I dunno. Surprise me.

Pavlova Sweet Heart

Pavlova Sweet Heart

If certain magazines are to be believed, true love is only an exercise / diet / new outfit / new attitude / new rule away. Yes, it’s that easy.

As I am a skeptic, I question whether love can be found by following someone else’s template, like learning to salsa by using one of those old home dance lessons where you put the footprints on the floor and followed them by number. Where’s the magic? Where’s the chemistry?

I know couples for whom love came in the blink of an eye. The late playwright Arthur Laurents agreed that it’s all about the dance, that look in the eye. “Some enchanted evening you may see a stranger across a crowded room. And somehow you’ll know…” was Oscar Hammerstein’s version, and depending on the singer, it has the breeze of truth.

Every February we celebrate love, or at least toast its possibility, by eating chocolate, drinking champagne, and sneezing over roses. I am on the fence with this one. Every year I see the line flowing out the door onto the sidewalk as the clerks at the Godiva store near me struggle to keep up with the desperate hordes. Every year I cannot decide whether I think that kind of predictable, clichéd behavior is really fun, or tragically lacking in imagination. That must mean it’s both, yes?

Here’s one side: some folks want—expect—to get that stuff on Valentine’s Day. To deviate from that checklist would be a cardinal sin. On the other side are the folks who couldn’t care less. For them the real hearts and flowers derive from using your imagination. “I dunno. Surprise me,” would be their credo. Who can say which is right and which is wrong?

Me? I dunno. Surprise me. Let nature take its course. As long as there’s chocolate involved I’m good.  I thought of that the other day while at the supermarket. Winter is not traditionally a fertile time for fruits and vegetables. Our bounty of year-round fruits and vegetables really only dates back to the beginning of the jet age. Berries used to be only a summertime treat. Now you can get strawberries in February from South America or Florida. Personally, I think Strawberries are often overlooked on Valentine’s Day—not forgotten mind you, just pushed to the bottom of the list.

Yes I know Godiva comes in the pretty gold ballotin, and a rose is a rose is a rose, but to me strawberries are like Gisele Bündchen. You can dress them in anything and they look amazing. Think about it. Put them in a brown paper bag and they retain the berry version of great cheekbones.

Dress them in something special and oo-la-la. Valentine’s Day is a special occasion, so Gisele had better throw on more than just a pair of blue jeans.

I’m not sure why Pavlovas aren’t as popular in the US as they are elsewhere—especially on Valentine’s Day. There’s something unexpectedly luxurious about Pavlovas—including the fact that the dessert was created as a tribute to a Russian ballerina during one of her world tours in Australia or New Zealand.

Essentially a big meringue topped with fruit, when executed just so, Pavlova has a rather ethereal appearance, mimicking the dancer’s tulle skirts. Where most people expect meringue to crunch away into powdery oblivion after a couple of bites, Pavlova stays gooey in the middle.

For Valentine’s Day I made the usually round or freeform Pavlova into a heart, by piping the meringue, but that is purely formality; shaping with a spoon will do the same duty, without the formality. If you’re ambitious but not feeling dexterous or confident with the piping bag, feel free to make a square basket.

After baking, I dipped the bottom of the Pavlova in chocolate then filled it with fruit, and dusted it with a puff of confectioner’s sugar. I used Star Fruit to give my big strawberries a color counterpoint, but use what looks good to you. An extra swoop or two of chocolate (made by sweeping melted chocolate on parchment paper, letting it set, then peeling it off) serves as anxiously amorous punctuation.

Or there’s always a box of Russell Stover from Duane Reade. I meant it when I said, “If there’s chocolate I’m good.”

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You can use the same meringue recipe I used to make Halloween ghosts to make these Valentine’s Day Pavlovas.

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

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