For years I celebrated Valentine’s Day with a flamboyant display of my culinary skills, attempting to impress the beau of the moment. Inevitably, I got carried away. One year in particular, with all my fussing in the kitchen, dinner was still not ready an hour before midnight, with the obligatory bottle of champagne getting in the way of my plans! As the candle wax melted and my feet ached from teetering on Manolo Blahnik heels all night, any pretensions to a romantic dinner for two died. My starving date had given up trying to keep me company in the kitchen, settling instead in front of ESPN. With some tact, my friend said he was always pleased when someone cooked an elaborate meal for him, but all he really wanted was a cheeseburger. I thought, “You want it, you’ve got it, baby…. next year!” No more overcooked pasta and sunken soufflés as I attempted to rekindle the fire, change the CD, or ooh and ahh over a love token. Even though I decided to take him at his word, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t stick to the theme of the heart. So, 12 months later, armed with a set of cookie cutters, I created heart shaped crudités, heart shaped cheeseburgers, heart shaped cottage fries, heart shaped brownies with ice cream and hot fudge. Hardly a gourmet meal, but my date was charmed, and I was spared the exhaustion of trying to do a romantic multicourse dinner for two.
Given that the hearts-and-flowers frills of Valentine’s Day delight most women, why not celebrate with some girlfriends? Particularly if some of us might not have a current beau – or if the one you have is forgetful or uncreative. Design a lunch decorated with all the lacy bits that would be lost on their partners – as each place setting, I pose a carnation and rose heart, constructed on a base of floral foam that they can take home just for themselves or for their own Valentines (it’s a gentle nudge to let the men know how much they are missing or forgot!)
On another Valentine’s Day, I decided to include the men, but I knew that I needed to tone down the romantic theme. A drum table with shelves of Moroccan leather-bound books set a more masculine tone when moved beside the Weatherstone center-hall door. The atmospheric background now settled, I decided pastel pinks had best be omitted; with neutral white flowers safer. Crimson glassware, sterling solver flatware and service plates, crisp linens, and black candles suited the setting. But I refused to hide my feminine side completely – arching, whimsical branches of forced Prunus added a dainty touch. As long as I remembered to chill a few extra bottles of champagne, I was sure the men wouldn’t mind.
Floral foam is a life saver when you need to make quick, theme-based arrangements for all manner of holidays or celebrations. The foam can be purchased from florists, craft stores and craft sections of superstores, in preshaped balls, bricks, topiary cones and hearts, and can be adapted to countless creations; limited only by the sturdiness of the flowers’ stems. Once it has been soaked, floral foam can easily be shaped with a sharp kitchen knife, but keep in mind the foam can crumble if roughly treated. If you are going to hang your creation, consider that the foam absorbs a large quantity of water and can be heavy – you can disguise hanging wire behind a silk ribbon. For better stem stability on larger forms, wrap the foam with chicken wire before placing your flowers. Remember you must let the heart (or any floral foam) drain for a while so as not to ruin a table or wall.
I am sure some of you will recognize some of these pictures of past Valentine’s Day decorations from my books of long ago. As you might remember, I reintroduced the lowly carnation first as Christmas wreathes, them topiaries and finally the Valentine’s shapes over 20 years ago – where does the time go?! I still use many of these same elements today – they work, so why not?
A far more recent discovery of heart shaped pasta inspired the final pictures. This is what I plan on doing next Tuesday – and I did a trial run yesterday to ensure that the pasta held the heart shape when cooked. Of course many sauces work, but as I want the pasta to be the star, I did a simple sauce of butter, olive oil, garlic, chopped sage and sprinkled Parmesan on top. A fast and simple first course, or even a main, if you are really going for easy!
So girls, and my handful of sweet guys, happy Valentine’s Day to one and all,