Harrison Happenings: Getting it done in time for latkes with friends

A recipe for traditional Christmas latkes from the Observer's regular columnist, Ruth Altendorf

  • Nov. 18, 2011 8:00 a.m.

It happens to me every year. I look at the calendar, realize how close it is to Christmas and how little thought I have given it so far, and a mild panic attack overcomes me. Luckily, this never lasts very long.

Instead, I sit down, have a cup of coffee and make plans. Christmas cards come first to my mind, especially those to go across the sea or otherwise far away. I look for the addresses and check the mailing dates. With this out of the way, I concentrate on what kind of cards to send. Sure, there are many nice and ready-made cards available, but I like to send something more personal, photos for instance. I will buy card stock and look for nice photos of our family, this will always be appreciated. The later part of November is a perfect time to do this and puts me in the right mood for the Christmas season.

Close to December, I will go “on line” (telephone, that is!) and order poinsettias for close friends and myself. I love poinsettias, especially the dark red ones, unadorned, there is nothing that can put me in a festive mood as well as they can. By then I remember that there is also the serious task of shopping for Christmas gifts to be done. Luckily, this is not as difficult a job as it sounds, since I love to shop locally. It is easy, pleasureable and helps our merchants to get through the winter.

Finally, there is one more task: plan some special meals! So, I sit down again and make a list, this time perhaps with a glass of wine — it goes better with food!

Traditionally, we have a special potato salad on Christmas Eve, and all kinds of different specialties to go with it. For Christmas Day we might have chicken a la king. We fill pastry shells with a chicken/mushroom goulash and serve it with different vegetables. It would not be Christmas, however, if there would not be an evening with latkes (potato pancakes), apple sauce and wine. Believe it or not, this is my all-time favorite meal!

And now, with all the planning being done, I will have time to enjoy the season with family and friends as it was meant to be!

Finally, a note about latkes, just in case you feel tempted to make some.This is one food that does not like shortcuts!  I have tried it a few times and it just does not seem to work.

The food processor, for instance, changes the consistancy of the potatoes, the larger blades of the hand shredder makes them into “Swiss Rosti”, which is good for another time but not when you want to have latkes.

Another fact is that they definitely taste best coming right out of the pan. So, why not give in and have fun!  After a light soup (to keep them patient) have all your guests sitting around the table with a glass of wine. Select one to start the grating of the potatoes (on the fine side of the hand grater) and change the assistant cook every few minutes. Once you have enough grated potatoes, disard the potato water, add a tablespoon or so of flour and some salt and start baking. Make sure the pan is hot before adding some oil. Then, with a large spoon put enough dough into the pan to form four pancakes. When they are brown on one side, turn them over and let the other side brown as well.  When they are done, you can either put them on a platter and into the preheated oven to keep them warm or serve them right away when they definitely taste best.  Try it and have fun!

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