remembering my first – margarita, that is

Ashley’s Pub, a British-sounding bar complete with dark wood paneling and old-English decor, was located in a strip mall next to a tax preparation business and a military recruitment office. Despite the name and appearance, Ashley’s served Mexican food to a bustling college crowd. It opened in 1980, but I was in the third grade then, so that bit of news didn’t make it into my awareness. Besides, the news of a restaurant opening in The Big City of Gainesville would have paled in comparison to furnishing my Barbie house or riding bikes with my friend, Carrie.

By the time I made it to college at the University of Florida in the early 1990s, Ashley’s was firmly established as the place to go for a burrito, a basket of chips with salsa, and house margaritas. I’m certain I had my first margarita there, probably while squeezed in a booth with my boyfriend (who I happen to be married to now) and his roommates, pretending to be interested in whatever college football game was on the sports channel on the television suspended above the bar.

I recall the margaritas at Ashley’s as being quite good, and almost too easy to drink, with just the right balance of sweetness to tartness. But mostly, the margaritas were cheap and there were plenty of them. The bar favorite was the 46-ounce Jumbo House Margarita. We tended to share the 46 ounces, ladling the chartreuse elixir into our individual salt-rimmed margarita glasses, taking care not to spill a drop. The sneakiest of the group always made sure to scoop up just the liquid, leaving the ice behind for the rest of us.

After nearly 30 years of serving tacos and tequila to generations of college students and faculty in our college town, Ashley’s closed in 2009. We were sad to see the institution go. Who would serve us jumbo margaritas now?

I’ve had a lot of margaritas since then, lots of amazing ones, like the one above from La Condesa in Austin. I’ve had entirely too many bad ones, mostly characterized by being overly sweet or without the right proportion of tequila. Those are the drinks that I kick myself for consuming afterwards. I hate wasting calories on a crappy drink.

Until recently, I’d never made  a margarita that made my own cut. I’ve searched for an on-the-rocks margarita that is easy to make, incorporates good ingredients, and tastes balanced and refreshing. I blame my husband’s affection for Margarita Mix for our own failures in producing a quality cocktail. That stuff should be banned.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, I found this recipe. This, my friends, was my last experimentation with margarita-making. I’ve finally found my favorite margarita.

Yield: 1 drink.

Agave Margarita with Hibiscus-Lime Syrup

I tweaked Bon Appétit's version of their agave margarita by adding hibiscus-lime syrup (from Lemon Bird Jams). If you can't find any hibiscus-lime syrup, just omit it entirely. The margarita is equally delicious without it.


Kosher salt
2 lime wedges
1/4 cup tequila
2 tablespoons agave syrup
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon hibiscus-lime syrup


Pour some kosher salt onto a small plate. Rub 1 lime wedge around the rim of a glass. Dip glass into salt, and fill glass with ice.

In an ice-filled shaker, combine tequila, agave syrup, lime juice, and hibiscus-lime syrup. Shake well and strain into the prepared glass. Garnish with the second lime wedge.

Minimally tweaked from Bon Appétit, May 2012.

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10 Responses to “the august guilt-week, and a recipe: strawberry cookies”

  1. olga — August 8, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

    I think that the work you do is so important and makes such a difference in people’s lives, that when Maddie is a bit older, she’ll see your dedication to it in a whole new light., and respect you for the choices you are making. No one ever said balance was easy (says a childfree person) but we all constantly try. Be gentle to yourself – you’re doing the very best you can, and believe it or not, you’re a pretty dedicated parent from where I sit. Hope this week – and the next – are filled with guilt-FREE relaxation. xo

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — August 8th, 2014 @ 4:41 pm

      Thank you so much, dear Olga. Guilt and I are close friends, but I’m going to try to leave her behind for a while.

  2. Azu — August 9, 2014 @ 11:04 am

    These cookies have an incredible color and I bet they also taste delicious!

  3. Cherie — August 9, 2014 @ 11:29 am

    Merry, I think you’re making a wonderful choice. Knowing that there will be a week of Mommy being home with them will make day camp and the lack of your presence far easier to bear.
    In addition, these years are short, when they want you so close and can indulge in that complete ‘freedom’

    I’m so grateful to have spent summers with my children when they were younger – now not only one, but two have begun ‘working’ – my 14 and 16yos volunteer at a wonderful day camp for handicapped children/adults – and it is a wonderful experience for them – but I do miss those carefree summer days and we enjoy the few days that separate school from camp all the more because of the busy schedules we now now have.

    Those are memories we’ll never forget, and you and your children will treasure them. While guilt may have begun it – it’s a reward for all of you. Your job is such that there is urgency in every moment of it – and there will never be a ‘good’ time to take off, but breaks are necessary both for your children and yourself, and for your career, because it helps keep you balanced to have them, as Olga points out.

    Enjoy every moment 🙂

  4. Kate @ Savour Fare — August 9, 2014 @ 11:31 am

    We make my M do school-sponsored camp, too, but then we fork out a (not small) amount of money to send her to the local day camp that has been In business for 80 years. Four weeks of archery, swimming, fort building horseback riding, mudding and lots of outdoor play, and nary a peep of “why do you have to work?”

    That said, I try to take some time off around spring break, to just hang out.

  5. Paula — August 10, 2014 @ 5:42 pm

    With both my kids now parents themselves, I’m past the guilt stage you are experiencing as a working mom but I can still empathize. It is really tough to find a balance that keeps everyone smiling. So glad that you decided to take that extra week. Seems as if you and your kids got a lot out of it.
    As for these cookies you baked…first time I’ve seen a strawberry cookie recipe and it looks like a keeper.

  6. Mallory @forkvsspoon — August 14, 2014 @ 8:50 am

    Looking back, my brothers and I placed that guilt on my mom each and every summer and she too, always took a week off to just spend with us and to go swimming and exploring. It really was the best. Growing up and looking back, I understand the struggle she felt and how hard it must have been.

  7. MJ what a beautiful piece. I know telling you to relax and enjoy your “guilt week” is easy but it sounds like you did just that. Good for you. What lucky lucky kids you have. XO

  8. Bridget — April 16, 2015 @ 10:39 am

    Merry Jennifer, these cookies are fantastic! I can’t believe how strawberry-y they are, and I love the fluffy texture.

  9. Angie — January 5, 2018 @ 6:31 pm

    I’m going to make these cookies next month. They’ll be perfect to use for my strawberry shortcake cheesecake instead of graham crackers.

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