Illustrated cover of the book The Great Latke Cook Off showing a fireplace and mantel with a lit menorah on it and photographs of the family and the words

Author Lauren Muskovitz Ranalli tells the story behind the story.

Lauren Muskovitz Ranalli Special to the Jewish News

Back in December 2011, my husband and I welcomed our first child into the world. As an interfaith couple, our December quickly became a birthday-Chanukah-Christmas extravaganza. Shortly after our son was born, he received lovely Christmas books from friends and family. On one of my early outings with him, I went on a search for Chanukah books to add a little balance to our bookshelf.

The stories I initially found seemed to all fall on opposing ends of a spectrum. On one side there were stories such as Elmo Celebrates Chanukah and on the other side was The History of Chanukah and the Maccabees. Neither of these really resonated with me (no offense to Elmo or the Maccabees). I wanted to find a book that was a better reflection of my own family traditions and cultural experience. So, I decided to write it myself.

The story of the The Great Latke Cook Off came to me on the drive to work one morning — basically downloading in my brain as a single, complete thought. I typed it up in one sitting and sent it to myself as an email. But I was a new mom with a full-time job, and I had absolutely no idea where to even look to get a book published. I tucked it away, always keeping the story in back of my mind.

Last year, after my two children had both completed preschool at the Jewish Community Center of Ann Arbor, I was looking for additional ways to stay connected with our Jewish traditions. I pulled up that old email, did a lot of googling, found an incredible local illustrator named Emily Siwek and embarked on a six-month sprint to turn The Great Latke Cook Off into a real book.

Now that the book has been published, I have started hearing from families — of all backgrounds — from across the country. Some of my favorite feedback I have received is that this story has inspired families to start their own cooking contests, carving out time and space for new traditions during a busy time of year.


Lauren Muskovitz Ranalli will appear for a reading at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield at 10 a.m. Friday, Nov. 30, and at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township at 1 p.m. the same day. Books will be available for purchase or can be ordered at