This week I’ve been baking round-the-clock. Cookies, cakes, and candy have all emerged from my kitchen. I’ve done quite a bit of experimenting, too. Some experiments went straight to the trash, but the successful ones went to our neighbors. I can’t tell you how much I love surprising friends with plates of sweets. Well, come on, who doesn’t like that? A friend of ours became a Colonel on Tuesday, so I took a maple cheesecake to help them celebrate. Another friend returns home from the war on Saturday - after 7 months away. He’s requested a brownie pudding upon his homecoming. It’s really amazing how we can show others love and hospitality with sugar, butter, and a smile.
Hospitality hasn’t always been my strong suit. In my early years of marriage, I knew how to cook but I didn’t really understand what it meant to be hospitable. I was held back many times by thoughts like: “I don’t have all of the linens and plates we need,” “we don’t have enough furniture,” or “our dining area only seats 4.”
Do you cringe at the thought of entertaining? Do you worry about making everything perfect? The food. The cleaning. The decor? I met Sandy a couple of months ago at a blogging event. She writes the blog Reluctant Entertainer. We immediately got on the topic of entertaining and I could see a spark in her eye. Before we parted, she gave me her new book, The Reluctant Entertainer. Over Thanksgiving I took time to read it and was encouraged by her advice, wisdom, and ideas.
Over the years I’ve learned to not get caught up in the perfection of it all. I usually want my house to be sparkling, but let’s face it, not many of us have time for that. Honestly when I am a guest in a friend’s home and things there aren’t perfect, it makes me feel at ease. I’ve also learned not to be afraid of the mishaps. They will happen. And when they do, laughter and a sense of humor can make them into a blessing. In fact, just last week I had a huge mishap.
Friends were gathered at our home, we’d just finished our Thanksgiving meal and it was time to serve pie. I’d made two pecan pies, two pumpkin pies, and a pumpkin banana tart. I sliced, served and looked over at my husband. He’d just taken a bite of the pumpkin pie and had a sour look on his face. I quickly took a bite and made the same face. It tasted like soap! After a few minutes of speculation, I realized I’d prepared the filling ahead of time and stored it in a mason jar that hadn’t been completely rinsed. It tasted terrible. Really. A few moments later there was a knock on the door. More friends arrived for dessert. The door opened and one of the little kids ran up and said, “Hey! Come on in! But don’t eat any of the pumpkin pie. It’s nasty.” Laughter erupted and I told them the story. The pumpkin pies went into the trash and we sliced up the tart and pecan pies and had a great time.
I tell you this story to encourage you. It happens to all of us! My house isn’t always perfect, but I try to make easy-to-please food, welcome everyone in and enjoy the people. This holiday season, let’s all try not to get caught up in perfection. Call some friends you’ve wanted to get to know better, throw something in the oven (or order out) and enjoy the simple pleasures of serving someone else.
It’s important to work quickly once the toffee is ready to pour out of the pot. It will harden very fast so make sure to have everything ready. Adapted from Food Network
1 1/4 cups organic whole cane sugar or sucanat
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup water
1 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups whole almonds, roasted and chopped
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Whisk the whole cane sugar, maple syrup and water in a large saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil, lower heat to medium low and simmer for 3-4 minutes. Stir in the butter and continue to simmer (do not stir, stirring can make the mixture grainy) until the mixture reaches 300ºF, about 30 minutes. Remove the pan immediately and whisk in the salt, baking soda, and 1 cup of chopped nuts. Stir quickly until well combined. Immediately pour the mixture onto a buttered baking sheet. Using an offset spatula, quickly spread the mixture out into a rectangle, about 10×13-inches.
While the toffee is cooling, melt the chocolate. Pour melted chocolate over the toffee and spread evenly. Sprinkle remaining chopped almonds on top. Cool for 1 hour before breaking apart. You can put the toffee in the fridge to speed up the cooling, if desired. Break apart and serve.
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