A Whole Latke Love

Contrary to the frequently perpetuated oversimplification, latkes are not potato pancakes. They’re not hash browns nor patties, neither nuggets, tots, nor home fries. “Shredded potato clusters” don’t quite do them justice, but it’s hard to explain such a disarmingly simple dish. Sometimes it easier to describe what they aren’t, rather than what they are- Or ought to be. Strong opinions exist about what makes a proper latke, but in my family, that only means one thing: thin, crispy, silver dollar disks of starchy ribbons, all bound together with a scant handful of matzo meal and a whisper of yellow onion for seasoning. Deeply browned around the edges with a tender interior, some more so than others to appease a diverse crowd, they’re made by the pound and scaled up by tens; never trimmed back, never turned down. Rarely do leftovers survive the main meal, no matter how many buttery Yukon golds press through those sharp spinning grates.

For as long as I can remember, Hanukah has meant the smell of canola oil wafting through the house come midday, long before the menorah comes out or the table is set. My parents work in concert to sling the edible oily miracles well in advance of arriving guests to hide the laborious demands of each painstakingly shaped round. My mom stands guard inside the kitchen, cutting down armies of potatoes to form the raw fuel for this fire. Conveying them in heaping stock pots to my dad, he then dutifully, patiently shallow fries them outside on the grill. Through the bitterly cold winds, freezing rain, hail, snow, and thunderstorms, he faces the elements with steely resolve. There’s no Hanukkah celebration without the latkes, and they’re not about to cook themselves.

I’ll start by assembling my plate daintily, politely spearing two or three small clusters to save enough for the crowd, but after the first bite, proper manners quickly fall by the wayside. Seconds consist of a half sheet tray of the potato gems, shamelessly slathered with enough sour cream to sink a ship, if not lavished with a truly decadent crown of seaweed caviar. From age 3 to 30, if I don’t end the night with grease stains on my shirt and crispy potato shrapnel tangled in my hair, then it isn’t a real holiday dinner with my family.

Latkes aren’t the point here, despite their dominance on festive menus and historical authenticity- Or lack thereof. Latkes are about symbolism, taking on whatever meaning you assign them on this holy, yet entirely ordinary winter day. Latkes are whatever you want them to be, but the only way I’ll ever want them is back east in the house where I grew up, my parents lovingly slinging them from dawn to dusk. No recipe on Earth could ever recreate that kind of experience.

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The Dark Ages

When night falls, it plummets like a stone and crash-lands with a resounding thud. Darkness overtakes the sky by brute force, smudging out the sun in an deepening stain marring the clouds. There’s no gentle transition, no ombre sunset nor starry twilight. Like flipping off a light switch, the day is suddenly, starkly over.

Shelter is found in pinpricks across the landscape, by the electric flames of a thousand burning bulbs. They illuminate houses in neat little rows, strung together like bulky Christmas ornaments adorning the city, spilling their garish yellow glow across swaths of concrete. Biting into chunks of impenetrable shadow, clearing away the blackness pouring down all around, each luminous oasis is provides a brief flash of comfort.

Welcome home, they seem to whisper, You’re safe here. Behind glossy window panes, families gripe and groan about daily chores over hot dinners. Couples young and old sit quietly in front of a flickering TV screens, immersed in the latest new scandal or big ticket movie available to stream. Life continues on without missing a beat, unconcerned with the oppressive plague of night that has taken hold just beyond view. The darkness disguises our reality outside, but does not change that constant truth.

Build a Better Blog

Inspiring, overwhelming, humbling, invigorating, enlightening, stunning, and motivating; such a rush of seemingly discordant emotions percolated throughout hours of workshops and sessions during the 2018 WOWsummit. Bringing together bloggers from across the country for a 2-day celebration of this incredible online community, connecting screen names to real faces turned a potentially dry educational experience into a real-life reunion party. Beyond meeting and greeting, the main goal here was to share experiences, build stronger networks, and dispense invaluable advice.

With so much information to absorb packed into each discussion, you could easily fill a book after just one day on the expo floor. Condensing down some of the top tips that resonated with me, my notes are not all-inclusive nor definitive advice for guaranteed success, but bold reminders of how to step up my own game. There’s always more that can be done, whether you’re a complete novice or seasoned veteran, often with little extra effort needed. Want to know what resonated with me most? Here are the top tips that continue echoing through my brain…

Finding Your Voice and Personal Brand:

  • Think about your values
  • Speak from personal experience
  • Understand your purpose, know what you have to offer
  • Establish a mission based on your passion
  • Never lose yourself in branding; a human face is what others can connect with
  • Keep it real, not necessarily polished
  • Check in with your audience to find out what’s important to them
  • Numbers don’t tell the full story; quality over quantity always rules
  • Be honest, vulnerable, relatable
  • Have a focus, define your niche
  • Don’t dilute your brand by partnering with companies that don’t fit with your perspective
  • Define your own success; set goals, personally and professionally
  • Be consistent
  • Engage as much as possible
  • Have a schedule
  • Put yourself out there and reach out to brands you already support
  • Network, create connections with other bloggers

Working with Brands:

  • Make sure it’s a good fit; same audience, same perspective
  • Pay attention to detail (no spelling errors, get names right)
  • Do your research to know what they’ve done in the past
  • Give examples of what you will post, link to past work
  • Be clear about terms, goals
  • Encourage ongoing relationship, ambassadorship
  • Offer many options for collaborations
  • Giveaways, Facebook chats/ask and expert/Twitter party/unboxing
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate
  • Make real connections; talk on the phone, meet in person if possible. Make it personal.
  • Stay in touch, follow up

To say that this is just a shallow overview would be generous. Anyone who’s attempted to blog for more than a day understands what a complex, crazy venture it is, which is why we’re all our greatest resources. What are your best practices for success? What keeps you blogging? Or, if you haven’t started, what’s stopping you from diving into the pool and joining the blogosphere? Come on, don’t just dip in a toe; jump head-first! There’s nothing to lose, and a whole community to gain.

Smoke and Mirrors

Cascading down the hills and clouding city streets, this was not the usual fog rolling in from the bay. This was smoke, thick and acrid, obscuring our vision, tearing at our throats. Fires burned just beyond eye shot, but the devastation knew no bounds. We all felt the pain of a hundred thousand trees incinerated in an afternoon, reduced to ash and deposited without ceremony upon cars and buildings miles away, like a deathly snow in the summertime blaze.

Escape from this unseen monster is impossible; it hunts you, haunts you through homes and offices. It lingers in the stale air underground across BART tracks. It condenses inside closed windows. It stays within your lungs long after you exhale. It suffocates from the outside in, and the inside out.

This is not a dystopian vision of the future. This living hell is the new normal.

2018 California Wildfires

On Fatherhood

Anthony Bourdain was my dad. Not in a biological sense, not in an adoptive sense, not in any familial sense at all. I never met the man; he didn’t know I existed. Such a nonsensical allegation might disqualify any latter statements, and yet I stand by these words. It’s not so much that the man raised me, but that I saw so much of my actual father in him that for many years when I was growing up, hooked on the TV, I subconsciously transposed the two when one or the other wasn’t around.

1995, building a bike

My dad is an incredible man. Deeply intelligent, sarcastic, strong, compassionate, and loving to a fault. He would move the earth for his family, do anything it took to make his children happy. He wouldn’t dote on us because we were too rebellious to allow such an indulgence, but he’s always been the one putting in the hours, working in places with people he’d rather never met, to give us the best life possible. That’s why he was always traveling when I was younger, always on the job, seeing far off lands that I couldn’t begin to imagine.

When I found Mr. Bourdain and his incredible adventures, I felt as if it was some sort of glimpse at my dad’s secret life, of the places he would go when he packed up his bags and climbed into the bulky airport shuttle van once again. Granted, my dad isn’t nearly such a foodie, nor had time to cavort on the streets to seek out such wild exploits. His time was occupied by meetings with professionals in anonymous grey buildings that could have truly been located anywhere in the world. I had no idea, so I made up my own narrative. I wanted to believe that he was having just as much fun, too.



1992, my sister and I pile on

I realize all this in hindsight, as I try desperately to pull apart my intense reaction to the news of Mr. Boudain’s passing. He may not have as many fans within the vegan community, but that’s truly besides the point; it’s downright offensive that anyone could consider this anything less than a tragedy, a horrendous loss of a person with a lot of heart, and sadly, a lot of demons. It’s still hard to accept the fact that he’s gone, that he will never again shed light on a place where no other journalist would dare explore, speak to locals otherwise overlooked, try foods no average American would dream of consuming.

I cling even more tightly to my real father now, despite the physical distance that separates us. We send silly emails back and forth, commenting on ridiculous news stories or funny anecdotes from our days. Nothing big or serious; we rarely even say “I love you” outright, but it’s always implied. I feel so incredibly lucky to have this incredible human being in my life, and the loss of another is a powerful reminder of that.

1989, still new at this

If there’s one thing I ask of you, on this Father’s Day, is to really appreciate all of the fathers in your life. Past, present, honorary, or designated by birth. We need them- I need them- To teach us how to fully live, and to be better citizens of the world.

Sift Happens

Antiquated; rarely retrieved from the back of the kitchen drawer, hidden behind stacks of nested mixing bowls and precariously arranged ceramic plates; even less commonly found in the first place with every passing year. The metal tin can sits alone in the dark, quietly collecting dust instead of churning through those fine particles as it was intended. I would ask what ever happened to sifters, but it’s no mystery to anyone who’s puttered about the stove for a minute of their lives. Once an essential piece of equipment, the simple sifter has fallen clear off the list of staples and straight into the recycling bin along with the empty cardboard boxes and discarded instruction manuals of every electronic purchase of decades past. As time rushes forward, no one wants to slow down long enough to simply sift.

Guilty of the same negligence, I’m not one to point fingers here. Even when a recipe clearly states “flour, sifted,” I’ll breeze right past that specification, pretending that a quick whisk or prodding with a fork with do the trick. Fluffy up the top layer of sediment, breakdown the pesky clumps, get on with the task at hand. No harm, no foul. Cakes still manage to emerge properly risen, pie dough comes out as butter and flaky as ever, and no one is the wiser to my procedural omission. But the point of sifting isn’t to make something adequate, to craft something that passes as edible. Such a low standard shouldn’t be considered a true success. Without sifting, untold heights will never be attained, and more importantly, so many less savory bits end up jumping into the pool, doing their best cannon ball to ruin the whole party.

Have you ever bitten into a luscious, devilishly dark chocolate cake, relished the intensity of flavor and tender crumb, only to discover a powdery mouthful of unincorporated cocoa in the very next forkful? A common pitfall, quite forgivable in most cases, but entirely avoidable. Why can’t we just take an extra minute to pull out that old fashioned sifter and wade through the murky mixture to remove those unwanted interlopers? Like overenthusiastic ideas or overwritten novels, why can’t we edit our actions accordingly to cut down on the messes left in our wake? In that same spirit, where is the mental sifter for our anxieties, our baseless fears, our unfiltered, indiscriminate consumption of all the junk we’re fed? I get indigestion just thinking about all those unchecked contaminants.

Let’s stop pretending like those lumpy, cracked loaves are exactly what we intended to pull out of the oven. They’re fine, perfectly okay, but we should really demand more of our baked goods, and of ourselves. Bring back the sifter, allow extra time to churn through the list of dry ingredients, watch the fine powder fall like snow, soft and fresh, into the batter. Feel the resistance of the creaky springs snapping back as we release our grip, squeeze and release, squeeze and release, showering small flurries downward with each motion. Take a peek inside when the full measure has been dispensed, and with great pleasure, discard the excess. Leave out the bad, the unnecessary, the mischievous interlopers that bring fragile pastries down. Sift once for due diligence, sift twice if you’re feeling particularly reflective. It doesn’t hurt to comb through the full recipe before setting it to bake. What goes in matters just as much as what doesn’t.