Lisa Brown, Illustrator of Lemony Snicket’s “The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming”

Taste Buds with Deb - Episode 35
December 14, 2023
Lisa Brown (Photo by Kristen Sard)

The Latke Who Couldn’t Stop Screaming: A Christmas Story” by Lemony Snicket is back in print.

The beloved tale, first released in 2007, is about an angry latke (hence, the screaming), who jumps out of a pan of hot oil and runs away. On his journey, the misunderstood potato pancake encounters various symbols of Christmas: colored lights, a candy cane and a pine tree.

It’s a light-hearted, slightly off-kilter, educational tale.

“Basically it was my husband (Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket) writing me a story,” Lisa Brown, the book’s illustrator, told the Journal. “That’s me on Hanukkah, as a Jewish person in a mostly Christian nation.”

Brown, a New York Times bestselling illustrator, author and cartoonist, doesn’t remember exactly how the book came about, but she did share their creative process.

“What often happens is my husband will show me something he has doodled out, and we decide to go with it,” she said. “We’re both Jewish, we both love latkes and we both feel that Hanukkah is a bit misunderstood.”

The story is about feeling out of sorts, outside of a major holiday, and finding common ground.

“Everyone feels excluded sometimes, and everyone feels angry sometimes, and makes a big fuss, like the latke,” she said. “But then, eventually, we hope to find our own place in the world.”

While Brown’s husband is the main chef in their home, Brown says she “cooks-ish.” She is the sous chef.

“I love [to make and eat] pizza more than anything else, except for perhaps cookies,” she said. “I guess it’s all about the round and flat things for me.”

She also makes pancakes, fried eggs and latkes.

“Oddly I’m the only one who’s made latkes in our nuclear family,” Brown said. “My mother-in-law is the main latke maker in the family, and I try to replicate her amazing recipe.” That latke recipe is below.

Brown’s favorite Hanukkah tradition is eating. “I am very partial to things fried in oil,” she said. “Potatoes fried in oil. Donuts are pretty magical.”

Her favorite Christmas tradition: Chinese food and a movie. Also fitting, her dog is named Eggroll.

“He was a stray and his shelter name was Eggnog because he was found in December,” she said. “My husband and I said, ‘We’re Jews. We can’t have a dog named Eggnog, and I’m not partial to Eggnog myself. So we thought, well, what did Jews have on Christmas? Eggrolls.”

So what is the connection between food and community? Brown said it’s universal; it’s cross cultural.

“A lot of it is about just sitting down and doing one thing together,” she said. “Hopefully you’re not on your phones or watching television or whatever, but you’re all doing the same thing and interacting with your plate and interacting with each other.”

Brown and her husband enjoy hosting dinner parties. Their dessert course is always a cheese plate that they pass around.

“There’s all sorts of good things on it, [like] chocolates, and it encourages everyone to linger,” she said. “So not so much food, but a meal is what brings people together.”

The same thing can be said about picture books about children’s books.

“Often you’re reading them in tandem with another person; an adult is often reading it to a child,” she said. “I always say that it is an interactive medium because you’re sharing the experience with someone else. You’re not reading alone, necessarily.”

Brown says they had no idea their book would become so popular and that the latke would be so beloved.

“It was actually made into a musical, which I have never seen because it was performed in London a number of years ago, around Christmas time,” she said.

And she loves being part of Hanukkah/Christmas iconary.

“I’m much less grumpy than I was when I was younger about Christmas,” she said. “I just love that people can get together and celebrate winter in whatever way they do.”

In fact, Brown says her favorite character in the book is the tree.

“The latke says, ‘Christmas is a totally different thing. … this is Hanukkah, it has nothing to do with you,’” she said. “And the tree says, ‘Sometimes different things can come together to make something new.”

For more from Lisa Brown, go to AmericanChickens.com.

For more about the book, go to McSweeneys.net

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast:

Watch the interview:

Lisa’s Mother-in-Law’s Latkes

4 russet potatoes

½ cup onion, grated

a handful of fresh parsley, chopped

~ 1 cup breadcrumbs

2 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper to taste

oil for frying

Peel and grate 4 russet potatoes. Keep in a bowl of cold water until you finish grating. When you are ready to use, drain liquid and use a towel to remove excess moisture from the potatoes.

In a bowl, combine potatoes, onion and parsley. Add enough breadcrumbs to hold potatoes together. Stir.

Add eggs and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to combine.

Take a handful of the mixture and squeeze out excess moisture. Flatten into a disc.

Heat oil in a shallow pan.

Fry the latkes a few at a time; you do not want to crowd the pan. Cook time is approximately 2 to 3 minutes per side; be sure to turn them halfway.

Serve hot and enjoy.

Debra Eckerling is a writer for the Jewish Journal and the host of “Taste Buds with Deb.Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. Email Debra: tastebuds@jewishjournal.com.

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