Why dough­nuts are just too hard

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

LAST DE­CEM­BER, at our lo­cal kosher su­per­mar­ket, I went to the till with four bags of latkes, three boxes of Chanukah can­dles and two dis­pos­able chanukiot. “Get­ting ready for Chanukah?” asked the as­sis­tant, com­pletely se­ri­ously.

I swal­lowed down a sar­cas­tic re­ply, smiled, and said that yes I was.

Chanukah has a pop­u­lar­ity to­tally out of pro­por­tion to its ac­tual sig­nif­i­cance in the yearly cy­cle, and it’s easy to see why. First, there’s the ob­vi­ous fact of its prox­im­ity to Christ­mas, mean­ing that we are able to tick the same cul­tural boxes as the rest of the coun­try — gift-giv­ing, fam­ily-gath­er­ing, eat­ing de­li­cious and un­healthy food.

I re­ceived a Chanukah card years ago from my friend Danny, with some un­ex­pected text printed in­side: “Happy Christ­mas”.

Danny was work­ing at the time at Swiss Cot­tage Books (a lovely in­de­pen­dent book­shop, now sadly de­funct) and they’d re­ceived a con­sign­ment of Christ­mas and Chanukah cards that contained just one mi­nor print­ing er­ror. The ones fea­tur­ing a meno­rah and a ma­gen David on the front had a Christ­mas mes­sage, whereas the ones de­pict­ing Mary and the Baby Je­sus on a don­key read, “Happy Chanukah”.

Danny sent me the ver­sion with the Christ­mas picture as well, so that be­tween the two of them I would get the full Chanukah greet­ing.

A par­tic­u­lar at­trac­tion of Chanukah is that there’s also noth­ing we’re not al­lowed to do. There are no days of Yom Tov, and hence none of the as­so­ci­ated ha­lachic re­stric­tions. What’s more, we don’t have to fast (in fact, it’s ex­plic­itly for­bid­den), or eat bit­ter herbs, or sit frozen in wooden huts, or re­pent for our sins. We don’t even have to go to shul! I mean se­ri­ously, what’s not to like?

I de­cided I was go­ing to make my own dough­nuts a couple of years ago. How much nicer, I thought, to have home­made ones than just get­ting the shop­bought va­ri­ety (par­tic­u­larly as the dough­nuts from the north Lon­don kosher bak­eries are likely to bank­rupt you before the eight days are up).

I spent an af­ter­noon wal­low­ing in sugar and flour, eggs and yeast and oil — so much oil — mix­ing and rolling and then deep fry­ing, mak­ing dili­gent use of a sugar ther­mome­ter to en­sure the dough­nuts were cooked at pre­cisely the right tem­per­a­ture. And I ended up with a plate full of black­ened, oil-sat­u­rated rounds of dough. Not only were they com­pletely ined­i­ble, but there was oil on ev­ery sur­face of the kitchen. I felt like oil had seeped into my very soul.

I’m pretty bloody minded when it comes to learn­ing how to cook things, and if it doesn’t work the first time I tend to ask for ad­vice and then try again the next day, and the next, un­til I get it right. Not this time — the ex­pe­ri­ence had been just too trau­matic. I vowed to buy ready-made dough­nuts from that day on, even if we had to re­mort­gate our house in or­der to do so.

For­tu­nately, we don’t spend an ex­ces­sive amount on presents. My hus­band and I some­times dis­cover we’ve bought each other ex­actly the same small gift. One year, it was a DVD of Mod­ern Fam­ily. No one needs two iden­ti­cal DVDs of any­thing, but as it turned out, even one DVD of Mod­ern Fam­ily was too much for us — we watched half an episode and both hated it.

An­other year, we each gave the other a Terry’s Choco­late Or­ange. “A whole choco­late or­ange?” said my friend Matt when I told him about it. “Please stop flaunt­ing your wealth and priv­i­lege”.

But of course Chanukah, more than any other fes­ti­val (ex­cept pos­si­bly Purim), is above all fo­cused to­wards chil­dren. My kids love get­ting presents, of course — but I think they also like the Chanukah story, and the singing, and the lights that in­crease so sat­is­fy­ingly day by day.

The Houses of Sham­mai and of Hil­lel — two an­cient schools of Jewish thought — had con­trast­ing ideas about how the Chanukah mir­a­cle should be rep­re­sented. The House of Sham­mai thought that you should start with eight can­dles and re­move one each day, to show how many days of the mir­a­cle re­mained.

The House of Hil­lel thought the op­po­site, and the fact that it won is a sign that it had greater psy­cho­log­i­cal in­sight. It’s much more com­pelling to have the lights build day by day, than to start with them at their bright­est and have them dwin­dle into noth­ing.

Two years ago, Chanukah co­in­cided with Lim­mud and a spe­cial tent was set up for can­dle light­ing. Ev­ery­one brought their own chanukiot, and each day the space was flooded with ever more flick­er­ing lights. The strains of Maoz Tzur sung si­mul­ta­ne­ously but in dif­fer­ent keys and start­ing at slightly dif­fer­ent times, echoed across the nearby lake.

It was beau­ti­ful — my chil­dren talk about it still, and I sus­pect it will be the child­hood Chanukah they re­mem­ber most.


The oil had seeped into my very soul

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