Valentines

ImageAh, to be dead and in love. Sounds strange but why can’t love transcend dimensions as seems to be the curious case at Idyllwild’s Strawberry Creek Inn. The proprietor and chef, Rodney Williams, sometimes felt a warmth, a caress, an alarming brush of passion when alone in one particular room. He ignored it at first but as the sensations continued and he found himself oddly aroused, his curiosity grew. Finally, he called on a group of psychic experts and discovered that in fact, (for those who believe that parapsychology is fact), there was someone or something swooning about the place. Further investigation led to a ghost named Jade. According to the psychics, and there were several in concurrence, Jade, was the spirit of an ancient indigenous woman who occupied the land in life, and she was hanging around because she had fallen madly in love with the handsome Williams. It’s a strange romance that he finds comforting.

“She’s here to help,” he says, “I believe she may be responsible for our extraordinary success.”

Jade’s infatuated spirit seems to infuse the inn with romance. The award-winning bed and breakfast is a labor of love for Williams and his life-partner, Ian Scott. “So far Jade has not shown any signs of jealousy,” laughs Williams, “she seems happy to share me.”

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ManCatcherBrowniesWhen I was 7 my mother, Susan, met my future stepfather, Larry. They had been dating for about a month when she made him a batch of caramel nut brownies—a recipe she’d come up with herself. Larry took one bite and blurted, “Oh my gosh, I love you!” It was the first time he’d said anything like that, and it was sort of a joke—but then he followed up with, “Actually, I really do love you, and I’ve been wanting to tell you that.” After they got engaged, Larry renamed the recipe “Man-Catcher Brownies.”

Mom taught me how to bake when I was 12, and these brownies were one of the first recipes she shared with me. “Remember, Amy, whoever eats these will fall in love with you,” she said. I knew she was teasing, but the brownies still took on magical properties in my mind. My friends and I would have sleepovers and bake batches of them for boys we had crushes on. Sometimes we’d be sneaky about it and bring the brownies to the whole class, just so that a particular guy would be sure to eat one. When one of us had a steady boyfriend, we’d make up a nice little bag for him and tie it with a bow. Larry was on to our schemes. “Those man-catcher brownies work, so y’all be careful,” he’d say. “Don’t give ’em to anyone who won’t treat you right for the rest of your life.”

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broken-heart.jpgLately it’s been quiet in my place. I’m amazed by how only a week can feel like a lifetime after ending a half-year relationship with the person I was convinced I loved. The red pillow on the other side of my memory foam mattress hasn't been touched, the non-slam toilet seat in my bathroom is permanently up and the only article of clothing that remains folded in my apartment are the green pajama bottoms she borrowed last time she was here.

There is no longer a need for a mutually accepted group to be played on my record console; the more sultry romantic sounds of Elysian Fields, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds soundtrack have been replaced with the more discordant melodies and raucous noises from Joy Division, Igor Stravinksy and Chet Baker. A new tone has prevailed underneath my spacious ceilings, not a tone of vivacious spirit or luminous activity, but one of concord and settled reconciliation. All these lofty words are used to cover up sorrow with a big cheeky grin because now I can expand my mind opposed to my heart. Oh, who am I kidding?

 

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chopping-food.jpgSharing things is always dicey, and dicing while cooking together is definitely no exception.   The kitchen can morph into a metallic boxing ring.  One of you is the wild, inventive cook and the other is the chop-a-holic, compulsive one.  But one thing I’ve realized after decades of co-cooking is that both co-chef-partners are actually doing the same things, just at different moments. 

Take me, for example.  I am not a compulsive dicer and slicer, but I do like my implements put back in their proper places.  My co-cooker partner likes to splatter garlic when throwing it with wild abandon into a pan, but follows recipes as if his children’s lives depended on it. 

The trick is to find a way to have our mutating cooking styles come together rather than clash.  In formal holiday moments, I have learned to stand back and let him plan away.

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couercreme.jpgIt’s almost unseemly that so soon after the holidays I already find myself back in the midst of boxes of chocolate, imagining all the sweet treats I’d bake if only I had the time. But that is in fact the case.

I think it speaks to the nature of this month, and not just because Valentine’s Day is smack in the middle of February. I think it has more to do with the cold, long nights … all those hours between dinner and bedtime. What better way to spend them than baking scores of delicacies in the imaginary kitchen in your mind?

When I imagine the sweets that I would like to bake, there’s always one that makes a repeat appearance in my baking fantasies:  coeur à la crème.

French in origin, coeur à la crème means "heart of cream." A classic dessert, it’s components are simple and sublime.

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