Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Eight Crazier Nights

By now you probably know that Hanukkah is early this year. Thanksgiving is a bit late. But Christmas, my friends... Christmas is a fixed date. 

So why is it that my building felt inclined to put up the Christmas tree in the lobby on November 18? Why in g-d's name, or his son's anyway, is that ok? And why have the radio stations jumped on this early bird bandwagon too? First they decided that starting the holiday music on Thanksgiving was a thing (and we let them do it, mind you). Then Thanksgiving day got bumped back to the start of Thanksgiving week (we could practically taste the stuffing, so what harm could it do). Then Thanksgiving was late so they decided to start the holiday tunes a week earlier (for those celebrating with last year's calendar). But I heard a few songs being mixed into "today's hits" as of mid-November, and that just ain't right. This year the holiday celebrating is totally out of whack.  It has gone too far and someone has to reel it in. Sure Chanukkah is here now, but Christmas is December 25.... Every. F-ing. Year. Alls I'm saying is, there is no need for the tree pre-Thanksgiving. That and the fact that playing the Cranberries the week of Thanksgiving is somewhat clever, but doesn't change the fact that the Cranberries suck all year long.
Please note the lack of snow, sleet, hail, rain, cold or any other indicators of the holiday season outside...
that's because it was November 18.
But enough about trees, let's talk about food. I spend a lot of my time thinking about food. Seriously, an unhealthy amount of my time, really. So for me, the connection between foods and the special occasions on which I get to consume them is a very real thing. In many cases, the special occasion in question is a holiday, hence my need for this rolling series on which foods I eat at which holidays. For those of you keeping track, this is the third one. And with Hannukah coming up, I figured it was time for another list of food I am looking forward to eating.

Chanukah, like all of our holidays, falls at a different time every year. This year it is especially early, rolling in with the turkey, an often talked about holiday mashup that exists because of some damn early* Jewish holidays this year. (*I still don't understand why, but for some reason when we talk about our holidays, they are either late or early, but weirdly never on time). 

There are as many ways of spelling Hanuka as there are possible start dates. As Channukah is usually in December, there are varying theories on whether it is better to get it out of the way early and avoid all comparisons with Christmas or to go head to head, assuming it rolls past the 25th and we keep getting stuff long after the Christmas gifts have been opened and cast aside. The fact is, we do like to keep up with our non-Jewish friends. Oh, you have one day of kick ass presents? Well we get gifts for eight nights in a row! (Don't mention that socks and pj's come on two separate nights and that there aren't nearly as many toys). Oh, you dress up to collect candy from stranger's houses? Well we dress up during Purim so no one knows who we are so they won't kill us. (Yeah, a bit of a downer there). Oh, you hunt for Easter eggs? Well we hunt for the afikomen. You get money and candy in your eggs? Well, we might get some money when we find the matzoh (we will definitely get constipated).

But back to Hannuka: my primary interest in this holiday is not with the candles or the dreidels or the gifts. As with most Jewish holidays, my primary interest is the food. Chanuka is when we celebrate the gift of the oil. And how better to celebrate oil than to deep fry everything in sight?

Jelly filled doughnuts are always a treat, but during Chanukka it is actually a mitvah (good deed) to eat them... or so I keep telling myself. Here's a suggestion to any of the mainstream donut places who might be reading this... cream and jelly should be one flavor. Those that do it call it a bismark, but not everyone does it, and I believe everyone should be in on this one. One amazingly delicious flavor.  Actually, two flavors: the cream/custard from a Boston Cream and jelly. And also the chantilly/whipped cream like in a Krispie Kreme and jelly. Both of them. Why not? When is adding cream to something ever a bad idea? Yet somehow I don't think this idea has really caught on... Yet. 

But back to the oil. As we all know, nothing deep fries quite like a potato. Let us all hail the mighty potato latke. 

Not actually a picture of our latkes... we're way too busy eating them to take a picture, but I do like the look of these. Never trust a latkes with smooth rounded edges.
Latkes are a tremendous pain in the a$$ to make, but they are so worth the effort. I can best equate it to childbirth: it takes a full year to forget the pain so you are able to do it all over again the following year. But potato latkes are their own reward. Hot, crispy, deep fried goodness. And no, I would never make you choose between sour cream and apple sauce because all latkes should be served with both. Choosing one would be ludicrous. One should not even entertain a debate on the matter. Utter nonsense.

Hanukka also has money made out of chocolate... chubby jew heaven. Yes, because I am Jewish I can say that. But if you say it and you are not Jewish, you are a racist, intolerant, anti-semetic bigot. Weird, right?

Two other Jewish foods to add to the 'Such a Huge Pain In The A$$ to Make But So Damn Good and If I Wait Long Enough I Will Hopefully Forget and Try To Make Them Again' list are blintzes and rugelah. 
Blintzes are thin crepes stuffed with cheesey gooeyness and topped off with sour cream (yes, we top our dairy with dairy, what's it to you?) and usually some sort of fruit sauce. So tasty, yet such a pain to make.
Rugelah are buttery, crumbly, rolled cookies with a nut/dried fruit/jam filling (sometimes chocolate, if you're not a purist). Unfortunately, there is no quality control for rugelah out there so while you can find some good ones, you can also find some that should not be allowed to be called rugelah. If you see rugelah wrapped in plastic at your local gas station, do not, I repeat, do not attempt to consume. That is not a fair representation of what can and should be a sweet, buttery, melt in your mouth delightful experience. Seek out some good ones from a decent bakery, or attempt to make them yourself. Several years later you may even consider trying to make them again.

Ok then, after Channuka the holiday season really kicks off. I'm probably knee deep in some egg nog by now. Awwww, yeah, multi-cultural home! Best of all worlds... and by worlds I mean foods. My family has always celebrated Merry, the day when everyone has off work and we get to eat Thanksgiving dinner all over again. That's a meal that needs eating at least twice a year. Plus big bulk store cinnamon buns in the morning... warmed up, of course, so the cinnamon filling gets just hot enough that you burn your mouth on the first bite, but it's so good with the ooey, gooey cream cheese frosting which is also a little melted that you can't help but polishing off the entire half you cut for yourself and then going back for the second half. Sure, they're the size of a baby's head, but technically you've only eaten one, so it's not that gross.

But where was I, oh yeah, food. It's great isn't it? I can't believe I've done three installments and I haven't even mentioned stuffed cabbage, knishes or corned beef. There may need to be a part four. After that I might just keep going with my favorite non-Jewish foods. That is basically a Bubba/Gump style list which includes 86 versions of bacon (and shrimp!). Watch this space. 

Have a very happy holidays, whichever ones you celebrate. Indulge in all your favorites. It is the most wonderful time of the year after all, no doubt because of all the food we can happily consume under the guise of merry-making. Enjoy! I know I do.

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