Flavour Guy: All I want for the holidays is no alarm bells ringing

A cozy kitchen, photographed by Mathilda Tan (courtesy of stock.xchng)A cozy kitchen, photographed by Mathilda Tan (courtesy of stock.xchng)

The smoke alarm went off while the host was at the stove, grilling vegetables for dinner. This was an obvious cause and effect.

The alarm was between the dining room and the kitchen. The kitchen door was left open. The smoke from the stove, a few feet away, was billowing at the ceiling.

The alarm was piercing and it took at least a minute of frantic waving at the smoke, opening a back door to get fresh air into the kitchen, and a general muttering that the kitchen fan had not done its job, before the smoke cleared. In the meantime, the alarm had begun yelling “evacuate, evacuate.”

I understand that we live at time when things can talk to us. There are the Alexas, the Siris, and others who now tell us the time or the weather or select the kind of music we want to hear. My phone requires me to say Hey Google. I asked Hey Google to tell me a joke and received a written message telling me to “go to the Google assistant for more jokes.”

I did nothing, impressed that my algorithm has an assistant. Then, a minute later, I looked down at my phone and saw the following: Hi, I’m the Google Assistant. Here’s a joke I know. What did the tree say to the lumberjack? I’m falling for you. While not quite at the Henny Youngman level, with a few tweaks, Hey Google might headline next year’s Just For Laughs festival.

I also asked Hey Google if Siri and Alexa knew each other and was told that they are all “stuck All I want for the holidays is no alarm bells ringing in An Infinite Loop Conversation” but “are taking the next step when it comes to a perennial talking device.”

This was getting far too technical for me and I am not sure that I want to know what that next step might be. I kept thinking of Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey regressing and slowly reciting “Mary Had A Little Lamb.” But back to the fire alarm.

There were a dozen of us at the dinner party watching smoke clear from the room and hearing the alarm shriek Evacuate. None of us left. I think that we needed something more forceful. Perhaps along the lines of a (fill in your preferred ethnicity) Mother saying “Leave, now!”

This would be followed by escalating levels of warnings: “I Told You to Leave. Why Don’t You Listen to Me? You Never Listen to Me, I don’t Know Why I Bother.” And the final “Fine, Ignore Me. I Hope You’re Happy.”

In the meantime, we did what we had to: remove the alarm from the ceiling and perform an emergency battery-entomb. We made sure that Mother was quiet and content before we replaced the battery and put her back into place.

Batter up

The holiday season calls for tasty, unctuous eating.

For Chanukah, fried foods commemorate the miracle of oil in the temple, but a lot of holiday baking calls for foods rich in oil or butter. A great way to serve these is by frying slices of vegetables in a batter. In Japan it is called tempura. In North America, we call this fritters. A good batter will be light and crispy. Using cold carbonated water helps reduce the gluten and makes the batter less doughy. You can also use gluten-free flour.

This batter recipe is based on Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Cooking. Whisk 3/4 cup of flour with 3/4 cup of sparkling water, gradually adding 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil and a pinch of salt. Don’t over-whisk as this creates more gluten and a doughier batter. Let the batter rest for 30 minutes.

Beat an egg white until stiff and fold this into the batter. Dip thinly sliced fruit or vegetables into the batter.

Deep fry these in several inches of oil at 190C/375F.

Cook only a few at a time until they are crisp and brown. Drain them first over the frying pan and then on paper towels.

If you keep the oil temperature constant, there won’t be any smoke and Mother should stay silent.

Editor’s note: If you prefer not to eat too many carbs, you could substitute zucchini for potatoes in your latkes. You can add almond flour to thicken them. This way, you can eat latkes your mother never made.

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