Shedding a sweet light |

Shedding a sweet light

Hanukkah celebration focuses on food, family

Margaret Hair
Paula Salky lights a candle on the menorah as part of the Jewish observance of Hanukkah. Hanukkah begins today at sundown.
John F. Russell

If you go

What: Hanukkah party, hosted by Har Mishpacha

When: 6 p.m. today

Where: Steamboat Smokehouse, 912 Lincoln Ave.

Cost: $15 for adults, $8 for children, free for children ages 4 and younger

Call: Paula Salky at 819-2170

More information: Take a menorah, candles, dreidels and a nonperishable food donation for LIFT-UP. Dinner includes brisket and side dishes catered by the Smokehouse, and potato latkes cooked by members of Har Mishpacha. The party features a gift exchange for children, and games of dreidel for children and adults. Children will play dreidel for chocolate or pennies; adults will play for cash and are asked to bring $1 for the game.

Recipe for potato latkes

Submitted by Paula Salky:

4 medium potatoes

1 medium onion

1 large egg

2 tablespoon flour

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Dash of Creole seasoning

Vegetable oil for frying

1. Grate potatoes and onions in a food processor or with a hand grater. Transfer to a colander and squeeze out as much liquid as possible (the straining is optional - Paula Salky finds leaving the liquid in gives the batter a pancake consistency).

2. Add egg, flour, salt, pepper, baking powder and Creole seasoning. Mix well.

3. Heat about 1/2 inch of vegetable oil in a skillet. For each latke, spoon about 2 tablespoons of the mixture into the pan. Flatten the back of each spoonful with a spoon. Fry the batter over medium heat until golden brown (don't flip until each side is close to done).

4. Remove the latkes from the skillet and drain on a paper towel. Serve hot with sour cream and applesauce.

Hanukkah traditions

- The story: In 168 B.C., a king called Antiochus took control of Israel and outlawed Judaism, desecrating the Temple in Jerusalem by slaughtering pigs on the altar. A group led by Judah Maccabee fought the oppression for three years, eventually defeating Antiochus. When the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple to rededicate it, they had one day's worth of olive oil that had not been ruined in the desecration. That oil lasted for eight nights, which was the same amount of time needed to press more oil. Hanukkah is an eight-night celebration for that reason.

- Fried foods: The religious crux of Hanukkah is the miracle of one day's worth of oil lasting for eight nights. To celebrate that, traditional Hanukkah foods are fried in oil.

- Lighting the menorah: There are eight candles in a menorah, or a traditional candelabra. One candle is lit each night.

- Gelt: Small coins (sometimes made of chocolate) sometimes are used as gifts on the eight nights of Hanukkah. Gelt doubles as prizes for winners of dreidel games.

- Dreidel: A dreidel is a toy shaped like a top. Jewish people played dreidel during the Syrian oppression as a cover-up for continuing to study the Hebrew language and Jewish tradition.

— The irony of celebrating the first night of the Jewish Festival of Lights in a restaurant that greets its customers with a large ceramic pig hasn’t escaped Paula Salky.

But like many Jewish holidays, Hanukkah is a celebration of survival. So why not acknowledge that strength of tradition at Steamboat Smokehouse, a place that breaks just about every possible rule of kosher cooking?

“Over 2,000 years ago, they tried to annihilate the Jewish people. And here we are, still today. And we’re doing a Hanukkah presentation in a pork restaurant,” said Salky, a member of Har Mishpacha, Steamboat Springs’ Jewish community organization. The group hosts a Hanukkah party and dinner at 6 p.m. today at the Smokehouse. The menu includes brisket and sides cooked by the Smokehouse and potato latkes cooked by members of Har Mishpacha.

Hanukkah, which starts at sundown today, is an eight-night celebration remembering the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Maccabees after their victory against the Syrians. According to Jewish tradition, the Maccabees fought the Syrians for three years to escape oppression and be free to practice their religion. The Maccabees won, but they found the Temple desecrated at the end of the war, and they wanted to rededicate it.

There was only enough pure oil to burn for one day in the Temple, but the victors’ supply burned for eight nights – just enough time to press more olives and make more oil. To commemorate that, traditional Hanukkah celebrations often revolve around food fried in oil.

On Thursday, Salky cooked latkes – or fried potato pancakes – for Har Mishpacha members Stacy Most, Stacey Kramer and Barbara Black. The women compared latke recipes and Hanukkah traditions.

“Hanukkah is just like all holidays – it’s all about tradition,” Most said.

Eight nights of tradition

Hanukkah does not carry as much religious significance as holidays such as Yom Kippur, Rosh Hashana or Passover. Instead, the Festival of Lights is a chance to get together with family, eat, exchange small gifts and shed light on a new calendar year.

“It was a time that everybody got together,” Most said of her childhood Hanukkah experiences. “It was all about the children and the chocolate.”

On each night of Hanukkah, a new candle is lit on the menorah. The candles are lit from left to right, and are placed in the menorah from right to left. Many American families give children small gifts on each night, though gift giving has nothing to do with any religious tradition. A short prayer accompanies the lighting of each candle.

Other than that, Hanukkah is about celebrating through community and food – specifically, fried foods, such as latkes or jelly donuts.

Every cook has her own take on the potato pancake, Most said. Salky adds Creole seasoning, and Most adds fresh herbs. Latke batter can include grated beets, carrots, zucchini, sweet potato or other vegetables. They can be made with peeled potatoes, but some recipes leave the skins on. There are plenty of shortcuts available, from frozen shredded potatoes to pre-made pancakes.

“Stacey makes hers out of a box,” Salky said, joking about the time Kramer made latkes in half an hour for a class project.

“My grandmother would plotz if she knew,” Kramer said, using the Yiddish expression for “explode.”

Hanukkah continues through Sunday, Dec. 28. Har Mishpacha’s party today includes an opening prayer for the holiday, a children’s gift exchange and a dreidel contest, with candy and cash prizes.

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