It’s a strange feeling. I can’t remember the last holiday season our family spent at home in Toronto.
For well over a decade, we’ve used this ideal time of year when colleges and work are closed to travel to off-the-beaten-path exotic destinations around the world.
We have celebrated the holidays on small-ship cruises along the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, the mighty Mekong River in Cambodia and Vietnam with Pandaw.com, and along the Brahmaputra River in northeast India as well. We combined these with land journeys as well.
This year will be very different. We will celebrate Chanukah quietly and comfortably in our home, lighting the candles on the menorah and enjoying traditional potato latkes on a Zoom call with our children in Toronto and Manhattan.
(To make this year even stranger, with the Canada/US border still closed we will not even be able to be together. It is unimaginable that we have not seen our son since before the start of the pandemic. We celebrated his wedding on May 24th over Zoom.)
So, this year, we’ll be “traveling” through the past and some of our traditions that we’ve missed while off in far flung locales. It’s a strange thought that we normally use this time to learn about other cultures, customs, and habits, that we haven’t really focused on our own!
The Jewish winter Festival of Lights, bringing warm flames to an otherwise dark and cold December, is traditionally celebrated by lighting the menorah and eating fried foods.
On each of the eight nights of Chanukah, a candle is lit in a special menorah candleholder. The menorah has nine stems with a candle for each night and a special ninth candle called the shammash, which is used to light the other candles. This holiday celebrates a miracle that occurred where a small amount of oil kept a temple flame burning for 8 nights.
One way we celebrate the miracle of the oil is by eating fried foods. The two most traditional are latkes (fried potato pancakes) and sufganiyot (jelly donuts). Both my mother and mother-in-law made latkes for our family and I still have fond memories of the smell of latkes wafting out of the kitchen, and my young children’s joy as they fought over the heaping platters of latkes on the family dinner table. My husband loves to eat them with chunky homemade applesauce! This year, we’ll be ‘travelling” back to these traditions.
My sister-in-law Marla has captured our family recipe on her website, LoveThyCarrot and I am lovingly sharing it here for anyone wanting to try their hand at making the best potato latkes.
This recipe makes about 20 to 25 latkes.
- 8 medium unpeeled potatoes
- 1 small sweet potato
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 3 eggs, beaten
- 1/3 cup matzo meal
- salt and pepper to taste
- vegetable oil for frying
- applesauce and sour cream
- Using a food processor grate the potatoes. Squeeze out liquid.
- Add potatoes to a large bowl and add onion, egg, matzo meal, salt and pepper.
- In a large frying pan heat oil over medium heat.
- Add big spoonfuls of latke mixture into the hot pan for about 4 to 5 minutes on each side. Make sure to push them down with your spatula and cook until golden brown. You will need to add more oil between batches.
- Drain well on paper towels.
- If not serving right away they can be reheated or you can put them in the freezer. When reheating place the frozen latkes on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes at 400 F until hot. Drain well on paper towels.
- Serve with home-made apple sauce and sour cream.
I am grateful to be celebrating the Festival of Lights safe at home and over Zoom with my family. Wishing everyone a joyous, healthy, peaceful and memorable festive season and New Year.