With Thanksgiving a week behind on the calendar page, leftovers likely gone, the focus is now on prepping, deocorating and retailing for the winter holidays. In the Judaism of my childhood, more attention was given to food than gifts, although I knew that Hanukkah presents were wrapped and hidden (not well, obviously, since I found them) under my parents’ bed. The culinary delight known as potato latkes (pancakes) were always present throughout the eight days of the holiday known as the Festival of Lights that celebrates miracles. Latkes are a conglomeration of potatos, onions, spices, eggs and flour that are fried in oil. In their unhealthiest form, lots of oil. Good thing that there are healthy alternatives that incorporate various unconventional ingredients of fruits and vegetables in addition to the tubers and multi-layered tear inducing one.
As someone who claims that “Love is my religion and God’s too big to put in a box,” I celebrate many holidays in my home. I light a menorah and have a table top Christmas tree that is embellished with white twinkle lights, butterflies, feathers, angels and faeries. I celebrate the Winter Solstice with friends whose ceremony includes a Yule Log, caroling, Pagan and Native American traditions, setting intention for the next year and exchanging gifts that we have loved and are ready to pass on to someone else. If you bring a gift, it is placed on the window seat and you take one in its place. The fun is discovering who received the gift you brought and you share with them the story behind the present and as a bonus, make a new friend or get to know one better than ever.
I host an annual Latke Party to celebrate all the festivals of light. Each one intends to open us to more love as we focus on giving our hearts and time to those in our inner circles, as well as those we may never meet. My home filled with the sounds of laughter and song; since I have talented musiciain friends, and the air is redolent with the scrumptious smells of what I have prepared, as well as other tasty treats the guests bring to share.
This has been a tradition that my convert- to -Judaism husband created nearly 30 years ago, since he was the talented cook in the family. Apron around his waist to absorb the aforementioned oil (he was not as health conscious in his cooking that I, of necessity, following a heart attack a few years ago, have become), he stood for hours, peeling and grating, mixing and frying the delicacies. Although he died nearly 19 years ago, I maintained the tradition. For many years, I made the latkes during the party, so they would be hot off the griddle. Although the kitchen is large enough for a few folks to keep me company, as well as chat across the pass-through, I felt as if I wasn’t fully present for them. Kind of defeated the purpose.
A few years ago, I took to making them the day before. That would be today. I woke up this morning and tested out the food processor and discovered that a plastic thing-a-majig that held the mixing bowl to the motor, was broken, rendering it unusable and irreparable. Although it was an unexpected expense, if I didn’t want to grate by hand, I needed to go out to the store to get another. The next stops were the local produce place to get the spuds and the supermarket for the requisite sour cream and apple sauce that embellish the latkes.
Once I returned home, the lessons continued. The first one was patience. Initially, I couldn’t figure out how to assemble the relatively simple piece of kitchen equipment. Although I am characteristically calm most of the time, I let out a yell and used words that were ‘not in my spiritual vocabularly,’ that made me glad that the wall which separates my house from my neighbors’ is relatively soundproof. I know that when I am feeling frustrated, my ability to do simple eye-hand coordinated tasks, is limited. Once I regained my composure, I was able to think it through and the pieces fell into place and the food processor was ready to rock and roll.
The next was assembling the ingredients, placing them in a way that would make them easily accessible over the following few hours that I knew it would take to complete the process. The lesson was about organization; something that doesn’t come naturally to me. Over the years, of necessity, I have established a routine and had developed a sense of order from what is sometimes chaos in the personal and professional realms of my life. The good news is that, unlike people, the items remained where I placed them, until I was ready to call them into service. Another pre-emptive action that was of tremendous benefit, was that I had frozen the onions, so that there was nary a tear shed while chopping them.
Lesson number three: Even with the best of intentions, mess happens. Oil splatters, flour dusts the counter, eggs sometimes miss the bowl (in the service of being health conscious, as I mentioned previously, I used egg whites, instead of the higher cholesterol yolks), stuff gets on the floor, the batter gets on the stove as I ladled it onto the griddle. My newly aquired desire to put my life in order had me wanting to do a ‘clean as I go’ routine. I resisted, since I knew there would be more mess happening. I would contend with it when the latkes were prepared. While I was cooking, I envisioned the kitchen back in order. Often, I visualize a process and outcome even before I engage in it, so that by the time I am ready to act, my body and mind are in alignment. A form of mental role play with the people I will encounter, as well. I have also discovered, with fascination, that many times, the dialog plays out as I have rehearsed it, sometimes word for word.
Two and a half hours after the process began, 15 pounds of potatos have been magically morphed into latkes. I lost count as to how many are now ensconced in aluminum foil wrapped pans, but suffice it to say, that by the end of the party, they will likely be scarfed up, leaving only the delicious aroma in their wake. With the kitchen clean, I can sit back and bask in the satisfaction of a job well done, from start to finish. Another life lesson.
In honor of the vegetable that will grace the table tomorrow, I offer you Cheryl Wheeler’s song called Potato. Wish I could invite her to the latke-palooza.