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Latkes on the Road

by Tara

I was not inspired to do anything today. This morning all I wanted was to be on the move, adventuring on our bicycles, or be at home. Our waiting-for-gear limbo was driving me crazy. All I could think were things like: "Why on earth are we sitting around in some crappy hostel in Tunisia?" or "Why can't we be comfy at home, decorating the Christmas tree with Tyler's brothers and sisters?" It sucked. Tyler listened to my complaining patiently, trying his best to provide the perspective I needed to cheer up.

As is usually the case when I am feeling emotional or morose, the key to getting out of my funk is to do something. Anything. Preferably something productive. I decided to stay at "home" while Tyler went to the cafe to work. Just yesterday I had enthusiastically purchased an enormous quantity of groceries with grand plans of making several Christmassy dishes and a plate of latkes for Hanukkah. My motivation was quickly waning though, turned sour by the prospect of cooking outside behind our hostel in heavy sandstorm-inducing winds.

After Tyler left, I turned on some twangy, self-pitying music and decided to get to work. I began with the comfortingly mindless, repetitive task of peeling potatoes for latkes. I used the metal peeler we found at a campsite in Switzerland to shred the spuds into wide, paper-thin strips. With a rag lovingly dubbed "the shit towel" because we use it for everything until it gets so gross we have to throw it away (this one was new though), I wrung out the potato strips to remove as much of the water as possible. I chopped an onion into tiny cubes and squeezed out its juice as well. Salt. Pepper. Flour. Egg. With something to focus on other than my sour mood, I began to feel a little better.

Hostel Food Prep

Then I chopped up a cauliflower to be a side dish for the latkes, and prepared individual bowls for its sauce and garlic-breadcrumb topping. In another bowl, I cut up four gross, mealy apples, along with two perfectly ripe pears about to cross over into the realm of brown mush. This would be apple/pear sauce for the latkes. For sour cream, I mixed some sour yogurt drink (available all over the place here) into creme fraiche. Not sour cream, but a passable substitute.

Finally, everything was prepared, neatly organized in individual bowls and tupperwares. I still wasn't thrilled about transporting everything outside for the carefully-orchestrated production of cooking while attempting to keep the wind and sand at bay though. For a moment, I seriously contemplated throwing everything away.

Cooking Behind the Hostel

When I mustered up the motivation to finish the job, I hauled everything outside. It was blustery and chilly, but I wrestled it all together. First the cauliflower. Then the bechamel sauce, then the crusty garlic topping. I transported the completed dish inside, and came back out with the bowls for latke and applesauce making. My apple sauce was just simmering down into a satisfyingly golden concoction when a troupe of kids came by.

Goofy Kerkennah Kids

They were all laughing and teasing each other and to my surprise they walked straight over to me, surrounded my cooking area, and took turns peering over the windscreen, checking out what I was making. I said hello and they giggled. After some conversation in very, very basic French, average miming skills, and lots of Arabic I didn't understand, I made friends with the rambunctious youngsters, all while carefully frying latkes and making sure none of them got splattered with hot oil.

Kerkennah Kids

We talked about our pets, our siblings, and what I did for a living. They dragged out their school notebooks and showed me what they were learning about, from King Tut's tomb, to Herodotus, to French grammar. As I flipped my potato pancakes, they questioned me about what was in them and I did my best to explain. I asked what they were having for dinner and they all answered unanimously "COUSCOUS!" Then I asked if they ate couscous often and they responded immediately, "All the time!"

Kerkennah Kid Smiles

When the first latkes were cool enough to eat, I offered them to the kids. They did their best to mask their grimaces of disgust and horror with something resembling pity; it was really cute. While they shook their heads and giggled, they took a couple of steps back. No one was brave enough to try the weird food from the crazy foreign lady!

Fatma Kerkennah Kid Closeup

Latkes safely declined, they crept back in and resumed their former position of hovering within inches of me and we continued chatting about random things. All of the sudden, they recalled they were probably expected at home. "We have to go!" they shouted, and disappeared into the sunset, running back to their mothers and their couscous. With that, the very last of my grumpiness dissipated and was replaced with gratitude for my encounter with these silly Kerkennian kids. How could I stay upset about being stranded on these islands when faced with this guy!?

Moose Antlers & Rabbit Ears

Just as I finished the last latke and turned off the stove, Tyler came whistling back from work at 5:00 as promised, showering me with hugs and updates about his work for the day. He told me we'd sold two calendars! With all of our cooking gear safely inside, we feasted on the latkes (the best ones we've ever had!) and then Tyler cleaned ALL of the many dirty dishes I'd left in my wake. Thanks honey!