Like Oil for Latkes
Author's webpage: http://internettrash.com/users/livia/brighid/brighid.htm
Author's disclaimer: Sooooooo not mine, but I hear they go up for auction next ... never mind. No profits made, no intent to keep. (snort)
Like Oil for Latkes
Our kitchen is ground zero for the great potato massacre. There are mutilated potatoes everywhere, filling every available surface. Some are shredded in bowls, some are in peeled piles, others are cubed and awaiting whatever fate is coming to them. Sandburg even dug out a food processor from somewhere, but he's been using it sparingly 'cause the whine gets on my nerves.
We're making latkes.
We are, in fact, having a Chanukah party. As a "we". Our first party as a "we", and not only am I outing myself to a bunch of Sandburg's fellow grad students and a select few friends from the station, I'm doing it for a holiday that I don't know a hell of a lot about. I mean, I've done the reading and browsed the internet and listened to Sandburg rattle on about the Syrians and the Temple and the Maccabees, and I get it at an intellectual level, but it's not my holiday. I don't know the ins and outs, the secret handshakes of it. I'm worried about saying the wrong thing, touching the wrong thing, offering pigs-in-a-blanket or shrimp rolls to the kosher couple. I'm worried the candles will light the shades on fire. I don't know how the hell I fit into it all. I feel ... alien.
I tried telling all that to Sandburg, when he first brought up the idea of this little shindig, but it took fucking forever and it never did come out quite right. But the little shit's bright, and he's gotten pretty damned good at reading me, and he just smiled and patted my shoulder. "Jim. I'm a short, Jewish, bisexual, neo-hippy witch-doctor punk intellectual with long hair and multiple piercings, working with the police. Hell-o, welcome to my world." He grinned at that, a little wryly. "I think that's got to be part of the reason why I chose anthropology, you know? I've never fit into mainstream society. I've always been the observer. It's kind of cool, really," he continued, and you know, I think he actually believed it. Might explain why he's so goddamned irrepressible.
He patted me again. "Relax. It's not like it's Yom Kippur or Passover -- we don't have to give up sex or dump the beer and bread. We don't even have to buy a new set of dishes. We just make a lot of good food, light our chanukiahs, and celebrate a miracle together. And hey, you get to wear a yarmulke, too!" He stood up suddenly, rushed into his old room to rummage round the bureau. A minute or two later he was back out, holding a small, brown silk and cotton circle. "Actually, it's an Arabic skullcap, but hey, it'll do." He set it on my head, and started to snicker. "Hey, Jim. Maybe you oughta think about converting."
I fingered the skullcap, feeling the delicate embroidery picked out over the silk surface. "Why, for the sake of the children?" I asked, trying for dry but not really getting there; I was too busy getting lost in the intricate whorls under my fingers.
"Nah. Just noticed how well it covers your bald spot," he snorted, jumping back out of arms' reach. Like I said, the little shit is bright.
"Fuck you, Sandburg," but I didn't really mean it, so he just laughed some more, and I thought, what the hell, and so he started calling around, offering to host what is, apparently, an annual get together. Somehow the invite list got extended to Joel, Simon and Conner, with Sandburg pointing out a menu heavy in fried foods and sweets seemed a natural for inviting cops to, and I though, again, what the hell. At least I wouldn't be the only sore thumb sticking out.
So then came the shopping. Everyone's bringing dishes, but we're doing the latkes and the desserts. Sandburg put together this absolutely huge list, and got us up way too early for a day off to start the rounds of shopping so we'd get the cooking done early enough in the day. With latkes, he told me when I bitched, you need a good twenty-four hours for the place to air out before company arrives the next day. I asked Sandburg why we couldn't just use the Mani-whosits mix, and watch the Jags on TV instead and he just stopped dead in the middle of the bedroom and looked at me like I'd suggested he whiz in the batter or something. Apparently that's a no-no. It also appears that there are six billion different kinds of latkes and each one requires a different set of ingredients, a different way of mangling the potatoes (or zucchini, or apples) and a different sort of oil for cooking in. We've got safflower, olive, peanut, ghee, and something Sandburg calls schmaltz. Rendered chicken fat. Actually, that one sort of smells good, but I'm not going to tell Sandburg that. He'd just lecture me on my arteries again.
I asked him why so many oils, why not just use olive oil for 'em all, when he was searching around for the best peanut oil and the schmaltz and the ghee, dragging our asses through three different ethnic districts and a half-dozen little specialty groceries. Again, I got that eye-rolling look, but this time he actually deigned to explain.
"Sniff this," he ordered, shoving a bottle of peanut oil in my face. I sniffed. Peanuts. He jiggled it, waggled his eyebrows. "Sniff it," he said impatiently, shoving it closer to my nose. So I sniffed it. Peanuts, but rich, and deep, with a sort of woody note, and light, bright threads of...
Oh, yeah. All of a sudden I got it.
He dropped the flask into his hand basket. "Each oil combines differently with the ingredients. Hell, it's as much an ingredient as the potatoes. You don't get the right combination, they don't cook right, they don't taste right, nothing works. It's all in how you combine." He looked at his list. "Now, to Millisyn's Organics, man, 'cause she's got the best russets and the sweetest apples this time of year."
So we went to Millisyn's, and a dozen other places, and I mostly quit bitching. Mostly. Until he got me home, organized the ingredients and handed me a peeler; bitching resumed full force at that point, but mostly just for appearances. We rolled up our sleeves, I strapped on my apron, and made war on the potato horde.
It's three o'clock now, and we're well into it. I don't think the apartment is going to get twenty-four hours to air out, but we're still doing pretty good. He's got recipes taped all over the walls. He's got finished batches in the fridge, waiting to get reheated tomorrow night. He's got me wringing out tea towels of shredded potatoes and carrots and parsnips for a garden medley latke for the next batch. He's getting things ready for curried sweet potato latkes. He's leaning forward, trying to read the recipe without his glasses, which he left upstairs and is too stubborn to go and get. His hair is coming loose from the ponytail he jammed it into when we got back from the store. He's sweaty-warm from working over the stove, and there's a faint sheen of olive oil on his skin, just like there is all over everything in the kitchen. He's muttering obscenities as he squints. He's a Jewish, bisexual, neo-hippy witch-doctor punk intellectual with long hair and multiple piercings. He's fucking gorgeous. He's mine. Who the hell cares if the menorah sets the blinds on fire? It'll just be another memory for the Sandburg-Ellison album, and shit, we've dealt with scarier stuff. I mean, next to a station full of terrorists or a rogue-CIA agent with ebola, a few scholarly Jews and some cops is small-time.
I set the towels down, grab him, manhandle him into a bear hug, nuzzle the side of his neck. I can taste onions and olive oil and pepper and cilantro and Blair, and it all comes together just right.
Just like us.
I kiss him, hard, tasting everything he's nibbled today, including me. I kiss him until he stops goddamned squirming and muttering about the goddamned latkes and just kisses me back, until he's sighing up into my mouth and we mix together. Just right.
A long time later he settles back, looking slightly more smeared, his ponytail gone, his eyes glazed by more than near-sightedness. "Frying potatoes make you horny, do they? That'll make our next trip to Wonderburger an adventure." He bumps up against me, grinning, and I can feels he's half-hard.
"Tease," I say, but before he can respond I fondle him, kiss him again. "You never let me go to Wonderburger."
He laughs, gropes me back. "Shaddup. You're gonna get your fried food limit tomorrow, trust me. If it wasn't the Egyptians, the Syrians or the Romans, it was arteriosclerosis undermining the nation of Israel." He kisses me again, soft and slow and nasty, a promise for later. "Now wash your hands and get back to wringing those vegetables."
"Yes, sir." I wash my hands, go back to wringing out the vegetables. "Ah, Sandburg?"
"Yeah, Jim?" he mutters, still peering at the recipe on the wall.
"Which holiday is it that requires giving up sex?" I try to sound casual, but I've been out of the ops trade a long time; he shoots me a sidelong glance, and I can feel the smile trying to cut loose.
"Yom Kippur, why?" He goes for casual, too.
I dump the mostly dry vegetables in the bowl waiting for them, toss the towels in the laundry hamper we've brought to the edge of the kitchen. "Are we going to be doing that one, too?"
Now he does grin, a big, shit-eating smile. "We'll talk about it when the time comes, Jim," he replies, and that's all the answer he'll give me, no matter how I try to persuade him.
Maybe tonight I can sway the decision. I uncap the peanut oil, sniff it deeply, then tuck it away for later. All's fair in love and war.