Sunday, February 14, 2016
WHERE THE HEART IS!
It has been impossible to go anywhere, this week, without smelling the roses! Love is in the air, on the shelves, stuck on the floor in the form of giant red hearts, and even on my computer screen. It has been impossible to walk along the aisle of a supermarket, without being the possible victim of concussion, if you forget to 'duck' when walking past the balloon display. "Seeing Red" took on a whole new meaning!
As I have no doubt mentioned, (considering I am now into my sixth year of blogging,) I am quite old fashioned when it comes to the 14th day of February, and remember that Valentine (the original Valentine) sent a secret note to the woman of his dreams, and although she was way out of his 'league', he poured out the entire content of his heart. A 'Valentine' was a secret admirer! However, things evolve, numerous additional stories for 'Valentine' have emerged, and Mr. Hallmark, Mr Interflora, and contemporaries thereof are, no doubt, very grateful! Chocolate was now the new superfood, and sugary cookies the new 'probiotic'!
Considered a 'killjoy', my stark reply to those whom ask, "Didn't Dana get you anything?" is always the same. If my husband only showed his affection on the 14th day of February, it would be a sorry state of affairs. Whispers of, "She didn't get flowers", or "Not so much as a card", are really water of the proverbial duck, and the explanation as to 'The real Valentine', is considered to be in the realms of "Me thinks she doth protest too much!" So this year, in true fashion, I planned nothing 'traditionally romantic' for the 'big' day, and nor did my husband!
My lack of enthusiasm for the 14th day of February, or the event that is partaken thereon, does not bleed over into everyone. My daughter and son-in-law celebrate the anniversary of their marriage on this day, and the anniversary of their first date, so to them, it is romance personified! Trying to find a card to express my felicitations was next to impossible!
As with most other events, because the actual day was going to fall on a Sunday, the occasion became known as 'Valentine's weekend", and so it was with slight trepidation that I invited my neighbours to join us for dinner the 'day before'. My invitation did mention that I was aware of the date, and if they had nothing planned, it would be wonderful to not celebrate together. It was a 'long weekend', and I thought it would be good to have an extra day to recuperate, as I tend to bite off far more than anyone can chew (pardon the pun) when preparing for guests. The affirmative reply then brought the second round of unsolicited apprehension, as I then had to consider a menu. At this point, I would mention that the couple for whom I would be preparing dinner, are my neighbours, and although an absolutely delightful couple, they have no ties with Michelin or relatives of the late Egon Roney, (as far as I know,) and do not moonlight for the local newspapers as food critics. However, I do seem to have self-inflicted performance issues!
Chocolate covered strawberries, although normally a 'definite' for the dessert option, were not to be on the menu! This was partly because the price of strawberries had rocketed over the last couple of months, but mainly because I did not have the time (nor patience) to stand and decorate them as beautifully as those preparing 'dozens' in the supermarkets, so I would have to think of something else!
Jill (the wife of the neighbour partnership) somewhat apologetically explained that she was 'watching' her intake and although her husband could eat anything, she did not want to cramp my style, and suggested that she bring along her own lean meat and vegetables. This time it was not 'seeing red', but 'a red rag to a bull' scenario. The challenge was on! After assuring her that I could 'do' lean meat and vegetables, as my forte was in the dessert arena, I wondered how I could pull this off without making them wish they had booked an overpriced restaurant for dinner on Saturday!
The daily constitutional, last week, included a daily trip to the supermarket, to replenish stock for the giant feast I was about to embark upon preparing for my two neighbours. Somewhere in my DNA is a blip that multiplies the amounts needed to feed people, by ten. Anything over two, and I am unable to regulate! However, my choices were rather limited if I did not require anything that was not either red, shaped like a heart, or red shaped hearts. As well as ingredients for the banquet, I still needed to buy an anniversary card for my daughter! It was a lot more challenging than I thought,
Shop assistance were giving directions according to the number of balloons on each aisle. "You want the dairy counter. Take the first heart on the left, second heart on the right, and walk past, um, one, two um five hearts, and you will arrive at your destination". The question above was not actually posed, as who would want to buy a piece of cheese if it was not cut into the shape of a heart!
The chocolate covered strawberry counter was being erected on Monday, and decorated on Tuesday. By Wednesday the tent was near to completion and on Thursday huge boxes of chocolate and strawberries were being stacked high, ready for the grand coating exercise which was due to start, we assumed, on Friday. I wanted to know to where was the asparagus deployed! In the maneuvers, all green vegetables had been transported out of the area. Broccoli was on the missing list, and green beans became so 'last week'. I could only imagine the 'nay sayers', when I told them that for Valentines Dinner I was about to prepare poached chicken and boiled carrots! I would be pronounced the Princess of misery! (This would of course compliment my position as Queen of sarcasm, so I should not grumble!)
"Creme what?" was the answer, as apparently the product could not be found past the first heart on the left, second heart on the right, and past, um, one, two um five hearts. "Fraiche", I said for a second time, adding that it was quite delicious with strawberries, in the hope that I would not cause the shop assistant to drop to her knees and cry, because I did not want a heart shaped cookie, or Valentine cake mix. They did not have the delicate mixture in any aisle. I consoled myself with a free sample of chocolate covered strawberries and a helping of Valentine mousse cake. I did not feel guilty indulging, as the sign above quite clearly stated, 'Healthy Options', but I was quite convinced this was because I was standing in the area where the 'low fat, low sodium' ready made meals were located at all times other than the week leading up to the 14th day of February. However, I was not going to argue. If the supermarket said it was the healthy option, I would have two helpings!
Saturday eventually came around, and although only the 13th, it was near enough to THE day! The menu was planned, written down, and going to be delicious! I sliced oranges and lemons, and laid them underneath and atop the chicken, which was folded in foil and set aside. Tomatoes, red peppers, green and yellow squash, (courgettes to us English folk,) and mushrooms were threaded onto skewers to make vegetable kebabs. The cauliflower was au gratin'd and carrots and parsnips were boiling, ready to be mashed. I could do lean meat and vegetables! Of course, nothing was mentioned about desserts or appetizers. Of course, I had prepared crudities, but considering the 'health option' this week was cream, chocolate and lots of buttery delights, my options were not limited. Mushroom vol-au-vents were a great 'healthy option', and I could actually attest that the amount of butter that went into the puff pastry was, to be technical, lots! The eclairs were covered in chocolate, stuffed with cream, and also contained a large amount of butter in the pastry, so my bases were covered in that area. The mousse, despite being made with eggs (I am not sure which side of the fence they were sitting this week) did have a good deal of chocolate in it, and was poured into chocolate cups. Now let anyone call me the Princess of misery, the author of unromantic gestures! I had a variety of delicious desserts that would put any Valentine in a good mood!
However, not everything can be healthy and romantic! I had prepared a bowl of fruit (yuk!) The reason for this unimaginative alternative, was because I had found out how to make creme fraiche! I used the blend of cream and buttermilk, to create an old favourite, which required strawberries, grapes, peaches, and a small biscuit (cookie.....not heart shaped) to be covered with said creme fraiche, then sprinkled with brown sugar, and grilled (broiled) to caramelise the sweetener. The bowl of fruit (yuk!) was leftovers from the several tons that I purchased to make the dish. As I mentioned, there were going to be four for dinner, and I did manage to half the recipes, so there was only enough for about twenty!
The chicken was actually rather delicious, even if I do say so myself. I had not considered poaching it before, and wondered why! It does not dry out, and keeps all the flavour!
Our non-romantic 13th, leading to the 14th day of February was enjoyed by all. The main course was a success, and the desserts were devoured. I was delighted that such a healthy option could be so delicious! I awoke on Sunday morning not to a card, nor a bunch of flowers, nor indeed chocolate covered strawberries, but instead to the whimpers of a dog, whom we had adopted for the night, so that my daughter and her husband could celebrate their romantic special day. (I did manage, eventually, to find a card!) I felt very blessed! I am a creature of habit, and normality is good enough for me. Of course, that does not mean to say that I do not want, or indeed need, a big fuss made of me on my birthday!
With the 14th day of February firmly put behind us for another year, I assume that the 'low fat, low sodium' products will be replaced under the 'healthy option' banner, and the strawberry tent will have been packed away. Hearts, heart shaped biscuits, heart shaped balloons and all things red will disappear from the aisles, and broccoli will be 'in' again. This can mean only one thing. We are now going to be inundated with floppy eared giant bunnies! Shrove (Fat) Tuesday having also been part of the week gone by, means that Easter is on its way. Stand by for a rant about why everything is yellow in .............. another story.