The first plum to bloom
Is a scraggly dark twiggy thing
Stunted beneath a regal redwood
And an elegant oak.
Children ride by it on their bicycles
And don’t even give it a glance.
But I, older now, take the time
To look at things like this.
Tiny white blossoms
Really have emerged
On this unsung plum.
And even a few robins
Grace the ground I walk.
Does this mean winter may give way
No matter what kind of climate you are in, Valentine’s Day arrives every year on February 14 to warm our hearts and to remind us that we all love to be loved. Here is a Valentine Tanka (a 31-syllable 5-line Japanese style poem) I wrote last year as a Valentine’s Day gift.
There are many ways to express our affection on Valentine’s Day. Each of us has some special gift or talent, and right where we are is the best place to look to convey how much we care. Those of you who can draw, paint, take beautiful photographs or write in elegant calligraphy have everything you need to create a lovely valentine. And if you have a good visual and tactile sense but cannot find the words to share your feelings, the great poets of the world are always there for us when we need them, and they would not care in the least if we borrowed a few of their heart-felt words.
Here are some little gems from the Sonnets of William Shakespeare:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou are more lovely and more temperate.” From Sonnet 18
“…I think on thee, and then my state
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From the sullen earth sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.” From Sonnet 30
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,” From Sonnet 116
Then there is Elizabeth Barrett, the most famous British poet of the Victorian Era, who eloped with the poet Robert Browning at the age of forty, became Elizabeth Barrett Browning and lived happily ever after in Florence with her true love. The following quotations come from “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” which she wrote to express her undying love for Robert.
“Say thou dost love me, love me—toll
The silver iterance!—only minding, Dear,
To love me also in silence with thy soul.” From Sonnet 21
“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, …
… and if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.” From Sonnet 43
Those of you who can sew, knit, crochet or are gifted crafters do not need words at all to express your love for your Valentine. And of course, the cooks among us can always prepare a special meal for the one we love. For tea lovers there is no more precious Valentine than an invitation to Afternoon Tea. I invite you to view the visually delightful chapter on this website, “A Valentine’s Day Tea” in the February calendar section. In this menu, my co-author, Kathleen has created a glorious assembly of savories and sweets, featuring heart shapes and red, pink and creamy pastel colors for both the food and the decorations. Some of my favorites from “A Valentine’s Day Tea” include the bright pink Cherry Coconut Pom Pons, Chocolate Heart Sandwich Cookies with Sour Cherry Filling, Battenberg Cake in a stunning Checkerboard design, and the always beautiful Strawberry Charlotte, filled with vibrant red berries.
My husband and I begin every day by eating Home-Made Almond Granola, which I bake myself. One batch lasts us about three weeks, and it is always in our cupboard. You can find the recipe in my June 2020 blog. A bag of this wonderful breakfast cereal/snack, filled with oats, almonds, cranberries and almond butter, tied with a red ribbon, would make a delightful Valentine gift for your sweetheart. A Chocolate Almond Torte, found in my April 2019 blog, would also be splendid for Valentine’s Day. And in my July, 2018 blog on Venice, I share one of my favorite Italian desserts, Fregolotta, also known as Italian Crumb Cake, filled with ground almonds and topped with whole almonds. And if you are too busy to bake, remember that almonds are fabulous treats as both sweet and savory snacks. There is nothing like Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds, or Sesame Honey Almonds, both easy to find at good old Trader Joe’s. And we have a bag of savory Sriracha Hot Chili Almonds in our pantry right now.
Spanish Almond Cake (Pastel de Almendras)
- 1 ½ cups ground toasted almonds (2 cups of whole almonds before grinding)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup flour
- powdered sugar for sifting over the cake
Special equipment: Cooking spray, 10” spring form pan, food processor, 2 large mixing bowls, small bowl, electric mixer, parchment paper, large baking sheet, aluminum foil, wire rack, rubber spatula, flour sifter or sieve, thin sharp knife.
Makes: One 10” cake, approximately 12 servings
- Bring butter and eggs to room temperature. Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a large mixing bowl. Set aside. If you are using whole almonds, toast them at 350 on a large foil covered baking sheet, for 10 minutes, stirring several times to ensure even browning. Remove the almonds from the oven and let them cool on a wire rack. Spray a 10” spring form pan with cooking spray. Cut a 10” circle of parchment, fit it into the bottom of the pan, and spray again.
- Pulse the cooled almonds in a food processor until finely ground. Do not pulse until the almonds turn into nut butter. Set aside. Cream the butter and sugar with an electric mixer in another large mixing bowl until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Add the egg yolks, almond extract and vanilla and beat briefly to combine. Measure 1 ½ cups of ground almonds from the food processor and add to the batter, mixing just to combine.
- Clean the beaters and beat the egg whites until light and fluffy and stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the butter mixture with a rubber spatula, using an over and under motion until the egg whites disappear. Sift the flour over the batter little by little and gently fold in the flour until incorporated.
- Scape the batter gently into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the rubber spatula. Bake for approximately 40 minutes or until a cake tester or thin sharp knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. To serve, transfer the cake to a cake pedestal and carefully sift powdered sugar all over the cake. The cake can be served warm or at room temperature.