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Snowflake Latkes

Yes, another post about Chanukah. I apologize, but we did have a total of four Chanukah related festivities this year.

The last one came Sunday at my Dad’s. He really wanted to have his annual Chanukah party as scheduled, but he was also really tired from radiation treatment related to a prostate cancer recurrence. So I volunteered to grate potatoes for him, and my brother Perry (“Peepee” as Simon calls him) volunteered to do the frying.

I imagined arriving at my Dad’s house, grating the potatoes for him, and then stepping aside while he made the latke batter according to his recipe. I figured I’d grate, Dad would mix, Perry would fry, and that would be that.

The reality was a bit different. Dad was beat, his kitchen has about two square feet of counter space (that’s square feet, folks, not linear feet), and the whole place is too small to accommodate more than two people. What’s more, Perry and I, the two adults left in the kitchen, couldn’t reconcile the recipe’s directive of “grate six potatoes” or my mom’s directive of “grate five pounds of potatoes” with the ten pound bag of potatoes plus whatever else Dad had in stock that ranged in size from golf-ball to volleyball. Try to convert Fahrenheit to Celsius in your head, and you have a pretty good idea of the calculations going on at Dad’s house.

When your recipe, nee, your entire meal is based on potatoes, this is not a happy place to find oneself. I began to feel the faint stirrings of anxiety when I remembered that the party was for family only. If the latkes were a disaster, it would just give us all something to laugh about in the future.

Then I heard my first cousin once removed Ari arrive. With his fiancée, whom I have never met. Uh-oh. Then my Uncle Sam arrived. Then Dad’s old friends Ronnie and Ruby walked in and greeted me and Perry with a hearty, “So, are you the cooks today?”

Well, I sure wasn’t planning to be, but that’s what it increasingly looked like. I was the cook, it turns out, for not a small gathering of immediate family but rather a bona fide party for 18. What’s more, I had to do the cooking with no recipe, no space, and no familiar equipment (actually, not much equipment at all). And no clue! Because when I grate potatoes for my mom, she takes over once I’ve done the grunt work. I have no idea what good latke batter should look like. I have only a faint idea as to what it should taste like.

At this point, I’m at anxiety level red, and am contemplating faking a sudden gastrointestinal illness to escape. I looked to Perry for company to share in this misery, but he was so calm it bordered on serene. “I’m just frying,” was his mantra. “You are going to mix something up until it looks like it will hold together, I will fry it up, and what happens after that isn’t my business.”

“But what if they are awful?” I goaded him.

“Don’t care. I’m just going to stand here and fry until we run out of potatoes, and then I’m going home and having a nice glass of bourbon. Did I tell you about the 15-year Pappy van Winkle I’ve got?”

There’s the attitude! As the divine Tim Gunn would say, it was make it work time. My first batch was dry; Perry and I scrambled it and ate it as hash browns. The next batch was OK, but a bit eggy—more of a Chanukah frittata if you will. The third batch looked just right, and it was at this point that my sister-in-law Stacy came in the kitchen to compliment the chefs.

My response: an incredulous “really?!” followed by the sage advice, “If you like these, you better eat them all now because no two batches are alike. These are snowflake latkes!”

About an hour and ten pounds of grated potatoes later, Perry and I emerged from the kitchen greasy but victorious. We opened presents, lit the full menorah for the eighth and final night, and went home greasy and tired—he to drink and me to clean and prep my basement walls for painting.

If you are curious, here’s my recipe for what turned out to be universally praised latkes:

Fill one bowl the size of Dad’s medium glass one ¾ full with grated potatoes.

Add one rounded serving spoon of grated onion.

Add two beaten eggs.

Shake what looks like enough salt. Then shake on half as much again.

Add pepper until it looks like the speckled pattern on ceiling tiles I saw at Home Depot last week.

Put in 1 to 3 serving spoons of matzo meal depending on your mood.

Fry with godawful Crisco at 400 degrees until browned on both sides.

Bon Appetit!

One Response to “Snowflake Latkes”

  1. blg says:

    Sounds like my kind of recipe!

    Happy happy.

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