Memories of a Valentine’s Day Heartbreak
If the photo of my dessert here gives you the impression that I am somehow hostile towards Valentine’s Day then I can assure you right now that I am. I owe the day no loyalty. It has tried in earnest for years to sour me on its sweet promises of unfettered love and a fancy public dinner out from which to show it off. The day has failed over the years in its mission but as far as I’m concerned my experiences with it have left me with several real-life lessons than cannot be found on a greeting card or the tag of a dozen roses arriving at your place of work.
This food blog writer has never been one for sappy platitudes and yet this heart-shaped blob of milk-fat you see here is one of the sappiest of all Valentine’s Day desserts. I hate it. A dessert comprised solely of cream cheese and other dairy, sugar and a splash of vanilla is somehow elevated to romatic tradition sole based on it being shaped like a heart. Spare me. Just looking at it compels me to share with you the sour and slightly acidic tale of my 25th Valentine’s Day. The one where my own naive coeur à la crème was savagely stabbed by my true love.
This is “The One With Dr. Frank.”
I was 25 years old and had somehow managed to suppress my personal dating activity until I had finished college only a few years earlier. Doing this had the effect of imparting a premature sense of urgency to the situation each time even the hint of possible romance presented itself. Each new chance at love seemed as if it were my last chance passing me by. Looking back now I see that the sweet-spot for true love hadn’t even yet begun! I was not the bitter Valentine’s Day hater you see before you today. No, when I was 25 the Valentine’s Day party was something I was all too eager to attend.
Then I met Dr. Frank.
Dr Frank was “all that and a bag of chips.” In fact when I met him he was holding a bag of chips and cruising me heavily at the supermarket. His forward, overt interest in me was something I had not yet experienced (at least not out in public) and his complete lack of shame in showing his interest was inebriating to me. After 15 years of trying to remain invisible lest anyone discover the real me it was both unnerving and exciting to think someone as gorgeous and normal looking could see through to me so quickly in front of the ice cream freezer. And still want me.
I may have turned my head to look behind me to see if was actually me he was staring at. I botching this first meeting. In the countless replays of the scene in my mind I imagined Dr. Frank annoyed with my inexperienced and awkward small talk. No matter. I just wasn’t ready to let Dr. Frank “close the deal” so I scampered off sheepishly to the safety of my bachelorhood.
We would meet again several months later at a party thrown by a mutual friend. Dr. Frank recognized me immediately as the guy from the market and then proceeded to flirt even more shamelessly than he had before. I immediately fell under the spell of his confidence and his full attention. He asked me if I would like a cocktail (which was all the qualification necessary those days to secure a date with me) and by the end of the evening I was head-over-heals planning out our wedding and eventual retirement together to the Italian countryside.
He seemed to be everything I would ever want. Five years older than me, he was handsome beyond measure, successful, confident, unashamed, and most importantly: interested. Inwardly he was, well, let’s just say I hadn’t quite learned how to see the insides of people.
Dating Dr. Frank was never easy but it was always a thrilling exciting ride and a very passionate one at that. I could never count on him to call when he said he would and at most times I never knew when I would see him next. This of course made it difficult to work out our future married life together in my Dr. Frank fantasies but I learned to make do. I was quite good at projecting onto him any “reality” I felt was required.
“He just forgot to call because he’s under a lot of work stress right now.”
We had dated all of 3 months by the time February 14th rolled around and I knew this would be my first special Valentine’s Day — the romantic celebration that I craved for years! The 25 year old me who had never dated anyone for that length of time anxiously (and passively) waited for Dr. Frank’s invitation. Surely he was planning something special and would call me after he had it all arranged!
Dr. Frank eventually invited me to the local hot-spot restaurant in town which was doing a special Valentine’s menu for the occasion. Wow! I would get the double satisfaction of a romantic prix-fixe dinner date with my super hot doctor guy AND I would get a full-scale pubic presentation of us as a couple. I had grown a bit frustrated that we hadn’t yet managed to be seen out publicly as a couple so this night, combined with our happiness on display, had me forgetting all about that unimportant detail. Score!
Coeur à la Crème
In hindsight there were many signs which I chose to ignore that might have indicated the night (and our relationship) would not end well. Dr. Frank didn’t pick me up that night in his pride-and-joy Mercedes as he usually. This time around he asked me to meet him at the restaurant.
“He’s so busy taking care of patients. I don’t mind at all if this makes it easier for him.”
Even though I did mind.
After I parked my car and walked in alone I was shown to our table by the host. As I approached I could see to my astonishment that there were four other people sitting at the table with my boyfriend!
Dr. Frank saw me, stood up, and then came over to kiss me hello. On the lips. He introduced me to our table-mates: there was Tom (his “ex” who was very handsome), Darrel (his “other ex” and even more handsome), and finally Carlo and Michael — whom he introduced as “the other guys I’m dating right now.”
What I remember feeling next was a dizzying punch to the head followed by a loud cacophony of unintelligible table chit-chat which my pounding heart would not let me hear because I was trying so hard to keep composure. My WASP upbringing has taught me never to show emotion in public but this value was strained as I struggled with so many hitting me all at once.
Was I to have already known about these people? Who were they? And why were they here at MY Valentine’s Day celebration?
Had this been a theatrical movie or play this would have been the moment where I would shout out “how very dare you!” and throw my cocktail in his face and storm out while calling him an asshole. My WASP training is hard ignore however so I found myself doing what any WASP would do: quietly suppress my emotions and sit down to a dinner with Dr. Frank’s and his other boyfriends.
I must have realized that a self-debrief of the last three months would take place at a later time (probably with a therapist) but in that moment all eyes in the restaurant seemed to be on me and watching to see how I would react to Dr. Frank’s apparent Valentine dinner tradition.
I opted to keep my cool. Besides, Carlo, one of Dr. Frank’s other unsuspecting boyfriends was kind of hot.
Carlo was dark and Italian looking and we quickly bonded over the mutual injustice that had been done to us by Dr. Frank not long before. We drank expensive cocktails and sharpened our wit, both at his expense. When it was time for dessert our server reverently placed before each of us our very own individual coeur a la creme before taking a step back in gleeful anticipation of what she was sure would be our ‘oohs and aahs’.
Our table for six turned into a flirty table for two despite the fact that we were sitting next to the wreckage of our previous “relationship”. Like Dr. Frank, Carlo too was bold and full of confidence and he too earned my attentions by asking if I would like another cocktail. Why not? I was single again and I couldn’t afford to let love pass me by. I was determined to make the best of it and even declared to Carlo that this was going to be considered our first date!
Carlo and I eventually got up and said our tipsy goodbyes to Dr. Frank and his romantic past. They hadn’t paid much attention to us anyway nor we them and we doubted they would miss us much. Besides, it was getting late we were eager to leave them to the rest of their lives.
We made a big show of walking back through the restaurant together holding hands and acting as if we had just had the best dinner of our lives. We kissed goodnight at the front door and Carlo offered to walk me to my car. Such a gentleman!
Then as we passed by what was probably the one true love of Dr. Frank’s life, his beloved Mercedes, Carlo quickly took out a serrated steak knife he must have pocketed from the restaurant and plunged it effortlessly into the driver’s side front tire — simultaneously deflating the poor doctor’s ride home and my hopes for a new boyfriend.
It would be the last time I saw Carlo. I was finally ready to learn how to pay attention to ‘the signs.’
I consider that lesson my Valentine’s gift from Dr. Frank and I do remember him fondly for it. It would not be the last time I would ever see Dr. Frank, however. He would return later to make several key re-appearances later in my life – but never again with the same sense of gravitas and drama he had when I was only 25 and in a hurry.
Damn Valentine’s Day.
If you wish for the full cathartic effect plunging a dagger into this dessert will impart I recommend investing in a full sized coeur a la creme mold.They are inexpensive and can be found at most cooking stores or online. The mold has small holes in the bottom that allow the liquids to drain out and the heart to solidify and hold its shape nicely. If acting out on early personal heartbreak is not your concern I have found the recipe still works quite well in other shallow dishes or even custard cups.
This is what you will need:
- 2 sheets of cheesecloth, each large enough to line the mold. Rinsed with water and squeezed until damp.
- 8-ounce package cream cheese at room temperature
- 1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
- 4 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
This is how you make it:
- Line the coeur à la crème mold with 1 square of cheesecloth and then the other right on top of it and set aside.
- With an electric or KitchenAid mixer with paddle attachment, beat cream cheese, crème fraîche, powdered sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and salt until smooth. This should take about 4 minutes.
- Fold the mixture into the coeur à la crème mold and smooth out with a plastic spatula. Cover the mold with overhanging cheesecloth over and place mold on a shallow baking dish to catch the liquids. Cover the whole thing with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 hours but preferably overnight.
- When ready to serve, unmold the dessert onto a platter and sharpen your dagger. The dessert is great on its own but it is traditionally served with a topping of sliced fruit or raspberry sauce.
(Note: Some recipes will have you putting the cheese mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any clumps before setting into the mold. I have found that if your cream cheese is at room temperature when you start that this is an unnecessary step and certainly not one Dr. Frank would do for you.)