because you will probably need a drink this thanksgiving

Because I need to think about something other than my overwhelming sense of dread that continues following the election, and because you will need something to sip every time one of your family members brings up the election at Thanksgiving, I thought I’d be servicey and provide some suggestions for your Thanksgiving drinking pleasure.

Last year, I created a fall cocktail for my hometown company Mountain Valley Spring Water. I can’t find the post on their site anymore, so I thought I’d share my recipe here, instead.

The Pomegranate Bourbon Fizz is a sweet-tart cocktail that incorporates pomegranate in two ways, getting flavor and its namesake fizz from Blackberry Pomegranate Mountain Valley Sparkling Essences, and an additional punch of pomegranate from a homemade grenadine that imbues it with a gorgeous color, too. (You may sub in any pomegranate sparkling water here if you can’t find the Mountain Valley. You could even use regular club soda, since the pomegranate grenadine is so flavorful.) Making grenadine may seem intimidating, but this easy two-ingredient syrup will wow your palate, especially if the only grenadine you’ve ever known is a red-dyed, sickly-sweet concoction most famous for giving a Shirley Temple its something special. Grenadine was originally a pomegranate syrup, not a cherry-flavored corn syrup. Here it returns to its roots as a true grownup cocktail ingredient, not just something suited for curly-headed tap-dancing kiddos. Plus, one batch will enable many Pomegranate Bourbon Fizzes this season, and you better believe you’ll be craving more than one.

mountain-valley-pomegranate-bourbon-fizz-with-text

Pomegranate Bourbon Fizz

2 oz. bourbon
1 oz. homemade pomegranate grenadine (recipe follows)
.75 oz. lemon juice (about half a lemon)
2 dashes orange bitters
Mountain Valley Sparkling Essences in Blackberry Pomegranate
sprig of rosemary to garnish

In a shaker filled halfway with ice, shake together bourbon, grenadine, lemon juice, and orange bitters. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Top with Mountain Valley Sparkling Essences. Garnish and stir with a sprig of rosemary. Enjoy!

Homemade Grenadine
1 cup unsweetened 100% pomegranate juice
1 cup sugar

Combine both ingredients in a small saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until all sugar is dissolved and mixture is slightly thickened. Allow to cool. This syrup can be kept in a jar in the fridge for up to a month.

Other ideas

If the Pomegranate Bourbon Fizz isn’t your thing, I have some other recommendations. First up, I made this Tangy Cranberry Black Peppercorn Shrub cocktail last year and may make it again this year. If you have any non-drinkers who would like a mocktail, the shrub is also excellent with club soda or tonic.

In a similar vein, the Charred Lemon Gin Sparkler would be a great choice. It’s a twist on one of my favorite festive drinks, the French 75. Like the previous shrub cocktail, you can make the mixer ahead of time, so it’s easy to batch up and serve to guests when you’re busy with other Thanksgiving duties.

And lastly, a Rosemary Pear Mule is a fallish, festive drink. It’ll seem extra fancy if you serve it in mule mugs, but just as tasty in a regular glass if you don’t have any mule mugs. (Tip: Target usually has mule mugs for $9ish each this time of year, so it’s a great time to scoop some up).

nativities and festivity

While I am a huge fan of Thanksgiving and staunchly oppose Christmas Creep, I am becoming more and more of a BIG GIANT CHRISTMAS CRAZY PERSON. A few years ago, I happened to be unemployed and childless at Christmas, so I went origami crazy and decorated our whole tree with handmade papercrafts. This year, I have toddlers, so when a kid-free day opened up during the week of Thanksgiving, I went ahead and put up the tree, BEFORE DECEMBER. Starting on December 1, our constant soundtrack has been my playlist of some 250 Christmas songs, much of which is hipsteriffic remakes of carols accompanied, I’m sure, by mustachioed dudes playing banjos, possibly while wearing vests, obtained free via Noisetrade. I’ve been working like an elf on homemade tree skirts, cinnamon ornaments, felt garlands, and lots of handmade presents.

Our tree, which was (gasp) up before Thanksgiving this year.
Our tree, which was (gasp) up before Thanksgiving this year.
I made this tree skirt, inspired by one I saw from The Land of Nod.
I made this tree skirt, inspired by one I saw from The Land of Nod.

But the surest sign that I’ve gone round the Christmas bend is the nativity.

Rachel Held Evans has a hilarious post today about the conundrum of a childless progressive couple trying to choose a nativity scene. Where to find a biblically accurate, fair trade, child safe nativity? It seems such a fraught decision. Pre-kids, the nativity I chose was a fair trade Peruvian one which features llamas. Perhaps not biblically accurate, but it makes me smile.

Post kids? Well… Enter the Little People. Here is our main nativity now:

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Yep. That’s a plastic, light-up, noise-making nativity, in the home of the lady whose rules for her kids’ toys include avoiding plastic and things that make noise. And I don’t care. I love the Little People Nativity. My kids can’t break it, they love to play with it, and when you press the Baby Jesus and he lights up (?!) and the whole thing plays Away in a Manger and Silent Night, well, my kids dance and sway and clap their hands and the entire thing becomes more than worth the $20 I spent on it in the Fisher Price Labor Day sale.

And can you spot my favorite part? Yep. The purple hippo. Strangely not included in the original set, my children decided the purple hippo from their bath toys really needed to be present at the birth of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It kind of reminds me of the nativity scene lobsters from “Love Actually” and definitely reminds me of my sister, whose favorite Christmas song is “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” It makes me smile. How much has changed. How far I’ve come. But you know what, if they coulda, I’m sure the hippos would have followed a star all the way to Bethlehem too. They could have hung out with the lobsters.

Hours of fun with the plastic, noise-making, non-historically-accurate but much-beloved Little People Nativity.
Hours of fun with the plastic, noise-making, non-historically-accurate but much-beloved Little People Nativity.

thanksgiving is better than christmas

Image by Gary Villet via the Google LIFE photo archive, under a Creative Commons license.

Every year Bill O’Reilly goes to war against those he believes are “at war against Christmas.” You know what I’m talking about– he, and a lot of others, get really irritated that greeters at WalMart and cashiers at the mall say things like “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” preferably with the emphasis on CHRISTmas.  As if there aren’t other people in this country celebrating other holidays at that time.  But what really galls me is, O’Reilly is entirely missing the point. The problem isn’t WalMart greeters and mall cashiers, it’s WalMart and the mall.  Christmas has become a disgusting celebration of consumerism.

According to Advent Conspiracy, Americans spend around $450 BILLION on Christmas each year. According to Bread for the World, the basic health and nutrition needs of the world’s poorest people could be solved for $13 billion per year. There’s just something stomach churning about using a holiday to celebrate the birth of a king who was born in poverty and preached about concern for the poor more than any other issue being used to fuel a $450 billion industry when a tiny fraction of that could feed and care for the world’s poorest people.

And of course, I sit here typing this as a total hypocrite.  I’ve tried to convince our families to do without gifts, in order to focus on time together and giving to charity, and yet so far, all I’ve been able to do is encourage caps on gift spending, hopefully leaving us with more money to give to charity.  So, in large part, most of the hoopla surrounding Christmas seems to me to be at war with the values of the man it celebrates, and yet I feel powerless to stop it.

So instead, I focus on Thanksgiving.  I think sharing meals was a pretty common theme in the life of Jesus, and I believe something special happens when we gather around a table with people, even our dysfunctional families.  I also think gratitude is a key component of a truly examined life.  In some ways, I think Thanksgiving is a more truly spiritual holiday than Christmas, in terms of how we celebrate it in this country– it’s about spending time with family, sharing a meal, and being thankful.  Sure, it can be taken to gluttonous extremes, but it can also be a beautiful celebration.  And maybe if we do it right, if we really take time to be thankful and realize we have all we need, that we are truly blessed, we will be able to keep our priorities in order when it comes to celebrating Christmas.  I can only hope.

 

 

Note: I am, of course, aware that Thanksgiving, like almost everything in the history of Western Civilization, has a backstory full of violence, bigotry, theft, and oppression.  I hope that by reclaiming that holiday as one of gratitude and love, and perhaps even sorrow for what happened in the past, we can try to make sure such things don’t happen in the future.

my #1 most favorite holiday recipe: Russian Tea

day 212: over the shoulder
Image: day 212: over the shoulder, via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

When we lived in Charleston, I hosted the annual Thanksgiving potluck for all the pediatrics residency folks, most of whom didn’t get the holiday off and couldn’t go home and celebrate with their families.  We’d cram people into our little house, folks perched wherever they could, my dogs hoping someone would drop some turkey.  The first year, I made my Memaw’s Russian Tea, and by the end of the party, people were DEMANDING the recipe.  Every year after that, when I’d send out invites to the Thanksgiving Potluck, people would ask, “Will there be Russian Tea?”  Of course! It’s not Thanksgiving without it!

It should be said that there is absolutely nothing Russian about Russian Tea, or my family, which, as best as I can tell, is mostly British and Irish.  Russian Tea is really a citrusy spiced tea, best when spiked with booze like bourbon or dark rum.  I like to make a giant batch in my stock pot, keep it in the crock pot during the party (Memaw keeps hers in an old percolator thing that keeps it SCALDING hot), and then put leftovers in pitchers in the fridge for heating up a cup at a time later.  So, here’s the recipe for my favorite holiday tradition:

Russian Tea

  • 4 cups water, plus 8 additional cups
  • 4 tea bags (plain tea, like Lipton)
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2.5 cups pineapple juice
  • 1.5 cups frozen orange juice concentrate
  • 6 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 8 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Dark rum or bourbon

Boil 4 cups water and steep 4 regular-sized tea bags.  Add to that mixture in a large stock pot 1½ cups sugar, 2½ cups pineapple juice, 1½ cups orange juice (frozen concentrate, not diluted), 6 Tsp. fresh lemon juice, 8 whole cloves, 2 cinnamon sticks, and 8 cups water.  Bring to a boil, serve warm, add dark rum or bourbon as desired. I recommend adding the booze to each cup individually, so the buzz-inducing properties don’t get cooked out.

Easy double batch:
Boil 8 cups water with 8 tea bags, add 1 large can pineapple juice, 1 family size frozen OJ, 12 Tsp. lemon juice, 2 cups sugar, 16 whole cloves, 4 cinnamon sticks, and 16 cups water.

getting the thankfulness started

i'd be really REALLY thankful if we got more hammock time...

It was not so many Thanksgivings ago that I told my (biological for those who know both of the women who have mothered me) mother that I never wanted to see her again, and then basically didn’t for several years.  I was in junior high at the time. Not to get into the whole long story, but we had hurt and been hurt by each other, had misunderstood each other, and basically ceased to have a relationship after years of hurt and misunderstanding.  And it seemed that as years went by, hurt and misunderstanding piled upon hurt and misunderstanding, and even talking on the phone became difficult.  At the same time I felt guilty and somehow defective for not being able to have a functional relationship with my own mother, but the guilt just made the hurt and misunderstanding even harder to deal with.  Others who attempted to help heal this broken relationship just added to the burden of guilt and pain, making me feel even more defective.

Tonight my mother is coming to visit me for Thanksgiving.  It will be the first Thanksgiving we have spent together since that horrible Thanksgiving years ago.  I’m actually really looking forward to it.

What changed between then and now?

Jon.

This Thanksgiving, I have to say, I am so thankful for him.  It is thanks to Jon that I have a relationship with my mother today, one in which we can email and talk on the phone and visit and just know and be with each other in a way I couldn’t have imagined not so many years ago.  Rather than making me feel guilty for my broken relationship with my mother, Jon patiently and gently pointed out that while I didn’t have to reconcile, didn’t have to force forgiveness I didn’t feel, I did have to let go of anger and bitterness and hurt, because those things were weighing me down and making me a bitter and unhappy person.  And because I never felt anything but accepted and loved by him, I felt free to let go of those feelings that were holding me back and keeping me from really being myself.  And I also felt comfortable enough to see a counselor and work through my own issues.  And eventually, I felt free enough to forgive. And forgiveness led to reconciliation, and reconciliation to renewed relationship.

How many people can honestly say their partner makes them a better person, helps them have better relationships with others, and shows them what grace and freedom really look like? I can. And this Thanksgiving, I’m so thankful for him.