Full disclosure, this is not the post I had in mind to write. I had started another one but it will take more time and I’m already behind. Besides, this one will relate to it — after the fact — and it’s timely to make the Love Connection with Valentine’s Day right around the corner.
I’ve never been a big Valentine’s fan because I’m one of those who believes it’s a made up “Hallmark” celebration to drive sales for certain items, like cards, chocolates, flowers, restaurants and even hotels, among other things. It’s quite a marketer’s dream — for this day in age. However, it does have significant history and pretty gruesome at that. Not only going back to St. Valentine, who was supposedly martyred because he denounced Emperor Claudius’ ruling in the 3rd century that forbade young single men from marrying because they should become soldiers instead. Valentine continued to perform marriages and Claudius had him put to death but another theory suggests he was killed because he may have helped Christians escape harsh Roman torture during their imprisonment. Prior to this, the holiday has it roots in even bloodier pagan rituals that you can read more about here.
In light of this, I like the fact that it is now known for love letters and such. Every now and then I’m willing to comply with the tradition. I just purchased some of my favorite artisan chocolates from Fleurir, a local hand-made chocolatier.
We had Fleurir chocolates put in the welcome bags for out-of-town guest over a year ago for my son’s wedding and I’ve been purchasing them ever since. They are constantly coming up with something new. The latest is their Wine Bar. I also gave this to my son and daughter-in-law for their first year wedding anniversary (in a brown bag, which is the traditional first year anniversary gift). Now it’s time for Peter and me to sample ourselves and this time the wine pairings will come with it. Here’s a little more about the Fleurir story and one of their famous chocolate recipes to boot!
If I didn’t have so much King Cake left over from Mardi Gras this past Fat Tuesday, I’d be making these chocolates right now.
I’m still coming down from Tuesday’s fun celebration with my book group ladies, as I just happened to be assigned this day to host. It was fun and even the prep was engaging because I planned ahead and didn’t rush it. I made jambalaya the day before, so the flavors would set in, and the famous Chef Susan Spicer’s Bayona’s Pecans the weekend before. Both of these packed a nice New Orleans savory (and sweet) spicy punch. I also prepared most of the “confetti” salad (simply thrown together peas, corn, some chopped tomatoes and scallions and a little salt and pepper) beforehand, adding the chopped steamed beets (that I did ahead) at the last minute. Luckily, the recipe for the wonderful roasted spiced chickpeas that I first had at Blue Jacket came to me in the Washington Post Food section the week before. Blue Jacket is a relatively new restaurant (2 years) in the up and coming Capitol Riverfront district. It happens to be owned by The Neighborhood Restaurant Group, in which a childhood camp friend is one of the initial founders and part owner. She’s from New Orleans too. Small world that it may be.
My group celebrated the seasonal holiday with all this good food, assorted wines and Abita beer, of course. We capped it off with King Cake shipped from Caluda’s (Nanny Randazzo’s ex-wife, Dianne’s recipe, btw, but she had to change the name. Hers is just as good and no wait or exorbitant cost) and a little Cardamaro to finish.
The whole delicious cake looked much like Antoine’s version below with the white icing but extra moist, stuffed with cream cheese and dutch apple filling. Scrumptious and some of the best I’ve had! This is the second year I’ve ordered and may make it a tradition. Gambino’s, for the record, the bakery I grew up on, has the best Russian and Doberge cakes, so have to give them and Haydel’s, another old-time favorite, some credit.
Sorry I forgot to take my own pictures of the meal. Needless to say, it was a fun Fat Tuesday book discussion, but more on that later.
‘Til then, Happy Valentine’s Day and hope you enjoy yours with your love connection.