I feel like Thanksgiving is my own special holiday, created just for me. I’ve always loved the idea of this annual holiday focused on family, food, and gratitude. I was born on Thanksgiving, so perhaps I was destined to feel connected to this autumn harvest celebration. When the leaves begin to turn and the air gets chilly, I find myself wrapped in nostalgia, remembering all of the Thanksgiving meals I enjoyed as a kid.
My favorite Thanksgiving memories come from my maternal grandma’s Thanksgiving dinners. Grandma Carolyn always made a very traditional American meal… turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, stuffing, and Jello salad with Cool Whip. Grandma lived at a place called Creekside park in a small mobile home, which made the whole meal feel very cozy and intimate. She took such pride in decorating for the holidays, bringing out her favorite ceramic turkeys and cornucopias to dress the shelves. I always sat at the kid’s table with my cousins Brian, Angela and Kimberly. Aunt Carol brought her spinach dip, and my mom made the pumpkin pie. The kitchen was very small, and I was afraid of getting in the way, but from time to time Grandma would let me stir a pot or peel some potatoes. All the while, I’d be sneaking more spinach dip, filling up on it before the meal started. “Don’t spoil your appetite!” Grandma would say. My stepdad, grandpa, and uncle watched football in the living room. Their cheers were our soundtrack as we waited anxiously for a taste of the turkey.
One of my yearly Thanksgiving/birthday portraits. My mom made my dress.
One year, Grandma cooked the turkey in a very low heat oven overnight. She’d read in a magazine that low and slow would produce a tender, juicy turkey. It turned out to be the driest turkey in the history of turkeys– it was like chewing through cardboard. But we smiled and played along, insisting that Grandma had indeed found the secret to the greatest turkey ever. My family is polite that way.
I became known as the holiday klutz. For some reason, every Thanksgiving, I managed to spill something. One year it was a glass of milk. Another, I dropped the butter dish. A new tradition formed… it’s not Thanksgiving until Tori spills something. It’s a tradition that proudly continues to this day.
After the meal, the kids were enlisted to help with the dishes. I remember feeling so stuffed, I could barely keep my eyes open as we rinsed, dried, and returned the plates to the cabinets. Then it was back to the living room, where my cousin Brian and I would tinker on Grandma’s old piano, playing chopsticks or making up our own little tunes. Then we’d yawn and hug and make our way out to the car carrying the leftovers that Grandma insisted we take. I remember feeling excited knowing that Christmas was right around the corner.
Years have passed, and things have changed. Grandma is gone, God rest her soul, and now I play the host for our family’s Thanksgiving meal. I may be a “grown up” now, creating my own holiday traditions, but I’m still a kid at heart. I’ll be serving this Thanksgiving Cider Sangria at our dinner this year, a new holiday tradition in our family. It will be sipped alongside Aunt Carol’s Spinach Dip and mom’s pumpkin pie.
No matter how things might change over time, it won’t officially be Thanksgiving until I spill something. Hopefully this year, it won’t be the sangria.
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- 4 1/2 cups apple cider (non alcoholic)
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 6 whole cloves
- 4 cinnamon sticks
- 4 allspice berries
- 1 apple, cored and sliced thin
- 1 red bartlett pear, cored and sliced thin
- 12 oz seedless grapes (I like the round Holiday Seedless Grapes from Melissa's Produce)
- 750 mL red wine - Shiraz and Syrah work well (1 bottle)
- 1/2 cup Cointreau or triple sec
- 1/4 cup brandy
- 1 1/2 tsp vanilla
- In a small saucepan, whisk together the apple cider and sugar over medium heat till the sugar is dissolved.
- Add the whole cloves, cinnamon sticks, and allspice berries. Bring the mixture to a boil. Let it simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature. Strain the cider.
- Place the sliced fruit and grapes into the bottom of a sangria pitcher. Pour in the strained cider, red wine, Cointreau or triple sec, brandy, and vanilla. Stir.
- Chill the sangria for at least 3 hours, up to overnight. Stir again before serving. Pour sangria and a few pieces of fruit into each glass. Keep in mind that this sangria is sweet. Cut the added sugar if you prefer.