Thick, wet snow had fallen fast and furious for the past three days, but the storm had finally passed and the December morning dawned clear and crisp. Tom had taken advantage of the suddenly blue and sunny sky to make his way over to the house and check in on Ollie. He found his sister supervising the creation of a massive fortress on the front lawn, calling out orders to Rupert, Anna and Petya (who must have had a similar idea upon seeing the beautiful morning).
Cold and more than a little wet from the ensuing snowball fight, Tom was grateful to arrive home to find a fire built up in the front parlor. Kicking the snow off of his boots, he left them and his greatcoat by the fireplace to dry and made his way towards the kitchen to ask Mrs. Godfrey to put the kettle on.
As he approached the kitchen door, the warm smell of yeasted dough reached his nose, along with the sounds of crackling oil. A tiny yelp of pain greeted him as he pushed the door open to find Susie standing in front of a large pot, sucking on one of her knuckle.
“Susie?” he asked as he moved towards her side. “Where’s Mrs. Godfrey? Did you hurt yourself?”
“Oh, it’s only the oil; it does like to jump up to meet me and I can never seem to avoid getting splashed. I gave Mrs. Godfrey the day off since the snow had finally stopped; she’s been worried about her daughter and the new grandbaby, so I sent her off to spend the day with them in town.”
Susie was flushed a not terribly attractive shade of red and her hair was coated in a fine dusting of white flour. On one side of the large pot sat a large number of round, sweet smelling dough balls and on the other, golden and crisp looking doughnuts piled high on a rack where they cooled, seeping their excess oil onto a tray below. The rest of the kitchen looked like it had been hit by a minor whirlwind: a number of dirty bowls were piled up by the sink, small piles of flour decorated the table and the floor, and several empty, sticky jars of jam were scattered throughout the room.
“Susie, what’s going on in here? What on Earth are you making?” Tom asked in bemusement. Susie flushed a deeper shade of red.
“Well, it’s the first night of Hanukkah tonight, and I thought that since Mrs. Godfrey was out and you were visiting Ollie that I might surprise you with my Bubbe’s sufganiyot.” She turned back to the pot and dropped a few more balls of dough into the crackling oil, turning them over until both sides were a beautiful golden brown.
Tom was surprised to hear Susie speak of her late grandmother; he’d gotten the sense that Mrs. Rabinovitz was more than a little relieved when her mother-in-law had passed and freed the family of the need to practice the more restrictive traditions that she had held onto well into her old age. “
I didn’t know she taught you how to cook,” he said softly, trying to keep the surprise out of his voice, lest it hurt her. Susie flashed him a small smile as she turned to pluck a few more dough balls off the pile and drop them into the hot oil.
“She didn’t cook very often once Papa was able to afford help,” she replied. “There were a few dishes, though, that she didn’t trust anyone else to make. Holiday food, mostly: apple cake and kugel for Rosh Hashanah, matzo and haroset for Passover, and sufganiyot for Hanukkah.” The browned doughnuts were fished from the pot and several more took their place. “I loved making these with her. She’d let me fill them with jam before they were fried, showed me how to pinch and smooth the edges so they wouldn’t leak in the oil. And she would always let me try one just before the sun went down and we lit the candles, to make sure they tasted right.” She picked a cooled sufganiyah from the pile and handed it to Tom. “Try it and make sure for me.”
Tom took a bite. It tasted more than right. It tasted of sugar and yeast and strawberry jam. It tasted of warmth and home and love. It tasted of Susie’s history and their entwined future.
“It tastes like a miracle,” he said, smiling at his flushed and floured wife. She laughed at him.
“ Nes gadol hayah sham ” she said, smiling brightly. “It is the season for them, after all.”
After the candles were lit and the prayers said, Tom and Susie curled up on the sofa by the window, watching the flames flicker and dance out at the street beyond the glass. A plate of sufganiyot rested on an end table and their hands were sticky with jam.
If you were to pass by that window, huddled in your coat to keep yourself safe from the December wind, you may have noticed the bright red of a young man’s hair, or the small pinpricks of light from candles in a hanukkiah, or the glowing of a young woman’s cheeks.
Most likely, you wouldn’t have taken notice of anything at all. Not all miracles are obvious to those who walk by them. Sometimes, they’re just the small start of something beautiful.
2 ounces yeast
1 ¼ cup lukewarm milk
½ cup sugar
4 tablespoons margarine
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
4 cups flour
Vegetable oil, for deep frying
- Mix yeast with milk and stir to dissolve
- In a large bowl, cream together sugar and margarine until light and fluffy. Stir in eggs. Add salt, vanilla, and nutmeg; beat well. Add milk mixture and gradually work in flour to make a workable dough.
- Knead dough until smooth, about 10 minutes. Cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place to rise, 2-2 ½ hours.
- Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead lightly for 5-6 minutes. Divide dough into 24 pieces, rolling each into a small ball. Flatten each ball and place ½ teaspoon jam in middle. Enclose jam with dough and reshape into ball. Rest on floured board 15-20 minutes.
- Heat oil and deep-fry doughnuts a few at a time, turning once until golden brown all over. Drain on paper towels. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Serve warm.