Why Latkes?

by Pari Noskin Taichert

My kids think Hanukkah means presents and latkes. That’s it. Forget the struggle for spiritual freedom. Forget the symbols of hope. They want loot and fat.

Perhaps my husband and I have gone overboard in our celebration, but we want our children to have happy memories of their religious and cultural traditions. Overcompensation is inevitable when you’re making up for lacks in your own childhood.

Pc150053_1 So, last Friday night, I peeled the damn potatoes, grated them. Grated the onions. Threw in a bit of this and a bit of that and then stood in front of two large pans half-filled with dangerously hot oil for about 1 1/2 hours to make enough latkes for our family and guests.

Each time I started to feel sorry for myself, I staunched the emotion with images of all those bubbes, like my round-chested Russian grandmas, who grated everything by hand. Rather than worry about empty calories and fat, these ladies grew up in a time when they yearned for the luxury of oil, the abundance of eggs and onions.  Pc150059_1

How they would wonder at our world today. The internet is filled with recipes for low-fat latkes (oh, for heaven’s sake). "What’s the point?" my grandma Rose would ask. In my local grocery, here in Albuquerque, there are actually instant latke mixes. "Just add water? What are they thinking?" grandma Ann would scoff.

Right here, I could go into witty analogies between making latkes the old way and writing. I could tie-in this post with my Jewish protag’s eating habits. But  . . . not today. Here’s the real reason I go to this trouble:

Building traditions for my family is one of the things I take most seriously as a parent because too much of everyday life is too unintentional.  Homemade latkes, by virtue of the work involved, force me to slow down, to think about past and present, to connect with hundreds of years of my heritage.

No matter what we do as parents, our children will become adults with opinions and memories over which we have no control. (My husband and I frequently joke about starting a therapy fund for our kids’ future psychological counseling.) If I can nurture at least a few joyful moments on purpose, experiences my children will carry with them through life, my parenting will be worth the hours spent making these traditional potato pancakes. That’s why latkes.

A little fat can be a very good thing.

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Okay, here are a few photos from the latke feast.

Pc150054 For those of you who’ve never seen green chiles (YES, they’re spelled with an "e" in New Mexico!) here are a few. I roast them directly on our stove’s gas burners until the skin is black, then put them in a paper bag to steam. When they’ve cooled a bit, I peel  and strip out the seeds.

I was going to make chile latkes, but this batch of peppers were too hot for many of our guests.

Pc150056 My protag, Sasha, would definitely eat the latkes with all the fixins’ — sour cream, applesauce AND green chile.

I try to be a good mom, to be mindful of that 5-a-day rule re: veggies and fruits. But it’s difficult when you’re plying your kids with latkes. So, my concession was to have some relish trays. See, I try.Pc150057

Pc150064 Ugh. I look like I ate ALL the latkes myself. But, no, this picture was the best one to show the regular and sweet potato pancakes. It was taken after I’d made at least three other batches.

So, don’t look too long at the model. ‘Kay?

In the background, you can see a lovely woman. A Shia Moslem, she and her son were among our guests. Cross-cultural understanding comes one person at a time. In this picture, she was getting ready to leave to go to mosque.

Cool, hunh?

11 thoughts on “Why Latkes?

  1. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, come on. I thought *someone* was going to give me grief for not writing anything too profound or writing-related in this post.

    Actually, I survived all the cooking and eating this weekend. (Did I mention the brisket? The homemade/decorated b-day cake?)

    Now I can go back to being pithy.

    JT, Naomi, and Paul: If you’re ever in NM around this time of year, you’re invited.

    Reply
  2. Louise Ure

    Okay, Pari, you’ve spurred me on. I’m going to attempt the latkes tonight. My husband, two generations removed from Lithuania, has been extolling their virtues since we were married. Twenty-one years is long enough to make a guy wait, no?

    Reply
  3. pari noskin taichert

    Alex,I’d never used the green chiles as a condiment before; they were wonderful.

    Elaine,Thank you for that Hanukkah wish. I hope we do get to celebrate many more together. Last night, I realized how lovely this festival can be. The four of us stood before three menorahs, each with four candles, and sang the blessing. The lights were off throughout the house. The only other noise, besides our voices, was the dog’s snoring in the background. It was one of those blessed moments.

    Damn, I’m lucky.

    Reply
  4. Jen Williams

    Mmmmm….green chile, sour cream and latkes! the three main food groups! Blessings to you and yours this season, Pari.

    Reply

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