When it comes to Valentine's Day I am of two minds. One mind thinks it's sort of like New Year's Eve--an amateur or cliché celebration of something you should be acknowledging all the time. If you have a valentine shouldn't you cherish him or her everyday and not just on February 14th? The other mind thinks the first mind has come up with its theory because I do not have a valentine and therefore need to dismiss the day as being somehow superfluous when the truth is it is sort of nice to take a day to celebrate the one you love.
Things were so simple when I was a kid. I'd wake up to find a funny card sitting in my empty cereal bowl from a "guess who?" whose handwriting looked exactly like my father's. Imagine that! In college there would be people selling carnations of various colors, each color meaning something different. Who knew red=love while yellow=friends? There was always a little flurry of whispering about who got what color from whom etc. Of course we were all too young and stupid to realize that the only thing cheesier than a single rose is a single carnation. And yes, I did get my share and no, they were not always yellow.
When I was first out in the world, and dating "men" you didn't see every day in the dining hall, relationship timing played a big role; was it too soon to mark the holiday? And if not, what do you get Mr. Right-Now? How many pairs of heart-emblazoned boxer shorts did you buy (or receive) in the late 80's? I'm cringing at the memory of foraging for the right size at Bloomingdale's. And I don't even remember who they were for.
There was the boyfriend who waited till February 15th to say "this isn't working out," the night after giving me a sleep shirt so hideous Victoria should have kept it a Secret. And there was the time my date was cooking me a delicious meal when his ex-wife phoned and he took the call. That was our last supper. But there were also years when lovely (carnation-free) floral arrangements arrived at my office or I was surprised by a private-joke engraved charm bracelet after a perfect night of John's Pizza and Film Forum.
A few years ago I had worked late one night and stopped at the gourmet market across the street from my apartment to pick up some dinner on my way home. Standing at the fish counter I asked the guy for a tuna burger thinking I would test out my new George Foreman grill. "Just one?" he asked. "Yup," I said with a smile. "Really, just one? Tonight of all nights?" he pressed. "Yes. Thanks." I said wondering what his problem was and why buying this piece of ground fish was becoming a "thing." And then, as if we were on stage, I felt like a spotlight was shining just on the two of us as the store went completely silent and fish-man bellowed, "Don't worry honey! I'll be your Valentine!" I wanted to die. I really had no idea this was what his questioning had been referring to and no, even if he hadn't smelled like mackerel he was not a cute potential Valentine. My point is that Valentine's Day had become such a non-holiday to me that I really hadn't remembered it at all. It probably helped that it was a weekday and thankfully not a Saturday night when the market would have been selling a special complete "dinner for two" starting with oysters and ending with heart shaped chocolate mousse cake.
So here we are at Valentine's Day '11 and although I have not been pierced by cupid's arrow I am not going to be a cynical singleton. My all-time favorite 'fancy' cookie is the Linzer tart. I first had these spicy, buttery, jammy sandwiches when I was a kid and my parents would take us to the Madison Avenue Delicatessen for Sunday dinner. Despite some missteps (like ordering spaghetti and meatballs at a Jewish deli) I always had room for the giant Linzer tart. These are not as enormous because you never know when Mr./Ms. Right might ring the doorbell and you wouldn't want to be caught with a powdered sugar moustache and hazelnuts stuck in your teeth. In an effort to create a little extra good love-life Karma I am using my optimistic heart-shaped cookie cutter. But I'm still holding out hope that a secret admirer surprises me with the Russell Stovers jumbo red heart box of chocolates--it's only $10 at Duane Reade and way better than a carnation.
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Happy (?) Valentine's Day Linzer Cookies
2/3 cup hazelnuts (3 oz)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon orange zest
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 12-oz jar seedless raspberry jam
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Toast hazelnuts in oven in a shallow baking pan until fragrant and skins begin to loosen, about 6 minutes. Rub nuts in a kitchen towel to remove any loose skins (some skins may not come off), then cool to room temperature. Turn off oven.
Pulse nuts and 1/4 cup brown sugar in a food processor until nuts are finely ground. Set aside.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves in a small bowl. Set aside.
Beat together butter and remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes in a stand mixer (preferably fitted with paddle) or 6 minutes with a handheld.
Beat in zests to combine.
Add nut mixture and beat until combined well, about 1 minute.
Beat in egg and vanilla. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, mixing until just combined.
With floured hands, form dough into 2 balls and flatten each into a 5-inch disk. Chill disks, wrapped in plastic wrap, until firm, at least 2 hours.
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 350°F.
Roll out 1 disk of dough into an 11-inch round (1/8 inch thick) between 2 sheets of wax paper (keep remaining dough chilled). If dough becomes too soft to roll out, rewrap in plastic and chill until firm. Cut out as many cookies as possible from dough with larger cookie cutter and transfer to 2 ungreased large baking sheets, arranging about 1 inch apart. Using smaller cutters, cut out centers from half of the cookies, reserving centers and rerolling along with scraps (reroll only once).
Bake cookies, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until edges are golden, 10 to 15 minutes total, then transfer with a metal spatula to racks to cool completely. Make more cookies from second disk and cool completely.
Spread about 1 teaspoon jam on flat side of 1 solid cookie and sandwich jam with flat side of 1 windowed cookie. Sandwich remaining cookies in same manner.
Yield: 22-24 sandwich cookies