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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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My Final Julie/Julia Reference of 2009…

There are times I feel all alone in this world and there are times I feel really loved. Christmas this year was one of the latter.

And…it wasn’t actually just being with family in any sort of traditional sense (with the drinking of eggnog by the fire and/or staring deep into each others’ eyes near the fir). In fact — and this doesn’t mean in any way that I haven’t had the time of my life baking sugar cookies and wrapping presents and learning that “niece” also means “illegitimate daughter of an ecclesiastic,” and signing a card for my cousin by calling him “Uncley Dick,” and making plans for the Dead Squirrel Museum in Madison (you get my point?) – but…it was also very much because of people I didn’t actually spend Christmas with at all. And you can’t blame me completely for feeling gooey now because I watched “Julie & Julia” last night (one of my gifts!) and that movie always warms my heart and makes me happy.

But…my sister got a copy of Julie & Julia SIGNED for me. As in, Julie Powell actually *wrote* *out* *my* *full* *name* — first and last! — and told me to keep writing. I can’t believe it. It’s one of the – if not the – best gifts I’ve ever gotten. Her story just means so much to me – as I’ve written countless times before, so I won’t beat a dead horse, but…it just reminds me that each of us has the power to change our lives in positive ways…and while it may be hard to figure out how to do that exactly (and it may in fact be quite discouraging!)…the point is that we all can.

And, you know, the movie *also* reminds me that it would be nice to have a sweet man by my side in the vein of an Eric or a Paul…who would hold my hand during my meltdowns — and we all know there are plenty to choose from… — but, after reading Cleaving, I guess I also have to acknowledge that relationships are tough and, like my mother says, if everyone threw their problems into a room, we’d all run back in and grab our own. So maybe I’m better off on my own two feet for now. (I am, after all, trying to be more zen and trust the universe…) In the grand scheme of things, I’m doing fine. And, as noted above, there were plenty of reminders this Christmas that I’m not actually alone in this world at all.

And I’m realizing this reflects just how clingy and needy I am if I require constant confirmations that people in my life do, in fact, care about me…which can’t help but remind me of an ill-advised and overly long (no, wait – “overly long,” doesn’t even begin to describe it — it was verbose to the point of insanity…[but, then again, when I have ever *not* written long? Which is exactly what I told myself as I clicked, “send…”]) email I sent not too long ago to a friend with whom I have always had a weird relationship. I wanted to pry some proof out of him…but he ignored it. And, in hindsight, I guess I can see that it was a scary message…but…I sent it with the best intentions and all I really wanted to hear was that he cared about me, too…and it’s the kind of message I would have been thrilled to receive from pretty much anyone. But…what a punch in the gut to pretend like I had never even sent it…and I think this means he and I aren’t really friends anymore. Which is kind of sad…but also kind of not…because he’s sucked a lot out of me…and I never really got much in return. Which, you know, begs the question of what one wants from a relationship with another human being…and shouldn’t it be enough to just exude love and not expect anything back? Which is actually something I’ve told myself repeatedly before…but now I’m sort of realizing that if you do that you become the Sad Sally who exudes love for people who don’t really care about you…and that’s not ideal either. So I guess I’m learning sometimes you have to stop exuding and save affection for the people who really want to stick around. And, heck, I guess if I’m going to cut out dead weight, this is the time of year to do it…with new beginnings in the new year and whatnot. One less proverbial mouth to feed, I guess…

And this may also be a good time to talk resolutions as I’m not sure I’ll really have a chance to blog again in 2009 (…aww…). And, really, I mean, instead of listing eating healthy and exercising regularly and becoming fluent in Spanish and all those things I know I (probably) won’t actually do, I think I’m going to point to those post-Bartender resolutions and continue to concentrate on the things that helped me end 2009 on a positive note: Be happy with me. Get an agent. Travel. Be patient.

My last Julie & Julia reference of 2009: I made chocolate cream pie for Christmas. And, admittedly, I did not measure the Oreos (I just used a whole package)…which I’m not sure was such a good idea as it yielded a *pretty* thick crust. And it wasn’t like a complete unit. It was like pudding whacked on crushed Oreos. But! Then again…Julia said to never apologize. So. There we are. (Plus, the kids loved it. [I think.])

My aunt contributed a mystery pecan pie and a sugar plum cake…both of which I have heard my mother rave about but have never actually tried myself. The mystery pecan pie has a cream cheese layer and a pecan layer and a pecan-pie-ish layer that magically shift during baking. And, well, no one makes a crust like my aunt, so it was really, really beautiful. And…I wouldn’t say I’m a *huge* spiced cake fan, BUT…the sugar plum cake was really, really good – there’s a butter sauce you pour over it (and I guess *that* is actually my final Julie/Julia reference of 2009) that totally makes it. Good stuff all around. (When faced with three desserts, I cannot choose just one. A little bit of all of them. Which may mean I really *should* concentrate on some of those other resolutions that would make for a Less Fat 2010, but…for now, I’m going to let visions of that cake dance in my head…and we’ll see how long that sustains me.)

All the best for 2010!

Your faithful blogging pal,

LL

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You-Know-What-Themed Cookies

A friend is getting married in Denver on Saturday…and the thought only JUST occurred to me that maybe I should bake something for her bachelorette party the night before.

I have never used my Naughty Cakes book and, frankly, I can’t think of a better occasion to try it out for the first time…but, alas, I am a fondant novice…and, as much as I would LOVE to show up with a Greek God cake, for example, there’s the whole transportation issue. (Plus, I am only just realizing that this book is maybe better for bachelor parties. There are a lot more boob-themed cakes than anything else.)

And, so, long story short, I am kicking myself because I Googled “penis cookies” just for the heck of it and — whoa — the first hit from bachelorette.com is a set of penis cookie cutters for only $4.99! I can’t believe I didn’t think of this earlier! (Although, in all honesty, I’m not sure how I’d feel about owning a set of those bad boys forever and ever…having penises mixed in with my Christmas trees, ghosts and Statues of Liberty…)

A search for “penis cookies” *also* happens to pull up this entry…which I enjoyed primarily because she calls them “cockies” — and you have to admit that’s kind of clever.

I was also shocked to discover that there was an event at my alma mater while I was a student that included penis cookies. What’s more, “penis cookies” made it into the headline *and* the lede in the story in the Columbia Spectator. Who knew?

So…I mean, I guess I could make some sugar cookie dough easily enough and then try to shape my own you-know-whats. But I think that would make me feel kind of dirty. And, besides, I don’t really know anyone other than the bride. Do I really want to cement my reputation in Denver as the girl who baked penises?

On the *other* hand, I was thinking about someone like Martha Stewart. And if *she* was throwing a bachelorette party, she would totally do something clever. She asks you to do CRAZY stuff for every other holiday and celebration. Case in point: One of my all-time favorites is this Halloween invitation that asks you to send your guests “a plaster cast of your own index finger, nestled on a bed of preserved reindeer moss.” But, alas, Martha’s Weddings site does not provide much in the way of inspiration for bachelorette baking. (At least as far as I can tell…which suddenly makes me think of a whole new channel for her — “Martha After Dark” or some such — and this makes me laugh…)

So…I may just show up empty-handed on Friday. But! I’ll let this idea simmer…and the next time one of my friends gets married, watch out: I will be revisiting the bachelorette.com idea.

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