The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen
by Joan Nathan
(Schoken, $14 paper)
With Chanukah beginning this week, this children's cookbook is a great way to get into the spirit of the season. The book has 10 chapters, each on a different Jewish holiday. Each chapter begins with a suggested menu and includes a good selection of recipes. The recipe directions are labeled adult, child, or child with adult, which really helps you know when you'll need a little help from Mom or Dad.
The first recipe I tried was hamantashen, the triangle-shaped cookies which we eat at Purim. They came out delicious. The book even had a helpful drawing to show me how to fold the dough. I made both the poppyseed and jam fillings. There are other ideas for fillings listed in the book.
I also made mandelbrot, which is like Jewish biscotti. That was my favorite recipe. It came out fantastic! It was loaded with coconut, almonds, and chocolate chips, and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. It was a lot sweeter than regular mandelbrot and I think most kids would like it better.
Last, I made the potato-vegetable latkes. The latkes were a little mushy and required more cooking than the directions said. And I'm not sure I liked them as much as regular potato latkes. In the note at the beginning of the recipe it says: "This is a colorful variation on the classic potato latke." If you're going to give a colorful variation on a recipe for potato latkes, a traditional recipe passed down for generations, then you might as well include the original recipe, too. But the problem is that not everyone thinks the same latkes are the classic latkes. My mom makes them a little different than her mom made them, and I'm sure the latkes I think of as classic are far from what the author thinks of as classic. Maybe that's why the author avoids the subject completely.
If you had never eaten a potato latke and you tried the potato-vegetable latkes in the book, you'd probably think they were great. But the problem is, these recipes aren't everybody's recipes. The book is almost too personal. Every recipe seems to include pictures of the author's family. There are stories about her children, stories about her aunts and uncles, and stories about her husband's mother. When somebody wants to get their kids involved in cooking, they don't want to know about the cookbook author's husband's mother. They want something that everybody can share. When I smell potato latkes cooking on Chanukah I think of Mom, I think of family, I think that Jewish people have been eating these same potato latkes forever. But when I smelled the potato-vegetable latkes from this cookbook, I just didn't have the same feelings. They were almost counterfeit.
Still, The Children's Jewish Holiday Kitchen is a very nice cookbook and I'm sure I'll make many of the recipes again. Even though I won't be using the latke recipe this Chanukah, I will make the cool marshmallow-Hershey kiss dreidels and I know where to look for the rules to the dreidel game (I always forget which Hebrew letter is which). But when it comes to learning how to make latkes, no cookbook can ever take the place of Mom. -- Katie Walsh