Editor's note: Check back Monday on Patch and read some tips about how to survive the holiday table with children who have special diets and/or special needs.
Cooking is not an easy task for me, I fully admit that. Years ago, I was forced into tackling it anyway, when my son was diagnosed with celiac disease and I began a journey of learning how to bake, cook from scratch and recreate all his favorite meals.
To this day, I am learning.
A good lesson was learned in my kitchen this week as I attempted to fry up my mother-in-law's recipe for latkes. She traditionally makes them every year, in advance, and heats them for our enjoyment during the holidays.
I see now why she does that!
It may seem easy to stir up a few ingredients and heat them in oil, but I found it to be another miracle all together to be patient enough to cook each latke in the recipe. Each of the dozens of latkes took about 10 minutes to cook, watching and waiting until the correct time to flip.
It is a labor of love and a testament to all we do for our families – and that feeding others, no matter how mundane it seems at the time, truly is an act of kindness and service.
The 'December dilemma'
Hanukkah, also known as the festival of lights, begins at sunset on Dec. 20 and continues through sunset Dec. 28. The holiday marks the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem after the 200 B.C.E. Maccabean revolt against the Greeks, who had banned Jewish practices. The Maccabees were said to have discovered a seven-armed candelabra inside the temple and kept it alight for eight days with only one day's supply of oil.
To mark the miracle during each night of Hanukkah, the Jewish faithful light one candle on the menorah – whose ninth candle is used to light the others – and make foods prepared in oil, such as doughnuts and latkes.
Rabbi Jennifer Kaluzny of Temple Israel in West Bloomfield says in the temple's December newsletter, The Messenger, that although it is a relatively small holiday for Jewish followers, the timing of Hanukkah, which overlaps Christmas this year, may add to what is known as the "December dilemma."
"The true spirit of both holidays truly is: giving to those who have less, and performing acts of loving kindness," Kaluzny said in the newsletter. "That is where our dilemma ends. Here at Temple Israel, we work hard to reclaim the season, and do projects and programs that remind us of everything we have to be grateful for."
A service project, she continues, is a good way to do that.
"Dedicate yourself in December to making life a little easier, a little warmer, a little safer, for those who can’t do it for themselves or their children. There’s no dilemma in choosing to do such incredible mitzvot. Then, keep the spirit of the season alive, and keep on giving the rest of the year."
It is a great joy to give to others, I find. The gift of time, too, is a precious offering. And as I clock more and more hours into the kitchen, learning the craft of cooking for special diets, I feel dedicated to the service of healing my son. I share recipes and information with readers in hopes of providing another service: helping others know that they are not alone and it's not an impossible task, after all.
Stay healthy, give to others and don't sell yourself short as you are donating your time to feed others.
I agree with Rabbi Kaluzney. Giving of yourself is a true miracle and marks the spirit of Hanukkah better than any wrapped gift.
For this recipe, my mother-in-law says wash the potatoes and keep the skins on. Grate them and the onions in a food processor, then replace grater with regular blade. Pulse mix a few times so the grated potatoes are a little smaller and don't resemble hash browns.
- 6 medium potatoes
- 1/4 tspn. pepper
- 1 small onion 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1/2 tspn. baking powder
- 3 tblspns. flour (I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free blend)
- Enough oil (canola works well) to wrap around latke, but not cover it.
After grating and pulsing potatoes and onions, stir in eggs, then dry ingredients. Heat oil in deep frying pan with medium heat. Test with a drop of latke batter. If it spatters and bubbles, it's ready. Drop latkes by spoonful into hot skillet and wait 3-5 minutes until brown. Bubbling will slow down when it's ready to flip. Flip and brown other side. Again, the bubbling will slow down when it's ready. Place cooked latkes on paper towels to drain.
Tip: There will be liquid from the potatoes on the bottom of the bowl as you spoon the batter in. Just drain as you go, my mother-in-law recommends.
Where to find out more about cooking and serving:
- For a detailed description of cooking latkes in oil, check out this nifty video.
- Need more advice? Check out a family-friendly event that will offer cooking, crafting and more, Creative Chanukah Chefs, on Dec. 15 at Oak Park's Aish in the Woods.
- Volunteer opportunities can be found in the Messenger, such as community-wide Mitzvah Day on Dec. 25. Morning and afternoon volunteer opportunities are available. For more information or to RSVP, contact Michelle Lichtman at 248-661-5700 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please RSVP by Dec. 16.
- Also, check out some of the volunteer opportunities presented on Patch during the holiday season.