Happy Chanukah, my lovely readers.
Tonight, for the first time ever, I went to a Chanukah party. I am still not entirely sure what Chanukah is all about, but if all Chanukah celebrations are as wonderful and happy as tonight, I may have to plot to get the coveted invitation to a Chanukah party every year. How did this Chinese girl get invited to a Chanukah party?
Five years ago…dear reader, I hear you sighing in exasperation already! What good story starts with “five years ago”? Sappy fools like me start their sappy stories with a serendipitous beginning five years ago. This is when I first started college, and I started volunteering in a mentoring organization called Project SMILE. My mentee was a 11-year old blue haired girl named Lila, who was wilder than a tornado, with the attention span of a goldfish/gnat cross. Which, let me tell you, was not the best combination for academic excellence in public school.
My task was to get her to sit still long enough to do her homework, which, for any other kid, would have been easy. But my mischievous and fearless mentee would spend her days inventing grand schemes to get out of doing work. She would claim that her teachers didn’t believe in assigning her homework (always a classic!). She would climb on the roof and claim she couldn’t do her homework because there were no pencils on the roof, so I would chase after her on the roof of her house with colored pencils. She would distract me with ice cream (oh, the Achilles’ heel of a poor and hungry college student!).
Most of the time she won. Instead of focusing on homework like I wanted, we would spend afternoons watching the sunset on her roof or petting her very polite Labrador Retriever, Geary. I spent A LOT of time with Lila and her family in my years of college, and I became a regular fixture at their dinner table.
But tonight was the first night I was invited to their Chanukah festivities. We read a Chanukah story together (Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins), and her father and mother sang traditional Chanukah blessings. Then Lila and I lit the menorah, and her mother fried up some vegan latkes while Geary (the dog) paddled around the kitchen hopefully looking for dropped latkes. We ate the latkes with three types of organic applesauce (this is Berkeley, after all), and drank watered-down rosé. I even received a beautiful red bracelet as a Chanukah present!
The funniest thing happened then: slowly but surely, the warmth of Chanukah enveloped me in a wonderful sense of community and place, and that wooden house ringing with laughter became a second home to me.
Lila tried to explain to me what Chanukah was about, though the powdered sugar from the sufganiyot muffled the story and she’s now 16 so it came out something like this, “Well the Jews got kicked out of the temple but then they took it back and they didn’t have enough oil to burn throughout the night but then a miracle happened and they had enough oil for eight nights and that’s why we eat latkes.” I think it’s supposed to be celebrating that miracle.
For me, though, the miracle of this Chanukah was their gift to me, opening up their home to me. The miracle was that I suddenly had a second home with my adopted Jewish family, and it reconfirmed my belief that you can find love in the oddest places. And if you find it in that weird odd place, don’t question it. Just accept whatever weird odd love you can find. I’m almost 100% positive that is NOT the miracle of Chanukah, but nevertheless, I’m honored that I could have this miracle for my Chanukah present.
The second miracle is vegan sufganiyot, which is basically a fluffy-wuffy jelly donut drowning in powdered sugar, which is basically the best thing ever. Deep frying at home can be somewhat scary though, so I’ve got a couple of tips to offer you:
- YOU MUST WEAR PANTS.
- I like to deep fry in a cast iron pan, so it’s harder to knock the pan off the stove and it keeps the heat at a stable temperature.
- Flip things over with extra long chopsticks, which you can buy at any Asian supermarket.
makes 12 donuts | prep time: 2 hours
My lovely friend Lisa told me that these are traditional to eat during Chanukah because they are fried in oil. I think that they’re just delicious, and too awesome to reserve for just Chanukah.
- 1/2 cup water (warm, but not hot)
- 2 tablespoons active dry yeast (about 2 packages)
- 1 cup soy milk
- 1/3 cup Earth Balance, or vegan shortening
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- vegetable, safflower, or peanut oil for frying
For filling and topping
- 1 jar of raspberry jam
- 1 cup powdered sugar
1. Soak yeast in the warm water until the mixture looks poofy.
2. In a separate small pot, heat up the milk and Earth Balance just until the Earth Balance melts. Add the sugar and mix well to combine. The milk should be warm, not hot, before proceeding to the next step.
3. Add the yeast, milk mixture, and flour together and mix vigorously with a spoon. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5-7 minutes, or until the dough is soft and elastic. The dough will be sticky in the beginning, but refrain from adding too much flour or you will have heavy dry donuts.
4. Put the dough back into your mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in size.
5. Punch your dough down into a 1/2 inch circle, then cut out 12 circles with a cookie cutter. I don’t have a round cookie cutter so I just used an Ikea cup.
6. Cover these circles with plastic wrap and let rise until super poofy, about 1 hour. Don’t rush this step, because it is the most important step to getting fluffy donuts!
7. Heat about 1/2 inch of vegetable, safflower, or peanut oil in a cast iron pan over medium high heat until a water droplet sizzles and dances across its surface.
8. In batches of 3-4, fry the poofy dough circles 1 minute per side (2 minutes total), or until a golden brown on each side.
9. Let them cool slightly, then pipe about 1 1/2 tablespoons of raspberry jam into each donut. Sift powdered sugar onto the donut while still slightly warm so that the sugar will stick.