Saturday, April 08, 2006

Latkes All Get Along

Ages ago, Ruth of Once Upon a Feast very kindly invited me to test a couple of her recipes which will be featured in her cookbook. I was extremely delighted since I've always admired the recipes on her blog.

It took me a while to test the recipes. I was horribly embarrassed but Ruth was ever gracious and patient with me. In my guilt, I wrote a long-winded and detailed feedback and then decided that I would make a photo essay of sorts to make up for my tardiness.

Of course I will not reveal her recipes ... if you want them, buy the book when it is published! And no, I am not getting a commission for hawking it here!

Admittedly, I was a little bemused when I received the recipes for latkes from Ruth. In case you haven't noticed and I know it's hard ... I'm not Jewish. My next door neighbour growing up was Jewish though. Unfortunately, we never got along. Actually no one got along with him as he was a right sod who ignored everyone and was terminally cantankerous. He also hated me.

Our gardens were right next to each other and he used to grumbled that our mango and rambutan trees were encroaching into his garden space. He would stand at the fences and glare balefully at the branches of our fruit trees stretched boldly across the fence. But that did not stop him from stealing the fruits that happened to drop into his garden.

I used to climb the trees and hang out in the verdant canopy reading my books and just hiding from my grandmother. Since his jambu trees would impudently hang over to our side of the fence and nudge our hapless trees, the jambu fruits were always in my way. They were so inconveniently in my face that I would have to liberate them from their heavy branches. I was only following in his example since he claimed that any fruit that hung over his part of the fence was his.

But Mr What-was-his-name-again? would spot me chomping happily on the fruits of his double standard and start yelling at me in Hebrew. Mind you, I was only six but I was an excellent mimic and I would shout back whatever he was screaming at me without a clue of the meaning. It just seemed to incense him further. Till he inevitably came over to our house to complain bitterly to my grandmother about her thieving Eve of a grand-daughter.

It was all terribly unfair and did not make me think very kindly of Jews for a long time ... until I met my classmate, Hansen. Now he was a special kid. He was deaf in one ear and before you go all awww, poor dear, Hansen made Dennis the Menace look like an angel. He used his disability to create the worst disruptions in class and got away with it because the teachers were too afraid to punish him! I am not being bigoted. He actually confessed this to me!

He was such a nuisance that no one wanted to sit with him. So guess who the teachers sat next to him? Yes ... me, yours truly. Teachers at this school loved me for some reason, thought I was terribly well behaved and hoped I would be a calming influence on him. Hansen sat next to me every school day for the six months I was there. I was the only one who could put up with him. And oddly enough, he did seem less insane around me. After the first week, I began to understand his garbled speech pattern and when he realised this, God help me, he wouldn't shut up! He was so persistent he even made me learn how to sign a little so we could gossip about the others in secrecy. You really can't whisper to each other when one of you is half deaf.

It was hard for Hansen. He desperately sought the acceptance of the other boys. Unfortunately, the boys constantly made fun of him. He would become so infuriated that his speech was even more garbled than normal and the boys would ask me to translate. So there I was, reciting profanities to a bunch of boys. I don't think that was quite what the teachers had in mind.

Anyway, Hansen was actually really smart. But he was incredibly lazy. And here's why he was special to me. He was my first employer. Yes, he hired me to do his homework. While he was an absolute genius in Maths and Science, he was abysmal in art, English and anything creative. He used to pay me to paint, write his essays, sew his cross stitches, make his papier mache bowls and generally cover up for him whenever he got into trouble. I made a mint off him!

Hansen's mother noticed my effect on him because his grades went up, he was in trouble less and he actually seemed able to sit still for more than ten minutes. You know, I just remembered something about him. He loved music. In hindsight I realise it was because he was losing his hearing that music was so special to him. But the only way he could sit quietly and calmly for any period of time was when he shared my walkman, one earphone in his good ear. I learnt from this and every time I wanted to get through to him, I would stick my earphone into his ear, play my music, take it out and then tell him what I needed to.

But back to Hansen's mum. She used to send him to school with cookies and cakes and food for me. Hence, my knowledge of latkes. Needless to say, I really liked Jewish people
after that. Yes, my middle name is Cupboard Love.

When Ruth asked me to test out her Curried Sweet Potato and Zucchini Latkes, I thought of Hansen and his mother and hoped that wherever they were, they were both well. To be honest, it was probably a mistake for me to test cook the Curried Sweet Potato Latkes. Being in Asia and Eurasian, I am used to spicy food and I mean spicy! So while it may have been spicy for Ruth's family and friends, it was too mild and sweet for me. However, I totally adored the Zucchini Latkes - and I will just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Once Upon a Feast, there were these Curried Sweet Potato Latkes ...

And an intrepid culinary adventurer decided that maybe she should add some recently acquired booty to a small portion of the latke batter - wattle seeds! The result? Wattle seeds in curried sweet potato latkes are not a good thing ... NEXT!

And there you have it, Left - the latke that was (meaning I did not mess with it), Centre - the spiced up latke (halfway through I couldn't take it anymore ... I had to add more spice), and Right - the wattled latke (oy!)

Fortunately, the Zucchini Latkes came to the rescue. Golden, thin, fluffy yet crispy, they were absolutely scrumptious!

They were so good I had them with my leftover Chicken Cafrael. Delicious! It's a bad photo I know but it was late at night and my battery was dying. Just be glad I actually took the time to snap one before wolfing it down.


Blogger Ruth said...

I loved the story and the zucchini latkes do look like the ones I make. The curried sweet potato ones on the other hand, look very different. Maybe the yams/sweet potatoes are different in Singapore...the texture of your latkes looks more like mashed potatoes than coarsely grated version I make here in Canada.

Thanks for sharing the journey and talking about my book. I'll let you know when it's done.

7:15 pm  
Blogger stacey said...

mmm zucchini latkes look like scallion pancakes. both delicious. i now need to buy some zucchini!

12:33 pm  
Blogger MM said...

Hey Ruth, I think I messed up the curried sweet potatoes one as I said because I was confused by the amount of liquid required versus the description of the consistency of the batter. It tasted really good with my spicy steak, to my great surprise. But it was pretty grated. Can't wait for your book now!

Stacey - they really tasted great & I thought the same thing too when I was making them. I thought, "Hey maybe the Chinese and the Jews aren't that different after all! Look at the pancake/latkes!"

5:44 pm  

Post a Comment

<< Home