There were many upsides to delaying our honeymoon to Belize until the week between Christmas and New Years. For one, and this was big, my office was closed so I only had to take two vacation days for a 12-day trip. And while I don't much mind the snow and cold weather, it was nice to head south for a bit before the long Chicago winter settled into our bones.
But the best part was simply having the energy to enjoy the trip. If we had gone right after the wedding, I would have been too exhausted to do anything, and we like to be active when we travel.
For instance, one of my favorite things to do in Belize was to sip coffee and eat a soul-satisfying breakfast of fresh papaya and granola with yogurt and gaze at the toucans, like the one pictured above, flying by as the sun rose gently above the mountains. It was tiring, I tell you.
We also drank many Belikin beers. Lifting a Belikin is hard work. The glass bottles are about twice as heavy as American beer bottles, so we had to give ourselves a break sometimes by ordering margaritas. And napping on hammocks. Sometimes we did both at once.
But while we made sure to relax, there was too much to experience in Belize to sit around for long. Aside from bird watching (which really does take a surprising amount of mental energy) and Belikin lifting, we snorkeled in the world's second largest barrier reef, canoed past orange iguanas, hiked in a jaguar preserve, learned how to spot wildlife in the dark, biked the rocky dirt road through a Garifuna village, and explored Mayan ruins on foot and in caves.
We also received the warm hospitality and kindness of the Belizean people. Seriously, we met this one man at a bus stop who gave us his phone number and email address and told us to contact him if we needed anything.
Those were all the upsides. The downside, though, was that we missed Christmas with Ryan's family, and their annual gift exchange and dinner. Although I don't celebrate the holiday, we participate in each other's traditions. So it was a big deal to miss Christmas, and we had to make up for it.
After the trip, we hosted Christmas dinner at our place for Ryan's parents and his aunt and uncle. The occasion presented a nice opportunity to mix our traditions. We made brisket, a recipe that shows up at many a Jewish holiday meal, and used my sister's mother-in-law's recipe from the family cookbook that we received as a wedding gift.
My ancestors, who came from Eastern Europe in the late 1800s, probably served brisket at their own special occasions. When winter came, around the time of Hanukkah, families often slaughtered their cows rather than bear the cost of feeding them until spring. The brisket, which comes from the lower chest of a cow, was also a cheaper cut of meat.
This is all according to The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks, which inspired me to dig up my Grandma Shirley's well worn copy of The Settlement Cook Book that I found on the shelves of my grandfather's kitchen after he passed away last year. The book was first published in 1901 with recipes for Jewish immigrants who settled in the United States. I laughed out loud when I saw the cover which, in a sign of the times, proclaims that these recipes are "The Way to a Man's Heart."
The book includes three different brisket recipes with beans, cabbage, and sauerkraut, which advise: "Place [brisket] in large kettle of cold water" and "Boil until tender." This made more sense when my Grandma Pearl reminded me, "Oh honey, we didn't have ovens back then." The broth might have some brown sugar, molasses, or mustard added to it for sweetness, or vinegar for some sour flavor.
The use of ovens ushered in a new era for brisket, which could now be slow cooked for hours in a sauce to tenderize the tough connective tissue in this cut of meat. Old World flavors were replaced by an Americanized sauce of "foods" like ketchup, chile sauce, and onion soup mix.
I know, it sounds disgusting. But it's not. The brisket was well received by Ryan's family, and by then we were calling it a chrisket (a Christmas brisket), and defining a new tradition of our own.
As for whether brisket is the way to a man's heart, stayed tuned for the next recipe we made out of the family cookbook, which is for sure the way to MY man's heart.
Happy Valentines Day, all.
Grandma Joanie's Brisket
1 cup orange juice
1 cup ketchup
1 cup applesauce
1 packet onion soup mix
Stir oj, ketchup, applesauce, and onion soup mix together and pour over brisket. Add chopped potatoes, carrots, onions--any root vegetable will work. Cover with foil. Bake at 350 for at least 4 hours. Cool, remove remaining fat, and slice against the grain.
We made the brisket the night before and refrigerated until about two hours before serving, when we sliced it (against the grain--this is critical!) and heated it up in the oven at about 200. An hour would have been enough time to heat up our brisket; it was a tad dried out but still had plenty of flavor.