Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Homemade Hanukkah

We held our gentile-pagan-atheist Hanukkah celebration tonight. I'm not sure if we got the right day for the big party, but we are somewhere within the eight days, so I figure that's good enough.

I made my usual latkes, using the Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant "Feather Light Potato Latkes" recipe, substituting sweet potato for half the potato (for a beautiful golden color and a bit more nutrition) and only running half through the blender ('cause I like the texture of the potato shreds). I'm not a big fan of frying things, because it's so messy and smelly and you have to stand there watching it the whole time, but I make an exception once a year because latkes are yummy.

This year I made my own applesauce too. Here's how I do it: Fill a pan with apples. Add a little water. Sprinkle liberally with cinnamon.

Simmer till they look like this:

Have your significant other run it through the food mill (mine's fond of these old-fashioned cooking devices; I have no patience with them).

I've done this in the solar oven, regular oven and stovetop and they all work wonderfully. I considered making something with beets too, but decided I had enough going on. I did get real sour cream, though, rather than just serving with plain yogurt (the health food store had sour cream marked down!). We also drank sparkling kosher grape juice in fancy glasses.

While I cooked, I put the "Dreidel Song" and "Hanukkah is Here" from E and Z's holiday music program last year on the CD player on "repeat".

Historically that's about it for our Hanukkah festivities--latkes (which the kids actually ate without bribes or threats for the first time this year) and reading our Hanukkah book. But this year I bought a dreidel and some fair trade chocolate gelt when I was in Northampton. And since we had all that, it didn't seem right to not have a menorah.

I've been thinking about making a menorah for a long time, but have never gotten around to it. Taking a cue from Kendra's yule log, I came up with one in the most slip-shod way possible--Tuesday night I went out in the dark and reached under the tarp that covers our wood pile and grabbed the first log I could feel. I gave C some rough directions for cutting and drilling and this is what he came up with:

I think it turned out pretty great, only it lacks the ninth space for the shamash. Oy vey. We already had a box of menorah candles that my mother-in-law bought us at the Christmas Tree Shops (love the irony) for some inexplicable reason a few years ago. (Notice how the blue candles burned down much faster than the white ones? Isn't that odd?)

After dinner we played dreidel, which, as it turns out, is not all that fun. It has the never-ending quality of Monopoly and the tear-inducing tendency of Candyland. It is also not a good idea to play with gelt right in front of a blazing wood stove--chocolate schmears everywhere. Before we started, I glanced at the clock in the kitchen, which said 5:45. This made no sense at all, since we had gotten home after 5:00 and then did all that cooking, but I believed it and went into this timeless zone, where despite the living room clock inching ever closer to 8:00, I refused to believe it, so that suddenly it was bedtime and everyone was surprised and tired and cranky.

I have heard this method of experiencing customs of other cultures referred to as the "tourist approach." And that may very well be the case. I would certainly never claim that we created an authentically-Jewish Hanukkah experience, nor would I necessarily want to. However, I do think it's important for my kids to learn that there is more to the world than the very narrow realm of Whitefield, Maine. Traveling to foreign countries for those experiences is not within our means right now, so for now we try to bring a bit of the wider world into our home, through reading books, cooking foods and, yes, even playing games from other cultures. As long as the one who went to bed sobbing because he only ever landed on shin is not traumatized for life, I think it can only do them good.


  1. love your hanukkah log! (our first yule log was totally hap-hazardly dug from the woodpile too. heh!) and i'd take shin in exchange for those latkes. yuuuummmmmmm!

  2. Our first advent wreath was similarly haphazard...anything with candles should be put together quickly as possible...right? especially with children around!

  3. I think there'd be a lot less discord in the world if more people took your "tourist approach" to exposing themselves and their loved ones to other cultures and traditions.

  4. One of my favorite memories from childhood was eating latkes at my elementary school. Because we there was a small Jewish population at the school, and because all of the other activities focused on Christmas, we had a yearly Hanukkah assembly. We'd sing dreidel songs (am I spelling anything right here?) and hear stories, and at the end, we all got to eat latkes. Seriously...I loved this day and looked forward to it every year. While I agree on the one hand that the tourist approach to learning about cultures is problematic, I have to believe that as long as accurate, thoughtful information is given, it HAS to be better than nothing, right?

    I would say my experience in this realm didn't make me create a neat, cartoonish image of what judaism is; instead it made me interested in learning more. I'll be anything it works this way with your kids.


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