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.
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