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Hanukkah with Bubbe; Grandmother's cooking becomes an Internet sensation.

Byline: Lisa D. Welsh

WORCESTER - As Jews begin to celebrate Hanukkah after sundown Friday, 83-year-old Bubbe will light a candle on the menorah and fire up her frying pan.

"Jewish people live all over the world, and each have their own twist on the recipe," Bubbe said as she prepared a batch of latkes that would be frozen ahead of time.

Using olive oil to symbolize the miracle of one day's portion of pure, undefiled oil lasting eight days, Bubbe advises a visitor to wait about 10 minutes, or "when the edges get golden brown" before flipping the potato disks.

"I'm no gourmet, but I feel qualified that it's a good recipe. Its old-fashioned or traditional," Bubbe said.

Just as she made batches of latkes by the hundreds for her children's orthodox Jewish school, Bubbe makes latkes for her family, and anyone else who wants to check out episode 13 of her monthly online cooking show seen at FeedMeBubbe.com and on YouTube.

Mixing a recipe of Old World wisdom, childhood memories, family tradition and modern technology, Bubbe nourishes the soul as much as providing symbolic sustenance in the making of the traditional latkes. Along the way, she appeals to 20- to 30-somethings who were brought up on fast food and the Internet.

"I really feel like I am filling a void, that they really think of me as their grandmother on the Internet," she said.

Because she wants to be thought of as anyone's grandmother, Bubbe asked that her name not be used in this story.

Bubbe, which means grandmother in Yiddish, agreed to help her grandson Avrom I. Honig, 25, who created the show in 2006 after an internship at Marist College's New York Media Experience Program with Al Roker. After graduating from Worcester State College that year and needing an audition reel, Mr. Honig said he was wracking his brain for something original.

"I was upset that my project wasn't working out and happened to be eating at the time," Mr. Honig said. "My father said, `Why don't you video Bubbe?' I think he had an alternative motive and wanted her recipes."

But he gave it a shot, filming on his Sony HDR HC 3 with mini DVHD tapes in his grandmother's kitchen. After a couple of takes, they tossed the script and went with Bubbe's low-key, ad libbing, naturally comforting style.

"After we posted that first video, there was a ridiculously immediate reaction," Mr. Honig said.

Ever since, Bubbe's fan base has reached out as if viewers were asking their own grandmother for advice or wanted to bring back a time when a grandmother was making meals that nobody bothered to get the recipe for.

"I didn't know about blogging, but within seconds - I can't believe this - people were telling me that I brought back happy memories and said `You are replacing my grandmother' or `Bubbe, can you adopt me?'" she said.

Thirty-two episodes later, with Bubbe cooking traditional Jewish food and sharing her down-to-earth take on things, Avrom recounts how as invited guests at an Internet trade show, they were grilled and questioned about whether "Feed Me Bubbe" was really an alternative reality game or viral video campaign, in the sense of faux home movie to be passed around on YouTube ala "David After The Dentist" or "Charlie Bit My Finger."

"It was surreal when this really tough critic asked what product we are actually advertising. They couldn't believe a grandson would be taping his grandmother cooking," Mr. Honig said.

Traditional media also has profiled "Feed Me Bubbe" on ABC World News, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Post, and Bubbe and Avrom have been filmed by WGBH Boston for a feature on an upcoming "Frontline: Digital Nation" to be released in winter 2010.

In a preview posted at www.pbs.org, the "Frontline" producers write:

"It turns out there are hundreds of people yearning for the warmth and coziness of a grandmother's kitchen and a good matzo ball soup recipe. Through the Internet, Bubbe provides just that. We were charmed and intrigued, so we decided to head up to Bubbe's to see how she and Avrom cook up their magic, and find out what it's like to become an octogenarian online star."

Back in her kitchen, preparing her latkes, Bubbe is charmingly surprised by the attention.

"I've received thousands of e-mails from all over the world," she said. "Sometimes I feel like a therapist because of the things they tell me in confidence. I answer as many as I can."

Her grandson doesn't need that demo tape anymore, having owned and operated his own production company, Chalutz Production, for three years. There are sponsors for the Feed Me Bubbe site, where you can also purchase T-shirts, bags, mouse pads, cutting boards, and a cork coaster for your kosher wine, all emblazoned with Bubbe's likeness.

"I thought I was doing him a favor with one video, but then we did another and another." Bubbe said. "Then he just came in one morning and said, `How about if I try my own Web site?'"

Make Bubbe's latkes at home

Potato Latkes

5 large raw potatoes

1 small onion

2 eggs lightly beaten

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

1/4 cup matzo meal or flour

vegetable oil

Grate the raw potatoes alternately with the onion or cut raw potatoes and onions in small pieces and use blender or food processor. Leave a little of the blender mixture in the blender so that each batch of potatoes will blend well together. Must be like a grater consistency.

Mix in the eggs, salt, pepper, matzo meal or flour.

Let mixture rest for about 5 minutes so that the mixture will get thicker.

In a large frying pan over medium high heat, heat vegetable oil that is 1/8- to 1/4-inch deep until hot, but not smoking.

To form each latke, use a large spoon to transfer some of the potato mixture to the frying pan.

Fry latkes until they are well-browned on both sides and crisp around the edges.

Drain the latkes well on paper towels.

Latkes can be served immediately or kept warm in the oven at 250 degrees. They also can be frozen by placing them between layers of aluminum foil.

To reheat, preheat oven to 400 degrees for 10 minutes, and place frozen latkes in oven in a single layer until they are crispy around the edges.

Serve with apple sauce and sour cream.

ART: PHOTOS

CUTLINE: (1) Bubbe prepares potato latkes in her kitchen. (2) Avrom Honig sits with his grandmother, Bubbe, in her kitchen, as they enjoy freshly made potato latkes.

PHOTOG: T&G Staff Photos/STEVE LANAVA
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Title Annotation:ENTERTAINMENT & LIFESTYLE
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Dec 9, 2009
Words:1119
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