In my childhood home, there were no sugar cereals or packaged cookies. We did not eat at McDonalds. Ever. A backyard garden produced squash, tomatoes, carrots, berries, asparagus and other fresh foods for our table. My brother and I had milk with dinner and were only allowed soda (one can a day) when on vacation.
As a child, I hated my mother’s insistence on healthy eating and preference for fresh foods over processed and packaged ones. As an adult, I am completely grateful to her. And both then and now I appreciate how she set aside her strict rules each Valentine’s Day. The same woman who looked scandalized when we asked for Lucky Charms or Oreos baked each of us an entire heart-shaped cake of our own every February 14. We would carve off and eat huge slabs of cake each night after dinner until nothing but crumbs were left.
Now I have two kids of my own, and like my mom, I’m hyper aware of what they put in their bodies, frequenting farmers markets and buying organic when I can afford it. My cupboards don’t contain Oreos either. This Valentine’s Day, I also plan on making a cake for my girls in the same (now dented) heart-shaped pan in which she baked mine.
I’m not sure what chocolate cake recipe mom used, but I plan on making what is now my favorite baked treat of all time, Molly Wizenberg’s “Winning Hearts and Minds” cake. Wizenberg writes the food blog Orangette, and she compiled some of her writing – including the story of this cake – into the food memoir, “A Homemade Life.” She served her wedding guests this dense, rich and fudgey dessert, which is made of butter, chocolate, sugar, eggs and just a tablespoon of flour. What better expression of love than something that tastes so sweet and good?
For your Valentine’s Day, enjoy this list of books exploring food and love, love of food and how sharing a meal provides so much more than simply physical nourishment. I hope you will be inspired to make something sweet for your own sweeties. Enjoy!
As the generations turn, as our family expands, the table and its simple pleasures–never just the food, but the food and the talk, the food and the laughter, the food and the tears, the jokes, the memories, the hopes–still hold us in place, well anchored in a safe harbor.
– from “Keeping the Feast” by Paula Butturini