valentine’s night – are you in or out?
January 28th, 2013
Valentines Article – written for and published in Shropshire life magazine
Roses are red violets are blue
You love your tummy and I do too.
Of all the months in the year February struggles to offer much more than depressing bank statements and dreary weather. No wonder they made it as short as possible so we should be thankful for St Valentine for giving us an excuse to indulge each other a little.
The original eponymous Christian may have martyred himself back there on the 14th of February but I’m sure we are all agreed it’s not the martyring bit we want to celebrate – it’s the romantic gesture. According to the story, the poor man was apparently capable of rattling off a little love note to his girl while on his way to execution and we have been marking the occasion with poetry and flowers ever since.
Well my other half has given up buying me flowers as I prefer to nurture my own (same applies to quality verse as you have already seen) and chocolates aren’t my thing. However, delicious food carefully prepared shouldn’t be the main love of anyone’s life but my goodness, on a cold evening in mid February, it ranks pretty highly.
But take my advice – Valentine dinners out are asking for trouble. The pressure builds on all concerned to have the perfect meal, relationship, conversation (please let’s not talk about children/exams/money/university fees/Europe/…..) Glance around the restaurant and meet the glazed expression on the faces of other martyrs trying with mixed success to muster some romantic atmosphere from a bright shiny restaurant with red roses on the table while really wishing they were at home watching Iplayer and eating pizza. And that’s just the women.
Why not stay in and cook something you both want to eat ? Ideally both of you could get involved with the cooking but whoever it falls to, please don’t slave over complicated dishes that are wasted on your chosen victim – er I mean loved one. You’ll hate yourself and your partner for it.
Many years ago I had a boyfriend who loved his love with an all consuming passion. Even though I was young and inexperienced I was pretty sure I recognised the signs of obsession: the dreamy look, the desperation at separation, the single tracked conversation. Yes you’ve guessed it: He loved his love with an M but not for Milly – for Marajhuana.
I spent a very long time that Valentine’s night cooking roast duck followed by creme brulee. My parents were safely out of the kitchen for the evening. I expect they were having a miserable time in a restaurant somewhere when they should have been eating a Vespa curry infront of Pro-celebrity golf.
The boyfriend turned up late, too fidgety to eat and the way his little face lit up when his mate arrived on a bicycle with a £5.00 scrap of homegrown weed confirmed what others had tried to warn me. Put it this way, he and his delivery boy had a great evening. They ate the duck by ripping it apart with their fingers (which incidentally I rather applaud) and the brulee barely touched the sides.
I was left to open the windows and wash up.
That aside, I still think duck is a pretty good valentines supper. It even runs to three if your mate turns up on his bike! However, even without added smoke effects it is true that roasting whole ducks can fill a kitchen with fug of its own which is probably not a lingering odour you would want to attach to your newly washed hair. Maybe for this Valentine’s supper try making it into a starter by roasting a couple of ducklegs under foil with a little soy, red wine and ginger till the flesh is falling off the bone and serve it with a little crunchy salad. I urge you to slice up some fennel very finely and dress it with a little hazelnut oil, whole roast hazelnuts and lime. I happened to have some pickled pears which I fanned out on to the plate for this photograph but slices of apple fried in a little butter would be delicious and a little bowl of chilli sauce is my nod to Chinese New year.
For a main course, you need a dish that can wait politely without getting in the way or needing your attention. Pork doesn’t seem quite the thing and beef fillet likes a careful eye on the clock so how about venison? It’s rich without being indigestible, it’s locally available, free range and conjures up romantic images of wild walks and rutting – or is that just me?
I like to get a bit fruity and throw in some sour cherries and there is a chance you have some port or sloe gin hanging about after Christmas so this seems like a good opportunity to use it. You might even stretch to baking puff pastry love hearts. But then again you might not!
For pudding I think I would be unable to resist the temptation to camp it up with cupid on my side. Rather than risk any creation that involves timers and leaping up from the table – this rules out soufflés and chocolate fondants – I would go for jelly and white chocolate panna cotta – in a heart shape of course. Forced rhubarb will have just hit the shops and the pink of it makes a beautiful jelly but if you can’t find it, just use a juice of your choice like guava or lychee or strawberry even. Just so long as it’s a good strong taste.
I wanted to bring flowers as well as hearts into my Valentine dinner and I am always pleased to let that not-bad fellow love poet Shakespear in on the scene. His poor old love sick Ophelia was prompted to say that ‘rosemary is for remembrance’ which, as I remember this quote and little else from my studies of Hamlet, is clearly true. Happily I also remembered to bring my pot of rosemary into the porch this winter which is why you will see its pretty blue flowers in the photo and why I flavoured the panna cotta with its leaves.
If your problem is not deciding what to eat but finding someone to eat it with – never mind. Just call a friend. And if they turn up on a bike looking hungry and a bit spaced out, your evening might be more fun than you had anticipated.