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Advocate staff photo by Ian McNulty - The Aperol spritz, shown here at Swirl Wine Bar & Market in New Orleans, is a palate-opening cocktail with a sparkling kick.

If you’re read­ing this and you still don’t know what dish you’ll bring to the Thanks­giv­ing table this year, well, you’re like me.

The truth is, the New Or­le­ans fam­i­ly I mar­ried into has its hol­i­day rou­tine down to such a well-oiled, smooth-whipped ma­chine that the whole proc­ess just trucks on past my own pro­cras­ti­nat­ed, dead­line-rid­den ef­forts to con­tri­bute much to the meal.

But over the years I have learn­ed there’s a game-chang­er that any­body can bring to the gath­er­ing, some­thing that sets the stage for an­oth­er con­viv­ial chap­ter of fam­i­ly his­to­ry, and that’s no mean feat for a mere in-law.

Say hel­lo to the wel­come cock­tail.

The wel­come cock­tail is a drink that strips away in­de­ci­sion and starts the day right. It can be pre-batched or mixed to ord­er. Eith­er way, the im­port­ant part is that it is of­fered im­medi­ate­ly and is in hand quick.

The usu­al Thanks­giv­ing ar­riv­al might go like this: You’re run­ning late and jug­gling any­thing from loose-lipped Tup­per­ware to un­co­opera­tive tod­dlers. You en­ter a home where the pace of meal prep is reach­ing its cre­scen­do.

Over the din of mix­ers and hol­lered kitch­en com­mands you are asked first if you want a drink, and then what you want to drink. Do you start with white or red? Is it too early for booze? What’s al­read­y open? The host awaits your an­swer.

Now pic­ture the same ar­riv­al with the wel­come cock­tail. The door opens, and some­one says “Wel­come! Here’s your drink.”

Bet­ter, right? Right.

It loos­ens peo­ple up. It's easy and makes a dif­fer­ence. And it's fun to say the words "wel­come cock­tail."

I do not claim to have in­vent­ed the wel­come cock­tail, I mere­ly ad­vo­cate for it. I learn­ed it by watch­ing the pros.

The wel­come cock­tail is the sal­va­tion of e­vent plan­ners for any func­tion where peo­ple ar­rive en masse. It’s the tray of drinks greet­ing you at a wed­ding re­cep­tion, or the punch poured around be­fore a big din­ner.

My fam­i­ly chan­ges up the wel­come cock­tail year to year, though some old reliables have em­erged.

One win­ner is the Aperol spritz — three parts spar­kling wine (not the good stuff), two parts Aperol (the bit­ter orange I­tal­ian li­queur), one splash of soda wa­ter. Doing its ac­cus­tomed duty as an a­pe­ri­tif, the Aperol opens your pal­ate, the spar­kling wine gives it a kick, and the soda light­ens it up.

Gar­nish with a wedge or peel of local cit­rus, like satsuma, to let your trav­el­ing rela­tives know they’re back in Lou­i­si­an­a. This is eas­i­ly batched.

A strong­er hit is based on the Seel­bach — an au­tumn-at­tuned cock­tail with an ounce of bour­bon, half an ounce of Coin­treau, a few dash­es each of Peychaud’s and Angos­tura bit­ters, all stirred to­gether, fin­ished with a float­er of spar­kling wine and, a­gain, that satsuma gar­nish for local flair.

The ap­pear­ance of bub­bles in both drinks is no co­in­ci­dence. They bring lev­i­ty to these Thanks­giv­ing cur­tain rais­ers.

Prep­ping for the hol­i­day can be stress­ful. Will your dish pass mus­ter? Who has a new diet­ary re­stric­tion they’re still wait­ing to dis­close? How will the en­tire group navi­gate the con­ver­sa­tional mine­field of cur­rent events?

The wel­come cock­tail helps put the hol­i­day in per­spec­tive. Thanks­giv­ing is a day with fam­i­ly, how­ever you’ve de­fined or as­sem­bled it. The big meal will be dis­patched early with the prom­ise of left­overs a­head. There’s foot­ball on TV, the best weath­er of the sub­tropi­cal cal­en­dar and too much pie on the des­sert table. It’s a Thurs­day, and you’re not at work.

This is a wel­come day. Set the pace with a wel­come cock­tail.

Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter, @IanMcNultyNOLA.