GARDINER — Every year about this time, the season is at its busiest and time is in short supply. Then, for some, there is a period of grace.

On Sunday, the first day of Hanukkah, that grace came in the form of Susan Montell’s latke party. For years, Montell and her family have gathered with friends and family to stop and visit at a Gardiner restaurant to create a little space and time.

“I think our day-to-day lives are so busy and so full that sometimes the people that we care most about, want to spend the most time with and do the most for and with are the ones that come last after everything is done,” Montell said.

The Montell family eat latkes at the Blind Pig Tavern Sunday in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“This allows us the privilege of being together in the community with people we haven’t seen for a long time, and visit with family and friends and people with shared beliefs, and people who just like latkes. I mean, who doesn’t like them?”

The Montells and longtime friends gathered Sunday at the Blind Pig Tavern on Water Street. It is latest restaurant to host the gathering. Even though the party was originally arranged at Two Gramps Brewing, which sold to the Blind Pig, the new owners honored the commitment.

That brought in chef Tim Murray, who had never made latkes before. He had spoken to Montell by telephone and did some research online as they were talking. He also had a screenshot from the plate produced by Two Gramps. He was, he said, a bit “deer in the headlights.”

“A big part of our restaurant is scratch cooking, so I took home apples made apple sauce from scratch,” Murray said. “We cured our own salmon for lox. Instead of pre-made jelly doughnuts, we did empanada dough and fried it real quick, and we did a vanilla buttercream and fresh blueberries and cinnamon. Then, I just did a salad.”

Montell and her father, Joe, son, Aaron, and three daughters Yana, Juliana and Ranata sat at a long table in the front window and welcomed friends, who also brought friends.

Across the restaurant, the Rev. Kerry Mansir sat with friends for a bite. Mansir said she attended the latke party last year. It was a happy accident it was being held Sunday when they stopped in for meal after the Christmas pageant at Christ Church Episcopal just up the hill.

“It’s delicious,” Mansir said. “I prefer the sour cream to the apple sauce.”

Chef Tim Murray prepares plates of latkes Sunday at the Blind Pig Tavern in Gardiner. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

Latkes are a traditional Jewish dish served at Hanukkah  The Festival of Lights is an eight-day commemoration of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem.

It is the hot oil rather than the potato cakes that honor the Jewish tradition because the festival celebrates the miracle of an oil supply that was to last a day but lasted eight days.

Montell said the latke party may draw more gentiles than Jews. Later in the day, she and her family would take part in the celebration at Temple Beth El in Augusta, which would include making arts and crafts, a menorah lighting and a potluck supper at which more latkes would be served.

“It’s nice when people share, whether it’s a tree lighting or a latke party. Whatever is meaningful and fun,” Montell said. “We’re all on streaks so much. We need to slow down and taste the food and look at how pretty it’s presented.”

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