Romance for Two

Love and Flaming Brandy—by Mariann James, the mother

Valentine's Day is one of those holidays that can be stressful early in a relationship. I think people tend to judge their connection with their significant other based on how well s/he celebrates Valentine's Day.

Chuck and I had been married for at least 10 years and had two of our now four girls. I was teaching and taking care of the girls and Chuck was an attorney and had a late meeting. One would think that by this time I would have accepted the fact that we were busy, and going out on the town on this "Red Holiday" wasn't as important as it had been early in our relationship.

But dorky as it sounds, I decided I would put the girls to bed at 8 o'clock, put a white tablecloth on the table with some red candles, the good china, put a fire in the fire place and fix a special dinner.

When planning any kind of special meal, I find that many times I start with the dessert. This time was no exception. I knew it had to be something chocolate. So, I went with a chocolate cheesecake. I made it the day before when I got home from work and managed to hide it in the bottom crisper of the refrigerator. Talk about rich! But it was a showstopper!

I decided that I wanted the main course to be simple, yet elegant. While the girls ate their mac and cheese, I put together a potato gratin with garlic and thyme. It was easy enough to put together, and was ready to put in the oven an hour before Chuck and I were ready to eat. I made a fresh salad and ranch dressing from the Hidden Valley packet. Now that is going the extra mile, don't you think? I picked up some fresh green beans and put toasted almonds and butter on them.

Soon it was 7:30 and Chuck came home from work. He saw the table set with the china and candles. He smiled, and showed me a bouquet of roses. Yea! I started thinking this would probably be one of our best!! We quickly kissed the girls goodnight and tucked them in bed. It was now time for the main event.

I had decided to do strip steaks with mushrooms, thyme, and brandy. I had always grilled steaks outside on the grill and was nervous about doing these inside. However, after the steaks and mushrooms were cooked and I added the flaming brandy, the crowd (Chuck) started cheering and I knew I had a hit.

Dinner was perfect and we got to spend some quality time without having to go out, fight crowds, and get a sitter. Now, after 28 years, I finally don't stress about Valentine's Day.

Check out Mariann's Valentine's Day menu!»


Sleepless In Seattle and Chocolate Pudding—by Sarah James, the daughter

When I was a little girl, Valentine's Day meant a Snoopy card from my parents and a little box of chocolates. As a teenager, it became a holiday that I would begin to resent. I sat in quiet envy as the girls in my classes would receive chocolate roses and Valentines from boys at other schools. In college, I sat in my dorm room, waiting for my girlfriends to come back from their romantic dinners, glaring at the giant bouquets of roses sitting on their book-cluttered desks.

February 14th, 2008, however, was different. This was the first Valentine's Day that I was part of a "couple." I was nervous about what I should expect. Was this evening going to be like what I've seen in the movies? Bouquets of 12 stem roses and candlelit dinner? Or was it going to be an afterthought? I decided that I didn't want the evening to become the latter and so I took matters into my own hands.

I knew right from the start that I wanted to make dinner instead of going out to some over-priced restaurant. I remembered how my Mom would cook romantic dinners for my Dad. Candles, music, she pulled out all the stops. I decided I would do the same. I skimmed various cookbooks and cooking magazines in search of the perfect Valentine menu. I settled on tasty shrimp scampi, my signature tomato, cucumber and feta cheese salad, soft Italian bread, and Ben's favorite, chocolate pudding with Milano cookies. Simple, delicious, and no hassle.

After choosing my menu, I decided that I wanted to surprise him at his apartment. Since he lives in a studio, there wasn't room for a dining room table, so I draped a red tablecloth over the coffee table and placed small white tea candles down the center. I grabbed throw pillows and placed them around the table for more comfortable seating.

As six o'clock drew closer, I became very nervous. I wanted everything to be perfect. Around 5:45, I poured myself a glass of wine and turned on some smooth Frank Sinatra. As I was working with the shrimp for the pasta, I heard the front door open. He was home early!!

At first I was disappointed, that everything wasn't ready when he walked in the door, but Ben kept saying that it was perfect as is. We got comfortable on the pillows and tucked into the meal. Ben smiled and said how great it was to spend the evening at home, together, without the crowds and traffic. We could just cuddle up at home and watch Sleepless in Seattle. It was a perfect movie-esque Valentine's Day, just as I had imagined.

Check out Sarah's Valentine's Day menu!»


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