The logo for my catering company, Bonnie Fare Catering, which specialized in at-home dinners and cocktail parties in Manhattan and operated from 1986 to ’96, was a place setting with a red-tartan heart in the center of a dinner plate. The tagline read, “Bonnie Fare means good food.” What the logo’s design clearly hoped to convey was that I put my heart into my cooking. Because I did.
“Everything is fresh and homemade,” my advertising copy also read, and this was completely true. I made everything myself – including the little heart-shaped Scottish shortbread cookies that were a nod to my Scots heritage — for the joy of it, because I loved to cook. (Recipe follows.)
I’d changed careers at forty, going from being a well paid writer and editor in the New York corporate world to being a self-employed caterer in the New York food world, because I was hungry for what a new, culinary career had to offer.
As I wrote in my memoir How to Cook a Crocodile, which chronicles my subsequent transition from New York caterer to Peace Corps volunteer in the rainforest of Gabon, I’d started Bonnie Fare Catering in 1986 also because “I wanted to work with my hands in the realm of the tangible and meaningful. I wanted to immerse myself in the colors, flavors, aromas, and textures of the dishes I created.” Plus, I needed to pretend that my clients — and the young people who worked for me — were my family and I was cooking for, and with, them out of love.
And, being a somewhat romantic, single, youngish woman at the time, in a city not known for its soft and tender heart, I confess I went a little overboard with the heart theme, like a devout missionary intent on spreading the gospel of love.
All throughout the year, my handsome, smiling waiters served hors d’oeuvres on heart-shaped copper trays. I made individual coeurs a la crème desserts in traditional heart-shaped molds, swimming in a pool of red raspberry sauce. I baked a fresh batch of my small, heart-shaped, sugarcoated Scottish shortbread cookies to accompany every party’s after-dinner coffee service.
Of course, when Valentine’s Day, which has always been my favorite holiday of the year, rolled around, I’d go all out. I might, for example, make individual raspberry-studded tartlets in heart shapes, or a simpler variation in a round, 9-inch tart shell to be shared with special friends. (These recipes can be found in Sweet Tarts for My Sweethearts, pages 24-26.)
Last year at this time my dear friend and former head waiter/captain of Bonnie Fare Catering, actor-director Michael Marotta, did a YouTube video for his ongoing delightful series, “What Would Michael Do?,” showing his viewers how to bake my shortbread heart cookies. So whatever you do – and wherever you are now – be sure to watch Michael having fun making these nostalgic cookies for the first time: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7K0Jf40Jnw .
I would, of course, be remiss if I didn’t mention that Sweet Tarts for My Sweethearts: Stories and Recipes from a Culinary Career (from which parts of this post are excerpted) would make an ideal little Valentine’s gift for the sweethearts in your life who enjoy baking, or reading true stories, or both!
Sweet Tarts is available directly from the publisher, Nighthawk Press, at www.nighthawkpress.com, or from Amazon.com, in both print and Kindle (full color) editions at:
In Taos, NM, it’s available at SOMOS. Or if you, like me, now live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, Sweet Tarts is for sale at the Tesoros gift shop in the Biblioteca on Insurgentes, at the La Conexion office on Aldama, at Casa de la Noche on Organos, or directly from me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Happy Valentine’s Day! Now here is my Valentine’s gift for you:
Bonnie Fare Shortbread Hearts
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temp.
½ cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup cornstarch
- Cream the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla together until light and fluffy.
- Sift the flour and cornstarch together.
- Gently combine the two mixtures, wrap the dough in plastic wrap, and chill until firm.
- On a lightly floured board, roll out the dough to about ¼-inch thick; sprinkle surface with granulated sugar.
- Cut the dough into heart shapes and place hearts on an ungreased cookie sheet.
- Bake in a preheated 325-degree (F.) oven for about 25-30 minutes, until very pale golden.
- Cool cookies on a rack. Store in an airtight container at room temp.