Thanksgiving is the best holiday. I’m pretty sure we all agree about this. It’s not a party holiday, like New Year’s Eve, where the general idea is to get dressed up all fancy and drink copiously with your friends and/or strangers. It’s not a religious/obligatory family holiday like Easter, Christmas, Passover or what have you, where you’ll see-saw from fond familial indulgence to eye-twitching, repressed politeness. Thanksgiving is a looser, less formal gathering, where friends eat with friends, families gather or disperse as is their want, and the most stressful consideration is the looseness of one’s pants. Oh, and generally there is pie.
It is because of this flexibility that one often finds themselves committed to an entire day of careful conversation with new acquaintances, out-of-town friends of friends, or—possibly—the newly-met extended family of some significant other. And what is it that binds all of these disparate parts? That greases the cogs, if you will, of this merry mechanism? Why the Thanksgiving cocktail of course.
Today I’ve provided two cocktails, one as a celebratory greeting, and one as a mellow farewell. Of course, depending on your stamina, there’s always the possibility of a whole host of drinks between the two, wine with dinner, ports with cheeses, and just-because scotches, but no matter what you drink, you’ll probably drink it holed up on a couch, reading a book while the rest of the crowd rails on about football or gets weepily nostalgic about a massive, hot-air Snoopy. And if you’re without a book? Well, there’s no excuse for that. Plan ahead and pick up a copy of Pamela Erens’ The Virgins.
One of the big books of the fall, Erens’ second novel was released by Tin House, makers of the beautiful literary journal and even more beautiful books. It’s set in an elite New England boarding school in the ‘70’s, and tells the story of the first, rather complicated love of Aviva Rossner and Seung Jung. Or rather, the story is told by Bruce Bennett-Jones, a spiteful and jealous little sneak who spends his days imagining the relationship he both feels superior to and excluded from. It’s the use of this unreliable narrator, I believe, that leads Antonya Nelson to liken Erens to one of my lit-gods, James Salter, in her blurb.
Plastered on the front, just waiting for a sap like me, it was this blurb that made me pick up The Virgins. Though expertly wrought, quiet and tense just like a Salter, and hey-yeah, we do have a lonely narrator voyeuring all over this couple a-la A Sport and a Pastime, the book lacks some of the over-ripeness of Salter, whose work reminds me always of a luscious plum left on the table just a few days too long. What Erens captures here instead is the freshness of youth, even in the torment of first love, the consuming obsessions, the first, permanent marks that we leave on ourselves and on each other, and the way our bodies, no longer children, still young, grow out these marks rather than over them.
So, that can be sort of heavy. You might need a drink. Let’s get back to that. What you’re not going to see in my Thanksgiving drinks is cinnamon, or maple, or cranberries or nutmeg or any of that. And I know what you’re thinking! How can this be, when I am a slave to themes?! But here’s the thing, I find that a drink should complement and heighten the food rather than just mimic it. So, to cut through all the lovely, cloying flavors of Thanksgiving hor d’oeuvres, I give you the Scofflaw, a prohibition-era cocktail originally created at Harry’s Bar in Paris. It’s bright, festive, and just a little tart, just what your tongue is craving after all that baked brie. M and I make them with our own grenadine, which I recommend throwing together, if you have the time. It’s easy and makes a big difference.
As an after dinner drink, if you’re up for it, I give you the Nth Degree. Adapted slightly from the always wonderful and incredibly essential PDT Cocktail Book, it features a lovely little bouquet of liquors, including Green Chartreuse, which is known to aid in digestion—and in that area, I expect we’ll need all the help we can get.
Makes one drink
1 ½ ounce rye whiskey
1 ½ ounce dry vermouth
¾ ounce homemade grenadine (recipe below)
½ ounce fresh squeeze lemon juice (to taste)
Fill a cocktail shaker with ice and all add ingredients. Shake until frothy. Strain into a chilled coupe. Twist a lemon peel over the drink to express the oil but don’t add the peel to the drink. Drink with family and friends.
Makes one cup
1 cup 100 percent pomegranate juice (like Pom)
¾ cup sugar
A few drops of orange flower water
Combine all ingredients in airtight container. Shake until sugar dissolves. If you’d like your grenadine to be more of a syrup, combine juice and sugar in a saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly, just until the sugar dissolves. The longer you cook, the thicker the grenadine. Once cooled, add the orange flower water.
Makes one drink
1 ounce rum
1 ounce Lairds Bonded Apple Brandy (if you can’t find it, you can make do with Applejack)
½ ounce green chartreuse
1 demerara sugar cube
2 dashes angostura bitters
Muddle the bitters and the sugar cube in a cocktail shaker. Add ice, along with the rest of the ingredients, and stir. Strain over ice into a chilled rocks glass. If you can, use one large cube – not only does it look nice, but it melts less quickly. Garnish with an orange peel.
Eat – Are you kidding? You don’t need my help on this one
Listen to – An ode to Home by Gabrielle Aplin