Valentines

left.jpgI never had a vision for my wedding.

When my fiancée and I started talking about getting married, the first question was “What kind of wedding should we have?” As most women do, I bought a few wedding magazines to help conceptualize just what the options were for a New York wedding. I am a fairly recent transplant to the city so for me the wedding magazines were research material for venues where such an event could be held. First and foremost, these wedding guides were my tools to uncovering the answer to my most pressing question all. How much does a New York wedding cost?

Now don’t get me wrong. I appreciate nice things. I love designer shoes but I won’t pay full price for them. They must be on sale. In fact, I rarely pay full price for anything that is not a necessity. My fiancée says it is the Scot in me. Whatever the reason is, I was on a mission to disprove the notion that a wedding had to be expensive and equivalent to a down payment on a house.

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apricot-almond_cake.jpgUsually, pound cake is a Spring thing for me. I make it each year around Easter and maybe again a little later when fresh, locally-grown strawberries are ready to pick. The sweet berries with their bright juice are a perfect companion for pound cake. But in the midst of my almond paste frenzy, my apricot brandy pound cake seemed like a logical place to try to add almond paste. So, I did. And I was right. Brandied Apricot-Almond Pound Cake is the result of a match made in heaven.

Remember the brandied apricot topping on those almond bars I posted last week? Well, here it is again, swirled like birthday ribbons through apricot brandy-spiked pound cake laced with almond paste. I made some adjustments to my original pound cake recipe. The resulting texture is not exactly that of my original pound cake, but it comes pretty close.

It's best to make the cake a day or two before serving. Seal it up tight and store it in a cool place. The flavors develop with such depth and the fragrance that wafts up through your nostrils when you open the cake is intoxicating.

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valentines_day.jpgThat’s the question of the moment. Ads on TV, in newspapers, on line, in magazines, on billboards, buses, subways, just about everywhere you look, make suggestions about what to give your lover to show how much you treasure her: romantic dinners, cruises, hot air balloon rides, diamonds,  earrings, pearl necklaces, chocolates, spa treatments, cakes, pies, tarts, sweaters, and of course, flowers.

Years ago when I lived in Rhode Island I had a friend who refused to buy any of her gifts.  For Christmas or a birthday, she’d knit a gift, create a handmade card, or construct a collage.  Risa was an enthusiastic practitioner of the hand-made movement because she felt that making a gift was a more emotional way of connecting to someone you cared about.  To her, going into a store and plunking down a fist full of cash wasn’t as intimate and personal as making something.

I took Risa’s lesson to heart.  Many Valentine’s Day I baked.  Apple pies with crystallized ginger crusts.  Flourless chocolate cakes with roasted almonds.  And banana cakes with chocolate chips and roasted walnuts, one of my wife’s favorite desserts.

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2005-valentine-2.jpgAbout ten years ago, after a painting that she’d been working on disappointed her, my mother dragged the canvas out onto the front lawn.  Still in her painting clothes, she proceeded to rip it apart with a small hatchet, reducing a 3 by 5 foot work of art to an abundance of 3 by 5 inch works of art.  A few weeks later, she sent them, without explanation, to her friends and family for Valentine’s Day.  (The whole thing was a little “Vincent’s ear”, and the parallel did not escape her: she did a series of Van Gogh’s disembodied ear the next fall.  She also set fire to a couple of those, and then did a painting of them on fire.  And yes, I was an anxious child.)  The canvas scrap my mother sent to me that Valentine’s contains the original painting’s full signature.  Of all the fragments of her destroyed work, each one a tiny relic of perfectionism and mania, I got the one with her name on it!  

Receiving the portion with her signature, the veritable corner piece to the puzzle of her insanity, really means something to me.  I can see how, when other people opened their valentines that year, they might have felt a vague sense of reproach, instead of the more common Valentine’s message: affection. 

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