As Valentine’s Day approached, I tried to think what I should do that day.
I’ve never been Team Rah-Rah when it comes to Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday; I’ve always bristled at the forced frivolity and cloying sentimentality of it.
It’s like the holiday always set up unrealistic expectations around me and then brought out the worst in my insecurities.
As a teenager, I felt like I had to question my worthiness as a mate: was I beautiful or unique enough to inspire undying devotion?
As a young woman, in and out of relationships, I felt like the romantic utopia was unrealistic, unattainable. If I was single, I felt particularly unlovable on that day, and if I was with a certain someone, I hated the pressure — was this relationship “The One“?
Having kids returned me to the joy of this holiday. The baking. The sweet tiny gifts. The sharing of sweet sentiments. The vintage cards.
And then, a handful of years into parenting, we got Bailey, and our connection with Valentines Day deepened. We were told he was probably born in February (he was a rescue with hazy background details) and we jointly decided to make Valentine’s Day his birthday, and every year since we celebrated and feted him on that day.
He was our sweetheart, our furry Valentine.
This year was obviously going to be different and in the weeks leading up to yesterday, I thought what I could do to celebrate and honor my dear friend.
I thought back on those eleven years of joy he brought us all and I thought what was most fitting was to spread some of that love around to those who might need a lift or I hadn’t seen in a long while.
So this past weekend, I cooked up a storm, making twelve quarts of soup — both Roasted Carrot with Quinoa and Fennel and Gingery Chicken Dal.
I made a colossal mess, because not just it was all that soup I made, but I also decide to tackle another recipe; this time for one that’s been taking the Internet by storm.
Salted Dark Chocolate Chunk Shortbread Cookies.
Apparently this recipe from pastry chef/cookbook author Alison Roman came from her book but this particular recipe really took off when published in the New York Times late last year.
In the past month or so, it seems like every blogger, baker, and Instagrammer has waxed poetic about this cookie, a hybrid combining the best elements of both chocolate chip cookie and buttery shortbread.
I thought Valentine’s Day was the perfect time to give it a test run.
It’s a simple recipe and chances are you probably have the ingredients on hand as we speak.
I had to buy the salted butter as I usually only have unsalted at home, but I did have that enormous dark chocolate bar I’d bought over the holidays and this was the perfect time to break it out.
The dough is ridiculously easy to pull together
and then you wrap it in Saran Wrap and form it into long logs — perfect for cutting into slices after a complete chill.
Tuesday night I baked up the shortbread so that Wednesday morning I could finish up all my soups (adding a touch more lemon, Greek yogurt and herbs for added last-minute flavor) and hit the road earlyish with my stash.
First, a huge batch of soups went to all Charlotte’s teachers and front office staff at school; they all got a pint of soup to either enjoy at lunch or bring home for a light supper.
A lot of cookies were distributed, too –and sometimes just left on a chair if the teacher wasn’t in the classroom at the moment.
After I was finished at the school, I still had lots of cookies and soup left in the car. I didn’t want to bring any home and I thought what now?
Sipping a latte and planning my day, I thought — I’d like to feed or touch base with fifty people today. I’d already done half that by ten a.m., so I just started driving around, stopping at people’s houses and leaving deliveries wherever I went (four cookies for a family = four persons impacted). If none of my friends were there, I’d drop a treat off on their doorstep and sent them a photo text of it to let them know someone was thinking of them.
In the beginning of my run, I had homemade Valentines I delivered with the goodies.
I varied each delivery, too — sometime just soup, sometimes both soup and cookies, and if I haven’t seen someone in a really long time, a little something extra.
Remembering how difficult Valentines was a single woman, I tried to make a point and drop something off to friends and acquaintances who’d gotten divorced or been widowed in the last year or two.
What single gal couldn’t use a little sunshine on the day that couples everywhere rejoice?
And then I had one last package of cookies, and I thought — who might really need a lift today?
And then I remembered.
I know a certain someone — not terribly well, but somewhat– who lost her sixteen year old daughter to suicide two years ago, and as I drove around I thought of her. I hadn’t seen this mom for over a year but I thought that that this holiday must be so hard for her.
I couldn’t remember exactly where her house was at first, and as I drove up and down the street I thought she lived on, I was tempted to skip it. It’s not fun or comfortable to reminded of certain things. I debated and I looked over at something across the street.
Right next to the car was a golden retriever being walked by his owner.
I took it as a sign to keep going — and I found her house a few minutes later.
I knocked on her door. She was in the middle of a meeting so she couldn’t talk for long, but I told her I was thinking of her and handed her some cookies.
She hugged me for what felt like a long time.
And to my surprise, she called me back not five minutes later, telling me she decided to cut her meeting short. We talked for a short while, and we both cried remembering her gorgeous daughter. She told me that she’s hosting all her daughter’s best friends next week for dinner because they are all getting ready to go to college now, and she wants to see them all together one last time.
That last sentence stopped me in my tracks — and it felt like a gift to me. My blessings are so many.
And the bravery, strength and class that some people embody amazes me — and inspires me.
And just look at what one girl friend surprised me with for V-Day.
I came home from being gone all day on Valentine’s Day to turn on the news and learn of the horrors at Parkland High School in Florida.
I lack the words– or the bandwidth– to discuss such matters right now, but I do know that if you too are hurting, or know someone who is, find someone to exchange a hug. (Human touch matters so much right now, don’t you think?)
And by all means, make these shortbread cookies to enjoy afterwards.
Never underestimate the power of a surprise hug — and one warm spectacular cookie.
- 1 C. plus 2 Tbs. salted butter, cold (room temp if you're using a handheld mixer), cut into ½ inch pieces
- ½ C. granulated sugar
- ¼ C. light brown sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 2½ C. all-purpose flour
- 6 oz. semi-sweet or bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped (not too fine, you want chunks, not little shards
- 1 large egg, beaten
- Demerara sugar, for rolling
- flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
- Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddel attachement or an electric hand mixer, beath the butter, both sugars, and vanilla on medium-high until it's super light and fluffy (3 to 5 mnutes for a stand mixer; 6 to 8 for a hand mixer).
- Using a spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl and , with the mixer on low, slowly add the flour, followed by the chocolate chunks, and mix just to blend. If necessary,knead the dought with your hands to make sure the flour is totally incorporated. At this point, the dough should be smooth andfeel like Play-Doh with no pockets of flour.
- Divide the dough in half, placing each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic over so that it covers the dought to protect your hands from getting all sticky. Using your hands, form the dough into a log shape; rolling it on the counter will help you smooth it out, but don't worry about getting it totally perfect.(Don't be afriad to make them compact. Shortbread is supposed to be dense. That's part of why it's so good. You can also do this using parchment paper, if you prefer, but plastic wrap is easier when it comes to shaping the log. Each half should form a 6 inch log, 2 to 2¼ inches in diameter. Chill until totally firm, about 2 hours.
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Brush the outside of the logs with the beaten egg and roll them in the demerara sugar (this is for those really delicious, crisp edges).
- Using a serrated knife, carefully slice into each log into ½ inch rounds (if you hit a chocolate chunk, slowly saw back and forth through the chocolate). If the cookies break or fall apart, just press them back together -- the dough is very forgiving. Place them on the prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart (they won't spread much). Sprinkle with flaky salt. Bake until the edges are just beginning to brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.
- Let cool slightly before eating them all.