And I don’t mean chocolate.
For many, the next few days will be spent in anticipation of gifts and lavish displays of love. I can already smell the generic Hallmark cards, the bouquets of long stemmed red roses by the dozen, the once a year special dinner… and I find it all so revolting.
Before you accuse me of being bitter, cold, heartless (somewhere Kanye West is playing), I find it odd that we need to devote a day to love, when it should be something that is celebrated every day of our lives. We don’t live very long, us humans. I was reminded of my own human frailty just this past week. As I type these words, I know an old couple who will be spending Valentine’s Day in the hospital ward. After long months of chronic kidney failure, the husband now has end-stage renal disease, is bedridden and is in critical condition. Earlier last year, due to tri-weekly dialysis treatments, he was let go from his Silicon Valley tech firm. Due to the financial crisis, the wife, also from a Silicon Valley company, was recently let go as well. This allostatic load has been enormously draining on her, and she struggles to stay strong enough for the both of them.
I know a young woman, barely out of college, who has nightmares of becoming a widow at the tender age of 23. She has great ambitions. A medical degree is ahead. Life at the age of 23 is full of hopes and dreams and vitality, sức sống. And yet her husband has soft tissue sarcoma, a rare and seemingly untreatable cancer in adults. In the 2 years that I’ve known this young woman, I’ve seen her tear over the failed surgeries and treatment plans, I’ve seen it eat at her hope, and wear down her strength. The illness has prevented her, has prevented him, has prevented them, from enjoying the simple pleasure of being a newlywed couple. And now at this promising age of 23, there seems to be no light in the dreary, cold, heartless world. This might be the last Valentine’s Day she and her husband will spend together.
My aunt and uncle. My Chị Như An… it’s a sobering experience to see your loved ones in so much pain, while you stand aside oh-so helpless. Like I said, our time is short and exponentially shortened by things we can’t control. So every moment, every breath, every action should be infused with love – love for what we do; love for our families; love for our friends; love for ourselves and for our lives. So on this Valentine’s Day, instead of anticipating the gifts, the chocolates, the flowers, I want to reflect, instead, on how I can better love. Or perhaps, how I can be more worthy of the love I am receiving.
Jam Filled Linzer Cookies
source: Living the Life, with some changes
Traditionally, Linzer cookies are made with ground almonds or walnuts. I used pinenuts because I have several bags left over from pesto-making, and it turned out quite different, but very nice. Pinenuts have a very distinct flavor and not too often used in desserts. But once toasted, it complements the clove and cinnamon so well. Since pinenuts have a strong flavor, I was heavy handed with the spices.
1 1/2 cups ground almonds [toasted pinenuts, delicious!]
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 large egg + 2 teaspoons water, whisked
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup raspberry jam, plus 1 tsp water
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Beat butter until light and fluffy, add sugar, continue beating until smooth. Slowly add egg mixture, and combine well.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, finely ground nuts, clove, cinnamon, and salt. Fork to evenly distribute the dry ingredients. Slowly add the dry into the wet ingredients, continuing to mix just until all incorporated. DO NOT OVER MIX. If you are using a machine, you should probably do this step by hand or with a spatula to limit gluten development.
Divide the dough in half. For each half, shape each into a disk and sandwich between 2 sheets of wax paper. With a rolling pin, flatten out each disk until about 1/4″ thick, making sure that the wax paper isn’t cutting into the dough. You can do this by alternating the side you are rolling, and lifting the wax paper every so often. Refrigerate for 2 hours, or freeze for 1 hour.
Preheat oven 375*F. Remove 1 disk at a time. Cut into desired shapes (with or without cutouts, optional) and put on lined baking sheet. Bake for 8-11 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Remove, allow to cool completely before smearing jam on the flat side (baked down). Sandwich the flat sides of your cookies together. Dust with confectioner’s sugar. Share with your closest friends and family on Valentine’s Day.
So this concludes my Valentine’s Day entry. I apologize if I have dampened the mood and rained on your V-Day cheer. By all means, be in love. Share in love. Live in love. But don’t just love on V-Day. Love everyday.
From my heart to yours,