November 20, 2013

Thanksgivukkah brings an abundance of food memories to the table

The once-in-a-lifetime overlapping of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving doubles the celebrating.

By Susan Axelrod saxelrod@pressherald.com
Online Content Producer

For Marcel Proust, fond memories were famously triggered by a madeleine soaked in tea. For Marika Kuzma, owner of Portland’s Aurora Provisions, making her late mother’s stuffing takes her back to childhood Thanksgivings in Philadelphia, where the feast was influenced by flavors from her parents’ native Ukraine.

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A Thanksgivukkah spread prepared at Aurora Provisions in Portland brings food traditions from Hanukkah to Thanksgiving, which converge this year and won’t again for another 79,043 years.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

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She and Aurora chef Leslie Oster call it “sentimental eating” – the taste, smell and even sound of food can impart what Proust described as the “all powerful joy” of a moment from the past.

Holiday foods are especially memory-bound, whether it’s the green bean casserole with crunchy fried onions expected at Thanksgiving or latkes just the way your mother made them for Hanukkah.

This year, both could be on the same table.

Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins early this year, at sundown on Nov. 27. So, on Nov. 28, the new world and very old world collide for a once-in-a-lifetime holiday some are calling Thanksgivukkah.

It’s not the first time (previous shared holidays occurred in 1888 and 1899). But experts have calculated that the next occurrence will be 79,043 years from now.

Knowing that, the name for the holiday mash-up was trademarked in 2012 by Dedham, Mass., resident Dana Gitell, who with her sister-in-law, Deborah Gitell (a Massachusetts native now living in Los Angeles), developed T-shirts and other products with the slogan: “Light, Liberty and Latkes.”

In the Jewish faith, Hanukkah is a less-significant holiday than Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur or Passover. It commemorates the victory by a small group of Jews (the Macabees) over a Greek-Syrian army that had taken over Israel and their temple. Upon rededicating the temple, they had only enough oil to keep the lamp lit for one day and night, but miraculously, the oil lasted for eight days and nights.

That miracle is widely celebrated by Jewish families, who light the menorah candles for eight nights, exchange gifts and feast on foods, such as potato latkes, fried in oil.

Food is, naturally, a major component of Thanksgivukkah. Recipes that combine both traditions – sweet potato latkes, challah stuffing – are everywhere on the Web, including the Thanksgivukkah Facebook page, which has more than 11,000 “likes.”

At the Thanksgivukkah Festival in Los Angeles, organized by Deborah Gitell, The Kosher Palate food truck will serve latkes with turkey gravy and Bibi’s Bakery truck will fry up pumpkin-filled sufganiyot – a Thanksgiving-inspired take on traditional Hanukkah doughnuts.

At Aurora in Portland, Kuzma and Oster are embracing the two-for-one holiday on their take-out menus, offering apple noodle kugel and Mama Kuzma’s borscht, as well as the popular stuffing – studded with dried apricots and chestnuts – cider butter and herb-roasted turkey, local maple horseradish Brussels sprouts and cranberry chutney.

While they expect the first night of Hanukkah to be the busiest for traditional foods like brisket and latkes, for the second night, many Jewish customers are mixing items from the Thanksgiving and Hanukkah menus, both of which include the borscht, Faroe Island salmon with blood orange and leeks, and chocolate souffle cake.

“People just started panicking about Hanukkah – the first two nights are the big ones,” said Oster. “A regular client just put in her annual Thanksgiving order and because I know she’s Jewish, I said, ‘You need some latkes.’ Nobody wants to cook latkes at home.”

Most people don’t want anything too different or creative for either holiday, she said.

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