Dear Mom,

Fried tomatoes are the perfect addition to our Jewish, Southern traditions. Potatoes, sweet dough, tomatoes…as long as it’s fried, anything goes!

Last year during Hanukkah, I was in Jerusalem eating doughnuts off the street. It was magical–alleyways were full of lights, and people everywhere offered sweet treats.

In America, it takes a little more effort to feel Hanukkah. It takes a little more effort to feel Jewish. There are many approaches to actively seeking out Jewishness here—joining study groups, going to synagogue, selecting Jewish peers. The approach I always choose is food. Food is the most Jewish thing I do.

The bulk of my Jewish memories from childhood revolve around food. Making blue Jell-O “Jigglers” for Hanukkah, sitting around a 40-person Passover dinner table, driving Bubbe to three different grocery stores so she could buy the best potatoes for her knishes. Now I mark Jewish holidays with special recipes and dinners. There’s nothing like kneading challah dough to unwind from a long week. Preparing, serving and eating food is a physical act. Garlic-scented fingernails and wafts of onion permeating my clothes are strong reminders of my Jewishness.

Here at home, the smell of fried latkes (and tomatoes) is impossible to shake. Last week it clung to my hair, my clothes and my bed sheets and is just starting to dissipate. That’s how I knew for sure that it was Hanukkah.