Keeping up with Cupid's crazy ways


SOME PEOPLE, I am told, book tables months in advance for romantic Valentine's Day dinners in dark restaurants.

Some home cooks, I have read, plan elaborate Valentine's Day seduction dinners that begin with raw oysters and end, more or less, with souffles.

Just the other day I learned that the hot item this Valentine's Day is chocolate body paint. You call up an 800 number, and order an 8-ounce jar of sweet milk chocolate and a brush.

Such Valentine's Day doings are fascinating, but foreign to me. I feel pleased with myself if I remember before sundown Feb. 14th that the day is Valentine's Day.

I find Valentine's Day a slippery, hard-to-keep-track of holiday. There is no All-Star Game or significant televised sporting event to remind you of the day's importance. You don't get the day off work. And Valentine's Day jumps around. This year, for instance, I was confident that Valentine's Day would fall on Tuesday, like last year. But this year it moved to a Wednesday. For a few anxious moments I thought Valentine's Day was today. But it is not. Whew!

That means I have seven days to go out and buy my wife some chocolate, the kind that comes in a box, not with a paint brush. At our house we usually mark Valentine's Day with dark chocolates, red wine, and homework. My wife eats most of the chocolates. I drink most of the wine. The kids do the homework. Our dinner entree depends on what has been defrosted. Tacos are a house favorite, especially on school nights. And, repeating for all of you who have trouble tracking this event, Valentine's Day is next Wednesday, a school night.

While my Valentine's Day activities are pretty much confined to not letting the date sneak up on me, I am interested in stories about folks who take a friskier approach to the festivities.

Like the man that came to dinner wearing black tie, and little else. Robert Talbott told me the story. It happened a few years ago when he and his wife, Janis, ran Morton's, a food and wine establishment on Eager street.

A customer wanted the shop to cater a romantic, black-tie for two at the customer's Baltimore area home. The menu was agreed upon. The wine chosen. The price set.

When an employee of Morton's walked into the dining room to serve dinner, at one end of the table sat a gentlemen wearing a black tie and nothing else. At the other end sat a lady wearing a skimpy French maid's outfit.

Calmly and without comment, the waiter presented several courses to the nearly naked couple. Finally, after carrying out the coffee and dessert, the waiter made a discreet exit.

The couple regarded the romantic meal as a great success, Talbott reported, and recommended the shop food and service to many of their friends. "It launched our catering business," recalled Talbott.

While Morton's is now out of business, there are plenty of caterers in the area. Most of them have trained their staff to serve from the left, remove from the right, and never laugh at a naked customer.

As for the chocolate sauce, you use it to paint the body of a significant other. It is French-style chocolate, made by Tom and Sally in Vermont. It can be ordered for $7.50 plus shipping from the Fancy Food Gourmet Club ([800] 576-3548). You get 8 ounces and a brush. You might even be able to get it delivered before Valentine's Day, which is sometime next week. I forget when.

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