In second grade, our teacher, Miss Carboni, taught us how to take shoe boxes, cover them with aluminum foil and hearts, and then turn them into little Valentine’s Day mailboxes. Since the earth had just cooled when we did this and cameras were not yet prolific, I do not have an actual photo of my artistic marvel, but this is a reasonable facsimile of what it looked like:
So we decorated our boxes and happily stole time from the dreaded “See Jane Run” group reading session to hastily scribble our Valentine’s Day messages, shove them into envelopes, and drop them into our classmates’ mailboxes.
This was exciting stuff! We moved chaotically around the classroom, tucking valentines into mailboxes as quickly as we could. After all, once we were done with this, we could open our valentines and then…there would be cupcakes!
After a few minutes, Miss Carboni said we could take the lids off of our mailboxes and read our valentines. Mayhem ensued. Lids went flying. My classmates were chortling and laughing like all kids of that age do. I took a few seconds to watch Tommy Balzano open his unartistic, uninspired, aluminum-clad shoebox. It was stuffed with valentines, which made me a little nervous, since I had a crush on Tommy. Apparently I had competition.
I finally worked up my nerve and opened my shoebox. It was not full. There were six valentines in it. No valentine from Tommy (the first, but not last, Italian who would break my heart). One was from Bruce Clyde, the nerdiest kid in the class; the boy who hung out with me with our faked headaches at the Nurse’s Office, trying to get out of PE class during softball season.
So, Valentine’s Day in 1962 was a pivotal day for me. This is when I learned:
- I am not popular.
- I am destined for many more years of unrequited love.
- I really liked the cupcakes. The hell with Tommy. Food heals.
Valentine’s Day wouldn’t get much better for me for a number of years to come, due to the first two reasons above. As hormones started to rage and crushes became even more unattainable, I was comforted by the fact that Valentine’s Day food continued to improve.
Cupcakes gave way to brownies, then magic brownies, and then champagne and Oreos (which is a separate subject altogether), especially when it came to us single girls getting together to celebrate the fact that “We could care less!” about Valentine’s Day at all.
I honestly cannot remember ever going out for dinner on Valentine’s Day as a single or as a married person. Logically, unromantically speaking, I think this shows great wisdom on my part, not to get sucked into the commercial dining machine of Valentine’s Day. But there’s always one friend, whose partner takes her to the best restaurant in town, pays ungodly amounts for ridiculously small cuts of beef, with a side of roses, and sparkling wine that only tastes good after two martinis. Call it what you will, but this girl walks on air for days. I’m pretty practical as a rule, but…well, maybe in my next life.
In addition to food, Valentine’s Day always makes me think of romantic movies like Casablanca. My favorite, though, is probably When Harry Met Sally. Harry, the eternal pessimist, said men and women couldn’t be friends because sex always got in the way, even if they were in relationships with other people. Probably, mostly true. Sally, the particular and perky optimist, yearned for a romantic marriage, and tried as long as possible to stay oblivious to her friend, Harry. After a long friendship, they eventually had sex after Sally had been dumped by someone else. But then neither of them knew what to do, so their friendship fizzled. A while later, Harry had an epiphany about his love for Sally on New Year’s Eve and the rest, as they say, is history. And speaking of food, there’s a great scene involving pecan pie…
I can’t help but wonder what became of Harry and Sally. One could guess that their marriage worked because they had been friends for so long beforehand. Maybe Harry became a pharmaceutical rep and Sally took up with the pool boy. I don’t know. But because I still miss Nora Ephron and love Billy Crystal, I thought I’d ask Google whether anyone had ever proposed a sequel to WHMS.
Unbeknownst to me, and perhaps to you as well, in 2011, Billy Crystal and Rob Reiner colluded to propose a sequel to this famous rom-com. If you have never seen this preview, I highly encourage you to click on this link for four fantastic minutes of When Harry Met Sally 2 with Billy Crystal and Helen Mirren:
While I didn’t imagine Harry and Sally’s future quite like that, I wouldn’t mind if Crystal/Mirren pursued a full-length motion picture. As unique as their approach was and in its own way involved food/beverage, I still think romance is worth pursuing, don’t you? More proof that a kiss can bring eternal love, and isn’t that sweet?
But, I digress.
Gary and I had 33 years of Valentine’s Days at this point. That’s a lot. In addition to countless cards, there’s been some heart jewelry here and there, red-colored outdoor gear (more often), and most recently, a ceramic, heart-themed fish:
Truth be told, I find this fish-Valentine trend particularly alarming (and I was even the one who bought it last year). Things change. Cards are dwindling to almost none, along with gifts. What the hell do we need, after all?
Gary knows all that he needs to know about me…and none of this will change with expensive roses, diamonds, or Valentine’s Day pretenses. More important than anything, he knows how I feel about food and beverage:
- I like my coffee hot and my vodka cold.
- I refuse to eat liver & onions and scalloped potatoes.
- I would rather eat cooked food than raw food. Especially salad.
- If I open a bag of potato chips, it’s all over.
- I hate to eat in chain restaurants.
For so many of us Boomers, Valentine’s Day has become far less about the romance than it is about the food and beverage. I am all over that. I’m pretty sure not a Valentine’s Day has gone by without me cooking up a special theme meal of some kind, only a few of which I can remember or have documented in some way. But last year, for example, while on a post-holiday diet, I concocted a delicious 666 calorie, 4-course dinner that really was quite good. I’m sure that in most other years, however, the calorie count was easily into the four digits.
This year, however, I’ll be trying out a recipe for individual beef wellingtons made with filet mignons and puff pastry, with a zucchini carpaccio salad (thanks, Jim, for the recipe), and a single glass of red wine (yep, dieting again). And one chocolate heart. Sigh. If you want to know how to make the little beef wellingtons, here’s the link:
For more evidence for my theory about culinary romance, last night, we attended a unique annual event, designed to celebrate both the Chinese New Year and Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing better than a potluck hosted by and attended by foodies, full of great appetizers, desserts, and good wine. In addition to a riotous adult coloring contest, there’s a lengthy and empassioned “Name That Tune” contest which will take you right back to the good or bad ol’ days instantly.
As I gazed around the room of aging Boomers (is there any other kind?), I saw a delightful, albeit tipsy, group of people who can still belt out “So Happy Together” and “One” in spontaneous unison. Who says romance is dead?
And then we all went over to the table and filled up our plates again.
No, I don’t think romance is dead; it’s just moved to the kitchen.
So, if you’re having a bad day, I may not be able to fix it, but I sure as hell can help you forget about it for a while. I’m happy to throw good food and alcohol at you, but that may be the extent of my healing prowess. Someone once said:
“There is no love sincerer than the love of food.”
And I agree.
Happy Valentine’s Day and thanks for reading. I know how busy you are.