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Gretchen’s Cookbook

Whining and Dining with Samantha Cardimon

On St. Valentine

With Valentine’s Day hard upon us, I thought a little history lesson would be in order. (Oh, keep reading anyway!) Valentine's Day means many things to many people. You either think it’s sweet and charming or you think it's just another way for society to exploit the misery of the unattached. You can decide for yourselves on that one. But just how did this bacchanalia of candy and guilt get started?

Like most of our holidays, Valentine's Day was simply an effort to Christianize a pagan festival. The Roman festival of Lupercalia was a spring festival dedicated to the god Faunus and to the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus (who were believed to have been raised by a she-wolf or lupa - hence the name Lupercalia). And what's a good festival without a little bit of sacrificing? For this event goats (for fertility) and dogs (for purification) got the axe. After the goat had been dispatched, the hide would then be cut into strips and dipped in the sacrificial blood. Then men would run around town slapping women and fields of crops with the goat hide to ensure fertility. Those nutty Romans.

After the hilarity of hide-slapping wore thin, the young women of the town placed their names in a giant urn. And, rather like a game of Bingo, the local bachelors would then pick a name out of the urn and presto, you've got a date for the next year. But, taking a dim view of anything that smacked of fertility rites, the Church eventually outlawed Lupercalia and replaced it with a festival celebrating the death of St. Valentine, patron saint of chocolate (ok, I made the chocolate part up). St. Valentine, for you sticklers out there, is actually the patron saint of beekeepers, greeting card manufacturers (shock!), plague, travelers, as well as fainting and not fainting (which you’d think would be a conflict of interest). True. I can’t make this stuff up, people. Oh, and also the patron saint of engaged couples, happy marriages, and love. That St. Valentine, one busy fella.

Today, we women make up for being pelted with raw meat by guilting our significant others into taking us out to dinner and shelling out for some flowers. While there was a time when I would have welcomed a slap from a bloody goat hide if it meant plans on Saturday night, my therapist and I agree it's time to move on to bigger and better things. Just wave a bacon cheeseburger at me and you have my undivided attention. But if you really want me to sit up and take notice, show up with…

Valentine's Day Chocolate Truffle Pudding

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