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December 23, 2011     Heritage Florida Jewish News
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PAGE 14A HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, DECEMBER 23, 2011 Chanukah CD 'tis a seasonal antidote for excessive bell-jingling By Andy Altman-Ohr j. the Jewish news weekly of Northern California SAN FRANCISCO----"I have a warped mind," Lauren Mayer replies when asked to describe howshewrotesomeofthebiting lyrics on "Latkes, Schmatkes!," her new CD of original comedy songs for Chanukah. "My mind just goes there." And "there" could be any- where. Absolutely anywhere. One song, sung in Cuban cha-chastyle, predictsthatyour friends will give you a dreidel- shaped potholder because "you're their favorite token Jew, or the only Jewish person they knew." Another song, sung in rap style purportedly by Dr. Dreidel (it's Mayer, actually), proclaims "Eight is better than wuh-one, Chanukah is more fuh-un." And in the klezmer-sounding title track, the resident of San Mateo, Calif., sings about mak- ing latkes: "Oil on the ceiling, oil on the wall, all around the stove and sink, and even down the hall." And the payoff for all that work? "They still look and taste, like deep-fried dirt," she sings. Ifthere'sanoverridingtheme to the 12-track CD, it'show Jews feel about getting buried by a yuletide avalanche every year. Songs such as "Don't They Know (llot Everyone Does Christmas)?" and 'q'he Jew-In- the-Gentile-World Blues" get the point across with humor, some subtle, some biting. It's no surprise that Mayer, a 53-year-old married mother of two teenagers, grew up listening to "The Dr. Demento Show," a syndicated radio program that crested in popularity in the late 1970s.Theweekly broadcast in- cluded comedy songs, parodies and novelty records, and helped launch the careers of"WeirdAr' Yankovic and others. Mayer sent Dr. Demento, who is still doing his show via podcast, a copy of "Latkes, Schmatkes!" and received word via her publicist that "he loved it"andwas going to play parts of it during his December holiday specials. "I've never done any comedy that is this edgy or in your face, but I think all great comedians come from a place of a little bit of anger," says Mayer, a Yale graduate who went on to be come a cabaret writer and performer in San Francisco for many years. "My hope is that Jews will listen to this and laugh instead of pound their heads against the wall during Christmas time." Mayer crafted each song on the CD in a different musical style. "Down Home Country Chanukah"isabluegrass/coun- try tune."I Hate Holiday Music" sounds just like a cheesy, jingle bell-laden Christmas song. Other styles include Calypso and gospel. First and foremost, Mayer says, all of the songs are "just fun," marked by off-the-wall lyrics, creative rhymes and oc- casional inflections of Yiddish and Brooklyn accents. They are HARRIER AIR Heat & Air Conditioning - Stop Blowing Money Away! When was the last time your A/C unit had a TUNE-UP? Tune-Up Plan Owners Get: Lower electric bills Tune-Ups help prevent breakdowns Longer useful life from their A/C system Harmful pollutants removed from indoor air Schedule a Tune-Up Today! Just $49.88 Call Harrier Air 407-443-0787 After Hours 1-888-894-0797 Dba Kap Air & Heat CAC1815577 * Tune-up price and guarantee valid for one HVAC system. Not valid for PMS Club customers. Not valid for third party, new construction customers or with any other offers. Coupon required at time of service. Expires 12/31/2011. breezy, too, as nearly all of them are less than three minutes. Mayer dedicated the CD to her father, who was diagnosed with brain cancerlastyear.As the CD went to press two months ago, doctors were giving him only two to four weeks to live, buthe is still alive and diving---skydiv- ing, that is, which he tried for the first time in October. "I completely get my sense of humor from him," Ir4ayer says, noting that he opened her eyes (and ears) to comedy pioneers such as early TV star Ernie Kovacs and 1950s and '60s novelty records stars such as Tom Lehrer, Spike Jones and Alan Sherman. Mayer grew up in Irvine and had a bat mitzvah at the city's Harbor Reform Temple Shir Ha-Ma'alot in 1971--kind of a rarity for girls at that time. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from Yale, she went to New York City, butwith"rats in my apartment, getting my wallet stolen and flashers on the subway, I figured if I was going to be a struggling songwriter and singer, I should go somewhere that was a bit nicer." She became a mainstay of the then-popular 1980s cabaret scene in San Francisco, which included a mix of piano bars and flamboyant,drag-showproduc- tions. She nabbed three straight wins (for directing and writing) in a local cabaret version of the Tony Awards. After 1989, she turned to a more sedate career as a corpo- rate entertainer, voice coach, and director and writer of chil- dren's musicals. She also has some other CDs on the market, including"Psycho Super Mom" and "Return of Psycho Super Mom." Many of her recent gigs have included jobs for and within the Jewish community, such as writ- ing a Purim play and also some songs for a Chanukah choir. She and her family--including sons David, 18, and Ben, 15, who sang and played drums on the CD and helped her produce a video for "Eight Is Better Than One" (now on YouTube)--are members of Peninsula Temple Beth E! in San Mateo. Scott Grinthal--"Husband 2.0" she calls him--is a big-band singer and also the cantor at St. Agnes Catholic Church in San Fran- cisco. Yes, that is his official title, not musical director, but cantor. "My parents said, 'Lauren married a cantor! How won- derful!' " Mayer jokes. "I had to explain it's not what they thought." Lauren Mayer says she hopes Jews will listen to her "Lathes, Schmatkes!" CD and "laugh instead of pound their heads against the wall during Christmastime." The genesis for "Latkes, Schmatkes!" occurred last year, when National Public Radio played Mayefs recording "The Fruitcake that Ate New Jersey" (a slight takeoff on the old Dr. Demento favorite "The Cockroach that Ate Cincin- nati") as an example of a bad holiday song. During an ensu- ing interview, Mayer suggested that maybe she should write a funny Chanukah album, which NPR host Liane Hansen thought was a great idea. So Mayer set off on a whirl- wind 10 months of writing, editing and recording. Mayer says she'd often "crack up out loud" when writing the songs. Now she's hoping that people will have the same reac- tion when they listen. "Latkes, Schmatkes!'Infor- mation at umnv.laurenmayer. com. $15.99. Also available at tTunes, Amazon and other sites. $9.99 to download. Making 'old country' latkes By Jamie Geller NEW YORK (JTA)--My grandparents really knew how to cook. It seems to me that everyone born in the "old country"-- in this case Transylvania--was born with built-in cooking intuition. Somehow they could create the most scrumptious meals using no fancy equipment, or even measuring spoons. They hosted every holiday humbly, I recall, turning out the expected delicacies with what seemed like the simplest, most relaxed effort. No exotic flavor profiles nor food combos or wine pairings; no attempts at reinventing the wheel, because when the food is that good--make that superb--there's no need to find a "twist" on the recipe. On Chanukah we were treated to their potato pancakes, latkes that were classic and simple. My grandfather, a profes- sional chef, wore a manly white waist apron that suited him perfectly. His latkes were made of eggs, onions, potatoes, oil, salt, pepper and a little matzah meal to make them crunchy. "Corn meal, that's also good, if you don't have any matzah meal," he would say reassuringly, though you knew thathe secretly wondered what kind of kitchen would not have a handful of matzah meal somewhere. The potatoes were hand-grated so fine--almost to a pud- ding-like cons!stency--then lightly fried in a pan that looked as though it, too, had just come over from the old country. Applesauce and sour cream traditionally accompany latkes, but who needed them? Crispy on the edges, with a fluffy, buttery smooth center, Grandpa's version of this Chanukah delicacy could stand alone. Born on this side of the Atlantic--Philly, to be exact--I lack the natural cooking instincts of my forebears. It's a long way from Transylvania to Pennsylvania, and somewhere en route centuries of culinary know-how evaporated. When I married, I was "the bride who knew nothing" about cooking, and I do mean nothing. I had a kitchen twice the size of Grandpa's boyhood cottage, fully loaded with waffle makers, woks, crepe pans, panini presses, espresso brewers, food processors and two ovens--and no idea what to do with any of them. The first Chanukah after my wedding, I called my grandfather for his latkes recipe. He gave it to me with "measurements" like "a sprinkle of salt, a few spoons of matzah meal, some oil ..." All the while, I wished I had walched him in action when he was in his prime. I could have taken notes, measured out the amounts he used, studied his grating technique. But I was on my own. Tasked with re-creating Grandpa's latkes, I tried and failed, tried and failed--until I finally pro- duced something that is reminiscent of his glorious, crunchy potato perfection. The recipe went into my first published cookbook, "Quick & Kosher: Recipes from the Bride Who Knew Nothing." It's reprinted here, in loving memory of my grandfather. My husband and kids say these iatkes are the best in the world. They are very good--but they're not Grandpa's. Maybe it's my food processor and that fancy-shmancy skillet. LATKES (POTATO PANCAKES) Prep: 12 minutes Cook: 18 to 24 minutes Yield: 8 servings From "Quick & Kosher: From the Bride Who Knew Nothing" Jamie Geller's version of her grandfather's glorious, crunchy potato lathes. Ingredients: 4 medium Idaho potatoes 6 tablespoons canola oil or olive oil 3 eggs, beaten 2 tablespoons matzah meal 2 teaspoons kosher salt 1/2 teaspoon coarse black pepper Applesauce or sour cream (optional) Preparation: 1. Prepare a large bowl filled with cold water 2. Peel potatoes, and as you finish each, place in cold water to prevent browning. 3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. 4. Cut potatoes lengthwise into halves or quarters so they fit into food processor feed tube. Process potatoes using the blade that creates thin, shoestring-like strips and transfer to a large bowl. 5. Add eggs, matzah meal, salt and pepper; mix well. 6. Drop 6 to 8 spoonfuls of mixture into hot oil. Using the back of a spoon, pat down each latke to flatten it. Put as many as you can in the skillet without crowding. Putting them too close together will make them soggy. 7. Fry 3 to 4 minutes on each side, until golden and crisp around the edges; repeat procedure until finished with all the batter. 8. Blot excess oil with paper towels. 9. Serve warm with applesauce or sour cream, if desired Tip: Corn meal is a great substitute for matzah meal and also will make your latkes nice and crispy. About the recipe: Just like they used to do it in the old country! These latkes are not loaded with potato starch, flour, baking powder or other non-essential ingredients. My grandfather shared this recipe with me when I told him that I thought his were the crunchiest, lightest and most perfect potato latkes I've ever eaten. Jamie Geller is the author of the best-selling "Quick & Kosher" cookbook series and creator of the Jog of Kosher with Jamie Geller magazine. Follow more of Geller's Quick & Kosher cooking adventures on Twitter @JogofKosher and on facebook.com/joyoficosher.