On the sixth night of Hanukah, Smartmom asked Hepcat if he was in the mood to make potato latkes.
It was a quiet Sunday evening on Third Street. The family had just lit the jolly dancing Hasid menorah they bought at the Clay Pot.
By the light of seven sparkling candles, the Oh So Feisty One enjoyed her gift, a pair of pajamas for one of her Webkinz puppies while Teen Spirit scanned his new copy of “The Golden Compass” — a good atheist text on this, the holiday of miracles.
Smartmom could tell that Hepcat was mulling over her request because he googled “potato pancakes” in search of a recipe.
Despite how that sounds, Hepcat is the master chef in the family.
While Smartmom is known for her short-order cooking — French toast, grilled cheese and stir-fried vegetables and chicken, Hepcat goes in for the labor intensive fare, including leg of lamb, risotto, chicken curry and his famous fennel turkey pasta sauce.
And yes, Hepcat, that big hunk of a Presbyterian farm boy, is a connoisseur of the latke.
In a way, it is through cooking and eating that Hepcat has assimilated to life as a Jew. And this thrills Smartmom no end. He loves to prepare the brisket for Passover, as well as the matzoh brei. And of course: latkes on the holiday of the Maccabees.
Hepcat cooks the same way he programs computers. He does a lot of research and then comes up with his own plan. And that’s exactly what he did with the latkes. After he looked at dozens of recipes and comments on the Internet, he was ready to improvise.
Fearless in the kitchen, Hepcat loves to combine whatever is in the fridge. And he almost always comes up with something great.
First things first, the proper equipment needed to be located. In other words, where is the Cuisinart?
Smartmom and Hepcat got all mushy sentimental staring at that ancient wedding gift.
Like them, it had yellowed a bit and after 19 years of use, it was looking a little worse for the wear. But after a quick wash, it was good as new and ready to shred potatoes and onions.
Wrrrrrrr went the onions. Wrrrrr went the potatoes until they made a loud thud. “It sort of sounds like a peacock falling off the roof,” Hepcat said, ever the California farm boy.
Hepcat is never happier than when he is cooking in the kitchen. Sometimes Smartmom thinks he missed his calling. And when he cooks for the Jewish holidays, Smartmom feels extra special because it means that he feels part of her Jewish traditions as much as she feels part of his Christian ones.
Smartmom watched lovingly as Hepcat combined the ingredients for the latke batter adding more and more eggs until the mixture looked right. There was no matzoh meal, so Hepcat found some old matzoh from last Passover and pounded it into crumbs.
Frying is Hepcat’s specialty. “The big secret,” Hepcat said, “is to make the oil as hot as you can get it.” (Dumb Editor’s note: Two words: Grapeseed oil.)
The house filled with the smell of burning oil and smoke, and Smartmom opened the living-room windows to air things out. As Teen Spirit and OSFO watched “Family Guy,” Hepcat prepared this ancient holiday treat for his interfaith Jewish family.
So how were the latkes? Smothered with applesauce and sour cream, they were tasty indeed. Smartmom couldn’t stop herself from eating more than she wanted to (her diet and all). Teen Spirit and OSFO ate quite a few. There were even some extras for Mr. and Mrs. Kravitz downstairs.
While Smartmom and Hepcat cleaned up in the kitchen, Hepcat said, “I have no idea what I did, but I kept adjusting it until it seemed about right.”
Hepcat may have been talking about latkes, but he could have been talking about marriage and family life. Smartmom and Hepcat are winging it like Hepcat did in the kitchen. Raising Teen Spirit and OSFO, living together in the apartment, making a living, instilling values in their kids, inventing a life together — it’s all on the fly.
A little of this, a smidgen of that until it seems about right: it’s all an improvisation, really. And that’s probably the best approach.
It certainly works for latkes.