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

Dancing Memories

Christmas Tree 2013

Like snowflakes, my Christmas memories gather and dance – each beautiful, unique and too soon gone. ~Deborah Whipp

My Christmas tree is finally finished. I took it out to ‘rest’ just after Thanksgiving, and we began decorating it that weekend (it took one evening just to open my ornaments) but then we all got busy, and so it sat, lonely, half finished, and half forgotten, in the dining room window.

Tonight though, I coaxed our temporary housemate into helping me with the outside lights. Then, after I bribed him with homemade chili and homemade chocolate chip cookies and cocoa, we finished the tree.

He patiently let me tell the stories of the ornaments, like a litany rolling from my tongue. “This is from the mobile that hung over my crib when I was a baby. This is from my first Christmas package. My mother made this when I was six or seven…I remember her cursing about all the French knots.”

The ornaments spun on their strings, slow pirouettes slowing into stillness that could be broken with the hint of a breath. The green of the plastic tree began to take on a healthier color.

“That one is from Ocean Grove, New Jersey. We lived there when I was nine. And that one is made of shells from my mother’s beach.”

The glass pieces – birds, fish, fruit and vegetables – glittered and glistened in the soft glow of the white tree lights.

“That was the tree-topper on all the trees my mom and I had, for most of my life. That one is older than I am. That one was my mother’s gift to Fuzzy. That one was a gift from Jeremy.”

The last hook was attached to a branch. The last plastic icicle given it’s place, the center of a triangle of three lights.

“Can you feel it?” I asked him. “Now it’s a Christmas tree.”

“It’s always been a Christmas tree,” he said.

“Nope,” I answered. “It was just a fake pine tree before.”

The memories danced in my mind as the decorations shone on the tree, and I texted my husband to tell him it was done.

He sent a smilie and the three words that matter most: I love you.