We had found it was getting increasingly difficult to get too worked up over Hanukkah. We'd hit that time in our lives when the kids were grown up and there weren't any grandchildren yet. We still wanted to do something for Hanukkah (any excuse to get together for a brisket seems like a good idea) but we also wanted it to be something that adults would enjoy.
A few years ago we came up with the idea of a book exchange. Everyone brings a book or two that's wrapped and of general interest. At some point in the evening, each of us picks a book from the pile, rips it open, and declares they were just about to buy it for themselves. And if the book's not to your taste you can always find someone to swap it with.
Another tradition we picked up from a source now long forgotten, is to change the order of the candles, so instead of lighting one the first night and adding one each subsequent night, we light all the candles the first night and one less each following evening. This makes some kind of sense, since the Maccabees started out with a full blaze and the danger of running out of lighting oil would have meant the light getting lower and lower as the week wore on. So the gradual dimming puts some real suspense into the holiday. Heartstopping if you think about it. And the other benefit is that most people like to get together for the first night, and lighting the one lonesome candle doesn't make for a lot of goosebumps. But the whole menorah blazing away, well it's very satisfying for the pyromaniac hiding in each of us.
I know you're in suspense wanting to know about those caviar latkes. First of all, full disclosure, we don't have them every year. Sevruga caviar doesn't exactly grow on trees and some years are leaner than others. The tradition started when we began to enjoy our caviar on buckwheat blinis. Little buckwheat pancakes, a little sour cream, a touch of caviar: perfection. Now here comes Hanukkah and we've got these little potato pancakes and the sour cream. For those who aren't so crazy about apple sauce what else might we try? You got it -- an Aha! moment.
Here's the recipe we prefer for the latkes. It comes from the Fairmount Temple Cookbook and was published by the Fairmount Temple Sisterhood, Cleveland, in 1957. The cookbook offers two recipes for latkes and I'll bet at least two separate communities have formed by supporters of each. I'm not crazy about Mrs. Reitman's version, so here's the one from Mrs. Morris Schuster. It's supposed to make 18 crisp pancakes. (Mrs. Reitman made no claim regarding crispness.)
3 large potatoes
1 small onion
2 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon salt
Grate potatoes and onion. (Note from your blogger -- no compromises here! Grating means by hand and risking bloodying your knuckles is a must. Cuisinarts are considered cheating and if you go down this road you might be bringing back the Greeks to lay siege to the Maccabees once again.) Beat eggs well, add to potatoes. Add salt and flour. Mix well. (Sorry, blogger intruding again. Mrs. Schuster didn't leave us precise guidance as to diameter of the latkes or thickness. I guess you could shape all the materials and see if you end up with 18 patties and adjust accordingly, or you could go for patties that are 3 inches across and 3/8ths of an inch thick. And Mrs. Schuster doesn't specify the oil. Probably Crisco in her day. I'd suggest olive or rice bran oil.) Turn only when underside is golden brown. Fry on second side.
And if it's been a good year, a dollop of sour cream on top and a little bit of caviar. Enjoy! As for us this year, we're now waiting for our first grandchild, now two years old, to develop a taste for caviar.