For most adults, Valentine’s Day is usually seen as a day for lovers. Culture dictates that boyfriends/fiancés/husbands/fathers spend a significant amount of time and money planning a romantic evening for their significant other. Women who haven’t had or don’t have men in their lives tend to see Valentine’s Day as a depressing holiday; one to sulk in sweatpants and eat a pint of ice cream while binging on Netflix.
For me growing up, Valentine’s Day was about a different sort of love: the love of a family. It was a day of bedsheets draped to hide the dining room, and mysterious clinking in the kitchen. A day of sumptuous smells from the oven and parents sneaking little surprises in from the car. It was a day where us sisters could don our favorite outfits and put on our favorite necklaces. A day where we waited impatiently to see the magic behind the bedsheets in the doorway. When dinner was ready and the last plate was turned upside down, we were allowed to walk into the decorated wonderland that mom had created. We would sit at our places, turn over our plates to reveal a small candy or two underneath, and admire the flowers from dad in a small vase next to our for-special-occasions-only water glasses. We would eat fancier food than we could understand and drink sparkling grape juice while laughing as the fizz tickled our noses. It was one of the most special family holidays of the year.
For my mother, Valentine’s Day represents more than just a romantic day for lovers. This holiday represents the love a wife and mother has for her family. It’s a holiday to serve and express the overflowing thankfulness for the gifts God has given her. My mom (and her mother before her) is a master love-showerer. She turned Valentine’s Day from a consumer-focused, silly, lovers-only holiday into a deep, meaningful day to celebrate family. She would spend days planning and preparing the perfect meal. She would spend hours decorating the dining room to enchant our girlish hearts. She loved us, and every Valentine’s Day was a reminder of just how much.
My mother’s example of love to us each year has helped shape my own family’s philosophy on how we celebrate Valentine’s Day. We view this holiday as a day to serve each other. It’s a day for me to pour out love on my family. I enjoy cooking and decorating, so each year I look forward to putting together a beautiful feast. I love to surprise and delight my family with handmade delicacies. I love to spend time putting together decorations and showing my family love through art and food. As my son gets older and I have more children, some of the elements may have to change. He may not appreciate the paper heart garlands and pink tissue paper quite as much as my sisters and I did. He may not have the artistic bent of his parents and he may decide that painting pictures for each other (our last Valentine’s Day post-dinner activity chosen by my husband) is a silly idea. I look forward to learning more about his personality and planning evenings that inspire and show my love for him in ways that he appreciates.
Adults in today’s world view Valentine’s Day (and consequently, measure how much they are loved) in terms of what they receive from their significant other. The holiday becomes much more satisfying and fulfilling though when we turn this around and measure how much we love our families and friends by our willingness to serve them in our own capacity. For me this means cooking and decorating, but for another it may mean planning a fun activity (making a movie theater in the living room with blankets and cushions and buying favorite candies) or selecting a favorite outing. It may be inviting a favorite friend or family over and making crafts while listening to Nat King Cole and eating yummy treats. Regardless of our abilities, when we decide to put time and effort into showing love, this holiday has the potential to be a game-changer for our families.
Below I’ve written out my mother’s recipe for French Onion Soup. She has made this as an appetizer for Valentine’s Day many times and it’s a favorite of mine. On a scale of difficulty from 1-10, I’d rank this recipe a 4. It’s an appropriate recipe for families with older children.
French Onion Soup
3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut into three pieces
6 large yellow onions, cut in half, then cut length-wise in 1/4″ strips
2.5 cups of dry sherry
4 cups of chicken broth (low sodium, if possible)
2 cups beef broth
6 sprigs of fresh thyme (or 4 tsp of dried thyme)
1 bay leaf
Ground black pepper
1 small baguette cut on a bias (cut diagonally) into 1/2″ slices
8 ounces Gruyère cheese, shredded (about 2.5 cups)
1. Adjust oven rack to lower position and heat oven to 400 degree fahrenheit. Generously spray the inside of a heavy bottomed Dutch oven with cooking spray. Place butter in the pot and add inions and 1 tsp of salt. Cover and cook in oven for 1 hour (onions should be moist, and slightly reduced in volume). Remove pot from oven and stir the onions, scraping the bottom and sides of the pot. Return pot to the oven and set the lid slightly ajar. Cook until the onions are very soft and golden brown, around 1.5-1.75 hours. Remove, stir (scraping the sides and bottom of the pot), and replace with the lid ajar around the 1 hour mark.
2. Remove the pot from the oven (the total oven cook time should have been around 2.5-2.75 hours, stirring every hour). Set pot on burner over medium high heat. Using oven mitts to handle pot, cook onions, stirring and scraping the sides and bottom of the pot frequently. Cook until liquid evaporates and onions brown, 15-20 minutes. Reduce heat if the onions are browning too quickly. Continue to cook, stirring frequently, until the bottom of the pot is coated with a dark crust, 6-8 minutes, adjusting heat as necessary (scrape any crust that’s collected on the spoon back into the onions). Stir in 1/4 cup of Sherry, scraping pot bottom to loosen crust, and cook until sherry has evaporated and pot bottom has formed another dark crust (6-8 minutes). Repeat the deglazing process 2 or 3 more times, until onions are very dark brown. Stir in remaining 1/2 cup of Sherry and cook until it evaporates, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in broths, 2 cups of water, thyme, bay lead, and 1/2 teaspoon of salt, scraping up any final bits of browned crust on bottom and sides of pot. Increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover, simmering for 30 minutes. Remove and discard herbs, then season with salt and pepper to taste.
While soup is simmering, arrange baguette slices in a single layer on baking sheet and bake in 400-degree oven until bread is dry, crisp, and golden at edges, about 10 minutes. Set aside.
Adjust oven rack to 6 inches from boiler element and heat broiler. Fill individual oven-safe bowls with onion soup, place one baguette slice in each bowl on top of the soup, and sprinkle a generous amount of the shredded Gruyère cheese on each baguette. Place bowls under the broiler until cheese is melted. Serve hot from the broiler.