Tuesday, December 16, 2014

on fiercely competitive latkes

Every year, my kids look forward to Chanukah. Every year, I feel like a phony going into it.

It is not a major holiday, yet the expectations are through the roof. There are eight days, so there is hypothetically time to get it "right", even if not on the first night. There are candles to light (and husband who might or might not be around when it's time to light). There are menorahs to fill with oil. There is food, lots of labor-intensive food. There are presents, which I normally try to avoid, yet they somehow crop up.

There is a song, which contains a line "every mother prepares delicious latkes". It makes me feel like a fake more than anything. I can make good latkes, but, somehow, I do not always feel inspired around this time of year. I did not grow up celebrating Chanukah, and my mother was certainly not making latkes. I feel that there is this expectation of latke perfection, crisp and hot, emerging just as candles are lit. Usually for us, it is time of intense phone negotiations of whether my husband will be home to light or not, coming back from somewhere, rushing, whiny kids, toddlers trying to knock off the menorahs. These awesome latkes just do not have space to be made in such an atmosphere. Every year, I dread them, and every year I end up making them, with bitterness and resentment.

This year, it seems, the foodies are trying to outdo themselves. I saw a recipe for beet latkes with goat cheese. I did not even investigate: my kids will not eat them, and I hate goat cheese, There are poutine latkes, which made Wall Street Journal. One friend proudly displayed Jerusalem artichokes, harvested from her garden, surely organic, about to become her latkes, So the pressure is being ratcheted up.

I bought 10 lbs of potatoes, in anticipation of all this latke hullabaloo. I also bought my secret ingredient: yucca. It goes nicely with potatoes, and adds crispness to the latkes without adding any taste that my kids find disagreeable.

This morning, I got up, dreading the night. My husband said that he should be home by candle lighting, and taekwondo was not happening due to promotion test. 8 yo told me last night how he had plans to make a Chanukah puppet show, and would I so kindly write it down into his planner as an activity for today?

So I figured that no real school work will take place, not on his end. 10 yo ended up helping him with drawing the backgrounds. I had to remind him a few times not to hijack his brother's story, but, overall, they worked together, drawing and cutting. At some point, 10 yo was writing down his own script. He also wrote down his own plan for today, which included mishna homework, chumash, language review and geography. 8 yo did typing and Rosetta Stone. Not bad for no interference and whip cracking on mommy's part.
Older brothers are the best: they put you in a swing, they push you

The baby took an earlier and shorter nap, and the sun came out from behind the clouds. I hustled the boys to the park for a few hours, to enjoy this gift of great weather, before it was time to get my daughter from her preschool. When we got home, I rigged up the extension cord for the PVC menorah and wound up the last two strands of lights.

Then I came inside. 10 yo followed me on my heels, offering to peel potatoes for latkes. He peeled and chopped, and then suggested adding carrot to one batch, ostensibly to celebrate the birthday of a stuffed bunny. I have been hearing about this birthday bunny for weeks now, but it did not make food demands. I told 10 yo that I expect humans not to complain too much when they find carrot in their latkes, and was reassured that some humans will eat it, as long as I make a separate batch without carrot.
crunchy munchy latkes

Then, as I was mixing batter, he offered to show 1 yo Chanukah movies, to keep him out of the kitchen and away from hot oil. I asked him to organize his brother and sister to set the dining room table for dinner. They got out a cloth tablecloth,wine glasses, candles, and a light-up globe. I was not supervising at all, hoping for the best.

A great miracle happened here: my husband did make it home for candle lighting, the latkes were all done by the time he came in, nobody got burned on the candles, and we were treated to a beautifully set table. The kids ate the carrot latkes. Then they each had a bag of chocolate gelt, with 1 yo managing to eat one coin still in foil. 8 yo treated us to a puppet show. He got 4 yo to hold up the backgrounds, as he narrated and spoke for all the characters. They were not fancy, all drawn in pencil, with an obvious touch from 10 yo, but it was clear that some thought and preparation went into the narrative. Jokes were inserted. Some paper violence might not make it a suitable show for very young children. No presents were mentioned, not even once, even though I sat on Amazon and ordered them something. (I usually get them yom tov gifts, but this year I did not get around to it when chagim were here, so I sort of owed it to them. Nothing like mommy guilt to make the world go round.)

Now I dread tomorrow night, when there will be taekwondo, and there will be crazy dinner crunch coupled with candle lighting. At least I have some latke leftovers.

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