by Susan Nelson
Well, we made it through Christmas and New Year’s and here we are at Valentine’s Day again. Where does the time go? I was in the stores this morning watching befuddled men circling the flowers and the candy looking like they needed anti-anxiety medication.
It reminded me of when I worked in an office rather than from home. It’s a hard day, actually, for those who happen to be in-between relationships, or perhaps with a partner who isn’t prone to public displays of affection such as floral affirmations of their undying affection, or isn’t liable to open his wallet unless prompted by an FBI agent. The floral trucks start pulling up outside office buildings early on, and the receptionists spend a good part of the day alerting the lucky recipients that they have been remembered. Oooh’s and aaah’s fill the cubicles. Size and stem count are compared, as the fragrant aroma of fresh-cut roses floats through the air. Meanwhile, those who were not remembered can be found breaking pencils in half by the water cooler and planning chipped beef on toast for dinner with a sprinkling of cut glass for their errant other halves.
In my late twenties my best friend at the time and I were coincidentally dating best friends. Valentine’s Day coming up, the two men got together and arranged a Valentine’s Day surprise weekend to Catalina Island, including arranging for appropriate child care. This, needless to say, was definitely going to glean them much more than chipped beef on toast.
The plan, as plans go, was seamless. Two rooms at a beautiful bed and breakfast overlooking the ocean, as well as dinner reservations at one of the island’s many cozy and intimate dining establishments. For those of you who have never been to Catalina, it’s a lovely, hilly island located about twenty-two miles off the coast of Southern California. A haven for boat enthusiasts, bicyclists, and snorkelers. Very lovely. The village of Avalon itself is a quaint, arty community with a marina dotted with sailboats and yachts, where everybody seems to know everybody else.
The morning we were to catch the ferry the weather was overcast and decidedly chilly, with a hint of rain in the air. In spite of the fact that the ocean seemed dark and foreboding beneath the layer of fog hovering along the coast, we boarded the ferry and found seats. It seemed that the weather was deemed passable, so we relaxed, got a cup of coffee and a donut from the snack bar and took out a deck of cards. Before long it became obvious that this was to be a bumpy ride. My boyfriend, who had warned us not to eat anything, but we chose to ignore him, was now turning a rather unhealthy shade of green and lying on his side on the pillows along the corner of the ferry moaning softly. The rest of us were weathering any stomach problems, but navigating standing up had become difficult. You had to take a stance like Gary Cooper in High Noon and rock with the boat to get from Point A to Point B.
After several cups of coffee I needed to find a restroom which it seemed was located at the rear of the boat. I planted my feet firmly apart and going from one row of chairs to another made my way towards the back. In front of me was a diminutive little lady I would have guessed to be in her nineties. Purse over one arm and hat perched jauntily atop her gray hair she was miraculously heading in the same direction I was.
A substantial lurch sent us both through the ladies’ room door. I found her grabbing the sink but still on two feet. I opened the stall door and in she went. Suddenly the tilting became more pronounced and the stall door opened and the little lady, hat now askew, was ejected like a peanut after the Heimlich maneuver with her bloomers and panty hose around her feet. I caught her just as she flailed by. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt, except a little bruise to her pride, and I helped her pull herself together, put her hat on straight and got her back to her seat.
My prince was now at the rail losing whatever stomach contents he had left and praying to die a quick and merciless death. Thankfully, a young couple had taken pity on him and had helped him outside. I thanked them and brought him back in and within a half an hour we were docked in Avalon Bay. All good.
He was looking somewhat less green at this point, so we located our hotel and went up to the desk. After filling out the registration he reached for his wallet, and after much searching discovered it was no longer on his person. It appeared that the helpful couple on the ferry had also helped themselves to his wallet in the process. Hmmmm. I was a single mother on a limited income and never used credit cards so the gentlemen on the other side, it seemed, was the only one with plastic and cash. This wasn’t going well.
Finally in our rooms, we spent several hours notifying the credit card companies, etc. of the theft. Dinner reservations were at 7:30, but no one was really in the mood to eat. The restaurant as well as the lovely surroundings captivated us, however, and in the mood of Valentine’s Day we succumbed to delicious food and good friends. The chocolate cake for four they served for dessert brought us to our knees. Sometimes it’s just about enjoying the moment.
Happy Valentine’s Day. This is a lengthy recipe, but for you chocolate aficionados, it’s worth the time.
Chocolate Chocolate Cake
4 oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 cup butter
2 1/2 cups granulated sugar
5 eggs, separated
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup buttermilk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour three 8″ round cake pans. Cut waxed paper round for each pan and place on bottom. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in egg yolks 1 at a time. Beat in melted chocolate.
Sift flour and baking soda together. Beat in alternately with buttermilk, beginning with flour. Beat in vanilla extract. In a separate bowl beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Beat 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mix. Fold remainder of the egg whites into chocolate mixture until thoroughly blended. Divide batter among three pans. Smooth tops with spatula. Bake for 35 mins. until top springs back when touched. Cool on wire racks and invert. Fill and frost.
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 cup whole milk
1 Tbsp. butter
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Mix dry ingredients together in large mixing bowl. Whisk in egg until smooth. Melt chocolate in milk in large saucepan, stirring constantly. Gradually pour chocolate milk into egg mixture whisking quickly and constantly. Return saucepan to burner and cook on medium heat stirring constantly until mixture thickens and comes to a boil. Remove from heat. Beat in butter and vanilla. Pour into a bowl. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of filling (to keep skin from forming) and refrigerate until cool.
2 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup butter
1 tsp. all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 cups sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Melt chocolate and butter in large saucepan over low heat, stirring constantly. Dissolve flour in part of the milk; add milk, flour and sugar to chocolate. Bring to a boil, stirring often, and boil until mixture reaches the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer. Remove from heat. Stir in vanilla, and beat with an electric mixer until icing becomes just thick enough to spread. Do not let harden too much. If it should become too hard – add a little milk.
On large cake plate place one cake. Spread 1/2 of filling mix evenly on top of cake. Place 2nd layer on bottom layer and repeat with the other 1/2 of the filling mixture. Place 3rd layer on top. Frost entire cake. I put chocolate dipped cherries on top or sometimes shaved white and dark chocolate. Yummy. Note: Dip your knife in hot water while icing to get smooth finish.