Brace yourselves, North America — we're about to get mooned. Or, more accurately, eclipsed.
The Aug. 21 solar eclipse is offering a welcome respite from the dog days of summer and a pretty good reason to take an extended lunch hour for some — or maybe even a whole vacation day. And for those who fear that a total eclipse heralds doomsday, then perhaps it's just as well to eat, drink and be merry.
With the "path of totality" — the roughly 70-mile-wide strip across the lower 48 that will experience a complete eclipse — stretching from Lincoln Beach, Ore., to Charleston, S.C., the rest of North America (and some parts of South America, Africa and Europe) will be treated to at least a partial eclipse. While the peak of the eclipse will generally last just a minute or two, the path of the moon moving across the sun will take about five hours in total, covering breakfast and lunch on the West Coast, and lunch and, let's say, happy hour, on the East Coast.
Could there be a better excuse for a party?
Apparently not. Many schools are closing early that day, while hotels and campgrounds fill up with crowds of eclipse watchers. Space-themed food and drinks are also filling up the menus at restaurants and bars, as Pinterest boards tout cupcakes slathered in blackout buttercream, edible constellations made of pretzel sticks and mini marshmallows, or perhaps a "Moon-Is-Made-Of-Cheese Plate."
Sure, you can keep it simple by loading up on SunChips and MoonPies, but that's just a speck of cosmic dust in the universe of eclipse-themed food. In fact, you might say the sky's the limit.
For those with an interest in eclipse history, start with ancient China, which is the site of the first recorded eclipse, around 2134 B.C. Boiled rice and millet, along with shellfish, tea and rice wine could form the basis of a traditional Chinese meal that might have been eaten during that eclipse 4,000 years ago.
Or time travel to Jamaica in 1504, where Christopher Columbus once used his prior knowledge of a coming lunar eclipse to deceive the native population, which had tired of feeding him and his crew. Telling them that he would "make the moon disappear" if they didn't start providing food again, he got his meal when his "prophecy" came true. While you may find Columbus' methods unsavory, making a meal that nods to the local Taino cuisine on the island — jerk fish, cassava and tropical fruits were common — could be an interesting way to mark the celestial celebration.
Carbondale, Ill., may seem like an unlikely place to find inspiration for cosmic cuisine, but, as the epicenter of the eclipse, it's the spot where eager eclipse chasers will get the longest observation time, with a full 2 minutes and 38 seconds of total darkness, beginning at 1:21 p.m. CDT. It also happens to be the home of Mary Lou's Grill, a local institution that has been in the Martin family since 1962. Residents descend upon the diner in droves for their signature biscuits and sausage gravy — which seems like a pretty good way to fuel up for a five-hour eclipse-watching sojourn.
Meanwhile, in Portland, Ore., an ice cream cone has been designed to take you on an edible journey through the eclipse, one bite at a time. Ice cream maker Tyler Malek of Wiz Bang Bar, a soft-serve dessert bar, is celebrating his city's star turn in the path of totality with an out-of-this-world confection called the Eclipse Magic Cone. Featuring a black waffle cone made with coconut ash and tipped with edible gold, the interior is filled with spiced marshmallow fluff and a golden-yellow, soft-serve ice cream flavored with ginger and turmeric. A local chocolatier, Cocanú, ground together black sesame seeds and cocoa butter for two days. The result: microscopic sesame particles suspended in cocoa butter, which Malek uses as a "black sesame chocolate" magic shell, cratered in pop rocks, to encase the soft serve.
"The first bite should mimic that moment you realize the moon has taken command, reminding us that our lives are infinitesimally small, and the flavors of coconut ash and black sesame are relatively subdued but violent — cue the pop rocks," says Malek. "The second bite is the moment you realize the sun can never be snuffed as it breaks through, around, and underneath the moon's blackness; the flavor begins popping a bit more, with cold liquid sunshine soft serve. The final bites will take you back to reality, dreaming of reliving the moment but knowing that it was but just a moment in time."
Move over, Mr. Softee. That's one out-of-this-world ice cream cone.
The eclipse seems to have sparked Malek's culinary creativity while stirring his soul at the same time. "Obviously there's something visually epic about a total eclipse," he says, "but what we wanted to capture was the sensation of being completely engulfed in one of the universe's greatest visual-light performances in a hundred years."
Audrey Keller, marketing coordinator for Growler USA, a craft beer franchise headquartered in Centennial, Colo., is planning to head up to Wyoming with co-workers to get the full eclipse experience — and she sees beer as a good accompaniment.
"Experiencing the eclipse is an outdoor activity," she says, "so we've been thinking a lot here about what kinds of beer might go really well with it. And the space theme just makes it fun."
With the eclipse taking place during August, Keller is gravitating toward more citrusy, lower-alcohol beers — "not so heavy for a hot summer day" — like Wild Acre Brewing Company's Moonlight Shine, a dry-hopped wheat ale, and Karl Strauss Brewing Company's Follow The Sun, a crisp Kolsch-style ale that clocks in at just 4.7 percent ABV. For those who like a slightly more esoteric eclipse beverage, there's San Tan Brewing Company's Moon Juice Galactic IPA, made with Galaxy hops, an Australian strain with notes of passionfruit and geranium.
But Keller's main advice for anyone imbibing while watching the eclipse? "Keep your glasses on," she says. "Don't drink too much and stare at the sun."
For some homemade inspiration, here are two recipes to brighten up your own eclipse watching party.
Gin and Tang
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin once said "Tang sucks," but he probably didn't have it laced liberally with gin after he finished taking a walk on the moon. This cocktail is based on the Prohibition-era Orange Blossom Cocktail, and it doesn't suck.
1½ ounces gin
1½ ounces sweet vermouth
1½ ounces water
1½ teaspoons Tang powdered drink concentrate
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and add all the ingredients. Shake well and strain into a chilled martini or cosmopolitan glass. Garnish with a fresh orange wheel.
One batter and one buttercream filling can be easily divided into two flavors to create whoopie pies that encompass both the light and the dark side. A round cookie cutter brings them together into one sweet eclipse.
For the whoopie pie cakes:
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup butter, softened
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs
3 cups flour
2/3 cup almond milk (can use dairy or other non-dairy milk)
1/4 cup cocoa powder
For the filling:
2 cups vanilla buttercream frosting, homemade or store-bought
3 tablespoons melted dark chocolate
Preheat oven to 400°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Mix the sugar and butter together in a stand mixer until creamy, then blend in the baking powder, salt and vanilla extract. Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl, then add the flour and milk in alternate amounts until completely blended. Separate half the batter into another bowl and add the cocoa powder to the remaining batter in the mixing bowl and blend thoroughly.
Using a 2-inch round ice cream or cookie scoop, place rounded scoops of each batter onto the cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart; you should have eight of each flavor. Bake for 8-9 minutes or until the cakes are puffed and spring back when lightly touched. Remove and allow to cool on the pans completely.
Divide the buttercream frosting into two small bowls. Add the melted chocolate to one batch and combine well. Place each frosting into separate piping bags (you can also spread with an offset spatula.) Pipe the chocolate buttercream onto half of the vanilla cakes, topping with the remaining vanilla cakes, then pipe the chocolate cakes with the vanilla buttercream in the same way.
Using a round cookie cutter that's about the same size as the cookies (usually a 2 or 3-inch cutter), cut a crescent-shape out of the edge of each filled cake. Take the chocolate crescents and fit them into the corresponding vanilla cake, and vice versa; you can use a little buttercream frosting to help "glue" the two sections together. Will keep for two days in an airtight container.