BE STILL MY HEART
Sweet Comic Valentine
You Make Me Smile With My Heart
You're Looks Are Laughable,
Yet You're My Favorite Work Of Art
Is Your Figure Less Than Greek
Is Your Mouth A Little Weak
When You Open It To Speak
Are You Smart
Don't Change A Hair For Me
Not If You Care For Me
Stay Little Valentine Stay
Each Day Is Valentine's Day
His blue-green eyes stared up into mine, yearning and self-doubt flitting across his regard, that fairy dance of desire and yet-to-be requited love. “Pale eyes, green and blue,” he claimed, “reveal all, bare the soul, expose the heart. Dark eyes, so cruel, punish with their hidden mysteries, cards held close to the chest.” His gentle look met mine across the table, that tiny wooden table in that tiny wine bar fronting the Seine on that warm summer afternoon. Love confessed over a warm lentil salad left untouched until the words he wished to hear escaped from my lips, my vow made amidst the noise of bottles and glasses, knives and forks against plates, noise never heard by two lovers caught up in their own tale of love.
The words were uttered, low and nervously, hands sliding across the white paper atop the deep chocolate-colored wood, fingertips brushing fingertips, relief washing across his face and washed down with ruby red wine, the color of our hearts. Words handled carefully like fragile, paper-thin glass figurines that would shatter in a million pieces if dropped, light as air, delicate as porcelain yet heavy with significance because once whispered these words could never be taken back. I knew that he would grab them up and cling to them and never let them go. They would be his forever. Yet utter them I did because I knew. And he gathered me up and took me home to stay.
“One thing you should know about me,” he declared as I watched him dress, crumpled sheets pulled up to my chin, drunk on love, “you will never receive chocolates from me. I will shower you with gifts, buy you jewelry, fill your arms with flowers, but I will not buy you candy. Chocolate is a vice like cigarettes and alcohol and I will not feed any vice.” And as Valentine’s Day approached he stoutly proclaimed his disdain for this “American holiday, this commercial invention by some ad man or company created for the sake of making a few bucks.” “And I certainly don’t need someone else to designate one particular day, tell me when and how I should tell you that I love you! I can do that when and how I please!”
Yet that first Valentine’s Day together a single chocolate heart was placed atop my pillow with all the care of a newborn babe. One single chocolate heart filled with a thousand words, words that said “I love you” silently yet louder than if he had screamed them from the rooftops. With that one beautifully wrapped chocolate heart he let me know that he understood that this single gesture meant more to me than his contempt for the signs in shop windows and the ads on TV, the French adaptation of this very American faux holiday. He understood that expectation fluttered underneath my bold claim of agreement with him, my apparent disinterest for this special date, expectation fluttering like a schoolgirl heart as she places that shoebox decorated with pink crepe paper hearts and white doilies on the corner of her desk as she silently utters a prayer.
Valentine’s Days have come and gone, 22 of them, to be exact. 22 years filled with roses and tulips, carnations and peonies, stunning jewels and breathtaking adventure. Although shops may fill their vitrines with pink macarons or heart-shaped candies, boxes tied up in red ribbon or fluffy white stuffed animals dressed up in red bows, our routine never changes. Grumbles and moans emanate from my man, my lover, the most eternally romantic of souls, at the very first signs of cherubin, putti, Cupids, roses and hearts. He curses, fist shaken heavenward, as the date rolls around. “Why, oh why do the French feel the need to appropriate this silliest of meaningless events? Send this dang-blasted holiday back where it came from! You Americans and your unadulterated nonsense! Am I supposed to fall for this?”
Yet Valentine’s Day after Valentine’s Day he woos me, he pampers me, he brings me flowers or chocolates, he offers to take me out to dinner. I say no, why bother? He treats me this way more often than I could have ever hoped for in my wildest girlhood daydreams. He is utterly, passionately romantic, and I am spoiled. Love letters, text messages just to make me giggle, phone calls in the middle of the day to make me laugh, flowers and gifts, snuggles and kisses, romantic trips for two, I have it all. No, I never tire of it. He is right, you know. Why do we need to follow a calendar, have another dictate our romantic interludes? I am, and always will be, his Funny Valentine.
This month the Mactweets Mac Attack requested we make macarons especially for Valentine’s Day. And I did. A jar of gorgeous, deep violet-tinted Blueberry Hibiscus Sugar sitting on my shelf called to me. I pulled out the thick cork and breathed in the luscious, heady scent of this magical, incredibly intense, flavored sugar. Perfect for Valentine’s Day with its luxurious bouquet, its romantic hint of flowers, and blueberries, tiny deep blue berries once thought to have aphrodisiacal qualities. Filled with a silken, voluptuously smooth Vanilla Mascarpone Cream swirled with midnight blue, tangy berry jam, this is the perfect little delicacy, the perfect romantic treat for your love, your Valentine.
BLUEBERRY HIBISCUS MACARONS
90 gr egg whites (about 3) **
30 gr (1 oz, 2 Tbs + ¼ tsp) granulated sugar *
200 gr (7 oz, 1 ½ cups + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp) powdered sugar
110 gr (3 7/8 oz, 1 cup + 1 Tbs + 1 tsp) ground almonds
* I replaced 1/3 of the granulated sugar with sifted Blueberry Hibiscus Sugar and added 2 drops red food coloring to the meringue for the pale blue/purple tint
** Use aged egg whites at room temperature: egg whites can be kept for a very long time in the refrigerator and old egg whites work better for meringue than fresh whites. Whether aged or fresh, the whites should be left out, lightly covered, at room temperature for 24 hours prior to using.
Prepare 1 or 2 large baking sheets. On large pieces of white paper the size of your baking sheets, trace 1 ½ inch-diameter circles (I used the wide end of my pastry tip) evenly spaced, leaving about ¾ - 1 inch between each circle. This will be your template to help you pipe even circles of batter onto the parchment paper. You will be able to reuse these endlessly. Place one paper on each baking sheet then cover with parchment paper. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip (Ateco #807 or #809).
Sift the powdered sugar and the ground almonds together into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
In a standing mixer or with a hand mixer, whip the egg whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high and whip until the whites are foamy then begin to form soft peaks. Gradually add the granulated (with blueberry hibiscus sugar) sugar as you are whipping the whites until you obtain a glossy, stiff meringue. Add 2 drops of red food coloring and whip just until the meringue is a pale, uniform color with no streaks left.
Gently but firmly fold the whipped whites/meringue, using a silicon spatula or the equivalent, into the powdered sugar/ground almonds, turning the bowl as you lift and fold, making sure you fold in all the dry ingredients. When the batter is ready to pipe, it should flow from the spatula like lava or a thick ribbon. To test to see if you have folded it enough, drop a small amount onto a clean plate and jiggle it slightly. The top should flatten, not remain in a point. If it doesn’t flatten, give the batter a few more folds.
Fill your pastry bag with the batter. Pipe circles onto the parchment paper, using the traced circles on the template sheets to guide you, holding your pastry bag above each circle and piping into the center. When you have piped all of your batter out, sprinkle half of the shells with the blueberry hibiscus sugar. DO NOT FORGET TO CAREFULLY REMOVE THE WHITE PAPER TEMPLATE FROM UNDERNEATH THE PARCHMENT PAPER. YOU DO NOT WANT THIS TEMPLATE TO GO IN THE OVEN!
Preheat your oven to 280°F (140°C).
Allow the macarons to sit out for 30 minutes to an hour. The top of each shell should form a “skin” (it will feel like it hardened a bit when gently touched). Bake the shells for 15 – 20 minutes, depending on their size (when I touched macs that were not quite done, the top jiggled a bit as if there was still a bit of liquid batter between the top and the “feet” so I let it continue to bake another minute).
Remove the tray from the oven and immediately slide the parchment paper with the shells off of the hot baking sheet and onto a surface, table or countertop. Allow to cool before sliding the shells very gently off of the parchment by slipping a cake spatula under the shell as you lift it up. Be careful or the center of the shell risks sticking to the parchment. Once cooled, pair the shells by matching tops to equal-sized bottoms which will form a cookie sandwich once filled with the cream.
VANILLA MASCARPONE FILLING WITH BLUEBERRY JAM SWIRL
Thank you, Meeta, for the original idea.
7 oz (200 g) mascarpone, drained
1 oz (30 g) fresh goat cheese, drained
2 Tbs (30 g) superfine sugar (I used about 1 ½ Tbs sugar so it wasn’t too sweet as I would be adding blueberry jam)
½ tsp vanilla
Blueberry jam or jelly
It is best to have the mascarpone and the goat cheese almost at room temperature so they are creamy. Drain either or both in a colander over a bowl if necessary.
Place the mascarpone, the goat cheese, the sugar and the vanilla in a bowl and beat with an electric beater on low or with a wooden spoon until smooth, creamy, a little fluffed up and well combined. Spread the cream out and place a few tablespoons of the blueberry jam here and there on top of it. Using a sharp knife cut the jam into the cream just giving it a swirl effect. Carefully spoon into a pastry bag with a round or star tip so it doesn’t blend more and pipe a dollop onto the bottom shell of each pair of shells. Sandwich closed. You can also just use a teaspoon.