Too late for latkes?

By Hyacinth Miles

I’ve been away from home for much of the holiday season so far, early as it is. So there have been no special little holiday food moments for me so far. No smell of my mom baking pies to keep in the freezer, no baskets of goodies appearing on my front door. Instead of being inundated with holiday goodies, I have been inundated with disturbing statistics on the radio and tacked up on phone polls all over town.

They say things like, “Did you know that the average American gains 21.4 pounds over Christmas? Up next we will discuss how to enjoy the holidays on nothing but a carrot and 20 pounds of beets.” Or “Are you worried about gaining weight over the holidays? Why not try a free sample of our new dietary supplement Hydroxy-Xena-metabo-slim, which will allow you to eat sticks of butter while still losing weight.”

So if I wanted to be urbane and up-to the minute I could fill this space with suggestions about how to make fat free cookies taste almost as good as the real thing, or how to fool guests at a party that you are having a celebratory drink when in fact your vodka tonic is make entirely from tap water.

But all that defeats the purpose of a season of celebration. Regardless of whether you are celebrating Kwanzaa, or Hanukkah, or Christmas, or shopping the holiday season is supposed to be a time of joy and feasting, not calorie counting and guilt, that lasts all year. The problem is not that we have gotten the feasting part wrong, what we do wrong is the time of simplicity that is supposed to come after. So that’s my advice. Feast now, diet later.

But the problem with Christmas food, and I never thought I’d say this about anything, mind you, is that there’s too much sugar. Platters of cookies, acres of pies, little bowls of candy laying around the counter, at first it looks like a feast, but after a few days it just feels like a punishment. Even the ham is baked in honey. Add a little cranberry relish to your turkey and that’s sweet too.

No one has a bigger sweet tooth than I do, but sometimes when my body is screaming from a jet fueled sugar high, I find myself tearing through the cupboards trying to find the half pound of salt I know is in there just to remind myself that there are flavors in the world other than sweet.

Luckily, Hanukkah begins this week offering an antidote to the Christmas candy overload. That’s because the traditional Hanukkah food is not cookies but, praise God, potato pancakes, or latkes. Latkes are fried in oil, lest you need be worried that this holiday food could contain some actual nutrients.

The oil is important for several reasons. In the first place it makes the pancakes taste really good. But on the more spiritual side the oil represents the oil in the Hanukkah origin story, which burned for eight days and eight nights, similar to the heartburn you might get from the potato pancakes I would think.

It is said that oil is like studying the Torah for two reasons. The first is that oil is not necessary for our existence, it simply increases the pleasure we feel in our food and our lives—much like studying the Torah. The second reason is, oil has the power to give off light in a dark place, much like the light of the Torah. n