Loving Valentine’s Day

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I’m one of those rare birds who actually looks forward to Valentine’s Day.

It saddens me to hear people talking about how they dread the day.

“Easy for you to like it,” they’ll say, “you have a person to share it with.”

To those people, I answer, “You’re missing the point!”

Sure, Valentines Day is the holiday for lovers–so says popular culture in our society.  I used to buy into that idea too.  I made myself  miserable.

Now I’m just too old to delude myself with fantasies of my partner turning into Prince Charming, and I’m too practical to want to spend a large sum of money on going out for an expensive dinner.

For many years of my marriage, I just couldn’t be satisfied on Valentine’s Day.  Mark didn’t have a clue.  Every year I’d whine and complain about how he didn’t do this or he didn’t do that.   No matter how hard I tried, Mark just didn’t seem to get the whole Valentine’s Day thing.   He’d stroll in the door at the end of the day, and ask if I’d like to go out for dinner or “something”?  We’d go from one restaurant to the next, only to be told there were no tables available–for hours, if at all.   By the end of the evening, I was in tears.  Every year I hoped he would make arrangements ahead of time, and every year I was disappointed.  Valentine’s Day was becoming a drag.  I started to dread it.

Mark was always pretty good about bringing candy or flowers, but they seemed like an afterthought, and not a real plan.  I wanted a plan!  I wanted the Grand Daddy Cadillac of all the Damn Fantasy Cinderella Fairy Tales Valentine’s Day ever!   I was lucky to get a mylar balloon.

One Valentine’s Day, Mark finally made reservations at our favorite little Italian restaurant.  Never mind the fact that it was in a little strip mall, and I know the owner had really tried.  Fake grapes and grapevines met us at the door.  I really didn’t want to be in a crowded restaurant, but I didn’t have the heart to reject his plan.   I mean, we weren’t jetting to a tropical island, but the man finally had a plan.  As we sat there, I watched as couples filled each little candle lit table.   We women were dressed in our finest little black dresses, and the men in their dress slacks and best shirts.    Mark is a jeans and t-shirt man, so his appearance always looks a little forced when we go out for a special night.   On closer inspection I noticed he had cut himself shaving and had a blood spot on his shirt collar.   He immediately went to the men’s room where I advised him to try cold water to remove the spot.   We were quite the pair.

So, there we sat, squooshed into a little corner table, barely big enough to hold two appetizer plates and two water goblets.   Obviously, the restaurant owner knew this was going to be a big money night, so they packed us in like sardines.    It was then I started noticing, the gifts each man had brought for his special other.  Some were delivered by the waiter, others were tucked under their seats and others were hanging from their chairs in gift bags covered in roses.  Mark looked a bit uncomfortable.

He leaned in and whispered, “I have your gift in the car, would you like me to go out and get it?”

“Not on your life!” I snapped.

You see, God only knows what Mark had picked out for me.  I imagined myself unwrapping a pair of red panties embroidered with the words “Foxy Lady!” on the back side.  Or worse yet, what if he had decided to go the practical route and he picked up a pair of gardening gloves at Home Depot?  Even if he had picked out an appropriate gift, I have issues with receiving gifts in general.  I get very embarrassed when I receive a gift.  I’ve always been this way.  Oh, I appreciate my gifts, but I’m so embarrassed by the attention of being watched while opening a gift, that I start acting very strange, and I fear I won’t be able to express my appreciation.  I have witnessed some women gasp, or scream, or literally jump up and down when their partner gives them a gift.  I don’t.  I simply say, “Oh, thank you”  or “I really like it”.  Then, I want to put it away and not discuss it any further.   When I’m alone, I take the gift out and then I get really excited.    After I’ve examined said gift, I’m able to express myself further, on my own time, but not in that moment.   I do not embarrass easily.   Receiving gifts is probably the one thing in my life that embarrasses me the most.  I’ve tried to analyze it, but I haven’t quite been able to get over this hurdle.

Now, where was I?

Oh yeah, so we’re sqooshed into the tiny table, and women are gasping and screaming as they receive their roses, they’re jewelry, their chocolates,  or their stuffed animals.  It was like a scene from a comedy movie.  One after the other, women were screaming and gasping over trinkets and flowers.  I started to laugh.  I couldn’t help it.  I laughed right out loud.  In a little tiny restaurant.  It was one of those gasping for air belly laughs.  I felt foolish to be in this environment.   Why had I ever thought I wanted this to begin with?

I leaned into Mark–who was smiling in his confusion, but laughing at my out of control laughter, and I said, “Honey, I need to be really honest here..”

“What?”

“I just don’t feel comfortable, ”  I said, “I appreciate you going to the trouble, but I feel really phony here.”

“Me too!”

We then had the food packed up to go, and we ran out to the car and decided we’d never do that to ourselves again.  Mark had movie plans, but we skipped those to go and hang out together at a coffee shop and talk.

I talked about my feelings surrounding the subject of marriage.  Why do we move so quickly into those old traditional roles?  They’re so outdated.

I wondered how this holiday had turned into some adult day filled with expectations of romance and $100 bouquets of roses.

I reminisced on the many Valentine’s Days I’d experienced in elementary school.  I adored all of those cute little cards each classmate gave to me–especially the cards filled with the little heart candies, or a lollipop!   It was such a happy day for me.   It’s all I thought about until the end of the day when the teacher would allow us to pass out our little cards.   After school, I’d run home and comb through each and every card.  It was almost as good as Christmas.   How did being in a relationship change this holiday for me?

I discovered that Valentine’s Day, to me, isn’t about my relationships with men,  it is about my relationship with myself, and to all of the many things I love.  As a matter of fact, sometimes Mark has to step out of the way, and let this crazy woman do her Valentine’s Day thing.  Valentine’s Day is just another day, like all days, when I have to remember to take care of myself.  I love having a special day to remind me to do just that!

Now I know I’m responsible for my own happiness–not Mark, and not anybody else.  If I want a fancy Valentine’s Day celebration, I’ll plan it myself.

I spend more time celebrating Valentine’s Day in the weeks before the actual holiday, than on do on the day itself.  I like to decorate and bake this time of year.   What is more fun than heart shaped cakes?  I like to throw out some red, white, and pink colors into my home decorating scheme.  I like to romance myself!  How?  Crocheting hearts, long bubble baths, having friends over for dinner, making and eating chocolate, drinking red wine, reading a great book.  These things are my loves!   Mark can be a part of my happiness, but he isn’t responsible for it.

I look forward to Valentine’s Day.  It breaks the dead of winter.

You want roses?  Give yourself roses!    I DO!  Better yet, give your best friend roses!  Don’t have any friends?   Go out to a coffee shop and order yourself a special drink with extra whip on top–get it with whole milk this time!  No money?  Curl up in your favorite PJs and watch a great movie.

Please don’t allow not having a partner (or a willing partner) to keep you from enjoying a day of love!

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PHOTOS: I emptied out the old farm cupboard and filled it with a few of my collectible goodies: old tablecloths, aprons, cookie cutters, biscuit cutters, rolling pin, etc.   Kitschy?  Yes, maybe, but I like it.   The colors cheer me in the winter.

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Winter Vegetable Soup and Tassajara Honey Wheat Bread

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WINTER VEGETABLE SOUP-Garnished with cranberry goat cheese and scallions

I enjoy food.  I seriously enjoy eating a great meal.  How I define a good meal, depends on my mood.  Sometimes a slice of pepperoni pizza and an Italian chop salad is a great meal.   One of my favorite meals is spaghetti and meatballs–just like my Great Grandma DeFranco used to make–oh, is that ever a great meal!

As the depth of winter reaches in and tries to snuff out my light, I know I need to eat more vegetables.  I don’t know if anybody else experiences this, but I know I do.

There are times when I’m going forward with my day, minding my own darn business, when all of a sudden I have a beet attack!  Seriously, I crave beets.  Not only that, but once I get my hands on some beets, I eat them so fast I have to remind myself to stop and breathe!  Obviously, something in my body is craving the nutrients of the beet, and I need to pay attention to it.

Every now and again, I get these little whole food cravings: carrots, curried soups, sauteed spinach with pecans, chard with garlic and crushed peppers, fruit salad, pomegranates, sweet potatoes with butter–the list goes on and on.

In the middle of writing this, I have succumbed to another craving–avocado with oranges and vinaigrette.   I just sliced up an entire avocado, chopped an orange, mixed them together and sprinkled them with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper.  See?  I feel better now.

I was having a vegetable soup craving the other day, and I found a recipe at Epicurious.com that looked quite appetizing.   I cooked it last night and served it with my homemade honey wheat bread.  It would also be wonderful with a roast chicken dinner.

This soup is vegetarian,  but you can replace the vegetable stock with chicken stock, which I did.

Leave off the goat cheese and you have an amazing vegan soup.

Winter Vegetable Soup (Click on recipe name for original recipe)

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This soup calls for: 1 c. chopped: turnip, sweet potato, butternut squash, granny smith apple, carrots, and onion(I doubled and added 2 cups of each)



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Also, 3 Tbsp olive oil ( I doubled it to 6 Tbsp) 5 cups chicken stock (I doubled and used only 8 or 9 cups) 1/4 cup maple syrup and cayenne pepper to taste.  I used 1/2 tsp for the double batch–it was indeed spicy!

I thought buying organic vegetables and maple syrup was going to put me over the top and make the cost too high, but I ended up with enough vegetables to double the recipe!  I didn’t double the maple syrup, as I found it sweet enough with the 1/4 cup.  For less than $12, I had a huge pot of vegetable soup that will last us all week.

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I might experiement with this soup by adding curry and coconut milk or cinnamon and cloves.

Of course, no soup is complete without a great loaf of homemade bread!

Allow me to start, by saying, I’m not a fan of wheat bread.  I’m a white bread gal.  Seriously.  I’m trying to acquire a taste for wheat bread because I’m told it is so much healthier than white bread.  I’m not about to give up my Artisan bread or baguettes, Italian bread, or any white bread for that matter.  I am, however, open minded, and I have wanted to try this bread recipe every since I watched the documentary, “How to Cook Your Life”. I went right out and bought The Tassajara bread book too!

This is the first Honey Wheat bread I’ve ever loved!  I’m not kidding, I love this stuff.  Now, granted, I did add two cups of regular white flour–yes, I know that is cheating, but there is a whopping 6 cups of whole wheat flour in this recipe as well.

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These babies were bursting out of my large bread pans!

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The next day, it still sliced and tasted beautiful!

Want to see the Tassajara Wheat Bread process and read the extensive  instructions with photos?  Click below…

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CAKE, Mark Bittman, and Flexitarianism

I have been dying to make a Heavenly Angel Food Cake with the girls’ eggs.

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I finally did just that.

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I used my strawberry sorbet from the freezer that I had made a few months back.  I simply let it melt and poured it over like syrup.  This cake is simply divine.

Since it took 13 egg whites to make the angel food, I decided to make another cake that used the egg yolks.

Yellow Butter Cake w/

Dark Chocolate Frosting

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We dug into this cake before I had the chance to take a prettier photo.  It was just too good to wait!

There is nothing better than a good old fashioned homemade cake.  It tastes different than the box cakes.  I like box cakes, but this cake doesn’t have that”candy” sweet taste that many box cakes have.

My intention was to freeze this cake,  but between Mark and I a few guests, there wasn’t a crumb leftover!

Speaking of FOOD, I went to see Mark Bittman speak at the University of Washington. He really gave me a lot of food for thought- pun intended.

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Mark Bittman talks about many of the things that I’ve been thinking about in recent years–especially with the push toward high protein, low carb diets.   I have always believed I need to eat more vegetables and fruits, and less meat.   I’m also not into extreme diets that involve elimination (except for medical reasons), and I find Bittman’s views more balanced.   It sounds like common sense to me.

In his latest book, “Food Matters”,  Bittman is talking about eating less meat  (he is not a vegetarian), more vegetables and fruit, and cut out overly processed foods.  I’m in! (except where homemade cakes are concerned!)

He also writes:  We are finally starting to acknowledge the threat carbon emissions pose to our ozone layer, but few people have focused on the extent to which our consumption of meat contributes to global warming. Think about it this way: In terms of energy consumption, serving a typical family-of-four steak dinner is the rough equivalent of driving around in an SUV for three hours while leaving all the lights on at home.

Tonight I made up a recipe for a dinner of brown basmati rice, chopped organic brocolli, and homemade lemon tahini sauce.  I sprinkled toasted pine nuts over the top.  I served an organic garnet yam on the side with a little maple syrup and butter.    It was healthy, tasty, easy to make, and very filling.   We still had a slice of homemade cake for dessert.  I’m not interested in elimination–I’m simply learning balance.

In the past few days I’ve consumed more chard, beets, brown basmati rice, legumes, apples, oranges, pears, spinach, and nuts, than I’ve eaten in a week.  I think it is giving me more energy.  Who knew?

I am now considering using less meat in the meals I cook, and/or adding two-three vegetarian dinners to our weekly menu.    I think it will be more challenging for Mark.   Mark grew up with heavy meat and potato dinners.   I’m so happy he wants to make this change too.  I like the fact that we don’t have to feel like we’re giving something up.   As a flexitarian, if we want steak, we’ll eat steak!  We just won’t eat as much of it.

I can hear the vegans laughing at me now.

More of My Favorite Things

I had so much fun posting My Favorite Things , I thought I’d do it again!  This time I’m keeping a low budget theme.   I know most of us are saving our pennies to survive the recession.

Christmas has come and gone.  Mark and I stuck to our agreement to keep things low key–no big ticket item.  We agreed on gifting one another a book of our own choosing.

We went to the bookstore to pick out our books, but neither of us could make a decision on which book we wanted to buy, so we’ll have to go out and try another time.

There is something about knowing I’m supposed to pick out one book that makes me want to be sure I pick out the best possible book for me!  Mark and I have done this before, and the same thing happened.  It’s as if I’ll never buy another book again, so I have to make darn good and sure I take my time and don’t waste my one precious choice on some book that is completely unworthy of my fingers turning the pages.   Any other time I go shopping for a book, I’m not so picky.  As a matter of fact, I usually find several worthy books when I’m out doing regular, non-gift,  book shopping, but this is supposed to be a special gift book.  A Christmas book, no less!

Speaking of books, I am a cookbook fanatic.  My most treasured possessions are my cookbooks.  How much do I love my cookbooks?  If my house burned down tonight, once I made sure my husband and dog were safely out of harm’s way, I’d be screaming, “Save the cookbooks! For the love of God, my cookbooks are burning!”

Which brings me to my first favorite thing.

One of my favorite cookbooks is by Chef Art Smith,

“Back to the Table:  A Reunion of Food and Family”

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Art’s Hummingbird Cake is my all time favorite!

I gave this cookbook to my son and his girlfriend, Olivia,  for Christmas.   We made the biscuits together here.

MORE OF MY FAVORITE THINGS CLICK BELOW… Continue reading