*VALENTINE’S LOBSTER SPECIAL ON A BUDGET

I was more excited about Part Two of our Valentine’s Day celebration. It would have the romance that we needed—  We would be celebrating it in the suburbs at his mother’s house.

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Similar to the myriad of books Cosby Sweater’s mother had about raising a genius child, he too liked collecting. He had an abundance of comicbooks. Having a baseball card collection that included early tobacco cards, I respected the effort it takes to build a collection. But, this collection was a little too intense. The floor of his bedroom was devoted to many, MANY, banker boxes of books. They weren’t just willy-nilly organized. No, he had a spreadsheet in FileMaker. I took scrupulous mental notes of what he needed. It was safe bet to give him a comicbook for an event where giving gift is customary, especially if you paid attention. And, I did.

Clearly, collecting was a passion. While I didn’t share his enthusiasm for conventions or have the desire to be in a crowd, when a convention came to Boston my junior year, I went with him.  This was my first and only convention, but I saw this as an important step to learn about my man.

Oh boy, did I learn! When he didn’t want to pay the sticker price on a comic, he’d find a comic (at the same vendor) with a cheaper tag, skillfully remove the sticker and put it on the comic he wanted. I told him he was stealing. He argued the vendor was still getting his money, so he wasn’t. Marvel and DC couldn’t have written a better transformation. Right before my eyes Cosby Sweater assumed the villainous identity of Comicbook Crook. I naively hoped he’d stop stealing, but after each convention he’d gloat and show me what discount he took. I believed I had the power to change him through love.

Yes, I earnestly believed if I loved him enough, I could turn him into the man I needed, one who would be more loving (and who wouldn’t steal).  Love can conquer a lot of things, but it doesn’t conquer all, like rewriting history or changing someone’s moral fabric.

From the time I learned about his unsavory behaviors to Valentine’s Day, with my generous helping of love and affection I was still hoping he would change. He did not. But, my frustration was slightly reduced by one simple fact.

It was Valentine’s Day and I had a boyfriend!

Happy Heart

I put on my favorite jeans, ruby crushed velvet shirt and healed boots for our romantic date. Then, I bundled up to go outside. That year, we had a “wintery mix” of ice and slush on the roads. But, that didn’t stop our romantic walk to dinner. While jaywalking is customary in Boston, he neglected to remember I was navigating ice and slush in heals. We had lost our walk signal, but without hesitation, he hauled me off the curb and I stumbled into the intersection and was forced to race oncoming traffic. Clearly, he wasn’t accustomed to having someone on Valentine’s Day either.

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Nearly twisting an ankle while trying to look feminine for an oblivious boyfriend. He couldn’t figure out why I was frustrated. But, we made it to the over-crowed restaurant where we waited half an hour for our reservation.

This was not like the romantic Valentine’s Day dinners you see in movies.

I was more excited about Part Two of our Valentine’s Day celebration. It would have the romance that we needed—  We wold be celebrating it in the suburbs at his mother’s house.

After giving him the wrong Book 2 of one of the many Transformers series for Christmas, I decided on something easier and scrapped together money for a special Valentine’s Day dinner. I purchased a solitary Maine lobster. When we got home from the store, I put the lobster in the kitchen sink. Comicbook Crook peered in and named our dinner Pinchy. I’ve never named my dinner, but I thought it was a very clever name and was happy my boyfriend was so creative. While I poured through recipes, trying to figure out how to expand a lobster for one into a grand dinner for two, Comicbook Crook conversed with our meal, always referring to it by name, Pinchy.

loster in a sink

I brought a giant pot of water to a raging boil and suggested he step away so scalding water didn’t splash him when I put the lobster in. Comicbook Crook insisted he wanted to watch and learn. He said goodbye to the lobster. Then I plunged it head first into the boiling water. No sooner had I covered the pot, from the corner of my eye, I saw Comicbook Crook streak away. I found him in the dark dining room perched on a stool, crying.

A wave of emotions swept over me.

 

 

It was mostly anger.

Comicbook Crook was ruining my very first Valentine’s Day. What the hell!? I was the hatchet man for our lobster, yet I was consoling an innocent bystander. I explained the lobster was killed in the most humane way possible. I smiled and through clenched teeth told him I loved him and wished him a Happy Valentine’s Day.

I served our meal with heart-shaped toast points. Being sure that there wasn’t any crust in sight, I ate all of them for my appetizer.

Dinner Plated

My very first Valentine’s Day being part of a couple wasn’t great, but it was memorable. A few months later, I got to relive the memories while Comicbook Crook and I were watching “The Simpsons.” Homer came into possession of a lobster and named it Pinchy.

My anger was reborn.

Not only was the message of “don’t name your food” lost on Comicbook Crook, my clever boyfriend wasn’t clever at all. He had to steal the name Pinchy, much like he stole my virginity or the way he stole comicbooks.Home Cries - Pinchy in pot

The entitlement Comicbook Crook had of taking things that weren’t his bothered me, but blatant plagiarism offended me to the core. Unsavory attributes were building up. While I was gaining more self awareness, I kept trying to come up with reasons to stay together, which was becoming harder and harder to do. Nonetheless, I had made a large emotional investment and wasn’t ready to let this one go.

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What I made for that dinner landed somewhere between lobster thermidor and lobster bisque. While the original recipe took my favorite ingredients of the two dishes from, The Joy of Cooking, Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, the recipe below is modified from a Lobster Thermidor Recipe from AllRecipes.com

INGREDIENTS
1 medium (1 1/2 pound) cooked lobster
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup vegetable stock
¼ cup white wine (I prefer something sweet like Moscato)
½ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese (can replace with Guyere)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

ingewiwnra

Alternates:
Add sprig fresh thyme
Or 1 pinch coarsely ground nutmeg… If you’re adding nutmeg, leave out the parsley.

STEP BY STEP DIRECTIONS

  1. Cook your lobster. To do this- Bring a large pot of water to a ranging boil. Add salt (about a table spoon). Put your lobster in head first and cover. Cook 15 minutes. Remove when lobster is bright red. (For more lobster cooking tips go to localfoods.about.com)
    how-to-cook-lobster-1
  2. In a large saucepan over a low heat, melt butter. Caramelize the shallots. This takes will take a long time. (This is when it’s good to have a glass of wine going.) It feels like it’s taking forever, but that’s because it is. Don’t worry about it. You’re pulling out the stops, it’s Valentine’s Day. As the shallots brown, stir more frequently.
    cooking with wine
  3. Mix in the vegetable stock and white wine. Bring to a boil.
  4. Add heavy cream, mustard, lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper.
  5. Lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook the sauce for 20 minutes, stirring frequently. This is a reduction sauce; again, patience is mandatory.Cream sauce
  6. Remove meat from lobster and cut into pieces slightly bigger than bite-size.
  7. Add lobster meat and Parmesan cheese to mixture. Cover and simmer for another 10 minutes.
    simmer cream sauce

*Note: If your cream sauce is not thickening, in a seperate bowl mix 1 teaspoon corn starch with ¼ cup vegetable stock. Slowly add to your to skillet. It will thicken up. Continue cooking without a lid.

TIPS:
Variations on a theme: Serve with toast points, powdered biscuits or wrap in crepes.

Serve the dish with a lemon wedge. (Click here to learn more about the traditions and reasons why lemon and seafood are paired together.)

With all the cream and the richness of the lobster, I prefer to pair this dish with a wilted spinach salad. It complements the cream sauce while giving your eyes something more to look than just a plate of white food. To enhance the flavor, I top the salad with lemon zest.
wilted spinach salad

Budget 3-4 hours for this dish. While relatively easy, all the chopping, boiling and slow cooking makes for a time-consuming meal. Again, it’s Valentine’s Day. Go big or go home.

*8 FOODS TO GIVE YOURSELF OR YOUR NEW ENGLAND LOVER

You might have noticed a few ads or point of purchase marketing reminding you Valentine’s Day is near. Skimming over early history of St. Valentine, how Valentine’s Day is celebrated has changed. Let’s face it February 14 is filled with so much anxiety, you need need Tums to get through it, regardless if you’re in a relationship or not.

Valentine’s Day does not need to be like that. One friend asked me to write a post “for the rest of us.” Traditionally February 14 celebrates romantic love; let’s modernize it and take time to celebrate our friendships and self love.

I have two groups of friends and family: Those that live in Los Angeles and Those that don’t. While I have friends that come from such places as Oklahoma or Michigan, most of my Los Angeles friends are from the Northeast. We’re like magnets and simply attract one another.

This past Christmas, one New England transplant friend gave me a gift bag of all foods New England. While I’d like to stare at the New Englandness of it, I know eating and sharing the thoughtfully selected food will bring back great memories, both for me and others.

Since we live in a world of countdown lists, here are some of my top New England food picks for celebrating love on February 14.

8. Dunkin’ Donuts

Up until the recent opening of Dunkin’ Donuts in Santa Monica, coffee-loving-donut-craving transplants living in Los Angeles had methods to bring back their DnD contraband.  We insisted the DnD coffee sold in local L.A stores didn’t taste the same as what was sold in New England shops, so we encouraged loving family members to ship coffee. But now, we can go to DnD on Wilshire Blvd, to get our fix.  (It may be necessary to gather loved-ones and make a trip next weekend to get a Boston Kreme Donut.)
dunkin-donuts

7Bell’s Seasoning

It’s available year-round in New England, but during the holidays it’s as common as Salvation Army Santas. I celebrated my first Los Angeles Thanksgiving with other displaced New Englanders. During menu planning we quickly learned Los Angeles doesn’t believe in Bell’s Seasoning. One friend called home, had his mother ship a box and provide the family stuffing recipe. (This happened to be the same family recipe as my family and others’ seated at the table. It seemed everyone’s grandma went to Boston Cooking School and riped-off  the stuffing recipe.)

Bells Seasoning
6. Mrs. Fanning’s Pickles

For many, mayonnaise is a natural complement to the sandwich, but for me it’s the pickle. And, when we’re talking pickles, I prefer Mrs. Fanning’s bread ‘n’ butter pickles. They are made from the larger pickling cucumber and have a thickness that holds up to the heartiest of sandwiches. Sandwich and pickles is a great summer weekend lunch, but if we’re going to go a step further in being purely New England, I like enjoying them while taking in a little Red Sox baseball. (Spring training is around the corner, and if I can’t wait I can always rewind my VHS of the 2004 MLB playoffs and World Series.)

mrs-fannings-bread-n-34941

5. Friendly’s Hot Fudge

To give you some context, Friendly’s is a restaurant. It is really an ice cream parlor meets diner. Ice cream creations are the focus. The meals themselves are good, but you really remember the different ways of presenting and consuming sundaes. The best part about the sundae is the hot fudge. Even though Friendly’s themselves are dying across New England, it seems you can still find hot fudge in many local grocery stores… Thick and gooey. Just the right amount of sweet and bitter to contrast the sweet of ice cream. The hot fudge has a consistency more akin to fudge than to the syrup you can squeeze out of a Hershey’s bottle. (Nothing against Hershey’s, it’s just not the same.)

friendlys-sign-240em100511

4. Drake’s Cakes

The rhyme scheme of the company name is just one thing that makes me happy about this company.  They have an impressive roster of cakes with various fillings and frostings. Among New Englanders, there is debate about which is the best confection. Since this is MY countdown list, rounding out My top favorites are The Yoddle with a ganache type exterior and creme filling, the traditional chocolate Drake Cake with the whipped center. When I get these, they are a “open in case of emergency” item that I keep on the top shelf in my kitchen. Emergency can qualify as- I need dessert, I’m too tired to make dinner, I need to stay up late and write a blog post…

Drakes Cakes

3. Fluff

Let’s get this straight. Liquid marshmallow is not the same as Marshmallow Fluff. When I visit Connecticut I buy a vat to bring back to Los Angeles. I am parsimonious with my Fluff, so the vat usually is enough for my baking and hot cocoa needs until I can go back to CT (or my family ships more).

Like Duct Tape, Fluff is good for everything and can fix almost anything, including a broken heart. It’s also great when you’re happy. I share my Fluff with New England friends (since they’re the only ones that truly understand) and if I deem a new person worthy enough, they may get a spoonful too.

Fluff

There are a number of recipes that you can make with Fluff: classic Rice Krispy treat, variations of fudge or a new favorite, from Shaken Together Life, a Fluffernutter with peanut butter cookies. Thanks Keri!

http://www.shakentogetherlife.com/2011/07/taste-this-tuesday-fluffernutter.html

fluffernutter sandwich cookie

2. Prince Pasta

If you grew up in New England, you grew up watching commercials of Anthony scampering through the North End after his mom yelled for him to come home for dinner. (It was Wednesday, and Wednesday is Prince Spaghetti night.)

Apropos of no occasion the same sweet friend that gave me New England food for Christmas dug into her ration and gave me a box of Prince Pasta that her family brought during a visit. (Not only is this purely New England, you and I both know that pasta does not travel well so the generosity felt extra special.)

And the best New England food/brand for Valentine’s Day–

1. Necco Candies

NECCO stands for New England Confectionary Company. It’s the oldest candy company in the U.S and it is responsible for the Sweet Hearts embossed with those cutesy sayings for Valentine’s Day. Some say the candies are filling breakers, but I actually like them, as long as you’re not making me eat the purple.

Sweethearts

These sweets are also gluten-free AND Kosher. No IBS for your Celiac or wheat-sensitive loved one. Mazel tov!

*I am not getting a kickback from this, but I want to point out if you’re living away from the brands you grew up cherishing or want to lavish someone with home foods, FAMOUS FOODS is a great resource to purchase regional brands.

*CRUSH YOUR HEART VALENTINE’S DAY SPECIAL

My longing desire to date was fed by the popular Christian Slater romance films of the 1990s. Like most teenage girls who like boys, I crushed on unattainable ones, particularly the letterman basketball player (a junior) who was in my upper-division “Great Books” English class, (he did a brilliant report on Thomas Mann).  The seats and tables were arranged in a hippy circle, so we all faced one another. I spent the better part of my sophomore year staring at him.

Despite my lack of coordination, a friend encouraged me to join the basketball cheerleaders. Cheering didn’t affect my social status or lack there of. Nobody cared about cheer (it was only in its second year at my school), but I got to ogle, I mean cheer, during his games. Cheering for the team by extension brought me closer to him.

For Valentine’s Day, I decided to make gift bags of Hershey’s hugs and kisses, sealing each with curling ribbon. I gave them to the friends (that I barely spoke to) and saved one for the letterman. I carefully crafted the words that would accompany my gift, but shyness overcame me each time I could have given him the chocolates.

 Image

The big game against our rival was that night. It was heated. Players on both sides were ejected, including the letterman. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was completely within his right to throw the ball at the face of the opponent; the other guy fouled him first! I don’t remember if we won or lost. My heart ached from sadness because this ejection meant he’d be benched for several games.

After the basketball game everyone piled into cars and hitched rides to the hockey rink to cheer on our classmates and watch fights that wouldn’t end in ejection.

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He was there too… huddled amongst his teammates and mere feet from where I was standing. I was emotionally and physically frozen. How was I going to do this? I gave myself a pep talk.

First period ended. The chocolates remained in my coat pocket.

Second period ended. I inched closer.

Somewhere during the third period I managed to hand him the bag of un-melted chocolates with crimpled ribbon. My carefully crafted message escaped my memory, and I blurted out, “I’m sorry you got ejected!”

He took the chocolates; said, “thanks,” trying to stifle laughter and passed them out to his friends, who clearly were amused by my lameness.

I didn’t regret giving him the chocolates. My only regret was that he was a junior and the greater embarrassment came from having to see him for another year and a half before he graduated and got out of my life.

CRUSH YOUR HEART VALENTINE’S DAY RECIPE

Put Hershey’s Hugs & Kisses in a baggie. Tie with decorative ribbon. Serve to an un-attainable crush in front of lots of people. Wait for laughter. Embarrassment soon follows.