Thursday, February 21, 2008

Not Your Mammeleh's Brisket

Long ago, I learned not to be threatened by my husband’s cooking. His culinary skills are far superior to mine, so if he wants to cook, let him. After much soul-searching, I realized that I’m no less a woman for it; and we’re both much better fed.

But a sated tummy can’t always satisfy a fragile ego, and that queasy rumbling of insecurity (jealousy?), overtook me recently when Hubby started making brisket. He bought a slow cooker with the idea that he could fill it with the raw ingredients of dinner in the morning and come home from work to find the fully prepared meal that I am too incompetent to make.

At first I loved the slow cooker. It’s within eyeshot of my desk, and I can smell its savory goodness all day as I work. Then, one day when I wasn’t feeling well, Hubby made brisket.

Through the glass lid, I watched as globules of fat dripped off the slow-cooking meat. The hard outlines of vegetables eventually melted into something blurrier, softer-looking. Even through the glass, I could tell the onions would practically dissolve right in my mouth. The smell was heavenly. It was perfect.

It was infuriating.

I may not cook, but I do make the family’s chicken soup when one of us
is sick. I also brew tea by shoving fistfuls of fresh mint leaves into
cups of boiling water. And on those rare times that stuffed cabbage is
called for, I’m the one who rolls up the meat. I do this not because I
like to do this, but because my position as the household’s yiddishe
mameh demands it.

Similarly, brisket is baleboosteh territory –  the haute cuisine of
shtetl food. If I can’t make a brisket, I might as well surrender my
well-honed nagging skills and cancel the itineraries of every guilt
trip I’ve ever planned.

With this 5-pound hunk of meat, Hubby invaded my turf. True, that turf
was unpaved, shuttered by a chain-link fence and attracting stray cats,
but it was still my turf. And some primitive part of my brain told me I
must reclaim it. To make the next brisket. And to make it so well, that
I would become the household’s official brisket-maker.

Of course, I didn’t.

So when our family was assigned to bring the brisket to a recent party
at Maayan’s house, I started to fret. I worried that after one bite of
Hubby’s ridiculously tender brisket, all the yentas would surround him,
wanting to swap recipes and techniques. He’d be enveloped in
conversations about temperature settings, and I’d stand around bored
and humiliated, praying for the conversation to turn to shoes.

The morning of the party, Hubby woke up early and prepared the meat. As
always, his brisket filled our house with a mouth-watering aroma. I
tried to be OK with this, but I had to bristle a little when Hubby
scolded me for letting Zev run into the kitchen while he was trying to
finish up the dish.

“I need you to keep him out of the kitchen,” he said to me – in an
exact (but I think unintentional) imitation of what I sound like when
I’m trying to get something done in that terrifically foreign room.

At the party, Hubby’s brisket joined Maayan’s meatballs. Her sister’s
salads and her mother-in-law’s chicken. There was rice and a whole
assortment of vegetables. Everything was delicious – particularly the
meat. We sat down to eat next to a few friends and woman I didn’t know.
She complimented Hubby on the brisket, and I thought, “Here we go.”

But it was actually Ely who started asking the cooking questions.

“What did you put on this? Wine?”

The two men began talking, and the woman started asking me what I do.
Before I knew it, we were engaged in a conversation about
self-employment and unique networking techniques. Eventually, the woman
got up to find her purse so she could get me a business cards.

I turned back to Hubby and Ely. The two men were deep in a conversation
about chicken. Ely likes to soak the bird in beer. Hubby has found a
honey-based marinade he likes a lot. I was exchanging business cards,
and Hubby and Ely were exchanging recipes.

I smiled, helped Zev shovel another forkful of meat into his mouth and
whispered in his ear, “This is definitely not your mother’s brisket.”


  1. This makes my day! Rob cooks for me almost every night and all I've gotta do is sit back and look pretty. Also, I'm an amazing dishwasher. I'm a dish machine!

  2. Loved his brisket...still waiting for secret receipe...and, oh, thanks for NOT know who.... ha ha ha!!!