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A Note from Marcy

The Sweets for the Sweet Issue
Valentine's Day Scent, Gift and Gear Roundup


Dear Friends of BetterBaking.Com,

Sweets for the sweet – how often have you heard that expression? For most people, it is just that, an expression. To a pastry chef, it is a credo – words to live and bake by. It is a phrase that comes to life through sugar and chocolate, and the heady scent of a new bottle of vanilla extract.  It means, baking with the sole intention of pleasing someone else through a gift born of your own hands. What could be more appropriate or welcome? As such, Valentine’s Day is sort of the unofficial, national holiday of bakers. It is one of those special days that you can be creative as well as generous. It is an occasion to send a bit of loving warmth to a certain someone, a spouse, a friend, a partner or just surprise someone in your life with a simple batch of  ‘I’m thinking of you’ brownies.

I for one, make a big fuss on Valentine’s Day. This is relatively recent for honestly, I was never keen about February 14th. I was far too elusive and cool to reveal I had a romantic heart. To openly concede to being a fan of romance is synonymous with admitting some deficit or (wait for it) ‘neediness’ . We live in a culture that thrives on being intact and autonomous – a society that lives through the instantaneous thrill of reality shows and the hit of sensation they offer -  in lieu of something far more authentic: one’s own passion.  At any rate, I was once a Valentine’s Day Scrooge.  I grumbled (silently) that Valentine’s Day was a day wherein Hallmark, jewelry store chains (heck, the entire diamond industry), Godiva chocolates, and florists worldwide, conspired to remind me of a lack of romance. I would wait for flowers and then learned to feign not waiting, and finally graduated to a stance that implied it was all so silly, so commercial and didn’t matter - as if, anyone can fool anyone else that love doesn’t matter. It is probably the only thing that does.  From love, all else flows. And then once day either I changed or ‘it’ changed and I crossed over to Heartland.

I decided not to wait for Valentine’s Day roses, but to give them, in one form or another.  I opted not to hope and pray for red satin boxes of Godiva chocolates and unexpected lavish gifts mysteriously signed, “Love from X”,  but to bake with chocolate instead and pass around the richesse. I looked around and saw that while I could not control nor forecast if romantic love would choose to shine on me that year or not, I could however, be as Cupid-ish and as sentimental as I liked. I could choose to create a pro-active Valentine’s Day with those I know I love and for those who could use a thoughtful gesture.

So,  these days, I make an extra effort on Valentine’s Day.

I surprise my sons with carefully chosen bundles of sweets and an eclectic present or two, carefully hidden in an unexpected place.  They guffaw and squirm and say, ‘Mom, what are you doing? What is the big deal with Valentine’s Day and you?’ but I know they thrive on surprises and gifts, given out-of-the-blue.  I really like putting the gifts together. For my son Jonathan, it might be a Brecker Brothers cd , imported tenor sax reeds, or vintage jazz record jacket and Reeses’ Pieces;  For Gideon, it might be a wood airplane model kit for my son who dreams of flying along with a packet of Sour Peach Slices candy. For Benjamin, who is an easy please,  a red-stuffed bear with a belly full of Nestle’s Crunch chocolates and a book on inventions. I shop for weeks in advance for quaint To My Son Valentines’ cards – ensuring I find a unique one for each unique son (not an easy feat - the choices in cards for sons is pretty lean).  It makes for a lot of glee on Valentine’s Day in these parts and helps upgrade an ordinary mid-winter day into a wee oasis. I am relatively convinced my guys think I am a silly, sappy bird but they tolerate me in their sardonic, but loving, way.  I mean, it took awhile but they no longer mutter curse words as they collide into the many chimes in the house, nor stumble on the three indoor-fountains (nor protest the trickling sound of water – why do men hate that?) and hardly notice the wafting scent of Blackberry Apricot incense that is part of my world and by association, part of theirs . In turn, I accept the plethora of jock straps, bathroom Mad magazines, and fights over Gap sweatshirts, all-night movie (Pulp Fiction) and SNL fests, which are a part of my world – also, and equally, by association.

At the very least, perhaps  my gestures on February 14th rub off a bit on each son. One day, I hope I have three very happy daughter-in-laws who each inherit a trio of gallant young men; young men  for whom romance and niceties of it, however expressed, are as natural as rosy sunrises and grand as full moons in June.

Valentine’s Day continues as I bestow treats here and there – or leave phone calls for single friends or friends that could use a boost. As for roses…..well, here’s a confession: I dated a florist a few years ago. We parted as friends and to this day, honor the friendship in a flowers-for-cookies exchange. We are still fond of each other but really revere each other’s craftsmanship. Speaking of dating, I totally stopped online dating a few years ago. Instead, I made friends with a matchmaker of 86 years of old. I will call him Sidney. Sidney looks like a vaudevillian song-and-dance man. He is a big fund raiser and also, around Rosh Hashanah,  donates his time delivering New Year’s challahs to house-bound seniors. Sidney has four daughters and successfully married each one off. Because he feels so blessed, he has a sideline. The sideline is match making. “Tie the knot with Trott’ is the notation on his business card. You gotta love this guy. 

I forget how I got to Sidney but we talked a few times last year on the phone. We tried to meet (his ‘office’ is the corner table at an old delicatessen between the pickle barrel and the steaming trays of pastrami) but never could seem to find a time that worked for both of us. He seemed surprised and mildly miffed that a single mother of three sons was busy. I was equally surprised that at 86 years of age,  not all of us, apparently, slow down. So much for one's golden years! Sidney was chronically unreachable but would leave me rather sweet phone messages that said, ‘Marcy, this is your Uncle Sidney calling. Please call back. I am thinking of you. I am plotzing to meet you.” So I tried to arrange a time only to be met with his voice mail or be put on hold or call waiting or chat with his wife until finally one day I realized, “I am actually chasing the match maker. It has come to that”. 

My last phone message for Sidney ran something along the lines of :

“If you find a fella that is a combination of Bill Pullman/Sam Elliott/Aidan Quinn/John Cusack/Robert Downey Jr and is a creative entrepreneur/screenplay writer or employed musician who can also 'fix' and at least does one sport who has an interest in a writer who bakes and tangos, please pass on my name. Until then, I am going back to my real life. Oh yes, and if you need help delivering those challahs, THAT, I would be delighted to do.” 

A few days later, I got a phone message from Sidney that simply said "Marcy, ok. Will do. But Robert Downey Jr? A meshuggenah. And Sam Elliott! He hasn't even done a commercial in years! Why not an accountant?"

Since then, I get the odd message from Sid, and it is always, wonderfully the same, “Marcy, it is your Uncle Sidney. Don’t worry. I am thinking of you and looking out for you. Be well, Sweetie.’  I love those calls. They never fail to gladden my day. Sidney puts online dating to shame. Following his lead, I also do my own match making. No matches yet – hold the wedding rice -  but I am having a nice time gently parlaying singles I know to other singles. You do not have to dance each song but there is no reason to stop toe-tapping to the music. 

In the end, I think love gravitates towards abundance and abundance starts within. When Hallmark reminds you in the wrong way, what you lack – remember you do not have to ask permission to celebrate nor be chosen to receive. You just have to choose to invite yourself into the game of love – whether it be the sort of love the angels herald and for which they write musical scores or simpler moments, like that of a cookie shared with a grandparent or unsung teacher.

Marianne Williamson writes, in her book, Enchanted Love, ‘When love isn’t in our lives, it’s on the way; that is the nature of the universe’. I agree. While romantic love is beguiling stuff, the quest for it, offers a yearning that in and of itself, is underrated. What could be more beautiful than waiting, nay, expecting love to show? It is a state of constant, unmitigated hope. Glimmers of what is ahead can come from anywhere. Case in point: the other day, I received the sort of Valentine’s Day card we all dream about. The boy I had a crush on in grade 9 and 10, the handsomest boy in the whole school, gave me a call. You know -the sort of boy that was manly and steadfast before his time, sporty and smart, and had a gift for playing Chopin etudes with the same dexterity he had for passing a football 70 yards for a game-winning touchdown. That sort of boy. It was 22 years late, and two weeks earlier than Valentine’s Day but there it was. The call. From that boy. Oh my. And better yet, 22 years later we have call display so I could see his name revealed. True, it was about a business thing and yes, he is married and has 5 kids – all true. And there was no connection other than how nice it is to talk to someone from when you were young. BUT…. what was equally true, is that I felt that amazing flutter in a heart that was otherwise content and warmly married to my life as it is. It reminded me that none of us, g-d willing, are ever so removed from being touched that someone, somewhere, somehow, cannot get our hearts to thaw in that gentle, remarkable way that has nothing to do with spring still far off. I hope I still feel that feeling when I am 90. I hope you do too. It is what it is: a beautiful thing that only asks that you welcome it and allow it to be.

So, old crushes, and Sidney-the-matchmaker notwithstanding, I wish you all: those of you in love with someone, partnered or not, or simply, blessedly in love with life itself,  happy Valentine’s Day, every day, in every way.

Until then, if you see my guy (John Cusack/Bill Pullman/Sam Elliott/Aidan Quinn fusion male) with a musical instrument and a laptop that is home to some great screenplay he is working on, tell him to put on some speed and knock loudly when he happens by. I’ll be in the kitchen……baking sweet things.

Happy February, keep warm, 

Marcy Goldman
Head Baker, Author, Host
www.BetterBaking.Com
1997-2004

A Passion for Home Baking
The Baker’s Collection of New Recipes

Trending Decadent Warm Chocolate Cake
Molten chocolate innards, and a delicate crusty top, served up with warm dulce de leche and whipped cream

Chocolate Explosion Brownies Miniatures
Something short and sweet for your sweetie pie or favorite regular guy or gal

Baby Belgium Chocolate Cheesecake For Two
When you want cheesecake but just a little one that is as smooth as chocolate silk.

Sugar Cookie Hearts
A classic for Valentine’s Day ….perfect when you have to cookie someone up.

Double Chocolate Chunk Almond Biscotti
Sophisticated stuff for the upscale romance. Or a cup of coffee with a friend.

Best Ever Chicken Soup and Matzoh Balls
You’re cold/you hate chocolate/you are getting over heartbreak - whatever. Chicken soup to the rescue. It’s the real thing.

Cover art courtesy of www.art.com

Valentine's Day Scent, Gift and Gear Roundup


Previous Monthly Essays from A Note From Marcy:

Essays to tickle your funny bone, wake up your inner baker, twinge on your heartstrings, or make you smile and say, Ive know the feeling; I know the place. If you missed an essay, or a season in baking or inner sensibility, we invite you to stroll through our archived Notes From Marcy.

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