I took a walk with my grandson Isaac a few weeks ago. We went to see the ducks. He knows what ducks say as well as cows, goats, horses (with prompting), and chickens. He is two years old. His name, biblical and strong, may herald the beginning of a new era in baby naming. I have a second grandson, born in September. His name is, Leo Henry, very distinguished. Leo has a tough act to follow in Isaac, but I am sure he will hold his own. It is pay back time, in a way, since my son, the younger of my two children, is the father of the animal whisperer, while his older sister the original tough act to follow is Leo’s mother.
Now, in my early sixties, I am happy I can keep up with Isaac and expect to hold my own with Leo, as well. Grandchildren arrive on the scene these days much later than in the past. We are a healthier “older generation.” We trek. We do Pilates, but do the children really have to wait so long to figure out who they want to be, to settle down, and to multiply? For many years, from well before the empty nest until the birth of grandchildren, we have no one to take trick or treating and, at this time of year, for those of the Jewish persuasion, no one with whom to light candles and fry latkes.
As I am writing, we have only seven more shopping days until the so-called “Festival of Lights.” This is ample time for you to head to your local grocery purveyor and purchase the potatoes, onions, eggs, flour, spices, cooking oil, apple sauce, and sour cream you will need to prepare and serve the annual culinary homage to Hanukah: The Potato Latke.
Growing up, I don’t remember that we “did” Hanukah, at least not when I was very young. We were a bit inconsistent with the rest of our devotional observance, as well. My father, the Communist, danced on the Holy Days, worked six days a week, and believed that religiously paying his union dues, more than than contributing to the synagogue capital campaign, would earn him an attractive spot in the afterlife.
I reentered the fold with the birth of my children with our annual synagogue sojourn and lighting of the Hanukah candles, at least on a few of the eight mandated days. Now, with grandchildren, I value the social rhythm tradition provides, and tradition with a good meal: even better. As for the Hanukah meal, my mother, adept at maintaining some tradition in the kitchen did, for other occasions, bake up a “mean” potato kugel, but latkes in December, I don’t recall.
“Kugel” for the uninitiated is a traditional Jewish side dish, either hearty or sweet. The potato kugel, of the more savory variety, is, as with all kugels, crisp on the outside and soft within. Should you happen upon a meal where one is being served, I recommend a section from the corner of the pan guaranteed to offer an unsurpassed crisp/soft kugel experience. In those pre-silicon chip days of my youth, these dishes were all hand made, and I was my mother’s Sous chef. I remember my "war wounds" and her kugel, to this day: Grate the potatoes. Skin your knuckles. Grate the onions. Cry a little. Bleed a little.
Today, we need not worry about bleeding, grating, or even peeling. Get out your food processor, leave your paring knife and band-aids in the drawer, and try this latke recipe, borrowed from Zabars of Manhattan fame.
I am, by the way, a bicoastal grandfather. This year, Leo, who lives in New York, will be in Los Angeles with his parents for the “Holidays.” He’ll sample my latkes via his mother’s lactation. Next year, perhaps, we will take Isaac and his parents to Manhattan and Leo will have his first real taste of his grandfather’s latkes in the company of his extended family: a savory sweet memory for a lifetime.
4 Idaho Potatoes (Washed but not peeled)
1 Large Yellow Onion
3 Large Eggs
1-2 Cups Regular Flour
1 Teaspoon Coarse Salt
½ Tablespoon Fresh Ground Pepper
Oil for Frying (Half olive/half corn oil)
Cut potatoes and onions into quarters. Place in the Bowl of your Food Processor (with the “s” blade or knife blade installed). Grind until finely ground – pulse if necessary. Add eggs, salt, pepper – grind until mixed. Remove bowl from food processor and stir in flour (mixture should be the consistency of thick oatmeal).
Heat the oil in a fry pan (About 1” of oil). Scoop the batter into the fry pan. Fry 6-8 pancakes at a time. They will bubble. Turn when brown. Try not to turn more than once. More turning - less crisp. Remove all that are cooking before adding more batter.