Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Hanukkah, oh Hanukkah!

Last night we had our Hanukkah party, which was every bit the bacchanalian affair, minus, uh, the sex and drugs. [There was homemade lemon liquor, and that's sort of bacchanalian, right?] We had my two wacky, wonderful friends of "Germanically-oppressed" heritage (and not one of us is from the same background, which shows you just how busy those Germans were in the early-to-mid twentieth century with the business of oppression), and their mutual families, as well as my mother and our son's honorary uncle. It was such a warm and festive night. The kids went wilding, of course, and we had our fill of latkes, mock chopped liver, three different salads, stuffed mushrooms, spicy olives, eggplant caviar, donuts, cream cheeze blintzes, sugar cookies: what a feast! John peeled and grated ten pounds of potatoes and chopped three pounds of onions - with nary a complaint, as the man is decent and good, and, I suspect, also paying penance for his German heritage - and I did most of the other food-related jobs.

During the Jewish holidays, I always get very sentimental, missing my grandparents. My grandparents were not religious, but they did celebrate the holidays in that way that secular Jews do: with food. As my kitchen filled with that heady scent of lots of hot oil, something uncommon here as I seldom fry, I was transported back to my grandmother, and she to me. Food has a deeply emotional pull to us, as we know. I remember a party I was at once years ago, I must have been sixteen or so. My grandmother had brought rugelach, an Ashkenazi Jewish pastry wrapped in a crescent around a sweet filling, usually preserves, dried fruit and nuts, and baked. A middle-aged man my grandmother had just met, a friend of a friend, closed his eyes in pleasure as he took a bite, sighing: he too was transported to his own childhood, to his mother's or grandmother's rugelach, to warm memories and comfort. Swept away, he impulsively leaned over and kissed my grandmother on the cheek, causing her to giggle. She was both a nurturer - she loved to nourish people, which is probably the root of my love of cooking for others - and a shameless, though always innocent, flirt. From Proust's infamous madeleine to M.F.K. Fisher's ever-elegant prose, musings on food and its profound affect on the human spirit has been explored with depth but it is never quite enough.

Once again, I feel grateful to be able to revisit these old foods while still maintaining my commitment to veganism. The latkes I made were not missing anything by their absence of chicken ovum: in fact, they were more meaningful because I could pay tribute to my grandmother and, oh, yeah, the Maccabees, on my terms, in my unique way. Plus, they rocked! I also feel grateful to have such wonderful, supportive and passionate friends with big appetites, who showed up, variously, wearing big ol' sequins and bearing luscious European dark chocolates. (I just ran off and gobbled the last two squares.) I am blessed.

Shalom, everyone.

PS - Can I just tell a little cute thing about my son? Of course I can. It's my blog. Anyway, he creates holidays for our cat. Hanukkah has been re-imagined as "Hanu-meow" for Clover, during which time she celebrates the Miracle, which was the day that she beat our dog in a race. Never mind that she is a nine-month-old kitten and he's a thirteen-year-old, partially stroke-addled basset hound - this is apparently miraculous enough to celebrate and who am I to begrudge a little celebration? Happy Hanu-meow, Clover...

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