Courageous Women and Cheese Latkes


My 10-year-old daughter came home from school sad, her
shoulders carrying the kind of weight that breaks a mother’s heart. She faced a
tough dilemma: friends who were no longer true friends, demanding her to
compromise who she is or be alone. It’s the kind of challenge we all meet many
times in life, in different disguises. The fear of being alone versus the
self-destruction of changing who you are so as not to be alone; the challenge
of the mere one of us against the seeming might of the many of them; the
overwhelming feeling of odds stacked against you, of being quietly different
from the louder group but choosing anyway, to believe in yourself.

After talking with my daughter and realizing that, as she
gets older, there will be fewer and fewer quick fixes, and inevitable times of
pain, I said, “Do you want to make latkes?”

“Yes!” she said standing up wiping away tears, “but after my
homework.”

While she spread her heavy books on the kitchen table, I set
about organizing the counter: latke mix (sometimes instant gratification is in
order!), eggs, cold water, measuring cups, glass mixing bowls and cheeses —
cheddar, mozzarella and feta. The reason for the cheese is because a few days
earlier, while we were driving to gymnastics, I asked my daughter if she had
any Chanukah recipe ideas, and she said, without missing a beat, “cheese
latkes.”

“Just mix in some shredded cheddar cheese with the batter so
it is a little bit cheesy,” she said, and the idea sounded full of promise.

The next day, in my continued Chanukah research in “The
Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary,” by Michael Strassfeld, I discovered,
surprisingly, the importance of cheese, women and courage to the Chanukah
story. It seems that tucked quietly beside the bigger story of Chanukah, of
Mattathias and his sons leading a band of Jewish allies to defeat the Greeks
and liberate the Temple in Jerusalem, lies the story of a lone, brave woman.
During one of many Syrian attacks, the Jews in the city felt they had no hope.
So, according to the story, a woman named Judith slipped out of the city and
into the Syrian camp catching the approving eye of the Syrian general. She then
prepared a beguiling feast for him, including a spread of cheeses, to make him
thirsty.

Well, he drank too much wine, fell asleep, and then Judith
beheaded him. As the Book of Judith explains, the discovery of their dead
general — and the Jews marching with his head — led the Syrian army to flee.

Given the day my daughter had, and the ones she faced,
making cheese latkes seemed perfect. I passed her the ingredients so she could
set about creating her own version. With the whisk in her right hand and the
rim of a large glass bowl in her left, she stirred two eggs into a smooth
yellow liquid.

Next, she added cold water and mixed some more. Then, she
measured 1/2 cup mixture of shredded cheddar and mozzarella. I said maybe that
would not be enough cheese to make a difference, but she disagreed. So after
she put the batter carefully in the oil, a first time for her, we fried her
latkes to a perfect golden brown. While the oil crackled, and the cheese latkes
crisped, the kitchen and her face filled with new warmth.

Halfway through the bowl of batter, we decided to sample the
hot latkes piling up on a platter, and voila, like in the Book of Judith, a
little bit of cheese went a long way. And the taste, as my daughter predicted,
was just cheesy enough.

Emboldened by her success and by Judith’s idea of salty
cheese, I set aside some of the batter and added crumbled feta cheese and a
sprinkle of finely chopped walnuts, and fried those as the last batch. I wanted
to try a saltier version, a more potent, grown-up cheese latke. And it worked.
The toasted walnuts added an unexpected crunch, like a touch of mischief, and
the bright white feta fried into the golden batter added visual texture and a
fun salty bite — enough to invoke a generous thirst, but not to overpower
enemies, to empower yourself. As my daughter and I stood together at the
kitchen counter, enjoying our individual versions of cheese latkes, I realized
that on deeply testing days, sometimes all we can do is try — one small action,
as one person, believing in greater results and getting the chance to share
your discoveries with one true friend.

Rachel’s Quick Cheese Latkes

This recipe is quick and straightforward enough for your
counter-height kids to make, with parental supervision. And the melting strands
of cheese added on top as a garnish makes an almost-pizza cheesy latke
experience.Â

1 6-ounce box potato pancake (latke) mix

2 eggs

2 cups cold water

1/2 cup shredded cheddar/mozzarella mix

1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying

In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Add water and mix well. Stir in
package mix and add cheese. Let rest five minutes. Stir again.

In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot
but not smoking.

Working in batches, drop heaping tablespoons of batter into
hot oil. Flatten with the back of a slotted spatula. Brown on each side, (about
one minute) until golden brown.

Using slotted spatula, transfer latkes onto paper towel to
drain. Add more oil to skillet if needed, allowing to heat before adding more
batter.

Transfer to plates and serve.

Serving Suggestions: Serve warm with garnish of shredded
cheese, and side dish of applesauce.

Serves 15-18 latkes.

Instant Feta Walnut Latkes

These are so flavorful, they would be wonderful as an
appetizer, with cold sliced pears and, of course, lots of wine.

1 6-ounce box potato pancake (latke) Mix

2 eggs

2 cups cold water

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled into tiny chunks

1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

1/2 cup vegetable oil for frying

Place walnuts in a single layer on a baking pan and place in
350 F oven.

At about three to four minutes, shake pan to make sure the
nuts toast evenly and continue to bake until they are lightly toasted and
aromatic, approximately six to 10 minutes. (Hint: Be sure and watch carefully
because nuts burn quickly.) Set aside to cool.

In a medium bowl, beat eggs. Add water and mix well. Stir in
package mix and let rest five minutes. Add walnuts and crumbled cheese and stir
again.

In large skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until hot
but not smoking.

(I found the frying of these latkes worked best with
slightly less oil then traditional potato latkes.)

Working in batches, drop heaping tablespoons of batter into
hot oil. Flatten with the back of a slotted spatula. Brown on each side (about
one minute), until golden brown. Using slotted spatula, transfer latkes onto
paper towel to drain. Add more oil to skillet if needed, allowing to heat
before adding more batter.

Transfer to plates and serve.

Serving Suggestions: Serve warm with sliced pears or a
chunky applesauce.

Serves 15-18 latkes. Â