A Single Gal’s Guide to Surviving Valentine’s Day by Loving on Others

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You don’t have to have a Valentine to share these tasty treats with those you love. Being alone during any holiday is hard, but it’s especially difficult on New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day—two holidays that seem to have been created solely for couples.

Ugh!

I’ve been a widowed single mom for almost 18 years now. After a few years of going to bed before midnight to escape my missing midnight kiss on New Year’s Eve and of crying myself to sleep, because all of my friends received something romantic from their Valentines while I got bupkis, I decided it was time to leave my pity party and get myself a new attitude. (Can’t you just hear Ms. Patti LaBelle belting it out right about now?!)

Here’s the thing: Love isn’t restricted solely to happy couples.

I love my son. I love my friends. I love my family. I love my church. I love my cat (and she’s quite ornery!) Mostly, I love God. And, even with all of my faults, He loves me unconditionally—that’s way better than a dozen roses!

Jesus left us with the greatest commandment: to love God and to love others. And Valentine’s Day is the perfect opportunity to love others. Find a way to love on friends, family, coworkers, and anyone you think may really need a little love right about now. It doesn’t have to be expensive or extravagant. You can leave sweet notes reminding people that God loves them and that He sees them—and you see them. How about making a warm meal or heart-shaped treat for someone who is lonely or sick? Leave a platter filled with goodies to share on the desk of a co-worker that you know has few or no friends. (The goodies will draw others to that person!) Use your imagination and your gifts to love on someone this year. As a food blogger and cookbook author, my love typically comes in the form of food. Here are some of my favorite recipes for sharing. You just need to add the love!

Dark Chocolate Mousse I love this recipe, because it is easy and because you don’t have to use eggs. You can serve the mousse in glass dishes, a wine glass, in a chocolate shell, or as filling for your favorite layer cake. For a gorgeous Valentine’s Day presentation, pipe the mousse into heart-shaped chocolate shells, and garnish with whipped cream, raspberry sauce, and fresh raspberries—very impressive and very easy. You can find the chocolate shells at various stores or online.

Ingredients 2 cups heavy cream 1 cup dark chocolate chips (I use Ghirardelli 60 percent cocoa chips) 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

Instructions Heat 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to the boiling point. Put chocolate chips in a large mixing bowl, and pour the hot cream over the chips. Set aside for five minutes. Pour remaining 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream into a large bowl. Add vanilla and powdered sugar, and beat until stiff peaks form.

Stir the chocolate/cream mixture until you have a smooth and creamy mixture. Do your best not to eat the entire bowl with a spoon. It will be tempting, but don’t do it. (Maybe just a little lick—just not the entire bowl.)

Gently fold one quarter of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. Add another quarter of the whipped cream, and fold into the chocolate. Add remaining whipped cream, and fold until combined.

At this point, you can put mixture into a piping bag and pipe into chocolate shells or spoon mixture into individual pudding cups or wine glasses. Cover and chill. Garnish with berries, whipped cream, chocolate curls, etc.

Shortbread Linzer Cookies (Makes 20-24 finished cookies, plus the cutouts from the centers)

Ingredients 3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 cup powdered sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1/4 teaspoon almond extract 10-ounce jar good quality raspberry jam (with seeds) Powdered sugar for dusting

Instructions Combine flour and salt together with a whisk, and set aside.

In a mixing bowl, beat butter and both sugars for 30 seconds. Add vanilla and almond extracts, and beat an additional 30 seconds. Add the flour mixture, and beat until the dough comes together.

Use your hands to gather into a ball and flatten into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap, and place in refrigerator for one hour to chill.

Line baking sheets with parchment paper.

After the dough has chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thick. Use a 2 1/2–3 1/2-inch round cookie cutter to cut out cookies. Use a smaller cookie cutter to cut out a shape in the center of half of the rounds. (These will be the tops.)

Arrange the cookies 2 inches apart on cookie sheets, and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes. While pans are in chilling, preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bake cookies in batches, keeping unbaked cookies in the refrigerator until they go into the oven. Bake for 10–12 minutes or until the edges are just golden. Remove pan from oven and let it sit for 3–5 minutes before removing cookies from the pan to a cooling rack to cool completely.

To assemble, turn the solid circles upside-down so the bottom is up, and coat with a layer of jam.

Place the cut-out cookies on a lined surface (do not turn these upside-down), and dust with powdered sugar.

Top the jam-coated bottom halves with the powdered sugar tops to sandwich together.

Sweet and Salty Popcorn Treat Bags This is a great treat to make and give away or to share out of a big bowl with a bunch of friends. You can change out the candy to make treats for any holiday or occasion. To give away, fill clear gift bags with the popcorn mixture, and tie a sweet note onto the bag with a color-coordinating ribbon.

Ingredients 12 ounces vanilla candy melts, coating or bark 2 bags microwave Kettle Corn, popped as directed (full size bags, not single-serving) 2 cups pretzels—mini, sticks, squares, or pretzel Goldfish 2 cups honey roasted peanuts or almonds Assorted small Valentine’s Day candies (like M&Ms and conversation hearts) 1/3 cup red, pink, and purple sprinkles (you can even find Valentine’s Day sprinkles with little hearts)

Instructions Line two large baking sheets with foil or parchment paper, and set aside.

Melt the coating as directed, and allow it to cool. It can be a little warm but not hot, or it will make your popcorn soggy—nobody likes soggy popcorn.

While coating is melting, transfer cooked popcorn to a very large mixing bowl, and allow it to cool completely. Stir occasionally for even cooling.

Stir pretzels and nuts into the cooled popcorn.

Drizzle with half of the melted coating, and stir to combine. Drizzle with remaining half, and stir until popcorn is coated. Add candies, and stir just until combined.

Divide mixture between the two lined baking sheets, and spread into single layer.

Immediately sprinkle with the sprinkles over the top so they stick to the coating. Allow to sit for about 30–60 minutes or until set.

Crumble mixture, and store in tightly covered bowl, or cover and keep on the cookie sheets until ready to serve in a big bowl or divide among treat bags.

Heart-Shaped Buttermilk Pancakes This is a great way to send the kids off to school on Valentine’s Day and my favorite basic buttermilk pancake recipe. It produces a tender, light pancake. If you use butter on your griddle, you will end up with delightful, crisp, buttery edges. Sometimes I add blueberries, thinly sliced peaches, miniature chocolate chips, or crumbled bacon to the uncooked side before flipping the pancakes. But I actually prefer them without any extras. I stack three on a plate and top with real butter and maple syrup. Then I stare at the wondrous site of the butter melting into the syrup from the warmth of the pancakes—for about two seconds, because that’s about as long as I can contain myself before consuming them.

Makes 10–12 pancakes.

Ingredients 2 cups all-purpose flour 4 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon salt 2 teaspoons baking powder 1⁄4 cup (1 1⁄2 stick) butter, melted 2 cups buttermilk 1 large egg 1⁄2 teaspoon vanilla Butter for griddle, plus extra for serving Pure maple syrup for serving

Instructions Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Place a cooling rack on top of a cookie sheet, and place in the oven.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder with a whisk. In another medium bowl, whisk the butter, buttermilk, egg, and vanilla to combine. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture until smooth, but do not over-mix. Let sit for 5 minutes.

Preheat a griddle, and melt the butter to coat generously. Use a 1⁄3-cup ladle to spoon out the batter onto the buttered griddle. Flip after about 3 minutes or when bottom is golden and top is beginning to look a little dry. Cook other side for about 2 minutes or until golden. Remove and place on rack in the oven to keep warm while you continue with remaining batter.

Serve warm with butter and maple syrup.