Friday, December 23, 2016

Reflections on Christmas Eve eve...

It's the eve of the merriest holiday of the year, and I'm in a good spot.  I have the day off from work, which I took believing that I would have a slew of last minute wrapping, flower-arranging, baking and vinaigrette-making to do.  But the last of the gifts I ordered online arrived and was wrapped and put under the tree yesterday, my late mother's traditional persimmon cookies have all been baked and shipped with other gifts to family in northern California, and the hearty, garlicky mustard vinaigrette that I make every year to share with my neighbors is all bottled and gift-bagged and ready for door-to-door distribution on Christmas Eve. This year I added tiny Tobler chocolates and a satchel of pumpkin seeds to every gift bag, the seeds roasted with hickory smoked salt, Worcestershire sauce and butter, yet another recipe of my beloved mom's. And all the evergreens I've been collecting from my two-acre property, supplemented with magnolia and other seasonal branches and berries from a local topiary garden, have been set into vases as gifts for my manicurist, my hair stylist and my friend, Anna, who I visited on my lunch hour yesterday at the nursing home where she has lived since 2009.

So here I am, feeling very good about the holiday. I managed to design, produce, address and mail my Christmas cards (390 of them) to beloved friends and family in 30 states and seven foreign countries a full four days earlier than last year. I made cookies for the mailman, wrapped a case of beer for the garbage men, and took a beautiful bûche de noël and a vase of greens to my manicurist on Wednesday. My house is all decorated and so is the yard. 

This year I used fresh greens to make my own arrangements for 22 window boxes and hanging baskets around the perimeter of my home, and I must say that I am very pleased with how it all looks. My plan is to remove the Christmas lights after the holiday and leave the evergreens and berries in the flower boxes to cheer me all through the winter.

So here I am, with the day off from work and a rare gift of time to reflect upon and appreciate my happy circumstance. Mind you, I am not without anything to do. My dentist has arranged for a professional photographer to take some glamour shots of me (my teeth, specifically) this afternoon for her updated website. Once the photographer saw a photograph of my old farmhouse, he asked to do the shoot at my home, so he will be here at 4:00.  I have an appointment with my hairdresser at 2:00 and then will do my makeup and get dressed for the shoot. But these are all happy, fun things to look forward to!

I didn't expect to have a full morning to relax so close to Christmas.  I expected to be downright  frantic as I rushed around finishing a million little things.  So I've taken a few minutes this morning to write a post for my blog, something I have not had a spare moment to do in almost two years.  And now I think I'm going to take this happy accident of extra time and indulge in a luxurious bubble bath in my newly revamped master bathroom, last year's major (time consuming) home improvement project. What a special gift of relaxation that will be!

Merry Christmas to each and every one of you. I wish for you all a new year filled with peace and happiness and, most of all... time to appreciate what a good life this really is.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Blue Ice And Wind

The end of February was bitterly cold, so I searched my closet for outfits that long underwear could be worn beneath without adding much bulk, since my work commute from northwest Baltimore County, Maryland, to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. requires walking outside at both ends of the trip as well as standing on an elevated outdoor platform to await a subway train.  I found the perfect foil in a pair of super-wide belled jeans that were custom made for me from a pair I loved that disintegrated shortly after I bought them (see Hanging By A Thread).  

Besides, I was eager to have another excuse to wear this adorable sweater by My Collection, with its icy blue stripes and unusual muff-style front pocket.  The super-wide, three-quarter length Dolman sleeves complemented my wide bellbottoms and make the piece even more atypical, connected the way they are to the side seams of the sweater clear down to the hem.  This could have made the top a bit awkward to wear, since raising one’s arms means the entire sweater rises up.  However, the fabulous color variegation in the yarn, from gray to light blue to navy, makes it easy to layer the unique pullover with a variety of long-sleeve Tees.  On this day I chose a gray, ribbed knit Tee by Faded Glory, which allowed me to raise and lower my arms at will without worry about exposing myself to the harsh winter elements.

This fabulous sweater was a recent gift from Joyce, the mother of my best friend, Kari.  Joyce sent me the top in a box of gently-used clothing she no longer wore.  I was thrilled to get everything in the box, but this sweater really called out to me because of its extraordinary design.
Robinson's department store in Pasadena, California,
was a frequent destination of my mother and
grandmother when I was growing up

I pulled comfortable booties by Pink & Pepper over thick ski socks and played up the gray in the sweater by covering my head with an heirloom mink pillbox hat by Miss Alice that my grandmother bought at J.W. Robinson’s Department store in Pasadena, California, in the 1950s (I still have the hat box it came in!), and added my grandmother’s dangly earrings -- gray pearls that I long ago converted to pierced from old-fashioned screw-backs.

After one of my black walnut trees
snapped clear in half during a
powerful wind and ice storm in
mid-February, workers from
JamesPickett's Tree Service cut it down
The severe winter ice and wind storm that swept across the eastern half of the country in mid-February wreaked mercifully little havoc on my two acres.  I lost power several times through the course of the storm’s worst 60 mile-per-hour winds and had many large limbs from broken trees to drag cross my property into piles that eventually reached far over my head.  One walnut tree, however, broke literally in half. I didn’t feel comfortable about climbing so far up into the tree by myself with a Sawzall, so I called the owner of my trusty tree service, James Pickett.  It took almost two weeks for the company to clear out their post-storm emergency tree removal work before they could get to me.  But on this frigid day at the end of the month, as I was embarking on my chilly commute to the District of Columbia, the owner’s son and a couple of helpers arrived to make short work of the shattered tree and carry away all the broken branches in my two gigantic piles. 

Let the winds howl.  I was warm and comfy in my ice-blue sweater and giant bellbottoms all the way to work and back!

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Winter Cooking Issue

My rescue kitty, Ember, "helps" me de-stem
cilantro leaves for salsa as I sip an
"appletini" made with spiced rum
and homemade apple confiture
When the temperatures plummet for weeks at a time, I turn to the stove for warmth.  Not to heat my house, but to boil and braise, bake and roast, simmer and sauté my way through the frigid season.  I put on my favorite music, tie an apron around my waist, and start stirring, mixing, spreading and folding ingredients together to form sweet and savory dishes that warm my heart and nourish my soul.

I keep the temperature quite low in my 150-year-old farmhouse in Baltimore County, Maryland, in order to save money; just barely 63 degrees during the day and a cool 49 at night (I am snuggled beneath a down comforter and flannel sheets all night, after all).  During the day, when I’m not conducting research at the Library of Congress or the National Library of Medicine in Washington D.C. on behalf of my longtime employer, I huddle at the computer in my home office wearing several layers of winter leggings, wool sweaters and thick socks.  But after only a few minutes in the kitchen on any given Sunday, with Celtic or jazz or even symphonic melodies blasting from my stereo, I gleefully shed the layers and dance from sink to stove to cutting board and fridge.  I am in my “happy place” when I’m cooking, and the glow emanating from my body as I slice and dice is an easy indication of the sheer joy I derive from this pastime.

Here, then, is a pictorial compendium of the foods I have been preparing these past few months to soothe my psyche and fill my stomach.

Butternut squash lasagna was a
good way to ward off an
early December chill
Wrapping dough around the
apples and pumpkin before
baking gives the gallette
its own edible "pie plate"
In early December I made a tasty lasagna using butternut squash instead of meat, courtesy of Food Network magazine. The result was quite good, but was a laborious process for not many fewer calories than a meat version.  For dessert I baked a rustic apple-pumpkin gallette, also from Food Network, which paired the two late autumn foods to fine effect.

Ripe persimmons, fresh ricotta cheese
and ruby pomegranate seeds combine
with arugula to make a gorgeous salad
In early January I found myself with leftover persimmons and kumquats, quite a few of both, actually.  I adore persimmons, having grown up with a persimmon tree in northern California, so I buy a whole case of them every autumn when they come into season.  Now, however, the holidays were over and I still had several left.  I searched the internet for dishes which incorporate persimmons and found a delightful recipe for a persimmon-ricotta salad at What'  I also discovered a heavenly "winter sangria" of pureed persimmons, mangoes and triple sec stirred into red wine at

Fresh kumquats were a perfect
sweet-tart note in this super-rich
dark chocolate  bark recipe
from Martha 
Low-fat ricotta tart with kumquats
was melt-in-your-mouth delicious
By the middle of January I'd unearthed ways to use up my remaining kumquats in luscious, yet calorie-conscious desserts.  First, Martha Stewart gave me decadent chocolate bark with fruit: in this case kumquats sliced razor thin and sprinkled on melted, sugar-free, extra dark chocolate I ordered from Another recipe utilized kumquats to wondrous effect in a velvety, lowfat ricotta tart.

Baked eggplant is enhanced
with fresh pomegranate seeds
As a portion of the stuffing is
scooped from inside the gourd,
I made sure to scrape out
some tender squash, too
To precede these delightful treats, I served slices of baked eggplant in a heady yogurt sauce tinged with saffron strings, and made a colorful "three-pepper" salad of match-sticked bell peppers, onions, and slivered parsley leaves tossed with a dressing of sesame oil and rice vinegar (only 93 calories per cup, according to! For another winter meal that month I stuffed acorn squash with ground pork, chopped carrots, celery and leeks seasoned with smoked paprika, garlic, rosemary and ground coriander (only 190 calories per cup), and served the gourd alongside roasted broccoli and a carrot-avocado salad.

Lean pot roast is tenderized
with soy sauce and sherry and
flavored with Asian spices
Fresh Shiitake mushrooms are
poached and tossed with
mache rosettes in a Dijon
mustard vinaigrette for this
hearty winter salad  
At the end of January I prepared a chuck roast with an Asian twist, courtesy of Wegman's supermarket menu magazine, which is published quarterly and sent to me in the mail because I am a regular shopper there.  Braised in soy sauce and sherry and seasoned with fresh ginger, ground cinnamon, star anise and garlic, the succulent beef was perfect with a poached mushroom salad, also from Wegman's menu magazine.

Lean stew meat is cooked with
bacon to add flavorful depth
Carrots and onions are simmered
in brandy before being added
to the meat
February's cold, snowy days cried out for my all-time winter favorite: Julia Child's original beef bourguignonne, a classic French peasant dish that, while no more than an elaborate stew, is so time-consuming and complex that I only have a chance to make it once a year.  For this unctuous recipe, I spent all afternoon in the kitchen, entertained by my favorite music, while I prepared the individual components that eventually combined to form the savory finale.

I have a giant metal "tea ball" which
I use for my bouquet-garni instead of
cheesecloth.  So much easier!
Once the carrots and onions are
added to the meat, the whole thing
is drenched in red wine and put in
the oven for a couple of hours
First, lean stew meat is sautéed in bacon fat for richness, then cooked with onions and carrots in burgundy and broth. To that, a bouquet-garni is added of fresh parsley, bay leaves, thyme, cloves, peppercorns, allspice and garlic and the whole thing is put into the oven for two and a half hours. Meanwhile, I blanch, peel and score a cross-hatch in the root ends of thirty or forty tiny pearl onions and sauté them in butter.  More broth is added and they simmer with a little sugar (I use Splenda) and salt for almost thirty minutes.  The third step is to sauté a pound of fresh cremini mushrooms in a little more butter, add some sliced shallots and grind in some black pepper.

Tiny pearl onions (I used red ones!)
are browned in butter and sugar
Meaty cremini mushrooms are
sautéed with shallots before
all the ingredients are combined
into a luscious stew
Once the beef comes out of the oven, I extract and de-fat the jus, then mix in a classic buerre-manie and pour the thickened sauce over the meat.  Finally, the onions and mushrooms are combined with the stew meat and the whole thing simmers on the stove awhile.  Served in wide, shallow soup plates and accompanied by a fine Pinot Noir, the mouthwatering stew is akin to a little slice of heaven on a raw winter day.  There is just nothing like it.

Cubes of butternut squash combine
with white wine to make
surprisingly hearty soup
Roasted tomatoes add a smoky
note to vegetarian chili
By the end of February, I was ready for some chili. I opted for a vegetarian version, utilizing butternut squash as a stand-in for beef and adding fresh-roasted and canned tomatoes, lentils, kidney beans and black-eyed peas, as well as white wine, tomato paste and chopped basil, parsley, minced garlic and lots of cumin powder.  I finished that hearty meal with Dulce de Leche cheesecake, a decadent but surprisingly low-calorie treat from the Splenda website, which called for low-fat cream cheese and half a can of dulce de leche (caramel sauce) in a graham-cracker crust.

I inherited my mother's prize
Le Creuset cookware and I swear
nothing beats it for making chili
The recipe for this gorgeous Dulce
de Leche cheesecake can be found
At the beginning of March I used the last of my persimmons to make a vegan vanilla persimmon-banana pudding from and topped each serving with Chia seeds for a satisfying crunch.   Now, it's time to start thinking about bright spring dishes -- pasta primavera comes to mind, that wonderful combination of barely blanched spring green beans, asparagus, baby peas and morel mushrooms, tossed with sautéed cherry tomatoes, lots of garlic, red pepper flakes and fresh basil leaves, and served over whole wheat spaghetti with a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese. Good thing I love my exercise classes as much as I do my cooking!
The ingredients for Pasta
Primavera highlight
spring's early bounty
"I am not a glutton. I am an explorer of food." ~ Erma Bombeck

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Caped Crusader

The weather was on a roll, it seemed.  Mother Nature would pack a walloping final punch of a winter storm the following day, but on this day, at the end of February, temperatures reached the mid-40s in Baltimore county, Maryland, where I live. Almost 50 degrees!  It was downright balmy compared to the sustained cold we’d endured all season in the mid-Atlantic.

I was on a roll, too.  I have a number of beautiful shawls, most of which are light, lacy confections that wouldn’t offer even a modicum of  protection from bracing air.  But I also own this gigantic, almost blanket-sized wrap in muted shades of orange and gold.  I was dying for a slightly warmer day to wear the cloak for my 90-minute commute by car, subway and foot to Washington D.C.  This last, less frigid day before another round of wintry weather arrived seemed like an ideal occasion for an enveloping cape.

I started with baggy sufi pants by medieval costumer Moresca, which would allow room for toasty long underwear beneath the trousers.  I added a simple brown sweater by Joseph A. and rich, cognac-hued riding boots by Brash which I purchased in New York City just before Christmas.  I wrapped the super-sized cape around me and let the fringe dangle.  I added a wide bracelet of pale wooden beads and a pair of earrings carved from oak to round out my look.

A chill wind picked up in the afternoon, bringing with it barometric changes that foretold the coming storm.  But I was snugly enrobed in my cocoon of soft wool, feeling as if, at any moment, the wind would fill my cape like a sail and lift me to the heavens, Flying Nun style, with fringe fluttering, where I would swiftly flit far above the commuters sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic below.  A girl can dream!

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Space And Time

Costumed characters greeted patrons at the BSO's
Sci-Fi Spectacular concert on February 22
It was an uncharacteristically mild (for February) Saturday night in Maryland.  I had tickets to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s Sci-Fi Spectacular, a program of mesmerizing compositions from such well-known movies as Star Wars, E.T., Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Since this was to be a more laid back symphonic production, conducted by the BSO’s esteemed Pops conductor Jack Everly instead of music director Marin Alsop, I chose more casual attire for the evening.

Having spent most of the afternoon attending the American Craft Council’s annual craft show at the Baltimore Convention Center, I decided the same outfit was quite appropriate (and comfortable) for the evening’s venue, as well: a pair of copper-colored BrazilRoxx jeans with shiny studwork and shimmering embroidery, paired with a gossamer shawl by Sterling Styles.  I changed only my top, switching from a simple cotton tank to a sequin-covered camisole by Ann Klein.  With glittery copper earrings from Chico’s to highlight a gorgeous electroplated oak leaf necklace from Nature's Creations which I found at the craft show, I added only a copper bracelet and a “dea dread” hair comb before making my way to the Joseph B. Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore City’s arts and culture district.

The Meyerhoff Symphony Hall is
 a study in modern architecture
A lone Storm-Trooper "guards" the
stage before the concert begins
The evening was delightful. Characters dressed in realistic costumes from various science fiction adventures greeted patrons in the lobby of the symphony hall before the concert.  As I took my seat in the beautiful and modern auditorium, which was designed and built in 1978 by the architectural firms Pietro Belluschi and Jung/Brannen Associates, an “armed” storm-trooper stood sentinel at the front of the 65- by 35-foot stage while musicians warmed up behind him with their instruments.

George Takei and Kristen
Plumley added an authentic
note to the evening
Shortly after Maestro Everly took the stage and led the orchestra through a rousing rendition of John Williams’ main Star Wars theme, we were treated to a medley of theme songs from some of the syndicated television shows of my youth, including My Favorite Martian, Lost in Space and Twilight Zone, after which members of the audience were invited to raise their hands to name at least four of the shows whose unforgettable music we had just heard.  It was a riot.

These Star Wars characters helped
put patrons in the mood for space
But the highlight for me was when George Takei took the stage to thunderous applause and, after bantering with the audience for a few minutes about how Baltimore compared to Los Angeles, narrated the introductory sequence to the original Star Trek series, “Where No Man Has Gone Before” as the orchestra played the familiar refrain in the background.  Then, just as magically, soprano Kristen Plumley, attired in Lieutenant Uhuru’s dress uniform, took her place on stage to intone the soaring melody as the orchestra enchanted the audience with the Star Trek suite. I was entranced.

Following an intermission, we were treated to compositions from The Day The Earth Stood Still, as well as additional works from Star Wars and Close Encounters. Each piece of music was accompanied by a laser show bouncing rays of colorful light off the walls and ceiling of the symphony hall. Altogether, the evening made for a spellbinding trip down memory lane – from the far reaches of the universe.

Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” ~ Star Trek’s introductory sequence, narrated by William Shatner at the beginning of all but one of the series’ original episodes.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

American Crafts

Kevin Loughran of House Jewelry, makes artisanal switch-
plates and doorbell covers, as well as other accoutrements
 for the home
In my opinion, the be-all, end-all to craft shows is the American Craft Council’s annual late winter show at the Baltimore Convention Center, the largest in the nation.  Since the first time I attended this juried event almost a decade ago, I have been blown away each year by the talent with which my countrymen (and women) are imbued.

This year’s ACC show was no exception.  And for once, Old Man Winter took a breather and allowed me to attend the event in heels and a delicate top instead of snow boots and an overcoat.  The crafts were absolutely amazing.

Over 600 booths filled the vast auditorium near Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.  Everything from textiles and art to jewelry, pottery and furniture was displayed to elegant effect. I always prepare myself to experience sensory overload.   Over the years, however, I have become accustomed to the sheer magnitude of what American crafters create out of their vivid imaginations.  So it was nice to overhear a woman exclaim to her companion upon experiencing the show for the first time that she was “overwhelmed” by all there was to take in.  Exactly.  Her comments brought back fond memories of my first time or two attending this fabulous event.  I smiled at the memory.

In celebration of the unusually mild February temperature, I pulled on a pair of BrazilRoxx jeans, handcrafted with copper studs and glittering embroidery, which I paired with a simple lace-trimmed cotton camisole by Eyeshadow and a filmy shawl by Sterling Styles, given to me by my dear friends, Robert and Jan, who themselves are loyal attendees at this event, although they always go on the day the show is open to shopkeepers who buy wholesale.  I rounded out my outfit with almond-toed platform booties from, a pair of earrings with citrine and amber stones set in silver from Fire & Ice jewelers of Baltimore, and a matching necklace from Russia featuring a hand painted ceramic brooch.

These brass and copper switchplates
now grace several rooms in my home
For this year’s craft show, I planned ahead.  Long a fan of California’s Kevin Loughran, who makes what he refers to as jewelry for the home, I counted the visible switchplates and outlet plates in my 150-year-old farmhouse.  Many years ago I had purchased one of Kevin’s gorgeous, custom-crafted brass and copper plates for my dining room dimmer switch, and promised myself that someday I would buy matching switchplates for the other rooms in my home.   This was the year!

Throughout the afternoon I perused booth after booth of exquisite jewelry, clothing, blown glass objets d’art and fine woodworking specimens, eventually coming upon Kevin‘s “House Jewelry” booth.  Mr. Loughran was surprised and pleased by my order: eight single switchplates, three double switchplates and a half dozen outlet plates.  As I munched on a turkey wrap at a nearby table, Loughran’s staff collected my pieces from their show inventory and bagged them for me. I was ecstatic that he had them all in stock.  Talk about instant gratification!

Dennis Ray shows off
his beautiful creations
made from leaves
A few rows later, I came upon another cubicle whose contents I could not resist: natural leaves and acorns electroplated with copper, brass and gold and made into exquisite, one-of-a-kind jewelry.  I quickly gave in to temptation and placed a copper-covered oak leaf necklace at my throat.  It was breathtaking.  And it was from a Maryland tree!  The craftsman, Dennis Ray of Rockville, Maryland, locally harvests leaves and twigs for his business, Nature’s Creations, although he is happy to electroplate almost any leaf you send him from anywhere in the world.  I just had to have one of his unique pieces which, by the way, can be worn as a pin or as a necklace.

I love my new necklace!
As a longtime member of the American Craft Council, I wholeheartedly support these and other talented Americans who have made it their life’s work to create whimsy and beauty in our world.

"Sometimes your heart speaks best through your hands" ~ The Knit Cafe

Monday, March 24, 2014

All Wrapped Up

There was a momentary lapse in the snowy, wintry weather.  I still had five inches of the white stuff on the ground, with another couple of inches forecast for that evening.  But for a sliver of a day on the 18th of February, the temperature warmed and the barest hint of spring was in the air.  I was ecstatic to be temporarily relieved of the bitter cold, and I’m a gal who loves the cold!

I grabbed the opportunity to shed thermal underwear, heavy outerwear and furry boots and don something a little more feminine for a change. Black moleskin gauchos from Rod’s Western Wear were on my mind, paired with a simple cashmere sweater that I’ve owned for decades, and a pair of super-comfy booties by Pink & Pepper that were loose enough to wear with thick ski socks. I would, after all, be walking across the long parking lot at the subway station on the outskirts of Washington D.C. on my way to a day of research at the Library of Congress, which meant standing on an exposed, elevated outdoor platform to await my train.  The temperature might have risen above freezing for a few hours, but the air still had a frosty bite.

My “statement piece” for the day was a dramatic paisley shawl, which I wrapped around my shoulders and secured in place with a small brooch. I received the cozy wrap as a gift from my dear friends, Robert and Jan, several years ago when they returned from one of their many overseas trips. Adding only some casual chandelier earrings made from orange disks to brighten my look, I declared myself ready to absorb some winter sun and headed out into the day.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Red Velvet... What?

I was taken out for dinner on February 15 by my frequent companion and former husband, Jesse, to celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Our destination was the Highland Inn, a new restaurant only open since the beginning of January, which is the mastermind of esteemed Baltimore County chef, Brian Boston, who made a name for himself with his highly regarded Milton Inn restaurant, a fabulously romantic dining destination housed in a 272-year-old fieldstone lodge in historic Sparks, Maryland.

Boston’s latest eatery, located in a decidedly newer farmhouse (early 1900s) in Clarksville, Maryland, puts the chef’s stamp on Howard County, a moneyed municipality south of Baltimore toward Washington D.C.  Boston, named Chef of the Year in 2011 by the Restaurant Association of Maryland, has dedicated his newest establishment to sustainable foods from local farmers in a certified green building retrofitted with geo-thermal heating and cooling. He hopes to appeal to the District of Columbia crowd, and I don’t blame him. They’re big spenders.

Chef Brian Boston
For this auspicious occasion I donned a little black dress by Joneswear, which I picked up for a song during a Macy's sale last summer. I added my all-time favorite gems from Fire & Ice jewelers in Baltimore: citrine and garnet earrings, bracelet and necklace, and added a wrist full of gold-tone bangles I found in my stocking this past Christmas. Together with sky-high platform pumps by Call It Spring and a sequined handbag I’ve owned for ages, I was ready to step out into almost two feet of snow to commemorate Lupercalia.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised when a cocktail in the Highland Inn’s lounge was $14. It was a very good cocktail, but the steep Washington D.C. price tag for a pre-dinner libation was a bit of a shock. The Valentine menu, however, was prix fixe, so I was able to relax and enjoy the evening without worrying about unintentionally breaking the bank.  Walls were decorated with the artwork of renowned equestrian sports painter, Sam Robinson, which lent a well-heeled vibe to the atmosphere. 

Following a delightful amuse-bouche of scallops with fennel relish and blood orange gastrique, my date and I shared a first course of lobster bisque and honey roasted baby beets with frisee and goat cheese.  For our entrée, we thought ourselves terribly clever when Jesse chose lobster tail and I chose steak and then had our waiter split the plates so we each had a meal of perfectly prepared steak and lobster.  With a shared chocolate truffle tort to end our meal, we declared our Valentine supper very, very good, but agreed that nothing will ever compare to the unsurpassed elegance, romantic ambiance and superb cuisine at chef Boston’s original Milton Inn.

Roasted beets lent their crimson
color to my red velvet cake
Poured into a cookie sheet for
baking, the batter was definitely red
Not to be outdone by an upstart restaurant, I baked a red velvet cake for Jesse the next evening.  Not just any red velvet cake, mind you, but one which would get its ruby hue from beets instead of food coloring, courtesy of Food & Wine magazine’s February 2014 issue.  It was my way of injecting a healthy dose of vegetables into an otherwise nutrient-void confection.

The recipe called for a pound of fresh beets, roasted in the oven and then pureed and combined with flour, butter and almost a dozen eggs.  The frosting called for two pounds of sugar!  In an attempt at calorie-consciousness, I substituted Splenda, and while the outcome was quite pretty, my cake tasted heavily of beets (no surprise there) and was dense enough to use as a hockey puck.

The oddly puckered cookie-sheet cake
was then sliced into fourths and
layered between coatings of cream-
cheese icing 
The end result was attractive and
the Splenda-filled icing was not bad,
but the cake itself was an
impenetrable disaster 
I read some online reviews of the recipe before publishing this post, and was relieved to see that every single reviewer had similar results (even without the sugar substitute).  You all know that my successes have been mostly hit and miss with baking, so I felt a degree of vindication that the less than satisfactory results were not my exclusive province.

The snow was just starting to fall when
I took this photo on Valentine's Day. I
ended up with almost two feet of snow
My cousin in Wyoming
sent me these beautiful
flowers and an adorable
teddy bear with
No matter.  After shoveling 21 inches of “Valentine snow” from the 110-foot gravel driveway leading to my 150-year-old farmhouse in Baltimore County, I felt I’d earned the right to consume a delicious, if highly caloric, Valentine dinner out on Saturday night – and to taste and then discard (with Jesse's blessing) my less-than-satisfactory beet-infused effort the following day.