The Alley family at son Simeon’s graduation from Washington Academy. L to R Adin, Jason, Ezra, Elaine and Simeon Alley. As Simeon prepared to go off to college, his mom Elaine wondered what food would remind him of home. Photo courtesy of Elaine Alley

It’s funny how we think of home as the place we grew up, the place we have lived the longest, and the place we feel most ourselves. Home can be lots of places at once. Home isn’t an easy place to re-create, especially when our palates are trained to taste a specific food memory.

My husband, a native Down Easter, reminisced about his grandmother’s molasses cookies. I met Nana Celia once, on my first trip to Jonesport, one foggy Fourth of July. She told me I could have her grandson, but from the neck up, he was hers. She loved a good snuff (a half sniff, half kiss on the temple affectionately given to children) of her grandchildren. She passed away a few months later. I never had a chance to try her baking.

Years later, being the ever doting wife, but honestly someone who thought she had it in the bag until the fifth rejected batch, I needed to figure out this baked good quandary. I had a description but no recipe: They were soft and chewy, big as your open hand, dusted in flour, and they held up against a tall, cold glass of milk. Easy enough, right? By the 10th attempt, I was officially defeated. It wasn’t the flour to sugar to fat ratio, nor the baking time and temperature, it dawned on me. Those cookies were baked with his grandmother’s love. To my husband, they were home. Lesson learned.

I am writing this not long before my oldest son sets out for college in the fall, and I wonder what home will taste like for him. It won’t be the homemade baby food from almost two decades ago. He won’t touch half those vegetables. If not for my brisket, maybe my stir fries or the spaghetti sauce I make almost weekly would top the list. But he’s a meat and potatoes boy.

When I was growing up, meat was a luxury, and brisket was always at our holiday family meals. It trumped the turkey at many Thanksgiving meals – and still does. This brisket still appears in our home for holidays, occasionally on a Friday night if I’ve had the day off work to let it laze in the oven. This brisket will fragrance the house, warm the kitchen on a cold wintry day and will lovingly welcome your family home.

I wouldn’t mind being part of a food story told by someone I love one day. I hope to leave my recipes behind so they can re-create those familiar tastes. And even if I am long gone, maybe my memory will be thought of as a slice of home.


For Elaine Alley, and she hopes her children, brisket means home. Photo courtesy of Elaine Alley


4 pound first-cut beef brisket
6 crushed garlic cloves, divided use
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly and finely ground black pepper
2 tablespoons paprika, divided use
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large sweet onion, sliced into 1/2-inch rings
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/2 cup sherry wine
6 fresh thyme sprigs
3 cups beef broth

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Make a paste of 3 garlic cloves, the salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of paprika. Rub the paste on both sides of the brisket.

On the stovetop, heat a Dutch oven or heavy roasting pan on a medium-high flame. Sear the brisket to a nice brown color on both sides, approximately 4 minutes each side. Set the brisket aside.

Reduce the heat to medium-low, and in the same pan, heat the olive oil and sauté the onion for 10-15 minutes. Stir frequently so the onion doesn’t burn, but instead becomes soft, caramelized and fragrant.


Add the remaining garlic cloves and remaining paprika and sauté for another minute or 2. Add the tomato paste and sauté for 2 minutes until the mixture browns slightly.

Now add the sherry to deglaze the pan. Scrape up those tasty bits stuck to the bottom. Add the thyme and beef broth. Turn the heat up and bring to a boil. Return the seared brisket to the pan, fattier side up and spoon the sauce over top.

Cover the pan and place in the oven for 3½ to 4½ hours, until tender. Be sure to check on the brisket every 45 minutes and spoon more sauce over the top to prevent drying.

Transfer the brisket to a large plate to cool. Strain the pan juices in a fine-mesh sieve to remove any bits of onion and thyme sprigs. Skim some of the fat off the top of the juices. Return the clarified pan juices to the pan. Heat on the stovetop on medium-high until the sauce is reduced by half.

After allowing the brisket to rest until cooled, cut into thin slices against the grain and smother with the warm, reduced sauce.

Serve on a large platter. If there are leftovers, they make great sandwiches.


THE COOK: Elaine Alley, Jonesport

“I am a midlife mother of three boys, trying to balance the chaos with the mundane, while making sure the feeding trough isn’t ever empty. I love cooking for family and friends when time and opportunity present themselves. Sometimes it is a post-op meal for a sick friend, a holiday feast for 30 or a sweet after-dinner bite for my loves. By trade, I am a home health physical therapist. I’ve been known to swap recipes with my elderly patients, while providing healthful tips for nutrition. I learned a lot about local recipes this way.

“I am a big city implant, but have lived way Down East long enough to know that exotic ingredients and crave-worthy takeout are hard to come by but easy to re-create. I like to cook by feel, but if I am cornered could clearly write out the logistics. I cook like Grandma taught me, using all the senses without a recipe card. I truly believe anyone can cook if they have readied materials, positive intentions and time to focus. Food burns when it feels neglected or rushed.

Though my cultural food background is a mix of Mid-Atlantic, Middle Eastern/Mediterranean and Jewish, I have opened my pantry and refrigerator doors to local delicacies of halibut cheeks, fiddleheads, foraged mushrooms and fresh wild blueberry pie. I love exploring world cuisines and techniques in my own kitchen.”

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