Valentine's Day chocolate cake
"Love doesn't make the world go round; love is what makes the ride worthwhile." —Franklin P. Jones

On Valentine's Day, it is customary to exchange small love notes called valentines. The holiday is named after a third-century priest, St. Valentine, who was jailed for performing secret marriages against the wishes of the Roman Emperor Claudius II. The emperor believed that single soldiers were more likely to enlist in the army. Imprisoned and soon to be executed, St. Valentine fell in love with the jailer's blind daughter. It is said that he gave her back her eyesight and then signed a farewell message with, "From your Valentine." And the phrase has been used ever since. In 1573, King Henry VIII, an admirer of love himself, declared St. Valentine's Day an official holiday.

Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14 with symbolic hearts, roses and cupids decorating traditional gifts such as cards, flowers and chocolate. With all the commercial hype, Valentine's Day has become a multibillion-dollar industry. In 2009, 187 million flowers were purchased, 58 percent by men and 42 percent by women, along with 1 billion Valentine's cards and more than 35 million boxes of heart-shaped chocolates!

Why so big? No longer just about romantic love, Valentine's Day now includes parents, siblings, friends, anyone special or close to you, teachers and, of course, let's not forget the whole grade at your kid's school.

I remember driving my parents crazy every February 1 to take me to the five-and-dime store (yes, I am that old), so I could pick out my own package of Valentine's Day cards and a bag of tiny candy hearts with all the right words printed on them: LOVE, BE MINE, SWEET, FRIENDS, ALWAYS! These tiny hearts were a must to include in the envelope with the card. I carefully printed my name on the card in my best second-grade penmanship, then carefully placed it in the envelope along with a piece of candy. It would include the word on how I felt about the person. Of course, I would save the one stamped "LOVE" for the boy I had a crush on. I was always so bitterly disappointed because, generally speaking, boys hated girls and it never really panned out for me. It stayed that way pretty much until the eighth grade, when the boys' voices started to crack. When I finally received my first card from a boy I actually had a crush on, I hung it on my wall with Scotch tape and stared at it all the time. I saved the little candy heart with the word "LOVE" stamped on it in my little music jewelry box with a tiny ballerina that twirled to Beethoven's "Fleur de Lise" when you opened the lid. I listened to it all day long, just staring at that heart. I am still not sure how I ever managed to speak to my sister again after she gobbled it up!

I love Valentine's Day, but I always feel like I've just barely recovered from the stress from the Christmas and New Year's holidays when it gets here. How can I face eating chocolate once more? (I am kidding—that part I can deal with.) I do like the idea of taking a whole day and thinking about love. For sure, I always love to receive flowers from my honey and beautiful notes from my kids.

Not too long ago, a nice friend sent me some custom M&Ms with my name printed on them. I thought it was brilliant—my name on M&Ms! What's sweeter than yummy chocolate and a special message rolled into one? Wanting to know more, I went to  and found out that you can personalize any message and even put a photo on them!

This year, part of setting the table for our special meal will include tiny bowls of personalized M&Ms. Throw in red and pink carnations with lots of baby's breath. The carnation colors are perfect and the price is definitely right (I think carnations get a bad rap). Buy two or three dozen and put them into drinking glasses of all sizes, littering them all over the table with tiny tea lights in shot glasses or heart-shaped holders and put them into drinking glasses of all sizes. Add a special touch by rolling the napkins into cylinders and placing a few carnations and some baby's breath on top, tying it all up with raffia for the dinner plate and voilà! The perfect Valentine's Day setting for your sweetie. And the best part is you didn't have to spend a fortune for a dazzling effect!

If you are looking for something sweet and thoughtful to make for that special someone, friends or teachers, you might try my Super-Duper Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookies. You may even decide to give the raw cookie dough as a gift. Just place it in a container, wrap it in a beautiful ribbon (why not red?!) and write your love note on one side and the baking instruction on the other. There is nothing quite like homemade, warm chocolate cookies fresh out of the oven with an ice-cold glass of milk, now is there?

Now that our kids are out of the house, I want the evening to be quiet, romantic and special—just for us. A romantic dinner for two doesn't have to begin with no kids, no phones and no dogs, but it does help. For my Valentine's Day dinner this year, I am starting with a light pasta dish followed by a fresh wild arugula and mâche (lamb's lettuce) salad garnished with goat cheese, red ripe pomegranates and a shallot vinaigrette with either marinated grilled chicken or shrimp. I want to keep the meal light and easy to prepare so I can spend time with my husband, talking to him face-to-face at the dinner table rather then yelling back from the kitchen! There is another reason to keep it light—leaving room for my ooey-gooey Valentine's Chocolate Cake from the Heart!

Sending "A Big Bowl of Love" for Valentine's Day!


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