I am, unashamedly, a huge fan of Valentine’s day.
It’s not really like me; I normally reject blatant commercialism outright and I am exactly the sort of person who objects to being told when and how to be romantic. I also recognise that, if I were single, I would hate all the smug, loved up couples with a vengeance, especially the ones who become loves young dream even though they can’t manage a civil word to each other for the rest of the year.
But despite my usually well honed cynicism I just can’t square it with my own experience.
I first fell in love with the notion of Valentine’s day when I was fifteen and not yet allowed a boyfriend. A particularly lovely chap called Mike bought me a ginormous card – you may remember those hideous pink hearted, cutesy bear, three foot tall, quilted concoctions. Even at the time I knew it was completely lacking in taste and I was faced with the daunting challenge of getting it into the house unseen but secretly – I was smitten. The very fact that Mike; a self consciously masculine sort of bloke, had gone into a shop and chosen this for me was revelatory in itself and that sense of wonder has never left me.
So now I am no longer a fifteen year old – I am a fully fledged grown up – a grandmother no less and yet I still love Valentine’s day. I have been married to Martin (Mike didn’t last long) for 28 years and for every one of those years I have received red roses on 14th February.
I appreciate that, on the surface, that may sound like a routine and unimaginative act – but it’s not. The form that those roses took each year was a litmus test of the state of our marriage and our bank account. The gifts ranged from a single “garage” rose in a plastic tube to a dozen individually chosen stems. I have received Martin’s own creations; hand drawn roses (my favourite), a silver rose brooch and a stained glass panel which sat in the window until the green stem faded to a surreal blue and the lead began to disintegrate. I have never been disappointed.
In return I have sought out individual little gifts, printer’s blocks which spell out “love”, a photo frame with a picture of our daughters and a socket set (it was a bad year and I am ashamed!). We have arranged mystery outings, seen films and plays and provided food – always there is food: We have eaten cheap, generic Valentine’s menus with the ubiquitous over-set, heart shaped, panna cotta, sublime and memorable meals in intimate restaurants, a winter picnic in a gale and cosy dinners at home.
Valentine’s day is not the only day to be romantic; random, unsolicited acts of romance will always be the best, but it is a day where we can draw breath, look up from the chaos of our lives and reflect on why we love the one we love.
If, like me, you are an incurable romantic who needs food to outline every emotion then think on this. If you are eating out choose somewhere small and intimate where you have your table for the night – Valentine’s is a big money day and larger restaurants are often guilty of measuring success in terms of the number of covers they turned over rather than the customer experience.
If you are eating in try a simple menu that leaves you with no last minute stress. A no-cook starter, a one-pot main (less hassle and less washing up) and a pre-prepared, light dessert would work well. There is a place for fruit crumble and custard or a steamed pudding but this is not it – if you have worked hard on the romance you don’t want to leave your partner too full to move.
My recommendation would be:
Antipasti – this requires no cooking, just arrange it artfully on a board and serve it with some great bread and a glass of fizz.
Guinea fowl with puy lentils – this is tasty, unusual, shows care and imagination but is really easy to cook.
A lemon syllabub – a light, creamy, grown up dessert packet with zing and alcohol.
It doesn’t matter what you make – if your partner loves nothing better than tripe and onions so be it – so long as it is made with love.
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