It’s Heeeeeere … one of my favorite days of the year. I wish I had a week off to do nothing but bake like crazy and make cards out of pink construction paper! I realize Valentine’s Day is not everyone’s favorite holiday, and I agree, the Hallmark version can be a bit hard to take. Like New Year’s Eve, it gets whipped up into something it hasn’t the remotest possibility of living up to– a random day on which you’re supposed to have the most romantic experience of your life, culminating with fat cherubs zooming down from puffy clouds, pouring huge goblets of wine, flinging expensive chocolates and dumping rose petals over you and your beloved … while somehow skewering your hearts together forever on a giant golden arrow. Wow. Sounds kind of amazing, actually. Truth be told, I don’t think I’ve ever had a romantic Valentine’s Day, but it doesn’t seem to have dampened my enthusiasm.
What if we thought about Valentine’s Day instead as a single day in the year to honor and celebrate our beautiful hearts and the amazing potential to love consciously that makes us human? In Chinese medical physiology, the heart is the Empress, who houses the Shen or Spirit. This perspective makes our hearts very different from the rest of our organs. The Heart is literally the interface between the spiritual and physical realms. It brings what the ancient Chinese referred to as our “Heavenly Mandate” — our unique purpose on earth — into our bodies. It lights our eyes with Spirit/Shen — that inner flame with which we all connect when we look into the eyes of another person. The Heart’s element is Fire, giving it the potent capacity to transform — to burn the old to ashes and allow new life to rise like a phoenix. And isn’t that what love does? It continually reminds us that we are never alone, never without hope, always connected to everything around us, and in the darkest moments everything has the potential to be renewed.
When we prepare even the simplest food with love, we infuse it with shen, and it becomes nurturing on a level beyond just the physical. This is the real reason why your mom’s chicken soup is so much better than one from even the fanciest restaurant. We all know this, of course, but how often do we really think about what it actually means? Love heals. Your love heals. It does. Take it from a doc! So who do you know who needs a little healing love this Valentines’ Day? Is it yourself? That friend who’s seemed a little down? The woman at the office you don’t really know that well? The guy without a home you see again and again on the same corner?
This week’s recipe for rose truffles is super simple (It’s midterm week for me!) Remember, it’s the love you put into them that counts! My sister-in-law, Nina, one of the kindest people I know, gave me a jar of organic dried rose petals at Christmas, and I’ve been looking for a chance to use them. What better way than paired with the darkest chocolate — two plants that benefit the heart? For centuries the rose has been associated with the heart in cultures all over the world. Today we know it has anti-inflammatory properties and is also particularly good for women as it gently supports the reproductive system. Beyond soothing anxiety and lifting depression, the fragrance of roses goes straight to the heart — next time you smell a rose, take a moment to feel how your chest literally seems to relax and open. Dark chocolate has its own antioxidant benefits and … bingo — improves cardiovascular health! Let’s face it, we don’t really need science to tell us what the Mayans discovered a very long time ago — cacao is shen food. I’ve never been entirely convinced that quite all of the much-touted antioxidants actually make it through the processing into some of the bars we consume, but I’m with Mulder on this one — I want to believe. And for the purposes of this week, I certainly will. Do make sure your chocolate is as dark as possible — 72-88%, the higher the better. This is the beneficial stuff (about one ounce a day, that is!)
LOVELY ROSE TRUFFLES:
- 2/3 cup whole milk (or any non-dairy milk you want)
- 1 tablespoon rose water
- 1 tablespoon vanilla (or the seeds scraped out of one vanilla bean + an extra tablespoon of milk)
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom (or cinnamon) If you can, buy the whole cardamom pods, remove the seeds and freshly grind them in a coffee grinder.
- 10 oz. bittersweet chocolate
- 1 tablespoon dried food-grade rose petals, crushed (optional)
- unsweetened cocoa powder for rolling
Put the milk, rose water, and vanilla in a small, heavy-bottomed pot. Bring just to a boil, and the minute it starts boiling, remove from heat and add the chocolate, which has been chopped into small chunks. Don’t try to plop it in whole or skimp on the chopping step because it will be much harder to get it all to melt. Stir the chocolate into the warm liquid until all is smooth. Add the cardamom and dried rose petals if you’re using. (The rose flavor will be plenty strong without them so don’t worry if you can’t get them.) Put the pot in the fridge to chill. When the chocolate is thick enough to handle — it can take about an hour at least; it should be very firm — scoop out bits with a spoon, and roll into small balls. Then roll in cocoa powder. These do best stored in the refrigerator but hold up just fine for serving at room temperature.