His Jewish heritage aside (as if that were possible) Howard was a man who loved Christmas. He loved the shopping, the decorating, and the gift-wrapping but mostly he loved the food. Howard could obsess over the most mundane of foods. An entire year of high school was focused on the hungry pursuit of Chung King frozen egg rolls. That followed twelve months of TastyKakes Butterscotch Krumpets. Before that was the quest for the perfect fried onion ring. And one salt-laden summer was devoted to Utz potato chips dribbled with vinegar. Which, he informed me, was very British.
We were good reformed Jews, going to Temple most Friday evenings. But we worshipped, too, at paper-covered tables of steamed crabs. And with no sense of irony, our favorite restaurant, Mandel’s Deli, served both Kosher-style Corned Beef and extravagant Shrimp Salad sandwiches.
One Christmas, when Howard and I were living in New York, both pathetically partnerless, he decided we should cheer ourselves up by roasting a goose for Christmas. It would be an adventure, he said, our very own Dickens Christmas as only two lapsed Jews could envision it.
I was living in a miniscule studio apartment on Second Avenue with a narrow oven and half refrigerator along one wall. But Howard’s apartment was even smaller, which meant our goose escapade would happen at my place.
“Make sure the oven is really hot,” he told me. “They say it needs a really hot oven. I’ve got the bird – I had to leave it on the fire escape last night, my fridge was too small. Did you pick up the sage?”
“Yeah. Well, I think it’s sage. It might be thyme.” All I knew was that the Simon and Garfunkle song had been going through my head for three days. “But, How, I don’t think I have a pan big enough, you’d better bring something.”
Here’s what I now know:
- Roasting a goose requires a strong back as you must continually lift the pan out of the oven to drain the copious amount of fat that comes off the bird.
- Also, don’t pour the fat down the kitchen drain as it clogs the pipes. And when the super comes to unclog the pipes, don’t tell him you poured copious amounts of goose fat down the ancient drain of your ancient sink.
- The smell of roasted goose permeates everything, and is especially unpleasant when it clings to the upholstery of the sofa bed you sleep on every night.
- Most importantly – though a roasted goose is gamey and stringy, a large pan of stuffing made with both sage and thyme, makes anything palatable.
The following Christmas things were a little better. We were both happier, Howard had moved to a Christopher Street walk up with a big sink in the kitchen to compensate for the lack of one in the bathroom. Best of all, we were surrounded that year by friends and hope, and dinner – turkey - was delicious.