“Where'd God go?” I wasn't having some type of existential crisis, or pondering the meaning of life. No, it was an honest question, and I expected an answer. I was six and a bit confused.
We were attending a Buddhist almsgiving at a friend's house. The prayers had ended and the feasting was about to begin. The priest who had been leading the ceremony had wandered out of the living room and out of my sight, and I wanted to know where he'd gone. I can't remember if I thought his name was God, or if I believed that He himself had decided to make a visit to Connecticut and lead us in prayer. The latter seems more likely.
My family is technically Buddhist, but religion didn’t play a huge role in my childhood. The only time I remember really feeling Buddhist is when we’d head to another Sri Lankan family's house for an almsgiving. This probably happened all of four times, but I enjoyed it. I loved the singsong prayers, the pretty orange robes, and the protective, blessed string bracelet that the priest tied around each of our wrists. The whole event had a magical feeling, even divine. The kind of thing God himself would attend.
I attribute my doctrinal confusion to my family's flexible policy on holidays. We observed some some American holidays and ignored others. Easter was out for us, which broke my heart. I’ve never felt so sorry for myself as I did watching all the other kids at school stuff their faces with Cadbury Cream Eggs from their baskets. But we did do Christmas, in our way. We had a glorious green plastic tree that we strung with multicolored flashing lights, tinsel up the wahzoo, and plenty of those glassy balls. I broke one of the globes once and hid the blue shards in a vase, where they remained for twenty years, at least. I know because I checked periodically.
On Christmas morning, there were always presents under the tree and stockings stuffed full, just like in any good television commercial. Now here is where things get a little untraditional. For some reason, my family carried on as if Santa and his elves only made stocking stuffers up there at the North Pole. Santa never left the big presents at our house. All the boxes and bags under the tree came from Mom and Dad. Yet family legend had it that it was Santa himself who filled the stockings, and it was the stockings that made Christmas a kind of religious experience for me.
Santa left good stuff. Specifically candy. He loaded all manner of sweets into our red felt stockings each year. Chocolate oranges. Candy canes. Kisses. The beloved Skor bars. Enough red, green, and silver foil to fill a treasure chest. In my mind, Santa was a kind of candy god. God, Santa Claus, Buddhist priests - I assumed they were all part of the same team out to provide spiritual guidance, protection, and candy. Really, what else is there?
So here we are. Early December and I’ve got Christmas candy on the brain. Sweet gifts, like the ones brought to me by Santa (still one of my holy leaders), are my favorite part of this holiday.
My friend Myryah and her husband Kevin make butter pecan toffee for their friends around holiday time. (One year I was lucky enough to get two bags. One was supposed to be for Gus. But in fact neither bag made it back to the apartment.) It's such a lovely tradition that I decided to make it my own, too. Myryah gave me the recipe for her toffee but I lost it. Who knows, I probably ate it. So I've developed this recipe in the hope that it helps to make your holidays happy, too.
Butter Pecan Toffee
Makes about 1 3/4 pounds of candy
For the toffee:
1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the coating:
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
6 ounces toasted pecans, chopped
1. Make the toffee: Set a nonstick baking mat in a large rimmed baking sheet. In a medium, heavy-bottomed pot, heat butter, sugar, water, salt over medium until butter is melted. Stir to combine. Cook the mixture until a candy thermometer reads 300°. Remove from heat and quickly stir in vanilla. Be careful. It will sputter a bit. Quickly and carefully pour the mixture onto the prepared sheet. Spread to an even thickness. Let cool completely.
2. Make the coating: Melt the chocolate. (Tempering it (instructions here) will give it a nicer set and make it more stable at room temperature. But you can simply melt the chocolate, use it, and then store the toffee in the refrigerator.) Spread half the chocolate on one side of the toffee. Either chill it or let it set at room temperature. Flip the toffee over and spread the other side with the remaining chocolate. Sprinkle with pecans, pressing gently to adhere. Chill until chocolate is set or let it set at room temperature. Break the toffee into pieces. Eat it up.