Surprise valentine with an artichoke

February 12, 1997|By Rob Kasper

CONTINUING a year-old tradition of giving questionable advice about what to feed your lover on Valentine's Day, I suggest the artichoke. That prickly green thing that looks like it is a cousin of the cactus.

Every time I cook artichokes at our house, the windows steam up. That is mainly because the best way to cook these spiky plants is to steam them in a pot of lemon juice and water, a process that fills the kitchen with a pleasant aroma and lots of water vapor.

The suggestion that artichokes are sexy will probably elicit two reactions from readers, one being derisive laughter, the other being faint interest.

I suspect the snickerers have several questions rolling around in their minds. One would be, "What does this clown know about romance?" Another might be, "Who, in his right mind, would listen to such Valentine's Day bunk?" And the third question might be, "Who put him up to this?"

For my credentials in the field of culinary romance, I offer up three little words: "chocolate body paint." Last year, in my initial attempt at offering advice on satisfying certain hungers, I told readers they could call a telephone number ([800] 576-3548) and order an 8-ounce jar of chocolate body paint for $7.50.

Lots of Marylanders, I later was told, took the chocolate-body-paint plunge last February. Last winter, you might remember, was especially cold and dreary.

Moreover, just the other day I got a call from a newspaper editor in Canada who wanted the phone number so her readers could body-paint each other this Valentine's Day. Apparently, winter is always cold in Canada.

When I got around to trying the chocolate body paint myself, I was disappointed. The chocolate didn't have a very good flavor. The basic chocolate sauce recipe in "Maida Heatter's Book of Great Chocolate Desserts" (Knopf, 1980) tastes much better. That is the way it goes in the advice-to-the-lovelorn business: You give counsel but you don't follow it.

As for who pays attention to this Valentine's Day advice, the answer is desperate souls. In other words, guys. The truth is, Valentine's Day sneaks up on most of us. (Note to guys: Valentine's Day is the day after tomorrow, Friday.)

Valentine's Day is not a big blip on many guys' radar screens. Many of us don't focus on Valentine's Day until it is right in front of us. Then we have to act fast. We have to get something, anything.

In this near-panic state, we listen to any advice, good or bad, about what to buy for Valentine's Day. Of course, what we probably should buy our Valentines is something intimate and meaningful. But that takes time, and time is always running short. So we end up buying body paint. Or this year maybe a bouquet of artichokes.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, America's so-called favorite sex therapist, is the temptress whose words on the joys of thistle-eating have smitten me. She is the one who has been linking romantic behavior and artichokes. She is the one who suggests peeling "each delicate [artichoke] leaf slowly," and "playfully" serving it to a partner.

As a buildup to Valentine's Day, Dr. Ruth has been pitching the passionate side of artichokes. She has become a spokeswoman for the California Artichoke Advisory Board. This means that she has been pitching artichokes for money. This should repulse me, but somehow it only makes the prickly vegetable more appealing.

There are, of course, other Valentine's Day culinary adventures to consider beyond artichokes. You can book a suite in a hotel and have your sensual side catered to.

I recently looked over the indulgent Valentine's Day menu being served at the Jefferson, the Washington hotel where former presidential adviser Dick Morris reportedly used to go to have his toes sucked by a lady friend. (This behavior appears to be an international trend. Recently I read that in England the National Heritage secretary had been sacked after he was caught sucking the toes of an "actress.") Anyway, the hotel menu promises prawns that are seared, loins that are roasted and chocolate terrines that are bittersweet. It sounds too rambunctious for me.

I plan to steam an artichoke. And if I feel like walking on the wild side, I'll make homemade mayonnaise in the food processor, with a raw egg.

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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