Move Over Turkey and Ham, It's All About Roast Goose
The holiday season is upon us. For many of us it's a time of family, friends, and fun. For others of us it's a time of stress—making travel plans, buying presents, and cooking large meals. I've hosted a number of holiday meals over the years, even in my small apartment kitchen, which features one of the smallest ovens I've seen that isn't a child's toy. My friends and family have always complimented me on how calm and collected I seem hosting a meal even when a couple of glasses of wine aren't involved. It's not that I'm a confident cook. I've never had any formal training, but I learned not to stress from a holiday meal my mother cooked when I was growing up.
My family had just moved into a new house and we were very excited to be spending our first Christmas there. To make it extra special, my mother had decided to make a traditional Christmas goose. It wasn't our tradition. No one in the family had ever made one before, or even tasted one before, for that matter. But I think a lot of Masterpiece Theater was being watched around that time, and all those Dickens characters sure made it sound like it was the most amazing food ever. Also, to make the dinner more special, my father gave my mother one of her gifts early—a food processor. While pretty common these days, not too many home kitchens had them back then. This was before Iron and Top Chefs had entered our living rooms. So to recap, my mother was gearing up to make a meal in a new kitchen, with equipment she'd never used, and a main course she had never cooked or tasted.
My father, younger brother, and myself sat down at the dining room table, while my mom began putting things together in the kitchen. My brother, a notoriously picky eater, was already starting to grouse about the goose. My father warned us in no uncertain terms that my mother had worked very hard on this and we were going to be polite. My mom ducked her head in to say the goose was taking a little longer than she thought. We could hear the food processor whirring in the back, making what would surely be the creamiest mashed potatoes we ever ate.
Some time later the moment arrived. The goose was cooked and my mother served us and put out the mashed potatoes. My mother told us to begin eating while she went to tend to something dessert related in the kitchen. We dug into our goose, and all looked at each other in horror. Although none of us had anything to compare it to, we knew in our hearts, and definitely in our mouths, that this couldn't possibly be the dish Tiny Tim and everyone got so worked up about. The flavor was not good, but the nearly indigestible quality of the meat distracted from that. My father said quietly, "Eat what you can and try and spread the rest around on your plate and hide it in your napkin. Next, we tried the potatoes. Here's something it doesn't say in the food processor directions. When you process potatoes too long, the starch breaks down and turns the whole thing into a gelatinous gooey substance—something like school paste, but stickier.
My mother came back and assumed her seat at the table. She asked how everything was. Through lips half-sealed with potato glue, we murmured, "Really good!" My mother dug into her goose and potatoes. A few seconds later, my mother looked at us in disbelief and our awkward smiles turned into uncontrolled laughter. My mother asked, "How much of this were you going to eat before you said something?" My mom returned to the kitchen, saying she would be right back. And she was, with the garbage can in tow, at which point the goose and potatoes met their final resting place. "We have leftover hamburgers from last night. I'll warm them up," she said to cheers around the table. "I don't think we'll be having goose again."
My family had numerous holiday meals over the years—turkeys, ham, prime rib—all successfully executed. But if you ask anyone what the most memorable meal of all time was, it was the year we had the Christmas goose. I don't think there was ever a time when we all laughed so hard. And that's how I've learned not to stress at holiday time. In order to succeed, you have to learn how to fail with style. If my mother could dump an entire day's work out and laugh about it, I'm not too worried if one of my dishes comes out less than perfect. Whatever holiday we're celebrating, it's always about the family and friends, not the food.