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Valentine’s Day a la Frank Sinatra

(As in, “My Way…”)

I’ve written about Valentine’s Day a lot in the past week. No matter what your relationship status/budget, I’m pretty sure I’ve covered it: From clueless guys — http://snurl.com/uczq9 — to open-minded folks of either gender — http://snurl.com/uczqt — and cheap women — http://snurl.com/uczrt — to the Nerdy: http://snurl.com/uczsh and…the Neurotic — http://snurl.com/uczjn.

Which is maybe a little funny or ironic or something…as I don’t really even like Valentine’s Day all that much. As noted in my Luxury Spot post (and reprinted below for your convenience!), I think it’s a holiday that gets it right in elementary school with that spirit of inclusion…although, truth be told, I sort of had a little Valentine’s Day Miracle this morning when I received an e-card from a man I’ve never met…but who has always been really supportive of my blog. It’s been about 8 years (but who’s counting?) since I’ve received any sort of valentine from someone who isn’t my mother or a girlfriend I’ve had since elementary school. So. It was a nice surprise…and made me sort of feel like I’m not some sort of heinous beast on the fringes of society today. (Although, truth be told again, I was thinking that I don’t really know him at all…and he could very well be a real-life Dexter or something [I’m totally in love with that show now and super-sad that I have run out of episodes to watch online]…and then — lo and behold — he tweeted about a gun show and said that there was one firearm in particular that he really coveted. So…hmm…food for thought?)

Speaking of food! If I was in love today, there are plenty of things I would make for my special someone. And if you really are in love and panicking about what to whip up as Mr./Ms. Wonderfulpants is en route, fret no more:

I think you have a lot of leeway and can get away with making anything that your Valentine loves. But if your Valentine isn’t specific, you can keep up a red/pink theme with red velvet cake or heart-shaped sugar cookies (that you can then decorate however you please…and make them really super-personal and sweet and s/he will swoon…)…and then, of course, there’s always Sex in a Pan…which one of my mother’s coworkers brought for a wedding shower or something a million years ago and that somehow ended up in our family cookbook…and that was a big hit with my friends in high school. (I was actually just thinking about a time I visited some folks in Georgia and was absolutely insistent — to the point of belligerency — that we needed Cook and Serve pudding…and it wasn’t until we got home and started assembling it that I realized I was wrong and my friend was right and we totally needed Instant.)

If these ideas sound like too much trouble, I suggest Duncan Hines. I have a friend who used to do PR for Duncan and who needed some photos of some Valentine’s Day recipes last year…which I made and then photographed…and I actually thought most of them were pretty good (except for the giant frosted two-layer, heart-shaped brownies with cherry fluff in the middle. I thought those were a little overkill…).

This year, like most years in the past decade, I have no one to feed but myself. Which is basically fine. After all, it’s the Year of Lisa. Although…I *did* find a Grow-A-Date figurine that I’ve had for years and years and years…that I think my mother (or my aunt) sent me while I was living in England. It is *supposed* to be “the incredible expanding date that grows in water” and says it can be used over and over again…but I tried it out once before and — if memory serves — it didn’t do much. But…for old times’ sake, I have immersed him in a large container of room-temperature water again…and we’ll see what happens. (I am documenting it with photos every hour on the hour…so tomorrow I should have definitive proof either way…)

So, I mean, here we are with Valentine’s Day over halfway over and I have not had one single bout of jealous rage. I think it is because of my Valentine’s Day card…which I wrote about — as noted — for the Luxury Spot.

So…without further ado, my post:

Oh, Valentine’s Day…wingéd harbinger of bitterness…

The past several years, I’ve tried to anticipate you and come up with a sensible way to counteract you, thereby maybe enjoying – or at least enduring — the Day of Love…but, sadly, nothing has proven particularly effective – not sending cards to my nieces and nephew; not “going out with the girls…”; not baking heart-shaped treats for my coworkers.

But I think this year I have finally cracked it! And, I mean, I may be getting cocky again and Monday morning will find me curled up in a ball on my bathroom floor after drinking an entire bottle of pink champagne by myself…but…with 48 hours to go, I’m feeling pretty good about my 2010 Valentine’s Day Plan.

But, first…a brief history:

I feel like this is the one holiday that really gets it right in elementary school and everyone has to bring in cards for everyone else. No one is left out. No one feels unloved or unwanted. Everyone goes home with a heart-shaped envelope full of cards and candy. (I can remember carefully scrutinizing my valentines while addressing them to ensure the boys in my class got the least sentimental ones…lest they get the wrong impression and think I harbored any genuine feelings for them…)

But then I grew up and got a job and started going to work on February 14 (or thereabouts)…and walked into offices that looked like veritable florists…and knew, year after year, that the only sign of life on *my* desk would be the countless knickknacks and office supplies that were there 365 days a year…and as much as I’d like to be a big person and to be happy for everyone else, let’s face it – after X goddamn years, it’s hard to grit your teeth and smile and think, “That’s so nice for you! I am happy that you are having a happy Valentine’s Day!” and actually mean it…and not, you know, shoot laserbeams out of your eyes at her while you’re doing it.

So…this clearly promulgated my Overtly Anti-Valentine’s Day Phase…in which any canoodling couple was subject to my wrath. But…let’s face it – it’s not fun to be angry at the whole entire world…and, truth be told, I really like holidays. (My aunt bought me a decorative plate that says, “Happy Everything!” and includes a montage of every Christian holiday from Valentine’s Day to Christmas…and it is prominently displayed on a bookcase in my apartment…)

And I admit that I *did* enjoy learning that Valentine’s Day is rooted in a pagan ceremony that involved slapping young women with strips of animal flesh after a ritual sacrifice while I was researching a story for another Web site…but I honestly don’t want to be the Valentine’s Day Grinch. (Plus, I was really excited about busting out my Valentine’s Day spatula and my Valentine’s Day dishtowels and my Valentine’s Day potholder this year. So any grinchiness on my part would be disingenuous.)

Nevertheless…

I will never forget the Valentine’s Day I worked for a popular lifestyle magazine in Midtown. I was carefully hidden away in an area adjacent to the conference rooms that was affectionately (…or not so much…) labeled “Intern Alley.” But…it was also remarkably close to the Editor-in-Chief’s office (and, therefore, her assistant). And I found her assistant incredibly intimidating because she was one of those women who was drop-dead gorgeous and had amazing clothes and was super-confident…and, you know, I feel like there’s some justice in the world when women like that are really dumb or trapped in loveless marriages or whatever…but this woman – we’ll call her Genevieve – could speak French. Flawless French. Her phone would ring and she would pick up and fire away en francais as if we were working in Paris or something.

So…it was no surprise to me on Valentine’s Day that year when a mail room guy appeared at her desk with a giant box of flowers.

“Oh, look! My boyfriend sent me flowers!” Genevieve cooed.

And then…merely an hour or two later, another box appeared.

“Oh, look! My ex-boyfriend sent me flowers!” she trilled again.

I began to quietly seethe in Intern Alley.

And then…the coup de grace – the Editor-in-Chief returned from lunch with a huge spread of peach roses (which, according to various Web sites, mean anything from appreciation and desire to modesty) that she bestowed upon Genevieve, declaring, “Happy Valentine’s Day, Gen! These are for you…because you are my Valentine!”

(For a brief period, I thought this meant she was unmarried…and I had this enormous amount of respect for her […and even a tiny girlcrush…] because I thought it meant she had scaled the masthead solo and found herself with huge editorial prowess at the head of magazine with millions of monthly readers. But then June rolled along and she featured a Father’s Day spread with her husband and daughter…and I realized she’s just another wife…and was frankly kind of disappointed…)

So, I mean, the moral of this story is that I understand that beautiful, perfect, well-dressed, well-spoken women inspire flowers on Valentine’s Day. It makes perfect sense. But what I don’t understand is how one of these beautiful, perfect, well-dressed, well-spoken women can inspire three dozen flowers…and I can’t conjure up the inspiration for a single measly bud. Am I really that ugly and imperfect and ill-clothed and tongue-tied? Or, if not, is the universe really just that mean? (I used to also quietly seethe when walking by delis in my neighborhood that had flowers out front…and it was kind of a big moment in my coming-of-age or whatever when I realized that if I wanted flowers, I didn’t have to wait around for Mr. Wonderfulpants…but could rather buy them for myself…which was maybe even better as I could pick out the precise bouquet I wanted…)

Because, you see…other than the bouquets my mother bought me when I graduated high school and college (and a bouquet I sent to myself at work once to make a coworker jealous), I have gotten flowers exactly two times before: Once at work after giving my business card to a weird little man at a bar in Jersey City…who sent them with a note that read, “From, Patrick…” and I had no idea who they were from until he began calling my work number obsessively to see if I got them…and while I thought that if I ignored him long enough, he would eventually give up…I had to finally give in and answer the phone and tell him I had a boyfriend to make him go away.

The other time I received flowers from someone not related to me by blood was when I actually *did* have a boyfriend…but I had to sit him down ahead of time and say, “Valentine’s Day is coming up. You need to buy me flowers…or I am going to get mad.”

I was so excited to actually be in love that year…that I sort of pulled out all the stops with the card that I made for him. I had loved Javier Lopez – the former catcher for the Atlanta Braves (…I lived in Atlanta in the mid-to-late ‘90s…) – for years and years…and the Boyfriend sort of took issue with my obsession…and so for Valentine’s Day, I took an image of Javy and turned him into Cupid and then wrote something about how, you know, I had loved Javy for years and years…but now that I had the Boyfriend, I didn’t really need Javy anymore because I had another person in my life to love. I thought it was poignant and sweet and I couldn’t think of a better way to say, “Happy Valentine’s Day!”

But…sadly, the Boyfriend read it and took it in for a moment and then looked at me totally bewildered and said, “You think I’m good at baseball?”

(In his defense, he was English. So…perhaps there was some sort of cultural disconnect?)

Nevertheless, making cards still makes me happy. I sent out one with my cat for the holidays – one of those photo cards that people usually send out with their significant other and/or their children. I decided it would be funny if I embraced my Lonely Girl image and sent a “From Our House to Yours…”-card with my cat. (One friend called it “hilariously empowering…” which I realized is really the only thing I have ever aspired to be in my life…so I was pretty thrilled.)

So…since the holiday card went over so well, I really wanted to do another one for Valentine’s Day. And while I could get away with using the cat for the holidays, I really didn’t want to firmly establish a precedent. Plus, I mean, it’s Valentine’s Day. I like my cat, but…c’mon.

So…a proverbial seed was planted and I began thinking about what I could for Valentine’s Day. And then I don’t know how or when I remembered it, but…at some point last year, I read Julia Child’s “My Life in France.” And…I guess Julia and Paul liked sending out Valentine’s Day cards as there was a whole section in the middle of the book with images of the various valentines they sent out over the years…and there was one in particular in a bathtub that I just loved. And when I remembered it, I really, really, really wanted to use it. The problem, however, is that Paul Child is in the photo. And while I could easily superimpose my head on Julia’s body, I didn’t know how to deal with Paul. So…I started thinking about which men I could use in Paul’s place. In theory, there was Javy…but that seemed a little old and tired. And…I also thought that I could pick a girlfriend and glue *her* face on Paul’s body…but, while potentially empowering again, it seemed a little weird.

So…I was stuck…until I remembered Tucker Max. And I don’t really know where it came from in my head as I’ve never read the book or seen the movie…but, seemingly from nowhere, I recalled the movie poster for “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” and the “YOUR FACE HERE,” on the girl’s body. Et, voila. My Valentine’s Day card was born.

I wish I knew Photoshop and/or had access to it as I feel it would have turned out better with, you know, seamless integration and whatnot…but, as it stands, I’m pretty pleased with the end result. (And…looking handmade = love? Maybe?)

I’m not going to lie – it would make me pretty happy to wake up on Sunday and find one of these on my doorstep (…but not from a weird little man who lives with his parents in Bayonne and calls obsessively for weeks…)…but, bar that, I think it makes me happy to send these images out into the world and spread a little Valentine’s Day joy. So…see? Maybe I’m not such a bitter Betty after all.

I’ll even say it: Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Cupcakes, Cakes, Cookies & Some Combination Thereof.

PeepsNo news this time. Just a little catching up.

So…there was an auction earlier this month for Social Media for Social Change and my baking lesson was won by a woman who had a birthday around the same time, so…long story short, I made some cupcakes to say thanks for bidding on me. She apparently really likes vanilla…but her husband already had a cake in the bag, so I ended up doing yellow cake with white frosting. And it was a convenient excuse to use up more of those heart-shaped decals from Auntie Leslie. (The winner, like, Auntie Leslie also happens to be a big Peeps fan…so I think we’re going to make Peeps pie during the lesson…even though it requires melting down some Peeps and I wasn’t sure how a diehard fan would feel about that.)

But! The Peeps don’t end there. On Friday, the biggest frosting fan I know and I (but mostly the frosting fan) put together a cake party at our very favorite restaurant at 27th & 3rd (like the pie ones…but instead with, you know, cake). I saw a recipe for a Peeps sunflower cake on Easter Sunday, so on Monday I hit up all the CVSes and Duane Reades and Rite Aides in the area…but all I could find were pink Peep chicks. So…I decided that maybe I could still do something floral? (You can see for yourself. It was a bit ridiculous. Though individually placing those chocolate chips in the center wasn’t as time-consuming as I thought it would be.)

I also brought along the cookie recipe I was hoping to enter in the Pillsbury Bake-Off. I did an informal poll and it seems peanut butter is what a lot of people like in cookies…and so I tried to put a fun spin on chocolate-peanut butter cookies…but then one of the cake guests pointed out that the winner last year did a peanut butter cookie and so the odds of them picking *another* peanut butter cookie are probably slim…so I did some wild last-minute tweaking and created what I think is good combo of two of my favorite Epicurious recipes: Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies and Peanut Butter Pie. We’ll know in September whether I’m going to Orlando again!

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Breaking Pie News: Liddy Eats Humble Pie…And So Can You.

So…a friend suggested a good feature for the ol’ blog here would be to do a segment on Pie News. Which is really quite brilliant. Like, for example, I could totally talk about AIG’s Edward Liddy last week and how he had to eat some humble pie in front of the House Financial Services Committee (that was it, right? I could just say, “Congress,” but “House Financial Services Committee” is so much more interesting. Plus, I – heart – Barney Frank a little.)

Sadly, a literal search for “humble pie” in my pie books is, um, fruitless…but there are a few on the Internet. Like, say, this one: Humble Pie.

But if I wasn’t going to do a literal humble pie, I might go with something simple…like even the new state pie of Indiana: sugar cream. I didn’t actually get a chance to try this one on Pi(e) Day (which went quite well! MUCH different than January 23. Calmer. More space. More food. I owe a big thank you to AG & Choice Kitchen!)…but I’d say it’s a good candidate for a humble offering if that’s what you’re going for.

I still have the video camera from the Dia del Pole-Dancing (that I haven’t even used yet!)…but I am not sure I would be the most dynamic on-air presence. Which is not to say I won’t *ever* do it…but I have to let things percolate for awhile.

PS: In my Pie book, I caught sight of a Tar Heel Pie…which will be very fun to make if UNC emerges victorious in this March Madness business. Ken Haedrich says it is essentially a brownie in a crust!

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Mary, Rhoda, the Girls & Oscar

Who can turn the world on with her smile?

Thank you for being a friend.

These words were slated to ring out repeatedly in my apartment this weekend during a Mary Tyler Moore/Golden Girls pre-Oscar marathon. We ended up taking a rain check, but had planned to order Italian food (Sicilian food?), eat cheesecake and drink rosé (seems like something the Girls would have liked as well as a wine Mary and Rhoda must have enjoyed?).

My oenophile friend who works at a wine store in Alphabet City (which isn’t really called that anymore, is it?) recommended the 2007 Forchir Pinot Grigio Rosadis. What’s more, she said there are plenty rose-tinted bad boys under $20. So! We won’t have to resort to a box after all when the time comes…

But when I started thinking about cheesecake, I realized I have plenty of cheesecake recipes — cappuccino cheesecake; lemon cheesecake; pumpkin cheesecake; peppermint cheesecake…even raspberry cheesecake brownies — but I don’t think I have one for a good ol’ classic New York-style cheesecake. A quick search on Epicurious turns up a recipe from Lindy’s that looks pretty good: New York cheesecake. 5 packages of cream cheese is a little intimidating though. And I’m afraid it will be too tall for any of my springform pans. The square pan seems like *maybe* it’s a little bigger? But, still…I wonder if Lindy’s has larger-than-life pans for *its* cakes?

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Little Cream Cheese Blobs, Airy Cherry Filling, Brownie-on-Brownie Action & Amateur Photography

After a brief post-Pie Day baking hiatus, I got back into it with a vengeance last week.

I have a friend who does PR for a prominent provider of baked-good mixes and she needed help with photos, so I whipped up some Valentine’s Day-themed recipes and tried my hand at amateur photography.

This, of course, meant stocking up on cake mix…and when I was at the store, I was holding the basket down by my side and a little girl — who was maybe 3 or 4? — walked by and saw all the cake stuff at about eye level and said, “WOW!”

I didn’t get to the baking until Friday morning though…leaving it right up to the deadline. (Funny how that always seems to happen, right?)

First on the list was red velvet cupcakes. And I have say they were tasty, indeed…but it was a little disconcerting because the mix looked like any other chocolate mix until I added water and then — BOOM! — RED! (The first time I heard of red velvet cake was in Steel Magnolias with the armadillo groom’s cake…and even though the quality is bad here, I love this scene with Shirley MacLaine and and Tom Skerritt.)

It also required making a cream cheese mixture that I initially thought I’d have to swirl into each individual cupcake…but when I read the directions again, it said to just dollop it on top. I wasn’t quite sure what would happen (and I only have two muffin tins and didn’t have time to bake batch after batch after batch, so I made the 16 cupcakes that I had pretty darn huge to use up all the batter in one go…and then thought I had really screwed things up by dolloping cream cheese on top and that they’d overflow and set fire in my oven. Or something.). But…I was happy to discover that the little cream cheese blobs instead sunk down into the middle of the cupcakes…and even though they were a tad big (a friend came over on Saturday en route to a birthday party and I offered her one and she looked at it and said, “I can’t eat THAT! It’s HUGE!”), I think they were pretty. (It was *really* hard to photograph though because my apartment is dark — funny that I didn’t think of that when I volunteered to bake them…and my friend suggested a white background, so I had to fashion a little mini studio on top of my kitchen cart and then monkey around with a lamp and different camera settings).

Next up were some brownie clouds that required an airy cherry filling. I’m not a big fan of maraschino cherries, so suggestions are welcome on how to use up the rest of the jar as I really only needed three (and some juice). (Bonus points if you can pull in Jim Beam because I still have a bottle of that, too.) I also had to add food coloring to a tub of vanilla frosting…and now have a tub of pink *and* a tub of chocolate frosting (which sorta makes me think of Goldie Hawn in Death Becomes Her. [I also have a cat. Sigh.]).

I also wasn’t sure whether to make the brownies cakey or chewy…in the end, I went for cakey because it seemed like having more to work with would be better than less…but, in the end I’m sure if it made much difference.

I admit these cherry clouds were pretty (once I got the tops to stop sliding around because I used too much filling), but this recipe yields one intense baked good. It’s brownie-on-brownie. *With* creamy goop *and* frosting. I readily admit I am a pig. And yet I think this one would be too much for even me.

The last Valentine’s Day treat was similar — heart-shaped brownies cut from a pan — but this time it was a single layer *and* I got to showcase my cake decorating skills. I stuck to the phrases offered in the press release — Love, XOXO, I Love You and Hugs — and because I am stupid and weird I got all embarrassed on the train when folks peeked over and read them (I covered a Pyrex dish with clingwrap, so there they were, wide out in the open…because I think I lost my precious Pyrex lid on Pie Day!) as well as at the Super Bowl party where they spent their final hours. I felt kind of silly bringing them…but sure as heck didn’t know what else to do with them…and, like I’ve said before, I live alone and I’m freelancing, so I have no coworkers/roommate/boy wonder to eat them all.

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