Valentine Treats: Recipes and Crafts for the Whole Family
by Sara Perry
Published by Chronicle Books
96 pages, 2001
From the Heart
Reviewed by Monica Stark
I've been blithely giving and receiving Valentine's Day gifts and greetings all my life without ever giving much thought to how the tradition developed. So it came as something of a surprise to learn that the gooshy quasi-holiday that likely accounts for more tooth decay than any other is actually one of the oldest continuously celebrated holidays in the western world. According to Valentine Treats by Sara Perry, Pope Gelasius decreed February 14th as Valentine's Day in 496 A.D. Though Perry writes that "Just which St. Valentine the Pope was honoring is still unclear." Apparently there were two possible Valentines: both Christian martyrs who had died on February 14th:
The first was a third-century priest who defied Roman rule by performing marriage ceremonies for single soldiers. The second Valentine was a physician beheaded for his Christian faith. In his prison cell, he wrote notes that he signed "From your Valentine." One reached a little blind girl whose sight was miraculously restored when she opened his card.
Though both seem likely candidates, the truth is that neither martyr would recognize the day celebrated -- more or less -- in their honor. As Perry writes:
Valentine's Day remains one of our favorite single holidays. More cards are sent, more chocolate hearts are consumed, and more fragrant bouquets are enjoyed (and dinner-for-two reservations made) than on any other day of the year.
Between all of the hearts, flowers and bon bons, Valentine's Day has evolved into one of the more whimsical holidays. Sure, the underlying theme is love and affection, but the colors are bright, the tastes are sweet and the message is, above all, happy. None of this whimsical warmth has been lost on Perry, whose slender book is an invitation for spreading Valentine's cheer in many forms. The projects in Valentine Treats include crafts as well as food, but the layout is cookbook-style regardless of the project. So, for instance, on the page for making Valentine Tags, you find an "ingredients list" that says:
You will need:
Also on that page is a preamble to the "recipe" and then a couple of paragraphs of clear instruction. Appropriately, the face page is covered by a full color photograph of a Valentine tag in action. About half the book is devoted to Valentine cards and crafts and the other half to "Valentine Sweets and Treats." Both sections are enhanced by Perry's skill and whimsy. And, because the very best ideas are almost always simple, many of the projects from both sections seem, once you've seen them, to be so obvious you wonder why you didn't think of it yourself.
For example, the book's back cover is illustrated by one of her happy new classics: "Soft-Cooked Eggs with Butter Toasted Hearts." What sets Perry's version of soft-cooked eggs apart is a pattern of tiny bright red hearts that are, for the big finish, accompanied by simple buttered toast: cut into heart shapes. The egg decorating is, in this instance, amazingly simple. Prior to soft boiling the eggs, the red hearts are applied by that standby art tool, a red permanent marker. The heart-shaped toast is accomplished with a large heart-shaped cookie cutter. What could be easier? And, at the same time, what could be simpler? A Valentine breakfast for two or a small family crowd that is easily accomplished while you down that first cup of coffee. Heart-shaped pancakes (that cookie cutter, again), heart-shaped filet mignon, dog biscuits with a heart motif (for man's best friend) and even heart-shaped sandwiches to "surprise your lunch-box cherubs."
The crafts are just as simple and creative. Perry's recipe for Lavender Bath Salts requires exactly two ingredients -- Epsom salts and essential lavender oil -- and an oven. She even includes suggestions for packaging it beautifully. The emphasis on all of the projects in Valentine Treats -- both edible and giftable -- is on making them successfully, either by yourself or with tiny helpers. In fact, a couple of pages are devoted to succinct "Tips for Cooking With Kids" and "Tips for Crafting With Kids," advice that will help the book's subtitle live up to its billing.
The resulting book is a rich resource for preparing special meals and treats as well as creating simple and well-thought-out gifts. For Valentine's and other special days. | February 2001
Monica Stark is a freelance writer and editor.