Denise, Rachael, and Megan showing off successful batch of English Toffee
I'd been waiting for this day for a few months. I always anticipate Thanksgiving for quite some time, but this year it was the day after Thanksgiving that I was looking forward to the most. Denise, a family friend, was driving up to Marin to teach my sisters and I how to make her infamous toffee, Denise's Pieces. Ever since I can remember, we've received a small box right around the holidays--it's better than any tin of cookies. In fact, it's better than fifty tins of cookies. I'm not sure about my sisters, but I definitely took to hiding and hoarding a few pieces in random spots around the kitchen last year. I chose the broken dishwasher that no one ever uses: it proved to be an excellent hiding spot.
Now every year around the holidays, we have Cookie Night at my Dad's, where we choose a few recipes, bake them off, and make tins for family and friends. Last year, we got the coveted recipe for Denise's Pieces and set out to make our own. Faulty candy thermometers, burnt fingers, and a whole heaping serving of confusion later, we had weird crumbly masses of wet sugar. Not quite right. Definitely not hide-in-the-dishwasher-worthy. Although disappointed, we knew that at the very least, our tin straight from Denise's kitchen was probably on its way.
So you can imagine how delighted I was to hear that this year, Denise was going to make an in-person appearance and teach us the insider secrets. She has holiday celebrity status in our household; I couldn't quite believe my ears: In person? Really? It was like someone had told me Ruth Reichl or Meryl Streep was coming for dinner. She arrived prepared with all of the ingredients--and a caveat. The room grew quiet. My Dad seemed to know what she was going to say already as his eyes darted back and forth from Denise to each of us. Denise paused and turned toward my sister Rachael and I.
"So girls, you know that once I show you the secrets, you no longer receive your own tin? You now must go out and carry on the tradition yourselves. It's yours now," she said with a big, proud smile. Behind my polite nod was a sinking feeling that Christmas would never be the same. What?! I wanted to send her packing right back where she came from so everything would remain just as it was. No yearly tin? But we had no choice: she was before us and had so generously driven two hours to teach us the recipe. We set forth, with no other option but to succeed. We would make these happen. I looked at Rachael and nodded assuredly. She nodded back. It was on.