Posts Tagged With: Mexico

205/365: National Tequila Day

Hopefully you won’t try to worm your way out of celebrating today’s holiday. In fact, you should embrace the spirit! July 24 is National Tequila Day.

Chances are, if you think of tequila, margaritas come to mind. Or a catchy song by The Champs. You know the one…it’s got real challenging lyrics.

Tequila is made from the blue agave plant, primarily found in and around the Mexican state of Jalisco. Aztecs used to make a fermented beverage from the agave plant called pulque, when they weren’t busy building pyramids and sacrificing humans. Spanish conquistadors arrived in 1521 and, when their brandy ran out, turned to the blue agave plant themselves, creating North America’s first distilled beverage. Originally called mezcal wine, it went through several name changes – mezcal brandy, agave wine, and Juan – before finally being called tequila after the nearby town of the same name, which means “the place of harvesting plants.” The first licensed manufacturer was a gentleman by the name of José Antonio Cuervo, who was granted a parcel of land from the King of Spain in 1758. Tequila didn’t really take off until after 1821, when Mexico gained independence. During the Mexican Revolution, tequila became a symbol of national pride and patriotism. During Prohibition it was smuggled across the border into the U.S., helping to solidify its popularity here; during WWII, European liquor was hard to come by, and tequila’s popularity rose to ever higher levels. Mexico passed regulations in 1944 stipulating that in order to be called tequila, blue agave must be distilled in the state of Jalisco.

As for the worm in the bottle? It’s nothing more than a marketing ploy dreamed up by Americans in the 1940s in an effort to boost sales; they created a myth the worm in the bottom of a tequila bottle contained magical and aphrodisiac properties, and gringos everywhere should consume it as a rite of passage. True tequila never actually contained a worm, though it is sometimes found in bottles of mezcal, which differs from tequila in that it may be distilled from plants other than blue agave. Technically it’s not even a worm, but the larvae of a moth that feeds on the maguey plant used to distill some varieties of mezcal. Bet you feel like a real sucker now if you’ve ever eaten a “worm” from a tequila bottle!

Obviously, tequila is strongly associated with the margarita; even though we recently celebrated this holiday, it gave us a good excuse to whip up another batch of margaritas, which are one of my favorite alcoholic beverages. You’ll notice the fine quality imported tequila we used to honor today’s holiday. Jose Cuervo, eat your heart out.

National Tequila Day

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58/365: National Kahlua Day*

Q: What do a Black Russian and a Dirty Girl Scout have in common?
A: The ingredient in today’s food holiday! And you thought it was the start of a naughty joke…

February 27 is both National Strawberry Day and National Kahlua Day. Since strawberries aren’t in season until June – the really good ones, anyway (nothing beats Oregon and Washington strawberries!) – we decided to celebrate Kahlua. This coffee flavored liqueur is always in season!

In the 1930s, the Alvarez brothers were harvesting premium arabica coffee beans from their field in Veracruz. They enlisted the aid of a local entrepreneur and budding chemist, Senor Blanco, to use their beans in a new liqueur he was developing. Nice to know he wasn’t wasting his time on something silly like a cure for cancer. Another chemist, Montalvo Lara, refined the recipe in the early 1960s. (Apparently, Veracruz – one of Mexico’s states – is known for delicious coffee, fine art, and chemists who dabble in alcoholic concoctions). Lara’s unique flavor combination – coffee and vanilla – caught the attention of Jules Berman, an American art collector, who began importing the drink (named after the Arabic slang word for coffee, “kahwa”). He sold the recipe to Hiram Walker and Sons in 1964, then sat back and got filthy stinkin’ rich as Kahlua became the #1-selling coffee liqueur in the world.

Because of its premium ingredients and rich, distinctive flavor, Kahlua can be enjoyed on the rocks, or as the basis for a number of cocktails. In addition to the two mentioned above, it is used in the B52, White Russian and Mudslide, among others. It is also delicious served with milk or cream; Tara made this concoction for me once when I was visiting her in Nevada, and I immediately fell under its spell. So tonight, after dinner, we enjoyed a Kahlua and cream.

Kahlua & Cream

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53/365: National Margarita Day

Ole! Today’s food holiday is one we were eager to wrap our lips around. It’s National Margarita Day! Both Tara and I love a good margarita. A few caveats, though: it’s got to be served on the rocks – never blended. And under no circumstances should you use a bottled mix from a grocery shelf, even if it’s got the word Cuervo on it. The best margaritas are made fresh, with tequila, lime juice, triple sec, and a salted rim.

We are very picky about our margaritas.

Almost as many people claim to have invented the margarita as insist they were at Woodstock, so while its true origin is up for debate, we do know that the drink was first served in the 1940s. Many believe a bartender in Ensenada, Mexico named Don Carlos Orozco invented the drink in 1941. One day Margarita Henkel, the daughter of a German ambassador, stopped by for a drink. Orozco had been experimenting with some new creations and offered her the first taste of a cocktail he’d made with equal parts tequila, Damiana liqueur, and lime. Other stories give credit to Carlos Herrera, a Mexican restauranteur, who allegedly created the cocktail for dancer Marjorie King, who was allergic to all hard alcohol except tequila; to Santos Cruz, a bartender in Galveston, Texas who named the drink for singer Peggy (Margaret) Lee (“Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree”); and to Dallas socialite Margarita Sames, who made the drink for a house full of guests that included Tommy Hilton (hotel chain baron and unfortunate relative of Paris), who was so impressed he added the drink to the hotel’s bar menu.

MargaritaOthers insist the margarita is simply another version of a popular American drink at that time named the Daisy, and tequila was substituted for brandy because Prohibition drove people across the Mexican border for their alcohol (and pinata) fix. Indeed, “margarita” is the Spanish word for “daisy” (aha!) so this story is probably the most likely.

Really, who cares who came up with it first? The important thing is, somebody did. And that’s good enough for me. Margaritas were the first mixed drink I really got into, and are still the best part of any Mexican dining experience. I always judge a Mexican restaurant based on the attention they give to their margarita; invariably, the places with the best food always serve the best margaritas, too. I’ve had a lot of really good margaritas over the years; oddly enough, one of the best is available at Chili’s, and made with Presidente brandy in addition to the other usual ingredients. I was able to recreate this recipe at home, and now churn out a really good margarita whenever the occasion calls for it.

This being Friday, however, Tara and I weren’t sitting around the house, so we met up at a Mexican restaurant called Catedral Tapatia for margaritas. And dinner, of course! They were big…and tasted great, the perfect celebration to mark the end of another work week!

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