week 52

Finally. My favorite week of the year has arrived. I go out of my way to arrange my schedule so that I can more or less take the last week of each year off. It seems fair enough, doesn’t it? After 51 weeks of running around, working, playing, and juggling the affairs of day to day life, I think we all deserve a week of rest. I can’t recommend it enough.

This is the week of slow mornings with coffee and that new novel that was under the tree. This is the week I can even get away with slipping a splash of Bailey’s into my last cup of joe. It’s the week we give our dining room table over to building our annual 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle. This is the week I make a bottomless pot of stew to see us through the last days of the year. And it’s the week we set out on late afternoon skis, often treating ourselves to a cold brew afterwards.

Which is not to say that this week is altogether hedonistic. I also try and take care of those random things that I don’t seem to get to on a regular basis. I clean out my work files – paper and electronic – to make a clean slate for the year ahead. I get more satisfaction than I probably should from vacuuming in all those strange little spaces that magically collect dust throughout the year. I go through my digital pictures and order a photo book that features the best of our year’s adventures. I try and tie up as many loose ends as I can so the new year ahead gets its own fair shake.

This is also the week I make time to truly contemplate the past 51 weeks of  living. My husband Mark and I have a tradition of sitting down together with our main house calendar to reminisce over the last 12 months. In addition to writing down all the meetings, appointments, and engagements we have, we also make a point to jot down the funny, sad, memorable, and even the mundane moments that make up our days. It makes for an enjoyable way to reflect on the year and it also helps me to think about the year that lies ahead and what I maybe want to do differently – or keep the same.

If you’re thinking this sounds like a pretty good week, wait. It gets better. The crème de la crème of week 52 is my mother’s toffee. I am not a huge sweet eater, but you’d never know it if you were to catch me around a tin of her toffee. I can’t stop. No restraint. None. And so this is the week when I don’t even try. I eat it whenever the mood strikes. Which means I generally have a piece with my morning coffee. And another when I sit down to puzzle for a bit. Afternoon tea at my desk wouldn’t be proper without it. I give myself permission to work my way through the entire tin of it. It’s everything toffee should be – crunchy, buttery and just a little salty. And it’s a cinch to make. With a good heavy pan and a candy thermometer, you can turn out a batch in about 20 minutes. I’d like to say that this toffee should not just be limited to the holidays, but due to my addiction, I generally do. It’s that good.

My mom has been making this toffee to give as holiday gifts for nearly 30 years. This recipe is based on a recipe that my mom got from a friend back in the 80’s. The original recipe calls for almonds, but I am especially fond of it with toasted hazelnuts (filberts). Try either, but do yourself and your loved ones a favor, and make a batch to close out 2010.

English Butter Toffee

1 cup raw filberts or almonds
1 cup salted butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons water

1/2 tsp. soda
1 teaspoon vanilla (or a splash of dark rum – especially if you are going the hazelnut route)

6 ounces bitter-sweet (60% cocoa) or semi-sweet chocolate bits or bar
coarse sea salt

Lightly toast the nuts on a heavy baking sheet in a 400º F oven for about 10 minutes. Measure out the rest of the ingredients while the nuts are toasting. When the nuts smell fragrant, remove them from sheet and coarsely chop. Line the same baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper and spread half of the nuts over the tray. When it comes time to spread the toffee, it helps to have the cookie sheet a little warm. I generally pop the nut laden sheet back into the oven – which is off, but still warm from toasting the nuts – while the toffee cooks.

Combine the butter, sugars, and water in a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat and mix well. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Attach a candy thermometer to the pan and continue cooking and stirring until the mixture reaches 300º F (hard-crack stage). In the last few minutes of cooking, the mixture will turn a lovely dark caramel shade. Remove from heat and working quickly, stir in the soda and the vanilla. The mixture will froth up slightly as you add in the soda and vanilla.

Pour the mixture carefully over the slightly warmed tray of nuts. Spread the toffee around evenly with a heat-proof rubber spatula. Resist every temptation you have to prod, tug, or even it out it with your fingers – it will be incredibly hot and not very much fun (I speak from experience).

Let cool about 10 minutes. Sprinkle chocolate bits or shaved bar chocolate over toffee. Using a butter knife or spatula, spread out the chocolate evenly. Sprinkle the remaining nuts over chocolate and press in lightly. Top with a pinch of coarse sea salt. Cool. Break into pieces. Store in an airtight container. (Makes about 1 1/2 pounds)

3 Responses to “week 52”

  1. 1 ensospa December 29, 2010 at 9:49 am

    I think this post is great! i am especially impressed with your ability to go through your years photos and create a book! Good for you. I have always wanted to do that for aidyn!

  2. 2 Julie December 31, 2010 at 10:44 am

    We’re on the same vacation down to the Bailey’s and toffees. Minus the jigsaw puzzle (though I’m going to look around now) but add a facial — superb.

  1. 1 toing and froing | Garlic Pig Trackback on December 29, 2013 at 10:29 pm

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