When I was asked to do a cooking segment on CT Style for the first night of Chanukah, I was immediately excited and knew right away that I would make my Nanny’s potato latkes. My great-grandmother was a part of my life until I was 20 years old, and although her under 5-foot frame showed her to be small in stature, she was certainly large in presence. She beamed with warmth and kindness, especially when cooking her signature Chanukah latkes. Every year for as long as I can remember, my large family would gather as four generations of us cooked in the kitchen. My mother peeled potatoes, my grandmother chopped onions, my Nanny did the grating, mixing and frying and I snuck around looking for the so-called special ingredient I had heard so much about. When I was old enough to be let in on the secret, I learned that her special seasoning was really TLC, tender loving care. Wow could you taste it.
Nanny would stand in the kitchen over the hot oil while latkes sizzled in the pan. The air permeated with the aroma of Chanukah and we would start eating the golden brown, savory treats dunked in sweet applesauce and tangy sour cream. As we were indulging, Nanny continued cooking and we would chant, “Nanny sit, Nanny sit” in order to get her to join us at the table, but she kept going until the last latke was fried.
It took me just about the two weeks notice I had before my TV debut to write the recipes I came up with for the segment. A dried cherry applesauce and a Cajun fire roasted red pepper sour cream were my twists on the classics, and my oh-so-helpful hubby was always very kind to serve as a taste tester. I went on to more varieties making a sunny side up egg on top of crispy latkes drizzled with truffle oil and sprinkled with parmesan cheese, and appetizer sized latkes topped with crème fraiche and caviar. I also made what I refer to as bagel and lox latkes with a goat cheese, scallion and smoked salmon mixture garnished with diced tomato and chopped capers.
While figuring out measurements and flavors was a bit of a challenge, it seemed to go pretty smoothly with much success and only a few tweaks here and there. When it came to the thought of being on camera, I was pumped. I knew my experience working behind the scenes in production and my prior performances with singing, acting, dancing, comedy and improvisation would help me shake away any potential nerves.
However, when I was about to grate the potatoes for my first test latke at home, I froze. Something physically came over me that made me stop in my tracks. I had no idea why. I knew the recipe like the back of my hand and it was too early for any TV jitters to set in.
Then, it struck me as I said aloud, “I wish my Nanny were here.” A tear streamed down my cheek as I felt emotions as raw as the potatoes in front of me. I took a breath, smiled and realized that my Nanny was there. She was there with every shred of onion, every splash of oil and every minute that ticked by as I stood over the stove while others sat and waited.
So I collected myself, mixed the ingredients and added an extra dose of TLC. I really hope I made her proud.