Love is in the air. Hearts of all shapes can be found on every store aisle, next to the Christmas decorations no doubt as they seem to preview holidays earlier and earlier in the retail business. Hopeful prospective grooms, with velvet ring boxes tucked in sweaty breast pockets, are practicing their speeches before bending on one knee to declare their everlasting devotion. Colorful florist’s trucks are gearing up to deliver smiles to ladies in offices and homes all over the nation. It’s countdown to Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day, for some, can be a frightening proposition. If not intrinsically romantic by nature, the prospect of choosing the appropriate way to express their love can be as daunting as an afternoon stroll through a mine field. Personally, I prefer a spontaneous thoughtful gesture any time of the year more than one expected on a particular day, but any day is a good day to be reminded you are cherished by the object of your affection. Over the years, having taken the plunge more times than the Olympic diving team, I have received my share of bouquets, candy hearts, romantic dinners and on one occasion even a trip to Hawaii, a personal favorite.
Hawaii is on my mind this week for several reasons. First because I always think of it around February 14th and secondly because I tuned in to watch The Descendents with George Clooney over the weekend. Shot on location in Oahu, a great movie by the way, it is one I will revisit another time or two not only for the story line and excellent acting, but to immerse myself in the glorious scenery. I have held a ticket with Hawaii listed as my destination four times during my years on this planet. My first trip, perhaps the most memorable so far, was in my early twenties.
Married three years to the father of my children, an opportunity for a five-day Valentine getaway to Oahu for an outlay of a mere $200.00 unexpectedly fell in our laps. A jilted gentlemen in my husband’s office had paid for non-refundable tickets as a surprise for his fiance and was soundly dumped before he had licked the envelope on her card. The romance package included round trip airfare, hotel accommodations and dinner at a fine restaurant on Valentine’s Day. A young working couple with two toddlers, there was little extra in our bank those days beyond what was needed to cover immediate expenses, day care, groceries, and mounting school loans. Even if we could manage the trip, there were those sticky extras like eating, transportation on the island, tips and something vacation appropriate to wear. Sigh.
After hearing about our dilemma, my parents threw their hat in the ring and offered to take our two rambunctious offspring during our absence, as well as adding $100 to our empty pot to spend while there. At the time $100 went considerably further than today where a picture of Ben Franklin from the mint might net you a newspaper, a bag of Doritos and possibly a jar of cheese dip. Young, all we needed were bathing suits, suntan lotion, a couple of pairs of shorts, tee shirts and something to wear to our complementary Valentine’s Day dinner. Making some minimum purchases, we tucked our items in one of the two suitcases borrowed from friends, reserving the second for our Farberware grill, a wedding present we hadn’t broken in yet, and various cooking implements, lest the need arise. Also thrown in was a huge bag of corn on the cob given in exchange for our picking up some pukka shell necklaces for a neighbor and his family and a jar of peanut butter.
After a five-hour trip in the center seats of the center aisle in coach, or steerage as I prefer to call it, we stepped out of the cooled airplane into bright sunlight and a warm blast of tropical air. At the bottom of the stairs (back then you exited on the Tarmac – I know, old, old, old) a golden skinned greeter was slipping gorgeous flower leis around descending passengers necks while another snapped their pictures. Once in our bus, our driver explained pictures would be offered for sale later at the hotel. Nothing is free, not even in paradise. Looking at the beautiful Hawaiians, I couldn’t help but note it seemed God had spent extra time on these people. Easy to smile, their gleaming white teeth appeared even more vivid when displayed against the backdrop of rich cocoa skin kissed by the sun, and lush, coarse manes of raven hair.
A brief tour was included on the ride to the hotel. Pearl Harbor was pointed to on our right, and the Dole Pineapple factory to our left. At the end of the long string of hotels directly on Waikiki beach, we were dropped at our hotel located one street over in the opposite direction. Although not on the beach, our fifth floor room provided a panoramic view of the coastline beyond the hotels and Diamond Head. A wisp of a breeze helped to temper the humidity carrying with it a hint of Hawaiian music from somewhere on the street below. Arriving on a Saturday, our night of free dining was scheduled for Wednesday, Valentine’s Day itself. Until then we were left to forage for ourselves. It didn’t take us long to discover the best places for happy hour situated along the boulevard. Free pu pu’s for the price of a tall tropical drink bedecked with orchids and fresh fruit became our entrance fee to the beautiful hotel bars where we watched the sun drizzle into the ocean and talked about our adventures of the day.
Valentine’s dinner was on top of a bank building overlooking the water. To begin huge iced bowls of shrimp were served, followed by a main course of mahi mahi perfectly cooked resting on a bed of seasoned rice. Dessert was a pineapple sorbet sailboat with thin chocolate crisp sails. Absolutely lovely.
On our last night, and on our last dollar we grilled hot dogs and corn on our Farberware grill on our hotel deck washed down by a cold beer or two from our picnic cooler. It was the perfect end to a fabulous week. Hope your Valentine’s Day is special. If you like lamb this is the ticket, and the potatoes, oh my.
Crockpot Lamb Shanks Osso Bucco
2 lamb shanks
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 cup flour
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups dry white wine
2 carrots, julienned
1 zucchini, julienned
1 yellow squash, julienned
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 14 1/2 oz. cans diced tomatoes with juice
1 cup water
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. basil
2 tsp. Italian seasoning
Mix together flour, 1/4 tsp. black pepper and 1/2 tsp. salt. Dredge lamb chops in flour mixture.
In large skillet heat olive oil over med.-high heat. Add lamb chops to skillet and brown on all sides. Remove shanks from skillet and place on bottom of 6 qt. slow cooker sprayed with cooking spray. Add wine to same skillet and scrape bottom to gather brown bits. Pour over shanks.
Place carrots, squash, and onions on top of shanks.
Mix together tomatoes, water, bay leaf, pepper, kosher salt, basil, and Italian seasoning. Pour over meat and vegetables.
Cook on low for 8 hrs.
Broasted Yukon Gold Potatoes
6 small Yukon gold potatoes, halved
1 1/2 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. rosemary
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1/4 tsp. garlic salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Place halved potatoes in resealable plastic bag or bowl with tight lid. Add remaining ingredients. Toss to coat well.
Cover cookie sheet with tin foil. Spray well with canola cooking spray. Place potatoes on foil cut side down. Bake for 30-35 mins. until cut side is nicely browned and potatoes are fork tender. Place in a bowl lined with paper towels to drain. Salt and pepper to taste.