I loved pretty much everything about my Nana. But her cooking? Well, that left something to be desired. We shared a passion for food, but not a palate—she stashed bite-size candy bars between the cushions of her couch, while I claimed salad as my favorite food at the ripe old age of nine. She was known to serve Cheetos on a silver platter at cocktail hour, and did a full-body jig with a glint in her eye when anyone mentioned dessert. I, on the other hand, planted gardens on the rooftops of museums and built a career on the backs of rare vegetables.
Still, when it came to Jewish food, Nana was discerning. She grew up in a kosher household, where “the meat was salted to death,” and she got used to looking beyond her own home for the good stuff—chopped chicken liver, pickled herring, matzo ball soup. While her friends cultivated their hand in the kitchen, she honed her skills for sourcing. Every holiday, she would pose the familiar question to the family: “What should we have for Hanukkah dinner?” We humored her, pretending that there was actually a choice to be made, while knowing full well that a tomatoey, slow-cooked brisket and simple roast chicken was the extent of her repertoire. A lover of anything fried and salty, though, she did get down with some greasy latkes.