cooking, holidays, home cooking, huzhou, recipes

The Huzhou Food Jew is a Lonely Eater

12.13.09 | 4 Comments

If anyone in my life has influenced my cooking, it would be my paternal grandmother, Nana. Both my mother and father are good cooks, but with the triple whammy of an ultra-picky daughter, working, and, you know, raising two kids, they didn’t have a lot of time to devote to culinary endeavors until I was out of the house.

Nana’s cooking was always (and still is) special. Nana is the queen of quick, simple, and tasty. She prepares her dishes in bulk way in advance and then freezes them; she has so many kuchens, other desserts, and matzoh balls in her freezer that she could be hiding a body in there and we’d never know. Nana’s food was (and of course, still is) a huge treat. There were only a few dishes that I’d request: her spaghetti and meat sauce, her potatoes, her latkes her briskets, and once I grew out of my shameful anti-cake phase, her kuchens.

Her potatoes have been one of my favorites for years: sliced potatoes baked with some parmesan cheese, and maybe some butter? The cheesy tops come out crunchy, the bottom potato layers come out soft and steamy. My mom once got the recipe from Nana and made them for me at home. They were not the same. That’s the Nana magic.

Nana is pretty much the reason I call myself a food Jew— holidays were for her matzoh ball soup, brisket, latkes, and more. If it weren’t for all that, I probably wouldn’t have been at all enthusiastic about Passover, Yom Kippur and Hanukkah.

What I’m trying to say is, it’s Nana’s fault that I just ate a ton of latkes. Since Friday was the first night of Hanukkah, I decided to celebrate with latkes. Sadly I didn’t have her recipe, so I just found a simple one online and hoped for the best.

z_latkes grate

z_latkes cook

But what are latkes without condiments? I shamefully admit that my favorite condiment is ketchup—for me, potatoes just equal ketchup. But I didn’t have any at home, so I had to go back to the more traditional sour cream and applesauce. The nearest tub of sour cream and jar of applesauce is many dozens of kilometers away, so I was on my own. I don’t like sour cream anyway, so I decided to make my own applesauce, which is surprisingly easy. And quite tasty.

z_latkes applesauce

So I had a menorah-less, ketcup-less, candle-less ellis-only Hanukkah celebration. The latkes, though lacking in the Nana magic, were still tasty. They could have been a little crispier, I’m the only Jew in these parts so there’s no one around to call me out.


I may identify more with my Food Jew side, but I also grew up celebrating Christmas (Mom’s side). I guess you could say I’m a cinematic cinnamon roll Christian, because I’m really in Christmas morning for the cinnamon rolls my mom makes and the movie we all go to in the afternoon.


I suppose that one of the sacrifices I’ve had to make in moving to China is that I don’t get to celebrate holidays with my family anymore. I’ve now missed two Thanksgivings, Hanukkahs, and soon, two Christmases. The holidays make me miss my family a lot more, but since last year I had only just arrived, the holidays this year are significantly harder. If I could afford to fly home for a few days just for a cinnamon roll breakfast and a latke-brisket dinner, I would gladly suffer the 30-hour one-way trip there and back. I actually found myself Googling plane fares, but I knew it was an exercise in feeling poor.


But, I chose to move across the globe. Hopefully one year soon I’ll have the funds to go home, but in the meantime, I’ll have to stick to my two-foot fake tree and, hopefully, some toaster oven cinnamon rolls.


Homemade Applesauce

5 medium apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
2-3 cinnamon sticks
dash of ginger
1 tablespoon brown sugar (or to taste)
1/2 cup water
squirt of honey (or to taste)

Put the peeled, cored, quartered apples in a pot with the cinnamon, ginger, brown sugar and water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat, cover, and simmer for about half an hour. Mush up the apples with a wooden spoon, leaving it as chunky as you please. Add in some honey to taste, and you have just made applesauce.

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