When I was younger and more romantic, Valentine’s Day was my favorite holiday of the year. I’d go all out – wearing heart-shaped rhinestone-studded jewelry, baking rich heart-shaped shortbread cookies, donning my favorite, sexy, fire-engine-red Ann Taylor dress, making and mailing Valentine’s cards to all my dear ones. And on and on.
This behavior no doubt stemmed from my childhood, when my young and spirited mom went a little crazy on this occasion too. She’d decorate the house with hearts, bake a big pink layer cake and dot the fluffy icing with Red Hots candies, cover a large cardboard box with white crepe paper slathered with red construction-paper hearts, and have each of us kids create cards for every family member – with crayon drawings of cupids and arrows and countless little frilly hearts, reading “Will you be my Valentine?” and “I LOVE you!” and “Guess Who?” – and drop them into the box’s slot on the top, to be opened and distributed after the Valentine’s Day cake was served.
It was a day of love and fun and creativity, a refreshing change from the bellicosity that often prevailed under that roof.
Much later, when I was a caterer in New York, I made a red tartan heart design central to my company’s logo, signifying my then-passion for cooking and my heart’s devotion to the craft.
And, being a 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. 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. (See recipe below.)
Now that I’m retired and living in beautiful old San Miguel de Allende in the central mountains of Mexico, a city in fact known as “El Corazón de Mexico” (the heart of Mexico), every day feels like Valentine’s Day to me. There are hearts everywhere you look. “Mi corazón” (my heart) is a term of endearment frequently used between sweethearts and by parents toward their young children. Love is always in the air.
On a short stroll through SMA’s artisanal market recently, I encountered countless hearts in all of the many shops and booths there. Here are just a few:
I seem to have outgrown the need for romance, and I don’t really miss it. Instead, my heart is filled with gratitude now. I’m immensely grateful to be here in this embracing city, in this wise old country, among its kind, good-hearted people. And, at this age and stage, I’m working on enlarging my compassion and wisdom.
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Happy Valentine’s Day to all this week! Here is my Valentine’s Day recipe-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.
Be sure to watch my dear friend and former Bonnie Fare head waiter, Michael Marotta, make these shortbread hearts in this “What Would Michael Do?” YouTube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A7K0Jf40Jnw .
And for more sweet recipes for all occasions, see my newest book, Sweet Tarts for My Sweethearts: Stories and Recipes from a Culinary Career (Nighthawk Press, 2021). Sweet Tarts is available directly from the publisher at: www.nighthawkpress.com, or from Amazon.com, in both print and Kindle (full color) editions at: