In part 2 of The Viable Paradise Kitchen, we aim to balance part 1 with something sweet. Our friend Bart has helped feed the able hearts and crumbling minds of the annual Viable Paradise workshop for five years. He is known to travel with several varieties of the confection known as fudge, in case of emergencies, sugar crashes, and dudgeon. Cooking the Books specializes in examining the intersections between food and fiction. Today, that intersection is one of Bart’s secret VP fudge recipes, and the whys and wherefores thereof:
From VP Bart:
When you’re writing, isn’t it nice to add a problem to a problem to a problem and see the perfect answer appear? I see the same problems every year at Viable Paradise Writers’ Workshop: Lots of students are introverts who need an entrance into a group conversation, even something as simple as, “Here, try some of this food we’re eating.” Lots of students are more homesick than they expected, and the Black Dog has set up shop nearby. Whether it’s late nights, long walks, anxiety, or descending more stairs than a Duchamp nude, everyone at the workshop burns more calories than normal. And everyone burning those extra calories needs a fully-functional brain, not one starved for glucose.
One solution immediately presents itself: Pie*. (Thank you, Mur Lafferty and Evan Goer.) [*editor’s note: Conveniently, James D. Macdonald will address pie in next week’s installment of Cooking the Books.]
But wait! The ovens at the Island Inn are, in a word, persnickety. Also, good pie can take time and ingredients that we just don’t have in the middle of a crisis, in the middle of a workshop, in the middle of the deep blue sea.
I recommend fudge.
Fudge is easy, if you want it to be. No oven required, no candy thermometer, no bowl of ice water, not so much as a jury-rigged double boiler. Fudge doesn’t take much exposition; people understand fudge. Fudge is versatile, so you can appeal to the broadest audience with the plain stuff that made Hershey famous or subvert the subgenre with mash-ups like blood orange and cinnamon in white Ghirardelli. (Friends, when the Hugo voters recognize fudge as a legitimate medium, remember my name.) Fudge is comfort food. Fudge is a chance to do the fannish thing and argue candied ginger versus gingersnaps—which is the lightning bug, which the lightning? Most importantly, fudge will protect you from wasting away, and it will fuel your glucose-starved brain through the post-lunch doldrums, through that Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, all the way to dinner.
Yes, in some ways, fudge is fudging. Compared to eating healthy food in the correct amounts, it’s a cheap trick. As some dude with a Nobel and two Pulitzers said, “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies. How many impossible things do you want to write before breakfast? If you’re too good for the judicious cheap trick, why are you telling lies for money?
Here’s the basic recipe to improvise on. Don’t make this without someone around to help you eat it.
- 18 oz chocolate chips or bars (18 oz of chips is about 3 cups)
- 1 can of sweetened condensed milk (NOT evaporated milk!)
- 1/8 tsp salt (Mac says to pour it in your hand and eyeball it—other people think it’s magic!)
- ½ tsp baking soda (Acid-base chemistry For The Win!)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract (or 1-2 Tbsp syrups made for coffee drinks, or bourbon, rum, Kahlua, etc.; choose something that tastes good with the nuts you’re adding in)
- 1 cup pecans or other nuts
Line an 8” x 8” or 9” x 9” square pan with foil. Grease the foil with oil spray (like Pam) or butter.
Measure out the nuts. Get the measuring spoon, the bottle of vanilla, and the baking soda out. This fudge doesn’t set up as fast as one cooked on the stovetop, but you won’t want to disappear into the pantry at the wrong time either.
Pour the chocolate chips into a medium-sized mixing bowl, with room to stir. Pour the sweetened condensed milk into another mixing bowl large enough to hold all of the ingredients eventually, about 2 quarts.
Microwave the bowl of chips for 1 minute. Microwave the bowl of milk for 1 minute. While one bowl is in the microwave, stir the other bowl well. Do this again for 45 seconds for each bowl, and again for 30 seconds for each bowl. If the chips aren’t melted, you can microwave them for one or two more rounds of 30 seconds, but stir them a lot, as much as a minute or two between turns in the microwave. Some chips (especially white chocolate) might not melt completely before scorching, so don’t think that more heating is a sure-fire answer. Stir more; make your biceps suffer for your art.
Add the baking soda and vanilla (or other liquid flavoring) to the bowl of milk, and stir well.
Stir the nuts into the bowl of milk. Stir the melted chips into the bowl of milk. Don’t worry if it’s setting up more or less than you expected. Unlike with stovetop fudge, you aren’t stirring to get any magic started with sugar crystals, just to get everything mixed together.
When the fudge is thoroughly mixed, pour it into the greased pan. Cover and refrigerate for a few hours, until it sets. Slice and share.
VP Bart is a mysterious figure, appearing at conventions and late night writing sessions when the whim strikes him. He is most easily found on Martha’s Vineyard in early October.
Viable Paradise is an annual week-long sf/f writers’ workshop on Martha’s Vineyard. Curious? Check it out here. Or, take my word for it – I write about Viable Paradise, here. Want more? Viable Paradise instructors Elizabeth Bear and Steven Gould visited Cooking the Books in 2012.
The updated library of Cooking the Books interviews is here.