Saturday, June 6, 2009

Cucumber Watermelon Licuado: What a Warm Day in Alaska Tastes Like

Juneau, Alaska has been at it's best lately. Clear skies, calm winds, and warm temperatures. That may not sound like a big deal if you're not from here, but for this town, it's all anyone can talk about. See, Juneau is part of a giant temperate rainforest called the Tongass, and the rain here can be downright relentless. Sometimes it rolls in, and it doesn't leave for a very long time. Our first summer here, it rained every single day in August. Our apartment had a metal roof, and the sound of the rain falling on it went from soothing, to darkly romantic, to annoying, to pull-your-hair-out-insanity-inducing. I was working as a sea kayaking guide that summer, and spent a lot of rainy, windy days on the water, with cold red fingers frozen to my paddle, trying to convince people that they were having a good time.

Allow me to paint you a picture of a typical summer day in Juneau: The waters of the Inside Passage are stirred into chop. It's 52 degrees to match the 52 state flags that line our downtown waterfront, which are flapping at full attention, wet and snapping in the wind that so often blows down Gastineau Channel. Steep mountainsides that rise straight from the sea are covered in a thick dark blanket of Sitka Spruce, Hemlock, and the rather unfriendly undergrowth of Devil's Club. Branches hang with minty green moss called Old Man's Beard, and the mountainsides seem to be breathing smoke, as fog rises from the wet earth, toward an even wetter sky. On those days I try to pretend I'm in one of those Japanese mountain paintings, and take an extra dose of vitamin D.

Last summer I could have counted the sunny days on my two hands. The thermometer seemed to never get above 55, and I wore wool socks through May, June, and July, until August when fall came and it really got cold again. Then I added long underwear to the ensemble. But this spring, actually since February, we have been getting a LOT of precious sun. And when the sun comes to Juneau, Juneau freaks out (in a good way).

With ample daylight-- more than 18 hours and rising until the solstice-- we try to pack in as much time outdoors as we can. The flower beds have been planted, the hiking trails are in use, the fishing lines are in the water, motorcycles are roaring down the road, the sea kayaks are tied to the roof racks, and children are swimming in these cold cold waters. Sunglasses are imperative, not just because our eyes are unaccustomed to the light, but for protection from the glaring whiteness of skin that hasn't seen the sun in a very long time.

We must take advantage of the sun when it's here, and it is unspoken code in Juneau that when it's sunny, things like leaving work early or cancelling appointments are kindly overlooked, and sometimes even encouraged. Nevertheless, there is still work to do, so we make the most of those workdays by eating lunch outside, or getting a walk in before firing up the grill for dinner.

I have had a lot of work to do, and spent far too many hours in front of the computer this week. One particularly sunny day, I could take it no longer. By 3 pm the sun had made it's way around to our front porch, which gratefully overlooks the water. I put on shorts and tank top, and "hit the deck". Because this weather is so rare to us, I think we are more alert to it's effects and sensations. I sat there in the sun, feeling the gift of this warm day. The sun warmed my skin, the breeze tickled the tiny hairs on my arms, and my shoes (and wool socks) were finally off. The tension between my shoulder blades melted away as my muscles warmed, and I got out my yoga mat.
It felt sooo good, stretching and lolling about in the sun like a cat, reaching for the sky in tree pose, imitating the mountains in triangle. The sky was alive with birds: crows, bald eagles, and Stellar Jays-- one of which came for a visit on our porch railing. It was one of life's really good moments, feeling and seeing and hearing every detail of a real summer day in AK. It was a moment that demanded not only my full attention, but celebration. How does one celebrate alone? At 3 in the afternoon on their front porch? Here's how:

Cucumber Watermelon Licuado
(makes about 5 cups)

This Mexican refreshment is sweet, cold, and tastes like a sunny summer day. Use the leftovers as a base for rose-colored mojitos or margaritas if you like.
  • 1 cucumber, peeled and chopped into 1 inch pieces (about 1.5 cups)
  • 3 cups watermelon, seedless or seeds removed, and cut into 1" pieces
  • 1 lime, juice only
  • 2/3 cup hot water
  • 1/4 to 1/3 cup honey (to taste)
  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 cup ice
In a blender combine cucumber, watermelon, and lime juice. Combine the honey and hot water and stir to until honey dissolves. Add honey mixture to blender along with cold water and ice. Puree all contents in blender on low speed. Pour mixture through a wire mesh strainer into a pitcher or bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon until most of the liquid has drained. Discard pulp. Pour over ice and enjoy! May be stored up to 3 days in fridge.


Sara Ohlin said...

Ginny! Love your description of Juneau. I'm always complaining about the weather down here in Everett, how chilly it is sometimes all the way through summer, but now I shall complain no more! I can't wait to try this delicious sounding drink.

Ginny Mahar said...

I made margaritas from these, and they were quite the sensation. Just add a bunch of extra lime juice (fresh), a bit of sugar, water, and a pinch of salt. Amount depends on how much you're making but I added about 1/4 C. lime juice, 1 C. water, and 2 Tbsp. sugar to 3 C. Licuado. Stir to dissolve sugar. You just want to get it nice and sweet/tart, like limeade. Add tequila and pour over rocks with a fresh lime wedge. Margarita bonita!

Anonymous said...

I would love to visit Juneau! I suppose this would be the best time of the year. This drink sounds delightful - great combo of cucumber and watermelon!

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