Leftovers: Have latkes, will travel

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Last week, I asked for feedback about this column and the Portland Phoenix in general. Somehow, that request got wrapped up in talk of potato latkes, raucous Hanukkah parties, and most recently, the guided-by-heart Thanksgiving festivities held at my tiny condo.

A handful of readers complied with emails and texts and now, it’s my turn to report back.

Both my dad and I tested negative for COVID-19. As advised, we gave the virus enough time to do what it does when roosting in someone’s respiratory system, and then sought out the coveted Q-tips of truth. My dad did the deed in Florida and I was tested here in Portland. 

Nonetheless, I’m heeding the experts about Christmas travel. I’ve postponed my already once-postponed plans to see Number One in California. I miss that woman-child dearly, although it’s made slightly less painful by her concurring to again postpone. 

A few of you were on the same wavelength about this ongoing dilemma. 

“We skipped Thanksgiving this year,” one man wrote. ”The thinking was we’d all quarantine and get together at camp for Christmas. But I’m met with resistance from my kids. It isn’t like time is stopping.”

Another person left a long message on my work voicemail. Essentially, she echoed my own sentiment about family being far away, which we all know has little to do with anything. “It’s my observation that the people making the most fuss are those who have friends and family nearby,” she said. “It’s easy to tell others what to do when they don’t have to do it themselves.”  

She wrapped up her call by mumbling we all should stay away from each other anyway. I’m not sure the threat of the virus and her last statement were meant to be mutually exclusive. 

But the best two communications I received were about the latkes I promised to deliver to the Portland Phoenix editor. 

My friend Steve Berg texted to remind me of his address in case I was turning my fancy new-to-me red car into a delivery sled. Long a supporter of my work and friend to my family, Steve and his way-better half Cindi were frequent flyers at my latke parties. It pinged me hard when I realized how much I miss them.

But the best email of all came from a woman named Candice who lives in Washington, D.C. She’s not a regular reader of the Phoenix or this column. We’ve never heard of each other. But her letter, as Hallmark for the Holidays as it may be, makes my twice-postponed plans and all the drama of the last several months feel less sharp-elbowed:

“Natalie, just when you thought no one was paying attention, up springs a random email from DC residents who also hosted family from FL. (I do hope your father had a safe trip home.)

Seventy pounds of potatoes were shredded by hand for the annual Ladd Hanukkah party in 2016, which was also a banner year for Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. (Portland Phoenix/Natalie Ladd)

“Admittedly, I write you out of support for my Jewish father-in-law who is currently trapped in assisted living in Portland. … and we are in DC. 

“As you are well aware, Hanukkah is upon us, and I have desperately been searching for a restaurant in the local area that makes latkes – and that delivers. This led me to your most recent article speaking on this holiday season. 

“Since my husband has not lived in Portland in some time, we are having trouble finding Jewish restaurants that deliver in the area. Do you have any recommendations for us? We are hoping to give the father some semblance of the Hanukkah holiday. Thanks very much and Happy Hanukkah!”

Wow. There isn’t a Jewish mother (or really, almost any mother) on earth who wouldn’t be thrilled to swing into action here. I’ve asked Candice to share information on where her father-in-law is so I can give him Steve Berg’s delivery slot. Depending on her father-in-law’s situation, I’d love to befriend him.

Also, I don’t have the heart to tell her about the state of Jewish restaurants in Portland these days. But as far as getting her FIL latkes, sour cream, and homemade applesauce? I’m in. 

Given my state of mind, this is a mutually beneficial gift. Until BFF and I can launch The Latke Party Food Truck, it’s the very best and right thing to do. 

Last week’s column was also filled with (now-broken) promises about antics from latke parties gone by, the intrinsic meaning of the Festival of Lights, and the handed-down latke recipe itself (email me if you must have it.) But we still have time. We’ll be lighting the last candle next week, and since Hanukkah has been going on for more than 2,000 years, waiting one more week won’t hurt. 

Until then, keep your oil hot, your light shining bright, and your mask in place. And if you make latkes between now and next week, enjoy your meal.

Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at natalie@portlandphoenix.me.