Valentines

searedscallopsValentine's Day is just a day away and that means romantic dinners for two are in order. But it's one of the worst times to get a restaurant reservation, especially if you're making it at the last minute. So why not cook an elegant restaurant style dinner at home? You'll save yourself some anxiety and some money at the same time. With just a little romantic planning you can put together a great meal worthy of any five star chef.

One of the most elegant meals that come to mind when I think of fine dining is a plate of perfectly seared scallops. It always looks appealing and it's surprisingly easy to prepare. It's what you serve with the scallops that makes the dish even more special. A delicious sauce and a special side can elevate a plate of scallops to new heights. This meal may look more complicated than it is, but it's very manageable to make.

Searing the scallops is the easiest part of this recipe and it only takes minutes. You'll want to have the pancakes and the butter sauce prepared a few minutes beforehand. If you know how to fry hash browns or latkes then you won't find these celeriac pancakes difficult to make at all. The beurre blanc just needs some elbow grease to make, but if you know how to whisk quickly, then you're all set. Enjoy this dinner for two with your special someone.

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chinese.jpgTo me, a great date is one where you can do nothing with someone and be perfectly content. It's an easy formula: Good Company + Snacks in a Safe Environment = A+. Call me boring or slothful but it works for me. Lately though, my boyfriend really likes getting outside of the box and trying new things.

We crossed the Brooklyn Bridge and went to the flea market. We saw two Broadway shows in two consecutive weeks. We even took the train and went to his parents' house for a Japanese New Years party. All very out of the ordinary, all slightly uncomfortable. Good Company + Stress and Mobility = C-.

Two weeks ago, however, we had a bonafide A+ date. I got off of a long day at work, took a cab, and met Alex at his apartment. He opened the door, and we both had that pale, slightly purple tint that comes with working and winter. Four words came out of his mouth that reaffirmed why he is the greatest boyfriend and my greatest date: "Grand Sichuan and Lost."

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tiffanyblueboxClassics become classic because they don’t succumb to time or trend but grow true to themselves. Such is the case with the makers of the beloved blue box with the white ribbon. As Valentine’s Day rolls around, naturally my mind, as well as my hopes, go straight to that classic blue box.

Growing up, my mother and her sisters were my style mentors. It was my younger aunts in particular with their gold bracelets and brooches, that cued me into the finer things in life. Their heavy gold link bracelets, laden with charms that made music as they walked, and the jeweled pins that adorned their dresses and sweaters were all, as I learned early, from Tiffany’s. That blue box tied neatly with the white ribbon became a familiar site under our Christmas tree, on my mother’s birthday and my parents’ wedding anniversary. It became for me, a style-precocious child, something to aspire to.

My first blue box came at 18 from my first serious boyfriend. He would later become my first fiancé, gifting me yet again with a coveted blue box containing The ring. But the first box which was indeed ring-size and had my fingers trembling as I opened it, held two enamel and gold bands. Pre-engagement rings was how I viewed my Valentine’s Day gift of the blue and gold, and green and gold Schlumberger bands that stacked beautifully on my finger.

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ImageMy collection of heart-shaped cookie cutters is spread throughout my kitchen. From very tiny one-bite size to large ruffled nibble-with-a-cup-of-coffee sized cutter, they’re at the ready to cut whatever suits my fancy into a shape that says "Love You."

Brownies, chewy peanut butter oatmeal bars, lemon bars, pancakes — all can be stamped with a cookie cutter.

My phone visit with Sarah Piepenburg last week was the inspiration for the Nutella and Jelly "Love You" Sandwich. Sarah and her husband, Richard, own Vinaigrette, a Minneapolis store specializing in imported olive oil and vinegar. She told me she has drizzled the 18 year aged balsamic they carry in the store over grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. If it’s a good dessert made with peanut butter, why not Nutella?

It’s amazing how decadent a simple grilled sandwich becomes when it’s made with an ample slather of Nutella and your favorite premium jam or preserves. A dusting of powdered sugar and a drizzle of aged balsamic, as thick as syrup with a bright, fruity flavor, puts this delightful bread and spread concoction way over the top.

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stable.jpgAround fifteen years ago, my wife and I decided that eventually we wanted to leave Los Angeles and move to the country.  Although neither of us had ever lived on a farm, we both had grandparents who did and had fond memories of visits where we “helped” with chores such as milking and gathering eggs.  However, I soon learned to avert my eyes whenever I saw my grandmother pick up a chicken, as I knew this was Step 1 of the recipe for the pot pie which would appear on the supper table. 

Once we had decided to move, we spent our vacations looking for the perfect place.  We checked out Northern California, Oregon, Washington and the Canadian Maritimes before eventually deciding on Vermont because it actually looked like “the country” of our imaginations.    

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