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Travel Photo of the Day: Agave

Travel Photo of the Day: Agave

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Agave grows throughout the Americas

The aguamiel, or "honey water" nectar, is located in the center of the agave plant.

If you want to sweeten up your food or drink nowadays, there is a long (and seemingly ever-growing) list of alternatives. One of the most popular that is "derived from naturally occurring substances" (keeping with the Mayo Clinic parlance), is agave nectar.

Click here to see the Travel Photo of the Day Slideshow!

Agave nectar actually comes from the agave plant, which grows throughout the southern United States, northern regions of South America, and hilly regions of Mexico. The nectar itself has been utilized for hundreds of years as a folk remedy (when mixed with salt) for skin infections and wounds. This nectar is also eventually processed for sweetening purposes. It comes from the core of the plant and has a viscosity that’s similar to maple syrup.

According to WebMD, a tablespoon of agave has about 60 calories as compared to 40 calories for a tablespoon of table sugar. However, since agave is generally sweeter than sugar, one can use less to achieve their desired amount of sweetness.

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National Tequila Day: Easy Cocktail Recipes That Aren’t Margaritas

Tequila is the key ingredient in a classic margarita, but margs aren’t the only cocktail option on National Tequila Day. To celebrate the July 24 holiday, try out one of these cocktail recipes, and use tequila (whether blanco, anejo or reposado) in a different way. The best part is these are all easy cocktail recipes to make at home.

Going Green — When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. When life gives you lemonade and tequila, make a cocktail. This recipe from Espanita Tequila is best served cold on a hot summer day.

  • 2 oz Espanita Añejo Tequila
  • 4 oz Simply Lemonade
  • 3 sprigs cilantro
  • 4-5 slices of cucumber
  • garnish: several thin cucumber slices

Method: In a shaker, muddle together cilantro sprigs and 4 or 5 thin cucumber slices before adding Espanita Anejo tequila and chilled lemonade. Stir well and strain the cocktail into a tall glass filled with ice through a fine-mesh strainer to remove pulp and cucumber seeds. Add several slices of cucumber and stir into the drink. Garnish with a sprig of Cilantro.

Going Green is a crisp, refreshing cocktail that's a great choice for National Tequila Day. Photo: Espanita Anejo

Frozen Batanga — This Patrón recipe kicks the average soda up a notch with tequila and lime.

  • 2 oz Patrón Silver
  • 4 oz Mexican cola
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • salt
  • ice
  • garnish: lime wedge

Method: Cocktail recipes don’t get easier than this. Combine everything in a blender and blend thoroughly. Pour the mix into a highball glass and garnish with a lime wedge, if desired.

Patrón makes the average cola way more exciting with the Batanga. Photo: Patrón

Aquadisiac — The blue curacao in this frozen Patrón recipe gives the drink a nice cyan hue with a citrus taste that might just make you forget about your canceled summer travel plans.

  • 1.5 oz Patrón Silver
  • 1 oz blue curacao
  • .75 oz lime juice
  • 3 oz Tropical Red Bull (yellow edition)
  • 2 cups of ice
  • garnish: pineapple wedge

Method: This is another easy tequila cocktail recipe where everything is simply blended together. Garnish with pineapple wedge for a tropical look.

Patrón's Aquadisiac is certainly the most Instagram-worthy cocktail for National Tequila Day. Photo: Patrón

Rose Icee — It turns out that one doesn’t need to choose between tequila or wine. Avión has a recipe with both.

  • 1.5 oz Avión Silver Tequila
  • 3 oz rosé
  • 0.75 oz lime juice
  • 1 oz strawberry syrup
  • 8 oz ice
  • garnish: whole strawberries and a basil leaf

Instructions: Blend all ingredients (except the basil leaf) for 20-30 seconds. Pour into a goblet glass and garnish with strawberries and basil.

Avión's Rose Icee combines the best of both worlds with wine and tequila. Photo: Avión

Palomita — Sesión has an elevated take on the classic Paloma recipe that adds in some ginger syrup.

  • 1.5 oz Sesión Reposado
  • 2 oz pink grapefruit soda
  • 0.3 – 0.5 oz ginger syrup (to taste)
  • garnish: lime wedge and edible flowers

Method: Add all ingredients to shaker. Add ice and shake until cold. Strain over fresh ice in rocks glass. Garnish with lime wedge and edible flowers.

National Cachaça Day Recipes

National Cachaça Day is September 13! Cachaça is a distilled spirit made from fermented sugarcane juice. It is the most popular spirit among distilled alcoholic beverages in Brazil and the country’s national spirit.

While Cachaça may be best known for the Caipirinha cocktail, it can also be used in other tropical drinks. And with many of us reducing travel or not traveling at all, a cachaça cocktail can be just the thing to transport us to tropical climates! We’ve compiled a collection of some cocktail creations below to help you celebrate this weekend.

Epistrophy’s Cachaça Colada (Pina Colada)

Add 1 1/2 oz of Abelha Cachaca Silver to a blender
Add 1 oz of lime,
Add 1/2 oz of agave syrup
Add 1 cube of Frozen Pinà mix (1 part Coconut cream, 3 parts pineapple juice – frozen in ice cubes)

Blend all together. Pour into a high-ball glass. Garnish with a de-hydrated lime wheel and a leaf of a pineapple. Serve!

Abacaxi De Ouro

1 1/2 oz. Abelha Organic Cachaça Ouro
1 oz. The Perfect Purée Carmelized Pineapple Concentrate, thawed
3/4 oz. spice syrup (ginger, cloves, lemon peels)
1 oz. fresh lime juice
3 dashes cardamon bitters
Black smoke salt rim

In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients with ice, shake and serve on the rocks with a black smoke salt rim. Garnish with pineapple leaves, star anise, and black smoke salt.

Recipe and photo courtesy of The Perfect Purée of Napa Valley.

Prata Rosa

1 1/2 oz. Abelha Organic Cachaça Prata
1 oz. The Perfect Purée Pink Guava Puree, thawed
1/8 oz. vanilla concentrate
1 oz. fresh lemon juice
2 oz. ginger beer
3 dashes of Angostura bitters

In a cocktail shaker, combine all ingredients with ice, except ginger beer and Angostura. Shake and serve on the rocks. Top with ginger beer and Angostura bitters, and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a lemon wheel.

Dreaming Of Traveling To Mexico To Celebrate Day Of The Dead? Here Are Our Picks Of Where To Go!

According to tradition Día De Muertos (as it's known in Spanish) is a time when the dead return to earth to visit their living relatives. It's a period that's simultaneously somber yet celebratory and is a holiday that originated in Mexico and with a history dating back thousands of years. Also, it's hands down one of the most beautiful cultural traditions you'll experience with color, sounds, and sights that are sure to make all your multisensory dreams come true.

If you love Mexico as much as we do, you'll want to add a trip to Mexico for Day Of The Dead to your travel bucket list because there's nothing quite like hopping on a plane and seeing it with your very own eyes!

But First, What Is Day Of The Dead?

The holiday of Día De Muertos has origins in Aztec and Catholic cultures and takes place during the observance of All Saints Day on November 1 and All Souls Day on November 2. The holiday is a sort of hybrid of the two cultures and as such there are traditions that pull from both.

It's believed young children return to earth as angels on the first night while deceased adults return on the second evening. Though Día De Muertos is most associated with Mexico, it is, in fact, celebrated in throughout Latin America -- but because it started in Mexico it's our favorite place to celebrate it in real life.

And What Are The Day Of The Dead Traditions?

There are numerous traditions for celebrating the holiday and different regions of Mexico have unique recipes and manners of celebrating. However, there are also a few commonalities across all Day Of The Dead celebrations in Mexico.

Throughout the country cemeteries and graves are decorated with papel picado (a colorful paper garland) and flowers (with orange marigolds on adult graves and white orchids on childrens' graves). Additionally, people build altars to celebrate the loved ones who have passed by showcasing objects that were coveted by and represent the deceased -- including photos, trinkets, and even their favorite foods.

During the holiday you'll find people dressed in costumes and with their faces painted to represent the dead and there are many representations of skulls (or calaveras) from hand-painted ceramic skulls to sugar-candy skulls.

Speaking of, what we particularly love about Day Of The Dead is that the holiday has its own set of foods made just for the occasion. There is everything from tamales and specific kinds of moles to sweets and breads that are supposed to help counteract the bitterness of death like pan de muertos.

So Where Are The Best Places To Celebrate Day Of The Dead In Mexico?

There are Day Of The Dead celebrations across Mexico but, to us, a few places really do it right. Here are a few of our favorite traveler-friendly places to partake in Día De Muertos:

Mexico City

If you’ve never been to Mexico before, heading to the country's cultural epicenter, Mexico City, to explore around Día De Muertos couldn’t be a better pick. It's a time of year when Mexico City's rainy season is coming to an end and Day Of The Dead feels are in full force.

Translation: the local markets are overflowing with marigolds, the sweet smells of copal incense, and loads of the sweet brioche-like bread, pan de muerto. Also, leading up to the holiday, there are also several events and desfiles or parades throughout the city. In a rare moment of real life echoing Hollywood, there is even a Dia De Muertos parade on the city's main avenue -- Avenida Reforma -- that was directly inspired by the 2015 James Bond movie, Spectre!

Oaxaca City

If you want to be at the epicenter of Día De Muertos festivities, Oaxaca is the place. A visually stunning town with a rich food culture, an extensive indigenous history, and even an UNESCO World Heritage site, Oaxaca is a popular spot for travelers in search of the more historic side of Mexico.

Sure, you’ll find no shortage of travelers this time of year as Oaxaca is well-known for its celebrations, but if you don’t mind the crowds, the city is a beautiful and vibrant place. From the markets to the parties in the streets and far out in the middle of nowhere among the wild agave fields, there is no shortage of celebrations to experience.

Guadalajara's Tlaquepaque

If you’re looking for a smaller spot that's lesser-known to foreigners the Guadalajara suburb of Tlaquepaque is the perfect place to learn about all the Day Of The Dead traditions. This colorful village is just 20 miles from downtown Guadalajara but it's quaintness make it feel a world away from the big city bustle. And during Day Of The Dead, the cobblestoned streets and colonial-era buildings of Tlaquepaque are lined with altars and people milling about celebrating the occasion. Team Salt & Wind Travel spent 2019 celebrating the holiday in the state of Jalisco and we loved every minute.

Michoacán's Lake Patzcuaro

If you’ve been to Mexico before and want a deep and meaningful dive into a destination centered around local, you’ll want to explore Michoacan. It is, in fact, our pick for Day Of The Dead 2020 celebrations! If you head to Michoacan for Day Of The Dead, you'll dive into the local culture, traditions, and heritage as we head from the city of Morelia to the town of Pátzcuaro. Less traveled and 100% worth getting to know, traditions on the mythical Lake Patzcuaro shows its historic roots and is a place where Día De Muertos traditions are alive and well.

Thinking of heading to Mexico to celebrate Day Of The Dead IRL? We can help plan your travels! Can't make it to Mexico? Celebrate at home and try your hand at a few of the festive recipes, florals, and decor we created for our Day Of The Dead party!

15 Amazing Margarita Recipes You'll Wanna Make Right This Second

Ever go to a bar and wonder why you&rsquore paying someone to stick a lime wedge and some salt on your glass when you could be at home with Netflix and a little tequila? These margarita recipes will make your night in feel ten times fancier&mdashand with way less effort than it takes to bar-hop in heels.

1. Mango Chili Margarita

Combine 1 ½ oz. tequila, 2 oz. mango juice, 1 oz. triple sec, and ½ oz. lime juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well. Coat the rim of the glass with a lime wedge and a mixture of chili powder and salt, then strain the cocktail into a glass with ice.

2. Rose Water Margarita

In a shaker, combine 1 oz. Cointreau, 1 oz. blanco tequila, 1 oz. lime juice, 1 oz. grapefruit juice, 6-8 dashes of rose water, and ice. Shake, strain over ice in a rocks glass, and top with 2 oz. Champagne. Garnish with a lime wheel or peel and/or rosebuds.

3. Hades Hope

Combine 2 dashes Fee Brothers Chocolate Bitters, ½ oz. agave, ½ oz. fresh lime juice, ¾ oz. pomegranate puree, and 1 ½ oz. Montelobos Mezcal in a cocktail shaker. Shake, strain into a coupe glass, and garnish with a fresh pansy.

Recipe from Rafael Del Busto at El Vez, New York.

4. Honey Lemon Margarita

Combine 1 ½ oz. golden tequila, 1 oz. triple sec, ½ oz. honey, and ½ oz. fresh lemon juice in a cocktail shaker. Shake until the honey fully dissolves, then add ice and shake for another 10 seconds. Coat the rim of a glass with a lemon wedge and salt. Strain the cocktail into the glass with ice, and garnish with a lemon wheel.

5. Matcha Margarita

Combine 1 oz. Cointreau, 2 oz. tequila, ¾ oz. fresh lime juice, and ½ bar spoon matcha green tea powder in a shaker with ice. Shake, strain into a rocks glass, and garnish with a lime wheel.

6. Fruit Cart Margarita

Prepare fruit for the blender: ¼ cup watermelon (peeled, de-seeded, and roughly chopped), ⅛ cup mango (peeled, cored, and roughly chopped), ⅓ cup pineapple (peeled, cored, and roughly chopped), and ⅛ cup cucumber (peeled, de-seeded, and roughly chopped). Add 3 tablespoons of sugar, 2 cups of water, and the fruit to the blender. Blend until smooth. Combine 1 oz. of the puree, 2 oz. Blue Agave Reposado Tequila, ½ oz. agave nectar, ½ oz. freshly-squeezed lime juice, and ¼ oz. Chamoy in a cocktail shaker. Shake and pour over ice into a glass with a tajin rim. Garnish with reserved fruit and dried chile mango.

Recipe from Lucien Conner at Puesto, San Diego.

7. Avión Rosé Marg

Combine 1 ½ parts Avión Silver, ½ part lemon juice, ½ part lime juice, and ½ part agave nectar, shake vigorously, and strain into a Collins glass with crushed ice. Top with rosé.

8. Better Than Toast

Add ¼ cup agave, ¼ cup water, and the meat of a whole avocado to a blender cup. Blend for 30 seconds on high. Combine 2 oz. of the mixture with lime juice and 2 oz. tequila in a cocktail shaker. Shake, and strain into a salt-rimmed rocks glass with ice. Garnish with an edible flower.

Recipe from Lucien Conner at Puesto, San Diego.

9. LBT Margarita

Mix 10 large carrots (juiced), 2 apples (juiced), 1 lime (juiced), 1 orange (juiced), 2 inches ginger, and ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper. Pour 2 oz. of the carrot mix, 1 ½ oz. Milagro tequila, 1 oz. lime, and 1 oz. agave into a shaker over ice, and shake. Coat the rim of the glass with a mix of Anaheim chili powder, Korean chili powder, Ancho chili powder, Pasilla chili powder, and salt. Pour the cocktail over ice.

Recipe from The Little Beet Table, NYC and Chicago.

10. Berry Belle Margarita

Muddle 2 raspberries and 2 slices of red bell pepper in a shaker. Add 1 oz. Cointreau, 2 oz. blanco tequila, 1 bar spoon raspberry preserves, and ice. Shake vigorously, and strain into a chilled cocktail glass.

11. The Gaby Margarita

Add 1 oz. tequila, 1 oz. mezcal, ½ oz. jalapeño-infused Green Chartreuse, 1 oz. lime juice, and ⅓ oz. agave into a shaker. Mix well, and pour into a cocktail glass with a salt rim. Garnish with a dried lemon wheel.

Recipe from Call Me Gaby, Miami Beach.

12. Watermelon Basil Margarita

Prepare basil simple syrup by combining 1 cup raw sugar, 1 cup water, and ½ cup packed fresh basil leaves in a pan. Heat until the sugar dissolves, then set aside to let cool. Once cooled, strain into a jar, and refrigerate for up to two weeks. Combine 1 ½ oz. tequila, 1 oz. lime juice, ½ oz. basil simple syrup, and 2 oz. watermelon juice in a cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well, and coat the rim of a glass with a lime wedge and salt. Strain the cocktail into the glass with ice, and garnish with a basil sprig.

13. Avión Peach Margarita

Combine 2 parts Avión Silver, 2 parts peach puree, 1 part lime juice, and ½ part agave nectar in a blender with ice, and blend until smooth. Pour over ice, and garnish with a peach wedge.

14. Blueberry Margarita

Muddle 1 cup fresh blueberries and 1 oz. lime juice in a cocktail shaker. Add 2 oz. tequila, 1 oz. Grand Marnier, and ice, then shake well to combine. Coat the rim of the glass with a lime wedge and salt. Strain the cocktail into glass with ice, and garnish with extra blueberries.

15. Scythe and Sickle

Combine 3 dashes Peychaud's Bitters, ½ oz. lemon juice, ½ oz. honey, ¾ oz. pineapple juice, ½ oz. mezcal, ¾ oz. tequila, ¾ oz. jalapeño tequila, and 3 sprays absinthe in a shaker. Pour over a rocks glass with ice, and garnish with a pineapple frond.

Agave all day: Move over rosé, tequila is the drink of the summer

This article was published more than 6 months ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.

Siempre Tequila was founded by Alex Lacroix with his Mexican partner Monica Sanita.

In mid-March, as most North Americans hunkered down at home, they stocked their bars with liquid comfort. Nielsen reported U.S. liquor sales were up 55 per cent that week, with tequila leading the way, selling 75 per cent more than at the same time last year. There’s a growing thirst for spirits made from the desert succulent agave, including tequila and its smoky older sibling mezcal. (Technically, mezcal is the umbrella term for all agave spirits, though the spirit distilled from smoked agave is also specifically known as mezcal.)

Spirits Canada reports that although tequila makes up just 3 per cent of annual spirits sales, the category grew by almost 11 per cent in 2018, outpaced only slightly by gin. Canadian palates and markets have both been opened by travel to, and trade with, Mexico (where all tequila and mezcal must be made). Brands are building on both: Calgary’s Wayne Henuset, for instance, leads an investor group that purchased the El Tequileno brand and built the nearby Casa Salles boutique hotel.

Cans of Nude tequila and soda with lime flew off Canadian shelves last year.

Canadian experts have other theories about the spirits’ upward trajectory. “People are not just expanding their level of taste by going to the beach in Mexico. They’re getting it from our bartenders,” says Vancouver-based Eric Lorenz. The master mezcalero and catador (taster) and diploma-holder from the Consejo Regulador del Tequila, the spirit’s governing body, founded the national distributor Lorenz Agave Spirits a decade ago. He travelled Mexico to hand-select products, such as Alipus single-village mezcals and overproof Tapatio tequila, for mixologists to use in cocktails. “There’s getting to be much more of a market for sipping straight spirits, too,” he says. He’s watched tastes evolve from “easy-drinking” reposado and anejo barrel-aged tequilas to “making vegetal flavours sexy” in today’s quality unaged spirits, which can smell and taste of roasted peppers, grilled vegetables, citrus and botanicals.

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Lorenz also says that wellness-conscious imbibers appreciate that high-quality blanco tequila and mezcal don’t have additives. Tavi Eggertson founded Tavi Tequila on that premise after struggling with allergies to most alcoholic beverages. He calls his ultra-premium Platinum “tequila for people who don’t like tequila,” with smooth honey, butter and nut aromas. “People drink it all night and call me the next day to say they don’t have a hangover,” he says. Montrealer Alex Lacroix, who co-founded the premium tequila brand Siempre with his Mexican partner Monica Sanita, says with a wink, “In Mexico, we’ve heard [tequila] helps with digestion, works as a sleep aid, even helps to cure the common cold.” Sanita’s mother and great-grandmother made agave spirits at home, part of a revered Mexican cultural tradition that’s often nurtured through generations.

Owen Walker, co-owner of Toronto watering holes El Rey and Quetzal, recommends grapefruit, berries, cucumber and chilis in drinks made with tequila and mezcal.

Former Vancouver star bartender Danielle Tartarin has been exploring the artistry of mezcal-producing families since moving to Mexico five years ago. She plans to bring small-batch mezcals to the Canadian market under the Gota Gorda (“Fat Drop”) brand, exploring the terroir of more than 50 types of agave. Tartarin, who sips besitos (kisses) of mezcal with a snack plate of fruit, nuts and chocolate, says aficionados of the spirit “value bottles of mezcal because they are history, time and patience collected and turned into liquid art passed down through generations.”

Mexico City native Carmen Marron is using many of those historic labour-intensive methods for growing, harvesting, smoking and distilling agave for her Mezcal Agua Santa. Marron, who completed an MBA in Canada, prioritizes sustainable practices, from filtering distillery waste to cutting down on emissions from wood-oven agave cooking. Because of long growing and maturation cycles, agave can be a volatile and vulnerable commodity, so Marron supports environmentally conscious agave farming and replanting programs, issues she says are increasingly of concerns to consumers.

The ready-to-drink canned-cocktail movement has also boosted tequila consumption. The Canadian brand Tequila Tromba debuted its canned Tequila Tromba Blanco and soda cocktails in Ontario this spring, for instance. Nude is another Canadian brand offering tequila in a can. “To our knowledge, we were the world’s first sugar-free tequila soda on the world market, ever,” says Julius Makarewicz, CEO of B.C.-based Nude. Cans of Nude tequila and soda with lime flew off Canadian shelves last year. “We couldn’t make enough,” Makarewicz says. This spring, Nude released a pineapple-flavoured version.

Grapefruit, berries, cucumber, chilis and a touch of agave nectar are other cocktail ingredients Owen Walker, co-owner of Toronto watering holes El Rey and Quetzal, recommends with tequila and mezcal. “I am also a huge fan of the Bittermens Xocolatl Mole flavour when thinking about a bitters option for an agave drink,” says the bartender and spirits expert. With inspiration like that, we never need to resort to lime-and-salt shots or simple margaritas ever again.

'Consumers should be educated on producers who may be adding fillers to make up for the lack of maturity of plants,' says Eric Brass, CEO of Tequila Tromba.

Make-Ahead Frozen Margaritas

In a blender, combine limeade, tequilla, triple sec, and lime juice. Cover and blend briefly until mixed. Fill blender to top with ice. Cover and blend until slushy and no ice chunks remain. Using a leftover juiced lime, rub the cut side of the lime around the rim of the glasses. Dip glass rims in salt. For an optional garnish, slice a lime into circles or semi-circles, cut a notch in them and hang on the edge of the glass.

Pour blended margaritas into 1/2 pint (1 cup) mason jars, screw on the lids and freeze. To serve, remove from freezer & immediately dip it in salt (while the margarita is still solid and won't come out of the inverted jar). Use a fork to break up and stir the semi-frozen margaritas into a slushy consistency. The alcohol keeps them from freezing to a hard solid state, so they're always ready to remove from the freezer, serve, and drink.

VIRGIN MARGARITAS: omit tequila and triple sec and substitute equivalent amount of water. If made ahead, these will reach a hard ice state when refrozen due to the lack of alcohol. Remove them from the freezer and let them sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before stirring into a slushy consistency.

*If you prefer to avoid the high fructose corn syrup in frozen limeade concentrate, you may substitute:
--1 cup fresh lime juice
--1/2 cup agave nectar OR honey OR simple sugar syrup.

It's hard to beat a margarita on a hot day. This recipe is a favorite that I've been making for many, many years. Like somewhere around 30 years.

King-Man and I often enjoy these margaritas on a hot summer night or when we have friends over. The only problem is that you have to make a whole blender full at one time. When it's just the two of us, as much as I would like to drink a half a blender of margaritas on my own, that's normally not a good idea. (Assuming I want to function in the real world the next day!) After putting some of the leftovers in the freezer to drink at another time, I discovered how well this recipe freezes and refreezes. So, this eventually turned into a make-ahead recipe.

I love to serve these when we have parties, but I don't want to be a slave to the blender all night. By making these frozen margaritas ahead and pouring them into individual size mason jars before refreezing them, they are ready to serve when the guests arrive. No last minute preparation or blending drinks throughout the party. Love the convenience and it's a fun, novel way to serve the margaritas that our guests always enjoy.

Here's a quick video that shows how easy these are to make:

Step-by-step photos for Make-Ahead Frozen Margaritas

Step 1. Assemble the ingredients: frozen limeade concentrate, tequila, triple sec (or other orange liqueur), fresh limes, salt for glass rims--either margarita salt or kosher salt are best (they're more coarse than table salt)

UPDATE WITH NO HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP: Since first posting this recipe, I have become concerned about the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the frozen limeade concentrate. In fact, HFCS is listed as its main ingredient. I now make a modified version omitting the frozen limeade concentrate and instead substituting 1 cup of fresh lime juice and 1/2 cup of agave nectar syrup (still a sweetener, but not as bad for you as HFCS). It tastes great and is HFCS free! So, it's up to you if you prefer the convenience of using the frozen concentrate or don't mind a little extra effort to juice a few limes. My printable recipe at the end of the post provides both options.

Don't like agave nectar? You can also substitute honey or a simple sugar syrup for the HFCS in frozen limeade concentrate.

Step 2. Combine the can of limeade*, tequila, triple sec, and lime juice in a blender. Give it a whirl just long enough to blend it together. (* or substitute fresh lime juice and agave nectar)

NOTE: I like my margaritas strong and tart. You may want to make some adjustments to the amount of ingredients to suit your taste.

Step 3. Fill the blender to the top with ice cubes. Cover and blend until slushy and no ice chunks remain. Some blenders are better than others at crushing ice, so you may need to stop and stir it a few times and keep blending until all the ice chunks are gone.

Step 4. If you're drinking your margaritas right away, run a cut lime around the rim of the glass to make it wet and sticky. Then dip it in the salt.

Fill your glass and enjoy! Garnish the glass with a lime slice, if you like.

Step 5. If you're freezing part or all of blended margaritas, pour them into individual jars or glasses. 1/2 pint (1 cup) mason jars work perfectly for an individual serving size and, they have lids to make it easy to cover them and put them in the freezer.

Leave them in the freezer until they're ready to serve. They'll be good for a week or two--assuming they last that long! I can fill 6 or 7 jars from one batch.

When you're ready to serve the re-frozen margaritas, dip them in salt immediately after taking them out of the freezer. You need to do this while the margaritas are still frozen solid and won't fall out when you invert the glass.

The alcohol in the margaritas keeps them from freezing hard. You can stir them with a fork straight from the freezer, easily breaking the mixture into a slushy consistency. If they're too firm to drink right away, within 5-10 minutes, they'll have the same consistency they had right after they were first blended. Or, you can eat them with a spoon and call it "margarita ice" if you don't want to wait for them to melt a bit.

These are an easy, delicious refreshment on a hot summer day. Of course, they're always great with a Mexican meal. Try them with tacos or chips and fire-roasted salsa.

GET READY TO PARTY! You might want to make up a blender or two of margaritas, freeze them in individual jars or glasses, and be ready for your next party or picnic. Whether celebrating Cinco de Mayo, the 4th of July, the first day of summer, or any ol' day you choose, these margaritas are hard to beat.

VIRGIN MARGARITAS? Easy. Omit the tequila and triple sec and substitute an equivalent amount of water. If made ahead, these will reach a hard ice state when refrozen due to the lack of alcohol. Remove them from the freezer and let them sit at room temperature for 10-15 minutes before stirring into a slushy consistency.

Decoding The Food And Drink On A Day Of The Dead Altar

Elaborately decorated skulls are crafted from pure sugar and given to friends as gifts. The colorful designs represent the vitality of life and individual personality. Karen Castillo Farfán /NPR hide caption

Elaborately decorated skulls are crafted from pure sugar and given to friends as gifts. The colorful designs represent the vitality of life and individual personality.

Karen Castillo Farfán /NPR

A version of this story was originally published on Nov. 1, 2012.

Sugar skulls, tamales and spirits (the alcoholic kind) — these are the offerings, or ofrendas, you might find on altars built this time of year to entice those who've passed to the other side back for a visit. These altars in homes and around tombstones are for Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, a tradition on Nov. 1 and 2 originating in central Mexico.

Altar: Altars are used to welcome the ancestors' spirits into the home. It is also practice to visit the ancestral burial ground to celebrate with picnics and music. Karen Castillo Farfán /NPR hide caption

The Aztecs developed the ritual some 3,000 years ago because they believed one should not grieve the loss of a beloved ancestor who passed. Instead, the Aztecs celebrated their lives and welcomed the return of their spirits to the land of the living once a year. That's where the food, drink and music offerings come in.

Hayes Lavis, cultural arts curator for the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, says that mourning was not allowed because it was believed the tears would make the spirit's path treacherous and slippery. "This day is a joyous occasion it's a time to gather with everyone in your family, those alive and those dead," he says.

During the Spanish conquest, Catholic leaders exerted their influence on the tradition, and the resulting mash-up created the Day of the Dead celebration as we now know it.

Everything on an altar has special meaning, and if you want to try this at home, we've decoded the elaborate altar created for the Smithsonian. Of course, many people who celebrate this holiday will pick and choose from among these symbolic items:

Sugar skulls: Elaborately decorated skulls are crafted from pure sugar and given to friends as gifts. The colorful designs represent the vitality of life and individual personality.

Food: The ancestor's favorite meals are placed on the altar as offerings. Here, a tamal is being served. Tamales are made from corn-based dough, wrapped in cornhusk, then steamed. They are filled with a variety of ingredients like shredded chicken in a green spicy sauce or sweetened with pineapple-cinnamon jellies.

Pan de Muertos: Semisweet breads are baked in the shape of bones, and dusted with sugar. They're also meant to represent the soil.

Seeds: Pumpkin seeds or amaranth seeds are offered as snacks for the visiting ancestral spirit. In pre-Columbian times, Aztecs used amaranth seeds instead of sugar to make the skulls.

Alcohol: Bottles are offered to toast the arrival of the ancestors. In pre-Columbian times, pulque, a beverage made from sap of maguey or agave plant was reserved for special spiritual ceremonies. Today, any alcoholic beverage favored by the dead can be used to toast.

Monarch butterfly: These butterflies, which migrate to Mexico each fall, were believed to be the spirits of the ancestors coming to visit.

Photographs: Images of loved ones who have died are placed on the altar. This photograph shows Teodomiro Nrquiola. His great-grand son, Luis Alipaz, placed it on an altar at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

Papel picado: Delicately decorated tissue paper represents wind and the fragility of life.

Dogs and Candles: Dogs were believed to guide the ancestral spirits to their final resting place in the afterlife. Candles represent fire and are a light guiding them back to visit the land of the living.

To learn more, check out this interactive website the Smithsonian folks put together.

Easy, and delicious! Just remember you need to start the day before.

can i use my vitamix blender or is there a big difference using the food processor?

I made this adaption to use the whole can of unsweetened coconut cream and canned pineapple replacing fresh: Steve Version Use Whole Can 2 cans pineapple chucks in heavy syrup. Drain syrup, use for something else. like drink it 1 can, 13 2/3 ozs unsweetened coconut cream 1/3 cup light agave nectar Pinch of kosher salt Toasted unsweetened flaked coconut, for garnish Then follow this recipe of freezing pineapple overnight and put 1 can unsweetened coconut cream in refrigerator. chill as many ingredients as possible. Use Cuisinart chopping blade, and mix until consistency of soft serve ice cream. maybe 2-3 mins. Delicious treat. Will serve next dinner party. PS I looked for but could not find frozen pineapple chunks. Peach, Mango, Strawberries, Blueberries are readily available. but no pineapple at Walmart or Kroger. Would be easier. So replaced with canned.

Toast National Tequila Day with these 10 cocktail recipes

Cue The Champs’ Tequila song because Friday, July 24, is National Tequila Day. While we don’t need an official “day” to enjoy a margarita or throw back a shot, the holiday is the perfect excuse (if you’re 21 or older). In honor of National Tequila Day, HOLA! USA has found several refreshing cocktail recipes that are sure to have you singing one tequila, two tequila, three tequila. MORE!

Scroll for 10 drink recipes.

Casa Paloma

-2 oz. Casamigos Reposado Tequila

-.75 oz. Fresh Grapefruit Juice

-Grapefruit Soda (Suggested San Pellegrino Grapefruit Soda)

-Half-Moon Grapefruit Slice

Combine all of the ingredients into a shaker. Add ice, shake vigorously, and strain into a rocks glass. Add fresh ice, top off with grapefruit soda and garnish with a half-moon grapefruit slice.

The Manzarita

-¾ Part St-Germain French Elderflower Liqueur

-1 ½ Parts Pressed Apple Juice

Muddle lemon wedges and cinnamon in a mixing glass. Add remaining ingredients and shake with ice. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass and garnish with an apple slice, or a cinnamon stick.

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