Once upon a time, wasn't Valentine's Day fun?
Maybe you cut out construction paper hearts and glued them onto doilies, writing special messages for each one you sent. Or spread out every single Valentine in the pack, choosing your favorites for your best friend and your best two boyfriends or girlfriends.
You stuffed the cards into the big classroom mailbox (usually a decorated cardboard carton with a slot cut in the top) and hoped that everybody to whom you sent a card sent you one, too. Especially him. Especially her.
Somebody brought cupcakes with pink icing to school, and somebody else brought heart-shaped cookies sprinkled with red sugar. Inevitably, three or four bags of the candy hearts with messages on them got passed around. ("Be mine." "U R 2 Sweet." "Luv U.") Cinnamon hearts, too.
Then the Grinch got greedy and couldn't stop at ruining Christmas. Now all the kid Valentines seem to be tied to some movie, NBA star or other huge money-making machine.
Even if kids or parents cook neat stuff at home, you're not supposed to take it to school. Only grocery-store deli goodies, safely boxed and shrink-wrapped, need apply.
For grown-ups, the Valentine's Day rule book, produced by retailers everywhere, requires the following:
Mandatory _ One dozen red roses, at least. A slurpy card.
Optional _ Champagne. Chocolates. Boxer shorts imprinted with crimson hearts. A scarlet nightie. A romantic dinner, preferably by candlelight, at an elegant, expensive restaurant.
Valentine's anxiety sets in. You haven't a sweetheart. You haven't the budget for roses or a big fancy dinner. He prefers briefs. She's on a diet. They're on the wagon.
Here's a plan.
Become a kid again. Get into the kitchen and rattle those pots and pans. If you have children, enlist their help. Whip up some holiday fun!
Savory valentine food
Veggie Platter: Use red and white vegetables, such as radishes, red peppers, cherry tomatoes, peeled cucumbers, cauliflower, pickled beets.
Bread Hearts: Use a cookie cutter to cut heart shapes from bread slices, top with pimiento cheese and broil. Or spread cream cheese onto the bread shapes. (Color it pink with beet juice or a few drops of red food coloring.)
Pizza: Make the dough into a heart shape (if you can't stretch the dough, make it the same as a Valentine cake, described below). Use a white cheese.
Barbecued Chicken Breasts: Use whole boneless skinless chicken breasts, spread open into a heart shape.
Sweet valentine food
Heart-Shaped Cake. Bake one layer in an 8-inch round pan and one in an 8-inch square pan.
Cut the circle in half; place the halves against two adjoining sides of the square to form a heart. (Of course, just use a heart-shaped baking pan if you have one.)
Use white frosting and decorate with red candy hearts. Stand valentines up in frosting.
Sugar Cookies: Cut in heart shapes. Decorate with red-tinted sugar or candy hearts, if desired. Bake. If you'd prefer to decorate them with icing, do that after they've cooled.
Rosy Cinnamon Applesauce: Mix one 24-ounce jar unsweetened applesauce, 1 tablespoon red-hot candies and [ teaspoon ground cinnamon together in a saucepan over medium heat. Stir until candies are melted, about 3 minutes. Let cool a bit and serve slightly warm, or cover and refrigerate to serve chilled.
Quick Desserts: Top angel food cake, pink or white frozen yogurt or ice cream with red berries. Add whipped cream or topping.
Hot and Spicy: Mix equal amounts of cranberry and apple juice with a few whole cloves, two cinnamon sticks and a few raisins. Heat and serve in teacups or mugs.
Cool and Fruity: Make ice cubes out of cran/raspberry juice. Use the cubes in pink grapefruit juice. Or mix plain seltzer with a red juice.
Sources: American Heart Association Kids' Cookbook (Random House, 1993; $15); The Fannie Farmer Junior Cookbook by Joan Scobey (Fannie Farmer Cookbook Corp., 1993; $19.95); Reader's Digest Family Traditions: Celebrations for Holidays and Everyday by Elizabeth Berg (A Reader's Digest Book, 1992).