Monthly Archives: December 2009

Lucy and Lucien

the Story of a Gosling; or, Tangled Thoughts on Christmas Dinner

Last night we had leftovers and champagne. I think it was my favourite of the Christmas meals. Ham, turkey and goose – with chutneys, pickles, salads. To start we had lentil soup made from the ham stock; to finish, a little Christmas pudding and some beautiful custard. I adore adore adore vanilla custard, cool, soothing, thickened with just the yolks of eggs and very lightly sweetened. It’s ambrosial (if not “Ambrosia,” I suppose you add). I mean it really is. Gran makes the Christmas pudding from the Eliza Acton recipe which contains no flour, only breadcrumbs for bulk and, far from being stodgy, it is light, aromatic and not in the least cloying. Particularly with custard…

Goose, I now really agree, is better cold. I’ve read it so often – in Elizabeth David, Matthew Fort among others – and thought No, you want it hot! On Christmas day you must have a whole, roasted bird, and it has to be goose! If only as a note to myself, for next year, I want to say that this is not so.

This year we had a turkey and a goose. I have come round to turkey. When I cooked Christmas dinner at college, we were mostly vegetarians (excepting me and Johan) so I didn’t do meat. I didn’t do any sort of replacement for it either. Trimmings are substantial enough not really to need the meat that’s supposed to be their substance. Certainly they don’t need something in pastry, something starchy and oily with nuts. Christmas dinner, let’s face it, is the trimmings; otherwise it would just be roast dinner, roast dinner being a celebration of a glorious joint, or a beautiful bird, with a few veg to accompany it. If, for Christmas dinner, you have meat with your trimmings, turkey is not ostentatious. It sits there very happily and its light poultry flavour and thirsty flesh soaks up gravy and this partnership with bread sauce is a holy trinity you can’t better. The potatoes, roasted in goose fat so as to be light but rich, are more easily stomached with a less fat bird than the goose itself.

Tentatively I’m saying I hardly wanted the goose. At least with the main course. For starter, I stuffed the goose’s neck with its liver, some sausagemeat, some pheasant. It was fabulous, without doubt the best bit of the meal. I’ll write the ingredients down in a minute, again if only as a note to myself for next year because I’ll do it again. Gamey, richly and strongly flavoured, like one of those French pâtés you can’t stop eating, and served with a few pickles, this really got me going for the main course. But then the goose felt a bit superfluous. Turkey alone would have been fine.

And then the goose, quite cold, was so good on Boxing Day. For next year, I’m thinking: do the goose neck as a starter, have turkey for the main – the whole, roasted bird – and then have the goose cold on Boxing Day.

I also think that I’d like to do a confit of the goose legs as a second starter, and just roast the crown to have cold. I wanted to write that I stuffed a goose neck and took the idea unashamedly from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, but everyone wants their Christmas recipes to be their own, so I am a little ashamed. The confit of goose seemed a step too far. That’s his idea, too, as a second starter for Christmas dinner. Also it means taking the legs off so you don’t get the humble Dickensian glory of a whole, roast goose. But next year I think should be all about these goosey starters. I shouldn’t worry about decimating the goose, preserving a wholeness I don’t care about by the time I’m into the dinner’s fourth bottle of claret (between us all). And anyway there’s a turkey.

All I can say is I did make up the recipe for my goose neck stuffing, which was this: the goose liver, chopped; equal quantities of fat sausagemeat and minced pheasant; an onion and an apple softened in goose fat; a handful of breadcrumbs; a glass of red wine; an egg; two fat cloves of garlic, crushed; thyme, sage, salt, pepper. Mixed thoroughly and sewn into the neck, it all simmered very slowly, immersed in goose fat for just over an hour, being turned every ten minutes or so.

Before that we did canopés, which caused a genuine family feud, my uncle to take his wife and say Come on, we’re leaving! I made a fennel seed loaf to toast and have with cured salmon, dill sauce, and lump fish roe. I made a pissaladière and cut it into canopé-sized squares. I opened a bottle of Champagne five minutes after everyone arrived. Uncle and Auntie found Skype more fascinating than all this, than talking to us, than taking part. We said how angry we were. Things exploded. Really, I shouldn’t have cared less, as they were so impolite, as we took the champagne away into the kitchen, along with all the canopés, and had a marvellous time, cooking and scoffing, downing champagne. I mean: really fab.

Anyway – god isn’t it all so dissipated? – having whittled on about the ins and outs of this and that, I think, after all, what I found most satisfying about this Christmas was the goose. I’m thinking again about how to cook it and when to serve it next year; but I’m certain I want to have one we’ve raised from the beginning again. It felt good knowing how it had been raised, even better to have all its bits: the giblets, the fat, the neck and its skin.

Early this year, out of seven goose eggs, one hatched, and we called the resulting gosling Lucy – Lucy Gosling, becoming Lucy Goosey. Lucy Gosling’s fate was to be our Christmas lunch. Lucy Gosling would also be raised as a girl, when in fact she was a gander. Lucy was Lucien, said mum. I argued that this renaming, while hilarious, was gender-normative and took the anthropomorphism too far, but I went along with it. Lucien Goosien was lunch.




or, Too Many Things

Is a man travelling light who travels with six varieties of pumpkin?

I’ve just got home from Cambridge. Coming home from Cambridge is a task not to be underestimated but my trouble is that every term I underestimate it. “It’s not going to take me six hours to pack, this time, and – really, really – I do not need a pasta machine.” Going up at the end of September, I tried to be judicious when it came to books. I’d only take the ones I couldn’t easily get from the Queens’ or English libraries and which I would definitely read/use/refer to at least each week. The largest genre in this category was cookery. I had all of Elizabeth David (any self-respecting food-person would do). I had Simon Hopkinson and I had Richard Olney (again). I had Nigella and Hugh (embarassing). I had Rick Stein (I like him). By the end of the term I’d acquired Constance Spry (my friend Alex thought I’d be interested and I am). I’d printed eighteenth century books – by writers like Ann Cook and Richard Bradley – off Eighteenth Century Collections Online (historical interest and my, er, dissertation). The inventory goes on. But you can glean that I had a lot of cookbooks and that I now have even more.

And I credit myself; I referred to them daily.

Besides those I had a few books of poetical/literary reference (where would I be without Terry Eagleton?). I had books with pictures of the Bloomsbury group in (for a would-be dissertation). I had the Symposium and I had James Baldwin (any self-respecting lit-gay would do). I’ve come home with two different books entitled “Camp” and others with titles like “Another Kind of Love”.

My book buying is not only too frequent, it’s too much. It has become, like my dissertation on camp, a parody of me.

What’s more, my fruit and ornament buying, if not parodic, have become ridiculous. This is partly due to the fact that this term the two became one. Today I had two sacks of fruit to bring home: one of oranges and satsumas and nuts I’d strewn around the room with what I imagined was abandon; the other full of apples and pumpkins I’d ornamented my mantelpiece with for the seasonal colour, and the feeling of laying up stores.

I get huffy with my mum when she looks with ironical eyes at my term’s acquisitions. I protest that this time I travelled light – I didn’t bring half the stuff I could’ve – so shut up yeah. It cost me. I’ve suffered a term without my complete Dickens.

But I hated myself today when, my stuff crammed unceremoniously into the boot of mum’s estate, the tires looked set to burst. The weight of my possessions became very real. The image said: you have too many things. But I feel like Cambridge is a place for excess, for pumpkins and marble pestle and mortars and things if they take your fancy. I mention marble pestle and mortars because the one I got with the Divertimenti voucher Johan gave me for my birthday I just adore. Victoria laughed at it when she saw it a couple of days ago. “It’s funny the things people get a thrill from,” she said. “If someone gave that to me, I’d be, what the fuck?” But I do adore it. I think it’s fabulous because it’s too much, unnecessary and extremely so – but I also feel that in itself it’s a quite beautiful object. Does that make any difference? I don’t know.

I just have to hope I haven’t falsely associated the idea of having things with significance.

Eight or nine weeks at university isn’t travelling. It is, I sometimes like to fancy, living, and I don’t want to live my weeks too lightly.

Having said that, I concede it’s a shame there was no room in the car for my Christmas tree.

truffle omelette, young Bordeaux

Packing Up

It’s my last night in Cambridge before the Christmas vacation. I should be packing up to go home, but I’m not. I’ve had a truffle omelette and two little glasses of very young Bordeaux. I wasn’t good wine, but it went well with the omelette, satisfying for its uncomplicatedness. The truffle I used didn’t have a truffle’s proper hit. I don’t know where the grocer got it from. You flounder for a description of what a truffle’s proper hit should be, but funky earth comes close, I think. Its pungent fragrance has, at least, something of sex and of the ground.

Three eggs forked vigorously for half a minute in a hot pan of foaming butter, and the omelette – save its grating of truffle into the still unset centre and good-humoured forward roll onto a warm plate – was done. Good eggs and good butter made up for the bland fungus but I wished it had been better.

With it, I had a salad of walnuts, stilton and little gem lettuce, its leaves torn off into boats, laid attractively on a dish, dressed with olive oil, lemon, a good few flakes of salt: receptacles for the cheese and walnuts.

Toasting the nuts first brings out their fragrance and it’s an excellent one, both with truffle and Stilton’s salt tang.