Celebrating Valentine in a Covid Year
Valentine’s Day. Beloved by lovers, dreaded by the unpaired; anticipated by retailers, shunned by cynics of commercialism. It doesn’t matter which camp you belong to because this year is different. It’s a covid Valentine year. For lovers looking to celebrate in restaurants or other venues, offerings and seats are limited. For the singles looking to be with friends, unless you’re in the same household or in a pod, gathering is ill-advised. If you’re a business that sells anything vaguely romantic, you’ll probably still get a sales bump and if you are a commercialism cynic like me, it’s a good time to take a break and be happy for once that businesses have this chance to recoup lost sales.
My being a Valentine’s day cynic has root cause in a less- than-active dating life during my college years. To combat feeling pathetic about ourselves, my single friends and I formed the Sawing Palad group, which roughly translates to the Unfortunate or Unlucky, defiantly celebrating friendship over romance. Every Valentine’s day during our four years at college, the Sawing Palad would gather for dinner, bring booze back to party at someone’s home, rail against the stupidity of Valentine’s Day, wonder why we were un-loveable, and have a bloody great time doing it.
And so I will celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, but not as a lover or someone unpaired (am happily married now), nor a business, since my gigs and in-person cooking classes are suspended, and not as a cynic either, because I’m rooting for the economy, but just because it’s February 14, Valentine’s Day.
In a pandemic situation, we should look for any excuse to celebrate. Were there no dates of distinction, the days would rapidly look like any other, especially since many of us now work from home and the lines between work and personal are blurred. Were it not for Valentine ’s Day, this Sunday, would just be another Sunday.
Special dates, events (it snowed!) and deeds (paid off car!) are markers of time. It’s a way our minds remember and make sense of personal histories. And when we celebrate these markers, they are imbued with a sparkle of the extraordinary. To celebrate is to express gratitude. When we celebrate, we notice and acknowledge that something is amazing and elevate the positive over the problems and negativity that assail our daily lives. And if we can make celebrations a habit, then we create a habit of gratitude.
If you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day at home, take note of what you plan to do. As we talk more about lifestyle cooking, you’ll see that celebrating often is inherent to our journey. And we’ll want to replicate that as often as possible. For those of you at a loss on exactly what you can do, consider some of these ideas:
1. Go for Beauty
Our inclination towards beauty is not superficial. Beauty gives us joy and feeds the soul. Whether you’re cooking at home or doing take out; celebrating with a romantic partner, with friends, family or especially if you are alone, a few changes can make the day feel different from other days. And there are many ways to add a bit of beauty to your celebrations, and they need not be expensive.
de-clutter and make the dining space pretty. Like many households during the pandemic where many work from home, the dining table now functions as office/study table. In our house, Jeff takes the study and I work in the dining room. It’s too much of a hassle having to move my laptop and paperwork for every meal, so when not in use, they just get covered by a lovely runner.
use candles, flowers, special vases to dress up the table
go on and use the table cloth, china and cutlery you’ve been saving for a special occasion; this is a special occasion!
ditch the paper and plastic: use cloth napkins over paper napkins—it’s not only more refined, but better for the environment; and if you’ve still been using paper or plastic cups, perhaps it’s time to invest in proper drinking glasses
2. Bump up the Ambience
get your playlist together. Play music you like when you’re cooking, dining and cleaning up. Music is great for setting the tone whether you’re going for energetic and fun, romantic or soothing. If you have kids, the latter might be great for calming everyone down and to encourage dinner conversation. When washing dishes, I put on Earth Wind and Fire, Devo and B-52’s for a great groove.
take a break from the gadgets. Make dinner a gadget-free experience. If you’re used to having phones or tablets on the table during meals, their absence is guaranteed to differentiate this meal from others.
play with lighting. Besides the candles, dimmed overhead lights and/or soft incandescent/off-white/yellow lighting from lamps are easy ways to soften up and make a space and everyone in it look more appealing.
3. If you’re cooking, cook the rainbow
While the mechanics of how and what to cook is not something we’re covering in this post, you can always improve how a dish looks. Plan to cook with colors. We eat with our eyes, and a visually attractive plate is often colorful. Think of a plate of chicken with gravy (brown) over mashed potatoes (yellow). Now think of the plate of chicken with gravy (brown) over mashed sweet potatoes (orange) with sautéed spinach and blanched almonds (green and beige). If you sprinkled red pepper flakes (red), you’re getting five colors on your plate, an aesthetic ascribed to the Power of Five, Japanese pillars of culinary tradition that not only encourages the use of five colors in meals, but also the five taste groups, and the five senses—touch, smell, sight, sound, taste. This is something we’ll get into more deeply later on, but for now, going for colors in your meal is the easiest thing to do to prettify your plate.
And there’s a health benefit to this too. Vibrant colors are the visual cues of pigments that signify beneficial nutrients from plants and animals. The orange in salmon and carrots for example, are carotenoids that are valuable anti-oxidants (the salmon get it from their food). The deep greens in spinach (and your parsley garnish) are from chlorophyll, also associated with anti-oxidant as well as cancer-fighting properties.
How to add colors? If you can’t incorporate them in the food themselves, you can always add afterwards with garnishes like parsley, cilantro and chives (green). Brighten up seafood and fried foods with something tart—a wedge of lemon (yellow) or sliced fresh tomatoes (red/orange), which also add great colors to the plate. In Spring and Summer, I often garnish with edible flowers from the garden too.
These are a few simple ideas to make this Valentine’s day special--something we can all easily do this weekend to get started on the habit of celebrating. Lifestyle cooking is not only about integrating cooking into our daily lives but also about cultivating gratitude, which doesn’t happen overnight. In a covid year, it’s about finding ways to celebrate life; to find good news despite the overwhelming bad. For Valentine’s Day this year, I’ll be celebrating life and love, and love of life. Happy Valentine’s Day to you and here’s to celebrating well!
Author’s note: Share your celebration with us. What did you do that was special this Valentine’s Day?