Be My Valentine…Seriously!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016 - by Charles Siskin

Last fall we headed out to Las Vegas, not because I am a fan of “what happens in Vegas, blah, blah, blah.” Truly nothing much does for me anyway. Also I totally do not understand the slots anymore because most of them are based on those video war games young people play like 24/7, however my wife had a convention and I had family there as well.

I did see one slot machine based on the old “Friends” series.  Not only does that show appears to run on a twenty-four hour thread that can be watched on some one of those 1000 myriad cable channel offered up by DISH along with a college degree from an obscure university, now it is even a slot machine game.

All that aside, I have come to believe after this most recent trip to Vegas that it is or soon will be the most romantic of  cities in the entire universe. To prove my point I have included some pictures I took while out for a walk one day in the real downtown Las Vegas away from the well-known Strip.

First off I’d never seen a drive-up wedding chapel. Honest. Had I known years ago I would have suggested that both of my daughters consider that alternative to the obscenely number of invited wedding guests that attended those blow-outs. Surely we didn’t know that many people? 

We could have rented one of those gaudy limos whose interior is beyond lavish. Bar, stereo, Wi-Fi,  barware for 2000 plus a refrigerator stocked with mostly adult beverages and a selection of hors d’oeuvres like those little cheese squares you are encouraged to pick up with a toothpick but not really. 

Okay, then how about the drive through wedding chapel called “The Fast Lane” where you have the option of the “Walk Up”  as well? One Drive Up has painted on the window that is shaped like a church steeple, “Wedding Window of special memories” and a free oil change and tire rotation while you say your vows. (Not really the oil and tire thing, but it makes sense).

Also there’s the Special Memory Wedding Chapel. It has two bells atop its sign and says Where Dreams Come True. They can offer the lucky  couple the whole ball of string including (drum roll) Drive-up Wedding Window, tuxes and gowns, flower shop, reception and delivery of your first born (okay that’s not on the sign but probably falls into the same category of extras like the nuts and mints.)

So should anyone sweetheart, mistress or your long-suffering wife (aren’t they all?)   decide because this is leap year it is time to say or repeat your wedding vows while speeding through a drive-in wedding palace, or even better have an Elvis impersonator administer those vows, then Las Vegas is where you need to be.

There are all sorts of option for first time or long time couples when it comes to saying those vows.   I can see the happy couple in a hot air balloon high over the Grand Canyon if of course heights don’t freak you out as it does me. I’ve read about couples who say them at McDonalds or Starbuck. In my case for symbolism perhaps the checkout counter at Publix since I’m there every day. (Addiction!)

My bride and I are coming up on a momentous occasion next fall, 50 rocking years and counting. I need to warn her that I won’t be getting down on one knee to ask for her hand in marriage again unless Doctor Orthopedic is on hand.

And just this morning I saw the ultimate Valentine gift being offered on television. It was a giant four foot teddy bear being cuddled by an amazing blond while a young man is seen winking beside Smokey and the babe.  It can be ordered from some New England company who is, thank goodness, not involved in the current interminable election hoopla. Or maybe the bear is a candidate, who knows since we’ve got elephants and donkeys? 

Over the years we’ve been indoctrinated to believe there should be an intimate dinner with lots of candlelight and wine and preferably no children. Fantasy, you young couples snicker. Okay then once the children are stashed away have your quiet dinner young people.

Start with a small antipasto of Bib or Boston lettuce tossed in a splurge of a serious first pressing olive oil and well aged balsamic vinegar. Add a bruschetta of eggplant ragout and a slice of fresh mozzarella. Yum! Next I think a pasta would be appropriate to carry out the Italian theme.  There are some great fresh ones in the dairy case at “you know where I shop” supermarket. 

I might suggest tossing the pasta with some real heavy cream, diced fresh tomatoes and a bit of sherry and garnish with lobster. (not a whole one unless you are recreating the 60’s flick “Tom Jones”. The guy in the tight pants came later)

Dessert is a no-brainer chocolate fondue with fresh strawberries. Here it might be appropriate to toast the evening’s end with an Italian Asti Spumante or Prosecco. Then if you haven’t fallen asleep, mom and dad, grab your bear and hugs all around.

Eggplant Ragout
Tip: Try to find a small or the smallest eggplant in the produce department.
You will need the following in addition to the eggplant:
Kosher Salt 
½ cup sweet white onion diced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 cup sweet red pepper diced
1 to 2 teaspoons of red pepper flakes (optional)
Olive oil and a combination of Balsamic vinegar and 1 Myer’s lemon (or a no-name lemon if you must!) 

Peel and dice the eggplant then place in a glass bowl and toss with the Kosher salt (don’t overdue the salting process) 
Place a heavy object on top of the eggplant and let it sit long enough to expel as much juice as possible
Squeeze dry and set aside.
Heat half a cup of the olive oil in a sauce pan or skillet, add onions, garlic, red peppers and red pepper flakes and cook until onions are transparent and peppers have softened.
Add eggplant and more olive oil if needed to your mirepoix of onions and peppers.  The eggplant will cook quickly. Stir often then add a tablespoon of balsamic to the mixture and let it incorporate well with the eggplant mixture. 

Off stove let mixture cool overnight – it can and should be made a day ahead- then taste first before adding the juice of one half the lemon. The juice should brighten your ragout nicely. If you think it needs another squeeze please do but you do not want the lemon juice to overpower the mixture. Also I like to add some cracked pepper but careful not to over season.  


Toast sliced baguettes that have been brushed with olive oil. Top with the ragout and garnish with a sprig of fresh mint. I served it as I noted on a plate with a small serving of salad and a slice of mozzarella but you could use a goat’s cheese instead. That might be even tastier.

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