Sunday, November 19, 2006

Just for the record: Yum

Another tradition that we established, way back when our marriage was new and we had the time and stillness to think about things, was the annual Brisket Shabbat.

To be honest, I have no idea why I decided to make brisket back in December of 2000. I am not a particular lover of red meat; when we used to have an occasional fancy meal out, I would usually get a fish dish and have two bites of Taxman's steak-- that was enough beef for me.* But brisket evoked my mom's infrequent homage to traditional Jewish cookery, and I guess I had a hankering for it.

I did have Epicurious as my homepage at work, having given up my subscription to Bon Appetit. (I am not really a food snob, I promise. I have a few rules, but they're not snobbish.) Somehow I decided to make Cranberry-Portobello Brisket for the Friday night dinner closest to our anniversary; as we jousted over the few leftover bits the next night, I realized this should be an annual undertaking. We had invited three other young couples, toasted to our first year of marriage, and had a generally excellent time.

That piece of meat, though, had been an extravagance. I remember it costing close to $60.** And that was just for a 4 1/2 pound slab of raw beef, never mind the other ingredients or the other parts of the meal. Both of us had new jobs, rent and bills and all that other grownup stuff to deal with. What had possessed me?

Whatever. It was good. Damn good.

And so the next December we were extravagant again. And then again the next year. Sometimes we held our "brisket Shabbat" in late November, to celebrate Taxman's birthday; our anniversary is less than three weeks later. The side dishes and invited company changed annually, but it was always an Event, at least in our minds. (We don't get out much.)

Which wasn't to say there weren't bumps along the way. Finding a piece of brisket big enough was a huge challenge after that first year. I suppose a four- or five-pound piece of meat serves a lot of people, but Shabbat meals of eight or 10 certainly isn't unheard of. After a couple of years of settling for two two-pound pieces (tastes the same, just hard to fit in a pan), I started ordering the meat in advance, although this year I got screwed; despite my advanced order for a four-pound cut, I wound up with--you guessed it--two two-pound pieces.*** Last year I couldn't find the cranberry juice concentrate and had to use an unsweetened variety, which wasn't quite the same.

This year I completely overextended myself. Knowing that we'd need leftovers for Shabbat lunch, I made a lot of food. Many, many side dishes. Two cakes. Actually, it would have been overextended if I had been working full time with no kids. Attempting this menu with a toddler with a newly-later bedtime and an infant who will lately only sleep touching me was insane ridiculous. Thankfully Taxman came home from a two-day junket to Hotlanta with a wicked virus and was home sick, but not bedridden, for the rest of the week and could keep the kids entertained while I cooked.

On Friday night when we rolled into bed, stomachs pleasantly full and heads buzzing from lively conversation, I was happy to have pulled it off. Another Brisket Shabbat in the books, another year slowly drawing to a close. To my shame, however, I neglected to wish Taxman a happy birthday on Saturday--his actual birthday--until very late in the day. I was a touch too focused on the celebration, and not on the person. But based on how he dug into the leftovers at lunch today, I'm guessing that he forgives me.

* I do have a yen for a good burger from time to time, although I am infinitely more about the fries.
** Kosher meat = highway robbery
*** I had been buying the meat at a well-outfitted kosher grocery and butcher shop in New Jersey, but there is a new place in our neighborhood, owned by someone we know. I had to wait in the store with the two kids for a ridiculous amount of time (over 30 minutes) and wound up with something I didn't order. Well, I know where not to go next year.

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