I did something last night that I’ve never done before: Serve store-bought potato latkes to a gathering in my home. I was not raised to serve store-bought anything to guests, and rarely have deviated from that central teaching, driven home in childhood by a mother who not only made all of our food, but a sizable amount of our clothing, too. My husband was raised the same way, which is why he stood over a hot stove last weekend to fry up dozens upon dozens of potato latkes for a group from our synagogue, whose members then devoured every last, crispy shaving in, oh, about a minute and a half.
But last weekend, in the beginning of the eight-day festival, we were in our sprawling home, just outside of Philadelphia — with a massive frying pan I purchased years ago just to make latkes, and with all the other equipment that make this annual task a little less, well, thankless.
Last night, on the seventh night, we hosted my wonderful staff from the Forward in our New York apartment, a cozy one-bedroom that has none of the space or the accoutrements of a well-stocked, suburban kitchen. So I swallowed hard (especially at the price) and ordered in a couple dozen, quite tasty latkes that needed only to be warmed in my tiny oven.
They also were consumed in about a minute and a half.
It occurred to me afterwards that I had passed some sort of rubicon, because no one seemed to notice that the perfectly-rounded mounds of potato were not, indeed, hand-made. And that gave me permission to adjust my standards for entertaining to the reality of Manhattan living, where space is at a premium and take-out opportunities abound.
Could it be that the warmth of the gathering made the difference? Could it be that the people (accompanied by a couple of adorable children), the sense of shared accomplishment, the fun at being together outside the newsroom, even the silly dreidel game that was played erased the fact that the distinctive smell of cooking oil wasn’t emanating from my kitchen?
And, though I feel guilty even writing this, clean up was so much easier.