A friend asked me a question this week: "Since you usually spend Christmas alone, do you have any holiday traditions? Like, do you do anything to make it special?"
Getting to be alone isn't special enough?
It was a good question, though, so I gave it some thought, and discovered that I have two definite traditions that I participate in every year:
1) I have a tradition of stacking all of my Christmas packages in the living room, and then spending the days leading up to Christmas shaking them and casually dropping them in the hopes that they will fall open. I can't open them early, because Jesus is watching.
2) Every year, since 2010, I make the Carnation Famous Fudge Kit. Some years there is disappointment, and other years there is a glimmer of hope. This year I decided that even though I will be at my parents' house for Christmas I still needed to follow my tradition, and to spend a morning trying to make fudge that looks like the fudge on the box and then blaming and berating myself for failure to meet the standards set by a food stylist who was probably using blocks of wax covered with shoe polish in place of actual fudge.
This year, though, things turned out a little differently.
The first sign that something might be amiss came yesterday, when I attempted to go out and get the fudge kit. There were none at Kroger. Or at Target. Or at Food City. Or at the other Food City. In fact, the only place I could find one was Wal-Mart. It's almost as if demand for the fudge kit has fallen, as if people don't want to use it any more, as if somewhere there exist better alternatives and people are tired of trying to make glossy, perfect fudge that might not even be possible from this kit.
That's just crazy talk, I thought, putting the fudge kit in my cart. Wal-Mart no longer has hand baskets, so you have to use a cart even if you're only buying two things. There's nothing wrong with the fudge kit. If it doesn't come out right, it must be the cook.
This morning, I got my kit out:
"New look", you say? Because the fudge on the box looks as unattainable as ever. The front of the box wasn't the only change, though. When I opened it, I discovered that something was missing:
They no longer five you the little pan to make the fudge in. The instructions on the back mention lightly spraying an 8 inch pan, but don't mention that you have to provide the pan yourself. Oddly, the kit wasn't any cheaper even though it comes with less stuff, and I felt the first stirrings of resentment against Carnation bubbling within me. I don't even have an 8 by 8 pan. Who am I, Martha Stewart? A Keebler elf? Whoever Freihofer's is named after? (Charles Freihofer, it turns out.) You think I can just pull the right sized pan out of the air?
I can't, but I realized that my my vintage turquoise Pyrex 503 (which I need a lid for, if anyone wants to send me something really special for Christmas) dish is roughly that size:
Measurements confirmed that it is 8.5 by 7 inches, which seemed close enough to 8 by 8. Dish problem solved, I started on the kit, which hasn't changed. You dump the condensed milk, butter, and sugar mix in a pot:
Then you stir while it heats:
and then it boils and you stir constantly for exactly four minutes:
After that you remove from heat, add the marshmallows and chocolate chips, stir, and pour it into the pan.
I was so hopeful for a minute. I was stirring, and it was glossy! The fudge had shine, damn it! I was all, "In the pan! Get it into the pan! Oh, God, I've done it! I'VE MADE THE FUDGE!" and then, in the twenty seconds it took me to spoon it into the pan, something happened:
That Goddamned fudge looks exactly like last year. It looks the same every year! Seriously.
Every year the fudge looks like this. Low heat, high heat, butter, margarine, disposable pan, Pyrex dish... none of it matters. That's what I have realized this year.
The Carnation Famous Fudge Kit makes grainy, visually disappointing fudge.
It's not the cook. If you make the same thing four times, and it comes out the same way four times, that's the way it's supposed to come out. The flaw is in the recipe.
Next year, I will continue the tradition of making holiday fudge.
I have a whole year to settle on a new recipe.