Wednesday, October 21, 2009

"We've Got Spirits, Yes We Do! We've got Spirits, How 'Bout You?" A Tasteful Tailgate.

For many of us, 'Tis the season for football. And for those of us who are experiencing what we wouldn't call the glory days or our Alma Mater or our chosen institution/team, 'tis the season for quality tailgating.

In all seriousness, you'll never hear me say that. (disclaimer: UVA isn't having the best season of all time.) There are folks out there that say they only go to football games for the tailgating, or that here, no one is going to actually watch the football game. Personally, I think if that's the case, find another team, find another temple to worship at, and get a new hobby. Maybe it's the fact that I work with college students, I always remember that they're students and they're out there trying their hardest, or maybe it's the fact that I've been going to football games ever since my Mom and Dad could tote me around like a pocket-sized orange and blue accessory. You learn to stand by your team, through good seasons and bad seasons.

Anywho, I'm going to hop off of my coach soapbox before I lose you. While we can't control what happens on the field, we can control what happens off the field with a tasteful tailgate. If you don't attend football games, but you follow a a college of NFL team at home, apply this to your spread in front of the old flat screen.

I've been fortunate over the years to attend many tailgates with friends and family, as well as plan some, and I figured I would share some of my favorite tips with you on this fine evening. When I say a tasteful tailgate, I'm not talking silver candelabra, and silver chaffing dishes. If that's what you were hoping for, well than pardon me Chrystal Carrington while I go play the grand piano. Just remember, you're standing in a parking lot with silver candelabra on a folding card table. Does it equate?

Ok. So my favorite tips and tailgating treats:

1. Don't be so damn literal: One of my favorite things to do is to take the school colors/team colors and find objects/serving pieces in those colors. However, I don't like to buy things that are necessarily school specific. For example, UVA's colors are orange and navy blue. Instead of going to the UVA bookstore or the gas station and buying the orange plastic table cloth that has Virginia Cavaliers, giant V's and footballs all over it, I opt for a navy and white patterned table cloth I purchased at a discount home goods store. It's attractive, durable, washable, and reusable. It sets a nice backdrop to add orange pieces to the spread. When you do this, you avoid having your table look like a child's birthday party table (you know, the Strawberry Shortcake table cloth, the Strawberry Shortcake napkins, plates, blow whistles, cups, cake, etc.) Remember, don't be so literal, you can show your support without literally saying it. Think of it like wearing a blue and orange tatersal shirt verses an actual UVA tshirt. I like it.

2. The 10 Minute Centerpiece: I'm sorry, call me crazy, call me persnickety, but I think all tables need a good centerpiece, and that includes your tailgating table. I always laugh because whenever my friends and I divvy up what we're bringing to our next tailgate, I always say I have the centerpiece on my list. My friend (and "wife") Alexis always responds "Friends, you can now rest at ease and sleep at night, Ed has the centerpiece under control, I know you've all been really worried and thinking, gosh I hope we have a centerpiece for Saturday's game." Sarcasm dually noted, ignored, and forgotten. ;) Anywho, the 10 minute centerpiece. It's Fall, so rock it fall. Buy one Mum. Wrap the plastic pot of the mum in your favorite wrapping paper, construction paper, scrapbooking paper, or whatever you have in the house. If you have something in your school colors, even better. Using your standard computer software, print images of footballs, football players, cheerleaders, phrases, "Go, Fight, Win" etc. and cut them out. Using scotch tape, attach the clip art images to your standard bamboo skewers (used for shish kabobs). If you want the backside to be appealing, trace the shapes onto another piece of paper, cut it out, and tape it on the other side of the skewer (sandwiching the skewer between the two pieces of paper.) You've instantly created your own, super cheap version of those plastic decorative messages florists stick in floral arrangements (you know the plastic stick with the plastic words that say "Welcome Baby," "Happy Birthday," "Sorry I got your pregnant and didn't call." Wait, what?

So, take your skewers, stick them in the mum in a nice arrangement, and wam, bam, instant centerpiece for your tailgating table. Time for the next tailgate and your mum is looking a little worn out? No worries, captain. Get a pumpkin at the market and stick the reusable skewers into the pumpkin. If you're feeling extra Martha that day, using some craft paint or leftover house paint, paint an inspirational phrase for your team on the pumpkin. Once again, instant centerpiece. Super cheap, super easy, and your guests will love it.

3. Tailgating is Not Work: Plain and simple, I don't grill at a tailgate. I'm there to enjoy time with my good friends and family, I'm not there to cook, and I'm not there to work. I'd rather do a little work before hand and enjoy the day, than set up a grill and fire away. Sure, you're going to have some "hot off the grill" goodness, but it's not my style. I also encourage you to think about what you're serving. If you can, opt for chicken fingers/strips over friend chicken. A lot of folks will be standing up and walking around, and let's face it, it's hard to look attractive and tear into a chicken breast full of bones. I mean, that's hard enough to do sitting down. If possible, stick to wholesome, filling finger foods. The best part? If you have a little time the night before, or even the morning of, you can make your own snacks, make them healthier, make them for less money, and your guests are going to scarf them down. Here are two of my standby favorites:

Oven Baked Chicken Fingers: (The amount depends on how much you want to make)
Take your standard boneless, skinless, raw chicken tenders from the market,
Salt and pepper the naked tenders
Dip the naked tenders in a quick egg wash (2-3 beaten eggs with some water or milk)
Then dredge the tenders in Panko (Japanese Bread crumbs--add your choice of seasonings to the bread crumbs and mix around--garlic powder, Soul Food Seasoning, paprika, onion salt, etc).
Lay the breaded tenders on a greased cookie sheet, spray the tops of the tenders with cooking oil so they'll brown, bake at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the tenders are golden brown. Serve with low-fat honey mustard salad dressing for dipping, barbecue sauce, or your favorite condiments.
(They're really good hot and cold, and they're so much better for you than if you buy fried chicken or go through the drive through).

Mini Pigs-n-a-Blanket (in lieu of grilling hot dogs)
These are so easy, breezy, lemon squeezy it should be illegal. And please do me a favor: make these and don't buy the ones that are already done or the ones that come in bulk at Sams club for wedding receptions. People always eat these and they can taste the difference. People are like, wow you made these? Can I have the recipe? Well, if you can even call this a recipe:
Buy 2 packages of Hillshire Farms "Lil Smokies" or if you like cheese in your dogs, "Lil Cheddar Smokies"
Buy 2 cans of Grands or grocery store brand "Flaky Layers" biscuits. (If you really want to step it up, buy a can of the whole wheat biscuits--hooray for health.)
Take each biscuit, pull apart the flaky layers, and then cut each layer into strips using kitchen scissors.
Assemble a pile of little pigs, little dough strips, and start your assembly line. Roll each pig in a cut layer of biscuit dough and then lay it on a greased cookie sheet with the seam side down. Bake in the oven at 350 until the biscuit dough is golden brown. Once again, serve with honey mustard, BBQ sauce, ketchup, or your favorite condiment. Great both warm and cold.

So, if you have the time to save the dime, do it yourself and skip the drive through and frozen food aisle for the next tailgate.

3. Make a packing list: This sounds a little excessive, it's a tailgate, not a trip to France. However, think about it. Once you get there, it's a one shot deal. There's no running out to get a corkscrew. So, make a packing list for the day. It's a great way to divvy up things amongst your friends and do a quick check before you load up the car for the day. Here is a good go-to list for many of our past tailgates:

1. Folding Card Tables and folding bag chairs
2. Table Cloth
3. Centerpiece (see, I told you it's important)
4. Paper plates
5. Solo Cups
6. Cocktail Napkins/Dinner napkins
7. Bottle Opener
8. Corkscrew
9. Shot Glass or Jigger
10. Cooler
11. Ice
12. Ice Bucket to hold ice for mixed drinks
13. Beer (seasonal preference)
14. Bourbon (Maker's Mark or Knob Creek, please.)
15. Vodka/Gin
16. Mixers: Cranberry, Ginger Ale, Soda, Diet Soda, Sparkling Water, Water (not really a mixer, but you always want to have plenty of water on hand, regardless of the weather/season) Tonic Water, and Club Soda
17. Straws or plastic swizzle sticks for mixed drinks
18. Trash Bag and second bag for recycling (in case your plot isn't near a trashcan
19. Wine, if you have wine drinkers
20. 2 Entree dishes (i.e. country ham biscuits, chicken/pigs, etc)
21. Chips, Dips, Chains, Whips (pita chips, hummus, corn salsa, tortilla chips, etc.)
22. Salads (pasta, etc.)
23. Dry roasted Peanuts--a great option for munchies
24. Dessert--brownies or cookies will typically suffice, unless you're dying to make a "Go Hoos" Cake.
25. Fruit and Veggies--because some people are still trying to meet a man.
(See, there's a lot to forget--making a packing list is not that crazy for a tailgate. Of course some of these things will change depending on the time of season. You might not be as concerned with a cold drink in late November, but you know what to swap out.)

The final ingredient on your list is to bring good friends and family to enjoy both the spread and the game with. That's what it's all about after all.

So, whether it be outside the stadium or inside your family room, consider these tips when you plan your next tasteful tailgate. Keep it Simple and Keep it Classy. Grab a drink, grab your friends, and grab your seat and enjoy some football, y'all.



  1. Perfect! We are headed to our Homecoming this weekend and need to contribute to someone else's tailgate. Oh, and I enjoy your humor as much as the helpful tips!

  2. I love your set up!

    We are decidedly less creative. My boyfriend's company puts on a big tailgate and all the work is done for us. I'll have to take pictures sometime.

  3. Thanks!
    Jeannine, I had to laugh when I read your post, because my friends and I are doign the Colonnade Club tailgate this weekend (it will be nice to sit back and have the work done for us this time!)

  4. Thank you for this very important update, but I noticed that UVa mints are missing from your shopping list. Also, there was no mention for frosting in a can. Your wife demands a recount!

  5. Love this post. Brings back fond memories... (and perhaps while you were tailgating at the dismal game this past weekend, we were prepping for the infamous Bull Roast down in Atlanta).