Growing up my grandmother was very guarded about her life. In fact, it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I even realized that my grandmother had grown up in the Jewish faith. That’s kind of on me, too, because she had a big curio cabinet with all kinds of trinkets and had a mixture of Christmas and Hanukkah pieces in there. She also had this hand-stitched piece hanging in her kitchen, which is now waiting to go up in my own in her memory.
But yeah, my grandmother never spoke to us about growing up in her faith. Ever. My parents were both brought up in different Christian sects and chose not to bring us up in any — which I’m sure I’m not an anomaly here. When I got older, my sister and I would ask my grandmother if we could celebrate traditional Jewish holidays with her. She would usually just say maybe and leave it there. I realize that was probably a big ask and a lot to carry for one person, but we were really interested in how she was brought up and wanted to share in it with her.
Unfortunately my grandmother passed before we could ever get a yes out of her. She died very young, in her early 60s. I think about her so often, especially this time of year. She loved Christmas time and when I say loved I truly mean it. She seemed to feel best when she was getting creative in her kitchen. She loved watching cooking shows and reading cook books and always had some solutions and tricks up her sleeves if we were stuck on recipes. She was my go-to phone call if I ran into a jam while making something. We bonded so much over the love of creating and I feel connected to her spirit most when I’m whipping up something special in the kitchen.
This year I’ve been working out my pandemic anxieties in the kitchen which has been really therapeutic. I’ve been trying so many new recipes, and it’s fun when on days my husband is home he can jump in, too.
I love sentimental recipes and food-related traditions. I have so many memories connected in that way. Sitting in front of the TV to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in the early 90s with a TastyKake pumpkin pie, grazing on meatballs from the slowcooker on Christmas Eve, my grandmother’s homemade cakes for so many occasions. Hell, I associate these cow tail candies with my grandmother’s purse — she always had some on her.
Tapping into family history and tradition, I recently was reading on the traditions of Hanukkah and it inspired me to finally give making latkes a try. I found a lot of recipes that mentioned these old family recipes and it had me wishing my grandmother could have done this with me, or really even just showed me how to do it. I poured over SO many recipes with a few variations in each so I kind of combined a few that I liked to make my own.
Ultimately though, I took inspiration from three spaces:
Jake Cohen — I found him on TikTok and then started diving into some of his work on The Feed Feed.
“Eat Something” by Evan Bloom — My goodness, this cookbook was so funny and marvelous. So many stories connected with each recipe! I love it.
and this video with Miz Cracker on Bon Appetit. This is the one I followed the most, really. I’m a visual learner and it helped to watch someone do it. And this video made latke making not only easy to follow but also feel really special.
I’d say they came out pretty well! And while they didn’t take as long as I thought they would, I took my time enjoying the process. I wanted to be present instead of just rolling through it and plopping it on the table.
There was an unexpected bit of grief that came over me while doing this, too. I have researched my ancestry, because again, my grandmother was very guarded about her life. I traced our roots back to Russia and Ukraine and found photos old old photos of ancestors I’ve never seen before. And it felt very strange to think that these long ancestral traditions would leave this earth with my grandmother. At the same time, I felt so connected to my grandmother. Bitter sweet, really.
It’s hard missing someone, and especially during points in the year when you would see them and share special moments with them. Even if they are here on this earth — most of us are missing someone we can’t see this year because of the pandemic, too. So I’m just leaning into those feelings this year. Working through them in the kitchen and hoping to make some new traditions and special memories at home.
If you made it this far in the post, then thanks for coming along on this sappy ride with me! Love to you and yours this year in whatever you’re celebrating and however you’re celebrating it. We’ll get through it!