There was a time in my life – probably high school – when I actually got excited about Valentine’s Day. Wondering if I’d get a card or chocolates or one of those weird pink carnations that ‘Student Council’ used to sell to make money. (Mainly bought by girls, for girls, if memory serves.)
Nearly twenty years later, Valentine’s Day barely registers on my radar screen. And only because I now have to (help) make valentines for G’s (pre)school friends. If it weren’t for that, I probably wouldn’t even remember there was such a celebration.
Sometimes I do feel guilty about the lack of effort around our house on this (admittedly contrived) occasion. I mean, I just don’t think it’s particularly romantic, or even fun, to spend Valentine’s Day….taking your kid to the doctor because he’s been coughing for over a month, or traipsing behind your nearly eighteen month old in a bookstore trying to while away the hour plus wait at the doctor’s office. Or, after yet another diagnosis-free visit to the doctor, taking two little people to Petland to look at fish, and rodents and birds and puppies.
By the end of the night, as I was making crepes for dinner, I was feeling kind of bummed that our Valentine’s Day had been a tad lame. But then G decided – as though he knew it was time to step up – to make me a valentine. He found a little flower hole punch gadget and proceeded to make about a hundred tiny flowers. Which his dad helped him affix to a heart-shaped piece of construction paper.
It figures that Jason would come up with a simpler, far cuter valentine than the watercolor ones we made earlier in the week. Next year he’s on valentine duty.
The Hen also made me a card – but not by choice. I’m guessing his dad handed him the same pink heart and a purple marker and urged him to make a few marks. As good dads do. Not to be outdone by his sons, and succumbing to the unsubtle hints being dropped in his direction, Jason also went to work making a card for me.
I mean, I had put forth a teensy amount of effort for him. I’d made his favorite macaroni and cheese for dinner the previous night. And I’d even done (half of) the dishes the next day. That is nothing if not complete love and devotion.
The story behind the macaroni and cheese recipe is actually pseudo romantic, and is directly linked to the day of Cupid.
When we lived in Minneapolis – more than seven years ago now – Jason and I would frequent a restaurant called Cafe Barbette…frequently. This was in the days before we had children, when we didn’t have to think twice about going out to eat on a Friday or Saturday night.
The restaurant served the best macaroni and cheese and pommes frites with saffron aioli. I don’t even want to know the amount of calories and fat grams present in those two dishes combined, because I don’t think it’s possible to do retroactive sit-ups at this point.
When we moved to London, there was no more Cafe Barbette. And Jason would mope about this fact sometimes, making sad remarks about how he wished he could just have some of that mac ‘n cheese. So I got a very bright idea. In October of 2002, I sent a letter to the esteemed restaurant and its then chef Lisa Carlson. I explained how we had visited Cafe Barbette all the time but were now unable to on account of the whole London business. I practically begged for the recipe, telling her it would make my husband so happy if I could make him his most favorite dish on Valentine’s Day. As in, the following February – 2003 – four months away.
I really thought my poignant letter would get a response. I thought she would take pity on this pathetic woman who wrote her all the way from the UK for a lousy recipe.
But as usually happens when I think something will go a certain way, it didn’t. I got absolutely no response. Valentine’s Day arrived, and I ended up having to make do with a Martha Stewart recipe. Which was good enough to lessen my sadness that my story hadn’t had a happy ending.
Fast forward to about a YEAR later. One day, out of the blue, I received an email at work. From esteemed chef Lisa Carlson. If I remember correctly, she explained she was traveling. No longer working at Cafe Barbette. She promised to send me the recipe as soon as possible.
I didn’t hear from her again.
Until two months or so later, when I was on maternity leave with my firstborn. She’d sent me the recipe all the way from Thailand.
I’ve been making it ever since, though only for Jason’s birthday and Valentine’s Day. And preferably when other people can help eat it.
Macaroni and Cheese
(Recipe by Chef Lisa Carlson, formerly from Café Barbette)
16 oz Sharp white cheddar cheese
1 qt heavy cream
1 tsp cayenne pepper
¼ lb butter
½ cup flour
½ cup parmesan
¼ cup white onion
5 dashes Tabasco sauce
16 oz cooked pasta
Saute onion in a few tablespoons of butter until translucent. Add remaining butter and melt slowly. Add flour gradually to make a roux; whisking continuously. Add cream slowly to flour paste. Season to taste with Tabasco (probably more than 5 dashes), cayenne, salt, and pepper. Add cheeses. Add pasta and bake at 350 degrees until bubbly. Serve with more Tabasco sauce and eat right away, so you don’t see the pools of grease on top 🙂