So, how did I spend the first day of Channukah?
Well, it's a bit of a story...
I started my day with SistR and Jesamine (who played hookey from kindergarten) at Moti's Bureka joint, drinking strong coffee and eating a spinach bureka with homemade pickles. This is not traditional Channukah fare, but it is a big treat for all three of us!
From there, I had to rush home and get all primped and pretty, not for a Channukah party, but for a Brit Milah bash. I don't normally attend Brits, mainly because I think that having the whole world and their 17th cousins 42 times removed gawking while a baby has his covenant made for him, is just a bit barbaric. Fortunately, my friend had the deed done quietly and privately a few weeks ago, and in reality this was a birth celebration.
As with all major celebrations (weddings, engagements etc.) here, this was done at a reception hall, and because the weather was glorious and sunny, the cocktails and nibbles were outside in a flower filled courtyard, with pansies and cyclamen bobbing in a gentle breeze that didn't even hint of winter. As is usual, there was an open bar, all sorts of cured and pickled fish (matjes herring, smoked sprats, pickled herring, cured salmon), various small salady things, skewered chicken hearts and livers grilled over coals (as against on a gas grill), and kosher sushi for the more adventurous...
There was a special area set up for kids, with games and cookie decorating and people to look after the kids. The adults, it was presumed, could look after themselves!
Lunch was then served buffet style, with all kinds of different breads, lots of salads, including huge bowls of lettuce and mixed greens, cherry tomatoes and avocado, grilled eggplant with green tehina, roasted cauliflower, artichoke hearts, corn niblets, tabbouleh, mushroom and baby corn, carrot, pasta. There was fish in a red sauce, chicken drumsticks in a barbeque sauce, turket fillets in a lemon sauce, and stewed steaks, as well as green beans, rice, potatoes, and for the children, chicken schnitzels and chips with lots of ketchup. I stuck to the salads and avoided the desserts, which were parve bavarian cream cakes and molten chocolate cakes. And forget the cappucinos with parve milk... I'll have the double espresso thank you very much!
It was a really wonderful celebration of a new life, with lots of happy chatter going on throughout the speeches and home movies...
From there it was home, with a stop on the way to pick up wonderful pomellos and clementine oranges from the little man, who can be found only on Fridays, selling them from the back of his truck outside of the local bakery. That is how alot of produce is sold here, no middle man and picked this morning at dawn. Unless I had my own trees, they couldn't be fresher.
This being Channukah, I felt obliged to make Levivot (Latkes). This wasn't really so terrible because I adore potato pancakes and only indulge myself very rarely.
(1 dozen small latkes, enough for a light lunch, with a salad, for 3 people, appetizers for six, or a token taste for 12)
- 2 medium potatoes, grated on the big holes of a box grater
or using the smallest blades of a mandoline (which is what I used)
- 1 small onion, finely diced
- 1 egg
- salt and white pepper to taste
- corn or other neutral oil for shallow frying
- Maldon salt, freshly ground black pepper, sour cream, smoked paprika and finely sliced green onions to finish and garnish
Unlike most recipes I have read, I don't rinse or drain my potatoes. To help minimize the potatoes oxidizing (turning brown) I grate the onions first and put them into the mixing bowl with a bit of salt sprinkled on them so their juices start running. I grate the potatoes as quickly as possible and mix them with the onion and the egg. This seems to work fairly well for small and medium batches.
Personally, I like eating at the same time as my friends, so I use 2 frying pans to get the job done quicker.
Heat the oven to 160C and have prepared a baking tray with paper towels to absorb the oil from the latkes while they stay warm.
Heat the pan(s) to medium heat and then add about 2 tablespoons of oil. It should immediately start to shimmer, but not smoke. A piece of potato will sizzle vigourously, but not ferociously, when dropped in.
Drop the latke mixture 1 heaping tablespoon at a time into the oil (a 9 inch pan will fit 3-4 spoonfuls - you don't want them crowded because then you can't turn them easily). Smooth and flatten out the top of the latkes and neaten the edges. (note that the pan is only lightly covered in oil)
You needn't be too exact, rough edges get crispier. The heat should be medium to medium low - you need the potatoes to cook at roughly the same speed as they brown. If the heat is too low they absorb too much oil, if it is too high they burn before they are cooked. I cooked mine for about 6 minutes a side.
I can't be too accurate about my cooking time today because I had an interruption and had to ignore them. "What, ignore your latkes?" you exclaim in horror.
Well, I think it was a worthwhile interruption,...
I'm not kidding. My doorbell rang and there were some Philippino women (and a little helper) complete with guitar, offering to sing me a Christmas carol. How cool is that? I have never, ever, in my entire life, been caroled before. It is the type of thing you only see in movies... But tonight I was caroled, and then asked for a donation for the Children's Joy Foundation. What the heck, it's Christmas and Channukah and I'm grateful for all the good things in my life, so I emptied out my pockets, literally, (I didn't have anything but small change, not having gone to the bank today) and in exchange for a donation to an organization that I have no connections to either in terms of faith or belief, I got Jingle Bells and We Wish You a Merry Christmas. And lots of good wishes for the holiday season. It felt surprisingly good!
And my latkes didn't seem to suffer from their momentary lack of attention.
They may even have benefitted by getting even crispier.
Once the undersides are a deep golden brown, gently turn the latkes over and continue cooking until the other side is nicely browned too. If necessary add a touch more oil to the pan. When they are done, transfer them to the paper towelled baking tray and put it in the oven to stay warm while you make the rest of the latkes.
To serve, sprinkle with the Maldon salt and green onions, add a blob of the sour cream and dot that with the smoked paprika. Grind black pepper lightly between the latkes to decorate the plate.
Dessert, courtesy of SistR, was a deluxe version soufgania.
(tranlation: a raised donut filled with dulche de leche)
And don't forget, if you are looking for the perfect Channukah or Christmas gift, for yourself or someone else, don't forget to check out the Menu for Hope III.