Our Thanksgiving Plan

It’s been a while since I(Deena)’ve posted something, hasn’t it?  Getting my dissertation written plus being on the job market unfortunately doesn’t leave me with a lot of creative energy, but today I have something I’m super excited to share with y’all.

To say that I am obsessed with the winter holidays might be the understatement of the year.  Thanksgiving is my favorite, because food, duh, and it is a perfect opportunity to relax for a day.

This year, we’re staying home and spending Thanksgiving with our neighbors.  It is going to be a wonderful, stress-free day full of good food, the wine I only buy for the holidays, and catching up with some of our favorite people.  We’re very lucky to live on a cul de sac in a nice-but-not-snooty suburban neighborhood, and we have better neighbors than I ever could have dreamed of.

Without further ado, here’s our plan for hosting this year!


Appetizers: I don’t want to take focus off the Thanksgiving meal, but I do want to provide some snacks for our guests to enjoy while we watch football.
-A big cheese board with 2 types of cheese (TDB, but I do love the Toscano from Trader Joe’s), crackers, salami, spice roasted pecans, grapes, and pickles.
-Cranberry baked brie with crackers (Not really using a recipe for this, but I am going to top a wheel of brie with cranberry sauce and wrap it in frozen puff pastry, then bake until it looks good)
-Spanakopita (Frozen from TJs)

Drinks: Thanksgiving is time to bust out the good wine!  This year we’re also serving a signature cocktail.  Beer is a must, and don’t forget the nonalcoholic drinks for kids or people who prefer not to drink.
-A double batch of these cranberry margaritas will serve as our signature cocktail.
-We’re also keeping a bottle of good (Bulleit) bourbon on hand, because it’s the south, y’all.
-A perfect but not too expensive red wine is Mollydooker: The Boxer (shiraz).  My uncle was kind enough to purchase this wine for our wedding, and it has since become our go-to special occasion wine.
-I’m not a huge white wine fan, at least not when it is cold, but turkey.  We’re serving the Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc, which is a nice crisp, dry wine.
-A mix of microbrews and light beer.  We’re planning on serving Shiner Holiday Cheer, Aviator Frost Nipped, and Yuengling Light.
-Sparkling cranberry and apple juices (from Trader Joe’s) as a delicious nonalcoholic option.

The main meal: Here I’m going for classics with a twist.  Excited!
-Hickory smoked turkey.  I’m using one of the pre-brined turkeys from Trader Joe’s to save myself a little headache.  Also not really using a recipe but planning a bbq rub and loading the liquid reservoir of my smoker with either beer or cider.
-Gravy, courtesy of Whole Foods.  Since we’re smoking the turkey, I’m not sure what the dripping situation will be and I am leaving the gravy to the pros.  I already preordered and paid for it, and will pick it up after work on Tuesday.  How convenient is that?
-Mashed potatoes.  Y’all, I just bought a potato ricer and it is one of the best purchases I have ever made.  I’ll boil and rice the potatoes, then add salt, milk, and butter.
Sweet potato and swiss chard gratin.  I know people usually go for sugary sweet potato dishes, but I’ve made this before and it is just to die for.
-Cranberry sauce.  Again, no recipe except boiling cranberries, water, and sugar.  I am making about 5 bags’ worth as this is Nick’s favorite.
-My best friend Caroline’s macaroni and cheese.  She has a killer recipe, and kids just love it.
-Pepperidge Farm stuffing.  I tried a homemade cornbread dressing recipe a few weeks ago, but I used jiffy mix for the cornbread and the end result just had a bizarre texture.  I decided to keep it simple (stupid) and use the Pepperidge Farm mix my husband and I both like.  There’s no shame in some shortcuts when you have this much food to cook.
-My dad’s carrots.  Again, no recipe, but we caramelize them in a mixture of french onion soup mix, lemon, sugar, and water.
-My neighbor is bringing more veggies as well.  Need some green to cut through the carbs!
Pumpkin dinner rolls with cinnamon honey butter.  Tried these out a few weeks ago, and omg.  I am making a double batch and suspect that the kids will love them.

Dessert: I am serving the classic pumpkin pie alongside two desserts that are a little more fun.
-Decaf coffee.  Do people drink coffee with dessert, or is that just my family?  Regardless, I picked up some decaf beans.
Classic pumpkin pie.  I’ve never made a pumpkin pie before because my grandmother is the queen of pies, but this year I will give it a shot.  I’m not making the praline sauce (team whipped cream over here!), and I’m using frozen pie crust.  If you hate making pie crust like I do, I highly recommend the frozen pie crusts from Trader Joe’s.
-Homemade whipped cream.  Kitchen Aid to the rescue!
Nantucket cranberry pie.  This is so, so good.
Pumpkin whoopie pies with cinnamon cream cheese frosting.  I follow her cookie recipe exactly, but I am not a big maple syrup fan.  I instead make a cream cheese icing and spike it with cinnamon and nutmeg.  I made these as one of the desserts for Nick’s 29th birthday party, and the kids would have eaten the entire plate if their parents had let them.

Shopping/prep tips/misc: I want to do a more detailed post on this, and it will probably help y’all if I have hindsight after the day is over.  Here’s what I’m thinking now:
-I’m doing my grocery shopping in two rounds.  After work yesterday, I went and grabbed all the nonperishables.  Next Monday, I am planning on grabbing the turkey and all the vegetables after work.  There is no way I could have done it all in one trip by myself, but I think it is certainly possible to make one trip if you bring another person.  I wanted to save my slave driving for making my husband clean the house.
– I was surprised by how much serveware I was missing!  I ordered most missing things from amazon, and bought foil pans and cocktail napkins from Target.  I am serving my apps, dinner, and dessert on these plates, because I know I am going to trash my kitchen in the cooking process.  My spread may not look like something from Southern Living, but it will be delicious!
-I am planning to set up a self-serve bar/apps table and then put the dinner food on a buffet table.  I’m not really sure how I will decorate the dinner table, but I figure that tea lights and flowers are usually a win.  I bought these cheap but festive napkins in orange.  Decorating is not my forte.
-We have 2 children coming so I wanted to get them something special.  I’m sure it isn’t fun to hang out with adults all the time!  I bought things to make them treat bags, and I got them each a small toy (Target dollar spot).  I also bought a gingerbread house making kit and plan on having board games on hand to fight off restlessness.
-Last month’s Real Simple had a really good article on pet etiquette surrounding the holidays.  My plan is to brush the cats and dog on Wednesday, then clean the hell out of my house.  I won’t be vacuuming on Thursday as that can stir up dander and aggravate guests’ allergies.  The dog will be in his crate and the cats will be upstairs during our gathering.

That’s all I have for now.  What are your Thanksgiving plans?  Is Thanksgiving your favorite holiday, too?

Overcoming a Poor Draft by Trading Up

Now that the trade deadline has passed in my highest priority fantasy football redraft league, it’s time to take a look at the five trades I made this year, to see how it’s affected my season so far, and its future outlook. The goal of this post is to show how you can overcome a poor draft (and subsequent poor start to the season), and still excel in your league by being vigilant with roster management, and using widely available tools to more accurately gauge past and future performance.

The Grid Iron Futbol League (GIFL) is a league I have been a part of since 2003. It is a 10-team league, non-PPR, standard scoring, with 4 points per passing TD. There is one twist – if a player is drafted in the 9th round or later (must be drafted, not picked up off waivers), and is on your roster at the end of the year, you can keep that player as a 9th round pick the following year. Said player may only be kept one year in a row.  The league has the following roster construction:

  • 1 QB
  • 1 RB
  • 1 RB/WR
  • 1 WR
  • 1 WR/TE
  • 1 TE
  • 1 D/ST
  • 1 K
  • 8 Bench

This allows the possibility of starting 3 WRs and 1 RB, or 2 RBs and 2 WRs (there may be rare cases where you choose to start 2 TEs as well, in place of one of the WRs). With only needing to start 1 RB, I went with a semi-Zero-RB strategy. I had Andre Ellington targeted as a must-have in the 4th round, but other than that I was avoiding the RB spot until about rounds 6 or 7. My thinking was, I only needed to start 1 RB, and WRs generally enjoy less drop off in production comparatively to running backs the deeper you go, so they would make the better flex play most weeks. My roster turned out as follows:


I was not too thrilled with my draft. My draft got bungled right from round 3, where I was expecting Jordy Nelson or Antonio Brown to be available at my spot. I was happy to get Josh Gordon in a league where we have 8 bench spots, and I could keep him through the year so that he would be my keeper (and 9th round pick) for next year. It was simply a bonus that the rules changed and Gordon was eligible for reinstatement. I was also happy I got Ellington, but my other RBs did not inspire me. This led me to pull my first trade:

Trade 1 – Trade Jeremy Maclin away for Pierre Thomas

I made this trade the day after our league’s draft. In hindsight, I made an awful trade here, both in rationale, and in actual result. I knew I needed another starting RB, since Knowshon Moreno was projected to start in Miami, and I had no other starting RB on the roster. However, I traded the wrong WR away for the wrong RB. Pierre Thomas filled a very similar role to Shane Vereen for their respective teams, and I should have rostered only one of these guys. It was unkown how Maclin would perform for the Eagles with DeSean Jackson out of the picture, and Maclin coming off an ACL injury, so giving him up wasn’t too unreasonable. However clearly I wish I’d kept him. So take the roster pictured above, swap out Maclin for Pierre Thomas, and that was my roster going into week 1. I started out the year 1-2-1 (yes, we had the rare fractional scoring tie), and at that point my roster was the following:


At this point, my RB situation looked a lot better. I picked up Ahmad Bradshaw off the waiver wire after week 1, Lamar Miller was starting in Miami, Donald Brown was starting in San Diego, and Matt Asiata was the starter in Minnesota at the time. My WR situation was a bit different. Calvin Johnson had just gotten hurt, so I was left with a hit or miss Victor Cruz, a relative bust in Keenan Allen, and consistently low-scoring Kendall Wright. This led me to trade two…

Trade 2 – Trade Matt Asiata away for T.Y. Hilton

This trade was not made in time to process before week 5, but at the time Matt Asiata was still the starter. However, I assumed he’d be taken over at some point by Jerick McKinnon (or Adrian Peterson’s situation would get resolved). I traded him away to the owner who had Peterson and McKinnon, so that the owner could lock down the Minnesota RB situation as it evolved. In return, I got a WR who had no fewer than 5 receptions per game, but just hadn’t found pay-dirt yet. I figured it was a matter of time. Well, in week 5 Matt Asiata made his last start, and T.Y. put in a 9 catch, 90 yard performance, but since the trade hadn’t processed, I fielded a sub-par lineup and lost, dropping me to 1-3-1 in 8th place of 10. But then the trade processed for week 6, McKinnon was named the starter, and T.Y. went off for 223 yards and a score. Hilton has had only one game in single-digits since. I clearly improved my team here. However, I still saw an opportunity…

Trade 3 – Trade Calvin Johnson and Ahmad Bradshaw away for Eddie Lacy and Larry Fitzgerald

This trade looks awful for me on paper, but at that point Calvin Johnson had just finished his second straight week playing as a decoy on a bum ankle, and was looking to be out the next four weeks (three games and a bye), putting him back for a return in week 10. If I could hang on two more weeks, I’d have Josh Gordon return, so Calvin was expendable. I had Ellington, Forsett (I picked him up having waiver priority), Bradshaw, and Miller as my RB quartet, so giving away Bradshaw didn’t kill me. I used the Rotoviz Buy Low Machine and found that Eddie Lacy had an excellent upcoming schedule.


After a tough match-up with Miami, six of Lacy’s next 7 games were great match-ups, including an excellent one in week 14, the first week of the fantasy playoffs. Bradshaw’s schedule wasn’t horrible, but he’s an older, injury-prone back in a timeshare, and Lacy was clearly a buy low prospect, having started the year off slowly. I pulled the trigger, and Lacy got me 35.5 points in the same time frame that Calvin Johnson got zero. Also, I noticed using Rotoviz’s Game Splits App, with Palmer about to return, Fitzgerald was due for a bounce back in scoring.


I’d score this trade as helping me out given the situation. Unfortunately, once again disaster struck one of my WRs. Victor Cruz went down in week 6 with a torn patellar tendon, leaving me once again thin at the WR position. I managed to somehow win three straight (thanks mainly to T.Y., Lacy, and Ellington) to move to 4-3-1 while grabbing Andre Holmes, Cecil Shorts III and some guy named Sammy Watkins off waivers (to be fair to my league-mates, this was before he put up two consecutive 20 point weeks, and other than week 2, had largely been uninspiring). My WR corps after Hilton was Allen, Holmes, Shorts III, and Watkins (I panicked after Fitzgerald put up 2 points with Palmer in the lineup, and dropped him for Watkins). I needed a high quality WR…

Trade 4 – Trade away Lamar Miller and Cecil Shorts III for DeSean Jackson and Bishop Sankey

The reason behind this was clear. I only needed three stud running backs since I needed to start only one or two in any given week. With Ellington, Forsett, and Lacy, I was okay there so Miller could become expendable, especially given that I was getting Sankey as insurance. DeSean gave me another starting quality receiver leaving me with the suddenly respectable trio of T.Y., DeSean, and Sammy Watkins (who put up back-to-back 20+ point weeks), with Allen as insurance, and Gordon waiting in the wings. This trade helped me out for sure, strengthening my WR corps while not penalizing me at running back. However, I’m never content. I could have stood pat and been done with my moves, but that’s just not me. I saw an opportunity once again using the Buy Low Machine. We were entering week 9, and this was Kelvin Benjamin’s schedule from week 9 through the end of my fantasy playoffs:


The easiest remaining schedule among WRs, Benjamin was definitely a trade target of mine. This led me to my final trade of the year.

Trade 5 – Trade Sammy Watkins and Tre Mason away for Kelvin Benjamin and Cincinnati D/ST

I had just picked up Tre Mason off waivers, but was not going to use him (especially given his upcoming schedule), and Watkins was an obvious sell high, coming off two 20+ point days, with the 10th toughest schedule remaining at that point according to the Buy Low Machine (or should I call it the Sell High Machine?). Watkins for Benjamin just made sense, and as a small bonus I got the Cincy D going up against lowly Jacksonville in week 9. Benjamin didn’t do so hot in week 9 despite the great match-up, but in weeks 10 and 11 he’s been a fantasy savior for me. Watkins put up a mere 6.2 points during those two weeks, although I don’t expect that trend to continue, as his schedule eases up a bit toward the fantasy playoffs. with three of his next four match-ups positive ones.

Waiver moves, attempting one more trade, and looking forward

I kept working the waiver wire, picking up Mike Evans who was only averaging 6.5 points per week before his weeks 9 through 11 blow-up. I was able to claim him off waivers by having priority after his big week 9 performance, giving me the WR quintet of T.Y. Hilton, Kelvin Benjamin, Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson, and Josh Gordon now eligible to return. I picked up Fred Jackson off waivers after he went down with injury. His injury was short term and I wouldn’t need him in that time frame anyway. As long as he’s back for the fantasy playoffs, I was happy to roster him. He’ll simply be insurance for the fantasy playoffs, where he has a good schedule.

I was looking to make one more trade, shipping Ellington away and packaging him with one of my non-Gordon WRs to pick up another top RB given Ellington’s horrid fantasy playoff schedule and the injury to Carson Palmer, but my league-mates held tight and didn’t take the bait.

Since week 4 where I was 1-2-1, I’ve gone 5-2 and moved from 8th to 4th in the standings, with a roster very capable of winning it all. My current roster is as follows:


A few highlights of the roster:

  • Drew Brees has the 2nd easiest fantasy playoff schedule (weeks 14-16) for QBs. His schedule to this point in the year has rated 38.33 (on a 0-100 scale), but his playoff schedule rates a 69.
  • Delanie Walker has the 2nd easiest fantasy playoff schedule for TEs, with all three being good matchups
  • I have three top 10 RBs, of which I need to start one or two in any given week. I’ll likely be picking either Lacy or Forsett or both depending on the situation. Ellington, Fred Jackson, and Sankey are insurance policy.
  • I have four currently top 13 WRs plus last year’s #1 WR, Josh Gordon. I face the dreaded selection problem, but I guess that’s a good problem to have.
  • In cases where either Forsett or Lacy have a bad matchup, I’ll probably go 3 WRs.
  • Alfred Blue and Jordan Reed will be the guys I’m looking at cutting to either handcuff an RB, grab a backup QB, or grab a TE with a better match-up for week 12 (Walker has a tough match-up this week, and Reed has a hamstring issue).

Congrats if you’ve read this far! I really appreciate it. Hopefully I’ve shown that you can overcome a poor draft by being aggressive in trades, using tools available on the web (thanks Rotoviz for having some of the best tools available in my opinion!), and working the waiver wire. I’d classify four of my five trades as positive value, setting me up nicely for the fantasy playoffs. Anything can happen in the fantasy playoffs, but I feel good about the position I’ve put myself in for those three weeks.