I’m fascinated by hidden messages. The symbolism of flowers in wedding bouquets, the secret signals Victorian women used to communicate through their fans, the meaning of Aran stitches in sweaters… this idea of a secret message given in plain sight is beautiful because it means “The world sees me, but I see you. And I’ve got something special just for you.”
Valentine’s Day is approaching, which means these secret messages are often passed off as innocent dinners.
You’ve probably heard of Engagement Chicken (it worked for Meghan and Harry!). Maybe this year you’re thinking of sending a different love message with a recipe like Blueberry Boy Bait, Man-Pleasing Chicken, Get a Husband Brunswick Stew, Husband-Winning Peanut Butter Cookies, Saskatchewan Matrimonial Cake, Falling in Love Shrimp Enchiladas, or Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake.
Or maybe, as in the case of Come Fuck Me Penne a la Vodka, you just want to send the message of pure carnal pleasure.
But modern times call for more up-to-date recipes. Enough with the theme of recipes for women designed to help them keep/attract/please their men. I’m ready for a Polyamory Pasta. Or a Turn That Top into a Bottom Turnover. Perhaps a Fuck It, Let’s Do Anal Antipasto or a Reverse Cowgirl Roulade? A We Should Never Have Had Sex and I Think We’ll Be Better Off as Friends Bundt Cake? But I digress.
As to whether these recipes actually deliver on their claims or make the “perfect” Valentine’s Day dinner, well, I believe in them in the same way I believe french fries eaten off someone else’s plate taste better. Which is to say, I have no evidence to offer, only emotion and experience. In matters of the heart and belly, it’s how you feel that matters most.
Sure, maybe the reason recipes like Blueberry Boy Bait, Husband-Winning Peanut Butter Cookies, Saskatchewan Matrimonial Cake, and Icelandic Happy Marriage Cake “work” is because they contain sweet and savory ingredients like vanilla, cinnamon, and cardamom, all of which are known aphrodisiacs. Or maybe it’s that the entrees listed above all have approximately the same ratios of fat to texture to seasonings, resulting in a super-sexy mouthfeel.
Or maybe it’s because when you eat, you use multiple senses: taste, sight, touch, and smell. Eating stimulates the same senses you’d use during sex, and they’re heightened when you eat with your lover. The foods you prepare provoke your lover into craving a heightened sense of pleasure that comes from you being the one providing them.
When you sit down to eat with the one you love, hunger is less a matter of a lack of nourishment and more a matter of a craving. Whatever you make or buy or share together on Valentine’s Day will satisfy that craving because you’re the one who chose it.
“You can always tell what a man really thinks of you by the kind of jewelry he buys you,” says Audrey Hepburn’s character in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” as she picks up an earring while rummaging through her jewelry. The movie doesn’t age well (seriously, Mickey Rooney’s performance as an Asian man is so, so, wrong), but that earring scene is one I think about often.
It says, “Every action we take conveys a secret signal to our sweetheart.”
Whether you make Falling in Love Enchiladas or simply order your lover a latte to go on the Starbucks app, the food you prepare on Valentine’s Day will send a message. And I promise you, you know what “I love you” tastes like. You know if adding apricots to a roast is like adding a tender caress or a stinging slap.
You don’t need some stranger’s anecdotal recipe as part of your life story — your voice is your special sauce. Don’t be afraid to use it.
Inside each of us is an encyclopedia of the feelings specific foods evoke in us — an emotional palate primer we can pull off our mental shelves to identify the appropriate ingredients for apathy or resentment, and yes, even love.
In my relationships, I wear my heart on my sleeve and offer my intentions on a plate. Annoyance is cheddar, so sharp it has a point. Flirtation is cucumber, cool and sliced so slim it’s practically translucent.
Anger is elusive, so it’s not pepper but anchovy paste, spooned into a tomato sauce gently, while we both simmer. Melted butter tastes like a warm bath feels. Cilantro tastes like a high five, and a squeeze of lemon tastes like a giggle.
That’s my palate, though. You have your own. Trust it. Use it to deliver the message you’re most comfortable sending — your own, personal, “perfect” Valentine’s Day dinner.
I’d serve any of those traditional dishes I mentioned above — not to say “Please choose me,” nor as a way to “secure the rock,” but to look my lover in the eye and say, “This is who I am at this moment in time — and I want to share today with you.”
Erica Gerald Mason is a freelance writer living in Atlanta. Her writing focuses on what’s new, what’s helpful, and what’s next.