Boiling goose fat, breaking and entering, too many parsnips and no tin foil
It probably began with the second delivery of parsnips. I love the winter veg season. The first Brussels sprouts of the year are cause for celebration every autumn—I mean this was going on even before my eating habits moved to the lunatic fringe*—and all those orange and yellow squashes and rooty things, mmmmmmmm.** So it’s like, yaaay! Parsnips! I’m also still a little subject to New England holiday habits, even though I bailed on Thanksgiving years ago, and MUST HAVE sweet potatoes and parsnips at Christmas. MUST. HAVE.
And then there’s the way my Jewish-mother gene*** bursts into terrifying life as soon as I’m expecting to feed anyone. Else, I mean, than me, and three variously food-friendly furries. And we were going to be SIX for Boxing Day. SIX.† This is my idea of a GANG. And I’m seriously out of practise. When we were still catering for real gangs back at the old house it was mostly Peter’s show and that was the way it was and if you got in the way you would be mown down.†† As a special treat I was occasionally allowed to cut up the Brussels sprouts or produce a platter of New England sweet potatoes.††† And I think I’m the one who started putting chestnuts in the sprouts.‡
ANYWAY. SIX FOR BOXING DAY LUNCH. And I may have got a little carried away. But it was an accident that I ordered parsnips twice. I already had a wall of parsnips at the back of both my little refrigerators‡‡ from the first delivery and then there was a noise like the approach of the 7th Panzer Division and a shout of INCOMING‡‡‡ and I (foolishly) opened the front door to see what was going on . . . AND WAS IMMEDIATELY BURIED IN PARSNIPS. Ha ha ha, I thought, digging myself out with difficulty, and beginning to weave the excess into fencing panels for when Damien gnaws his way through the current barricades. Ha ha ha, this’ll make a good blog post.
Ha ha ha.
So Christmas Day here was about cooking. And chopping and chopping and chopping AND CHOPPING because I was not only producing Brussels sprouts with chestnuts (of course) but also a broccoli and pine nut salad and roast root veg which is to say PARSNIPS, PARSNIPS, PARSNIPS and two colours of sweet potatoes, how glamorous is that? To give my knife-friction blisters a break I went next door to feed Phineas’ cat. Have I really never given the ex-hellkitten a name? If I have I can’t find it. So let’s call him Smilodon. So I went next door to see if his food dish needing topping up yet, Phineas having left early in the morning.
And I couldn’t get in.
The back door into the conservatory, which is the one I use because that’s where Smiley’s dishes are, is a sticky old so-and-so flaming doohickey doodah general arrrgh. It’s not like I haven’t had trouble with the malingering whatsit before. But it was resisting very robustly. And furthermore seemed to be stuck in the middle which is not the usual modus operandi of a door with a bad attitude. I eventually Became Suspicious and with great difficulty since my genetic modifications are very limited and old fashioned, extruded an eyeball on a stalk so I could see around a corner, and, yes . . . the ghastly object WAS BOLTED ON THE INSIDE.
Great. Hey, Smilodon, feel like going FERAL for the weekend? Pull down a nice mastodon for tea? . . . I didn’t think so.
I spent about twenty minutes wandering around Phineas’ house looking for a way in. When you want someone to have carelessly left a window open DO THEY? They do not. And the door between my garden and his conservatory has been nailed shut since before I moved in. ARRRRRRRGH.
Smiley, meanwhile, is winding around my ankles going MOAN! MOAN! MOAN! HUNGRRRRRRRRY!
I went back and looked at the frelling door again. And then I turned around, since if there were going to be scars I’d rather they were not on my face, took a deep breath . . . and put my foot through one of the glass panes. CRASH.
Having checked that my foot was still fully attached at the ankle (yes), I put my hand carefully through the jagged hole and unbolted the door. And frelling CHASED SMILEY AWAY while I swept up the glass. ARRRRRRRRRRGH. I’ve been feeding Smiley when Phineas is away for how many years? I’ve never had the front door key—I had the kitchen door key when Smiley was a baby—I don’t even know if Phineas has a mobile, let alone its number for emergencies. There have never been any emergencies! If Smiley ever needed a vet, I’d just take him to the vet!§
I left him chomping in an enviably carefree manner at his topped-up dish. Never mind, I thought, stalking back to the cottage. It’ll make a good blog post.
Meanwhile the goose was roasting away like anything, by the sound of the fat streaming into the pan. And you’re supposed to drain off the fat periodically so it doesn’t burn, right? Well, my little Aga oven actually goes back quite a way even though sideways you could barely squeeze in a wicked witch with an apple in her mouth, so I was, after all the ‘biggest oven in Hampshire’ thing about the Lodge’s ridiculous cooker, roasting my Christmas goose at the cottage. And this kitchen was small before I added this laptop and two or three piles of books and papers, yes? I have NO counter space. So when I take things out of the oven, I balance them on one or the other of the Aga burners. Whose lids are slightly . . . domed. Not very. You can, in fact, balance stuff on them. I do it all the time. Not heavy roast goose however, sloshing with fat.
And the pan slid off the burner lid and poured boiling-hot goose fat down my leg.
It’s not a question of having time to react. There wasn’t anything I was going to be able to do before it was too late. So I stood there feeling it torching its way through my jeans leg and thinking (a) how am I going to hurtle the hellmob with only one functioning leg? (b) No, it’ll be all right, I will take handfuls of cantharis§§. (c) eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
The important background information here is that when I rolled out of bed that morning I got dressed immediately because I needed to start doing stuff. Usually I hang around in my nightgown till the caffeine starts to work. It was INSANELY WARM yesterday and I’d known it was going to be, the night before, so I reminded myself that I was not going to put on my long johns because I would be too hot. But I got dressed on autopilot, and the long johns were donned because it’s frelling December. And I was definitely too hot, because the jeans were heavy denim and the long johns were thick, but I couldn’t be bothered to strip off again and remove them.
So I was in fact appropriately accoutred for pouring boiling hot goose fat down my leg. By the time it hit me it was merely unpleasantly warm, and when I examined the damage later my skin is a little reddish, and a little tenderer than usual.§§§ IT’S FINE, I said at the time, shaking with shock—it had not been a delightful half second, while my life thus far as fully bipedal flashed before my eyes, waiting for the third-degree burns—shoving the pan back on top of the Aga and wedging it there, because I still had half a pan of goose fat to drain off. IT’LL MAKE A GOOD BLOG POST.@
I then successfully drained off the remaining seven buckets of goose fat, and, having distributed these above hellterror reach around the downstairs of the cottage, stood looking at the crispy brown object of my painful exertions. Hmm, I thought, it’s getting very dark. I’d better put some tin foil over it. And you read the title to this post, yes? ALL of the title, not being distracted by the boiling goose fat and the breaking and entering?
I had no tin foil.
How did this happen??? I never use it so I always have it, you know? It’s one of those basic facts of life, water, air, brassicas, hellmob, dusty roll of tin foil in the back of the cupboard. NO. NO TIN FOIL. AAAAAUGH.@@ And it’s Christmas Day, even the hard core shops are closed. Well, Peter had had some. I checked the relevant [sic] drawers at the Lodge. No. No tin foil. Okay, there used to be one of those super-super long rolls of foil@@@—and I have no idea where it came from, we’ve possibly been carrying it around since we left the old house—that lived on the top of the kitchen cupboards at Third House. I remember seeing it still there after I’d moved (nearly) everything else out, because what was I going to do with/where did I have ROOM for a super-super-super long roll of foil?? So I went up there to see if it was perhaps still there . . . no. Of course not. That would be too easy. Meanwhile I was putting the goose back in the oven for fifteen minutes and then taking it out again, again, because I was pretty sure—I thought—maybe—no, I had NO FRELLING IDEA, it probably needed a little more cooking, but I didn’t want that lovely breast skin to burn. Although all this mad temperature variation couldn’t have been doing the quality of its final presentation any good at all. So I have NO FRELLING IDEA how long it finally did take to cook—a lot less than the cough-cough roasting instructions said however. Which is not going to be helpful if I ever do this again.$
ALTOGETHER NOW: IT’S OKAY, IT’LL MAKE A GOOD BLOG POST.
PS: I did eventually find a roll of tin foil, in the bottom of a bag under the sink, full of rubber gloves and washing up liquid, where I was looking for batteries which were also not in the drawer where batteries, if this were a sane, rational world, would be. The goose was long out of the oven by then. And there were no batteries.$$
Oh, and? The goose was pretty good. Really. And I was glad to see everyone. And none of them flinched unduly about the food.
* * *
* The very healthy lunatic fringe, but I’ll spare you any more rants on that subject till the holidays are over. Maybe I’ll try to make you feel even worse about Detox January. I am the hellgoddess, after all, even if my brief has changed radically over the years.
** I even look forward to winter cabbage. This is probably certifiable. My current craze is kale chips. You shred a lot of kale [sic], spread it out on a baking sheet, shake some olive oil and salt over it, and bake till it gets crunchy. It’s greasy! It’s salty! It’s crunchy! And yes, okay, it’s still a brassica, but people who turn pale . . . green at the idea of cabbage have been known to like crunchy kale chips. You can get these commercially—which is how I discovered them—but Large Generic Snack Producers tart things up so they can charge you more money. They’re way better fresh. And the recipe is all over the internet.
*** Hannah, who is Jewish, says that of course I have Jewish blood. All the best people do.
† In fact we were only five, but that’s because I kept forgetting the sixth wasn’t coming. She was supposed to come.
†† But I took over the baking. And anyone who got in my way would be mown down.
††† Add brown sugar. No, more. No, more. Now butter. No, more. No, more. Now the maple syrup. YES. MAPLE SYRUP. MORE. WHAT’S THE MATTER WITH YOU, DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND MORE? I also used to produce very scary eggnog. There was a lot of ‘more’ involved.
‡ One of my Boxing Day guests carefully separated hers out and piled them at the edge of her plate. You can’t win them all.
‡‡ Have I told you that I MANAGED TO JAM THE GOOSE IN THE REFRIGERATOR AT THE LODGE? Are you impressed? I am. Very.
‡‡‡ Hey, I suck at military history, okay? But James Mason was cute and I watched a lot of MASH because you did, although I was never a Hawkeye fan.
§ Well. ‘Just.’ Cats aren’t as cooperative about this as dogs. Not that Chaos can be called cooperative and the hellterror . . . erm. But I’ve taken one or two cats to the vet rolled up in emergency bath towels in the absence of anything more appropriate.
§§ I told you this story years ago: homeopathic cantharis is a brilliant burn remedy.^ I had managed to seize, like firmly, the handle of an iron skillet that was and had been in the oven for some time . . . and heard my flesh SIZZLE. I took a few cantharis . . . and ended up with a painless little red mark.
^ I will remind you however that no remedy is 100%. Like arnica for jet lag—works a treat for about 80% of the people who try it. For the other 20% there are other things to try. There are other things to try for burns too.
§§§ I also decided that with the day I was having I was not going to change my jeans till the goose was out of the oven permanently and as much else as possible was over with.^ This meant that I had an ecstatic hellterror attached to my leg for the rest of the evening^^. When she wasn’t trying to lick holes in the floor or eat the mat that lives in front of the Aga. As I fended her off to scrub the floor—the mat went in the washing machine—you could see the agonised thought bubble: But! But! But! But!
^ In effect five minutes before I had to bolt out the door for late duty at the Sams. Christmas Eve night had involved bolting out the door at another Christmas-prep-no-NOT-all-the-presents-are-wrapped last minute to go to midnight Mass at the monks’.+ Where it was not a heaving, claustrophobia-inducing mob, but I still ran away from tea and hanging out with monks AND A RELATIVELY SMALL BUNCH OF STRANGERS afterward. Sigh.
+ The second old folks’ home did eventually get sung to. And I rang the afternoon Christmas Eve service at Crabbiton. Have I mentioned lately HOW MUCH I HATE GROUND FLOOR RINGS? Which Crabbiton is. And we need a better barricade. We have just a rope across what I think is the narthex, where the bells are, the opposite (long) end from the apse and altar, which only works with people who acknowledge its purpose as a barrier. This does not include toddlers who can go STRAIGHT UNDER the rope and see no reason why they shouldn’t. I was both terrified and angry and am going to discuss with poor Felicity when she gets back from hol.
^^ Since the main strike zone was my thigh I’m afraid I abrogated my obligation as a responsible dog owner because watching her attempt to reach nirvana was too much fun to terminate. Inconvenient, but funny. And I felt I could use a laugh.
@ Also: less goose fat. What am I supposed to DO with 1,000,000,000 litres of goose fat?^
^ ROAST A LOT OF PARSNIPS.
@@ If I’m going to make a habit of Christmas goose, which I might, I’ll have a flat tray already wedged in place on the top of the Aga next year. But I need to REMEMBER that goose cooking instructions are never helpful the way I need helpful. I remember this from when Peter and I were engaging with geese at the old house. Standard instructions keep trying to make it sound like a goose is kind of a big chicken. It isn’t. It cooks differently. That thick fatty skin doesn’t go loose and floppy when it’s done, it locks in place like armour, so wiggling a leg isn’t indicative. And you don’t get clear juice running out of the leg when you stab it the way you do with a chicken, maybe because there’s too much fat in the way. I finally decided this one was done because the leg and breast were no longer feeling thickly padded the way they should do, which suggested that most of the fat was now in a bucket on a chair and the goose was about to crinkle up into goose jerky.
@@@ suitable only to persons roasting boars’ heads in restaurant-sized ovens, maybe I’ll try that next year at the Lodge. Ha ha ha ha ha.
$ I am planning to streamline this process somewhat for next year. Including checking for the presence of tin foil while the shops are still open.
$$ THE UTTERLY NITWITTY THINGS THAT GET TO YOU. I was looking for batteries because I needed a kitchen timer and the one at the Lodge I wanted to use was dead. When I finally managed to pry the back open the old battery had started leaking, which is never a good sign about whether the gizmo in question is recoverable. I fetched a new battery from the cottage and plugged it in and . . . the timer still didn’t work. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO. This is The Kitchen Timer I remember from the old house—the one that was there when I arrived twenty-five years ago, the one with the brain-piercing SHRIEK which while I frequently wanted to stomp it for this, is exactly what you WANT in a kitchen timer and the modern wimpy ones, the ones that murmur politely, ahem, you perhaps wanted to be told when x number of minutes had passed?, which the new ones mostly are, are not nearly as satisfactory. If I could remember to look at a clock when approximately the right amount of time has passed I wouldn’t need a timer, would I? I need a timer that says: YO. YOU. YES YOOOOOOU. OR ELSE. This one is not a beautiful object—it’s what I suspect used to be white plastic, faded to dirty cream, with a black plastic face. It doesn’t look like anything that would have lasted—with its shattering klaxon intact—for a quarter century. But it has. And as a tiny integral background VERY LOUD NOISE it’s part of my old life. The one that’s gone forever. . . . And I had a complete, totally unexpected, frelling MELTDOWN about the fact that the timer that Peter had set 1,000,000,000 times over the last quarter century HAD DIED.^
Turns out I had put the battery in the wrong way around.^^ I put it in the other way around and IT LIVES. I was making myself crazy last night—having brought it back to the cottage for a little bonding—using it timing making a batch of kale chips. Every time it went off CLANG CLANG CLANG BEEP BEEP BEEEEEEEEP I went AAAAAAAUGH THAT WRETCHED THING HAS BEEN MAKING ME CRAZY FOR TWENTY FIVE YEARS . . . thanks, honey. Nuts? Moi? Brazil, cashew, hazel, almond, walnut and Robin.^^^
^ I can’t discard scraps of paper he’s written on either. Grocery list? Keeper. Labels on folders of tax papers that are now old enough I can throw them out? I shred the papers. I save the folders.
^^ Not entirely my fault. Battery beds are almost as maddeningly variable as those blasted button batteries, although the battery itself is an ordinary one.
^^^ Someone on FB told me that her husband developed claustrophobia after their daughter died.+ I’ve now heard from a few other people who’ve had claustrophobia as part of the grieving process. This is a comfort—a cold one, but still a comfort. I’m ‘okay’ with the fact that grief sucks sucks SUCKS and I am not surprised it keeps knocking me over and making me bleed. But I’m still capable of worrying—a little—that my perhaps somewhat eccentric mental balance, cough cough cough, could be genuinely overset. I don’t believe in ‘misery loves company’, I’ve said this before—misery wants to know the world is chirping along without her, so she has something to hope for, that she can rejoin it some day. But misery occasionally is grateful to hear that other people have reacted to misery in similar ways.
+ This is almost more awful than I can grasp. In fact it is more awful than I can grasp. Note that one of the things major trauma does to you is make you aware of the limits of your imagination. We ‘knew’ Peter was due to die before me. It didn’t make it any easier, but it doesn’t feel like the order of the universe has been breached.~ No parent should have to see a child die. I know it happens. I know people it has happened to. It’s still inconceivable.
~ Yes it does. It’s still different. It’s your personal universe.
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