Updated: Mar 8, 2020
Every year, a day or two after Thanksgiving, I nearly incinerate my house while making a sweet potato (yam) casserole with marshmallows. It’s the easiest recipe in the world: spray a baking dish with Pam, mash canned yams with brown sugar, cinnamon, butter, and a little orange juice. Top with marshmallows and bake for thirty minutes. It’s the final instruction of the recipe that’s combustible: place casserole under the broiler for five minutes or until the marshmallows are lightly browned.
Instead of lightly browned, I get raging fire.
I don’t know if it is my lack of attentiveness or if my broiler is too hot. Mr. Hockey (my current husband) and the hockey pucks (our current kids) say it’s me. I have a very short attention span.
While I’m cooking, they stand in front of the oven with fire extinguishers – we own three – just in case the flames jump from the marshmallows to a haphazardly placed dish towel. We’ve never eaten a sweet potato casserole with lightly browned marshmallows. At best, it has darkly charred marshmallows. Often, it’s an arson crime scene.
I make this dish on the Saturday after Thanksgiving for a peculiar tradition, our family’s second Thanksgiving. That’s right. We go through all the trouble of preparing a turkey and incendiary side dishes for a second night of a holiday that everyone in America looks forward to, but no one really enjoys.
When we were newly engaged, Mr. Hockey and I had to decide which holidays would be spent with who’s family. It was pretty straightforward because I’m Jewish and Mr. Hockey is not, so the religious holidays were sorted. The negotiations became a little tangled when we got to Thanksgiving. It was both of our mothers’ favorite holiday and they each wanted us at their houses every year.
We chose to alternate Thanksgivings between families. It was not a popular pronouncement. Mrs. Hockey-in-law argued that my family had all the Jewish holidays. My mother contended that Mr. Hockey’s family got us for the “big one,” Christmas.
Our fathers had no opinions. They had long ceded any influence over family get-togethers. Their only concern was how many tables and chairs they had to get out of the basement.
Mr. Hockey thought this was the best plan. I preferred not to go to either. The traffic to the Hockey-in-laws’ was legendarily horrific and my parents lived in a place to which there were no direct flights. Neither option was ideal once we had the four little puckers, who could not sit still on planes, trains or automobiles.
Also, when you go to someone else’s house for Thanksgiving, you don’t get leftovers. I think we can all agree that the leftovers are the best part.
After a few years, I started yearning for our own Thanksgiving traditions.
I got what I wished for. Soon after our youngest puckers were born, Mr. Hockey was transferred overseas for work. We were gone for twelve years – six in Tokyo and six in London – too far to return to the US for a weekend. I had much to be thankful for.
We took the opportunity to explore our new continents. While living in Japan, we spent one Thanksgiving in Australia and ate emu and kangaroo. We also went to Beijing and on Thanksgiving Day we ate Peking duck, which in China, they just call duck.
In London, we spent a Thanksgiving in a Scottish castle. They ran out of turkey. One of the little puckers cried because he had to eat ham that night, but then cheered up when he learned dessert was spotted dick.
But wherever we spent the holiday, we always longed for Thanksgiving leftovers. I think we can all agree that stuffing tastes better than leftover spotted dick.
When we finally moved back to East Hampton and returned to the Thanksgiving family grind of schlepping in the traffic again, we still missed those leftovers. We had dear expat friends who had also moved to East Hampton and who were similarly situated.
It was my close friend, Patty Ex-Expat, who suggested that our two families have a second Thanksgiving so we could get our own leftovers. That’s how Second Thanksgiving began. We’ve continued this tradition for nearly ten years.
Now, I risk my family’s life and limb to produce a flammable sweet potato casserole with burnt marshmallows. Mr. Hockey deep-fries a turkey (away from the house so we can avoid another conflagration). The Ex-Expats bring their favorite sides, presumably without igniting their own house. We usually have two kinds of stuffing.
It turns out we were ahead of our time. People everywhere are getting together with friends around Thanksgiving to celebrate and to get more leftovers. Friendsgiving has become a thing. There’s even a definition for it in Merriam-Webster.
It was Patty Ex-Expat who coined our term “Second Thanksgiving,” which has not become a thing. But that’s how both our families refer to it now. Families can’t always control which traditions are going to catch on.
The Ex-Expat and Hockey families have managed to control whether we get the leftovers. As long as I don’t burn down the house. On that, I think we can all agree.
East Hampton Press, November 27, 2019