Just Keep Stirring!

Glad Yule! Today we find ourselves at the turning of the wheel, and thank the gods for that because I don’t think we can take any more of the nonsense this year has brought. Case in point: let me tell you what happens when you let a Lokian into the kitchen.

I tend to do my holiday baking at my parents’ house because their kitchen is twice the size of mine with at least 5x the counter space. Plus, her cat leaves me more or less alone while my two gremlins are constantly up my ass, and the last thing anyone needs is paw prints and fur in their almond cakes and chocolate fudge.

Today I decided to make 2 pans of fudge; one to bring into work, one for the family (and Loki, Sigyn, and the rest of the God Squad). I’d like to preface the following tale with the assurance that I’m very adept in the kitchen. I’ve been cooking and baking since I was 12, taught well by my Italian mother how to make everything from scratch. I’m a damn good cook, and it’s one of the scant few things I brag about. Add to that the fact I’ve been making chocolate fudge for Yule every year for over 20 years. Sometimes I make a batch of Bailey’s Irish Cream fudge in addition to the chocolate fudge, and that one can be hit or miss in the texture/firmness, but it always tastes delightful regardless of how it set up.

This year, Mom discovered the joys of bourbon cream, so I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a chocolate bourbon fudge this year. I arrive at their house and discover Mom set out the dutch oven so I can do a double batch of fudge instead of 2 separate batches; she knows the deadline for my book is closing in fast, so she thought it would save time so I could write while the pans of fudge are setting rather than do back-to-back shifts at the stove. “Well, so much for the bourbon cream idea,” I thought. Didn’t want to ruin TWO pans if the altered recipe didn’t work out.

“Oh ho!” Loki must have mused. “I want bourbon in my share! How can I make sure this happens?”

My parents have a glass top stove. My mom is incredibly neurotic about making sure nothing ever boils over on it because of how difficult it is to clean the damn thing. “Do you want help?” she asked, still a little gun-shy from a boiled over beet syrup disaster she had less than 24 hours before (red beet eggs are a PA Dutch delight, way better than regular pickled eggs).

“Nah, I’m good.” She lingered, practically vibrating with anxiety. “I got this, Mom. I’ll shout if something happens.”

Something happened. Of course it did. I can’t help but think of the contributions people have made for my book, explaining why they’re wary of the Trickster and hesitant to let him into their lives. Loki’s not a quiet deity, nor is he very subtle. When he Wants Something, he’ll make sure it happens. Apparently for Yule he wanted bourbon in his fudge, and he wasn’t about to let a little thing like a double batch of regular chocolate fudge get it his way, Mom’s glass stove top be damned.

I’d just brought the concoction to a boil over medium heat and started counting down the 5 minutes of continuous stirring. About a minute and a half into it, the glob of marshmallow fluff and sugar was bubbling precariously close to the top of the dutch oven, so I reduced the heat to be on the safe side. Another minute passes, and suddenly there’s 1/4 inch between the blob and the rim of the pot. “Mom!” I shout. “Pot’s not big enough!”

She was beside me in a flash, just in time to see the fluff erupt and pour down the sides of the pan and spread across the stove top. Thanks to the pandemic, we didn’t get to go to Iceland this year, so 2020 brought Iceland to my mom’s kitchen in the form of marshmallow lava flow. Mom sprang into motion, turning off the burner and grabbing the 2-handed pot off the stove in one smooth motion while I kept stirring. She plonked it down half on the cool side of the stove, half on the counter, and went to work scraping and scooping the burning lava-fluff before it destroyed her cook top.

I kept stirring. If there’s one thing that 20+ years of making Yuletide fudge has taught me, it’s don’t stop stirring until you’ve reached soft ball stage! I still had just under 2 minutes left before I could dump in the chocolate and vanilla extract, and I wasn’t giving up, no matter how FUBAR things could get by taking the pot off the heat too soon. Whatever, the dutch oven was cast iron, it holds heat, JUST KEEP STIRRING!

Mom turned on the clean burner so I wouldn’t lose too much heat while she tried to salvage the big burner. But of course, she had to clean the bottom of the dutch oven lest the lava-fluff fuse the cast iron pot to the glass. It’s a large pot, a two-hander, and I wasn’t about to stop stirring. “Steve!” I cry. “Get in here!”

Poor Steve had no idea what he was walking into. Mom’s frantic about her stove top, I’m stirring stirring stirring with one hand and flinging a pair of oven mitts at him with the other hand. “PUT THESE ON AND PICK THIS UP!” I commanded in the same tone I’d use to direct someone to call 911 while starting chest compressions in an emergency (CHEST COMPRESSIONS, CHEST COMPRESSIONS, CHEST COMPRESSIONS! Shout out to my fellow Dr. Mike fans, there). The kitchen air was hazy with smoke.

Yule 2020: burning marshmallow globs turning to rock on a glass stove top. Steve standing awkwardly with a cast iron dutch oven in his hands, Mom kneeling to clean the bottom of the pot while I’m on tiptoe to keep stirring, keep stirring. “It’s a lost cause!” Mom says. “There’s too much on the bottom of the pot, don’t you dare set this back down on my stove!”

“I HAVE LESS THAN A MINUTE LEFT!” I insist, then peer in and say, “Fuck it. Steve, might as well put this on the counter.” Mom flings a stack of towels on the counter, and Steve abandons the pot and flees the kitchen while Mom returns to hacking at the lava field and I just keep stirring. It looks okayish, and I realize the pot’s quickly losing heat. I know what I have to do. I can practically hear Loki chanting “bourbon, bourbon, bourbon!” somewhere in the recesses of my mind.

It’s now or never.

I grab the bourbon cream from the fridge, splash some into the congealing mess of sugar without noticing or caring how much I’m adding, and dump the vanilla and chocolate and resume stirring. I was audibly chanting, “Just keep stirring, just keep stirring” while Mom excavated the burner and Steve hid with their cat.

Just as I was about to pick up the dutch oven to pour the chaos into the prepped pans, Mom shrieked. After everything that just happened, there was no way she was going to let me heft up a cast iron pot to pour a double batch out. She handed me a ladle, assuming there was no chance in hell the fudge was going to set up or get firm after ripping it off the heat source several minutes earlier than it should have been. But somehow, it was starting to set even as I ladled it. This made for a bigger mess than if I’d just poured it from the pot, but hey, I know better than to defy my mother when she’s already freaking out about her stove top.

Despite all odds, the fudge is perfect. It’s setting nicely, and it’s smooth and rich and there’s a dreamy hint of bourbon in the chocolate.

Well played, Loki. Well played.

Here’s to all of you this Yule. May your preparations be less catastrophic but the results just as divine.

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