Drink and dessert for the dog days of summer

This week, we welcome Chef Santi Gabino Jr. of DeLand, who will be contributing his column and recipes monthly to The Beacon. For this month’s version, Gabino recalls a trip to the Virgin Islands, where he learned how the islanders beat the heat.

chef santi gabino
Chef Santi Gabino Jr.



“The month of August had turned into a griddle where the days just lay there and sizzled.”

Sue Monk Kidd, in her book The Secret Life of Bees

As a Florida native, I’ve always felt poor August is the least-loved month of the calendar. August is languid, and the heat is so unbearable that when you step outside, you don’t breathe in the thick, humid air, but, rather, you swallow it. And, well, I think we can all agree that nothing about that says “fun.”

So, during these days where it hurts to touch your steering wheel when you’re getting into your car and when you proudly and unabashedly admit to showering three times in one day, here comes a chilly cocktail recipe and a few thoughts from a memorable sailing trip I took 10 years ago.

Anchored off of Cane Garden Bay in the Virgin Islands one afternoon, I became friends with “The Painkiller.” No, this was not a renegade island gang leader, but the national drink of the Virgin Islands: a magical combination of Pusser’s Rum, pineapple juice, orange juice, coconut cream and freshly grated nutmeg.

Truth be told, I’ve never been a big rum drinker, which, coming from a Cuban family, is considered almost sacrilegious, but this drink managed to make a believer out of me!

Life moves at a very different pace in the islands. There is no real sense of urgency for much of anything. Going out to dinner could take anywhere from one hour to four. Yet, they seem to be getting it right in the islands, but how could they not?

There’s a lot to be said about being surrounded by tropical splendor and gin-clear water, topped off by a boozy, fruity, creamy libation called “The Painkiller.”

The next time you get home in a bad mood and you need to peel off your sticky, damp clothes (yet again), whip up a pitcher of “painkillers” and take some time to slow down and enjoy a LONG leisurely dinner.

Sure, the heat will be there tomorrow but, for right now, just remember, we are a truly beautiful state surrounded by water on three sides along with endless springs, rivers and lakes in our interior.

We just need to kick back and take the time to enjoy it.

The Painkiller

Makes 4 servings
1 cup of dark rum
½ cup of coconut cream (such as Coco Lopez, not coconut milk)
2 cups of pineapple juice
½ cup of orange juice
In a large pitcher, blend all ingredients well, serve over ice, sprinkle with nutmeg, and garnish with a sliced orange.

A wonderful accompaniment to this “vacation in a glass” is this lovely but also quick-and-easy appetizer:

This Strawberry & Goat Cheese Crostini uses local goat cheese from Slow Turtle Farm in neighboring Eustis, along with strawberries!

You may use store-bought crostini for this, such as the Asturi brand; however, I prefer to make my own crostini.

It’s quite simple, and a great base for all kinds of toppings.

Strawberry & Goat Cheese Crostini

1 cup of fresh strawberries, diced small
2 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon of balsamic vinegar (the strawberry vinegar from The Anointed Olive in DeLand works great with this!)
½ turn of fresh-ground black pepper
Tiny pinch of salt
Small loaf of French bread cut into 12 half-inch slices
2 tablespoon good-quality olive oil
4 oz. plain goat cheese, allowed to soften at room temperature
12 fresh mint or basil leaves, chopped
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Combine the strawberries, sugar, balsamic vinegar, a tiny pinch of salt, and the fresh-ground pepper in a medium bowl and set aside for about 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the bread slices on a baking sheet, brush with olive oil, and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper.
Bake until toasted to a golden color, about 6 to 7 minutes. Allow the bread to cool on the pan for a few minutes.
Spread the goat cheese on the crostini, and top with the strawberry mixture. Place a little chopped mint or basil (or both) on each one, and serve immediately.
Note: These will get soggy if you let them sit too long. So, it’s best to enjoy them right when you make them.

Lastly, what summer meal would be complete without dessert?

This showstopping Peach Upside- Down Cake ticks all the summer dessert boxes!

Using an Old World Mediterranean olive-oil-cake recipe as the base, the cake remains light and airy, allowing for all the sweet, syrupy peach goodness to seep in and do its magic.

While it’s very good on its own, it pairs perfectly with fresh whipped cream or good ol’ vanilla ice cream!

Peach Upside-Down Cake
For the cake:
1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour
¾ cup of sugar
2 eggs
1/3 cup good-quality olive oil
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
Zest of one lemon
1 teaspoon of baking powder
½ teaspoon of baking soda
½ teaspoon of salt
For the topping:
2 large peaches, peeled and sliced
¾ cup of brown sugar
¼ tsp of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon of salt
Heavily grease and line a 9-inch pan with parchment paper. Mix the brown sugar, cinnamon and salt, and spread it along the bottom of the pan.
Starting from the edge, arrange the peaches over the sugar mixture in a shingled circle until you’ve covered the entire bottom of the pan. Set this aside, and make your batter.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Use a stand mixer or hand mixer to mix together the sugar and eggs until blended and light.
Slowly drizzle in the olive oil and the vanilla until light and smooth; add the lemon zest.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add the flour mixture, a quarter at a time, to the wet mixture, until just incorporated. Do not overmix.
Pour into the prepared pan until the pan is three-quarters filled. You may have a bit of batter left over, which you could use for a few cupcakes if you so desire.
Place the pan on a parchment-lined baking sheet (in case the syrup seeps out while baking), and bake for 45-50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center.
Allow to cool completely for about two hours, and run a butter knife along the edge of the pan before inverting onto a plate. Carefully remove the parchment paper, and enjoy!

— Santi Gabino Jr. lives in DeLand with his husband, Oscar, and their two crazy dogs, Hope and Athena. Santi is a self-taught chef who has been in the hospitality industry for more than 20 years. When not making a mess in his kitchen, Santi enjoys painting, antiquing, classic movies, working on his home and exploring Florida’s many small towns.


  1. What a great article and recipes! I remember one trip to the island and drinking Painkiller, the name says it all!! Great job Chef Santi

  2. OMGOSH!
    Please get the recipe for the coconut bread pudding from Starfish Market on St. JOHN, USVI. Soooo gooood!
    That perhaps cake looks great.


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