As You Like It: With a Little Tabasco on the Side

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Mariel was home for Chanukah this year, which doesn’t happen often. When the kids were small I would spend weeks preparing gifts and decorations. As the kids got bigger the decorations and gifts became fewer, and there were nights when we would miss lighting candles altogether. Now since there are no kids left in the house, it’s gotten a bit sad. But since Mariel was going to join us this year, we would celebrate once again and definitely eat plenty of latkes.

We always buy the usual culinary accompaniments for potato pancakes: applesauce, sour cream and sugar. This year we sat down to Chanukah dinner complete with everything, including Tabasco sauce. Mariel’s fiancé, Dan, loves hot food. For his birthday she buys him things like masochistic Chile peppers and insane hot sauces. It’s amazing that the man still has a tongue. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when he put Tabasco sauce on his latkes. After all, one man’s sour cream is another man’s hot sauce. The important thing was that he enjoyed his variation of this traditional holiday treat.

The next week, Mom, Mariel and I got together at one of our favorite Chinese restaurants and laughed about Dan’s latke topping. That started us reminiscing about food. I must have mentioned that Chinese wonton were the Asian form of an eastern European food called kreplach. Mariel had heard us speak of kreplach but had never really thought about what they were. So we explained that it was dough rolled out thin and cut into squares, then filled with cooked, seasoned ground beef. Then they were folded over, pinched shut and cooked in chicken soup. They’re traditionally eaten during the Jewish New Year, or if you’re Mom, you wrapped each one in waxed paper and layered them in a container, then put them in the freezer so that you could enjoy kreplach all year long. Mariel was fascinated.

She began asking us about other dishes that Mom had made, and more interestingly, how to make them. Now, you have to understand that of my two daughters, Mariel is the pastry chef and Lisa is the cook. So this interest in the nuts and bolts of cooking was a first for her. She figured that if she could make rugelach (a heavenly yeast dough pastry filled with jam, nuts, chocolate, cinnamon, or raisins) she could make kreplach. I warned my vegetarian that it had a meat filling, but she decided she wanted to try making them and if she had to deal with meat, she would.

I was completely flummoxed. Mariel hates looking at, smelling, even being near meat, so her enthusiasm for this dish threw me for a loop. Until I noticed the look on Mom’s face. It was then that I realized that Mariel would do anything to make her grandma smile. As we sat there in the restaurant talking about all the delicious dishes that Mom used to cook, I could feel the actual handing down of a cooking tradition. I’m ashamed to say that I have made very few of my mom’s recipes, even though I love them. At first Mom was always there to cook them, then when the kids arrived life got too hectic. And later on when the girls became vegetarians, I stopped cooking the few dishes that I had inherited from Mom, like chicken soup and meat loaf. The only survivor was noodle kugel, a casserole of broad noodles, cooked apples, raisins, and eggs that was baked in the oven.

Mariel asked me what other dishes grandma used to cook that I missed. I told her that I loved stuffed cabbage, but it seemed to me to be an incredibly labor intensive dish, especially the cabbage peeling part. But Mariel was on a roll, so between me and Mom we came up with a recipe that she could use. Once again I warned her about the meat filling, but once she decided to stuff dough with beef it was only a short step to cabbage leaves. “What else? What else?” she asked excitedly. Unfortunately, some of the other dishes that I used to love grossed her out so completely that we decided to stick with the kreplach and the stuffed cabbage. She made them that very week.

Three generations sat at that table reminiscing about food we loved. I am so lucky that Mom had a large repertoire of delicious dishes that I enjoyed, and I have such sharp memories of them all — their smells, textures, and most of all, their flavors. I can close my eyes and taste a heavy beef and potato stew called “chollent” that cooked on the stove all night, creamy chopped liver and chicken soup that could cure anything. What dishes would my kids remember? Chicken nuggets from Purdue? Pancakes and waffles from the freezer section? Chocolate chip cookies that I cut off of a ready-made cookie roll and stuck in the oven? The only meal that Mariel ever asks me to cook for her is vegetable lasagna, garlic bread and Caesar salad, and Lisa now cooks for me. I can only hope that they remember some of the dishes that I made that they used to eat: spaghetti and meatballs, brisket, and stir fry chicken. And of course, there’s always potato pancakes with sour cream and Tabasco sauce on the side.

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avatar Posted by on Jan 31 2013. Filed under As You Like It, Opinion.
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