Tag Archives: Latkas

Mommy, Where Are We?

Little Man and our "big, big, big, big" tree

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? 

Country: Canada

Province: British Columbia

Island: Island!?!

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…Sunflower3

 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!

 Mom’s Latkas

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

4-5 eggs

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

Potatoes grated into a towel-lined bowl

Grated potatoes after being squeezed

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.

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."

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 frying on their first side

Latkas on the flip 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.

Finished latkas being kept warm in the oven until we can all sit down and eat together.

Latkas

Print on the link above to open a pdf of the Mom’s Latkas recipe card that you can print.

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Two Independence Days

Did I mention that we made the move to Vancouver Island the day after Canada Day and two days before American Independence Day?  So even though I had warned our American bank that we’d be moving to Canada, an automated system caught our Canadian purchases and “temporarily” froze our account… the day before the Fourth of July… so no live person would be in the office to fix this problem until July 5.  Argh!  Our dilemma was discovered when we tried to buy sushi from a take-out joint for dinner.  Thank goodness we had not decided to go to a sit down restaurant, had eaten our food and then found out we had no funds at all.  I don’t know what we would have done.  Would they accept our toddler helping us wash dishes as payment?

 So we went home, frustrated and concerned about what we were going to eat that evening and the next day until the American bank opened again and freed our cash supply.  Luckily the day that we unloaded our moving van I had visited the grocery store for a few staples.  We had oatmeal, bananas and milk for toddler cereal in the morning, and I had also bought a bag of potatoes on the off chance that we just needed something comfort foodish…  I don’t know about you, but basically any type of comfort food for me includes potato in some form.  It would be another day or so before I realized our farmer friends were growing potatoes in the garden, and oh what a splendid discovery that was.

 On the drive back to our sushi-less home, we remembered that we were living on a farm (yes, we were slow on the uptake that day…).  Most importantly in this case, we were living on a farm that had chickens, glorious chickens.  So we all put on grubby shoes and I grabbed a basket that usually held students’ papers and dropped in an unused (and unwanted) curtain as padding.  As our landlords were on vacation, their friends were stopping by to take care of the animals.  We had been told that we could collect eggs and eat from the garden while they were away.  As we trudged up to the chicken coup, we were praying that the farm help had not completely collected all the eggs.  They had not, but we will later find out that they had planned to do just that, which is a different story for a different day.

 In the meantime, we needed to collect dinner.  The three of us walked into the coup; or at least two of us did.  The previous day our son had decided that the sheep were “too loud,” but the chickens won his heart instantly. While his love was unwavering, he was not sure about walking amongst them and instead felt safer in Dave’s arms.  I can’t blame him, I’ve often felt the same way.  We collected nearly 3 ½ dozen eggs that day (remember the part about other people’s plans to collect eggs?  Oops!).

The ladies who saved the day

Collecting eggs for dinner

The best eggs you will ever taste

 Later Dave and his mom would comment on how confident I looked in the hen house gathering eggs, and they asked about where I had learned to do that.  My first thought was that it was egg collecting, not rocket science…  or even archaeological science.  Then I remembered that this actually was not my first time collecting eggs.  Visiting my Grammie’s small farm as a child I had also collected eggs.  I don’t think I did it often, and my main memory of this is being pecked by the chickens (not fondly).  Flash forward to the in-between time of Canadian and American independence holidays and I suddenly found myself living on a farm, with a hungry husband and child waiting for my efforts.  I think my long-missed grandmother was proud at that moment.

 With our egg bounty we headed down to the garden for some herbs and lettuce.  I found a little curly parsley, some fresh oregano and an abundance of chives.  Basket overflowing and toddler in arms, we headed back to the house.

 The potatoes were shredded, drained, seasoned and pan-fried into latkas like my Mom’s college roommate had taught her (this recipe will be shared in a later post).  Another 8 of our eggs were transformed into what I on the spur of the moment named Chinese Eggs.  I had never cooked with eggs that I had literally just collected minutes before.  Just like restaurants use descriptive names to entice our appetites, I use the same tactic with our son whose favorite food in the world is Chicken Fried Rice.  The only way I got him to try (and love) an amazing roasted sweet potato risotto was to call it Italian Fried Rice.  I have no shame when it comes to food shenanigans that get him to eat.  So our Independence Day meal (for both countries) was made up of my Mom’s Latkas, Chinese Eggs, a salad of freshly harvested lettuces and fresh herbs, tossed simply with a little olive oil, salt and white pepper.

 As we ate and laughed about our farm fresh feast, washed down with a lovely, cheap Californian wine I brought in my luggage, we sent all grateful thoughts to those chickens and their absent caretakers.  When Dave and I married in upstate New York, promising for better or for worse, much of what I was thinking about was the difficulties of life as an academic, especially for two academics in the same field.  I certainly did not imagine (in dream or nightmare) living on a farm, feeding my amazing family with the bounty that we had literally just collected from the ground 30 minutes prior.  All in all, this was a pretty good way to celebrate independence.

On my way to the chives

Chinese Eggs

I named these “Chinese” Eggs in honor of my profuse amount of chives, which reminded me of an amazing sautéed flowering chive dish I’d had at a much missed restaurant in upstate New York.  Using the catch word “Chinese” was also a ploy to entice my son to try them.  He usually does not like scrambled eggs, but he LOVES Chinese food.  In this case the ruse worked and he gobbled them up!  If you are curious as to why I only used half of the yolks in this recipe, I did that in an effort to lower our overall cholesterol intake for this meal.  Between the Chinese Eggs and the Latkas I used an entire dozen!  We didn’t finish it all, but that was still quite a few eggs on our table at once.  I also used white pepper as opposed to black because I had not yet found where I had packed the black pepper.  It was a fortuitous difficulty since the flavor of the white pepper was perfect for this dish.

 8 eggs divided (4 whole and 4 whites)

1 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (such as parsley, chives and tarragon)

½ teaspoon white pepper

Salt to taste

Olive oil for the pan

In a medium bowl whisk the four whole eggs and four egg whites together.  Mix in the chopped herbs, pepper and salt.

 Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and add a splash of olive oil.  Pour in the egg mixture and stir, stir, stir.  Cook the eggs until the whites are set and then remove them from the pan to a serving bowl.

 *If cooking for children, pregnant women or anyone who is immune compromised be sure to cook the eggs thoroughly.

Click the following link for a pdf version of the recipe that can be printed.

Chinese Eggs Recipe