“That’s the secret right there,” Asher said, pointing at the bottom of the bowl that they’d just emptied of raw, shredded potatoes.
Maggie glanced around at her soon-to-be-in-laws’ kitchen. The space was beautiful, marble counters and dark wood and stainless steel, suggesting a level of cooking expertise Maggie was in no way capable of matching.
Mouthwatering smells were coming out of the oven. Asher’s mom had gone to the trouble of making a vegetarian jackfruit “brisket” to go alongside the real thing, so that Maggie had more to eat for dinner than fried potato patties and green beans.
Though by how much Asher had been talking up his mom’s technique, Maggie couldn’t wait for the latkes. Holiday traditions at her childhood home had involved decorating the Christmas tree with her brother and their nanny, and listening to her dad and mom talk about legal cases while eating a catered turkey dinner. Getting to share in the Hanukkah magic with Asher’s family was incredible. Ruth loved getting to recite the blessings and light the candles at sundown with her grandmother. And if only Maggie wasn’t so dang nervous, helping with latke prep would be a highlight.
“The soaking is the trick?” she asked.
“The starch, honey.” Sarah Klein-Matsuda was a blur of efficient motion, confident enough to make fried food in a crisp white blouse. “You drain off the water and then ladle the starch back into the mixture before frying. Makes the latkes nice and crispy.”
“Sounds delicious.” Maggie was in charge of using a clean dish towel to squeeze the excess water out of the shredded potatoes. She had to get it exactly right. Like, Red Seal examination perfect. She was already complicating the frying process by needing hers cooked in vegetable oil instead of Sarah’s preferred chicken fat.
She and Asher had decided to spend their first holiday season as an engaged couple in New York. With Hanukkah falling later in December this year, they were staying with Asher’s parents for two weeks, catching the last few days of the Festival of Lights through to the day after New Year’s. And aside from sharing the holidays with Asher and Ruth, both of whom she loved with every fiber of her being, impressing Asher’s parents was at the top of Maggie’s priority list.
She unrolled the towel and poked at the potato shreds. Too wet? If only she knew without having to ask. Dang it, she should have had Asher and Ruth run her through a latke dress rehearsal before they left Sutter Creek.
Sarah sidled up to Maggie and tested the grated mess with her own finger. “You can get them drier than that,” she suggested.
Maggie’s stomach sank, and she wrung harder. This is not the time to be useless in the kitchen. Her knuckles might ache, but the potatoes would be as dry as if they’d been laid out in the sun. Sarah moved on to the sink, waving for Ruth to bring her the bowl with water and starch.
“What did those potatoes do to you, love?” Asher teased, dropping a kiss on the top of her head as he walked past with a jar of homemade applesauce. He’d canned a whole batch after the Sutter Creek fall apple festival, with Hanukkah in mind. She loved seeing him so in his element. He hadn’t stopped smiling since they arrived in Brooklyn, and their two days had been jam packed with family fun. Busy enough that Ruth was only asking to Facetime with Jackson, who was staying with Lachlan, every hour or so.
“Your mom said I could get more water out,” she whispered.
“She always says that,” he murmured back. He put his free hand on her shoulder and nuzzled her cheek, tickling her skin with his beard. “Chill.”
All right, Reid, you’re being ridiculous. Asher’s mom had spoken in a perfectly kind tone. The thoughts of being useless had come from Maggie’s doubts, from the voice that sounded too much like her own mother. She had managed to do a better job lately of stifling her parents’ residual influence on her life. Being loved by the best man in the world, and his—almost officially their—daughter made it easier to recognize how damaging it was to limit the love in her life.
But she wanted Asher’s mom to like her. To love her.
Maybe even to be like a mom to her.
Hence, impressing her this trip.