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Shannon Kuhn: A piña colada to push away the winter blues

  • Author: Shannon Kuhn
  • Updated: June 21, 2016
  • Published January 7, 2016

The streets above us are adorned with colorful paper flags, salsa dancing in the soft ocean breeze. The smells and sounds awaken my senses: carne asada drizzled with lime before hitting the grill, fresh masa dough balls rolled out and pressed into tortillas for street tacos, and a tiny truck selling sweet churros for 10 pesos each, hot out of the deep fryer and glittering with cinnamon-sugar. Less than a hundred yards away, pods of pelicans fly in circles overhead then dive into the water to catch their own lunch.

My friend and I kicked off the new year by spending the last week in Sayulita, Mexico, a sleepy surfing town north of Puerto Vallarta, hugged by the Pacific and abundant with mountains and jungles. Our only goals were to relax, swim in the ocean and eat. Emphasis on the eating part.

Like flocks of migratory seabirds, Alaskans routinely fly from icy streets to the sandy shores of Mexico or Hawaii every winter. It's the time of year when friends and co-workers leave town for a week, ready to exchange long, dark days for an extra dose of vitamin D, returning with tans, knowing smiles and bags full of coffee, salty tamarind candies, mezcal and chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.

This year and last, however, it hasn't been the subzero temperatures incentivizing people to book a ticket south. Glacier-like driveways and streets have prompted even the most serious winter lovers to put Alaska Airlines on speed dial. Weather-related mood swings are in full force around town -- but I may have found a solution, albeit fleeting.

We stopped at a beach cart advertising "cocos fríos." At our request, a friendly man with deep smile wrinkles cut off the top of the coconut with a graceful swipe of his machete and then created a hole in the top for a straw. Full of nutrients and electrolytes, coconut water is delectable and refreshing. Later that evening, we drank piña coladas made with fresh coconut and pineapples, reminding me of their brilliance. So if you are experiencing the Alaska January funk, pull out your flip-flops and treat yourself to a night in the tropics with a piña colada and friends -- or book a trip, right now.

Piña colada recipe

2 cups ice

1 cup 100 percent pineapple juice

1 cup white rum (optional)

½ cup cream of coconut

4 pineapple wedges (for garnish)

1.Add ice, pineapple juice, rum (if using) and cream of coconut to blender. Blend on high speed until ice is crushed, ingredients are all combined and the drink is smooth, about 30 seconds. Pour into glasses. Serve with a pineapple wedge on the rim.

Shannon Kuhn lives in Anchorage, where she writes about food and culture. Reach her at

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