In celebration of today’s holiday, I took out an ad in the personal columns. Not that I was tired of my lady, I just felt it was the appropriate way to celebrate. I’m kidding of course. Even though Lola is not into health food but into champagne, I don’t think they have personal ads any more. Do they? Have they been replaced by Craig’s List or some other kind of online message board? I’m guess I’m not hip to the ways of the new world. I am hip to a good Piña Colada however.
The Piña Colada comes from Puerto Rico, a land rich in coconuts and pineapples. It’s actually the official drink of Puerto Rico. It’s not all that old – in comes from San Juan in either the 1950s or 1960s depending on the history you believe. Like most legendary cocktails, the origin story is under dispute. Most people attribute the Piña Colada to bartender Ramon “Monchito” Marrero of the Caribe Hilton Hotel who is believed to have created the drink in 1954. It was there that actress Joan Crawford tasted one and famously said it was, “better than slapping Bette Davis in the face.” However a fellow barman from the Caribe Hilton, Ricardo Gracia, also takes credit for the drink saying that because of a coconut cutter strike, he improvised and served their creamy coconut drink in a hallowed out pineapple, straining in extra pineapple juice to add to the flavor (Piña Colada literally means “strained pineapple” in Spanish.) Still, some credit the origin of this drink to Restaurant Barrachina who hired Spanish mixologist Ramon Portas Mingot to help create new drinks for their restaurant, among his creations would be this pineapple-coconut concoction. Finally, for a more fanciful story, some attribute the drink to Puerto Rican pirate Roberto Cofresi, who was said to have boosted the morale of his men by giving them a pick-me-up drink of white rum, pineapple juice and coconut milk. We may never know the exact story, but we can appreciate it’s brief history and the pride at which this drink brings to the good people of Puerto Rico. (History from HungryHistory.com).
In order to make us some Piña Coladas today, I needed one key ingredient: Coco Lopez. Coco Lopez is a pre-made cream of coconut which is made from the hearts of Caribbean coconuts with natural cane sugar. It allowed the Piña Colada to take off because once you have Coco Lopez, you can recreate the creamy coconut taste without having to climb a coconut tree like Ozzy from Survivor. I picked a can up at the store, it’s usually available in the mixer section at any grocery store, and then I picked up some fresh pineapples too. The plan was to come home and have a Piña Colada in the fading sunlight on our deck as if we were on the veranda at Hotel Caribe (or on the Lido Deck of the Pacific Princess).
The first thing I did when I came home was hollow out the pineapples. My vision was to have the pineapples as the vessel in which to serve the coladas. Sounded festive, right? However, as I soon discovered, hollowing out a pineapple is not easy. You can cut it out and outline what you want removed, but then you have to get it out of the pineapple and it’s still attached at the bottom. It’s hard to cut away that part. It was similar to removing the guts of a pumpkin when you are carving one. You have to dig in with a spoon and grind it out. It was messy. Particles of pineapple were flying out and I still kept digging. I tried to be careful because I didn’t want to pierce through the skin. That would make my carved masterpiece essentially a dribble glass. With care and determination, I was able to get it done. Then I stuck the hollowed-out shells into the freezer. I figured that would make them a little sturdier to use.
Then it was time to play bartender. I have made my share of Piña Coladas throughout the years, although never at home that I recall. It was always kind of an annoying drink to make because it used the blender and it also made your blender smell like coconut. That slowed you down and then slowed you down even more to clean up. However, at home, they were kind of fun to make. You start with the Coco Lopez which has a dual-texture to it. The coconut part is solid and needs to be scooped, but beneath the coconut solids are the liquids that should be poured in. You have to find a balance. Once that went in, I scooped in some of the fresh pineapple that I had scooped out to make my glasses. On top of that went some milk, some orange juice (just to give it a little twang) and then of course, the rum. I used Bacardi because it was what I had on hand, but because Bacardi is a product of Puerto Rico, it was an appropriate choice. I plopped in some ice and then blended. After some vigorous whirrs and grinding, I was left with a nice smooth creamy smoothie. I poured it right into my handcrafted pineapple glass.
This was the best Piña Colada I have ever had. Maybe it was because I put so much effort into making it, maybe it was the glass, or maybe the fresh pineapple, but it was delicious. It felt fun in my hand too. Lola was outside working in the gardens when I came outside with it. She had gone outside after a grueling couple of hours on the phone talking to the confederacy of dunces that seem to be conspiring to slowly drain us. After that much time talking on the phone to insurance companies, she was pretty beaten down and had to go outside for some garden therapy. She was not happy, a little grumpy and not much in the mood for celebrating. But then she looked up and she saw me on the deck, a smile on my face, and a giant drink in my hand served inside a fresh pineapple. That was unexpected and that made her smile. She didn’t want one for herself, but I gave her a few sips of mine. She liked it too so I was happy to give her a few smiles and some coconutty relief after a grueling afternoon.
Somedays can wear you down, but there’s always something to celebrate. Today’s celebration not only had the creamy tropical flavor of the Caribbean, it also came in a fun receptacle. That made it a special occasion. Had I served the colada in a pint glass it wouldn’t have been half as fun. It wouldn’t have lured Lola out of her mire and into a smile at seeing me holding a giant fruit on our deck. I felt like Thurston Howell on the island and Lola was my Lovey. The drink just tasted better because it was dressed nicely. There’s a lesson there. Taking the extra effort to make something look nice is worth it. It’s part of the craft and of the presentation. And just like they discovered in Puerto Rico all those years ago, this is a special cocktail. That’s why I showed it to Lola, the lady I had looked for, and asked her to come with me and escape.
Next up: National Blueberry Muffin Day