Flipping Latkes

My first introduction to latkes, those little patties of fried potato deliciousness, came soon after my mother and stepfather got married. I don’t remember if it was our very first December as a family, or if it was a couple of years later, but I know that Bubbie (my stepfather’s mother) spent all day making them – one of the rare times she ventured into our kitchen for anything more than hot water.

She peeled and shredded and fried for hours, and we got to eat the results.

Now, I’d thought I knew what potato pancakes were, because my grandfather, pancake guru that he was, used to make pancakes that were either part mashed potato, or part leftover baked potato (whatever was available) mixed with regular batter. I remember loving it when I bit into a chunk of potato.

But these were the real thing, the pure thing. Not just potato pancakes, but pancakes made entirely from potato (well, maybe a dash of milk, a bit of flour, seasonings, and an egg). The point is, I was expecting something more like the pancakes I’d grown up with, and less like a really tasty, far less oily (no, really) version of an Arby’s potato cake.

Bubbie never made latkes for us again – from scratch. All subsequent acknowledgements of Hanukkah involved help from the nice people at Manischewitz and their onion-flavored mix (it comes in gluten free, too). We still had applesauce and sour cream, but there was a lot less work.

Since then, I’ve made latkes from scratch exactly once, and let me assure you that once was absolutely enough. I cheated and used a food processor, but then, who wouldn’t? (I also had a minion who did a good portion of the peeling, showing off his skills with a paring knife in the process. Never, ever, try to make latkes for a couple of dozen people without the assistance of a minion. This is essential.

I’m not Jewish, but that doesn’t mean I can’t like Jewish foods (I’m not Thai, Lebanese, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Indian, French or Cajun either, but I like all of those foods – I’m a polyglot when it comes to cuisine.), so last year I bought a couple of boxes of latke mix. I made some at home, and brought the rest with me when we went to visit my parents in Mexico. I don’t remember if it was Christmas night (because we’d had a huge brunch and weren’t hungry until pretty late at night), or one of the others, but we had a lovely late-night supper of latkes with applesauce, sour cream, and smoked salmon, while binge watching Call the Midwife on Netflix.

I haven’t bought any mix this year, but I might, because potato pancakes are a flavor I really love, and even though it’s unseasonably warm, it is December. Tonight, in fact, is the first night of Hanukkah, which is why I’m writing about flipping lattes. (It’s way easier to do than making crepes.). Maybe I’ll even serve them with smoked salmon again.

In the meantime, I’m nursing a cold, so I’m going to curl up in bed with tea and a good book.


Holidailies 2015

Wok’s It To Ya?

Spices from iStockPhoto

Pollen season has hit North Texas which means I either have itchy ears (yes, ears) and watery eyes, or I’m in a perpetual state of Benebriation (you know, that post-benadryl brain fog).

This means I sometimes have to schedule work around my need to sleep off the antihistamine haze.

It also means that quick and easy become the operative word for mealtimes.

Tonight? I cut two organic boneless, skinless chicken breasts into bite-sized pieces, threw them into the wok-pan (it’s not a true wok) with a bit of heated olive oil, and tossed them around til they were browned. Then I added a liberal slug or two of my favorite teriyaki sauce, Soy Vey, and let them simmer another ten minutes.

I’m about to add a bag of frozen “Asian-style” veggies to the pan, stick the lid on, and let it all cook together for another few minutes. We’ll eat when the veggies are hot through.

Should I be using fresh veggies? Yes. But when it’s just the two of us, the frozen veggie combos are more cost effective because we can’t use large quantities of fresh veggies quickly enough.

Dessert, in a few hours when we need a snack, will be sliced fresh strawberries tossed with balsamic vinegar, a bit of granulated sugar (cane sugar, of course), and accented with a dash of ground black pepper.

What’s on YOUR table tonight?

Moonlight and Guava Puree

If there were a diet pill that would change my blood chemistry so that mosquitoes would stop treating me like prime snacking material, I’d totally take it.

As I write this, I’m pleasantly cool, despite the fact that the temperature was 104 at 5 PM, and still reads around 88. About an hour ago, I left the air conditioned house and went outside where there was a warm breeze blowing. The light from the half moon was shining on the pool, and the wind was creating soft ripples. I was hot and cranky, and wanted not to be hot and cranky. We’d been out all day, came home overtired, and while we’d both napped from six to nine, Fuzzy was still (and is still) sound asleep.

Obviously, I’m awake.

The pool was beckoning, so I dashed back inside for a big fluffy beach towel, stripped off the cotton tank and pajama bottoms I was wearing, and stepped into the water, scaring a gecko that was sitting on the ledge of the planter along the back wall of the pool. (It did not fall in, thankfully.)

I didn’t swim laps, but I did grab a foam kickboard, and float around a little – I was trying not to get my hair wet because I hadn’t bothered with a swim bap – while Miss Cleo nosed around in the ivy for more small lizards to chase.

I didn’t stay in long, only 20 minutes, but it was enough to cool my skin, soothe my mood, and refresh my brain.

As I got out, and wrapped my towel around me, I felt the warmth of the pebble-textured deck beneath my bare feet, and realized there were no bugs buzzing close to me. It may be horribly hot here, but the lack of significant rain and relatively light humidity – especially for Texas in summer – means a dearth of mosquitoes.

I am not complaining, though I believe this may be why we don’t have any visible writing spiders in the back yard this year, and while I generally hate being able to see spiders, I miss those pretty, talented arachnids.

* * * * *

I am hungry, which makes sense since we ate ‘breakfast’ at 4 PM, and otherwise I’ve just had coffee drinks and bottled water.

Fuzzy took me to Zaguan for that meal, and I fell in love with the place. The food is fresh and real – I could taste the distinct flavor of every vegetable in my scrambled eggs, and the grilled plaintains were just the right level of sweetness. The mango-papaya smoothie I had (it came with my meal) was literally mango, papaya, and chilled water – no sorbet or fruit juice or sweetener. It was delightfully orange and really refreshing.

Since Zaguan is also a bakery, and I cannot resist a good pastry, I brought home two chocolate croissants for tomorrow’s breakfast (one for each of us), and a pair of guava-filled alfajores which are traditional Latin American cookies, though the use of guava is NOT traditional.

These have holes in the center a la Linzer tarts, and the guava puree poking up was healthy and flushed pink and somehow sexy to the point of being obscene, and right now I can’t think of anything better than to go brew a mug of tea and eat the cookies.

‘Twas Grillig

It’s weird but having a grill is like having a shiny new toy, and I’m suddenly inspired to cook again.

Sunday night, we had grilled top sirloin with steamed broccoli, and roasted potatoes. (The secret to roasting potatoes on the grill? Put some olive oil and garlic salt on a square of aluminum foil. Coat the outside of the potato (after stabbing it several times so it won’t explode), wrap the foil around it, and then let it sit on the grill for about 45 minutes before you put the meat on.)

Monday night, I made bratwurst, baked beans, and sliced tomatoes seasoned with a little bit of lemon and salt.

Yesterday I coated chicken breasts in a mixture of olive oil, kosher salt, lemon juice, and herbs de Provence, and let them come to room temperature while I roasted sweet potatoes on the grill, and tossed some sliced zucchini in a similar oil/herb/lemon mixture. Then we grilled it all.

As I write this, I’m eating a grilled steak salad (made a basic lettuce salad, poured over it the leftover tomatoes, and then warmed leftover steak and some mushrooms and put that over the cool veggies.) It’s a wonderful blend of tangy and smokey, cool and hot.

Tonight, I plan to make penne al pesto and slice the leftover chicken breast (they come in packages of three and there’s only two of us) into it. Tomorrow we’ll do something with hamburger or turkey, ditto Friday.

I’m only using really light seasoning on all this stuff – garlic, salt and pepper, mostly, but it all tastes so good, and it’s so satisfying, and while, yes, I did succumb to the lure of chocolate and make a batch of brownies last night, they were made from scratch, with half the sugar the recipe calls for, and zero trans-fats.

Stay tuned for more adventures in outdoor cookery, or share with me your favorite grill recipes.