Valentines

whitebox.jpgI’m sorry to say that my husband is much more romantic and sentimental than I am. He’s a better gift giver and a better surprise planner. That’s why I was completely unsuspecting when our family went to one of my favorite restaurants for Valentine’s Day several years ago.  I loved Prego, in Beverly Hills, and to use a quote from Jerry McGuire “they had me at the breadsticks”.

Another thing I should mention is I’m not much of a jewelry gal. I appreciate the beauty of it, but I can’t navigate decorative rings, necklaces and earrings.  I work too much with my hands and everything else is just a nuisance.

So, there we were, the four of us, actually dressed up nicely for a civilized evening out. The girls seemed agitated and I just chalked it up to the usual fussiness that stopped us from taking them out in the first place. When they were much younger they used to love The Daily Grille in Brentwood. 

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hebrew.jpgOctober, 1962.  Johnny Carson became the new host of “The Tonight Show”.  The Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.  And I was an eleven-year-old Hebrew School student at Temple Beth Shalom on the south shore of Long Island.

Three afternoons a week I was car pooled to this house of worship ostensibly to learn about the history of my people.  My teacher was an elderly Old World gentleman named Rabbi Nathan Levitats who spoke English pretty much the same way that I spoke Chinese…not well.  Still, he taught us bible stories and because the Hebrew name for Alan is Avraham, which is also the Hebrew name for Abraham, I immediately felt a special kinship with that Old Testament figure known as the “First Jew” because of his belief that there was only one God. 

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From the Joyofbaking.com 

shortbreadwwhitechocnraspfront.jpgFebruary 14th is named after the patron saint, St. Valentine, and we celebrate this day with the exchange of candy, flowers, cards, and gifts as a token of affection to our loved ones. The history of this day is very sketchy but it does appear to derive from Christian and Roman traditions. The story I like dates from the third century when Rome was ruled by the Emperor Claudius II. The Emperor outlawed marriages for young men as he felt single men made better soldiers than men who were married. 

A priest, named St. Valentine, didn't agree with the Emperor and married young lovers in secret.  When the Emperor discovered what St. Valentine was doing, he sentenced him to death. While St. Valentine was in prison, waiting to be put to death, he met and fell in love with the jailor's daughter. Before he died he sent her a love letter and signed it "From your Valentine". 

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keith-haring-untitled.jpgMy little brother came home from a bar mitzvah with a dazed look in his eyes and a henna tattoo across his arm that read: 'Nikita.' He told me it was fate. He was standing in the middle of the dance floor and announced to his friends that the sexiest name in the world was Nikita, and within moments a blonde sauntered over to him and said, "That's my name. I'm Nikita."

He was in love, his faith in the universe (which had recently been diminished following our move from his beloved Pacific Palisades to the gaudy Beverly Hills) had just been restored…and I didn't have the heart to tell him, but I remember looking at my mom and us both thinking, "There's no way her real name is Nikita."

Every day coming home from school was another lovestruck car ride, "Nikita this, Nikita that..." Until Thursday. Thursday he got in the car completely deflated.  He looked up and told me, "Her name's not Nikita."

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think pink1On this February afternoon two friends are catching up over blended pink drinks. We're in Boston where winter lasts well into April. There is no snow today and the sun is shining but it's cold. We're talking about healthy things that taste good and are easy to make.

We've been working kitchens together longer than we can remember. It started in 4th floor walk-ups across the hall from each other where dinner for seven meant peas, corn and salad with home-made chili, spaghetti with broccoli and garlic bread. We moved on to sharing secrets for perfect matzo balls (don't potchke), cheese plates at the Wine School, salad dressing, brining turkeys and what to serve at the Christmas block party.

Like our hair, our tastes have changed. We nix meat and dairy and drink more red wine. Our mid-day favors drinks whipped in a blender. When I found it last spring, the blender hadn't been used since the last time I crushed ice. That's when I learned that vegetables can be imbibed.

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