So, it’s Hanukkah again, and you want to make “latkes,” or potato pancakes, a dish even more traditionally Jewish than Chinese Food on Christmas Day.
Because making latkes is kind of a pain, the first step is buying instant latke mix. But you live in Alaska, not New York. You can’t find instant latke mix — literally, not for thousands of miles.
So, you will make latkes the hard way. But it’s December 2020, the snow’s all washed away and you’re stuck home with two kids. May as well make latkes the hard way. What else are you going to do? Schoolwork? Don’t make yourself laugh.
Begin with potatoes.
You are using your grandmother’s secret recipe (possibly plagiarized from Abe Lebewohl’s 2nd Avenue Deli; they bear a striking resemblance). The recipe calls for five, yielding 25 latkes. But you’re making 100. Yes, 100 latkes is a whole lotta of latkes. But again, what else are you going to do? There’s only so much “Guitar Hero” (aka “Music Appreciation Class”) your kids can stand. So, you’ll quadruple then halve it, one portion for each child. Warning: do math in advance. Your version calls for several bottles of beer, not for the batter, but for you. Numbers can get tricky.
Grate potatoes (and onion, if you wish, in a 5:1 ratio). Recipe says hand grate. If you’re really looking to stretch things out, use a micro-planer. Whatever you choose, ensure both children’s workstations are precisely identical. Inequality — even perceived — at any step might still yield perfect latkes, but will likely turn a pleasant activity into permanent emotional scarring. Who needs that on Hanukkah?
Speaking of which, crack that beer and open Spotify. Wonder why there’s no good Hanukkah music, especially considering “White Christmas,” “Silver Bells” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” were all written by Jews. Queue up Adam Sandler’s “Hanukkah Song” and cringe. It’s only grown more cloying with age.
Place shredded mixture into two kitchen towels, one per child. Wring out excess liquid by twisting one end of the towel, your children the other. Loosen and wring again, this time by yourself. The more liquid you squeeze out, the crispier the latkes. This requires adult handiwork. Create a diversion by opening a bag of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.
Into each of two mixing bowls, crack six eggs; 12 total (three from the original, quadrupled but again, split between two children—see why you do the math beforehand?).
Combine eggs with: matzoh meal (but good luck finding that locally) or crushed-up saltines (1/2 cup per bowl; 1 cup total) and baking powder (1 heaping tablespoon per bowl; 2 total). Salt and pepper to taste.
Open second beer.
Blend potato-onion mixture with egg mixture, stirring to coat. Batter should be moist but not soupy. If needed, thicken with more potato. Or you can substitute shredded carrots. Why not sneak in some legit veggies?
Fire extinguisher on standby, heat 1/8-inch vegetable oil in two skillets until hot, but not smoking. Traditionally, you’d fry latkes in rendered chicken fat, or “schmaltz.” But that’s a mail-order item. Plus, half your friends are vegetarian, anyway.
While oil heats, tell your kids about Hanukkah: the Festival of Lights. Explain how the holiday celebrates a small band of ancient Hebrews who, after defeating the Syrian-Greek army and liberating Jerusalem, rededicated the Holy Temple by lighting one day’s worth of oil that miraculously lasted eight, until more arrived from neighboring trade partners. Hence, the ceremonial eight-candled Hanukkah menorah and the customary eating of fried foods. It’s also the first documented warning about over-reliance on foreign oil.
Open third beer.
Working in batches, drop spoonfuls of batter into hot oil, flattening with spatula. Cook until golden brown, approximately two minutes on each side.
Drain finished latkes and transfer to paper towel-lined dish while frying the rest. This may take awhile. Your kids will inevitably get bored and sneak off with your phone. Fine. Children don’t pair well with hot grease anyway. Speaking of which, remember to change your clothes and shower later, as you will reek like a KFC dumpster. After the kids go to bed, you’ll want to be able to cash-in with your wife for facilitating such a tasty impromptu Hanukkah celebration.
Serve latkes warm with applesauce, sour cream or any condiment, really—they’re excellent calorie shovels—feeling proud of yourself for not making your usual half-assed attempt at adulthood. Tonight, you used your whole ass. You created a meaningful cultural experience for your family during an ongoing pandemic while simultaneously making your kids feel a little less bad about not celebrating Christmas.
Also, you got them a trampoline. That helps, too.
• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears twice monthly in Neighbors.