December 1st, 2010
There are a handful of bloggers who I make time to read even when I have no time. Jennifer of Perfectly Disheveled is one them. She’s smart, funny and honest: the
mommy blogger awesome person trifecta. She also makes a mean latke. I know because I made them.
For Hanukkah, which starts tonight, Jennifer and I did a latke recipe swap (get my latke recipe and read about Jennifer’s adventures making them on her blog). But what started as a simple recipe trade turned into much more. It became an opportunity to connect over food and family tradition, and to share stories about how food fits into our busy lives (differently for both of us). Here’s how it all started:
A few months back, Jennifer shared a story about the spaces between her desire to create food memories for her young son, the reality of her insanely busy schedule (she barely has time to cook during the week) and the perception that she can’t cook. It’s hilarious and involves firemen storming her house. (A must-read.) Then on Thanksgiving, Jennifer tweeted a picture of the first pie she’d ever made from scratch. I remembered her post from September and got excited. And when I’m excited (you know, about food) I start thinking.
This time I got to thinking about the importance of holiday food and family tradition. I write and share recipes here week after week hoping to inspire as much home cooking as possible, but cooking most every night is just not a reality for some people. Even people who love food, who can cook, who really get it. People like Jennifer.
But everything changes during the holidays. Everyone—even people who don’t normally like to cook—hits the kitchen in some way or another. It’s a beautiful thing. (It is. Even if you get stuck eating your aunt’s horrible fruit cake.) A thing that I want to celebrate this holiday season. And who better to start celebrating with than Jennifer. So I reached out.
Jennifer and I got to talking and she shared her Nana Jean’s latke recipe. I knew before I even saw Nana’s recipe that it would blow mine out of the water. It’s her NANA! Plus, though my husband identifies strongly as Jewish, he was raised without Jewish holiday tradition. My young family is making up our Jewish traditions as we go and, though my latkes are really quite yummy, I’m still perfecting them.
No matter how much time I spent tweaking my latke recipe, I would never have guessed Nana Jean’s secret ingredient: a dissolved vitamin C tablet. (Vitamin C?!!?) An amazing chemical reaction happens when you mix eggs with vitamin C. The eggs become thick and foamy, which helps bind and thicken the pancakes. I once tried a latke recipe that called for folding in stiff egg whites. I think that this gets at the same idea, but it worked even better and is far less work. Perhaps there is another reason why vitamin C makes these latkes so good. All I know is that they are some of the best I’ve ever tried.
Jennifer also shared a little bit about her Nana Jean, a woman who Jennifer clearly admires. Who wouldn’t?! At 80-years-old, Jean is a vibrant member of her community. (Apparently, she’s one of the most popular ladies at Leisure World!) Jean was a professor of early childhood development and is still an active artist who has shown at many galleries (look at Jean’s art—beautiful!). She is also a tremendous cook also known for her brisket, chocolate chip cookies and cheesy noodles.
I love Nana! Especially given the early childhood development and cooking connection. I’ve never met either of them in person, but feel like Jennifer, Jean and I would make great friends. And this whole thing—pondering love, family and holiday food, reaching out to Jennifer, learning about Jean and her latkes—feels like kismet.
This is what food is about. History, connection, family, friends (old and new) and celebrating our similarities and differences. The miracles of life. Even for me, someone who thinks about food this way all of the time, the holidays are a wonderful reminder of this. During this time of year, food takes its rightful place in our life: right smack dab in the center. Conjuring memories, creating new ones and bringing us together the way these latkes brought me together with Jennifer and her Nana Jean.
Happy Hanukkah. Enjoy!
Nana Jean’s Potato Latkes
makes about 30 pancakes
(can be served to kids 6+ mos)*
1 vitamin C tablet
2 1/2 lbs baking potatoes
2 lg eggs, lightly beaten
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 Tbsp flour or matzoh meal (Jennifer uses 1 Tbsp of each)
1. In a small bowl, dissolve vitamin C tablet with 2 tablespoons of water. In the meantime, shred 3/4 of the potatoes using the shredding blade of food processor; set aside in a large bowl.
2. Switch to the chop blade of your food processor and chop onion and remainder of potatoes. Add to the shredded potatoes.
3. Add dissolved vitamin C to the beaten eggs. Mix the combination into the potatoes, then add flour and/or matzoh meal, salt and baking powder. Mix well to combine.
4. In large skillet, heat 1/2″ oil over moderate high heat. Using a slotted spoon, place batter into hot oil and flatten lightly. (Jennifer notes that she sometimes uses a large serving spoon instead of a slotted one, which works even though the liquid doesn’t drain.) Fry until golden brown on both sides, turning only once. Be careful not to crowd pancakes in pan. Remove pancakes to baking trays covered with brown paper. You can also dab the tops with paper towels.
You can serve these immediately, store for a day or two in the refrigerator or freeze them. If freezing, make sure to put the cakes in the freezer in single layers. Don’t pile up until completely frozen. To reheat, bake in a 450 degree oven for 5-10 minutes or until crisp and bubbling.
*Note from One Hungry Mama: As far as ingredients and texture (at least the mashed inside), these can easily be shared with kids 6+ mos. Some may want to avoid feeding fried food of any kind to such young eaters. I certainly would have skipped it with my first son, though I would have happily shared this with my second son at 8 months old as a one-time-per-year holiday treat.