted fans. Known as the rêveurs, or the dreamers, they follow the circus on its global journey. While some are wealthy and can afford to cavort around the globe, their community embraces dreamers of all kinds. They only need two things to become a rêveur: a love of the circus, and a crimson piece of clothing to identify themselves to others.This Read//Eat recipe is a dessert to jointly honor the dreamers and the makers of midnight dinners. White chocolate can be used to create all kinds of shapes and frostings for desserts, completely dependent on your personal preference. You can purchase colored candy melts at a craft store like Michael’s or A.C. Moore or a specialty baking store, or you can combine white chocolate chips and gel food dye to create your own colors. To celebrate les rêveurs, I made red velvet cupcakes with bright red toppings in all kinds of shapes. Below are the instructions and a few tips for working with white chocolate.

White Chocolate Cupcake Toppers – Instructions & Troubleshooting
Ingredients & Materials
at least ¾ cup white chocolate chips for each color you want to mix
Wilton gel food dye (or your preferred brand)
parchment paper
1 pastry bag for each color
Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and make sure it lies flat.
For each color: Place chocolate chips in a small bowl and melt in the microwave for 30 seconds. Remove, stir, and continue to melt and stir in 10-second interval until smooth.
Use a toothpick to scoop up some dye, then combine it with the chocolate and gently fold it in using a spatula until evenly dispersed. Add more dye, using a clean toothpick each time, until you reach your desired color.
Take a pastry bag and hold it with your non-dominant hand, making a circle around its middle. Fold the top down over your fingers and use a spatula to fill the pastry bag with frosting. There may be air below the frosting, which is fine.
Make a horizontal cut, starting at about ⅛ of an inch wide, across the tip of the pastry bag. Squeeze the chocolate down and use the pastry bag like a pen to create shapes on parchment paper. Cut a larger hole as needed–it’s best to start small and make tiny, incremental cuts to reach the right thickness (up to ¼ inch across). Chocolate shapes that are too thin are likely to break.
Make all the letters and shapes you please on parchment paper. If your work room is above 70 degrees Fahrenheit, it may help to put the chocolate in the fridge to set. Remove it after 10-15 minutes and carefully place shapes on top of cupcakes, cookies, whipped cream or other desserts.
White chocolate will harden if heated too fast. When in doubt, use shorter increments to heat.
If chocolate hardens or separates in the bowl, mix in a small amount of vegetable oil. While this will alter the taste of the chocolate, it will help smooth the texture so you can work with it.
Make extra shapes, especially when working with letters. I wrote “Le Cirque des Rêves” at least four times and still ended up breaking half the pieces. Important lesson: I didn’t make a large enough hole in my pastry bag.
Fresh buttercream icing is recommended for placing cupcake toppers. It’s thick enough to ensure that they stand up, but malleable enough when fresh to push the shapes into the frosting. The cream cheese frosting I used here was not thick enough to provide the same structure.
Have you ever worked with white chocolate? Did you know you could also use it to frost sugar cookies? (Pardon me while I go eat three.)
Huge thanks to Sarah C., who suggested that we make something from The Night Circus for this series! If you have novel or recipe suggestions, please send them our way.

Read // Eat: Blueberry Biscuits from ‘The Goldfinch’

This Read // Eat guest post comes to us via Alicia of Jaybird fame. When she’s not making a mess in the kitchen, she tries her hand at home DIY projects and elaborate picnics. Go be friends! Twitter /Facebook.
They first met as any two teens might, sneaking glances at each other across a crowded room. Theo was captivated from the very beginning.

“This girl had bright red hair; her movements were swift, her face sharp and mischievous and strange, and her eyes were an odd color, a golden honeybee brown.”
Theo’s love for Pippa weaves through the entirety of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, ebbing and flowing in its ill-fated way. It begins in that museum gallery, right before a shocking terrorist attack kills both of their guardians.

The tragedy binds the two, keeping them tied together even as they grow up and apart. Even when one of them leaves New York City, he or she eventually returns, and they always reconnect. They are part of an odd family along with Hobie, an elderly antiques dealer who becomes Theo’s guardian, and they create unique traditions to help them feel at home even after their lives are shaken.

The Goldfinch, recently awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, centers on characters who seem almost as fixated on food as they are on the novel’s namesake painting. Hobie always has something interesting in the kitchen. He makes cheesy eggs on toast, some kind of fig puree, jasmine caramels and more, absentmindedly forgetting to eat while taking care of others around him.


“Where’s Hobie?” I said…


“Oh—“ she rolled her eyes—“he insisted on going to the bakery…He likes to get me those blueberry biscuits that Mama and Welty used to buy me when I was little. Can’t believe they even make them any more—they don’t have them every day, he says.”


It’s easy to see why blueberry biscuits are one of Pippa’s favorites. The combination of juicy berries and tart buttermilk seems like an apt expression of care, folded sweetly into layers of a fluffy biscuit.From the moment you start massaging lemon zest into sugar, your kitchen will fill up with classic baking smells. Lemon zest, cinnamon, butter and sugar…everything comes together into a skillet of lightly kneaded biscuits. They come out of the oven perfectly golden brown, begging to be served with another pat of butter and a spoonful of clover honey to match Pippa’s eyes. Enjoy!

Blueberry Buttermilk Biscuits from The Goldfinch
Makes 10-12 biscuits
¼ cup white sugar
zest of half a lemon
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon cinnamon
1 stick very cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup very cold buttermilk
1 cup frozen blueberries
2 tablespoons melted butter
optional: 2 tablespoons sugar to sprinkle over uncooked biscuits
Preheat the oven to 450ºF. In a large mixing bowl, combine sugar and lemon zest. Massage with your fingers until combined. Add next four ingredients and mix.
Add butter and use a pastry cutter or two knives to cut it into the flour until it is worked through. The mixture will have a similar consistency to cornmeal.
Add half of the buttermilk and stir in. Slowly add the rest of the buttermilk until the dough comes together and is not crumbling apart. You may not need the full cup.
Lightly flour a clean work surface. Gently transfer dough to the surface and press out into a ¼-inch thick layer. Spread frozen blueberries over the dough and gently knead, folding in the berries as you go.
Lightly press the dough out to 1-inch thick. Use a water glass or biscuit cutter to cut out biscuits. Combine scraps to shape more biscuits. Place biscuits in a 13” skillet, just barely touching each other.
Brush the tops of the biscuits with melted butter and add sugar if desired. Bake for 10-15 minutes or until golden brown on top and firm.
Note: I used Baker Bettie’s take on a blueberry buttermilk biscuits recipe but served the biscuits with local clover honey instead of adding the suggested glaze. For extra sweetness, sprinkle 2 tablespoons white sugar over the uncooked biscuits after brushing them with butter.
Have you read The Goldfinch (if so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on Boris)? What was your favorite part?

Do you fit your name?

Don’t you think I could pass for a Sloane in these photos? Or maybe a Lauren?

I’m totally a Maggie here.


Oof. Such a Sarah-with-an-H in these photos.

At a party a few weeks ago, a friend and I were joking around when he said something that totally got inside my head.

Like, one of those comments you find yourself considering at stoplights and during conversational lulls. You keep (annoyingly) bringing it up with all and sundry, seeking their feedback. It was the psychological equivalent to the hole left after you get a tooth pulled – a dark, weird place you keep sticking your tongue and then immediately regretting it.And what, pray tell, what the mind-shaking thing my friend said?

“Well, you don’t even seem like a Sarah with an H.”

To which I replied that HE didn’t even seem like an Aaron. HE WAS TOTALLY AN ALEX.

Now, I’m not even particularly attached to my first name. It was one of the top five most popular girl’s names for nearly twenty years. Once, I was one of three patients in a doctor’s waiting room and when the nurse came out and said “Sarah?” we all stood up.

Really, I was supposed to be Anne (with an e, obviously) but my cousin had the nerve to be born first and usurp the name. And because both my parents were school teachers, they had a difficult time choosing a name that wasn’t tainted by memories of horrible students. When you’ve taught hundreds of eight-year-olds there’s nearly always a stinker of a Megan/Ashley/Miranda. Sarah was one of the only names that hadn’t been ruined by spitballs or late homework. A friend in high school insisted that I was really a Rebecca which I can totally see.
Does this name connote trustworthiness and sincerity?
Does this name seem like someone who’d watch your stuff while you went to the bathroom?
Is this the name of your babysitter or that camp counselor who knew the theme song to Ghostwriter?

Sigh. That’s me.I have an inordinate number of friends with unusual names – Darcie, Rica, Shanda, Brekke, Helene, Cleo, Cadence, Shanai – which really only exacerbates my name envy. And for a while I wanted a sexier, more exciting name. When I moved to New Zealand, I briefly considering going by ‘Von’ (part of my last name) but I’d dissolve into laughter anytime I tried to introduce myself that way.

But my parents’ thought process holds: I’ve never met a Sarah-with-an-h who wasn’t lovely, hardworking, trustworthy. The Sarahs of the world are high school English teachers and pediatric nurses. They run Girl Scout troops and cross country ski. They have well-behaved rescue dogs and when they host book club, they totally serve themed food.

It may not be the world’s most exciting name (not by a looooong shot) but we are a solid people.

What about you? Do you fit your name? If you don’t, what name would be a better fit? 

34 New Things: Be a Mentor

Each year I make a list of new things I want to try. Some are easy, some are difficult, some are so ridiculously mundane. You can read about previous adventures here


It’s hard to view yourself as someone who has wisdom worth imparting when you’re pretty sure your own adult life is a comedy of errors, possibly involving hidden cameras. (On my recent roadtrip, I got pulled over and tried to convince the police officer that the receipt for the purchase of my car was actually the registration.  Like, I walked up the highway to his car, knocked on the window and was all “Is this it?”)Be that as it may, there are some things that I know about.  Things like writingtravel, moving a million times,  mastering the internet – and as a former teacher, I love few things more than helping people understand stuff that I know about.  When I added ‘be a mentor’ to my list for this year, I knew this might be sort of challenging.  I travel a lot and I didn’t want to bond with – and then inadvertently abandon – a sweet , in-need-of-reliable-adult-interaction preteen, so I decided that I wanted to try an internet mentorship of sorts.

I first met Alicia when she bought advertising space and Yes and Yes.  As with all of my sponsors, I checked out her blog to see if she was a good fit for my readers and I was impressed with her candid, engaging writing style and nice photography. She always sent me the links and photos for her sponsor posts before the deadline and whenever she sent through her photos they were always appropriately resized and labeled. (Your mom wasn’t lying about people noticing the details.) Eventually Alicia started contributing the Read // Eat series and I rather awkwardly asked her if she was in the market for a mentor.  As luck would have it, she was!

How does one mentor?  Well, we set up a once-monthly video pow wow. We talk about work and writing and interneting and life and I answer any questions she might have about reaching out to bloggers and publications she likes, how to deal with guest posts, and anything I know about.  It’s been so, so lovely to share what I know and hopefully help her avoid some of those mistakes we all learn the hard way (I’m looking at you, Twitter oversharing.)

I’m sure there will come a day when Alicia is helming HuffPo and I tell everybody that I knew her way back when. And then I’ll awkwardly email another youngster and ask if they need my input on the merits of @mentioning.Have you ever mentored or been mentored?  Tell us about your experience!