Little Man and our “big, big, big, big” tree
“Mommy, where are we?”
Ever since the move, our son asks us this a couple of times a day. When we ask the question back to him, he answers that “we’re home.” Not having had anything in his experience to prepare for (or to understand) our cross-continental and over-the-border move, he’s still working out what “home” is. And frankly, so am I.
So where in the world are we?
Province: British Columbia
OK, one more time… Island: Vancouver Island
As the second house on the farm property we are surrounded by trees and pasture and wilderness, but in less than 10 minutes we’re back down in town close to dozens of little hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or the sea wall, or the library, or within 15 minutes to the university where Dave teaches. We seem far from everything, but can get anywhere in a matter of minutes.
When Dave’s mom, sister and I were first driving out here to view the property this “closeness” was not apparent. Having lived in the American Midwest for a number of years I was not as immediately worried about the wilderness as my lovely, city-raised travel partners. The minute we passed by the last subdivision and there were more trees than telephone poles my in-laws got fidgety. There was quite a lot of nervous giggling, and “where ARE we?” questions. Our odd mumbling GPS didn’t help matters, nor did my cryptically written directions. Was I even awake when I wrote them down? Then finally we passed two mammoth Easter Island heads (moai) in the middle of the forest, and turned right onto our road. I know this may sound odd, but all of you archaeologists out there (in career or in heart) will understand when I say that those heads seemed like a good omen to me. They are incongruously perched amid the cedars that run alongside the road, and the first time you catch sight of them they can be startling. I still have no idea why they are there, but I’m glad that they are.
Our neighborhood seems like two sides of a fairytale. A few homes, all with incredible gardens and most with chickens, wrap around a short lane. This is bordered on one side by grassy fields and restful horses, and on the other side by a gentle downward slope leading to a low, damp pasture ringed with trees and a small pond. When I first saw this view on that cool Spring evening, the edges of the bottoms were fringed with a silver mist, and I imagined all sorts of magical creatures emerging from the forest darkness. Or then again, maybe a slip back in time, before the Hudson Bay Company and the miners and the loggers, when this land was filled with a very different type of civilization. The darker side of the fairy tale I learned later that evening. This land used to belong to a British aristocrat, tales of the native peoples who might have called this place home long buried. The aristocrat wanted to create a home more suited to his fancy, and drained a lake that once filled the pasturage below that I had been admiring. That story still makes me think about a novel I’ve read, the Green Rider series by Kristen Britain, where the evil sorcerer-lord drains a magical elven lake. The drained pasturage today is beautiful, particularly when the sheep are slowly munching their way through the cedars. I do wonder, though, what it was like before; and what older beauty was destroyed to make this current beauty possible.
Now our “home” borders this beautiful expanse. When Dave came home from his first soccer practice, we sat outside under the little arbor on a bench. Sipping beer we sat and ogled the view, laughing at what had brought us here and not quite believing that we’d landed in such a beautiful place. This is where Little Man’s first memories will be formed. Amazing…
As I try to create my own sense of “home” in my wilderness, I’d like to share the latka recipe that I mentioned in an earlier post. Mom made these latkas for me and my brother every Saturday morning throughout my entire childhood. They are one of my earliest food memories. I also remember spending the night at my Grammie’s house as a young girl and asking her to make these latkas in the morning. She didn’t know how to make them, and I was young enough that even though I had helped my mom make them countless times I did not know how to explain the process or the ingredients. Later I would pay much closer attention to what Mom was doing so I could also recreate that taste, and now they are probably my most powerful comfort food. These latkas were a part of our Independence Day(s) dinner, and are still my go-to comfort Saturday morning breakfast. Little Man is going to love them!
Latkas are traditionally Jewish, specially served at Hanukah, but I have also had them at diners in different parts of the States. I have never had the opportunity to eat them homemade anywhere else than my own home. They’ve become the kind of dish that is so closely embedded in my own culinary identity that even though I am not Jewish, I don’t think that I could try any one else’s latkas (except for my Mom’s) with an open mind. When Dave and I were dating, in fact, he asked me to send him the recipe (more of a method at that point) so he could make them for his family when he went home one Christmas. I was later horrified to hear that he’d had the audacity to grate cheese into my latka mix. While that could be a lovely oozy hash brown recipe, I was not amused that it had ended up in MY latkas. I haven’t shared the recipe with anyone since, but now in my quest for home I’m sharing the recipe again hoping in the sharing some sense of “home” can be created here as well. So traditionalist (with a side of apple sauce and sour cream), anarchist (grated cheese in the batter…) or just plain wonderful on their own, I hope you love these as much as I do.
Makes about 12 medium-sized latkas.
3 medium (2.5 lbs) Russet Potatoes
¼ cup garlic powder
Salt and pepper to taste
Canola oil for the pan
Preheat your oven to its lowest setting. You will keep the cooked latkas warm in the oven while you finish cooking the rest. I am not a mom who stands at the stove cooking while everyone else gets to sit down and eat the delicious food. I like to cook them all, keeping the done ones warm in the oven, and only when the last latka (or pancake, piece of french toast, etc.) comes out of the pan do we all sit down to eat together.
Line a large nonreactive bowl with a clean kitchen towel (not a fuzzy one) and grate the potatoes into the towel-lined bowl. Collect the four corners of the towel together and squeeze the potatoes firmly over the sink to drain out the extra liquid. Put the potatoes into the bowl and set aside. Some people like to drain the potatoes in a colander for 30 minutes or so, but I am not that patient.
Potatoes grated into a towel-lined bowl
Grated potatoes after being squeezed
Pour enough oil in the bottom of a large skillet to coat the pan well. Don’t skimp here. By having a good amount of hot oil in the pan you can get a good golden crust on the latkas. Too little oil and the latkas stick to the skillet, and oil that isn’t hot enough lets the potatoes soak up too much oil creating greasy latkas. Heat the skillet over medium-high heat until the oil is hot. Do not try to use olive oil here, as it will burn.
Now back to the drained potatoes. Break the eggs into the grated potatoes and add the garlic powder, as well as a good amount of salt and pepper. It will seem like you are adding an excessive amount of dried spice, but you’ll be surprised by how much it takes to season the latkas. I often start with about a tablespoon of salt and pepper depending on how much potato I have to start with. Stir the mixture together until well blended.
It is always a good idea to break eggs one at a time into a small bowl and then add them to the main mix. That way if you get a bad egg you have not ruined your entire batter.
Lovely latka mixture. You will not know if you have the seasoning right until after you taste the “tester.”
When the oil is hot take about a tablespoon of the mixture in a slotted spoon and put it into the hot pan, pressing down lightly to form a rough pancake shape. Cook this “tester” latka until golden on one side and then flip it. This should only take a minute or two if the oil is heated well. Once the latka is crispy on both sides remove it to a towel lined plate and taste. The “tester” lets you gauge if you need to add any more garlic powder, salt or pepper.
Latkas frying on their first side
Latkas on the flip side
Once you have the mixture seasoned properly, drop more latka mixture into the skillet. I use about 1/3 of a cup of mixture each for four good-sized latkas cooking in the pan at any given time. It is important to use the slotted spoon for the latka mixture, as the potatoes will give off liquid as they sit. You don’t want soggy latkas, so let the excess liquid drain out of the spoon before you drop the mixture into the pan. Cook until the latkas are golden on one side, flip them and crisp the second side. Between batches you can add more oil as needed, heat the oil again, and then add another batch to the pan. As one batch of latkas is done, remove it to a paper towel-lined baking sheet and keep them in the warm oven until ready to serve.
Finished latkas being kept warm in the oven until we can all sit down and eat together.
Print on the link above to open a pdf of the Mom’s Latkas recipe card that you can print.