valentines

WHY I LOVE VALENTINE'S DAY SO DEARLY

 
mother and child by samantha spigos
pink and red playsilks valentines gift for baby by samantha spigos

You know how certain things need defending? Like ice cubes in a glass of milk, Shania Twain, and socks with sandals? For the record, I do and will uphold all of the above. It’s due time to stand in defense of lowly, overlooked Valentine’s Day. It was in middle school that I started wearing pink pants and decorating homemade valentines for friends to mark the occasion, but really it was childhood that fortified my deep love of the day. My mom was working by the time I can remember the holiday, leaving well before any of us were awake. Being a household of seven, a lot of things get lost in translation, such as getting picked up from school (only once or twice did this happen, but I did have to lift my feet so the janitor could vacuum around me, and you don’t forget a thing like that), having lunches packed (we did the packing; I’m sorry, dad, for the time I packed you nothing but a piece of cake), etc.

For the things that occasionally got overlooked (and understandably, I might add), it seems to me that my mom never let Valentine’s Day go uncelebrated. One year when I went downstairs, long after she had gone to work, there they were: boxes of sugary, name brand cereal. One for each sibling, with a note featuring her iconic lipstick kiss next to a heart with the word MAMA. Another year there was a heart-shaped box of chocolates, a treasure to be savored and hidden from all of my fiendish siblings. And every year of elementary school, when kids could still design and bring in their own valentine boxes, she would help me craft something magnificent. No straightforward boxes for the Jacksons. In first grade she made me a butterfly out of a barrel shaped plastic pretzel tub and cardboard wings. Fourth grade? A life-sized vacuum. I pushed it the whole way to my grandma’s house on the walk home from school, and with pride. In fifth grade we made a large house, complete with a front door and a bedroom window featuring the school photo of your’s truly. I come by my love of Valentine’s Day naturally.

And then there’s the pink and red color story. Warm, loving, inviting colors to punctuate a wet, drizzly, cold month. Right in the middle of February we are offered a chance to feel embraced, if by the colors alone. Mark and I love to host a Valentine’s supper for friends or family, because if there’s one thing I know for sure, it is that a day of love needn’t be relegated to romantic love. Love is for everyone, and so is February 14th. Unclear on what to do this year, and suspecting that it might be a normal hamburger and rice sort of evening (we have a one year old, after all), I have taken to celebrating in little ways. Red and pink clothes, handwritten notes and homemade valentines, a cup of rosy black tea each afternoon, a little extra baking, you get it.

Why not write a note to your love? Or bake some cookies with your kids? Or go for a walk and tell the ground you love it, tell the sky you love it, tell your lungs and legs you love them? For the diehards out there who cannot and will not give it a chance, I surely have not convinced you. But if perhaps you love a reason to make an otherwise ordinary day a little extra, I think Valentine’s is for you.

P.S. Pictured above are the two playsilks I picked out from Ginny’s shop to give Rosemary, despite her not being old enough to remember. In the future she’s getting cereal, but only the good stuff.


—S

A CAKE FOR FEBRUARY

 

On the sofa, feet up, coffee in hand, we ruminated over What Feels Good and What Needs Fixin' in life. Subject matter ranging from our marriage to our year off social media, from gratitude to whether or not we're drinking enough water (decidedly no). We figured out that we are equal but opposite when it comes to rising and resting. He needs coaxing out of bed with head scratches and hot coffee in order to wake up, and I need coaxing with conversation and activity to stay awake past 8:30. The thought was uttered that maybe a proper date would be a good idea, since neither of us could remember when the last one was, except that it was well before Winter hit in November. He taught me a bit about music, and I gave a casual lesson on European versus American buttercream frosting. The day before, I baked a coffee almond cake and dressed it up with the silkiest buttercream frosting I have ever tasted (learned from Butter: A Rich History). It was consumed in great company. We even managed a piece for the next day's breakfast. So it goes with my valentine. I will go so far as to call it our Best Ever Valentine's Day.

February's cake* is a good'n, and it comes from Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. My mother-in-law gifted me this cookbook for Christmas and I haven't stopped baking from it. Every recipe is incredibly straight-forward and prizes simple, whole ingredients. It does not shy away from sugar or butter or whole milk, but neither do I. Being that I only own four cookbooks, Fika is my companion for simple desserts and savory breakfast recipes. I think I've stained every page. This cake, hasselnötskaka med kaffe (hazelnut coffee cake in Swedish), is not especially sweet and has a wonderful texture from the ground nuts. I used almonds because I could not find hazelnuts at the grocery store and because I love almonds. Otherwise, I baked the cake exactly as described and really, really liked it.

I found the recipe available here if you want to try it! I surely think it's a worthy treat to feed your loved ones.

*Psst. I began my Cake-A-Month goal in 2017. Here's January's cake!


—S

IN DEFENSE OF VALENTINE'S DAY | A HOME TOUR

 

Oh February, you fickle month, you. Being a resident lover of winter (best season forever and ever amen), even I have never met a person who really loves February. Funny, then, that the holiday representative of love falls smack in the middle of this gelid, forgettable month. As if the collective groan of Midwest society wasn't enough, Lent — a liturgical season of fasting — often lays claims to February. Enter me. For more than a decade I have hailed Valentine's Day as my second favorite holiday of the year, and I always mean it. My reasoning has nothing to do with random acts of kindness or saying 'I love you' an extra time; I'd wager I am already at maximum capacity with telling my husband I love him. Roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are certainly of no interest to me (though I'm not in the business of turning those things down).

Valentine's Day is the day when I get to offer my affinity for winter and all things pale pink to those around me. Stews become romantic and cracking a bottle of mead is reasonable. The craft chest gets opened and I design Mark's annual valentine. In college we would hole up together and cook a time-intensive meal like traditional paella. Now we opt for cooking for others because we can. We spent all of February 14th preparing a four course meal for my parents and oldest sister. It was simple, Mediterranean, and in our wheelhouse.

I sliced each Blue Adirondack potato with wonder. Vibrant purple vegetables in winter: what a treasure. Our table settings included my mother-in-law's first dish set, now our first, gold cloth napkins handed down from my sister, and new flatware—the dearest wedding gift from our grandma (who spent months watching the 'specials' so as to pick up each piece when it went on sale). We had the aural delight of listening to the entirety of The Beatles discography on vinyl. A Valentine's Day not unlike other days of the year, but noteworthy in its own right. So while I'm not here to convert anyone to loving a holiday famous for being unloved, I would like to make the assertion that Valentine's Day can be non-commercial and worthy of celebration if we make it so.


—S