St. Valentine’s Day is one of the most divisive holidays, in my opinion. It’s well loved by many, especially couples and romantics, but for a lot of people (myself included) it only serves as a painful reminder of how single you are. Growing up means Valentine’s Day mailboxes made of cardboard and construction paper are replaced with sappy Hallmark cards and love letters. Cheap candy is displaced by gourmet chocolates and intimate dinners. I don’t mean to establish myself as the Grinch of romance, but for an outsider looking in on the festivities, whether you’ve just gone through a breakup or you’ve been single since you can remember, it can be a lonely time. Despite this though, I’m taking a different look on Valentine’s Day this year, a perspective I got from a very special person in my life, that I’d like to share with anyone else feeling a bit of the St. Valentine’s blues.
My parents divorced when I was a very young age, so for a significant portion of my youth, it was just myself, my older sister, and my mom holding down the fort. Being a black woman, an immigrant, and a mother are all challenging enough, but throw in single on top, and you have a challenge that seems insurmountable. That never stopped my mom from being one of the best moms I could ask for. No matter what challenges we had to overcome as a family, she still always took the time to make my sister and I feel loved, and Valentine’s Day was no exception.
Mom always told my sister and I, “there’s one person you have to love before you love anyone else: yourself.” I failed to see it then, but she tried to teach and embody that simple sentiment with any opportunity she had. Every Valentine’s Day until I got to high school, my sister, mom, and I would all cook and enjoy dinner together. It didn’t matter how busy we were, or how inconvenient it was, my mom was adamant that the three of us take the time as a family. She always made sure she did something special for “her Valentines,” and after every dinner there were cards waiting for each of us. In them, my mom always added a reminder of not just how much she loves us, but a reminder to love ourselves as well.
I look back on these memories of cooking, eating, and just receiving and expressing love so fondly, but with a little bit of frustration that I didn’t grasp the true importance of her lessons until now. My mom was trying to show us that love goes beyond the romantic. It is something that you of course can find in and give to others, but it’s also something that you should find in and give to yourself. This Valentine’s Day, I plan on keeping only love in my heart regardless of how single I am, and I hope you will do the same. Get a pedicure, take a bubble bath, write down some positive affirmations, or… make this delicious vegetarian carbonara.
¼ pounds your preferred pasta
¼ pounds asparagus, trimmed, cut into 2-3inch pieces
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced or grated
1 pinch smoked paprika
1 large egg yolk
¼ cup vegetarian Parmesan cheese, grated
In a large pot, cook your pasta in salted water until very al dente, about three minutes less than package directions. Add your asparagus when the pasta is about one minute away from finished. While your pasta is cooking, in a skillet or wide bottom pan, combine your olive oil, garlic, and freshly ground black pepper to taste and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the garlic is just beginning to turn blonde. Remove the pan from heat, add paprika and set aside. In a medium sized, heatproof bowl, add the egg yolk and gradually add a quarter cup of pasta cooking liquid, whisking constantly. Season the now tempered egg yolk with salt and pepper. Once your pasta and asparagus are cooked, drain them, reserve at least one ½ cup of pasta water and add the pasta and asparagus to the olive oil mixture in the pan. Toss your pasta and asparagus in the olive oil mixture over medium low heat to coat. Next, while tossing constantly, add the yolk mixture, ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid, and Parmesan cheese to the pan; you may want to reserve some Parmesan cheese for topping the final dish. Cook over medium low heat while tossing constantly until the cheese is melted, and the sauce has reached a silky consistency. This will take about 5 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, you can add additional pasta water to loosen. Put your pasta in a nice dish (or eat it straight out of the pot, I won’t judge), top with additional Parmesan and freshly cracked black pepper, and enjoy.
Recipe adapted from Bon Appetit’s Vegetarian Carbonara
Cover photo courtesy of Glamour