Food is Love


I first heard the phrase “Food is Love” from a colleague who was laughing at me gently on the morning of Sept.12, 2001. After the horror of the terrorist attacks in New York, and the long, terrifying night lying awake and watching endlessly repeating news, I had arrived at school with two dozen home made muffins.

I didn’t know what else to do. The world was out of control. I was sad, upset, scared, confused. I didn’t know how to react.

So I cooked.

Food is love. Food is comfort.

Food is family and warmth and security.

I guess that’s why I have raised three kids who are all exceptionally good cooks. My daughter makes the best pizza I have ever eaten. She makes Indian foods, Asian foods, and delicious focaccia.

My two sons are such good cooks that for Christmas I tend to give them ingredients as gifts. They went to college fully prepared to cook for the entire apartment. Now in their mid twenties and in serious long-term relationships, they love to cook for their partners and friends. They grow vegetables, they seek out organic foods, they browse through recipes for inspiration knowing that they will add/change/delete build upon whatever they find.

So I guess it’s no surprise that one of my favorite parts of every day is cooking with my grandchildren.

I get so much pleasure out of those moments when the two kids are seated up on my counter, helping me to mix, chop, stir, mince, sautee and simmer.

OK. Full disclosure and all that: when we’re cooking, I know where they are and I don’t have to chase them. The chaos is contained.

But that isn’t the whole story.

I just love sharing good food with them. I love sharing the history of our family recipes. I love teaching them how to handle foods, how to measure and pour and stir. I love letting them know that spilling is allowed, mistakes are expected and eggshells can add a little crunch to a cake.

Mostly, I love looking at them. I love seeing their big, dark brown eyes gazing into the bowl of dough. I love the way they listen to my every word, even as I realize that they don’t understand it all.

I mean, how many three year old really understand the difference between slicing and mincing the red peppers? How many 19 month old kids know how to crack an egg, crush a clove of garlic, zest a lemon?

My grandchildren do. Or at least they are beginning to.

Someday, when they are living on their own in small, drafty apartments, I hope that they will pull out a pile of ingredients, start to chop, and tell their gathered friends, “My Nonni taught me how to cook before I was old enough to talk.”

I hope that they think of me when they add a dash of crushed red pepper to a pot of soup. I hope they recognize, on some deep level, that they dare to experiment with spices because their Nonni helped them to feel at home in the kitchen.

I hope that they one day they will gaze with devotion at someone at their table and that they will say, “You know that food is love, don’t you?”

Yum. Can we crack some more eggs, please?

I’ll Cook My Way Back to Sanity


We are living in horrible times. We are witnessing the destruction of all that two generations of women have worked to achieve.

As far as I am concerned, we are seeing the complete collapse of the two party system in the US. I’m pretty sure that 90% of us would vote of “None of the above” if they were on any ballot.

So.

What’s a sad, angry, anxious old Italian lady to do?

Yup.

I’ll cook my way to relative sanity. l have bone broth on the stove. There’s a nice sourdough starter on my counter. I have canned tomatoes for sauce and locally sourced ground beef and pork for the meatballs.

I can’t make Mitch McConnell go up in a puff of smoke for his hypocritical bullshit. I can’t save the Supreme Court of the US from becoming infected with a total and complete lack of impartiality.

I can’t make Mueller hurry the freak up and get that awful, ugly, ignorant, hateful, nasty egomaniac out of office.

I can make ravioli and roasted peppers and maybe a nice ricotta pie.

If there is a Heaven, I will still be at least relatively sane when this insanity comes to its inevitable end.

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Sausages As A Metaphor For Life


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I know there are all kinds of sexy ideas that could go along with this title, but I don’t mean a single one of them.

I’m talking about actual pork and beef and spices and goodness on your plate kind of sausages.

As a metaphor for the stages of life.

No.  I have not been drinking. Stick with me for a minute.

Way back in time, when Paul and I were very young, we were both in graduate school. We lived in a cozy apartment in Highland Park New Jersey. We both had part time jobs along with our full course loads, but we were really poor. I used to go to the grocery store with a small plastic counter to keep track of how much I was spending. I had coupons, I shopped the sales, and I made very careful weekly meal plans. When my counter got to $35 dollars, I was done shopping.

That’s all there was, there weren’t no more.

It was hard, but this was many years ago, so a dollar went further than it does today. Also, our local pub had fabulous happy hours with free appetizers and two for one drinks. We survived!

Anyway, one night I planned to serve pasta with marinara sauce. Paul wanted to have a sausage in his. I said no. The sausages had been defrosted for the next night! He insisted, saying he’d go meatless the next dinner.

I had a nutty, as I recall. We had a BIG old argument. Big. Furious on both sides.

I think he ate the sausage.

That was long ago. We’ve always joked about the sausage fight, because it summed up so much of what was hard for us at that point in our lives.

Flash forward, way forward, to two days ago.

I no longer carry a clicker in the grocery store. I no longer have to stop shopping at a certain dollar amount.

Now we buy all of our meats and most of our veggies from a local food coop called “MassLocal Foods.”

Food is no longer a problem. But there are other issues popping up at this point in our lives.

Sometimes I tease Paul about his slipping memory. He keeps losing his keys and forgetting to shut doors. Old man!!

I won’t be teasing him anymore, and its all because of a package of sausages.

It was evening, Paul was just home from work. We needed to get organized for a big family reunion that we are attending this weekend. He went out to mow the lawn and I pulled a package of delicious, local, organic sausages out of the freezer for dinner the following night.

Just then Paul called me to come out and help him put away some lawn furniture. I did. First I put the sausages down, then I went out. We puttered around, put things away, and I did a little weeding.

We had a nice evening, a good dinner, and we went to bed. I woke up at 3 AM thinking, “I need to grab those sausages and bring them upstairs.” Then I fell asleep again. I woke up and went through a normal day without EVER remembering the misplaced meats.

Finally, when it was time to cook, I remembered that I had never retrieved the sausages.  I went down to get them. They weren’t there.

Huh?

I looked in the freezer in the garage. I looked all around the garage, on the lawnmower, on the workshelves, even in the folded baby carriage.  Nope.

I looked in the upstairs freezer and in the fridge. Nope. I looked in the oven, the microwave, even in all the drawers. Nope, nope and nope.

I checked bookshelves, underwear drawers, dog beds. Nothin’.

Finally I sat down and googled “Alzheimer’s Disease.”

I texted Paul, just to fess up and give him a laugh. Then I started defrosting another package of sausages (I already had the rolls and wanted my delicious local treat!) I went down to the garage to throw something away and moved a pile of dishes and bowls that I had set aside for our camping trip.

And there they were. The missing sausages. Nestled in one of the plastic bowls and covered, for unknown reasons, by a plate.

Pretty funny, huh?

There are times in life when eating one little sausage seems like the greatest possible indulgence. Then there are times in life when you can buy all the sausages you need, but you keep forgetting where you put them.

 

Adventures in Eating


Oh, my.  Oh, yummy. Oh, deliciousness.

I went to Dim Sum today with my husband and some of my siblings.  It is so much FUN.  If you are not familiar with Dim Sum, let me explain.

Here in Massachusetts, Dim Sum means driving into Boston’s Chinatown and going into a big restaurant that is packed, packed, packed with young Chinese families, mixed groups of Chinese and non-Chinese, college students, babies, toddlers, old Chinese couples and everyone else you can imagine.

There’s no real menu. You just sit at your round table and wait a minute.  Waiters and waitresses come around pushing steam carts full of all kinds of Chinese delicacies in small steam bowls and little porcelain dishes.

Generally speaking, you have no idea of what it is that you are asking for.  The waiter or waitress will point to the various steamed, fried or sauteed items on the cart and say, in very heavily accented English, “bean, beef, very good!” or “mussel, yes?” or “bao tzu, you like!”

I love it.

I love the whole idea of it. I love the incredible smells of the spicy foods. I love biting into a steamed bun and finding a sweet mouthful of something that tastes like custard. I love the adventure of chomping into a crisply fried bit of dough, with no idea what will be inside. Today’s surprises included shrimp and eggplant.

One of my favorite dishes at Dim Sum is spicy chicken feet. I am not sure why, but there is just something so out of the norm about sucking the spicy fat off of cooked chicken feet……

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So often, our lives are simply a set of repeating days.  Toast, coffee, read the news, go to work, eat lunch, home again for the usual dinner. Not bad, nice and comfy.  But still….

How lovely to have a chance to sample an entirely different culture just by going out for brunch!  When I go to Dim Sum, I have a chance to pretend that I am an adventurous world traveler with a love of mystery.  When I go to Dim Sum, I can let go of my usual ideas about food. I can dive into a plate of something sort of wiggly and cabbagy,  and smile at my brother as we both realize that we are munching on slices of spicy beef tripe.

Thank you to my wonderful brother Mark and his wife Sue, and to my sweet sister Liz, for coming to Dim Sum today!  Oh, yes.  And to the ever patient Paul, who would have been perfectly happy with a plate of waffles.

Next time, I hope to get more siblings and some of our kids to join us.  You haven’t lived until you’ve sucked on a chicken foot.

 

Oh, Brassicas!


Bacon-Radish-Brussel-Sprouts-1-Watermark

Oh, how I love being the Mother of children who cook!  Its so rewarding to hear my three grown kids discussing the various ways to prepare incredibly healthy foods! All of them buy local, sustainable, GMO free organic foods whenever they can.  All three of them cook those foods and eat them with great pleasure and an awareness of the health benefits of what they are consuming.

I’m so proud of them!

In fact, I’m so proud of them that when I realized that both of my sons would be heading home this weekend to complete their tax forms, I decided that I should probably cook something local, organic, sustainable and wicked delicious.   So I defrosted a big pork roast, from a farm about 5 miles away.  As a fairly recent convert to fresh, organic pork, all I can tell you is YUMMMMMMMM.  Yum, Yum, super yum, holy yummification factor, wow, YUM.    I love these fresh pork roasts.  So. Much.

And I decided that I should also roast up a big pan of local, delicious, fresh veggies.  Like the red onion, the fingerling potatoes and the crisp fresh carrots that I got from our local food source last month.

But I also decided to add a big pile of brussel sprouts to the roasting pan.  Because my son Matt told me a couple of weeks ago that he “loves all of the brassicas”.

Yep.  The little boy who wouldn’t eat a grilled cheese unless it was served on a glass plate and cut on the diagonal, that little boy, “loves all of the brassicas.”  The child who refused to eat green beans or fresh tomato, that boy has grown up to be the king of roasted parsnips, brussel sprouts and cabbages.

So I tossed a huge pile of wonderful veggies in olive oil and flavored salt. I added some herbs from last summer’s garden, and popped it all into the oven with the incredible roast.

And everyone came for dinner.  My daughter and her husband and our beautiful baby Ellie, and both of our sons.  All gathered in the house for a wonderful dinner, for laughter and music and good conversation.

It was just what this Momma needed! Nothing is sweeter than seeing my children together, seeing them happy, seeing them with the baby.  My heart was full to bursting!

And after they left, and the table was all cleaned up, Paul and I went out onto the deck, to relax in our hot tub.  We gazed at the beautiful stars, and listened to the wind in the pines. We talked softly about how blessed we feel to have such happy and loving young adults as our children. We soaked in the hot water, feeling our muscles relax and our minds fill with peace.

And we stepped out of the hot water, and into the warmth of our home.

Where we were greeted by the lingering dirty diaper smell of roasted brassicas on the air. We looked at each other, our noses wrinkled.  “What the?????” Paul asked.  I hurriedly lit a lilac scented candle and opened the kitchen window.

Phew.

I know that no matter what I do to counteract it, we will smell the uniquely sulphurous aroma of roasted sprouts all night.  There will be no escape.

My only hope is that as I come awake at 3 AM to the unpleasant reek, I will roll over and murmur to myself, “I love having kids who can cook.”

Holy Brassicas.

Next time I’m going to make some frozen corn.

 

Food is Life, Food is Love


I am such a ridiculous foodie.

Here I am, in the United States of America. I live within an hour and a half of a major city.  I have never, ever gone hungry, or even had to live without a favorite food. Ever. One look at my waistline, and you will know that I do not lie.

I am a terrible gardener.  All 6 of my tomato plants died this summer, for no apparent reason. I got 4 peppers out of 6 pepper plants.  The berries were out of control, but I didn’t plant any of those.  That was all Mother Nature.

So I don’t know where I get the nerve to envision myself as Ma Ingalls, but for some reason I have become completely 100% OBSESSED with local foods.  Like, insanely obsessed.

I belong to an incredible food coop called “Mass Local Foods”, where I go on line every month and order fresh, sustainably farmed, organic, local cheese, eggs, meats, chicken, grains, vegetables, honey…….  I can’t tell you how fabulous it was for me to discover the taste of FRESH pork…..holy deliciousness….. And fresh chicken, flash frozen and kept that way!  Wow. Like a whole new world of food.

The thing is, though, that I seem to be taking the locavore thing to a slightly crazy extreme.

We are approaching “peak harvest” here in North Central Massachusetts, and I am bound and determined to preserve these wonderful foods for the winter.

Why, you may ask yourself?  Given the fact that I can just run to Hannfords and buy canned tomatoes and frozen corn, why am I doing this?

I dunno.

But this is how I spent my Saturday:

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I canned a dozen jars of fresh tomatoes, complete with my own fresh garlic, local onions, my basil and oregano.   I burned my arm, made a mess of my counter, broke a jar and burned all ten fingers.  But I have at least 20 meals set for the winter.  Take that, Martha Stewart!

And I did this, too.

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I made two batches of vegetable soup base, two batches of carrot/ginger soup, and one big batch of tomato basil soup.  All fresh.  All local.  All made by me.

For the past three weeks, I have blanched, frozen and stored enough local sweet corn to last until next year’s crop.  Yummmmm.  I’ve made blueberry jam, blackberry preserves, strawberry jam and jars and jars of cucumber and zucchini pickles.

And I don’t really know why.

I mean, I guess it will be delicious on a rainy, icy December afternoon to simmer a pot of those tomatoes into a good pasta sauce.  But I don’t think that’s the whole reason.

I think that for some strange, innate, Italian Momma reason, I feel incredibly competent when I can feed people.  And I feel safe when I know that I have a kitchen full of healthy, fresh foods.  In case of an ice storm, a power outage or a Zombie Apocalypse, I’ll be ready to serve a healthy dinner to those I love.

How nuts is that?

My favorite kitchen decoration.  From the local farm, natch.

My favorite kitchen decoration. From the local farm, natch.

Even the worms hate it.


 

Bleh

Bleh

Yeah. I know.

I keep writing about food.

But its been snowing for the past month and there are five feet of frozen disgustingness outside my window.

Of course I’m preoccupied with food.

So today I want to write about one of the great food cons of all time.  Today I want to expose the misleading information being spread around about kale.

“Kale is a superfood!”

“Kale makes a delicious shake!”

“Kale will cure your high blood pressure/heart disease/sagging butt/bad breath/crappy mood.”

Ha.  What they fail to tell you about this superfood is that it tastes like the smell of skunk and is just about as digestible as a pile of brillo pads.

I have tried it in shakes. I have tried it steamed.  Sauteéd. Raw in a salad. I have even tried kale chips.  R-r-r-rr-r-r-r-rowf. NO.

I recently cleaned out the veggie drawer in my fridge.  I pulled out the aging lemons, the shrunken radish and the mystery slime.  What was left?

Three old leaves of curly kale.

What the hell is that stuff made of? It had been in there for at least two months.  It was still crisp.

I scooped those old leaves up with everything else, ignoring my “don’t waste it” instinct, and I threw it into the compost bin that I have going in my basement.

Let me take a moment to describe this compost system.  I collect all kinds of fruit and veggie parts, along with coffee grounds, bread, tea bags, napkins, egg shells and paper towels in a small bucket next to the sink. When the bucket is full,  I dump all of it into a big plastic box that is home to a pile of “worm castings” and roughly 2,000 wriggly little red worms.  These guys are voracious and indescriminate.  They eat anything they find, and transform it into compost. I once dropped a face cloth in there by accident and two days later it was in shreds. They will turn a banana peel into rich, dark soil in about 20 days.  Orange peels? Maybe four days.

So I dumped in the lemons, the radish, the mystery slime and the three leaves of kale.  I dug in with my trowel, turning the compost and making sure that everything was buried.  The next day, I turned it again, and up popped the kale, untouched by a single worm nibble.  I turned the compost again the next day, and the next.  Kale leaves kept coming to the surface, looking as green and crisp as the day I bought them.

“What the hell?”, I had to ask myself, “Have a really been eating this stuff?”  I poked the leaves with the tip of trowel, tearing them into smaller bits.  I thought maybe smaller pieces would be less intimidating for the worms.

No such luck.

It is now one full week since I dumped everything into the compost.  I’ve added another small bucketful since then.  I turned the pile today, and saw half of an eggshell that I threw in yesterday, and part of an apple core.

And 9 pieces of crisp, green curly kale.

I looked at the worms.  One of them seemed to approaching a kale leaf, so I grabbed a magnifier and looked closer.  I saw a tiny worm mouth open and take a teensy nibble of kale leaf.  Then I watched in amazement as the minute little guy pulled his head back and made a perfect miniscule grimace of distaste.  He turned around, slid of the kale and buried himself in a pile of potato peels.

Even the worms can’t seem to digest it!

I guess the explains all the gaseousness that came along with those healthy kale shakes.

 

Chaos on the door


  Buttermilk and Sriracha?                   Really?

Buttermilk and Sriracha?
Really?

The funny thing about vacations is the way they bring out my inner neat freak.  I mean, the luxury of all this time around the house inevitably has me cleaning closets, bleaching the under-the-sink cabinet, and scrubbing out the fridge.

And all this cleaning and organizing can lead to some interesting self-reflection.

For example, earlier this morning I found myself contemplating the door to my fridge.

Wow.  You wanna talk Chaos Theory?  Here it is in all its glory.

I think that the door of my fridge is like the junk drawer of my inner life.

All the important stuff (milk, chicken, cold cuts, goat cheese, apples, eggs…..) is in the main part of the fridge.  Some of them (like the fruits and veggies) even get their own special drawers and shelves.  I know where to go when I need to grab the yogurt or the bread or the salad ingredients.

The same can be said for the rest of my kitchen. I know exactly where to go to locate the flour, the sugar, the paprika.  I know where the bags of rice are stored (arborio, jasmine, brown).  I can find the peanut butter, the Nutella, the tea and coffee and the chocolate chips.  There is a set place for the pasta (spaghetti, rotini, ditalini, farfalle,orzo,lasagna,ziti, mostaccioli). There is a shelf for the canned foods (crabmeat, clams, tomato paste and beans) and a shelf for the snacks (cookies, crackers, rice cakes, popcorn).

Don’t even get me started on the spices.  Grouped by type, arranged on tiered shelves.  A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Until I look at the door of my refrigerator, and all bets are off.

What does it say about me that the bottom shelf of the fridge door contains a bottle of white wine, a half full quart of buttermilk, a jar of martini olives and three kinds of mustard? Move up a shelf, and you’ll find a squeeze bottle of Sriracha, a jar of pickled ginger, some hoisin sauce, a tube of harissa sauce and sweetened lime juice.  There is small jar of olive tapenade, a plastic bottle of horseradish, real maple syrup, two jars of yeast and a quarter bottle of Worcestershire sauce.  There’s butter (salted and sweet) and jars of strawberry, raspberry and apple jam.  A rolled up, halfway dried out cream cheese packet and three kinds of pickles.

As I looked it all over, I decided that I should throw some of it away.  So I spent the next hour taking things out and putting them back.  Blue cheese stuffed olives? You never know when I might crave a dirty Vodka martini!  Hot mustard, sweet mustard, horseradish mustard?  Well, we do have sandwiches for lunch most days.  Harissa…I hardly ever use it, but it reminds me of Tunisia. I want it!

Eventually, everything was cleaned up, the shelves were wiped and cleared and it was all put back.

So.

Does this…….creative display of oddball food items mean that I am an exciting chef?  Or a food hoarder?  Does it mean that I hate to waste or that I love to be adventurous in my eating?

Am I a slob, or a bon vivant?

I don’t know!  But as I make myself a lovely snack of olive tapenade with cream cheese on rye bread, I’d invite you to check out your own fridge door.  If everything is up to date and enormously useful in your daily life, please don’t tell me.  But if you find an interesting combination of pickled onions and maraschino cherries, drop me a note, will you please?

 

Defeated by Quinoa


I am a pretty good cook.

I can make homemade ravioli with four cheese. I can make a fabulous mushroom sage-butter sauce for pasta.

My meatballs have made grown men weep.

When I bake bread, the smell alone can change your view of life.

And yet.

I have been defeated by quinoa.

Red_quinoa

A few short years ago, I had never heard of this miracle grain.  I was perfectly happy to go through life without it, until I tried it at a High School Reunion Weekend.  My friend Karen made a quinoa salad that was so delicious, the mere memory of it causes “yummy noises” to emerge from my watering mouth.

So I asked for the recipe. Of course I did.  I am the woman who recreated a dinner of seafood risotto over smoked mozzarella after eating it at a local restaurant.

(Mine was better.)

So I tried to make the quinoa recipe.  Karen’s was crisp, and fresh and flavorful.

Mine?

Mine was a bowl of slimy little wormy things with a few bites of cashew and some bok choy. The quinoa grains looked like baby sperm, with big heads and long tails.  YeeeeeUk.

My friend assured me that quinoa was easy to cook, and really delicious!  So I tried again.

YeeeeUk redoux.

I asked for some advice.  All the cool foodies were into quinoa. I had to figure this out!!!

My friend Maureen told me to make sure that I rinsed my quinoa  thoroughly before I cooked it.  So I did.

I ended up with a pot of slimy little wormy things sticking to the bowl and just waiting for some flavor.  I added salt. I added pepper. I added fresh basil.  And lemon. And nuts.  I took a bite.

I threw it out.   Bleh.  Blehblehblehblehbleh.  It was sticky and a little oozy and slimy and yuck.

What the hell?

So I decided to give it up. I was simply not cut out for quinoa. I returned to making brown rice with roasted veggies and homemade chicken stock.  Yum!

Then I opened my cabinets and found two bags of quinoa: one red, one white.  Oh, oh.  I had already paid for them!  I HAD to use them! So I did a google search. “how to cook quinoa without the slimy little sperm tails making it gross.”

Or something like that.

I found a recipe that said, “Do not rinse”. Instead, it told me to lightly brown the sperm  quinoa in olive oil before adding veggies and stock.  I tried it.

Huzzah!  It was delightful!  Dry and firm and packed with nutritious deliciousness!  Yay, me!  Paul and I enjoyed it alongside our roast chicken, feeling both healthy and hip as we swallowed it down.  I was feeling so. smug.

Until I tried the exact same recipe two weeks later.  Exactly the same.  Precisely the exact same ingredients, cooking technique, temperature, time.

Exactly.  The. Same.

And I ended up with a bowl full of slimy little spermy wormies. I took one bite, gagged a little, and gulped down a swig of wine.

What the hell.

This process has repeated itself four or five times now.  One delicious, healthy side dish followed by two dinners that were nearly ruined by the slime patrol.  Another fabulously nutty salad, followed by a couple of tossed in the trash slime-oh-rific followups.

So I have come to the conclusion that there is a vast international quinoa conspiracy, no doubt lead by left-wing activists who hate America. I have come to realize that all the little dry curled up quinoa soldiers send coded messages at night, telling each other about the latest plan to defeat the meatball maven.

When they get the signal, they all unfurl those super spermy little tails and start to secrete ancient Aztec slime sauce, thereby ruining any plan for a yummy dinner.  In this way, they surely plan to take over the world.

So I am hereby announcing that I am giving up the quest for the quintessential quinoa.  I am switching back to nice cheesy, fattening, compliant risotto.

I know when I’ve been beaten.

Razzleberry Dressing, Anyone?


Magoo Razzleberry Dressing

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.”