Living Out Loud: : In the Spirit of Trying Something New

A New Year's goose

I don't like to think I'm set in my ways but the reality is I know I am. I listen to the same radio station at work everyday, usually get up at the same time, have routines that I follow and get pissed off if something throws them out of whack. But maybe it's progress that at least I recognize the need to shake things up once in awhile.

I have novelist Richard Ford to thank for a recent new experience. When I was interviewing him for a Thanksgiving piece that ran in CityBeat, I asked them what he usually does on that day.

"Almost always, we're out west in Montana and we usually have a goose," he said. "I shoot geese, so we usually eat goose on Thanksgiving Day."

A goose? That kind of sparked an interest in trying something new. Ford gave me a quick education on what kind to get.

"The trouble is with a goose that you can buy — you know, a pen raised goose — is that they're fat as hell. But the geese I get are wild geese and they're not fat at all. Aren't there geese down on the river?"

Not wanting to admit that I'm probably the worst shot on the face of the earth, I quickly went on to another subject, but the thought of preparing a goose stuck in my mind and it wouldn't go away. In January, I fixed my goose.

Remembering Mr. Ford's "fat as hell" remark, I found a young frozen goose at Keller's IGA in Clifton that only weighed 10 pounds. The goose was pricey, around 40 bucks, but I didn't blink an eye when I went up to the checkout lane. I was going to have a new dining experience no matter the cost.

I invited my son, news editor Greg Flannery and writer Margo Pierce to join me on January 30, which I billed as "the first annual New Year's goose day." Mealtime: 1 p.m.

I got up early that morning, around 5:30, feeling anxious and nervous. I checked to make sure the goose was thawed out in the refrigerator, then downloaded a recipe I found on the Internet a few nights before. As the oven preheated to 400 degrees, I prepared the fruit stuffing. That was pretty easy.

When it came time to actually start preparing the goose and stuffing for roasting, I found myself glued to the now printed recipe, trying to follow every instruction perfectly.

In a large pan, cook celery and onion in butter until tender, stirring occasionally. No big deal.

Remove from heat and add bread cubes, apples, raisins, and seasonings. Set aside. A piece of cake. Ford would be proud.

Remove neck and giblets from goose. Remove excess fat from body cavity and neck skin and discard. Gross. Really, really gross. I thought I was going to throw up when I reached in the cavity of that bird and removed all that "stuff." And there was some blood coming out of it, too, which I poured down the kitchen sink. Removing the skin was also gross, sickening. It occurred to me to throw the damn thing away and just order a pizza. I got a beer out of the frig, feeling the tension in my neck.

Pat goose dry with paper towels. I used a whole roll.

Wings may be removed at second joint and cooked later or leave wings attached and bend them to the back. I was too unnerved to determine where the back of the goose was and where the front was. I left the wings alone.

Fill neck and body cavities with prepared stuffing mixture. I made way too much stuffing despite the fact that I followed that damn recipe to the letter for a 10-pound bird. I stuffed the goose as best I could and threw the rest of the stuffing away. I went and got another beer.

Fold neck skin to back and turn under, covering opening — can fasten with skewers or toothpicks if you have them. What's a skewer? And I didn't have any toothpicks either. I decided this part of the instructions wasn't necessary.

Tie legs together or tuck in band of skin at tail, if present. Fuck this, too.

Place goose, breast-side up, on rack in large pan. I calmed myself and determined what side needed to be up.

Insert meat thermometer deep into thigh muscle, not touching bone. This took awhile, as I have never used a meat thermometer in my life. After about six attempts, I was pretty sure I wasn't touching bone.

Roast, uncovered, for 1 hour at 400 degrees. Good! I finally got a break from the nightmare.

About half an hour later and while on my third beer, I opened the oven and took a look inside. There's my goose starting to turn golden brown and it's at least looking good. Maybe it was the beer, but I started to relax a little.

After the goose had been in the oven for an hour, I looked at the recipe again.

Reduce temperature to 325 degrees and continue roasting for 2 to 2 ? hours until meat thermometer reaches 180 degrees. Cool. Except for making a tossed salad, I really had no more work to do.

I prepared the salad and asked my son to run over to Keller's and pick up some napkins and other things I had forgotten for the New Year's goose. As he walked out the door, I looked at the recipe again and read the last piece of instructions.

During roasting, spoon off and discard accumulated fat at 30-minute intervals.

What? I looked in at the goose. "Spoon" off the fat, my ass. I was gonna need a shovel. I found an old plastic cup and started the process and I'm glad I did. If I had waited much longer, I think the oven would have caught on fire.

Greg and Margo arrived early and I let my son entertain them as I nervously stood guard over the goose — not draining off fat every 30 minutes, but every 10 minutes, barely having time to drink my beer. I was thinking to myself that the whole meal was going to be a disaster.

But the New Year's goose day has a happy ending. When the meat thermometer reached 180 degrees, I removed the goose from the oven and placed it on a platter. It looked beautiful and, to my pleasure, tasted just fine. The stuffing inside, too. My guests seemed to enjoy it. In fact, there was no goose remaining for leftovers. I was a little drunk and so relieved that I hadn't blown it.

After my guests left, I cleaned up the kitchen, had one last beer, then took a nap. Thoughts of the goose still stayed in my head — and yeah, why not make it an annual event?

I know Richard Ford also hunts and eats duck. Maybe fix a "spring duck?" To be continued ...

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