The holiday season is getting trickier and trickier, and as a one-eighth Jewish girl who attended a UCC affiliated University with friends who wish “pagan prayers” and identify online as “spiritual but not religious,” I’m starting to wonder how to navigate – and frankly, devour – all the incredibly special and delicious holiday treats and traditions that are offered this time of year. I covet a home decorated for Christmas and love a latke. My friends are Quakers, Jews and Christians who are flattered by the invitation to any synagogue, mosque or other house of worship. And as a cook who forgoes turkey at Thanksgiving and leaves the star off the top of my Christmas tree, how does a girl offer some depth to friends during this special time of the year?
Last December I received a holiday card in the mail from my friends, The Oakley’s, that simply said “Happy Everything”. In addition to their five bright and smiling faces, the card was beautiful and thoughtful – the perfect December greeting to make anyone’s heart warm. I posted the card on my refrigerator and left it long into the new year as a reminder of this simple yet most inclusive wish.
“Happy Everything” was the solution to my wanna-be ecumenical conundrum this year. I leaned on my friends for ideas and enlisted my friend Jessica, who I declared “Chair of Tradition,” to assist and guide the hosting of a “Happy Everything” party on the first day of Hanukkah. We cooked through the day, sharing Jewish Grandmother stories in the kitchen while singing tunes from Fiddler on the Roof and Miracle on 34th Street. We put modern twists on traditional Hanukkah recipes and served them to a group of our diverse local friends. We fried latkes in duck fat, made traditional brisket in slider-form, roasted beets in edible Belgian endive boats and my Aunt Marsha’s Christmas shortbread cookies. We celebrated the evening with Jessica’s menorah lit in front of the dim sparkle of my Christmas tree.
For the better part of this year, this column has focused on the literal origins of our food – connecting you to purple sweet potatoes growing in refurbished tobacco soil, local lamb grazing on Piedmont Grown grass and pimento cheese handmade with the soulful story of history and honor – but these connections go deeper, creating and reviving our traditions. Yet, both parallel in importance.
Carlo Petrini, the Italian founder of the Slow Food Movement, urged the public to be more aware of our food’s beginnings – to consider the role not of consumers but of “co-producers” in connecting to our food. And here in Greensboro, fertile lands of plenty and diversity, I find these connections both literally and figuratively –through both the engagement of the local farmers and food producers and through the traditions we share, create and carry into our futures.
Open your homes and kitchens to celebrating “everything” this season. Share traditions, test modern twists – those that your grandmother could stomach – and embrace all variations of our collective roots. Happy everything? That sounds like peace on earth to me.
Latkes are traditionally fried in a blend of oil and chicken fat. However, taking hints from Belgian frites, these Duck Fat Fried Latkes are a delicious and decadent twist on the this Hanukkah staple. Duck fat can be rendered from local ducks found at the Piedmont Triad Famers Market or sold in tubs at The Fresh Market.
Duck Fat Fried Latkes
· 5 pounds russet potatoes, pealed
· 3 onions
· 3 eggs
· ½ cup flour
· 3 teaspoons baking powder
· 4 teaspoons salt
· Pepper, to taste.
· Canola Oil
· Duck Fat
In a food processor or by hand, grate potato and onion. Spread the potato and onion mixture out on a cloth kitchen towel, roll the towel horizontally and twist out as much liquid as possible. Transfer mixture into a bowl and add eggs, flour, baking powder, salt and pepper. Mix with clean hands to integrate together.
In a skillet, add equal parts canola oil and duck fat and heat to medium-high (about a tablespoon of each). Spoon 2 tablespoons of the latke mixture at a time and flatten with the back of a spoon. Don’t crowd the pan and be patient as the latkes fry until deep brown and crispy. Flip after about 3 to 5 minutes with tongs.
Once crispy and cooked, transfer latkes to a plate lined with paper towels. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Add more duck fat and oil as needed. Keep the latkes warm in a low temperature oven until serving. Serve with applesauce and sour cream.