Christmas will not be complete without some good holiday beverages to quench your thirst and go with all the other goodies you have prepared.
Fifth generation St. Maartener Tara Arianna Hurlston fills this void with her locally made holiday beverage “My Coco Nog.” Hurlston, who has been making her Coco Nog concoction for years, also takes time to decorate the drink bottles to give them a great Caribbean holiday look.
Hurlston first learnt to make the drink around 2001, from one of her very good friends. “However, my friend never made it with coconut milk as I do now. I took what I learned from her and added a new twist to it, including an infusion tea made from spices that gives it the deep warm taste of Christmas.”
Hurlston is a 34-year-old mother of three sons – Jeremy, Jaeden and Joshua-Leigh. She works at Harbour Queen Seafood Grill and Bar, which is owned by her father, which she runs with her siblings and her hubby Jackson Dambreville.
“I consider myself to be a very dependable person, always willing to help others, and an ambitious person with a creative passion,” said Hurlston, a former St. Maarten Academy student. She is a Marketing and Digital Designer by profession (graphic design) and holds an associate degree in specialised Technology, Major Digital Design from the Art Institute of York, Pennsylvania, USA.
Hurlston is the granddaughter of the late great Captain Arsene Hubert Hodge, after whom Captain Hodge Wharf in Philipsburg is named. She was born in Marrero Louisiana only because her parents happened to live there at the time of her birth, but she is proud to be a fifth generation St. Maartener: “St. Maarten is now and will always be my home.”
Hurlston currently makes only the coconut flavour of “My Coco Nog” as it is a favourite of everyone who has tried it, but said she doesn’t mind experimenting. “I certainly would like to experiment and make new flavours, including the basic traditional flavour without coconut as some people may prefer that as well and see how it goes.”
Hurlston gets most of her ingredients right here in St. Maarten. She also gets her fresh nutmeg and cinnamon from her aunt, who gets them from Dominica. “My Coco Nog takes a few hours to prepare as it is slow cooked and should then be stored cold for at least a week before consuming – as I like to say it needs to soak; this is not really the correct term, but everyone gets what I mean. I hand-grate my cinnamon and nutmeg and the infusion tea from my mixed spices has to boil for a rich dark colour before it is added to the nog.”
She says My Coco Nog can last in the refrigerator for more than a year. As for the bottles, she said she has always had a passion for art and decorating from a child: “The idea for my Caribbean Christmas bottles came to me because we go through so many bottles here at our restaurant and thankfully St. Maarten now has a recycling programme in place which we utilise, but why not decorate the bottles for Christmas and sell My Coco Nog in them.”
“Many people know me as a Christmas decorator as I have for years, alongside my aunt Irene Hodge, decorated places such as the old Government Administration Building, the Roman Catholic Church, Simpson Bay Resorts and for many people personally in their homes. So when the idea came to decorate the bottles for My Coco Nog, it was more like a past time than a job. It's a pleasure to see how many people enjoy them as I enjoyed making them. I could do anywhere from between one to six bottles per day if time permits.”
Hurlston said her only challenge in making her special drink is her busy schedule. “I have a one-year-old son Joshua-Leigh Jackson and he keeps me busy enough. Then we are running our family restaurant full-time, so finding time to do my personal hobbies is not always easy.” And the rewards? “I have always been happy seeing people enjoy my food or my decorations, so the fact that so many people love My Coco Nog and talk about what they will do with their bottles after or even when they say, ‘I will be calling you for a refill’; that in itself is the best reward.”
She encourages the public to try her drink: “If you haven’t tried it, you are missing out and those are not my words – they are the words of so many people who have tried it before. I make it because it speaks of tradition and family and what we should all be doing for Christmas is coming together and creating memories.”
Hurlston got a chance to showcase and sell some of her drinks at the recently held St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry (COCI) Christmas Street Fair. At that event, she sold Coco Nog by the cup for US $6, so that everyone could get a taste.
In the past, apart for the Christmas holiday season, she sometimes made and sold her Coco Nog at different times of the year when requested by a family member after theirs had ran out, but after the great feedback she received at the Christmas Fair, she gets the feeling that she’ll be making it more often.
Prices for My Coco Nog range from $15 to $60 a bottle depending on the size, which comes in 750ml to 1,750ml bottles.
Interesting to note is that Hurlston also sold personalised Christmas ornaments and her father Clyde Hurlston's famous pumpkin cake using a secret recipe he learned from her aunt, who raised him in Guanaja, The Bay Island of Honduras. It is a popular dessert known by the locals, but a treat she grew up on and always looked forward to around Christmastime.
When asked what her pet peeve is, she said, “It's not that I don't have patience, but I have a deep dislike for people not respecting other people’s time. I try my best not to have anyone wait on me so I don't like others doing it to me unnecessarily.”
She can easily name a few role models, but the one that stands out the most is her aunt Irene Hodge, who is like a mother, sister and friend to her and to anyone she meets. She said Hodge is straight forward, kind, hardworking, selfless, down to earth and the best human being a person could ever want to have in their life. “I am truly blessed to have the privilege of knowing her and could only hope to be half as beautiful a person as she is.”
Persons interested in ordering their own bottles of locally made Coco Nog can contact Hurlston at [email protected] or 1 (721) 523-6604.