Lady and the Tramp had the right idea.
A mound of pasta, a glowing candle in an old-fashioned chianti bottle and big, soupy eyes just for each other.
Oh, and no utensils.
That single strand of spaghetti brought them together in the most delightfully sweet way.
Sharing food is romantic -- especially when you're eating with your hands, not to mention your muzzle.
That's intimate and primal.
Just like love.
Valentine's Day will be here in a couple of weeks, which gives you plenty of time to plan the perfect meal a deux. If your heart is set on going out, make reservations ASAP or you may find yourself at the drive-through. Or stay in and orchestrate a cozy meal at your pace and to your own liking. Turn up the swanky music and turn down the lights.
There are foods that have long been considered aphrodisiacs, kindling love with special, mysterious properties. Among them are oysters, figs, chocolate, wine and strawberries. I don't know about oysters and figs, but what's not to fall in love about (and over) chocolate, wine and strawberries?
So there is more to chocolate-dipped strawberries and a glass of bubbly (which, you know, is a form of wine) than commercialism. Those treats speak the language of love, figuratively and chemically, it seems.
When you put together the menu for your sweetie, consider what you both like to eat. That said, this is not the time for a heavy feast. There's nothing that squelches amorous intentions more than a bellyful of chili or something equally weighty.
Keep the Valentine's Day fare light and communal. Imagine the sparks flying as your hands bump on the way to the fondue pot. You'll need to sit closer together, too. Feed him a truffle; serve her a spoonful of Brownie Tiramisu.
It's getting hot in here.
Shellfish, especially inexpensive mussels and finger-friendly shrimp, are excellent choices for a grown-up, romantic meal. My Mussels in Chunky Tomato Broth is a slurpy bowl of deliciousness that can serve as a starter or the main event. Get some good bread to sop up the garlic-tinged broth. Don't worry about garlic breath, because that stinking rose has amorous qualities, too.
Rosemary Shrimp Scampi uses woody rosemary stems as the skewers. Put the earthy herb on the list of aphrodisiacs, too. In ancient cultures, it was considered a token of fidelity and remembrance, both important qualities in affairs of the heart.
Fondue is a classic dish for lovers, and the accompanying recipe from the Food Network is fairly simple to put together and will provide a workout for that fondue pot gathering dust on the top shelf. Use cooked fingerling potatoes, plus French-bread cubes and vegetables, to dip into the cheesy goodness.
For dessert, you could buy a variety of mini-desserts that are easily eaten by hand. Many grocery-store bakeries have mini-eclairs and other creamy offerings. Or you could buy the best box of dark chocolates that you can afford and serve them with red wine or a coffee drink.
Or do something French. Serve a selection of cheeses at room temperature with a glass of port (but only if you're not doing fondue). Set out a wedge of Stilton or a bold, blue-veined cheese such as Roquefort. If you can find it, try Oregon's Rogue Creamery smoky blue.
Now that should kindle some flames.
CHEESE FONDUE WITH FINGERLING POTATOES, FRENCH BREAD AND VEGETABLES
12 fingerling potatoes, cut in half or 24 (1-inch) baby potatoes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 jigger dry sherry
1 cup half-and-half
8 ounces cream cheese
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1 cup grated Gruyere or Swiss
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups broccoli florets
1 pound asparagus, trimmed of stems, tips reserved
2 tablespoons fresh chives, snipped or chopped
1/2 French baguette, cubed
12 cherry tomatoes
Cover potatoes with water and bring the water to a boil. Salt the water and simmer potatoes 10 to 12 minutes, until just tender. Drain potatoes and return to warm pot to dry the potatoes. Drizzle potatoes with a little oil to keep them from discoloring and to shine them up.
Fill a second skillet or saucepan with 2 inches of water. Cover and bring the water to a boil on the stove. Salt the water, replace the cover and reduce heat to simmer.
To a heavy saucepan over moderate heat, add 1 tablespoon oil and the chopped shallots. Saute shallots for 2 or 3 minutes, then add sherry and allow it to almost evaporate, a minute or two. Add half-and-half to the pan and reduce heat to low. Cut cream cheese into 1-inch slices and add it to the pot. Allow the cream cheese to slowly melt into the half-and-half, 5 minutes. Add Parmesan and shredded Gruyere or Swiss to the sauce and stir until cheese is melted and fully incorporated. Stir in lemon juice. Season sauce with, nutmeg and black pepper. Place a candle underneath a wire rack or warm a fondue pot. Transfer cheese sauce to fondue pot or place saucepan over wire rack and burning