It’s a week before Christmas; hopefully this time next week, we’ll be digesting ridiculously large quantities of smoked salmon, roast potatoes and champagne in front of the telly and I will be deeply if discreetly relieved that it’s all more or less over for another year. Between now and then, however, there remains a helluva lot to do…. One of our family traditions is that we make a whole load of home-made sweets to feast on during the holidays – rum-favoured chocolate truffles, peppermint creams, stuffed dates, and above all, home-made fudge (see recipe below). The fudge is a particular favourite though it can be tricky to make as it needs to be boiled for just the right amount of time. I’ve been making it for more years now than I care to count, so have pretty much got it off pat. It smells glorious as you’re boiling it and it never fails to remind me of the excitement and hustle-bustle of the days before Christmas when I was growing up.
Being teenagers, the two youngest members of the household like to make out they’re terribly sophisticated and cynical about the whole business of Christmas. After all, it’s been some years since they believed in Santa Claus. All the same, they aren’t able to completely disguise the mounting sense of anticipation that starts the moment the first window’s opened on the Advent Calendar. The Female Child has spent the last few weeks planning and ordering gifts for a vast battalion of her friends, wrapping them up with enormous care and adding sparkly ribbons, candy sticks and divine little cards to each. She sings contently as goes about the task and I’m reminded that there’s more pleasure in giving the perfect gift than in any you receive. I casually asked the Male Child if he’d be sending out cards to his friends too. His response? “Do I look like a girl?” Ah well – I guess the answer’s no then.
Later in the week, a whole gang of the daughter’s friends are coming over for a party and sleepover. The spouse and I debate the merits of going out and leaving them to it, or whether it makes more sense to stay on hand in order to ensure damage limitation. Not to be outdone, our son has now announced that he too wants to offer seasonal largesse to his mates and so has invited half his class to our house on the last day of term. Another trip to the supermarket, methinks.
Along with preparing for the big day, I’ve also been trying to think ahead a little and make a plan for the coming year. When I was still working in an office, we used to do an annual appraisal, including setting objectives for the year ahead. When you’re working independently, it’s much harder to keep to a routine, and it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to outline a few things that I’d definitely like to achieve in 2014. (I’d be interested to know if anyone else does this?) It’s generally accepted wisdom in some quarters that if you write down your aims, you’re much more likely to achieve them; I guess time will tell on that score. My absolutely main aim is to start earning some money. I need to get better at building up a network of contacts and actually using it. As all the advice out there repeatedly underlines, even if you write the greatest novel or screenplay on the planet, it will serve you naught if you don’t actually tell anyone about it. I know this, but I still find it hard. So 2014 has to be the year I make some sort of breakthrough. Keep your fingers crossed for me!
2 lb / 900g – Granulated sugar
10 fl oz / 300ml – Full fat milk
8 oz / 225g – Unsalted butter
1 tin – Condensed milk
2 tbsp – Golden Syrup
A few drops of vanilla essence
Method: Put the sugar and milk in a large heavy-based pan and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the butter, condensed milk and golden syrup. Bring to the boil and continue cooking until the mixture begins to darken and a soft ball forms when a little is dropped into a glass of cold water. This part of the process takes about half an hour and it’s important to keep stirring it, so it doesn’t burn on the bottom. Remove the pan from the heat and allow it to sit for five minutes. While this is happening, fill the sink with a couple of inches of cold water. After five minutes of initial cooling, add the vanilla essence to the fudge mixture, place the pan in the cold water and beat it with a wooden spoon until the contents becomes grainy and fudge-like. Tip out into a buttered tin and leave to cool.