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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14 Responses to “bright, shiny spots of happiness: yellow cake with chocolate frosting”

  1. Di — May 17, 2013 @ 11:05 am

    Twenty six years ago my dad was slowing dying of a degenerative heart disease when my mom passed suddenly and unexpectedly of a heart attack. I worked in Brooklyn at the time. I remember looking longingly at buses coming over the Brooklyn Bridge because I thought having enough courage to throw myself under one might put me out of my misery. I’m glad I had the courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other and I like your way much better….looking at blue birds instead of those darn buses! Your courage, your grace, your love of life, family, medicine and cakes will carry you. Your writing will continue to inspire us to not only look back with gratitude but look forward with joy and hope. Thank you for sharing.

    • Merry-Jennifer

      Merry-Jennifer replied: — May 17th, 2013 @ 1:14 pm

      Di, it’s comments like yours that bring the brightest & shiniest of the happy spots in my life right now. Thank you.

  2. Kathryn — May 17, 2013 @ 11:29 am

    Bright shiny spots of happiness is the best phrase I’ve heard in a long time. I hope you manage to keep finding them, despite everything that’s going on.

  3. Macaroni Mama — May 17, 2013 @ 12:51 pm

    Well done, Merry Jennifer! The cake looks yummy!

  4. Rima Kleiner — May 17, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    Ahhhh, here’s to those CHS nights driving around in our ol’ one-theater stomping grounds… Please keep sharing your “bright, shiny spots of happiness” with us, Merry Jennifer. Your heart-felt writing is always a pleasure to read.

  5. We definitely have to look for and cherish the bright, shiny spots of happiness <3
    Love this story, love the cake, and can't wait until June!!

    <3 Rachel

  6. Denice Olig — May 17, 2013 @ 3:19 pm

    Have fun at Walt Disney World!!! Even as an adult there is plenty of Disney magic there. Food forum sounds really fun.

  7. Lynda - TasteFood — May 17, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

    Lovely spots of happiness. Thank you for the inspiration – I might borrow a few…

  8. cherie — May 18, 2013 @ 9:03 am

    I really just wanted to send you a warm, comforting hug. I’m glad you’re able to look at the bright spots – harder than it seems sometimes I’m sure.
    Isn’t it funny that we never really feel like we’re a grown up, aren’t cognizant of it, till it sucks? Sigh
    Enjoy the bright spots on your horizon

  9. Paula — May 20, 2013 @ 8:54 am

    I know you will be able to hear a pin drop when you speak about story telling at the BlogHer conference.
    This wonderful post and your inner strength and grace makes me think of the last line of one of my favourite poems, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann *With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be careful, strive to be happy* You epitomize this.

  10. in spite of so many things going on MJ you are just inspirational and full of positivity 🙂 thanks for sharing this happy cake. I just bought a new cake pan and very excited to find my happiness soon

  11. Reading your site is always a bright spot in my day, and this post is no exception! This afternoon, it was a much needed distraction from a long afternoon with a screaming baby. With everything you are going through right now, it’s good to see that you are still finding joy. Knowing that you are going to be speaking about story telling at BHF is making me wish I was going! I admire your courage when you write… Story telling is one of the areas on my site that I tend to neglect.

  12. You are such a strong woman, caring for your Dad like that. I can only imagine how difficult it is to watch him with each passing day. I love how you focus on the good in the world , even the little things like the birds and a cake can change your day (and your entire outlook on life) around! The cake, by the way, looks amazing! Can’t wait to meet your at BlogHer Food!

  13. Alice @ Hip Foodie Mom — May 31, 2013 @ 11:54 am

    yummmm!! such a beautiful cake! pinning!

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