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Category Archives: Chanukah

The Great Potato Pancake Fry-Off

It’s that wonderful time of year again…

 crispy-panko-potato-latkes-16

 

According to my friend Rita, the invention of the blender spelled disaster for the potato latke. She insists that the blood dripping from our grandmother’s knuckles as they grated the potatoes is what made their latkes so delicious.

My friend Larry swears that skimping on oil will produce an inferior latke; he fills the pan with three inches, which he regularly replenishes. He admits this makes for “an ongoing battle with grease,” but says it’s worth the fight.

My father used to criticize my mother’s latkes for lack of salt, and added it by the spoonful to his pancake batter. I had a cousin who reduced the amount of matzo meal to a scant two tablespoons. Another cousin uses flour. Martha Stewart chops scallions rather than grated onion in hers.

The point is, no two latkes are alike. I should not have been surprised, then, when my daughter Stacy, grown and with a kitchen of her own, had definite ideas about potato latkes. Thus, when we cooked together for a Chanukah party, conflicts surfaced as soon as she lined up the ingredients. which included a six-ounce bottle of vegetable oil. I immediately prepared to go to the store for more oil.

“We’re going to use more oil than that?” she asked, incredulous. I should mention that Stacy is a thin vegetarian who buys only organic produce and shops in health food stores. Using a large amount of oil in any dish is anathema to her. Ignoring her horror-stricken face, I went out and bought a half gallon.

When I returned, Stacy was putting potatoes through a food processor, from which they emerged shaped like tiny french fries. Horrified by their texture, I politely asked for a blender on the pretense that we’d finish faster if we both made the batter, and used it to grate my potatoes, onions and eggs.

When we got to the frying stage, all hell broke loose. Stacy poured in just enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. She was about to lower a spoonful of batter into it when I grabbed her wrist.

“You can’t fry latkes in that little bitty oil,” I insisted. “They need to be almost covered to get crispy.” Stacy pulled free of my grip. “Ma, no way am I gonna use that much oil. It’s disgusting!”

“Disgusting? Grandma Sylvia is turning over in her grave.” Stacy rolled her eyes and continued to drop dollops of batter in her nearly oil-less cephalon pan. I suggested that, as an experiment, we each fry our own latkes–hers made of the batter from the food processor, mine from the blended batter. She agreed.

I stood in front of my burner, frying smooth-textured latkes in two inches of oil, while Stacy stood in front of her pan, sautéing mounds of teensy french fry look-alikes. When she briefly left her post for a bathroom break, I peered into her pan; without more oil her pancakes were going to stick. “It can’t hurt….” I murmured, tipping over the vegetable bottle and pouring some into her pan. Stacy returned from the bathroom, picked up her spatula and prodded one of her pancakes. “Wha…? Ma, did you put more oil in here?” Her tone was one of wounded shock.

“Yeah, “ I replied sheepishly. “Just a teensy drop—they were sticking.”

“I can’t believe you did that!” she shouted, on the verge of tears. “I would never do that to you! That shows complete disrespect. You don’t have any boundaries.”

Such words have been uttered by daughters to mothers since time immemorial; I had once used them myself. As their recipient I could only murmur, “I’m sorry…I just wanted to be sure your latkes didn’t stick.”

“It’s not just the latkes,” she said, tears falling freely. “You do things like this all the time.” She lifted her arm for emphasis, spatula in hand. I raised my arms, intending to give her a calming hug, but our spatulas collided, clinking like dueling swords. Stacy  stopped crying and burst into laughter. Relieved, I tapped her spatula again and we engaged in a mock duel, our laughter dispelling the built-up tension.

Later, when our separate latke platters sat side by side on the buffet table, I overheard Stacy talking to her friend Joann, a tall thin beauty. “My mom uses so much oil in her latkes,” I heard her say. “Don’t you think mine are better? They’re not as greasy.” Joann nodded. “You know how they cook,” she said, “all carbs and grease and sugar.”

Later on, though, I noticed Joann standing alone by the buffet. She glanced around furtively, then hastily grabbed one of my latkes and put it on her plate.

“What’s so funny?” Stacy, who’d been standing next to me, asked.

“I was just thinking of the dueling spatulas, I said.

Stacy chuckled. “You’ll have to admit,” she said, “my latkes are less greasy than yours.

“Uh huh,” I nodded, feeling like I’d just let her win at Scrabble or cards.  “Less greasy. Definitely.”

 

 

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Chumbug!

I wrote “Chumbug” several years ago, for “Xmas Sucks,” a performance event dreamed up by Thomas Roche, writer of noir, erotica and humor. “Xmas Sucks” ran annually in San Francisco for a few years, then fizzled out–but good news: it’s making a comeback this year, tomorrow night in fact (See below). I might make it there, but then again I might not, so I thought I’d resurrect “Chumbug,” first published on my blog in 2006. It tends to work best on stage, enhanced by ethnic gestures and my grandfather’s Yiddish accent — so use your imagination.

tulip menorahModern Day Tulip Menorah

So, nu? It’s not enough that I’ve been hocked to death by Xmas for six decades, now it’s Chanukah too!

Have you noticed the way they try to pacify Jews with equal time for Chanukah? Televised menorah lightings side by side with The Tree towering over it. Dreidl dolls with curlable hair. Latke dinners at 25 bucks a pop. I guess it serves us right for draying that we don’t get equal time in December.

HELLO? I don’t want Chanukah any more than I want Xmas. Not only is it a minor holiday, it isn’t even politically correct: it commemorates some sort of Jewish war victory. No one even paid attention to it until Xmas gradually grew, like a virus, into what a friend of mine calls our National Disease.

I mean, Xmas isn’t just one day–it’s an event that lasts from October through January. That’s three months, or one-quarter of the year, or 25% of all the time we spend on this planet. I’ve done the math: If I live to be 75 I will have spent roughly 18 years coping with the anger, resentment and depression induced by the so- called Holidays.

The real tsuris is that I’d finally gotten a handle on it, when suddenly, after so many years of making me feel I should deny my ethnicity, Christians began pressuring me to become a Real Jew. Carolers arrived at my doorstep singing “O Chanukah” and “Dreidl, dreidl” in four-part harmony, demanding latkes. I got an ecumenical card that read “As we celebrate Xmas and Chanukah.” Children’s books on Chanukah spill from the shelves—I saw one in which Chanukah was interwoven with the birth of Jesus.When I objected to a wreath being hung in my office, the poor little girl hanging it let loose with an incoherent, maudlin story about the beauty of menorahs. Huh?

Fellow Jews, we must act, and fast, before a dreidl decorates every streetlight, before Day-Glo stars of David are used to invoke guilt and capture gelt. We must organize so that come next October, when electronic menorahs play “Little Star of Bethlehem,” we can rise up in unison and shout

CHUMBUG!!!!!

potato pancakes 2

*Xmas Sucks!

Holiday blues got you down? Sick of news stories about how starving bankers have to give their kids dirty socks for Christmas or risk having the Bentley reposessed? Or do the Hannukah hornies have you planning a misanthropic holiday retreat with a bottle of lube and the The Book of Judith? At Christmas Sucks, five top-notch writers share their nasty holiday horror stories with you, trading holiday glurge and Christmas schmaltz for hardcore raunch and bitter winter depression, raising seasonal affective disorder to a sleazy and viciously satiric art. Sherilyn Connelly, Charles Gatewood, Carol Queen and Simon Sheppard join host Thomas Roche for a nasty reading of holiday discontent sure to leave you feeling warmer and sloppier than a dozen of Aunt Petunia’s moonshine-laced egnogs. Hosted by Thomas “The Bitch Who Stole Christmas” Roche.

Friday, December 19
The Center for Sex and Culture
1519 Mission Street @ 11th Street, San Francisco
Doors 7:30, show 8-10pm

No door charge, but a small donation requested to benefit the Center for Sex & Culture

Email skidroche@gmail.com for more information.

Mickey Mouse Menorah

Mickey Mouse Menorah

CHUMBUG!

I wrote “Chumbug” several years ago, for “Xmas Sucks,” a performance event dreamed up by Thomas Roche, writer of noir, erotica and humor. “Xmas Sucks” ran annually in San Francisco for a few years, then fizzled out–but good news: it’s making a comeback this year, tomorrow night in fact (See below). I might make it there, but then again I might not, so I thought I’d resurrect “Chumbug” first published on my blog in 2006. It tends to work best on stage, enhanced by ethnic gestures and my grandfather’s Yiddish accent — so use your imagination.

tulip menorahModern Day Tulip Menorah

So, nu? It’s not enough that I’ve been hocked to death by Xmas for six decades, now it’s Chanukah too!

Have you noticed the way they try to pacify Jews with equal time for Chanukah? Televised menorah lightings side by side with The Tree towering over it? Dreidl dolls with curlable hair. Latke dinners at 25 bucks a pop. I guess it serves us right for draying that we don’t get equal time in December

HELLO? I don’t want Chanukah any more than I want Xmas. Not only is it a minor holiday, it isn’t even politically correct: it commemorates some sort of Jewish war victory. No one even paid attention to it until Xmas grew exponentially. It is now our National Disease.

Xmas isn’t a day. It’s an event that lasts from October through January. That’s three months, or one-quarter of the year, or 25% of all the time we spend on this planet. I’ve done the math: If I live to be 75 I will have spent roughly 18 years coping with the anger, resentment and depression induced by the so- called Holidays.

The real tsuris is that I’d finally gotten a handle on it, when suddenly, after so many years of making me feel I should deny my ethnicity, Christians began pressuring me to become a Real Jew. Carolers arrived at my doorstep singing “O Chanukah” and “Dreidl, dreidl” in four-part harmony, demanding latkes. I got an ecumenical card that read “As we celebrate Xmas and Chanukah.” Children’s books on Chanukah spill from the shelves—I saw one in which Chanukah was interwoven with the birth of Jesus.When I objected to a wreath being hung in my office, the poor little girl hanging it let loose with an incoherent, maudlin story about the beauty of menorahs. Huh?

Fellow Jews, we must act, and fast, before a dreidl decorates every streetlight, before Day-Glo stars of David are used to invoke guilt and capture gelt. We must organize so that come next October, when electronic menorahs play “Little Star of Bethlehem,” we can rise up in unison and shout

CHUMBUG!!!!!

Mickey Mouse Menorah

Mickey Mouse Menorah