This post is sponsored by Ocean Spray. As always, all opinions are my own.
If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a dozen times: “When hosting a gathering, have a signature cocktail.” Today I’m teaming up with Ocean Spray and their cranberry farmer Grandmas, or as they call them – CranMas, to share tips for first-time Thanksgiving hosts. Naturally, one of those tips is to create a signature cocktail. My Thanksgiving libation? A Cranberry Old Fashioned. Let’s shake one up and get this party started.
Back in early November, I scooted off to Rockefeller Center® in NYC for Ocean Spray’s Thanksgiving Boot Camp. (If you follow me on Instagram, you may remember seeing some live shots of the fun!) At the boot camp, I met with several CranMas to learn their foolproof tips for hosting a delicious, memorable, and stress-free holiday. Below, I’m sharing what I learned, a few hosting tips of my own, and my recipe for a Cranberry Old Fashioned.
While in NYC, I was also invited to a Thanksgiving lunch with the CranMas and a few other folks. What made this meal incredibly special is that the table was set in a cranberry bog. Yep. There in the middle of Rockefeller Center® was a stunning dining table set in a bog filled with cranberries.
I put on my waders, hopped in, and had a magical and memorable experience. Just like Thanksgiving should be.
While you may not be able to recreate a cranberry bog in your living room, you can host a fabulous and almost-effortless Thanksgiving.
Tips for First-Time Thanksgiving Hosts
1. Listen to Your CranMa
If this is your first-time hosting Thanksgiving, chances are you’ve watched your grandmother, mother, or someone older than you prepare the feast. Look to these experienced folks for advice and ask them to share their favorite recipes with you. Why reinvent the wheel? At its core, Thanksgiving is about family (even if your family is your friends), so use this opportunity as a way to connect and spend time with those you love.
2. Plan Ahead
At the Cranberry bog event, one tip I heard over and over again was to plan ahead. If possible, set the table a few days in advance. Prepare any food you can the day before. Things like casseroles, bread, desserts, and even mashed potatoes can be made the day before and warmed up for the big feast. To make it even easier on yourself, invite your guests to bring a dish, so you’re not left cooking the entire meal yourself. If you take care of the bird, they can take care of the rest.
3. Let Nature Inspire Your Decor
Naturally, my favorite part of the cranberry bog experience was the decor. From the flowers to the table setting to the decorations around the rest of the space – it was magical. Based on that, I have a couple ideas to share.
First, use cranberries to decorate. Add cranberries to a wire cord then shape it into napkin rings or a candle ring. Hot glue cranberries to a foam ball to create a topiary. Layer some cranberries in a jar and pop in a candle.
Next, add fruit and vegetables to your flower arrangement by skewering them with a dowel and then tucking them in like you would any other stem.
Finally, vintage is back. Hit up your local thrift store for dollies to create a vintage-inspired runner or grab a collection of vintage plates for serving.
4. Create a Separate Pre-Dinner Entertaining Area
People tend to congregate in the kitchen, which can add to the stress and confusion as you’re preparing the big meal. Set up a separate entertaining area in another room to ease congestion in the kitchen. Make a few self-serve appetizers and drinks, including a signature cocktail. Which leads me to my next tip …
5. Serve a Signature Cocktail
It’s fun to serve a unique cocktail when you’re entertaining. It gives your guests a chance to try something new, and it can be a delightful complement to your menu. I’ve recently been enjoying the classic Old Fashioned, so I thought I’d craft one inspired by the cranberry. Thus, this Cranberry Old Fashioned was born.
A cranberry simple syrup is used to cranberry-ify this drink. It’s just your usual simple syrup with the addition of cranberries. Add a quality bourbon and a splash of bitters, and you’ve got yourself a Cranberry Old Fashioned.
Makes 1 cocktail
Here's what you will need:
3 ounces quality bourbon whiskey
1 ounce cranberry simple syrup*
3 shakes Angostura bitters
Garnish with orange peel, Ocean Spray® Fresh Cranberries, and rosemary
In a serving glass with ice, stir together the bourbon, cranberry simple syrup, and bitters. Garnish with orange peel, fresh cranberries, and rosemary.
*Cranberry Simple Syrup - In a saucepan, bring 2 cups of water, 1 cup of sugar, and one cup of fresh cranberries to a boil. Once boiling, cook for 4-5 minutes. Strain with a fine mesh sieve. Cool before serving.
If you’re a first-time Thanksgiving host and need more ideas or have additional questions, you can chat with a visual Ocean Spray CranMas any time. To #AskCranMa a question, head on over to the Ocean Spray Facebook page and chat with her via Facebook messenger. You can also visit OceanSpray.com for more details.