A Day To Remember Something Important

It’s February 14, in case you haven’t checked your calendar lately.  Today, with love and passion in the air, the daters among us will give each other gifts, send each other cards, and go out for a romantic dinner, and the jewelers, florists, candy shops, restaurants, and Hallmark stores will turn a few handsprings at the surge in sales.

vintage-valentine-clip-art_232457But what of those of us who have long since moved past the dating phase and have been happily married for years?  With our metabolisms slowing, we’ve made each other promise not to bring home that enormous, heart-shaped box of sinfully rich chocolates.  Because we’re in the perennial savings mode another piece of jewelry doesn’t seem like a smart move.  And a card stamped with some generic, manufactured sentiment doesn’t really seem to fill the bill, either . . . because a stilted, sappy poem can’t fully capture the depth of feeling generated by years of happiness, love, and devotion.  That leaves flowers and a nice dinner at a fine restaurant as the preferred option, for a delicate floral bouquet and a good meal and chance to spend some time together and talk about our world together is always welcome.

Valentine’s Day has its cheesy, commercialized elements, of course, but it’s also a helpful reminder of the huge difference a single person can make in your life.  And even in an ever-changing world, both those who are searching for that person, and those of us who are lucky enough to have found them, can remember that once again.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Hope, In The Form Of A Valentine’s Day Box

When I was in grade school, Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, Christmas Day, and the Last Day of School, was a red-letter day in the Kid Calendar.  It wasn’t just because three of those days involved free candy, either.  Instead, Valentine’s Day was special because you got a tangible indication of your schoolhouse popularity.  For awkward and unpopular kids, it was a nerve-wracking day.

The focus of hope and potential disappointment was your Valentine’s Day card box.  I don’t know whether schools allow them anymore, in this treat-everyone-equally-for-empty-self-esteem-purposes age.  Back in the more rough-and-tumble early ’60s, however, every kid made a Valentine’s Day box and brought it to class.  The boxes were gaily decorated with red tissue paper or leftover Christmas wrapping paper and hearts, cupids, and doilies, and making them was a big deal. One year I used aluminum foil, aiming for a cool, space-age Valentine’s Day tribute to the Gemini astronauts.  Another year, in my quest for a good box, I found one with a flip-top lid in my parents’ closet that would have opened up like an old-fashioned mailbox, rather than requiring you to cut a slot in the top.  I asked my very modest mother if I could use that box for Valentine’s Day, but she snatched it away with horror and said she’d find another.  At the time, of course, I didn’t have a clue about what a tampon was.

While you were working on your box, you also prepared the small cardboard cards made specifically for schoolkid purposes.  They had generic, non-romantic messages and came on a perforated sheet that you separated and put into cheap envelopes that had the worst-tasting glue in the world on the flap.  Usually there were one or two bigger, better cards in the box, too.  These were reserved for that special someone, perhaps with a piece of candy taped to the envelope.

When Valentine’s Day arrived, the boxes and cards were brought to class, and the boxes were lined up in a row on the windowsill.  During the day kids would walk down the box line, putting cards in some boxes but often not others.  As the lunch hour approached, you’d casually find a reason to walk past your box, hoping to see signs that there were envelopes inside.  At the end of the day, though, you’d open the box and see where you really stood with your classmates.  Some boxes were full to bursting, others were empty except for the obligatory card from teacher and cards from the kids whose parents made them give cards to everyone.  I just hoped for something in between.

Valentine’s Day Cookies

IMG_3083My mother asked me to bake some Valentine’s Day cookies that she can share with her friends.  No dutiful son can ever say no to his mother, of course.  Fortunately, I’ve got a heart-shaped cookie cutter, as well as a diamond-shaped cutter — because everyone knows that diamonds are a girl’s best friend.

I made some basic sugar cookies using a recipe that I particularly like, then let my creative juices flow for the cookie decoration phase.  Some of the cookies have pink icing, some have red icing, and some have white icing.  Some have red sugar sprinkles, some have candied cherry halves in the center, and some have pink gel accent icing.  I like the careful attention to detail that is an essential ingredient for good looking iced cookies, and I always try to come up with some variety in colors and shapes.  Now, I just hope that Mom and her friends enjoy eating the cookies as much as I enjoyed making them!

Your Head In Chocolate, Just In Time For Valentine’s Day

The Japanese always are pushing the envelope on novel uses of technology.  Now they’ve broken new ground in the crucial edible chocolate head category.

The face chocolatizing process is straightforward.  You go to a cafe in Tokyo and stand in a scanning device that takes a three-dimensional image of your face and head.  The 3D image is then used to create a mold of your face.  Pour chocolate into the mold, let it set, and voila! — you’ve got a chocolate version of your face that you can mount on a stick, lollipop-style, or pop into your mouth like a bon bon.  This BBC video story shows the process, and reports that participants believe it results in very accurate likenesses.

It’s gratifying to see modern technology used to make the world a better place, and any advances in chocolate candy preparation will be welcomed by the billions of chocoholics found world-wide.  Still, I think there’s something both narcissistic and creepy about candy representations of an actual human face.  If you were dating someone, would you want them to give you a box full of their face in chocolate?  Wouldn’t it feel kind of grotesque to be eating their face — or, if the roles were reversed, to know that they were eating your face?

There’s a fine line between romance and weirdness, and I think this advance crosses it.  If someone gave me a box of their chocolate faces for Valentine’s Day, I’d worry that stalking is probably right around the corner.

The Saint In St. Valentine’s Day

Today Americans mark “Valentine’s Day” — a day for lovers throughout the land.  At one point, however, February 14 was celebrated at St. Valentine’s Day.

Who was the person who inspired a day that is a favorite of card makers, florists, jewelers, and candy companies?  When you’ve got a question about saints, you logically turn to Catholic websites like Catholic Online — whose website posting on St. Valentine, ironically, features a 1-800flowers.com banner ad that says “Wow her this Valentine’s.”

According to the website, nobody knows for sure who St. Valentine was, or even how many Valentines there were.  The authorities believe there was at least one such person, however, because archaeologists have uncovered an ancient church and catacomb dedicated to him.  The prevailing view seems to be that he was a Roman priest named Valentinus who was martyred during the reign of Claudius the Goth; February the 14th was identified as the official date of his martyrdom by papal decree in 496 A.D.

Valentinus is said to have helped persecuted Christians, married couples in outlawed Christian ceremonies, and refused to renounce his faith when he was caught.  Like most early saints, he met a grisly end — he was beaten and stoned, then beheaded.  Before that happened, however, he is supposed to have cured his jailer’s daughter of blindness and then sent her a note saying “from your Valentine.”

St. Valentine is the patron saint of love, lovers, engaged couples, and happy marriages — and also of epilepsy, plague, bee keepers, fainting, travelers, and young people.  He apparently was a busy guy with broad-ranging interests before he lost his head.