where the jews are… not

"We’re celebrating Rosh Hashanah, ya know."  I meant it less as a statement and more of a "Yay, you want to right?"  His answer came in a blank face followed by a roll of his eyes.  "What?  It’s not like I’m going to force you to go to synagogue."  As if I could.  I like being a Jew, especially when I’m not in New York.  At summer camp, in Massachusetts, we were always given the option of attending Friday night services at a nearby shul.  Some campers opted to go mostly for the grape juice and challah bread.  I went because being Jewish felt special there.  Only a handful of us went, and I found something comforting in the tradition, in knowing the songs and most of the prayers.  When I returned home at the close of summer, I never went to services.  It’s common to be a Jew in New York, so I figured the people who went to services got the Jews sort of covered.  Like, eh, someone else will go.  In Massachusetts, I felt like I at least needed to be a body in a seat.  I also wanted to be there.  I feel a sense of obligation and pride when I’m somewhere "where the Jew’s are not."  Yes, yes, there are Jews in Austin.  Michael Dell has spent quite a bit on the Jewish Community Association of Austin.  Still, they’ve got Christian radio stations and well, the bible belt.  Here’s what they don’t have: FLANKEN.

Flanken is a cut of meat, basically short ribs, but cut across the bone.  In Forest Hills, NY it’s hard to come by this time of year.  Jewish grandmothers make friends with their butchers and beg for rations.  They collect their cuts from several different butchers, each only allowing a pound or two per customer.  Then it’s taken home, heavy in waxy paper, prepared for a pot with baby carrots and dried fruits.  This actually sounds a little disgusting, but I promise, it’s heavenly in that comforting grandmother way.  It’s like a quilt from a country store that sells brown eggs, rooster salt shakers, and has clear glass jars of jelly beans swizzle sticks.  Flanken becomes sweet candied meat.  I’ve made it before, but I never make enough meat.  I think you need at least seven pounds of it (the bones are heavy) to get a proper fix.  The real problem is… I have no one for whom to cook.  I want to make matzo ball soup (with a touch of nutmeg or with fresh dill), but sometimes it’s pointless when there’s no family around to appreciate it.  Philip doesn’t care about the Jewish holidays, which makes me a little sad.  Not a lot sad, but some.  I want someone to be a good Jew with me, here, in Austin, where it counts!  And by my estimation, being a good Jew means enjoying (or at least trying) gefilte fish with horseradish.  It means lighting candles and reenacting what came before you, in your own special way.  And for me, that means fine china, candles, a dutch oven filled with meat, a basket full of yellow glossy challah, and some kind of kugel.  Apple cake or something with honey, certainly, but according to my sister, being a good Jew is all about chopped liver.  I wish I had more family around.   When the kids come, plus a few years, I’m going to put them to work in my kitchen. Until then, I’ll be making zwetschgenkuchen all by myself… all for myself, since Mr. Phil refuses to have any fruit in his dessert. Oy.



  1. Hi Stephanie!

    Belated: congratulations, wife ;)

    I am from Southern Germany, from Bavaria, and we make Zwetschgenkuchen every week, when plums are in season. But in Bavaria we call it "Zwetschgndatschi". No matter, you can have more original recipes if you want.
    Greetings from sunny Germany,

  2. Ugh – my boyfriend is the same way (with the fruit in dessert). So frustrating!

    And I also love the holidays for the sense of tradition – immersing myself in all those ceremonies and recipes…

  3. (Somewhat belated) congratulations on your new marriage! I read your previous post and it made me wonder if you've considered turning your television off for a week or so. This is off-topic, I'm sorry, but I wondered what you decided to do about a honeymoon…Between now and your book tour, are you going anywhere — before you go everywhere?

  4. Very interesting post. I will be celebrating my first Rosh Hashanah and it's really cool to read about specific traditions. You never know. Phil might have a change of heart come sundown and celebrate with you. Have a wonderful holiday.

  5. L'Shana Tova.

    To me celebrating the Jewish Holidays is about spending time at home with your family. He is now your family and Austin is your home. That seems pleasent and spiritual. With time, and when the kids are old enough to help in the kitchen (that is my memory as well) that feeling will be solidified. You will also have the opportunity to make your own Jewish "family", in Austin. You know how easily a dear friend can become family.

  6. I just wanted to wish you both a shana tova and a mazel tov on the wedding!

    Also, I just finished reading your book and I am so happy for you and your happy ending! And as an aside, I loved loved loved your online dating profile – totally original and I am half tempted to use it…(ESPECIALLY the LOL bit – I loathe that…)

  7. So many things to comment on-

    As a Catholic, I go to Mass every Sunday with the family. I do it because I believe it is the right thing to do, and good for the kids. but beyond that, at least in my parish, it's a social function. You meet everyone in the neighborhood, you find out what events are going on, what the gossip is, etc.

    I'm glad you mentioned the butcher, it's a dying artform. I was going to become an apprentice when I was 18, until they found I wasn't really 18. I think I'd have enjoyed it.

    Make Phil celebrate and I think he'll appreciate it when the kids are old enough to pass along the traditions. Without traditions, we are no more than nomads.

    But I agree with him on the fruit. Desserts should be made out of empty carbs, sugar, and fat. Maybe stretch it to include a liquor.

  8. When I lived in a small town outside of Philly I didn't know I lot of Jewish people. I too enjoy the "feasts" of the holidays. So instead of moping because there was nobody Jewish around to enjoy these heavenly traditions I invited the few people I did know and cooked for them dishes they had never heard of much less experienced. It was so much fun explaining the food and the traditions. End result: They couldn't wait until next year!
    There are plenty of people to cook for and they don't have to be family. Just so you know, Jewish dishes have this way of making everyone family. La Shana Tova!

  9. Sorry to hear Phil won't participate. I'm making a Moroccan Jewish meal tomorrow night. Lemons, leeks, garlic and eggplants shall mingle with chicken and chickpeas. How it turns out will be a New Year's surprise. I've ordered extra chocolate babka in case dinner's a disaster.

    A happy, healthy & sweet new year to you & yours.

  10. Oy Vey, if only I lived in Austin, I'd come over and we'd celebrate Rosh Hashanah together, it would be so much fun. All the great food, matzo ball soup with a touch of nutmeg, (the hint of nutmeg is the best part, not everyone uses nutmeg) I love it! sadly, i don't live close to family now and i have no clue how to make matzo balls the way i like them…my aunts way. i guess it will be a grilled chicken and veggie night.

  11. L'Shana Tovah Stephanie! Your year is already off to sweet start; I tend to celebrate the holidays in my own spiritual way these days, minutes spent in my own thoughts…maybe you and Phil could just spend a few moments recognizing the New Year and apprecating all that is to come…

  12. Congrats on your newly wed status! I hope it brings you both all the joy in the world.

    As a side note, my mother makes the BEST Zwetschgenkuchen (being from Bavaria). Let me know if you're interested in trying her recipe!

  13. Well, look at you Mrs. Charlotte York Goldenblat! ha! Sorry for the Sex and The City reference, the whole scene you created reminded me of that episode.

    Anyway, you will have alll that family shortly. And this year, Im sure when Mr. Phil sees all the preparation and smells all the aromas, he's sure to get in the mood.

  14. As said best by Tevye: Traditions!

    There is nothing like walking into a home filled with the familiar bouquets of matzo ball soup, brisket, kugel and sweet, kosher wine. These smells are what make the holidays. Unless you are someone who grew up with such traditions, there is no way to understand the feelings that go hand in hand in such smells.

    The high holidays are my favorite time of year. I am not a practicing Jew, however, certain traditions must be celebrated and kept going. You can always make dinner for you and yours and have left overs. Kugel tastes better the second time around. And Matzo ball soup is delicious any time of year.

    L'Shana Tova.

  15. Shana Tova. I've never had flanken the way you describe it. For my family, it's a soup meat. We just boil it in the soup and *I* eat it with ketchup. Don't scrunch your face like that. It's delicious! Others in my family eat it with horse radish.

    I love the Jewish holidays. Tradition. Family. Friends. Whether it's 25 (that's how many we'll be tonight) or 2, it's about love. And reflection. Looking inside and thinking about the year that's gone by and the year to come. It doesn't take a crowd to do that, but I can totally understand missing the big family dinner. Don't deprive yourself. The leftovers are always best.

    May 5767 be happy, healthy and sweet.

  16. Every Christmas Eve, my Jewish friend Tamar celebrates with us–but in her own way. She brings gefilte fish with horseradish and baby carrots along with other treats made from her culture. I love Jewish cooking! Who wouldn't appreciate a delicious matzo ball soup???? It's delicious. Italians and Jews are so much alike. They have a passion for family and good food. The one food I can't eat, and won't touch is the cow's tongue. I'm not sure if there's a technical name for it…but no. Can't do it. Won't do it. It just doesn't sit well with me.

    Have a great weekend Steph!

  17. Happy New Year. I'm a jew in San Francisco (originally from exit 48 off the LIE), and would die for some humentaschen from Bagel Boss. While they do ship, they don't ship that.

  18. Yeah. I absolutely agree. Some things are just made to be cooked for many. Some things you just cant make 'a little of'.

    Cooking for one made me fat.

  19. A very good friend of mine invites all of her friends regardless of religion for one night of Rosh Hashannah and one night of Passover. Everybody has a great time, and everybody whether they're Jewish or not can appreciate kreplach/matzoh ball soup and brisket. And if you're far from home and family, it's nice to mark the holiday with a group of people the best way you can. My husband isn't Jewish, but he loves going to our friend's place for dinner. And we enjoy the holidays, both of our holidays, together. Happy New year! L'shana tovah :-).

  20. A dear friend of mine moved to Paris for a year. In his absence, his parents invited me to Rosh Hashanah dinner–a nice Catholic girl with no idea what was going on. I can still taste the matzo ball soup. To this day, it is one of my fondest memories of him and his family.

    I say call your adopted Austin family, run out to the store right now for goodies, and get cooking. Sundown is only a few hours away!

  21. I have some online friends who are Jewish, so I get a full rundown of all the Jewish high holidays! It is one of the most interesting relgions to me! Have fun enjoying Rosh Hashanah!

  22. Question: Is not Philip jew?

    I think tradition is important.
    Maybe you can try to involve Philip step by step. Usually, men are less interested in traditions. For example: I love decorate the house and the tree during Christmas season, and during Christmas Eve I like have dinner listening carols, but my fiancé not. And this make me sad too.

  23. For an alternative to traditional matzo ball soup, check out this week's Dining In section in the New York Times. Some wonderful looking Sephardic Jewish recipes for chicken and chickpea dumplings (for chicken soup) and for a meat dumpling called kubbeh served in an Iranian soup containing beets, plums, and celery. I look forward to trying them, but won't have time to until after Rosh Hashana. We are going to my parents for the holidays, so I will enjoy my mother's flanken and her regular matzo ball soup for now.

    Shana Tova U'Metuka (a Happy Sweet New Year).

  24. I love Jewish food. My mother worked for a company owned by a Jewish family for 25 years and she was the only gentile. She came home with great recipies and sometimes home cooked samples. When the Jewish holidays would roll around, we'd cook and celebrate also. Because of this I make the best cheese cake anyone ever tasted. It's a heart attack on a plate, but its worth every bite.

  25. Just think, you're making it for the THREE of you to eat right now. The babies will forever have a taste for it. If you nurse, they will let you know what they do and do not want you to eat once they are officially in this world!

  26. what do you mean you have no one for whom to cook? you have two daughters. just because they haven't been born yet doesn't mean they're not here. we've seen the pictures.

    do you know the story about how we get that little ridge above our lips, the philtrum, i think it's called? supposedly, unborn babies know everything in the world, but just before they're born, the angel gabriel comes and touches their lips and makes them forget everything. they haven't been touched yet. which means they know it's rosh hashanah. which means you should feed them.

    you said you've been lazy lately. that's reason enough to set the table, whether or not your husband joins you. feed your girls. "how but in custom and ceremony are innocence and beauty born?"

  27. 5767 minutes until we erevelly leave for bubbe and zadie. There's brisket, bones, battles, yuk with gefilte fish – (YUK!) – so our pants are unzipped, ziploc bag in my bag for leftovers. Just being together, keeping traditions going, no matter how often my daughter insists she's an athiest. Well we'll just see about that. Like, when our menorah is lit? L'Shana Tovah! Give your Suit the fruit. A bissel maybe?

  28. I'm not Jewish, but I still remember Rosh Hoshana from childhood as one of the days we didn't have school while all the surrounding towns did. This was because I grew up in a town ( a suburb of Detroit ) with a very high Jewish population. It was so weird to go away to college and find out that there were people who knew little to no Jews. Strangely enough, I just moved back to my hometown, though.

  29. I say EMBRACE your traditions and your husband will follow, especially after you have kids. If you don’t have family make good friends; that is what I do. Surround yourself with your created family; your family of choice.
    I wish I had some sort of family heritage – Jewish, Buddhism – something rich, meaningful .. but I didn’t grow up like that. Since I am not likely to convert to Judaism I am trying to create an equally rich culture for my children.
    My husband initially rejected any sort of religious like traditions, now he anticipates them and appreciates the time and energy I put into them – and the blessing that they are becoming to our kids.
    The zwetschgenkuchen sounds delicious. And my husband rejects fruit in anything – except bananas in the cereal.

  30. I am not Jewish, and over the years alone I have come to welcome and embrace holiday traditions. Who cares if I'm the only one eating? Your flanken sounds so appealing I believe I will attempt to make it–for and by myself. I have come to see that celebration can be a joyful individual experience that doesn't require the participation or enjoyment of others.

    However, Mr. Beer could be a good sport. It's a family and he is part of it. He doesn't have to eat the fruit, but he could be broad-minded enough to understand this is important to you. He might even come to enjoy it, but I don't think he's the man to be a "good Jew" with you. Your children will be good Jews with you, Stephanie. Sorry, sometimes I find the husband too stubborn. Enjoy your special holiday, even if you sit down to dinner alone. Those babies need a taste of eggy challah.

  31. I think you are at a bit of a crossroads here.
    For a long time I abandoned traditional things I'd grown up with because I had no one to "do it for". Some of those things are lost forever.
    Yes, the kids will come along and give you reason to pass on all the things you love, but I say do it now. Stand at the table and light the candles and say the words all by yourself. Husband will come around. Or not. It doesn't matter. And if you think that having 2 three year olds is going to rev your engines to start up some serious domesticity it's not. Better to have all that in place before things get really crazy.

  32. I'm back in Arkansas for a few months and I keep referencing to Jewish things and I get the weirdest looks ever. It's great. I had to explain Shiva last night after that Grey's Anatomy episode. Good times. How's the kiddos?

  33. Awww…. you seem a bit homesick lately.It will get better I promise but it will take a year or two.

    I am bothered that your dear hubby of less than a week doesn't want to share with you in the celebration of your religion and it's traditions. Would it kill him to spend the day cooking Flanken with you , laughing in close proximity as he slips round your growing belly to reach for seasoning? Would a bit of dress up at synagogue while holding your hand have really been too much of a compromise?
    The Jewish New Year is a time to begin introspection, reflect on past mistakes and make changes for a more positive future.I hope your dear husband sees that your religion is important to you and allows himself to be a part of that. His faith or lack there of will be a contributing factor in your children's spiritual heritage. I hope they take after you dear.

  34. Your post reminds me of greek easter, which is such the most fantastic food-religious holiday in my family. Though my mother is south american we celebrate intensely, full of lamb on the spit and everything else you can imagine. All my Irish-Catholic friends come to celebrate and their mouths water for 365 days until the next greek easter!
    I am from the Roslyn, Long Island area- so hope to one day finally taste these nice-sounding jewish delicacies, though sadly 12 years of Catholic school prevented me from meeting too many local jews ;)
    i say embrace this; you are such the foodie, just cook and enjoy the cooking. If the suitor ('husband')doesn't partake, that is his decision. He knows how you are and what you love, so he should enjoy your passion at least, if not the fruit in the dessert. I personally hate fruit mixed with chocolate.

    btw: did you ever post the guppies were girls? I dont remember seeing that?

  35. hi, i am from india i recently saw an article in the indian times n visted ur page was a gud read n i wish u a happy wedded life ….

  36. Shana Tova! Enjoy this holiday in it's fullest with all the sensory trimmings! Zwetschengenkuchen sounds divine. We had something like that last night, but with rubarb and plums and berries. Simply delicious. For me it's brisket with gravy and onions with rice or coarse mashed potatoes, and Palouw (phonetic spelling) chicken baked with rice and long shredded carrots flavored with onions all cooked in a broth (with the rice absorbs the broth). More for dessert: Chocolate chip mandelbrot (recipe from the 21 Club) and honey chocolate dipped cookies.
    When I got married last year all I wanted was to revive certain family traditions and rituals. Holiday food (because it's so sensory) is all about ritual and tradition. It makes sense that you would want to do that. Babies. marriage… it's all about the life renewal- which makes us think about where it was we came.
    Again, a very very sweet shana tova. For you, Mr. Phil and the gupps.

  37. the cut of meat you described made me think of the cut of korean short ribs. You might be able to find the cut you described at an asian market.

  38. I didn't celebrate this year…I feel like a terrible Jew. Oh well, I suppose there's always next weekend for repentance. Unfortunately, the list of things I need to repent for is (still) rapidly growing! Happy New Year!

  39. Well Stephanie –
    You could be married to a cantor – and be overwhelmed with services right now :)
    Shana Tova …may you have a happy and healthy new year.

  40. What a terrific time to start Klein/Beer tradition. I make holiday dinners and I always have them start with a short service. Each guest has their own copy and it is immensely enjoyed by all. I never liked going to Jewish holiday dinners when you just walked in and sat down to eat. I got home from work a little later than planned on Friday but my husband and I hustled to ensure our guests a nice holiday celebration. I did overhear his uncle ask what the holdup was. I also caught our dog licking the apricot kugel which was up on the kitchen counter. Hope Uncle Leo liked it!!Happy & Healthy New Year!

  41. Oy vay…first I was over the moon that I got to read Straight Up and Dirty before ANY of my NYC friends since I lived in London. Then I was excited that I was moving from London to San Francisco as I would get to make up for missing the NYC reading and would get to see you at your Oct 12th Ferry Terminal reading! Alas, I'm now I'm now going to be in NYC on the 12th!! Stephanie Klein Beer, since I won't get to say this in person: best wishes for a happy New Year, a wonderful first year of marriage, a successful pilot and series and a 'speedy delivery.' x

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