Hanukkah

chocolate-gingebreadstars1.jpgOn the first night of Hanukkah, I wanted to make something representative of our holiday. On the nights that we are not entertaining friends and family for dinner, we are invited to others for food and fun.

With that said, I wanted to make cookies that everyone could enjoy. I doubled the recipe and then cut out 3 1/2″ stars. After freezing the rolled dough, I cut them into shapes and froze once again (I find the cookies keep their shape when baking when I do it this way). When I was ready to bake them I sprinkled with turbinado sugar and added some white non-perils.

I had so many cookies that I decided to make cream sandwiches out of half of them. I whipped up a batch of the best white chocolate ganache. These were absolutely delicious!

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From the LA Times

latimeshanukkahAs a child in Hebrew school, I was taught the story of the Hanukkah miracle: When the Jews in the land of Israel defeated the foreigners, the priests seeking to rekindle the temple's eternal light found enough ritually pure oil for only one day. Miraculously that oil lasted for eight days.

Since then, Jews have been celebrating Hanukkah every year by lighting candles every day for eight days. Children in Israel play with dreidels inscribed with the first Hebrew letters of the phrase "a big miracle happened here"; in Washington, D.C., my birthplace, our dreidels had the first letters of "a big miracle happened there."

Until I lived in Israel, I associated the holiday with latkes, or potato pancakes. But when I moved there I discovered that for many Israelis, sufganiyot, or jelly doughnuts, are the favorite Hanukkah treat. I also realized that the connection of such foods to Hanukkah is the oil in which they are fried.

What we hadn't learned in Hebrew school was that the oil of the Hanukkah miracle was olive oil. In ancient Israel, olive oil was used for lighting lamps, for religious rituals and for cooking. Based on archaeological evidence, the land of Israel was an olive oil production center.

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applefritters.jpgHomemade, doughnuts and fritters are the absolute best. They far surpass any "donut" shop doughnuts. When I'm in the mood for doughnuts but don't have the patience to wait for dough to rise, I like to make fritters. They fulfill my craving as fast as I can fry them. Their crispy fried exterior and fluffy interior are what make them a favorite sweet treat for many people. A batch of fritters is very easy to put together and they are great for any occasion. But they make a special treat for Hanukkah, which is celebrated with fried foods like latkes and fritters.

The interesting thing about fritters is that you can find versions of them in many cultures throughout Europe, Asia, and South America. Greeks have Loukoumades, which are balls of fried dough doused in honey syrup. The French have beignets. Italians have zeppole. In Spain and Latin America there are buñuelos. In India there are gulab jamun, balls soaked in spiced sugar syrup. In the United States you can find apple fritter rings, which look just like doughnuts. I'd like to think it possible that the original recipe for fritters made its way through all the different cultures, who then adapted it to their liking.

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lattladies.jpgFor dinner on the first night of Hanukkah my mother always started with a romaine lettuce salad topped with scallions and Lawry's French Dressing. Then there was a brisket of beef with carrots and mushroom gravy. But the real stars of the meal were the latkes served with apple sauce and sour cream.

My mother's latke recipe was handed down from her mother: grated potatoes, eggs, flour, a little salt and pepper. She'd fry them in vegetable oil and serve them as soon as they were browned. So simple and yet the result was so soul-comforting: crispy on the outside, soft inside, with just the right amount of oil and salt. There are few dishes that are as satisfying as food and so emotionally evocative.

Like most kids, my sister, Barbara, and I waited eagerly at the table. As soon as the plate full of latkes was passed around, we emptied it. I kept count, because I didn't want her to have more than I did. They were that good. When my grandmother was in town, she and my mother made Hanukkah dinner together. Their relationship was competitive to say the least, so there was always considerable discussion about the right way to make the latkes: flour vs. matzo meal; onions or no onions. My grandmother liked to point out that she had given my mother her latkes recipe but my mom insisted that she hadn't remembered it correctly.

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hanukkah_candleslatkes.jpgI 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.

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