If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day
so I never have to live without you.
- A. A. Milne
I never had a Valentine before JP. I was one of the hopelessly, heartbreakingly, perpetually Valentine-less. No surprise, really, considering I was an ugly duckling. No golden tresses dancing in the ocean breeze, no long, slender legs that seem to go on forever, no Florida bronzed beauty was I. Like the others. Alas, life was cruel. Even as I got older and moved away from home, all grown up, I was forever the plain Jane, spunky, practical and domestic, merely a foil to the popular, the gorgeous, the desired.
Valentine’s Day and Cupid’s arrows slid past, one after another, boyfriend-less year after boyfriend-less year. As I flipped the calendar over from February to March I would sigh the sigh of the unloved, the single girl, the independent woman who, once again, finds herself stoutly declaring to herself and her friends that Valentine’s Day is just another meaningless holiday, just another day like all the others, that we strong, college-educated women didn’t need something so trite and frivolous and I would soldier on, getting through school and getting on in the world.
I often dreamed of being one half of a couple. Who hasn’t? I certainly had crushes, schoolgirl crushes or the headier, intoxicating, more adult kind. And men had crushes on me. Sadly, those crushes never really coincided. Bumped heads. Intertwined or overlapped. I skirted around certain attentions, played dumb to other yearning glances and earnest words. Disappointment shook me to my very core. And in return, my own longing remained unnoticed and unreturned, my love squarely unrequited. And I nursed one broken heart after the next.
Life and love are funny that way.
If you press me to say why I loved him,
I can say no more than because he was he, and I was I.
- Michel de Montaigne
The flowers he fills my arms with are never the ordinary, the expected, rather they are blood red dahlias, lush, fragrant peonies in oh so many shades of pink and deep purple, tulips, plump and mysterious, the color of aubergines. No diamonds for me, no, he slips a tiny silver band upon my ring finger, etched with the single word “toujours”. Forever. Platefuls of oysters (I am his pearl) and bowlfuls of delicate, aromatic clams, dazzling tagines and gastronomic soirées, sunny lunches and cozy dinners, golden champagne flowing into long-stemmed glasses with a gentle sigh, the bubbles frothing up and over the rim. My man knows how to please me, knows just what makes this woman smile. The way to a man’s heart, they say, is through his stomach. This man knows that food means more to me than almost anything else.
And I, in turn, express my love and desire by offerings of sweet and savory. Candles lit, table dressed, dainty morsels set before him, sweet ambrosia. I offer him the choicest morsel, he slides his fork between his lips and I wait expectantly, breath held, for his reaction, a murmur of bliss, a groan of pleasure. His delight transports me to a better place, joyful rapture. I glance at him starry-eyed, thrilled with his enjoyment, the gusto with which he eats, a spoonful, a slice, this is how I offer myself to those I love, the best I have to offer.
Panna Cotta is a favorite treat, his guilty pleasure. Creamy and rich, smooth as silk, sensuous as it shimmers on the spoon and slides over the tongue. As delicate as an angel’s touch, as light as air, Panna Cotta warms his heart as sure as my hand placed on his cheek. Knowing just how much he loved it I stayed away from this luxurious, elegant dessert for years, afraid of not living up to expectations. On any restaurant menu, he was sure to order it, the satisfaction wavering with the quality of what was placed before him; sometimes rubbery, sometimes floury, not often pleasing. Each disappointment cut me to the heart. The last made me realize that it was up to me to create for him the best, the most exquisite Panna Cotta, a sure sign of what I was willing to give of myself. For each perfect bouquet of flowers he ever placed in my arms, for every jewel he slid onto one of my fingers, this gift was for him. Romance in a slender glass, the color of faded roses or pale champagne, the scent, the delicate taste of cognac, just a dollop of salted butter caramel hidden beneath to balance the sweetness, a masculine edge, like a fur wrap draped over a delicate satin gown. Placing the spoon next to the empty glass, he smiles and takes me in his arms.
COGNAC PANNA COTTA with salted butter caramel
3 cups (750 ml) whole milk or a combination of heavy cream, light cream/half-and-half and milk (I used 2% lowfat)
2 tsps (1/4 oz, about 8 g) powdered unflavored gelatin
½ cup (100 g) granulated white sugar
½ tsp vanilla extract
3 tsps cognac or to taste, I used Martell Noblige Cognac
6 tsps or more Salted Butter Caramel, just warm or room temperature, optional
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, pour 1 ½ cups (375 ml) of the cream/milk mixture and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Allow to sit for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin; I usually just tap the gelatin to push it under the liquid. After 5 minutes, turn the flame under the pot to low and allow to heat very gently for 5 minutes until the gelatin dissolves completely, whisking carefully and continuously. Do not allow the milk to come to a boil; if the milk starts to steam too much, simply pull the pot off of the heat and whisk until the 5 minutes are up.
Whisk in the sugar and the rest of the milk or milk/cream mixture and continue to heat over low until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is thoroughly warmed through. Whisk in the vanilla and cognac, taste and add more cognac if desired. Remove from the heat.
If adding Salted Butter Caramel, place a rounded teaspoon in the bottom of each glass. Carefully pour the hot panna cotta evenly between 6 glasses, verrines or ramekins.
Cover each with plastic wrap and slide into the refrigerator to chill and firm overnight.
Other sexy, romantic ideas for Valentine’s Day desserts:
Vanilla Rum Panna Cotta with Rum-Roasted Cherries
Blueberry Hibiscus Panna Cotta with Wild Blackberry Coulis
Coffee Panna Cotta with Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce
Buttermilk Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Balsamic Strawberries from Passionate About BakingChocolate
Pots de Crème with Pomegranate Rubies
from Creative Culinary
Cherry Cheesecake from Zoë Bakes