With the holidays approaching, the nation is once again sweating with fantasy-football fever, sending the NFL's popularity further into the stratosphere and office productivity further into the tank. But there are more important things in life than football, or at least one more important thing: Food.
Specifically Thanksgiving food, which, like football, brings people together, passes the time and leaves old men wandering around their homes, groaning and confused. It was with this in mind that my fantasy-sports-hating, food-loving wife suggested several years ago that I hold a Thanksgiving Dinner Fantasy Draft. The tradition endured for a couple of years, died and is being revived here. Let's get to it.
The Players - Scott Reitz, food critic - Kiernan Maletsky, music editor - Luke Darby, food blogger - Gavin Cleaver, online editor, foreigner - Joe Tone, editor, league commissioner*
The Rules The draft order was generated randomly and "snaked," so whoever had the first pick in one round had the last pick in the next. Each player had to fill 10 positions from the list of ingredients below, in an effort to create the most appetizing Thanksgiving dinner.
The key, like in fantasy sports and in life, was to identify priorities, stick to your strategy, and make sure there was booze around in case it all blew up in your face.
The Judges We conducted an internal and blind poll of Dallas Observer staffers, who ranked each menu without seeing the drafter or rationale. There's also a poll at the bottom so you can vote for your favorite meal.
The Ingredients Meat (pick one): turkey, turducken, tofurkey, prime rib roast, ham
Sauces (pick one): white gravy, brown gravy, cranberry sauce (juggly can shit), fresh cranberry sauce, apple sauce
Carb side (pick two): Scott Reitz's homemade stuffing, cornbread stuffing, oyster stuffing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, rolls, cornbread, biscuits, canned yams, bag of Ruffles
Veggies (pick two): creamed corn, creamed spinach, Brussels sprouts, green bean casserole, butternut squash soup, canned beets, boiled cabbage, glazed carrots, elotes, green salad
Desserts (pick two): apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, vanilla ice cream, cinnamon ice cream, jar of Nutella (no spoon), sticky toffee pudding, pear tart, hoarded box of pre-bankruptcy Twinkies, plain Greek yogurt
Beverages (pick two): whole milk, Budweiser, Monster energy drink, red wine, Peticolas Royal Scandal (mini-keg), sparkling apple cider, Box of Franzia white wine, Jose Cuervo (in a Camelback), two liter of Coca Cola (with giant bendy straw), Pumpkin cider
Round 1 1. Gavin The Turducken, because now I have THREE meats, and all of you only have one, or none, depending on who gets the tofurkey.
2. Luke I've never been big on traditions or over-dry turkey, so I'm taking the prime rib roast, even though I think it was the Brit's idea to include it, which makes me nervous.
3. Joe In fantasy football drafts, amateurs snap up the quarterbacks while the pros stockpile backs and receivers. In fantasy Thanksgiving drafts, the rookies snap up meat while the vets, knowing that meat makes not Thanksgiving, go straight to the auxiliary players -- in this case, gravy. No matter what else is on my plate, no matter how dried out that whatever-urkey I get stuck with is, it will be wet and it will taste of Thanksgiving.
4. Kiernan Joe, a notorious fantasy sports over-thinker, is going to end up putting gravy on his bag of Ruffles. Gavin, I see, is really drafting an ironic Thanksgiving dinner. I'm taking a look at this menu and realizing pretty much everyone's getting a pie so there's no ground to be made up there. Let's not work too hard on this. I'm taking turkey and wondering how the hell you people let it fall this far.
5. Scott Swine has always been the most celebrated of animal proteins in the culinary world, and after I win with it I will use the bone to beat you. Make it something French, preferably packed in ash and aged for no less than one year, please.
Round 2 6. Scott Apple pie with a duck fat crust of course. That dessert list is going to look thin really quick.
7. Kiernan I thought about responding to Scott modifying the draft items ("I'll take Adrian Peterson but with laser vision and the ability to fly") by doing some modification of my own, but no one's beating Scott at that game. So I'm just going to mock him for it instead. Also, I'll take the Peticolas Royal Scandal mini-keg. We're all getting our guests drunk, but mine will hate themselves the least on Friday morning.
8. Joe Scott's right: This year's crop of desserts is scary thin, and I don't want to end my meal with something gross or, worse, British. So I'm taking the pecan pie and continuing to build the most traditional Thanksgiving meal to ever include a tofurkey.
9. Luke I was leaning heavily toward the tequila, but I figured I'd keep things from getting too messy too early. I've always wanted to have an authentic recreation of the first Thanksgiving dinner, which is why I was really hoping we'd include eel as a protein. So I'm going to nab the corniest thing up there (most corn-like, not most hackneyed) and take the elotes.
10. Gavin That gravy-covered tofurkey will be a show-stopper, Joe. Scarcity-wise, I don't much like the look of the drinks section since Kiernan stole the keg, and so I'm opting for pumpkin cider. Not the Blue Moon one, hopefully.
Round 3 11. Gavin I can't believe this is still here, so I'm going for mashed potatoes. I'm pretty sure at this point I have the best meat, the best carb and a vaguely-appetizing alcohol. I would definitely attend my own Thanksgiving dinner, which is the most pointless sentence anyone's ever typed.
12. Luke Unlike fantasy football, we have the ability to combine our picks here (my attempts to physically fuse Drew Brees and Colin Kaepernick got me two restraining orders). I'm picking the two liter of Coke, though I will just discard the bendy straw. My plan is to use it to braise the beef and reserve whatever's left for chasers for the tequila if I manage to get it.
13. Joe Drinks list is pretty thin too, especially alcoholically speaking, while the sides-and-veggies categories go much deeper. That in mind, I've consulted the wine list at Oak, one of Dallas' better wine lists, and used my patented and fool-proof wine-selection method -- The More Expensive the Better -- to select a 6L bottle of the 2006 Egelhoff Cab, from Napa Valley, California, right here in the U.S. of A. Retail price: $1,750. Gravy-drenched meal, a classic dessert and a nice red-wine buzz: I'm feeling good about this.
14. Kiernan Do you know what the best Thanksgiving food is, by general consensus and specific passion? STUFFING. It's the most Thanksgiving of all foods (sorry Luke and your eels). We have a few available, but I'm going to take the 2006 Egelhoff Cab of stuffings, which is clearly Scott's homemade variety. I'm told it contains sausage, celery, onion, sage, thyme and presumably some kind of breading, and knowing Scott he probably gets the sausage from a farm that takes him three hours to get to by scooter. Turkey, delicious, traditional homemade stuffing and fancy beer. Bow before half of my Thanksgiving dinner. (Joe's editor note: I really wanted that stuffing.)
15. Scott Biscuits: wonderfully warm, flaky biscuits made with so much butter that buttering them at the table would be redundant. Not that it won't stop me from draping paper thin slices of fat from my ham over the halves of each freshly sliced golden round. My next day sandwiches will have you all weeping.
Round 4 16. Scott Might as well take that vanilla ice cream for my pie while I'm at it. Boom!
17. Kiernan One pie left. You can't have Thanksgiving with no pie, and pumpkin is a prize this late in the game.
18. Joe I'm eventually going to need something to pour that gravy over, lest it be relegated to my pecan pie. So: Cornbread stuffing. In fantasy eating, as in fantasy sports, as in life, I am starting to think I really fucked this up.
19. Luke Time to stop delaying the inevitable. It's not a proper Darby holiday without hard liquor, so I'm taking the Cuervo.
20. Gavin Have you guys seen the state of the remaining vegetable dishes? That's why I'm taking green bean casserole, that most classic of Thanksgiving dishes outside everything Kiernan already has.
Round 5 21. Gavin The turducken and potatoes are going to need something more heavy-duty than cranberry sauce or apple sauce to keep them edible, so I'm taking home the white gravy, which I will purchase direct from the Waffle House near my house.
22. Luke Out of concern for my guests, and in the hope that they'll survive until next Thanksgiving, I'm picking sweet potatoes. On top of being one of the healthiest foods in the world, it has the added bonus of being a more popular side than white potatoes these days, at least according to the fancy food magazines.
23. Joe Hot, fluffy dinner rolls, tinged yellow by melted butter and soaked in gravy, scooping up OH HELL WHO AM I KIDDING WHY DID PASS ON TURKEY??????
24. Kiernan Thanksgiving dinner in my family is traditionally cooked by my dad and sister, who are both engineers and also a two-headed kitchen zen hydra, if such a creature had opposable thumbs and mail ordered its chocolate in ten-pound blocks from Switzerland. The point is that my mom and I assist by cleaning stuff and staying the hell out of the way, with only one exception: Every year I make the cranberry sauce. It's not fancy -- it's a very slightly modified version of the recipe on the back of the Ocean Spray bag, in fact. But I've been making it for over 15 years now. It's my home-team bias. I'm taking fresh cranberry sauce, and I'm putting it on the side of my plate, where it will offer a burst of color to look at and a clean tart flavor to contrast the heavy stuffing and compliment the turkey.
25. Scott Could this meal contain more decadence? Oyster stuffing please. There is no stuffing better than one that is kissed by the brine of the sea.
Round 6 26. Scott And since you obviously baited me with it, I'll take the Bud. Not only is it the king of beers, but now that InBev has bought the brand it will fit right in with my Eurotrash-themed dinner.
27. Kiernan Sides are getting scarce. I'm taking the cornbread, because sweater season is no time to be worrying about vegetables.
28. Joe This is probably a matter of personal preference, but I'm snatching up Brussels sprouts, roasted in butter and dusted with salt and better, nestled up against my stuffing and doused in gravy.
29. Luke This is the most traditional move I've made so far but I'm going to take creamed spinach. There's some surprising flavor you can get out of it with cooked down onions and a healthy amount of red pepper during the creaming. Plus it's nutritious and isn't "boiled cabbage," which I always thought was shoe store in Brooklyn.
30. Gavin A butternut squash soup to accompany my main course sounds delightful, and a lot more delightful than most of the remaining options. So let's get that, although I have no bread to dip in it. We'll have to make do with spoons like it's the eighteenth goddamn century or something.
Round 7 31. Gavin I have absolutely no idea what canned yams are. But whatever they are, they have to be better than informing the assembled guests that one of your sides is a bag of Ruffles. So, canned yams it is. The Ruffles are all yours, Luke.
32. Luke Huzzah! I was praying for the Ruffles. Again, instead of using them as a separate dish I'm going to incorporate them as a topping for my meat. There's nothing fitting the most American holiday than beef soaked in Coke and covered in potato chips. But since there are no worries about anyone stealing that away now that all the other carb slots are filled, I'm going to take the apple sauce here and wait on the ridged chips.
33. Joe I'm going to solidify that back-end of my meal with some hearty and continue my failed attempt to overcome my opening-round blunder: the pear tart. Specifically this rustic one, because everything's better when it's rustic.
34. Kiernan Do you know what meal a green salad does not successfully accompany? Seriously, do you?
35. Scott Cranberry sauce? Creamed corn? A jar of Nutella? I don't mean to be insensitive but what's left of the potential draftees looks a lot like a box full of crap for a holiday food drive, especially since you were too cheap to toss in a spoon. Keep your canned beets unless you need them to brain some small animal. I'll take the carrots, glazed, with a touch of honey and some ginger, too.
Round 8 36. Scott And boiled cabbage? I'll pick it because it's the only vegetable left that still resembles real food. If it sounds boring it is -- at least until it's boiled with pieces of tough and smoky meat from the exterior of my glorious ham. Peasant food my ass: You'll be pining for this shit the rest of the year.
37. Kiernan Yeah, we're into the territory where it's better to just let Aunt Rachel bring her weird beet dish, because otherwise she gets all passive-aggressive about everything else on the table. You don't have to eat it. And I am going with canned beets. They've got some crunch and flavor and do not resemble throw-up, three things I cannot say about creamed corn.
38. Joe I'm actually surprised to pick up creamed corn, which I believe can be, as the Reitzian food snobs like to say, "elevated" into a pretty substantive, flavorful dish. It'll mingle well too. A lot of mingling on my Thanksgiving plate. It's going to be a very mingly holiday.
39. Luke I don't understand the negativity toward the jar of Nutella. Who cares that it doesn't have spoons? After the Cuervo everyone is going to be digging in with their cupped hands like Winnie the Pooh.
40. Gavin The main reason I suggested sticky toffee pudding is that I knew none of you would pick i and that I could safely leave it to the end to pick up a delicious dessert on the cheap. It's not a "pudding" in the American sense, a cup of indeterminate thick liquid, but a baked dessert that creates its own toffee in the baking process. You are all dumb.
Round 9 41. Gavin Oh, and I'll take the cinnamon ice cream to go with it, because that will be perfect. I don't care what second drink I get, because the kids can have it. Even if it's the box of white wine. That'll be a Thanksgiving to remember.
42. Luke Plain Greek yogurt. I may not be clear on the rules of this game, like if each object has to be served on its own, but screw it. I can make this into a frozen, Nutella-swirled yogurt, which definitely beats the hell out of a pumpkin pie.
43. Joe When the judges recognize the genius of my drafting strategy, I'm going to put goggles on, shake up that sparkling apple cider and spray it everywhere like I just won the World Series of Side Dishes.
44. Kiernan Too classy for my Royal Scandal mini-keg? Not classy enough for my Royal Scandal mini-keg? Either way, this box of Franzia white wine should hit the spot just fine.
45. Scott Milk? All that's left is milk? I suppose it's what I drank at Thanksgiving till I was seven, but seriously, who came up with this list? Not that I've had taken the Franzia if it was available to me. I have standards. So milk it is and ...
Round 10 46. Scott Look at Keirnan smiling with his "traditional Thanksgiving dinner." You've created nothing! It's a cliché! How could you possibly win by creating the same exact thing we've pretended to enjoy year after year? You're middle of the pack at best. And deep down inside, you know you've already lost.
(Oh, sorry: Cranberry sauce [the jiggly canned shit].)
47. Kiernan I will take all these attempts to decry my masterful Thanksgiving dinner as the surest sign that you all know the truth, deep down, and that truth is that you wish you were going to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. These winter holidays are better for the tradition. As for creativity, I will end a satisfying meal with the surprise flourish: A box of OG Twinkies, now a collectors' item and still exactly as fresh as they day they were squirted out of some machine. Eat them and enjoy the consistency and lab-perfected flavor, or take them home as a party favor to keep in your home as a conversation piece.
48. Joe So it has come to this. There is no more delaying, no more scheming, no more gravy-coating. The moment of reckoning has come; decisions have consequences, actions reactions. I am the Portland Trailblazers of 1984, and gravy is my Sam Bowie.
With the 48th pick in the 2013 Fantasy Thanksgiving Dinner Draft, I select tofurkey. And then I immediately cut it, releasing it back into the free agent market, where it will be picked up by a hungry yoga instructor or some kids who lost their football. My plate will be one dish short this Thanksgiving, and I have only myself to blame.
49. Luke I submit that while Kiernan has the more traditional Thanksgiving dinner; I have the more authentically American one. So I'm going to take the Ruffles chips and array them on each plate as a festive garnish, then crush a few handfuls and use them to top the Coke-braised prime rib as a sort of breading. It's little touches like this that make a meal elevated. Let's see Scott top that with his biscuit-ham.
50. Gavin Monster Energy Drink. Perfect for the children at my party. Simply give it to them during the meal, then afterwards let them outside as if they were a common house pet, bolt the doors, and relax on the sofa in front of moving colors and sounds. The children's energy should run out at about 11 p.m., by which point you'll be asleep and unable to let them back in. So maybe give them enough energy drink to last until about 9 a.m. the following day. There's no way that leaving hyperactive children outside for 18 hours in the cold can possibly go wrong.
The Final Rosters, Ranked* Ranked according to an internal and blind Dallas Observer office poll.
1. Kiernan* 58 points, 9 first place votes Turkey Fresh cranberry sauce Scott Reitz's homemade stuffing Cornbread Green salad Canned beets Pumpkin pie Hoarded box of pre-bankruptcy Twinkies Peticolas Royal Scandal Mini-Keg Box of Franzia white wine
2. Gavin 39 points, 1 first place vote Turducken White Gravy Mashed potatos Canned Yams Green Bean Casserole Butternut Squash Soup Sticky Toffee Pudding Cinnamon Ice Cream Pumpkin Cider Monster Energy Drink
3. Luke 35 points, 1 first place vote Prime rib roast Apple sauce Sweet potatoes A bag of Ruffles Elotes Creamed spinach Jar of Nutella (no spoon) Plain Greek yogurt Two liter of Coca Cola (with giant bendy straw) Jose Cuervo (in a Camelback)
4. Scott 29 points, 0 first place votes Ham Biscuits Oyster stuffing Glazed carrots Boiled cabbage Cranberry sauce (jiggly can shit) Apple pie Vanilla ice cream Budweiser Whole milk
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SHOW ME HOW
5. Joe 19 points, 0 first place votes Cornbread stuffing Rolls Brussels sprouts Brown gravy Creamed corn Pecan pie Pear tart Sparkling apple cider Cabernet sauvignon (bottle)
But maybe you disagree?