Tuesday, December 22, 2009

winter solstice celebration

to make a long story short, a number of years ago, my family gave up all winter holidays associated with any religion. granted, as jews by definition, the winter spirit of things has just never held as much meaning as for those who might celebrate a certain baby jesus...in any case, we had it. too much commercialization, commodification, all that jazz.

we decided it would be much more appropriate to actually celebrate the significance of the winter season with solstice. the goal was to not really have any rules. over the years, i've embraced it as my own and created a separate celebration with friends. this has come to mean a small gathering, well
stocked with food and alcohol. i usually can't resist the urge to make latkes; this year was no exception. this year's signature drink (no rules; it changes year to year) was a sunshine spritzer. i switched from the usual yellow cake with yellow frosting to an upside-down pear cake. the result is always happy and full tummies. the perfect way to celebrate any holiday, if you ask me.

sunshine spritzer
1 shot whiskey
1/2 shot lemon juice
1/2 shot ginger simple syrup
pour over ice and finish with club soda.

ginger simple syrup: boil 1 part water and 1 part sugar until mixture slightly reduces. remove
from heat, add large piece of peeled ginger and cover. allow to steep for at least 20 minutes.

my favorite latke recipe

from the ny times

if you've experienced a latke making session before, you know it's no small feat. unless you have a food processor. but for some reason, i find the need to grate everything by hand...it ends up being hours long in process for fried goodness that gets gobbled in a fraction of the time but is totally worth it.

a couple of notes about making the latkes in advance when you're pressed for time or don't want to be in the kitchen
the entire time you have people over: i usually start several hours in advance, grate the potatoes and store them in cold water to avoid oxidation. before you make the latkes, rinse the potatoes with more cold water and drain, then squeeze out additional water. then as i start frying batches, i put them in the oven, layered with paper towels to keep them warm.
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 cups grated drained all-purpose potatoes
  • ¼ cup grated onion
  • 1 teaspoon salt, more to taste
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons matzo meal, or as needed (i use spelt flour)
  • canola oil, for frying
  • applesauce and sour cream for serving (optional).
  • in a large mixing bowl, beat eggs lightly. add potatoes, onions, salt and pepper, and mix well. stir in 2 tablespoons matzo meal/flour and let sit about 30 seconds to absorb moisture. if necessary, add more to make a thick, wet batter that is neither watery nor dry.
  • place a large skillet over medium heat, and add 2 tablespoons of oil. when oil is hot drop in heaping 1/8 cups (about 2 tablespoons) of batter, flattening them gently to make thick pancakes. when bottoms have browned, after 2-3 minutes, flip and brown on the other side. add oil as needed. drain on paper towels and sprinkle with additional salt to taste.
  • serve hot with applesauce and sour cream, if desired.
  • yield: 4 servings (about 24 small pancakes)

maple pear upside-down cake
from mark bittman

this cake is superbly delicious. the outside gets all browned and crispy while the inside is rich without being too sweet. almost coffee-cake-esque. and it looks so impressive!
  • 11 tablespoons butter
  • 3/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 to 4 pears, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup milk

  • heat oven to 350 degrees. melt 3 tablespoons butter in a small pan over medium heat. add maple syrup and brown sugar and cook, stirring, until sugar dissolves. bring to a boil and cook for another 2 minutes, remove from heat and set aside. when mixture has cooled a bit, pour into a 9-inch baking pan and arrange pear slices in an overlapping circle on top.
  • with a handheld or standing mixer, beat remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. add vanilla and eggs, continuing to mix until smooth. add dry ingredients (i never do this separately but suppose you might want to consider it): flour, baking powder, and salt.
  • add flour mixture to butter mixture in three batches, alternating with milk; do not over mix. (NOTE: although i did not over mix, i also did not alternate butter/flour/milk mixtures. too finicky. however, do not let the batter know you are afraid.)
  • carefully spread batter over pears, using a spatula to make sure it is evenly distributed. bake until top of cake is golden brown and edges begin to pull away from sides of pan, about 45-50 minutes; a toothpick inserted into the center should come out clean. let cake cool for 5 minutes.
  • run a knife around edge of pan, put a plate on top of the cake and carefully flip it so that the plate is on bottom and the pan is on top. serve warm or at room temperature.
  • yield: 8-10 servings
Sound scary? Watch the video to ease the nerves.


  1. I'd like to try your latke recipe. i've never tried it before but sounds good!

  2. Definitely try them! They're delicious and relatively easy to make.