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family latke recipe: now with pictures!

Way back in 2004, I posted my family latke recipe (much to the dismay of my kids, who felt I'd somehow betrayed my legacy). Tonight I decided it was time for an update--not the recipe itself, which has stood the test of time for generations, but the presentation of the recipe. So here it is, with illustrations!

As I noted the last time, this is not a precise recipe with exact'll have to use the rule of thumb guidelines provided. (Before me, in fact, the recipe was in fact never written down; it was simply passed through instruction from parent to child.)


  • lots of large potatoes ("about the size of a man's fist," dad says; I generally use Idaho baking potatoes. figure at least one potato per person attending, but that's a conservative number)
  • 1 egg per potato
  • 1 "baseball-sized" white or yellow onion per ~4 potatoes (to taste, really)
  • 1 tbsp salt per 6 potatoes (again, this is to taste)

(Religious war note #1: Many latke recipes call for flour or matzo meal. Ours does not. The eggs are sufficient to bind the mixture together. So far as I'm concerned, adding additional starch is just cheating.)


Peel the potatoes and then grate using a box grater. Don't use the side that shreds, but rather the side that grates into rough "mush." (This is the side that will rip your knuckles to shreds, so be careful. My father advises putting a bandaid on before you begin, since it will protect your knuckles before the injury occurs, but I don't generally bother with this.)

I've read a number of articles that claim you can use a food processor to grate the potatoes, and then use a cheesecloth to squeeze out the excess water, but I'm too wedded to my traditional process to try this.

(Religious war note #2: Many latke recipes use shredded rather than grated potatoes, which creates a very different consistency. While I can appreciate the deliciousness of latkes made in this way, they never really feel like "real" latkes to me.)

Grating the Potatoes and Onions

Grate the onions the same way, and mix into the potato mixture. Use a ladle or large spoon to remove excess moisture...we put a heavy metal ladle onto the mixture, and the liquid drains into the ladle over the edges. Keep this up for as long as you have the patience for it; removing the water helps the pancakes stay together better when cooking. The mixture should be less like applesauce and more like mashed potatoes when you're done--but there's room for error, since you can add more eggs later to compensate for too much moisture.

After removing the water, add in the eggs and salt, and mix with a spoon or a whisk. The resulting mixture should have a texture a lot like cooked oatmeal.


Heat 3/4" to 1" of oil (we like peanut oil, but canola oil works too) in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) until a drop of water "pops" when dropped into the oil. Pour some of the mixture in with a ladle or large spoon. If it falls apart, it means that either the oil is too hot, or the mixture is too watery and needs more egg. If it drops to the bottom without bubbling at all, the oil's too cool and the pancakes will be soggy. Experiment with temperature first, because it's easier to undo than changing the ingredients.

Latkes should float above the bottom of the pan, not stick to the bottom. Use a slotted metal spatula (not plastic, as that will melt in the hot oil!) to dislodge them if they stick. When edges start to brown, flip them over (gently, so as not to spatter yourself with hot oil).

Latkes Cooking

We always do a test run of 2-3 small latkes, which the youngest among us get to taste. The test latkes determine if the batter needs tweaking--more eggs to keep the batter together? More onion or salt? (That's easy to fix with more of either.) Less onion or salt? (That's fixed by adding more potato and egg.)

When latkes are crispy around edges and golden brown on both sides, remove from pan and place on paper towels. We rip up a full roll of paper towels, and just layer the latkes and paper towels; 2 paper towels, 3-4 latkes, then 2 more paper towels over that, more latkes, etc. Keep the plate with latkes and paper towels in a slightly warm oven while you're making more, so that you can bring out a lot at a time, reducing family warfare over who gets them. (That's a best case scenario, though...tonight they were being eaten as they came out of the pan, with little regard for burnt tongues.)

Latkes should be served with sour cream and applesauce--while I can't imagine eating mine with anything but sour cream, I know plenty of applesauce aficionados. This doesn't quite rise to the level of the other latke war issues, but it's wise to have both on hand.

Platter of Latkes

food, food, glorious food

Yesterday, I shared a little about the changes our family has made in our eating and exercises habits--and I said I'd share some of our favorite new foods.

When we stopped buying fast food and eating out, we made a conscious choice not to replace that food with highly processed packaged foods (something we've done too often in the past). Instead, we started buying more basic ingredients, and figuring out what foods we could make ourselves that would be healthy, filling, and...most importantly...tasty.

Starting this process over the summer was ideal, because even long-time-veggie-hating-me couldn't help but be tempted by the bountiful produce at the public market and even the local supermarket. Some things were no-brainers, like fresh berries and tomatoes. Others I grew into, like zucchini and eggplant (both of which I found were quite delicious when roasted). The public market was also ideal from a financial fact, I've started a series of photos on what $20 can buy you at the market (besides the attitude boost that comes from being in such a happy, high energy place).

So, here are some of the key things I keep in the house now so that when I'm hungry, there's something healthy I can snack on:

  1. Wegmans Cocopop Rice Cakes
    These are not the rice cakes that you're familiar with. They're made fresh every day (in a machine that makes me laugh, because it fires the batter against a plexiglass wall to flatten the cake), and they're thin, light and surprisingly tasty. But I don't eat them plain--they've become my favorite delivery mechanism for a variety of treats, discussed below.
  2. Hummus
    Simple to make, and relatively inexpensive to buy when I'm short on time, hummus is both healthy and delicious, and makes a great filling snack when scooped up with some of those Cocopops.
  3. Homemade Pita Chips
    You can buy pita chips in the organic section of the grocery store, but they're expensive. A cheaper and still delicious option is to buy the cheapest pita pockets you can find, slice them into wedges, spray them with olive oil, shake on a little salt, and bake them until crispy. Then use them to scoop up that hummus--or just snack on them instead of potato chips.
  4. Caprese Salad Makings
    I don't actually make caprese salad, but I almost always have tomatoes (preferably cherry tomatoes), mozzarella, and either basil or pesto on hand. A particularly great and healthy treat is a Cocopop with thin-sliced mozzarella, halved cherry tomatoes, and basil leaves or a touch of pesto. It's like a delicious cold mini-pizza, at a fraction of the calories.
  5. Baked Zucchini Chips
    Yes, a green vegetable...which will amaze anyone who's known me for very long. I love these chips, and they're ridiculously healthy and easy to make. Who knew? (Don't answer that...)
  6. Reddi-Wip Fat Free Whipped Cream
    I was prepared for this to taste like a chemical disaster, but I was extremely surprised and delighted by just how good it is. Rich, creamy, decadent...and only five calories in two tablespoons! When I have a sweets craving and nobody's looking, I've been known to squirt this right into my mouth. But an even better option is to put a layer of it on one of those Cocopops, and then top it with fresh berries. Feels like an incredibly fattening dessert, but has next to no calories.
  7. Extra-Churned (or "slow churned") Strawberry Ice Cream
    I buy the Wegmans brand, but there are plenty of comparable national brands (Edy's, Breyer's, etc). At 100 calories for a half-cup serving, I can indulge my sweet tooth with very little guilt.
  8. Quaker Instant Lower-Sugar Oatmeal
    I know it would be healthier to make old-fashioned oatmeal, but in the morning I'm always in a hurry, and I love that I can make this in just one minute with minimal effort. I buy the box that has four different flavors, and I make it with 1/2 cup of 1% milk rather than water so that I get some calcium and protein. The whole bowl comes in at under 200 calories, and it's filling enough that I'm not craving a snack an hour after I get to work.
  9. Boneless Chicken
    We're regularly buying the big club packs of boneless chicken (yes, we should be buying free range/organic, but it's out of our price range for regular use right now). I like to cube it and cook up big batches--which can then be eaten as snacks, or tossed into a variety of dishes.
  10. Lean Ground Beef
    We gave up fast food, but we didn't give up hamburgers. :) Now we make our own pretty regularly, which means better portion control, lean beef (often organic, from Seven Bridges), and healthy toppings.
  11. Potatoes
    I'm a potato junkie, and now that I'm not indulging in french fries and potato chips, I've found better ways to get my fix. One of my favorites is to cut new potatoes into quarters, toss them in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and/or spices, and roast them in the oven. Yesterday I bought ten pounds of Yukon Golds at the public market, so I'm going to try roasting them using a recipe from Cook's Illustrated.
  12. Fresh Fruit
    Gerald and the boys all love to snack on fruit, so we keep whatever's currently fresh on hand--right now it's apples, plums, and pears. (We also buy bananas year round, even though they're not local.)

I'm also finding that I'm not an awful cook--much to the surprise of both me and my children. (Gerald is less surprised, but no less appreciative.) God bless the internets for providing me with an endless source of not just recipes, but also tips and tricks and techniques. I'm slowly getting better at peeling, seeding, and chopping tomatoes. And I can finally chop an onion without blubbering through the whole process. I'm doing this often enough now that the boys no longer stare in surprise when they find me taking fresh-baked muffins out of the oven in the morning, or simmering a from-scratch tomato sauce for dinner.

So...apparently you can teach an old mom new tricks. I'm living proof of it! :)

cleaning up our collective act chez lawley

Today on Facebook I posted this image, a screen shot from my iPhone showing my weight loss since August 4 (as tracked by my fantabulous Withings wifi scale):

Weight Loss, August 4-September 25

A friend commented and asked if I'd share my "secrets", and I decided that was a good lead-in to one of the blog posts I'd promised to start writing.

This didn't exactly start out as a weight loss program. Instead, it started out with me and Gerald looking at our finances at the beginning of August, and realizing that we've been living just slightly above our means for too long...which means that we've been very gradually accumulating debt. Not something we were happy about--particularly since we're on the verge of having two kids in college! So, we spent some time thinking about how to reduce our expenses and get our debt paid down.

One obvious place to cut costs was to reduce the amount of fast food and soda we were consuming as a family. Over the summer, with me not teaching and Gerald not chauffeuring kids to and from school and activities, we've actually got enough time to shop and cook. So we started doing exactly that. And when you're cooking your own food, rather than buying it in bags from the closest drive-thru, you have more control over what's going into your body.

I started going back to the Rochester Public Market on Saturday mornings, which cut our costs and improved the quality of our food. Amazingly, it didn't take long before even the thought of fast food lost all of its appeal, and I found myself craving bizarre things like hummus and roasted zucchini (and if you know me, you know just how bizarre that last part really is).

Eating healthier saved us money, but it also made us feel better. So we decided we might as well get a clean start all around, and we started exercising--Gerald by walking, and me by either walking or using the elliptical at the RIT gym. The exercise and the healthier food made us feel more energetic, and we both saw initial weight loss that helped a lot in keeping us motivated. And the fact that my 30th high school reunion is the weekend of October 8-10 gave me a short term goal point--I decided that if I possibly could, I wanted to drop 15 pounds by then. I started at a record-high 144 pounds, which meant my goal was to drop below 130 by the reunion (as you can see, I'm almost there!).

Over the past several months, Gerald has gone from a 3mph pace on a 2-mile loop in the neighborhood to a 3.5mph pace walking 5-6 miles a day (on the treadmill, in the neighborhood, at the mall, or recently on the RIT campus). And inspired by him, I've gone from barely being able to do 30 minutes on the elliptical at a low resistance level to doing 30-40 minutes at a high intensity, usually followed by the stationary bike or walking on a treadmill. I also discovered Jillian Michaels' 30-Day Shred DVD, which allowed me to squeeze in a high-intensity 25 minute workout before I leave in the morning--helpful on days where I know I'm probably not going to be able to make it to the RIT gym. Again--easy, cheap, and sustainable.

The key for us was that these were sustainable changes. Once we'd identified foods that we all liked but that were still healthy, it became easy to just keep those regularly stocked in the house. I may actually do a separate posts on the foods that have become critical staples for us to keep around. And even on a busy day, it's hard to argue that there's not time for 30 minute walk (or jog, or DVD workout).

Because I'm a techno-junkie, I found a lot of tools that have been helping me along the way. Gerald had bought me the Withings scale in April, so I started doing a daily weigh-in. The visualizations the app and website provide are really helpful, because they show a trendline--that means even when my weight would vary up and down from day to day, I didn't get discouraged because I could see the steady downward trend.

I joined the website--mostly out of professional curiosity, since they're a remarkable example of how game mechanics can be applied to real-world activities in an effective way. But my professional curiosity turned into personal satisfaction, since their tools for nutrition and activity tracking (both on the web and on my iPhone) are really excellent. I find that my biggest problem with food is that I eat without thinking...polishing off leftovers from other people's plates, grabbing a high-calorie snack out of the vending machine, having one more martini. Once I found a tool that made it easy for me to record both input and output, and that clearly indicated where I stood on each in terms of my goals, staying on track became easier.

And I continue to adore RunKeeper, which tracks the distances that Gerald and I walk when we're outside, but also records my indoor gym activities--and lets me brag about them online, another good motivator for me.

Oh...and one other iPhone tool that's been very helpful, in a tangential way, is Grocery IQ. It allows us to all access a shared grocery list, making it easier to keep healthy foods that we like "in stock".

So the (very long) answer is...I didn't do anything particularly novel or creative. I would say probably the single biggest factor is that Gerald and I both committed to making these changes at the same time...that means nobody's sabotaging the process, intentionally or not. Getting the junk food out of the house was the first and most important step for us...and the rest has followed.


I can't blame it on the gray skies, because we had a string of beautifully clear (but very cold) days last week. And I can't blame it on work, which has been full of wonderful new challenges and opportunities of late. (No, I can't blog about that. At least not yet. But soon, I hope.) I'm not sure what to blame it on, really, but I've been in an awfully crabby mood for the past few days.

Actually, I probably do know what to blame it on--I've just been loathe to admit it. Last week, right after I posted about "staying the course," I veered off the track. I think all those carbs in my Valentine's night meal set off a series of cravings, and the really cold weather caused me to avoid our garage-based weight bench for a couple of mornings in a row. So I ended up with three days of no exercise and an unbalanced diet. That, combined with normal hormonal swings, was a very bad thing.

Like Weez, I took a 4-weeks-later photo this week. Unlike her, I didn't see a significant difference in the images. But, to quote one of my favorite movies from childhood, it's often the case that "you see what you want to see." And given where my head was at the time, it's not surprising that I didn't see positive change. Today I weighed myself at the gym, and discovered that I've lost 8 pounds since she left town in January. That's just over a pound a week, which is pretty respectable. And I know I'm stronger, as well.

So yes, it appears undeniably true that not only is this approach to eating and activity having an effect on my physical appearance, it's having an equally significant effect on my state of mind. That's a good thing to remember when the ice cream looks tempting--is it really worth feeling this out of sorts for several days for that fleeting sensory treat?

So I'm climbing back out of the (carb-induced?) funk, and back into a positive mindset. I have so much to be happy about, and I'm working hard at shifting my focus back to that.


My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the everchanging view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.

--Carole King

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays--I associate it with family and warmth and food and laughter. Amazingly, I've never had to make my own Thanksgiving dinner. Most years I've eaten at my mother's house (where I wish I could be this year, as well), and there have been a few wonderful and memorable Thanskgivings with Gerald's family in Alabama. (The contrast between the two is fodder for another post at some point...)

This year we're far away from both of those gatherings, but we'll still be celebrating with family. We had planned to go up to Marysville to spend the day with my uncle and aunt in their house on the sound. Plans changed, however, when my 93-year-old grandmother took a bad fall in Rochester and had to be hospitalized for fractures of her pelvis. My uncle headed to Rochester, and my aunt changed her plans to have dinner with her stepsister in Olympia--so we're tagging along for that dinner.

I toyed with just staying here and cooking our own Thanksgiving dinner for the first time, but events conspired against me. On Monday morning we woke up to find that the compressor had gone out on our refrigerator (well, our landlords' fridge), and Sears won't be able to get a repair person out until next week. No fridge makes any kind of serious cooking a whole lot harder, since you can't do any prep in advance.

So no maple pecan pumpkin pie this year. No sweet potato and turnip gratin (the yummiest dish I've ever made for a Thanksgiving dinner). No sweet potato casserole. We'll be toting a couple of store-bought pies instead...

We'll have to make up for this over the winter holidays--we'll have a big latke dinner, of course. But maybe we'll also have a Thanksgiving-style dinner that we make ourselves, complete with all of those favorite recipes, and some friends over to share in the bounty.

In the meantime, we're off to Olympia for the day. May your day be a rich tapestry full of warmth and love and gratitude.

family latke recipe

I've had a few requests for our family latke recipe (we pronounce it as "laht-kuh," Jack, but I've definitely heard "lot-key" used as well). This recipe comes from my father's side of the family--his mother made them for him when he was a child in Germany, and he in turn made them for me and my sister every winter when we were growing up. When I left home, he gave me the recipe, and I'm now the official latke-cooker in my house.

Here's it is, as I learned it. This is not a Joy of Cooking recipe with exact'll have to use the rule of thumb guidelines provided.


  • lots of large potatoes ("about the size of a man's fist," dad says; I generally use Idaho baking potatoes)
  • 1 egg per potato
  • 1 "baseball-sized" white or yellow onion per ~4 potatoes (to taste, really)
  • 1 tbsp salt per 6 potatoes (again, this is to taste)


Peel and grate the potatoes (to a "mush" consistency, using the fine tooth side of the grater; not the side that makes shreds). Grate the onions the same way, and mix into the potato mixture. Use a ladle or large spoon to remove excess moisture...we put a heavy metal ladle onto the mixture, and the liquid drains into the ladle over the edges. Keep this up for as long as you have the patience for it; removing the water helps the pancakes stay together better when cooking.

After removing the water, add in the eggs and salt.

Heat ~1" of oil (preferably peanut oil, but vegetable or canola oil will work) in a large skillet (preferably cast iron) until water "pops" when dropped into oil. Pour some of the mixture in with a ladle. If it falls apart, it means that either the oil is too hot, or the mixture is too watery and needs more egg. Experiment with temperature first, because it's easier to undo than adding eggs.

Latkes should float above the bottom of the pan, not stick to the bottom. Use a slotted metal spatula (not plastic!) to dislodge them if they stick. When edges start to brown, flip them over (gently, so as not to spatter yourself with hot oil).

When latkes are crispy around edges and golden brown on both sides, remove from oil and place on paper towels. We rip up a full roll of paper towels, and just layer the latkes and paper towels; 2 paper towels, 3-4 latkes, then 2 more paper towels over that, more latkes, etc. Keep the plate with latkes and paper towels in a slightly warm oven while you're making more, so that you can bring out a lot at a time, reducing family warfare over who gets them. :-)

an open letter to alex patout

Dear Mr. Patout-

I'm writing to express to you our disappointment with the dinner we had at Alex Patout's Louisiana Restaurant in the French Quarter on June 3rd. We chose your restaurant to celebrate our eleventh wedding anniversary because we had fond memories of the excellent food and service we'd enjoyed there a decade ago--it appears, however, that over time both have suffered declines in quality.

The service was friendly and fast--but a bit too fast. We felt quite rushed, and had no sense of a leisurely, well-paced meal. Although we ordered both appetizers and dessert, the time from our seating to our departure was slightly under one hour; this is good for turnover and revenue enhancement, I'm sure, but it's less than ideal for diners wishing to relax and enjoy their meal. We don't often spend $100 on a meal, and when we do, we generally look forward to the entire dining experience, not just a quick succession of plates.

Our food was good, but not spectacular, and most certainly not of a quality commensurate with the cost. The crab and corn bisque was bland, and my lump crabmeat dish had an alarming number of shell fragments. We had substantially better (though comparably priced) meals at other restaurants in town during our stay--particularly Emeril's and Dante's Kitchen--which made the shortcomings of our meal at your restaurant all the more apparent.

I hope that we simply caught your staff and your kitchen on a bad night, and that our experience wasn't indicative of the current overall quality of your restaurant. I suspect, however, that on future visits to New Orleans we will find other places to celebrate special occasions.


Elizabeth Lawley


When we booked our reservation online, we received a confirmation email from "Alex Patout <>"--which may or may not have actually come from the chef himself. That's the address to which I sent the above message. If I receive a reply, I'll post an update.


Update, 6/17

Since I had not received a response, I followed up with another email yesterday. In it, I pointed out that I'd posted the letter on my site and that it was now showing up in the top ten results for "Alex Patout." I received this response today:

Dear Ms. Lawley,

I apologize that we did not write to you at your email address. We, instead, wrote a letter to your New York address. We hope that you have it by tomorrow. I will check back with you then. We have had so many problems with our server that we don't leave anything to chance anymore.

Thanks for your patience.

Marcia Patout
Alex Patout's Louisiana Restaurant

I'll update again when I get their answer.

step away from the laptop...

I had a lovely dinner last night with Allan Karl, at an excellent restaurant here in San Diego called Rainwater's on Kettner. No laptops or electronic devices of any kind were involved, which was a huge relief.

One of the things I've found most disconcerting about this conference has been the unwillingness of so many of the participants to shift their mode from the keyboard and screen to the real world of face-to-face communication. There's great value to the backchannel, especially in conference presentations where you can't speak out loud with your neighbors to discuss what's being said. But in the hotel lobby? In the restaurants? In the participant breakout sections? I remember when Steven Johnson posted about Clay Shirky's social software gathering last year--he noted that the backchannel seemed to suck the humor out of the room and into the chat. But at this conference, the backchannel seems to be sucking everything out of the room and into the chat, which I find depressing.

So, anyway, dinner. It was a great reminder of the real-world rewards of this new electronic community I've become a part of. Allan and I had a great time talking, laughing, eating, and sharing a bottle of wine. That kind of experience cements a friendship in a way that instant messenger just can't do. I don't use technology for the sake of using technology--at least, I try not to. I use it to enhance the things that I care about in my life--friends, family, my research. Yesterday afternoon I spoke to my kids over iChat audio. I arranged to meet Allan using email and IM. And I participated in great discussions about my areas of research interest during presentations. But all of those spill over into the real world, and I use them to enhance the real world, not replace it.

sweet potato and turnip gratin

Here's what I wish I'd brought to dinner, George. I've made it the past two Thanksgivings, and just didn't have time to shop and prep this year. But it's truly awesome, and as far from heart-healthy as anything I've ever made. :)

Sweet Potato and Turnip Gratin
(From Nathalie Dupree's Comfortable Entertaining)

This gratin is particularly welcomed on the holiday table by those who love sweet potatoes and hate marshmallows. The cream and butter make this so delicious your guests will lie in bed and remember it happily all year long. You only serve this kind of dish once in a very long while, so the caloric intake is moderated. If your meal has too many sweet potatoes, see the variation for turnip gratin.

2 to 3 pounds white turnips, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
2 to 3 pounds sweet potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup grated imported Parmesan cheese
1 cup bread crumbs
2 cups heavy cream

Preheat the oven to 350∞F. Butter a 3-quart casserole.

To blanch the turnips, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the sliced turnips and cook 5 minutes. Remove them and drain thoroughly in a strainer.

Gently combine the turnips and sweet potatoes. Place a layer of the vegetables in the casserole and dot with half the butter. Sprinkle generously with tarragon, salt, and pepper, and cover with half of the Parmesan. Make another layer. Top with the bread crumbs and pour the cream around the sides. Dot with the remaining butter and Parmesan. Bake until the vegetables are soft but not mushy, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

The gratin can be made ahead several days, or frozen for up to 3 months. Let defrost in the refrigerator and reheat for 30 to 45 minutes in the oven, or reheat in the microwave.

Omit the sweet potatoes and double the amount of turnips.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

belated recipe addition

A little after the fact, here's what I actually brought to Thanksgiving dinner. (Inspired by George's "Carrots and Turnips" post...)

Aunt Deb's Infamous Sweet Potato Casserole

3 c cooked, mashed sweet potato
1 tsp cinnamon
1 stick butter (or margarine)
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
Combine above ingredients and put in well greased casserole dish

1 c brown sugar
1/3 c butter (or margarine)
1/3 c flour
1 c chopped pecans

Sprinkle topping over casserole. Bake 350 for about 30 min. (Can bake ahead
and reheat, but it doesn't really save any time . . .)

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