It's that time of year again: Time to gather around a table of people you don't know or don't like, shovel uninspiring food into your face and then retire to the couch and wait for the Tryptophan to get working.
But what if it wasn't that way? What if you could build your perfect meal? Last year, I enlisted both of my friends, Melissa and Vince, for the first-ever Thanksgiving Dinner Fantasy Draft.
Commenters determined that Melissa dominated those festivities; now it's time for redemption. With 27 dishes on the table, we randomly selected a draft order*, then picked foods until they were gone. The objective: Amass the best complement of dishes to help make it through Thanksgiving without stabbing anyone.
Who won? You be the judge.
*In the tradition of fantasy drafts, the order "snakes" -- so while Melissa won the first pick, she'll draft last in Round 2, and so on.
AVAILABLE DISHES Meat (pick one): Turkey, turducken, tofurkey. Sauces (pick one): gravy, cranberry sauce, apple sauce. Carbs (pick two): stuffing, mash potatoes, sweet potatoes, sweet potato pie, rolls, cornbread. Veggies (pick two): creamed corn, creamed spinach, Brussel sprouts, green bean/broccoli casserole, butternut squash soup, green salad. Desserts (pick two): apple pie, pumpkin pie, pecan pie, vanilla ice cream, cinnamon ice cream, cheesecake. Beverages (pick one): milk, beer, wine
1. Melissa: Turkey
This year, I'm picking turkey first. It's the most expensive item on the table. The longest and most difficult to cook. Turkey: You are the epicenter of Thanksgiving, and I love you. 2. Joe: Gravy
What the ...? Have you forgotten the Draft Day Miracle of 2008, when you wisely established gravy as the Adrian Peterson of Thanksgiving foods? Well, I'm glad you did. Gravy, suckers. GRAVY. I can draft nothing but dry rolls and turkey carcasses from here on out and I'll be happy as a fat man in Tuscany. 3. Vince: Apps
I'm going off the board with my first pick. I know this is "against the rules," but it's not my fault that you guys didn't have better draft preparation. You're so focused on dinner and dessert that you failed to scout appetizers.
I'm going with the bountiful appetizer platter here. Give me 17 handfuls of cauliflower and cherry tomatoes dipped in ranch. Give me the chicken salad on crackers, warm pumpernickel slathered in spinach-artichoke dip, mozzarella with basil and olive oil, and bruschetta. See, I do the cooking for our Thanksgiving dinner, and between the hangover from the night before, the copious amounts of beer consumed the following morning, and staring at all the dinner foods for five hours while I prepare them makes me want to eat anything else in the world for dinner, even Arthur Treacher's. The appetizer platter is where it's at for me.
4. Vince: Beer
Speaking of beer, that's my second pick. You sober fools can enjoy each other's company. I'll stare at you, nod and pretend I'm listening while little Christmas Ale-festooned angels dance around my head. 5. Joe: Turducken
Great call, Vince ... if you were drafting a Superbowl Party. But this is Thanksgiving, and at Thanksgiving, there is no room for appetizers. Hell, there's barely room for vegetables.
With that said: I'm drafting Turducken. For the uninitiated, the turducken is a partially de-boned turkey stuffed with a de-boned duck (and sometimes -- as in this time -- wrapped in bacon). It's the greasy lovechild of Julia Child and John Madden, and it will be even more heart-stoppingly delicious when floating in my bathtub of gravy.
6 and 7. Melissa: Cranberry sauce and cornbread
Joe, I could not agree more with your assessment of time-wasting appetizers. Pre-meal, the only warm up anyone needs is serious hydration in whatever form works best for you.
Later in the draft I will divulge my 2009 strategy, but for now I'm taking cranberry sauce and cornbread.
As sauces go, gravy simple drowns whatever it is you are eating. Apple sauce is fine for those with a simple palette. Cranberry, however, mixes the perfect consistency with a fresh and zippy tang that pairs perfectly with any other elements of the feast.
Then there's cornbread. Gritty, sweet, salty, delicious cornbread. Yes, please.
8. Joe: Apple pie
Time for a safety pick: Being a complete weirdo, I don't really like pecan or pumpkin pie. I've always been an apple man, and on Thanksgiving that's always served me well: While everyone fights over the last piece of pumpkin, I'm on the couch, eating the apple pie straight from the tin and cursing the Lions.
So, to make sure I have something for dessert, I pick Apple pie. What can I say: I'm a patriot.
9. Vince: Tofurkey
I suppose, by rule, I have to select one option from the "meat" department, and Tofurkey will have to be it, though I have little intention of eating it. At some point during the day I'll get a little too drunk, a relative will go on just a little too long about their garden or their new oven or how often they cut their grass during the summer, and I'll feel the need to throw something. Thus, Tofurkey. 10. Vince: Pecan pie
Second pick in this round: Pecan Pie. Underrated, tasty, chock full of protein, and delicious with coffee, making it the perfect breakfast for the next three days after Thanksgiving. The same people who don't like pecan pie don't like rhubarb pie or sweet potato pie or Leonerd Cohen. 11. Joe: Mashed potatoes
I can't believe they've fallen this far, and I won't let them fall any farther. I had resigned myself to a potato-less Thanksgiving, since without gravy they're little more than a pile of wet chalk on your plate. But a little pool of gravy sitting in the middle of them, calling for my spoon like a hungry child? Yum to the yum. 12. Melissa: Pumpkin pie
Well, you boys can have your all-year-round pies, but I'm taking pumpkin pie. It epitomizes an autumnal menu. Plus, all that pie crust in apple or the sugary overload of karo syrup in pecan is too much to handle at the end of the meal. I need a silky slice of pumpkin pie with a dollop of whip cream. 13. Melissa: Stuffing
I'll take stuffing to both block any gravy-train and/or the alcohol-absorbency strategies. Plus, I got the big bird, I need something in that massive cavity to catch all the delicious juices circulating during cooking. Plus, in terms of reheating, stuffing is the only carb that works both cold and reheated. Any guesses for my strategy? 14: Joe: Creamed corn
Melissa: It appears you are amassing the necessary ingredients for day-after turkey sandwiches, to which I say:
But for me, Thanksgiving is a one-day event, a four-hour long, coma-inducing meal that happens on only one day a year. The next day? It's back to burger-basics for me. (I'll be in Cleveland this year, so maybe I'll eat this burger). With that in mind, I'm picking up some color for my plate and snagging creamed corn because, well, it's corn. And it's creamed.
15. Vince: Brussel sprouts
How collard greens is not on the list is beyond me. Creamed spinach? Creamed corn? What, is everyone who's coming to dinner 90 years old? What about some kale with garlic? What about some mustard greens? Surprise one of you didn't try to draft a blender so that you could comfortably eat all your food in slurp.
Brussel sprouts. Man vegetable.
16. Vince: Sweet potatoes
Marshmallows and Cinnamon. That's what I'm drafting here. And by that, I mean I'm drafting sweet potatoes, whose deliciousness stands alone quite nicely, but is augmented when the aforementioned sweet treats are added. Take your gravy and white potatoes -- I'll get a cavity while enjoying my starches. 17. Joe: Vanilla ice cream
The thing about Thanksgiving foods is that very few stand tall on their own. Turkey without stuffing? Potatoes without gravy? That in mind, I'm finishing off my dessert and scooping up some vanilla ice cream to top my apple pie. Man: I get more American with every pick. 18 and 19. Melissa: Creamed spinach and butternut squash soup
Rounding out my feast, creamed spinach and butternut squash soup. You got me Vince. I like a plate where the creamed spinach ebbs into the turkey and stuffing, acting both as a vegetable and sauce simultaneously. And soup is something my family does to warm-up for the main event. I like my soup spicy and hot (temperature) and served in a mug, to start my metabolism before I hit it hard with the main course. 20. Joe: Green bean/broccoli casserole
I'm going to pick up the green bean/broccoli casserole here, because I don't want to get stuck with a boring green salad on Thanksgiving. Green beans aren't that good. Broccoli isn't either. But assuming they're mixed together with some sort of cheesy goodness, I wouldn't mind stuffing something green down my throat between bites of beige-y goodness. 21 and 22. Vince: Cheesecake and apple sauce
Cheesecake and apple sauce. Why? Because I'm so happy with my previous draft picks, so sure that my meal is already complete, that I don't need any other choices. I don't even like apple sauce or cheesecake. This is the point where I become the drunk guy at the table, throwing Tofurkey at the two of you. 23. Joe: Milk
Here's where I divulge my strategy: Eat like a seven-year old. For whatever reason, the craving for a tall, cold glass of milk never left me -- in fact, many nights, I stick a glass full of it in the freezer before dinner. So, yeah, call me crazy, but I'm doing Thanksgiving sober, and with a belly full of dairy. 24 and 25. Melissa: Wine and cinnamon ice cream
Wine and cinnamon ice cream completes my perfect meal. The ice cream pairs perfectly with pumpkin pie.
Wine ... well, wine takes you from soup through late night chats after the dishes have been cleaned and leftovers tucked away.
And with that, I've smoked you guys for the second straight year.
26. Joe: Rolls
Rolls? Boring. Rolls over-buttered and then dunked ceremoniously in gravy? Yes, please. 27. Vince: Green salad
As long as it's covered in cheese, dressing, and processed meats.
So, the final rosters:
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Melissa: Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, butternut quash soup, creamed spinach, cornbread, wine, pumpkin pie and cinnamon ice cream.
Joe: Turducken, mashed potatoes, gravy, rolls, creamed corn, broccoli and green beans, milk, apple pie and vanilla ice cream.
Vince: Tofurkey, some sort of weird appetizer thing, sweet potatoes, green salad, beer, pecan pie, apple sauce, Brussels sprouts, and cheesecake.
Pick your winner in the comments below.