This time of year makes many of us nostalgic for those traditions of our childhood, those Norman Rockwell-esque memories of stringing popcorn, gathering fresh pine boughs, and sharing our plum pudding with the Himmels. (Oh, whoops, that wasn’t my childhood, that was Jo March’s . . . )
Well, anyway, most of the time I’m not exactly the domestic type (I cook adequately, but Martha Stewart’s job is safe), but occasionally I get this uncontrollable urge to create a memorable Hanukkah for my family. Which is pretty silly, when you think of it, since it’s a minor holiday that only gets any attention because it’s close to Christmas, and the traditions associated with it are more appropriate to Las Vegas (gambling and eating fried food). But I still want my boys to have fond memories, so I hang up the dreidl garlands and put out the menorah tea towels and star-of-David potholders, and when I’m really ambitious, I make a batch of latkes. (Which I imagine is akin to my Christian friends deciding to make a Buche de Noel or homemade egg nog, something like that?)
Latkes, for you goyim, are potato pancakes – so just imagine your entire kitchen covered with oil splatters, flour, and bits of burnt hash browns, and you’ll get the general idea. You can find countless articles about how adequate draining or squeezing prevents splatters, tips on utilizing the potato starch left from the draining liquid, and recipes that require using a lab-quality timer, but it still always makes a mess, and I end up resolving never to do it again. But amidst the mess and debris, occasionally one or two come out halfway decently, and there is something almost religious about biting into a crispy patty of fried potato – plus you’ve got to love a holiday where you’re supposed to eat fried food!
Unfortunately, that bliss is short-lived, and the mess takes forever to clean up. (And the worst part is, my kids don’t even like latkes!) But at least this year I captured it on film, which may help remind me next year that the latkes are always crispier in someone else’s kitchen . . . .
PS “Latkes, Shmatkes” is the title track of my album of comedy songs for Hanukkah – available at www.laurenmayer.com, on amazon.com, iTunes, CDBaby, and Picklehead Music.