Leftovers: The roar of the crowd, the smell of the latkes

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Just when I’m sure no one is paying attention to what I put out there, reader emails with inquiries, insinuations, and a good bit of indignancy landed in my inbox.

Not surprisingly, most who responded to my recent angst over plans for Thanksgiving (Leftovers: “Rockwell, Roosevelt, and Fauci,” Nov. 18)  told me there was no way the whole of the holiday could be a win-win. But, as it turned out it wasn’t exactly a lose-lose either, since my 84-year-old dad was here.

Yep, he was one of “those people” who ignored the experts, said screw it, and got on a plane from West Palm Beach. And I am one of “those people” who co-conspired by possibly opening up my tiny condo to the traveling virus.

And despite our shared feelings of impending doom and nagging guilt, we had a wonderful time. 

Part of the winning was setting the expectations bar low by not knocking myself out with a week of dining-out plans, coastal excursions, or visiting up close and personal with my BFF’s family. Like the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, we still had wind in our sails, it just blew in a different way. 

Now counting down the days until we can both be tested, quarantine, and hopefully come out with negative results, I’m promising myself (and all of you) that I’m going nowhere and no one else is coming here, at least until the vaccine is available. 

After sharing this with a reader who ripped me a new one for even considering travel, I was amused that she also asked if I would host my annual latke party. “Several years ago you printed your Grandmother’s potato latke recipe,” she said. “I threw it out by mistake. Is there any way you’d post it again, please? I want to make them for all my grandchildren.”

I didn’t ask if all her grandchildren lived in her intimate bubble or were traveling to her house, and told her I’d get back to her. But with Hanukkah only a week away, I’m starting to wish I didn’t have to keep that promise about having no one over.

For 15 years, latke parties were our version of a holiday open house where my BFF and I would start with 50 pounds of potatoes, five pounds of onions, dozens of eggs, matzo meal, and spices. Complete with scraped knuckles and sore forearms, everything was grated by hand and mixed in a gigantic storage bin lined with trash bags. Beginning at 9 a.m. with gallons of oil (and mimosas in our bandaged hands), we had it down to a science. As each year passed, I wondered aloud why we didn’t just use a food processor but knew my Bubbie (may her memory be for a blessing) would turn in her grave at the thought. 

Potato latkes have been aromatically leaving their mark in Jewish homes for centuries during Hanukkah, which this year begins the evening of Dec. 10. (Portland Phoenix/Natalie Ladd)

Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah is one of those beautiful Jewish holidays with the recurring theme of “They hated us, they fought us, we won, let’s eat.” 

Because it’s an eight-day extravaganza, I’ll go into the universal, religion-neutral, important meaning of the holiday next week, with some of the more colorful happenings of latke parties past. (I won’t, however, reveal the name of the locally well-known person who once ate 12 latkes piled with sour cream and homemade applesauce in one sitting.) 

This really is one of those times where Zoom, which doesn’t offer a scratch-and-sniff option, just won’t cut it. I’m sure Portland Phoenix readers won’t be afraid to say what they think or to share their opinions. I don’t always love what you folks have to say, but as far as this column goes, I’m always interested. And unless you’re outright rude, I’ll respond. 

As for the rest of the paper, our editor, Marian McCue, asked a few weeks ago for readers to offer up thoughts and feedback, and share what you’d like to see from us. Marian brings us old-school newspaper leadership with an open-mindedness I’ve never seen before. So, I urge all of you to take advantage of her invitation and email her at [email protected] (it seems unfair I should get all the flack and forgiveness).

I’ll soon report the results of our virus tests as well as the promised Hanukkah fun stuff. Do you know, for example, that according to Britannica.com there are more than 20 English spelling variations of the Jewish holiday? While that’s something my editor doesn’t want to hear, she’ll be happy to know I’m sharing the latkes I’ll make by myself via curbside-drop off at her house. 

As for the rest of you, the recipe is coming soon. 

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 [email protected].

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