Thanksgiving: The Ties That Bind
By Jeannine Mendoza, Ed.D
Dinner table photos by Luke George Photography
Staging by Le Sparkly Chateau
“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” John F. Kennedy
“The fondest memories are made when gathered around the table.” Johnny Castle
These two quotes sum up the essence of that most beloved of American traditions: Thanksgiving.
And again that holiday is around the corner. As soon as the Halloween decorations come down and before the Christmas lights go up, we are surprised that once again the American holiday of Thanksgiving has sneaked up on us. And once again we make plans to gather our nearest and dearest, and share a meal with family and friends.
Thanksgiving is special because there is no exchange of gifts and only a tiny smidgen of historical significance. Thanksgiving is special because we celebrate the friendship and relationships we have with the people we love, the people we share our lives with, the people who truly matter to us. We celebrate that no matter what victories we have achieved and what disappointments we have experienced, we have lived another year, and survived to commemorate this passage of time with those we cherish, those folks we hold dear. And these individuals change over the years as we mark the passage of time. New friends and new members of the family succeed friends and relatives who move away, pass away, or exit our lives for one reason or another. Favorite menu items return to please us and comfort us, reminding us of past feasts. Disappointing food items are scuttled, never to be seen again. This yearly ritual reassures us and nurtures us as we travel, once again, around the sun.
In these crazy and ambiguous times with climate change, crazy political shenanigans, and financial uncertainty, we can take comfort from simply breaking bread and gathering once again to celebrate that we have survived. And for this we are most grateful.
Spiced Pomegranate Sangria
As you think about gathering your friends, family, and chosen family around for the big feast, consider serving your guests a special “welcome” cocktail to help set the mood while you finish any last minute dinner preparations. Make a batch sans wine for the kids to enjoy!
Spiced Simple Syrup:
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- Pinch of whole cloves
- 1 thin orange slice
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 bottle of rosé wine (Mt. Beautiful New Zealand Rosé)
- 2 cups pomegranate juice (100%)
- ½ cup brandy
- Arils from 1 pomegranate
- 1 pear, sliced
- 1 orange, sliced
- Fever Tree Club soda, 1- 500ml bottle
- In a small saucepan, combine the spiced simple syrup ingredients and bring to a low boil, stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let steep for 5 minutes. Strain; set aside.
- In a large pitcher, combine Mt. Beautiful rosé, pomegranate juice, brandy, prepared simple syrup (to taste), pomegranate arils, pear slices, and orange slices.
- Serve topped with club soda, to taste.
A Double Stuffed Thanksgiving
By Genevieve Hand
Karina Escalante and Kenny Hand may not have to deal with the stress of hosting Thanksgiving, but they do have to manage to be at two Thanksgiving dinners in one day.
Thanksgiving at the Escalante household always starts at 2pm, on the dot, because that’s how Percy likes it.
Come late and you might miss the meal.
Originally from Peru, Percy came to the US as a young adult, eventually settling in Benicia. His 8 children, all of whom he put through college, still live nearby and they all come back to Percy’s house for Thanksgiving every year with significant others, children of their own, and beloved dogs in tow. Percy, now 80, makes the turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and will often include his version of traditional Peruvian dishes, like Peruvian stew or lomo saltado. The “kids” each bring a dish to contribute as well, sometimes delving into the Peruvian tradition with ceviche or stuffed peppers.
The atmosphere is casual, with each family member grabbing a paper plate and settling down to eat while Percy offers everyone a Modelo. Sometimes Percy eats with the family, but sometimes he likes to finish watching the football game with his meal instead. He’ll join afterward for conversation that’s mostly just an in-person continuation of the family group chat – the constant communication thread that keeps so many siblings connected in the chaos of daily life. He’ll interject his thoughts on finance and cars, as well as his judgments on various other topics. The grandkids amuse themselves playing with each other and the various animal guests. Usually within 15 minutes, one unlucky son-in-law has to excuse himself due to an unfortunate allergic reaction to Percy’s 3 cats; one that refuses to be tamed with antihistamines. He’s used to it.
Eventually, it’s time for dessert and board games.
Always board games. Favorites include 7 Wonders, Arboretum, and Azul. Then, someone usually starts playing the piano.
Karina, falling somewhere in the middle of the sequence of 8 siblings, and her husband, Kenny, often have to leave before the games start. They have to make their way to yet another Thanksgiving. This time, they’ll head to the Hand household, bringing another prepared dish, willing their stomachs to accept another meal.
This Thanksgiving often begins an hour or two before the main meal is served.
Extended family is invited, though the number of guests rarely tops that of the Escalante Thanksgiving. There is a slightly more formal flow to the event, with drinks, hors d’oeuvres, the main event (dinner and multiple desserts), and then lively conversation and maybe a shot of whiskey to send off the evening. While the Escalante meal contains Peruvian flair, the Hand Thanksgiving often has a Lebanese component provided by half-Lebanese cousins.
For Karina and Kenny, Thanksgiving takes careful planning.
What dish will they prepare for each event? But also, how will they strategize to enjoy each meal without bursting? Though it can be a stressful day, Karina reports she enjoys both Thanksgivings for their similarities and differences. “I’m always just really full by the end of it!”