Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Light and Dark Of Hanukkah

I'm far too compulsively Jewish to let Hanukkah end without some sort of commentary. For me, Hanukkah is the perfect holiday. It doesn't require religious observance any more rigorous than lighting the candles. And the glow that a lit menorah emits amidst the wintry darkness is spectacular. Bringing light to dimness and bleakness, is what the greater message of Hanukkah is about, and one that I think of during this holiday season. Sometimes it all feels so dark and murky, it's as if the world is passing through a period of shadows and obscurity. The news is never good, people are really suffering, and good manners and thoughtful behavior seem to be an outmoded way of being. It is depressing to think too much about it. All there is left to do is to provide sparks of light in the form of positivity and kind acts.
So from dark chocolate I made light joy and easy bliss in the form a nice-sized Hanukkah order. There are a few things that are as irrefutable as: " Everyone's favorite thing is free chocolate". As hokey and corn-fed as it sounds, I get a real thrill from making something that gives people such enjoyment and happiness. Nice work if you can get it.... and I get it sometimes.
Another brilliant thing about Hanukkah is the food. Most Jewish holidays and festivals have some sort of food association, but Hanukkah fare outshines all the rest in that fried food is encouraged and celebrated, and surely those calories do not count if it's practically a mitzvah (good deed) to eat all that good stuff. Hanukkah eating traditions include potato latkes and jelly donuts, but as I wrote in my December article the main point of Hanukkah cuisine is using oil which commemorates the miracle of the small vial of olive oil found in the desecrated temple that burned for 8 days. In light of this, I decided that my Hanukkah article would be a break from my usual health-conscious and balanced eating recipes and I let loose with some truly decadent fried treats. The piece featured recipes for crispy mac 'n cheese squares and crunchy fried ice cream scoops.
At home, for the family, I made potato latkes, and also Indian onion bhajees. Onion bhajees are thin sliced onions coated in batter and fried up until they're crispy and delicious- with a sweet chili sauce to dip them in, they definitely give the humble latke some serious competition. Tonight is the last night and I tried to make some Thai corn fritters, which really weren't as successful as the bhajees. On Sunday I made an Olive Oil Cake that considering the amount of olive oil I used was surprisingly dry.
This year the light/dark motif of Hanukkah took on a personal aspect. Due to the solitary nature of what I do; writing and cooking, I have been struggling with what I call a winter-state-of-mind which is internal, secluded, and at times cold and lonely. I both guard and value my personal space but also need external stimulation on a regular basis, for whatever reason, a couple of the friends I turn to when coming up for air and out for light, weren't there. Relationships are like years, both are subject to cycles. Right now I am deep into winter. Winter is bare but can also be pure. Winter is cold darkness, it is austere and difficult, but if you are lucky, it is also a warm glowing fireplace, hot chocolate, and soul-saving cuddles. Challenging the dark with the light, I need to get into a Hanukkah-state-of -mind.

Onion Bhajees
1 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs, beaten
4 onions, thinly sliced
1/2 c. parsley, finely chopped
oil for frying

Combine well first five ingredients in a large bowl, until a batter forms. Mix onion slices in and then parsley until onion is coated in batter. Heat oil in frying pan over medium high heat. Drop large spoonfuls of onion batter in pan and fry for 2-3 minutes on each side- until golden brown and crispy. Let drain on paper towels, serve while still hot.

Crispy Mac 'n Cheese Squares
1 casserole pan of prepared macaroni and cheese, chilled overnight and cut into 12-15 squares
1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten + 1 tbsp. water
1 1/2 c. crushed cornflakes
Oil for frying

In a heavy frying pan, heat up about 2 " of oil (approx 2 cups) until it reaches 350F. Lightly coat the mac 'n cheese squares with flour, dip in egg mixture and then coat in cornflake crumbs. Carefully slip into hot oil and fry for about a minute on each side. Remove and let drain on paper towels. Enjoy immediately.

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