The Ethos of Eros.

Valentine's Day has some significance for almost everyone. I know I have experienced practically every variation of this day of Cupid throughout my life. I can still remember running home from elementary school with my arms overflowing with those precious little cards with illustrations like squirrels saying, “I'm pining for you!,” signed by each kid in my class. And, of course, the little candy hearts with the text... 'Be Mine'.

My dad always tried to step up on Valentine's Day. One year, I was about thirteen, he gave me a red rose and a postcard with an image of The Beatles that read; 'Scooterhead, Happy V Day from the Fab Four! Love, Big D.' Oh, Daaaad... As an adult, there have been traditional romantic dinners and getaways with loved ones, the anti-Valentine's Days with friends, vodka and Absolutely Fabulous marathons, and just as significant, a year (maybe more than one) single and snuggled up tightly with my dog, Besito, watching An Affair to Remember (ok, The Notebook), with a bottle of Bordeaux and a box of chocolates (a pupcake for Besito). Sobbing. (Well, it is THE most romantic movie EVER.)

In hindsight they all seem equally poignant, equally romantic. But don't tell that to the twenty-seven year-old me that threw all of the heart-shaped cookies I made onto the sidewalk and stomped them into powder because my boyfriend gave me socks and then went out to meet a pal at a bar down the street. What I didn't seem to consider at that time was how much he loved socks. And me. (And, well, he did work at that bar.) Hindsight, I tell you.

These days I see Valentine's Day not unlike New Year's Eve: Amateur Night – at least for dining out. Every restaurant is packed solid and offering prix fixe menus – that they are, almost always, assembly-line pumping out. Even my favorite restaurant in LA, with my favorite chef at the helm in the kitchen, served me a memorably mediocre Valentine's dinner a few years back. Ever since then I have chosen to dine in, even if 'in' is in a little cabin on the Tomales Bay or right 'in' my own cozy kitchen.

I mean, really, what's more romantic, more intimate, than cooking together? Just the two of you, dim the lights, light a candle (or ten), get some music swirling out of the speakers, pour yourselves a little bubbly and get chopping. Keep it simple in both prep, execution and clean up, and keep it rich, bold and classic in the flavor profiles and textures. Or even go straight sexy with some aphrodisiac foods, like oysters, chocolate, and red wine. Oh, and most certainly leave the clean up for the next morning or afternoon. Make the whole process, the experience, the memory.

The first two Valentine's Days Fred and I were together we went up to his family cabin in Inverness, on the Tomales Bay with our dogs. We grilled oysters, sipped wine, sat by the fire and snuggled. Last year, our first in Virginia, I was pregnant so we stayed home. But Fred did something pretty amazing – he built me a fire pit in the backyard. And there, with our dogs, we grilled oysters (I only had one!) and sipped wine (I only had a sip!) and sat by the fire and snuggled.

This year however, we have the opportunity to bring the new to the old and the old to the new. We will be spending the weekend in a cabin nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It belongs to a friend, the husband of my dear, dear Breeda who passed away two years ago. It was theirs together and it was her favorite place. What could be more special? This year, like the last three, Fred and I, with our dogs, will cook dinner - probably grill oysters, definitely sip wine and snuggle by the fireplace. But this year we will also have Emerson, the love of both of our lives. So while there may not be quite as much wine sipping, there will be exponentially more snuggling.

A side dish we plan on preparing is one I learned about through my good friends at Little House Green Grocery. It is so simple, so simple, that you think, 'sure, that's probably just fine and all, but...' But, let me just tell you this; it is brilliant. BRILLIANT. It would work well alongside steak, lamb, chicken, fish, um... everything. I compel you to make it. And then make out.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Braised Fennel
(Recipe adapted from Gray Carson)

Serves 2 as a side dish

1 large head of fennel (or 2 small/medium heads)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
¼ cup water
Finishing salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Optional garnishes: honey, balsamic vinegar or orange zest

Cut about 1 inch above the fennel bulb and remove stalks. Cut a few of the bright green fronds from the stalks to save as a garnish (to keep the fronds fresh, rinse them in cold water). Slice bulb in half lengthwise and then, depending on the size the bulb, cut each half lengthwise into 2 to 4 pieces so that each wedge is about ½ to ¾ of an inch in diameter. Be careful to leave the core intact.

In a medium sauté pan, heat butter on medium heat. Add fennel slices and cook until golden brown (about 5-7 minutes).

Reduce heat to low and add stock and water. Continue to simmer on low until most of the liquid has evaporated (about 15 minutes).

Salt and pepper to taste, garnish with chopped fennel fronds and serve immediately.

Optional: top with a drizzle of honey, balsamic vinegar or a little orange zest.

Two years ago: Mimi's Baked Broccoli
Seven years ago: Yang Chow

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