Simple pleasures for Valentine’s Day

warming breakfast of Community Grains polenta with my apple sauce and some sharp cheddarinfused water or bubbly toastsdusk on Mt. Tamnight time scene at One Marketplayful cheese course at One Marketcrab two ways at One Marketfrenched rack of goat at One Market

Romance is a dish best served casually. In the past few years I have found this to be increasingly true: love can be shown in the simplest of ways, and grand gestures of affection can punctuate each season, rather than fitting into the “supposed-to’s” of February. Here are some tasteful ways to show your adoration for your sweetheart any time of year, strengthened by the reminder this love-holiday brings:

1. Beautiful breakfast.

Breakfast in bed can’t be reserved for once a year, oh no! I’m finding myself drawn to simple, yet thoughtful additions to a warm bowl of cereal – something that can surprise your partner, nourish them for the day, and can be easily enjoyed before getting out of the cozy covers. Midweek romance can be the best surprise.

Soak steel-cut oats overnight to reduce cooking time in the a.m., or try something different, like whole grain polenta as a first meal. I’ve been eating a stone-ground red flint version from Community Grains - an Oakland-based grain company - and dressing it up in ways that have delighted my hubby. The winner has been a topping of homemade applesauce and little squares of aged white cheddar, decking out our polenta and amping up the care quotient, an idea I got from a clever foodie friend of mine. It doesn’t have to be over-the-top sugar bomb breakfasts to be special.

2. Toasts are special, no matter what liquid you choose for the job.

Some of the most memorable romantic gestures are those that expose the thoughtfulness of your partner in unexpected ways. My hubby knows that as much as I love tasting champagne, a sip of it is really all I can tolerate and still sleep a restful night. Trust me, love is a restful night’s sleep. His hot pots of chamomile at the right evening moment have been cause for their own celebration, especially when he’s been reading my mind that a soothing drink was called for.

Another thing he does is fancify water. He pours pitchers of filtered water, adding a squeeze of a Meyer lemon from our tree, then letting half the lemon sit in the pitcher for an hour or two before we sit down to dinner. It’s really exciting when we discover together that a little branch of thyme, thrown in at the same time as the lemon gives the water a whole new aura. I’ve enjoyed a canned whole plum from our cellar, a few cloves (tied in cheesecloth), also a half a beet, and a sliver of fresh ginger make for a nice color and flavor. I admit I came up with these combinations – not he – but he loves knowing the things I like that aren’t complicated to replicate. Of course I’m not saying a champagne toast isn’t a nice thing – it’s just that raising a thoughtful toast in honor of your loved one can be done with coffee, hot tea, or some of this infused water. The more toasts the merrier, I say.

3. Classic dinner dates with ambiance.

There’s always a hot new restaurant to try here in the Bay Area, but the classics have stuck around for good reason. They may not be the edgiest places, but the food is good, the service is polished, and the view – well, I love a good view as much as the next person. I’m speaking here of one place in particular – One Market – where this past week I was invited to the 20th anniversary bash.

I’ll always love the place for its fabulous Weekly Beast menu, but I met more than one couple at the fete who had become engaged over One Market meals. Seeing the warm smile of the ever-perservering Bradley Ogden, you can see how he and his veteran chef/partner Mark Domman and team have made the place sing with passion. One of my favorite flavors they have chosen as a key component in their month-long Anniversary Menu: golden-hued trout. There’s the bright ocean variety, sourced from the Tasmanian Sea, and the mellow golden river trout, which comes to the restaurant from Idaho, representing favorite dishes from the 2005 and 2006 menus, respectively. I sampled it perfectly poached atop a plume of silky squash with slightly sweet whole mustard sauce at the party. It is on the menu all February, served for lunch, grilled with chick pea fries, and, as a start to a memorable dinner, prepared lightly smoked with a potato rosti, pastured egg, and pancetta dressing.

The simple classics are sometimes best. It might take some saving up, but their memories are lasting. I’m looking forward to sharing spoonfuls of butterscotch pudding sometime this month, Valentine’s Day or not, hint, hint…

4. Hiking together.

My favorites dates with my hubby are long and meandering hikes. We take breaks for water toasts to take in the view, to smooch, and to appreciate the bounty and variety of nature. There are so many exquisite places to walk in the Bay Area, but perhaps our favorite memories are of Mt. Tamalpias. There are a network of trails to take, but for a day-long adventure, we highly recommend Fern Creek Trail, ending with tea and nosh at Mountain Home Inn. Bring your camera, or at least the one in your mind’s eye.

5. Solitude, fueled by creativity.

The false concept that we need a romantic partner in order to somehow be validated is way out of date. Romantic partnerships are great when there are equal amounts of admiration, loyalty, and commitment, but they are by no means a necessary ingredient in my definition of success. Whether or not you’ve got a Valentine, some of my most insightful and meaningful moments – ones that have fueled my creativity – have been solo. I think healthy partnerships can be strengthened by alone time, too, whatever the venue. My recommendation would be to gift yourself with some quiet time to sit where distractions are limited. It doesn’t have to be some big spiritual quest but a solo quest to the bookstore, the fabric store, a tea house, or a favored vista point. It could also be closing the door to your room and having a moment alone with no aim to be productive.

6. …a trip to the bath house!

I recommend the relaxed and thoughtful state of mind that a trip to one of the many types of spas in the Bay Area can bring. For $20-30 for a day pass, you can take yourself out to an utterly rejuvinating Korean or Russian spa. Try the Korean spas: PSY in San Leandro, Lawrence and Family Medical Health Spa in Santa Clara (I have yet to go to these, but I hear good things, including the word about excellent food served in the rest area), Imperial in San Francisco’s Japantown, which are smaller than those in Los Angeles and the big East Coast cities, but render me just as restored. PSY has a jade room with geodes, where time seems to fly by…

Also, try the Russian spa Banya Archemedes near Indian Basin Shoreline Park (a great place to sit and contemplate afterwards.) You can add scrubs and massages to your day passes, or keep it simple with the variety of hot  tubs, cold plunges, saunas, steam rooms, meditation rooms, healing stone rooms, and more that are available at these places. If you haven’t yet been, I say give it a whirl (pardon the pun). Most of the world’s cultures have realized the wonders of communal bathing and its regenerative powers. Puritan thinking be gone!

If you’ve got a few extra dollars to spend, point your compass north to Freestone, where Osmosis awaits. The unique cedar enzyme baths there have restored my sense of patience and purpose on more than one occasion. Here’s more about it, from a column I used to write for Inside Sonoma.

I hope whatever way you find to celebrate love brings a full year of passion, inner creativity, and self care! I toast to it!

 

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