Last Sunday, the Super Bowl took place. For the 98.7% of the world’s population who didn’t watch this televised spectacle; it featured billionaire Enos Stanley Kroenke‘s Rams in competition with billionaire Robert Kraft’s Patriots; the musical stylings of the Empress of Soul (Gladys Knight), Proactiv’s Maroon 5, Kardashian rapper Travis Scott, and Big Boi; as well as no doubt hilarious advertisements for products sold by Amazon, Anheuser-Busch, CBS, Mars, Microsoft, and Walt Disney.
Despite the fact that most Americans don’t watch the soporific Super Bowl — an estimated 70% of the country did not tune in for any part of the roughly nine-hour long spectacle during which time the ball was actually in play for only about twelve minutes — Super Bowl Sunday has emerged, in recent years, into what some trade publications appetizingly describe it as the “second largest food consumption event of the year” after Thanksgiving. It all seems a bit Ancient Rome to me — and as someone who loves holidays feasts (especially pagan ones), I decided last December to host a Super Bowl party without any Super Bowl — something I call “Thanksgiving II.”
One of the things I love about Thanksgiving [I] is its pronounced autumnal character (autumn is one of my top four favorite seasons). On Thanksgiving, even people who think that “seasonal eating” means Shamrock Shakes in spring and Pumpkin Spice Lattes in fall get closer to the actual spirit. Apples, baked winter squash, beans and rice, Beaujolais Nouveau, Brussels sprouts, cider, collard greens, cornbread, cranberry sauce, creamed onions, fruit cake, grapes, hickory nut cake, lasagna, mashed potatoes and gravy, parsnip fritters, pecan pie, pickles, potato salad, pumpkin pie, sauerkraut, stuffing, and sweet potatoes all make sense to eat as autumn’s conclusion draws near.
Thanksgiving II — which falls on the first Sunday of February, takes place near the end of winter — about halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and toward the end of winter by meteorological reckoning. It occurs, in other words, around the same time as Imbolc, Candlemas (and thus, Groundhog Day), Setsubun, Lunar New Year, and of course, Lupercalia. It also thus marks the beginning of several vegetables’ “spring seasons.” Carrots are back, as is celery, which is handy because both are commonly eaten at Super Bowl Party’s dipped in Blue cheese dressing. Small, sweet, turnips also appear around this time, and I mixed them with potatoes to make a sort of mashed “neeps and tatties.” Having more potatoes than I could handle, I also roasted some with garlic and rosemary from the garden. I also cooked collard greens — now at the peak of their season — which I would’ve mixed with turnip greens but they’d already been removed by the time they made it to the market.
The roots of Thanksgiving II are in an annual American football competition, first held in 1967. It seems, from pictures, that boaters were once typically worn for such events — although I’m not sure why and sadly that practice seems to have faded long ago and the favored headgear of today’s jocks — regardless of sport — is the rightly maligned baseball cap, usually unflatteringly worn backward.
Interestingly, whereas the first Thanksgiving was observed by the Wampanoag and the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony, the first Super Bowl paired the team of Green Bay, Wisconsin‘s Indian Packing Company with the Chiefs team of Kansas City, Missouri — two teams at least nominally connected to Native America. The annual match used to take place in January but was moved to February in 2002, following a postponement of the season on account of the Terror Attacks of 11 September, which took place the previous year.
This being my first Thanksgiving II, it was a bit of a learning experience…
I had decided that I would bake the pizzas at 3:30, when the actual football game begins. This was another mistake, because due to the large number of guests and the potluck nature of the buffet, there was also a massive quantity of non-pizza foods including salad, seitan jerky, grapes, pies (pecan and pumpkin), pigs in a blanket, mock chicken, as well as cheese and crackers. The vegan neighbor brought a jug of kombucha as well as a dish made of broccoli and kinwa. Because of the pre-pizza feast, by kick-off, everyone was too full to eat any more and the pizzas were thus never baked. Next year I will serve the traditional pizzas alongside the sides, pass-arounds, and hors d’oeuvre.
After pizza, the second-most traditional food at Super Bowl parties is the Buffalo wing — a food made of a section of a chicken’s wing which is deep-fried and subsequently coated or dipped in a sauce composed of a vinegar-based cayenne pepper sauce and melted butter. It was invented at Anchor Bar in Buffalo, New York by Teressa Bellissimo. Although invented in 1964, I don’t remember ever hearing of them until sometime around the early ’00s, perhaps after the 2003-founding of WingStreet and incidentally, around the time cauliflower wings began to appear on the menus of sports bars I occasionally found myself dragged to. Because wings are apparently so important (and I am vegetarian), I had planned to buy mock chicken at Silom in Thai Town by one guest made cauliflower wings from a questionable recipe (it called for breading). I’m still not entirely clear about “dipping sauces,” although a co-worker endeavored to explain them to me. Is a dipping sauce distinct from a condiment? Do people make their own or buy them? Where those sauces developed on Breaking Bad for Pollos Hermanos (e.g. “Kick-ass Cajun, “Franch,” and “Honey mustard”)? Still not sure, I put out bottles of brown sauce, dumpling sauce, gogigui sauce, hoisin sauce, lechon sauce, salsa picante, and sriracha.
Chips, both potato and corn varieties, are traditional fare for Super Bowl parties — as are their associated dips and sauces such guacamole, pico de gallo, and “queso.” I first experienced “queso” a few years ago and at first, wondered why these Anglx friends of mine kept consistently (and I assumed, pretentiously) referring to cheese by its Spanish name. I soon learned that, in the Tex-Mex vernacular, not only does “queso” not refer to cheese — it doesn’t even refer to a dish made with cheese at all. Instead it refers to a corn chip dip made of “pasteurized processed cheese food product” (e.g. cheese-adjacent Velveeta®) and Ro-Tel® brand canned tomato and chili mix. In other words, it’s a bit like the Thanksgiving II equivalent of Campbell’s® green bean casserole — a corporate creation which despite its corporate origins is nevertheless pretty tasty. I put in a request from my friends who introduced me to the concoction but they instead brought a bag of pita bread.
Pretzels, popcorn, and nuts are also popular — the sort of salty snacks typically associated with dive bars and mass-produced and watery lagers. On this day, Americans consume around 424 million liters of beer and 94% of it is a macrobrew produced by either Anheuser-Busch or MillerCoors. As a wine drinker and this being winter, I was leaning toward full-bodied reds like Bordeaux blends, Cabernet Sauvignons, Malbecs, Syrahs, and Zinfandels. Had I gone white, I’d have chosen an oaked Chardonnay. It was pretty chilly out, in fact, and rain was pouring down. I thus entertained the notion of mulling the wine… but I’m glad that I didn’t. After trying to pace myself with red wine for nine hours, I learned just why people drinking for the long-haul favor lager.
So next year, I’ll bake the pizzas at the beginning, make sure queso is accounted for, buy lots of lager, and maybe start a bit later in the afternoon. Oh, and should you celebrate your own Thanksgiving II, the most important thing is to have fun… well that and to not watch the Super Bowl!
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, essayist, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking paid writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities. He is not interested in generating advertorials, cranking out clickbait, or laboring away in a listicle mill “for exposure.”
Brightwell has written for Angels Walk LA, Amoeblog, Boom: A Journal of California, diaCRITICS, Hidden Los Angeles, and KCET Departures. His art has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft Contemporary, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, the book Sidewalking, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured as subject in The Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, CurbedLA, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA?, at Emerson College, and the University of Southern California.
Brightwell is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Ameba, Duolingo, Facebook, Goodreads, Instagram, Mubi, and Twitter.