Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Hash Brown / Latkes Good To Eat

Seems like most people who a) celebrate Christmas and b) like to cook plan their Christmas dinners in advance.

By the time we’d unhusked the gifts, gotten dressed and stumped around the misty schoolyard on the wooden stilts that Santa laid on the kids, we were powerful hungry, but wouldn’t you know it? The pantry was bare and the chef felt semi-embalmed.

Many would consider this a neon-sign urging us to honor the Jewish side of the family with a trip to Chinatown, but some stilt-related father-son tension had put a lien on Big Daddy’s limited reserves of holiday cheer. Given Inky’s finicky palate, Milo’s capacity for whining, and Greg’s aversion to crowds, I reluctantly admitted that pushing for this could be a mistake.

But what the hell do you do with a bunch of dried legumes, some frozen shrimp, an elderly head of lettuce, and four Idaho spuds?

As long as no mold has formed in the half-empty containers of sour cream and applesauce quietly living out their shelf lives in the back of the fridge, LATKES, that’s what! The children’s Polish rabbi great-great-grandfather would have been so proud of his godless descendant’s shiksa wife. (Dude, I could just have easily served shellfish.)

I decided to go with the recipe on the last page of Latkes, Latkes, Good to Eat,which a friend of my mom’s picked out for the children one year, to balance out Merry Christmas, Strega Nona, which has enough Baby Jesus talk at the end to make Greg's horns curl up. See? Even a faithless interfaith marriage like ours can present etiquette dilemmas! (And then we’ve got to browbeat the young into thank you notes. Thanks … for NOTHING!!!)

No, no, no, I very much appreciate such fairly weighted gift-giving, even if the Greg half is poorly illustrated and not nearly as engaging. That latke recipe’s a keeper, anyway! I modified it a bit because we didn’t have parsley, and even if we did, the goal was to get the children to eat the damn things, not turn their noses up at them. I would never have made latkes at all if Inky hadn’t had some at a party and hated them, but then later sampled a batch that she claimed to have loved (possibly because they were brought into class with much fanfare by the friendly mother of the well-liked new girl).

Mine weren’t quite as big of a hit, but I done my duty. She ate the side of applesauce and that’s saying something. I wonder if she’d give them another whirl if I served some for breakfast, billed as hash browns…


Peel three big Semitic Idaho potatoes. I don’t know if today’s child would have much connection to the image of k.p., but I clocked enough Gomer Pyles and Sad Sacks growing up to feel like a genius for realizing I could make light work of this by deploying a vegetable peeler. You’d think the military would spring for a couple hundred of those devices, instead of making our boys hunch iconographically over with paring knives.

Grate them taters then, quick, run some cold water over them so they don’t turn an unappetizing shade of slug. Man, for something so rustic and dumpy, potatoes sure know how to rock the diva behavior. When my friend Martha was volunteering in Columbia under the auspices of the Episcopal church, she conceived of an inexpensive holiday craft project whereby her child charges would carve candleholders out of raw potatoes. Apparently they were adorable, until a few days later when they started to stink like all seven stages of hell. Good thing she wasn’t trying to convert anybody.

Chop up enough onion to yield a quarter cup. Reserve the rest for another recipe, or a candleholder or something.

Beat 2 eggs in a large bowl.
Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt
3 tablespoons of flour
& one crack of pepper for every candle in the menorah. (That’s eight for those of you non-Jews who didn’t marry into the tribe or study Chanukah in Episcopal Sunday School, like I did.)

Use your hands to squeeze the infant beejesus out of the grated potatoes. When they’re nice and dry, dump them into the bowl and give them a stir.

Fire up some vegetable oil in a skillet set over high heat, then spoon in some potato batter. It’s much firmer than your average pancake, so you can fool with the shape, give ‘em some Goyishe Mouseketeer ears or whatever it is that helps you gain purchase on the tastebuds of the picky young. Brown one side and then the other.

Serve with applesauce and sour cream on the bed, if you’re an adult, or, if you’re a spill-prone kid, that paint-stained Ikea parson’s table that was too small for you last Christmas. (Who cares, as long as it’s in front of the TV!)



Blogger Magpie Ima said...

Chanukah's barely over and you have me pining for latkes again.

About kids turning up their noses at latkes---I keep hearing about kids whose first latke experiences were awful--cold or warmed over soggy latkes served at school as a cultural experience. Poor things. Latkes should only be served fresh out of the skillet. None of this reheating heresy.

Keep up the great writing!

11:30 PM  
Blogger Stephanie J. Rosenbaum said...

Hey, my sister had that same latke book at her house--probably to balance out the Christmas tree and candy canes in the front yard. We made latkes, too--it seems like anything fried and covered in sour cream is edible to the under-10 set.

4:16 PM  
Blogger Jocelyn said...

I don't know if you're familiar with the Charlie and Lola books/show, but Charlie does a good job of pitching to Lola's persnickety-ness by telling her that various foods are things like "Jupiter twisters" and, I dunno, "mermaid vittles." Anyhow, I'll bet Charlie would've gotten Inky to eat the latkes by labeling them "Haystack Confetti Blizzards."

8:22 PM  
Anonymous Frank, Andrew said...

I keep hearing about kids whose first lake experiences were awful. Cold or warmed over soggy lakes served at school as a cultural experience.

4:30 AM  

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