Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Guest Blog! Kirsten Imani Kasai

Kirsten Imani Kasai's 'Tattoo' is one of a few books that I'm working through, at the moment, so you can expect a review up in the next couple of weeks I reckon :o) In the meantime, I asked Kirsten if she would like to contribute a guest post here and the answer was yes! I'm really glad Kirsten agreed to blog here as, for one day only, the blog heads in an unexpected and more than slightly alcoholic direction. Check it out and then check 'Tattoo' out as well...

To celebrate the recent launch of my second novel, Tattoo, I decided to “import” some of my unique creations from the world of the Sigue to our own and serve them at the book release party. Well-versed in the imaginary properties of “strawberry milk” the question was how to reproduce a substance whose ingredients aren’t even real? To develop the drugs Chen peddles in Tattoo, I turned to a trusted research source,, “an online library containing tens of thousands of pages of information about psychoactive drugs, plants, and chemicals…”

I decided on a unique combination of plants and herbs to be distilled into a syrup: Tabernanthe iboga, from Africa, is a bitter, hallucinogenic shrub that can cause numbness to the skin and mouth. South American ayahuasca is mixed with other herbs to produce a psychotropic brew. Galangal is a rhizome, similar to ginger. You’ve probably seen slivers of it floating around your Thai tom yum soup (mmm, tom yum). It’s purported to have very mild hallucinogenic and aphrodisiacal properties. Dog-thistle berries are the magic, fictional ingredient—juicy, crimson cranberries that pack a mood-altering punch.

“Strawberry milk, Zarina thought, was like cranking the flames beneath your brain. Everything took on this lovely pink sheen—your whole body felt warm and deliciously alive. Tongues and fingers became highly sensitive, and everybody was your best friend. Strawberry milk made the House of Pleasure a play palace of throbbing, open and willing bodies…” –TATTOO

So what would strawberry milk actually taste like? In my mind, it’s a cordial-like liqueur tasting of berries, and black and red currants, deep rose in color, slightly sweet and thick, and buzzing on the tongue. It would impart calm, sensual expansiveness, increased pleasure and a general sense of goofy well-being, although like any drug, taken in the wrong amount or mixed with incompatible substances, it would have the potential to turn nasty and cause anxiety, heart palpitations and hallucinations with jaw-grinding intensity.

Leery of the potential legal and health complications of mixing up my own hallucinogens and serving it to the public (getting busted for running an herbal meth lab isn't exactly the kind of publicity I'm looking for), I searched for a reasonable (and safe) substitute. Nestle Qwik would have been the obvious choice—I loved the stuff as a kid, but the drink served in the clubs and pleasure houses of Neubonne was clear. Google delivered—“how to” recipes for making Portuguese milk liqueur.

 I added whole, organic milk, strawberries, organic cane sugar and vodka to a large jar and let it sit in the cabinet for two weeks, shaking it every day. It took four hours of straining through mesh and paper coffee filters to remove all the solids and extract a lovely, sticky pink liqueur. I also made a chocolate milk liqueur using unsweetened cocoa powder and chopped, 70 percent cocoa chips. The strawberry was good but too sugary for me. The chocolate was better, smooth and sweet with a distinctive, malty taste. It was a kick to pour these otherworldly cocktails into tiny shot glasses and serve them to my guests—an enticing cross-over from the fantasy world to the real world. I’m tempted to create more recipes from the Sigue, maybe dabble in making a special cake for their New Year’s celebration, Haymaz, a week-long festival of feasting, dancing, partying and prayer.

I’ll definitely make more milk liqueur, this time with a new array of nonfictional ingredients: bourbon, heavy cream, caramels or toffees and black cherries. Maybe this time, my real-world experimentation will flavor the fictional world and inspire my characters to make toffee liqueur to serve at their parties. I hope they invite me!

Kirsten Imani Kasai is the author of the science-fiction/fantasy novels “Ice Song” and “Tattoo”, published by Del Rey/Random House. Connect with her via or

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