December 13, 2020
When daylight savings time causes sunset time to occur by 5 p.m., I embark on a mission to light up my world with twinkle lights. There are strands on the mantle, fairy lights draping a bank of four windows in the living room, and colorful pepper lights framing my front door. With the sadness of the pandemic and our country’s turmoil, I decided this year I would add even more lights. Solar pathway lanterns, firefly string lights in mason jars hanging from trees, shotgun shell lights framing my vintage camper trailer…. all provide a cheeriness as daylight dwindles to 10 hours and nighttime expands to 14 hours.
Because of this season of darkness, I have long celebrated Winter Solstice on December 21 with a feast of king crab, boiled new potatoes, and steamed broccoli served with drawn butter and lemon. On the shortest day in our northern hemisphere, I light every candle in the house (there are many) and make resolutions in front of my fireplace or, weather permitting, outside by the firepit. This year I am writing words on paper representing things I would like to release: fear, anxiety, sadness, clutter, this covid pandemic, and other such negatives not needed in my life. I will delight as I burn these little slips of paper, watching the smoke rise into the sky.
This year I also celebrated Hanukkah or Chanukah, the eight-day Jewish celebration that commemorates the rededication during the second century B.C. of the Second Temple in Jerusalem, where according to legend Jews had risen up against their Greek Syrian oppressors in the Maccabean Revolt. Hanukkah means “dedication” in Hebrew and is often called the Festival of Lights, the holiday celebrated with the lighting of the menorah, traditional foods, games and gifts. One of the traditional foods is potato latkes which I happen to love so I decided to make some this year.
Meanwhile, December 13 marks the feast day of Santa Lucia, one of the earliest Christian martyrs killed by the Romans in 304 because of her religious beliefs and whose name is derived from the Latin word ‘lux’ meaning light). Santa Lucia inspires another festival of lights celebrated in Sweden, Norway and other nearby countries (also dark at this time of year). I named my former Catahoula Hound Lucy, who I loved on this earth for well more than a decade, after Lucia. A popular food eaten on St. Lucia’s day are “Lussekatts”, buns flavored with saffron and dotted with raisins. I would like to try these.
This year, to me, these celebrations of light (Jewish, Christian, non-religious) are more important than ever after the crazy 2020 we have all endured. As we slide into the darkness of winter and the raging, historic covid pandemic, we are over the hump this month with hope and light on the horizon. And with that, I’d like to share this delicious recipe for pure potato latkes I pulled mostly from my New York Times recipe box. There are many potato latke recipes out there, many that incorporate ingredients such as breadcrumbs, an egg, or chopped onions but this one is simply potato, salt and pepper. Perfect for Hanukkah or any time of year (I love them for breakfast), these latkes bring out the pure flavor of an American staple, the Idaho or russet potato.
Pure Potato Latkes
3 large Idaho or russet potatoes, washed and dried (skin on)
Kosher salt and black pepper (freshly ground)
Chopped fresh chives
Chopped fresh shallots
Bake the potatoes directly on the middle rack in a 350-degree oven; flip them and bake another 15 minutes. They will be hot throughout but raw in the middle. Remove and cool for about 30 minutes.
Slice the potatoes in half width wise. Hold half with one hand, grating the flesh side using the large holes of a box grater. The grating process should open them up leaving potato skins perfect for frying later. Small flakes of skin that fall into the potatoes are fine. Sprinkle the grated potatoes with salt (about ¾ tsp.) and pepper (about ½ tsp.) Add any other favorite seasonings such as red pepper flakes or garlic powder but truly these are wonderful with simply salt and pepper.
Take handfuls of grated potato in your (clean) hands and gently squeeze in your palms to form patties. Press the patties until about ½ inch thick and set on a plate. You will end up with 6-9 latkes depending on how large you make them. Cover and refrigerate a few hours or overnight. I fried several right away and they turned out fine.
To cook heat a large, heavy skillet with about ¼ inch of canola oil over medium-high. The oil is hot enough when a potato shred dropped into the oil sizzles. Fry until crisp and golden, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to paper towels to drain.
Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream enhanced with finely chopped shallots and chives.
Enjoy the season of lights and latkes!