Even if you've hosted plenty of dinners and holiday meals, you might have already discovered that Thanksgiving seems to be the one holiday that has the potential to deteriorate pretty fast, rather like a talapia fillet left in the trunk of your car on a summer day in Central Texas.
If you're anticipating a warm, friendly gathering of friends and family that loves to be together on Thanksgiving, then you are very fortunate. I have been fortunate on most occasions to have enjoyed a very pleasant day in the company of family and friends. I treasure those memories. But for some, this kind of holiday celebration is far from reality.
So what is it about Thanksgiving that takes the fun out of dysfunctional? Sometimes, it's a situation of forced togetherness for people who spend most of the year feuding or avoiding each other. Thanksgiving is also an extended family gathering that invites complete pandemonium and wild, often unrealistic expectations. And then there's the combination of too much alcohol and the discussions of political and lifestyle choices. When the conflict starts, it goes way beyond Cowboys vs. Redskins, or paper vs. plastic or cornbread stuffing vs. white bread stuffing. It goes beyond the loudly-complaining picky eater and the person, who despite your pleas both privately and publicly, still insists on denigrating certain groups of people who are not like (and therefore, threatening) to him or her.
I would suggest that the potential to have your Thanksgiving Day plans for a peaceful dinner deteriorate so quickly exists solely because of the lethal combination of personalities and competing egos that tend to be present at any large gathering. Think of Congress, by way of example.
But this post is not about how to orchestrate a miracle and effectuate healing of broken souls in an intervention-style maneuver. Nor is it about avoiding the Fiscal Cliff. That is just too much work for a holiday weekend and belongs in the capable hands of a professional. Or, in the case of Congress, people agreeing to work together for the good of all. As if.
No, I would suggest a much more efficient, immediate and expedient way to alleviate your suffering in an unpleasant situation, or to expand your joy in the midst of a happy one: let's have a Thanksgiving cocktail.
I am not a proponent of heavy cocktails for either myself or my guests when I am hosting a dinner, although dinner in my home is almost always happy, joyous occasions where everyone likes being together. However, I have found that drinking a heavy cocktail encourages poor knife skills and turkeys wanting to jump out of ovens like they were on the Golden Gate Bridge. It also can produce vignettes that involve tears and blue mascara running down a cheek or two, too many inappropriate jokes being loudly showcased outside the boundaries of the "inappropriate joke-telling area" (which in my home is always the kitchen), or the use of the F-bomb at the dinner table in front of Aunt Bessie.
What we want is just enough alcohol to help the guests "chill out" a little, become convivial and full of good cheer, or in some cases, smooth out all the rough edges so that they can mingle together more easily--perhaps even consider liking one another for the next several hours. And we want just enough alcohol for the host to reduce the over-stimulation of having 20 people in the house at one time and still be able to get dinner on the table without incident.
I am not talking about the incident in which you have a "discussion" with your cousin about whether your lovely home-made cranberry sauce infused with ruby port and candied ginger or the canned cranberry sauce she brought should be in Grandma's antique crystal bowl. That discussion is unfortunately unavoidable. As host, I think I have a right to say that my home-made cranberry sauce goes in Grandma's crystal bowl. However, in the interest of keeping the peace, I will also smile my tight-lipped Southern belle smile and indulge my cousin, who has clearly not had enough of her cocktail to make her see things my way.
The Thanksgiving cocktail I suggest--the miracle worker--is actually a spritzer called a rebujito or a sherry cobbler. This drink is light, lovely, refreshing and low in alcohol content. You can sip away the afternoon (and even begin at 8 a.m. when the turkey goes in the oven, if you'd like, but be sure to add some orange juice!) and still be quite cordial and competent as both host and cook. And you can indulge in wine or another libation for dinner and still not be too loaded when you load the dishwasher or decimated when you divvy up all those leftovers.
The formula is simple: 2 ounces of sherry poured over ice in the prettiest glass you have, a small squeeze of fresh lime (you can use orange or lemon too) and then fill the glass up to the top with seltzer, soda water, tonic water or any kind of lemon-lime soda. Sherry is quite lovely on its own and it comes in many styles, so you can vary this drink to your preferences. Depending on whether you like the dryness, saltiness and sharp bouquet of a Manzanilla sherry, or the spicy, nutty characteristics of a Fino sherry, or the velvety smoothness and slight sweetness of a Cream sherry, you and your guests can enjoy any number of sherry-based cocktails that are elegant, complex and totally delightful. Try one or several of these variations.
And, by the way, Happy Thanksgiving, all you brave souls who are gathering together this week. Better try out a few of these cocktails in preparation for the big day...
2 oz. sherry (I prefer Fino or Manzanilla, but Amantillado or Cream sherry will work nicely too)
fresh lime, cut into small wedges (you can substitute orange or lemon)
soda water, seltzer, good quality tonic water, or lemon-lime soda
Pour sherry over ice in a tall, pretty glass. Add one or two lime wedges, squeezing the juice over the ice a little. Fill glass with soda water, tonic water or lemon-lime soda. Sip and smile. Makes one drink.