I’m sitting here in front of the Christmas tree on this cold Saturday morning. The house is quiet. Both dogs are asleep because…..well. Because they’re dogs, and there’s no food out at the moment.
My husband is asleep because he probably stayed up late watching sports last night. My son, my youngest child, is home for the weekend, and he was out visiting with friends last night, so he is still asleep, too.
I am awake. I am awake because I’m a teacher. Teachers, especially “seasoned teachers” like me, crawl home on Friday nights, drink a glass of wine with dinner, then faceplant on the pillow as soon as the dishes are washed.
I slept for ten hours.
So now I am awake, and I’m thinking about Christmas dinner. There will be nine of us here for the day, which is just about a perfect number. Enough to cook a feast, not so many that its overwhelming. So I’ve been thinking about the menu this morning. And I just found myself humming the line from “Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol”, where the adorable little Tiny Tim sings, “With Razzleberry Dressing!”.
Did you know that there is an actual recipe for “Razzleberry Dressing”? In fact, there are a whole bunch of them. Some include hot peppers (what?), while others are based on any kind of red jello (shudder). At any rate, I started thinking about Christmas dinners of the past, and the various triumphs and tragedies of the meals.
Which got me to remembering the Year of the Goose. Since no one is awake to share the hilarity, I’m putting it down here. If I spell anything wrong, its because I’m laughing so hard.
The Year of the Goose was way back in about 2002. I was involved in local politics at the time, and it was UGLY, to say the least. Our School Committee had fired one Superintendent, dealt with an interim and a hired a new guy, all while engaged in fierce verbal battles with our Town Manager, Selectboard and Finance Committee. It was awful, to put it mildly, and I was losing sleep over the whole mess, and feeling so much pressure that even the upcoming holiday season seemed like it wouldn’t lighten the mood.
One day, just after Thanksgiving of that year, I was at the grocery store, furtively darting around the aisles, trying to fill my cart while avoiding any local people who might want to give me some unsolicited feedback about town politics. I hurried around one corner, and almost crashed carts with the Chairperson of the Finance Committee. She was a woman about my own age, with teenaged kids like mine. We had almost the same pile of foods in our carts, which now stood nose-to-nose. I gulped, and managed to rummage up a small smile. This lady and I had gone at each other in a recent public meeting, video of which was making its way around town, from what I’d heard. I felt a little sick. We greeted each other civilly, “Happy Holidays!” and “Nice to see you!”. I suddenly realized that she was flushed, and was fidgeting with the edge of her jacket. Holy Moment of Clarity; she was as faked out as I was!
I decided that it was time for a truce, and so I asked her about her holiday plans, and what she’d be cooking. You know, woman to woman bonding and all that.
Turns out that this woman was a very back to nature, old fashioned, pioneer spirit kind of gal. She told me that her favorite holiday meal was fresh goose.
Really? Visions of Razzleberry dressing began to dance in my head. She assured me that it was the most delicious flavor, that it was one of the most authentic of American foods, that it was easy to prepare. I was slightly startstruck.
I was also feeling slightly competitive. I mean, never let it be said that the Fincom could outcook the School Committee! I’d lose every budget debate for the next five years if it ever got out that she made a fresh goose while I served a commercially farmed, previously frozen turkey!
I took the bait, dammit.
Now, we don’t hunt, and I honestly don’t know where you can find a last minute “fresh goose” without shooting it, so I had to settle for a frozen goose from the supermarket.
Did you even KNOW you could get a frozen goose at your supermarket? Yup.
It looked nice and plump, but I’d been warned that geese contain a lot more fat than turkeys, and that it would reduce in size as it cooked. I was prepared for that!
I looked up recipes and studied all about goose roasting for the next two weeks. Then Christmas morning dawned, crisp and clear. We opened out presents and oohed and aahed, and everyone settled down to read the new books, play the new games, eat the big breakfast and generally just loaf.
I got up, wrapped myself in an apron, and prepared The Goose! I was so excited! I felt so sweet and Victorian, carefully rubbing the bird with salt and spices, slitting the tough skin of its breast and around the legs to allow the grease to escape, carefully placing it in a roasting pan surrounded by slices of fresh orange.
I placed the “drip pan” underneath it and set the oven on 350. I checked the timer, poured some eggnog and sat down to relax and enjoy the enticing smells that would soon be wafting from my oven. I hummed a little and smiled to myself.
An hour later, all the windows were open and Paul was trying to deactivate the smoke alarms.
My “drip pan” was a cookie sheet with half inch edges. It had overflowed and goose grease was smoking and splattering on the oven coils. We pulled out the bird (yikes….it really was shrinking!) and carefully took out the drip pan. I replaced it with a huge roasting pan with 4 inch sides. I crossed my fingers and replaced the middle sized goose.
About two hours after that, we sat down to enjoy our dinner. We had coats on because the oven was still smoking, and the windows were still open. The house smelled like burnt tires.
The side dishes were plentiful and delicious, thank God. And there was enough wine.
I had taken the Goose out of the oven with joyful anticipation, picturing a golden, crisp bird like the ones in all the old Dickens novels. As I reached in and slowly, carefully drew out the roasting pan, what I found instead was a dark brown, shriveled piece of shoe leather. It looked like it had been mummified, except that it was literally swimming in grease. The drip pan was full, the roasting pan was full, the bottom of the oven was a lake of grease.
I put the tiny blob of leather on a dish and tried to dress it up with oranges. I put it in the center of the table. The kids looked slightly horrified, but they’re good sports. We got out our hugest serrated carving knife and everybody got a piece of the bird. It took all of our strength and skill to carve it. “Tough” does not begin to describe this meat.
Picture this: three teenaged kids and two middle aged parents, sitting around a brightly decorated dining room, gamely chewing. And chewing. And still chewing. Heads begin to swivel back and forth, and eyes send slightly desperate messages. Cups are raised to grease-coated lips in an effort to help get the mess down.
Finally, with some hilariously audible sounds, most of it is swallowed.
We all put our forks down. We all looked at each other.
I didn’t know what to say!
“Well”, my honest daughter began. “That was interesting.”
“Kind of like eating a huge mouthful of rubber bands,” added one son.
“Only less tasty”, added the other.
I felt my face heat. I looked at my lovely table, at my freshly baked bread and piles of creamy mashed potatoes. I looked at the greasy mummy.
“I was duped!” I cried. “Pass the Razzleberry Dressing.”