Over Rosh Hashanah dinner at a friend's house recently, surveying the table exquisitely set with silver kiddush cups and platters overflowing with food, I asked everyone to recount some of their childhood holiday traditions. Sadly, our hostess recalled only quiet dinners confined to her family of five. Her father had been too frum -- staunchly observant -- to ever consider including any outsiders. No one else's religious standards would conceivably have measured up.
     That, I thought, was sad indeed. It also could not be more foreign to my own experience. While growing up in the bosom of my father's boisterous extended family, we found that solitude was never an issue... nor an option. With what felt like a cast of thousands --including innumerable blowhards and big personalities, from buxom Aunt Bess to cigar-chomping Uncle Abe -- every occasion exploded into a raucous crowd scene. The adults would crowd around the dining room, arguing over everything from politics to Coke vs. Pepsi until they were red in the face, while my cousins and I were relegated to the kids' table out in the kitchen.
     This didn't happen only on holidays, Jewish or otherwise. Virtually every weekend, winter, spring, summer or fall, found us in the belly of the great white whale -- that is, with the Weisses, in Brooklyn, New York.
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Grandma Sadie, a matriarch and true balabusta
      Day or night, you could savor the heavenly aroma of simmering chicken soup wafting through every corridor of my grandparents' cavernous building. And although there were many apartments in their weathered brick Brooklyn low-rise, I never had even a moment of doubt that most of that scent was wafting from theirs.
     Grandma Sadie, as my father's Russian-born mother was known to all, barely cleared five feet in her sensible black shoes. But she ruled over soft-spoken Grandpa Frank and the rest of the family with an iron fist that, as far as I could see, had a soup ladle surgically attached. Up until she died, the winter that I turned 12, I don't recall seeing her even once without an apron tied securely around her ample waist. And with more than 25 mouths to feed each Sunday, counting my many second cousins and assorted great aunts, who could legitimately blame her?
     She was always so busy at the stove, in fact, that I'm not sure we ever had a single conversation. I can still hear her hoarse, matronly voice in my mind, seasoning other people's tales of woe with horrified exclamations of "Oy, Gevalt," or "Gut in Himmel!" Other than that, I couldn't swear with any certainty that she even spoke much English.
     If she did, and were she still here, I would have long ago beaten a path to her Borough Park door to beg for cooking lessons. Her methods may have been less than modern (see reference to MBT bouillon cubes below), and farther still from healthy. I'd still kill for a slice of her spectacular golden sponge cake. Or a slurp of that chicken soup.
     I'd like to believe that along with her gaudy diamond cocktail ring, I inherited a hefty helping of her spunk and a fraction of her culinary skill. Like her, I love to cook for a crowd, so family holiday dinners are usually hosted at my house. Everything is made from scratch, and no one seems to ever complain. There was one time, though, that, attempting to economize, I purchased a brisket that wasn't kosher. And after watching everyone around the table chewing with valiant but much too visible effort, I vowed to never do that again. Whether you eat alone or with family and friends, every meal should be a pleasure. So buy only the best meat, or even my Grandma's recipe may turn out to be tough. And you don't want that. Oy, Gevalt!
Soft-spoken Granda Frank Weiss
Grandma Sadie’s Brisket
(as told to Grandma Bunnie circa 1952)
Sear meat with garlic, salt, pepper and onions.
Add MBT bouillon cube to water and 1 can tomato sauce.
Bake in 360 degree oven or cook on stove.
Slice one hour before finished (no blood – tan inside).
Put in pressure cooker in gravy.
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Aunt Pat’s Brisket

(my updated version, based on Grandma Sadie’s original recipe)

That's me -- more of a modern cook.

1 kosher brisket of beef (4 to 10 pounds)
2 to 3 large yellow onions, sliced
3 or 4 cloves garlic
2 jars tomato sauce (I usually use Classico Tomato and Basil)
2 cans beef broth (I always use College Inn)
olive oil (or canola or vegetable oil) – approx. 2 tablespoons
a few white potatoes, peeled and cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon sugar (approx.) 
a few carrots, peeled and sliced
a cup or so of string beans  
       Heat oil in large pan (preferably a frying pan or deep pot for which you have a lid).
     Sautee garlic and onions until yellow and slightly softened. Push onions to sides of pan, put meat in center and sear on high until well browned all over.
     Add approximately equal amounts of tomato sauce and beef broth to pot. Stir to combine well.
     Add several cut up potatoes, as well as the string beans and sliced carrots, if desired. The latter vegetables are totally optional, but the potatoes help thicken the gravy.
     Cover the pan and reduce heat so that the gravy simmers. Cook for 1 ½ to 2 hours, turning the meat occasionally so that both sides cook evenly. Remove meat from pan and slice THIN* against the grain. Stir a tablespoon or so of sugar into sauce. Then return meat to pan and cook for about 45 minutes more.
     *Note: The thinner you slice it, the more tender it tends to be!
Questions? Comments? Please see my GUESTBOOK/COMMENTS page.