Valentine’s Dinner, 2021

Here comes Valentine’s Day, another holiday that will be effected by our current altered reality. What have been your favorite things to do to commemorate Cupid? Can you still do them this year? 

I used to go out to dinner with my husband, Michael. He booked the restaurant-usually swanky French. In the past few years though, we really got tired of the extra crowds and poor service that Valentine’s dinners would entail. Even the best restaurants had trouble keeping the setting “romantic,” as we were virtually bumping elbows with the tables around us.

So we began cooking for each other instead of going out. Turns out, this was really fun to do. We invented a game, to explore forgotten items in the refrigerator or cabinets, and commit to using them. I don’t mean moldy lettuce (we are pretty good about using our produce-or at least throwing it out when it goes bad!), I mean sauces, oils, jellies, spice mixes or other items that we bought for some long forgotten purpose. It might be a jar of Indian Mustard, an old bottle of Pomegranate Balsamic Vinegar, or a packet of salad dressing seasoning. There are also some seldom-used spices in the cupboard. Powdered Bitter Melon?! When did anyone ever think that was a good idea?  Some spices have lost their labels. A little mystery never hurts. This approach reminds us of the cooking shows (which we enjoy) whereby a basket of ingredients is presented that the competitors must use to make something creative and hopefully tasty. 

After we choose a couple random flavors to feature in our dishes, we go shopping to pick out the requisite produce and proteins. Unlike the cooking shows, we don’t have a pantry full of everything one might possibly need to cook a full meal in 30 minutes. We shop. 

Shopping for the ingredients can be fun too, and lead to more bold and adventurous decisions. Lemon Cucumber?  Chayote Squash? Dandelion Greens? The time spent together is enjoyable, and the rewards are usually delicious, or at the very least, interesting. We end up with dishes like Raspberry Chicken, Jerk Eggplant and Almond Butter Cauliflower. All of these are better than they sound, trust me. Or maybe that’s just because we’ve opened a bottle of cellared wine.

This year is different. Maybe reduced-capacity, al fresco dining will be an improvement to Valentine’s dining compared to years past. Restaurants are eager to see you and seat you, but capacity is restricted and distance must be maintained. So this might be a good year for dining out. But we still plan to stick with our fun tradition of cooking for ourselves. Don’t worry, local restaurants, we’ll make up for it by dining out on Monday, or as soon as our leftovers run out. 

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This post was written by Rumana Jabeen

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