Valentine’s Day shouldn’t have to hurt. Yet not a February 14th ever goes by without the excruciating memory of the night I had my heart and spirit utterly broken–not by a person, but by a restaurant, and by my own inability to recognize my limits. It started with my unwillingness to say no to my “front of the house” manager when she decided to go to Seattle to see the Vagina Monologues on the busiest day of the year. Neither could I say no to the desperate men calling for reservations long after we were completely full. Nor was I able to stop myself from planning a special multi course menu I had neither staff nor resources to carry off (cue close-up shot of multi-course “dessert tasting” that included tiny creme brûlée spoons, each individually tied with pink ribbon). And then there were handmade Valentine’s for my children’s classmates and homemade treats to bring to school, because it wasn’t their fault their mother decided to open a restaurant. The night ended in a slow-motion disaster of fire and slippery floors and exploding champagne bottles and not enough napkins or plates and disgruntled men watching their romantic hopes for the evening dwindle and fade. When it was all over, I went home and cried so hard I sounded like a dog barking. It probably wasn’t really all that bad, but I hate feeling like I’ve failed people, and it wasn’t a good night–too much work and too little enjoyment for everyone involved. It’s the scene that always replays through my mind when people ask if I miss having a restaurant.
I’ve never been out to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day since. If you do go out, and it’s hectic and expensive and hurried, be nice to the restaurant people, please. For me now, February 14th is all about making three kinds of chocolate treats, spending the evening in our drawstring pants if we want, handmade cards, glitter underfoot for days, icy cold pink champagne in front of a fire, warm comforting food in big bowls, an unhurried night with the people I love the most. And, especially on February 14th, I don’t miss that restaurant at all.
Paparadelle with Kale Pesto and Toasted Pine Nuts
1 bunch kale, washed and leaves torn
1/4 c pine nuts, lightly toasted
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1/4 c grated parmesan, plust more for serving
1/2 c olive oil
salt & pepper
1 package paparadelle, cooked al dente
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, Plunge kale leaves in water, then immediately drain and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain in colander, then lay on paper towels to extract as much water as possible. Place in the bowl of a food processor with garlic, parmesan, and all but 2 Tbs of toasted pine nuts. Add a generous pinch of salt and pulse briefly to combine and chop. With machine running, drizzle in olive oil until you achieve a loose pesto-like consistency with some texture remaining.
Meanwhile, cook pasta to al dente, drain & reserve 1 cup of cooking water. Place pasta in a large bowl, add big spoonfuls of pest and some pasta cooking water to loosen it al up. Toss until noodles are coated with pesto, then serve in big warm bowls, topped with additional toasted pine nuts and grated parmesan.