Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day, a celebration of love. How controversial can THAT be? It wasn’t invented by Hallmark, as many jaded folks feel about the whole affair. It does support the florist industry, not a bad thing, small flower shops could not thrive without it. And along with Halloween it probably keeps the candy industry afloat too. (There might be some controversy there, but as always, buy local and buy healthy.)

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Tin heart from Mexico

The most accepted version of how Valentine’s Day came into being is the story of a priest named Valentine. In the third century Emperor Claudius II decided single men were better soldiers then married men so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine felt this was grossly unfair and, defying Claudius, performed marriages in secret. He was caught and sentenced to death. As the story goes, he either struck up a friendship or fell in love with (depending on the version you read) the jailer’s young daughter and wrote his young friend a letter before being executed…. often referred to as the first Valentine.

There’s not a lot of hard evidence for this story, likely passed down originally by oral tradition, but having all the elements of a good story – rebellion in the name of love against an evil emperor, it has stuck.

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Paper mache heart decoration

Before the martyrdom of Valentine the feast of Lupercalia was celebrated from February 13 to 15. “Men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain…young women would actually line up for the men to hit them. They believed this would make them fertile.” This strange ritual was followed by a matchmaking lottery. Young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be coupled up for the duration of the festival, or longer. (1)

These two stories, blended together and soften over the centuries, thanks to Shakespeare, Chaucer, and the poets of the world, became today’s Valentine’s Day. Losing the early pagan mating rituals, and rarely seen as a Christian celebration, it became a day for children to hand out funny Valentines to friends and couples to find time to acknowledge and express their love for one another with flowers, candy, dinner out or whatever. Not a bad thing!

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A vintage cardboard decoration

Growing up, our family celebrated all the traditional American holidays. Somehow Mom found time between working full-time, raising three kids, and fulfilling the responsibilities of a typical housewife in the 50s and 60s, to do a little decorating, make a special dinner and, always, a special dessert for every holiday from Halloween to St. Patrick’s Day and beyond. Christmas was a grander affair and Easter involved the extra tasks of buying Easter outfits and putting together Easter baskets.

Maybe because it was low-keyed, and definitely a family affair, I’ve always liked Valentine’s Day and never thought of it as a holiday exclusively for couples.  My brothers must have been influenced in the same way, because over the years I occasional receive Valentines from each of them, and I’m guessing not too many men send Valentines to their sisters! (Aren’t I lucky!)

As a single adult I pretty much did what mom did…decorate a little, make a special dinner, send Valentines to friends and family. I still do, most years. Mike greatly appreciates it all and it remains a low-keyed time to simply celebrate love, both within our marriage and beyond.

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delicate embroidery on a linen handkerchief

But this celebration of love has deeper meaning to me now than it did growing up. Call it Divine Love, Universal Love, Cosmic Love, or just Love with a capital “L”, it is a force greater than the lust of the early Roman couples or the amorous feelings of a condemned priest. It is the love felt when a mother looks into the face of her new born, when a friend holds the hand of a dying friend, or a spouse tenderly cares for their mate who does not recognize them any more. It is the warmth one feels with a long-time friend, or a spouse, when you share a moment of laughter at some ‘in joke’ and realize how deep and how lasting your relationship is. It is the compassion of a police officer who buys a homeless person a pair of shoes, or a child who saves her allowance and raises money to help people in a country he or she has never been to. This love is beyond romantic love. It is unconditional, made up of compassion, empathy, appreciation, respect. It is inclusive, accepting another person because you see beyond their actions, or their beliefs. Ignoring the differences that make them “other”, you see them with an understanding heart, not a critical mind. And you care about them.

This love has seemingly gone missing when you read the headlines. But it is alive and well in small compassionate acts of ordinary people who do extraordinary things, as well as every day deeds of kindness. It is alive when people take action from their hearts. It is in the stories that don’t make the headlines.

We can, and need to, nurture it and celebrate this love everyday. It’s what the world needs now, more than ever.

To celebrate it is perhaps an act of rebellion against the hatred being taught and glorified. This celebration of universal love for all, I think, would make the rebellious priest Valentine, who lost his life to help other’s celebrate their love, very happy!

Happy Valentines Day!

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(1) National Public Radio story on the origins of Valentine’s Day 

 

 

 

 

Hearts & Cauliflower

February…the down hill-side of winter, signs of spring appearing, day light stretching past 5:00, the month to celebrate love. Mike’s birthday! It is also the month chosen to bring awareness to heart health. Today, February 5th, women’s heart health is specifically targeted with the “go red for women” campaign.  Having found out this week my cholesterol is higher than it has ever been, I’m a little uneasy about this focus on heart attacks and strokes. I want to stick my head in the sand and focus on the love part of February and make Valentines. But being a worrier, and half way through my sixties, I don’t have a peaceful easy feeling, especially when the doctor says I need to eat less grains and more meat (I, a vegetarian since my late 20s except for the occasional fish) to bring the equally high triglycerides down. Eating more meat is in conflict with many cancer prevention diets (yesterday was World Cancer Day, but I don’t need a special day to remind me of cancer, I worry about that every day.)

Due to digestive health challenges most the time I watch carefully what I eat. Reducing options leaves me feeling there’s nothing left to eat that is safe, let alone interesting. But forging ahead I’ve come up with some new food ideas, one being an adaptation of an adaptation. My latest low-fat, no-grain, cancer fighting yummy is an versatile sauce that adds interest and flavor to any meal. And you don’t have to have any health issues to appreciate it!

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Cauliflower hummus on stemmed veggies

My body doesn’t like beans so I make a cauliflower hummus that’s deliciously addictive. This creamy sauce/dip has the same flavor as the bean variety because the flavor of hummus comes from garlic, tahini, lemon and olive oil.  Tahini, rich in minerals and a good source of protein, does have a fair amount of fat. Besides the hummus, I often make other sauces with tahini, so to reduce my use of it, I came up with some new sauces, using the same grain-less, low-fat base…cauliflower.

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Cauliflower may not seem like a super star in the world of foods, but if you Google it you will find with the trend of Paleo diets, vegan diets and gluten-free diets, it has suddenly become very popular. It’s white color and mild flavor lends itself to many creative possibilities. The grainy texture, when cut up small, has been used as a substitute for dishes such as fried rice, and its ability to be creamy makes it masquerade as a stand in for mash potatoes. Cauliflower, like most veggies, has an abundance of potassium, and a few other nutrients.  In research done on the cancer fighting properties of cruciferous vegetables, cauliflower is a star. It can be more digestible than broccoli for some people. In my book, cauliflower it is a super-star.

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Garlicky cauliflower cream sauce with goat cheese on quinoa

I’ve made two sauces to add flavor and interest to meals: a garlicky cream sauce and a lemon cream sauce.

As with the hummus, they both start with cooking the florets until they are soft enough to put a fork in. I steam mine in water, but you can also roast them, which adds a different flavor to recipes.

After the cauliflower is cooked, be sure to drain it well, using a slotted spoon, and put it in a blender or food processor. I use a small food processor and am happy with the texture, a blender would make it smoother.

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Cauliflower lemon sauce

For the basic sauce you can add your dietary preferences to enhance the creaminess. Butter and a little milk works, I use low fat coconut milk and no butter to keep the fat content down. In the hummus the tahini and olive oil (about 2 T. each) make it creamier.

If you want a garlic sauce, sauté enough chopped garlic for your taste, I use one large clove per two cups of cauliflower but more would be more garlicky and delicious! For additional flavor I had a pinch of salt, about 3 tablespoons coconut amino acids, and the spicy Vata churna I make. (see recipe on my recipe page.)

For a slightly cheesy sauce I add a mild local goat cheese, if you want it to be cheesier a stronger flavored soft cheese would work best, if it’s a hard cheese be sure it is grated fine.

For the lemon sauce, add to the coconut milk/cauliflower base a pinch of salt and the juice of half a lemon.

The garlic sauce is good on veggies, grains. The lemon sauce is also good on veggies and on fish. The sauces can be kept in the refrigerator and heated slightly when needed. I like to make them fresh but if there is some left over it tastes just as good the next day.

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Having fun felting hearts and adding beads! Our first crocuses emerged today, only to be drenched! Still, a lovely sign of spring!

 

As with all my recipes, these are basic ideas for you to experiment with and make your own.

Now I can get back to making Valentines and watching spring emerge!

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Happy February!