“Miss, what are you and your husband going to do for you for Valentine’s Day?”

“Nothing really. We’re not super into Valentine’s Day.”

“Well, maybe he’ll surprise you this year and buy you flowers.”

“I doubt it. I’ve been with him for eight years, and we’ve never really established Valentine’s gifts.”

“Miss, do you even love your husband anymore?”

I’ve had this conversation with my students five times today.

The truth is, I don’t really care about the lovey-dovey Valentine’s Day. What I do care about is our family tradition.

For the past seven years, my family has done extravagant Valentine’s Day dinners. It started when my parents used to go out to expensive dinner, only to realize that they spent a lot of money and ended up talking about us girls anyway. That’s when they decided that they might as well save the money and have the dinner with us.

I’m writing this about half an hour after leaving the annual Valentine’s Day dinner. Let’s paint a word picture, shall we?

It starts with the appetizers: dates stuffed with goat cheese and bacon-wrapped water chestnuts (courtesy of yours truly). We eat this around the coffee table, chatting and sipping wine.

Then comes the soup and salad course. The soup is mushroom and truffle, complete with heavy cream and crostini. We savor the decadence of the soup and the tart dressing that accompanies the salad.

Round three is prawns in a lemon-butter and cayenne pepper as well as moist, light mackerel that was just flown in to the Downtown Market from Maine this morning. It is at this time that I am deep in conversation with my sister Linnea and her boyfriend Forrest about real-world issues and social injustice and the way they manifest themselves in my classroom discussions.

Round four is goat. Much less intense than the lamb we ate the last few years. My dad prepared the goat with a savory blueberry compote. My sister Julia and her husband Alex also grilled some venison tenderloin. This venison is especially distinct because Alex shot it himself. I remember looking at the pictures of him gutting and slicing the deer, its tongue hanging out, and its eyes open and empty. The venison was delicious.

The final course was crab legs. We had one shell cracker per couple. My mom told us that each couple had to share because no one would think it was weird if a couple bickered over crackers. It is custom for us to brag each time we acquired a particularly large piece of crab meat. It is a matter of pride to be able to say, “Look at this piece I got out of the leg!” and have people live vicariously through you as you dip it in butter and pop the whole thing into your mouth.

My mom went out of her way making macaroons and mango and pistachio gelato for dessert. Linnea and Forrest made a flourless chocolate cake with raspberry sauce.

Each time a new course came out, I found myself saying, “This course is my favorite!” And while the food is to die for (don’t get me started on the inferiority complex I have about my family’s culinary skills), the thing I really love about this tradition is that fact that my family could be going to a fancy restaurant or have a romantic date, but they choose to spend it together, year after year.

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