A Valentine's Day Do-over
Updated: Feb 29
(by Aimee Lee Ball)
My mother wanted (read: expected) a Valentine from me on February 14th.
She had married when she was 21, was widowed when she was 22, and didn’t meet my dad until she was in her late 30s. After he died, much too young (goddamn cigarettes), she went on a few dates, but I think she was done with romance—her heart had been broken, twice, and couldn’t be put back together again, not in that way. So on Valentine’s Day, her one chance for a card or a heart-shaped box of chocolates was me.
I felt differently. I loved my mother, but that’s different from being in love, and I thought valentines were for lovers, not just loved ones. From the time we’re in third grade, longing for red hearts cut from construction-paper and pasted on doilies from secret admirers, I’ve always thought that valentines are meant for couples, or almost couples, or potentially couples, but always expressing romantic love.
So my concession to Mom for Valentine’s Day was making her brownies—delicious, but delivered entirely unromantically in a disposable aluminum pan. Brownies are my go-to, as a show of support or nurture, as a “Thank you” or a “Well done.” My brownies have traveled the world. They’ve gotten past Homeland Security when I’ve carried them on a plane as a hostess gift; they’ve gone to the recovery room nurse who took special care of me when I was coming out of anesthesia after foot surgery (my orthopedic surgeon got them too); I’m currently trying to figure out how to get them to Congressman Adam Schiff of California (although I was disappointed to learn that his must be vegan).
And of course many batches went to my mom, especially as she got older, moved to a retirement community, cooked less for herself, and loved having a stash of treats in the freezer. (The amount of butter in them means that they never really freeze completely, and we both almost preferred the brownies ice cold.)
Life has a way of making us revisit concrete attitudes and perhaps learn necessary lessons. One of mine came the year that my goddaughter sent me a valentine. I was shocked at how touched I was. Suddenly valentines weren’t just for lovers, partners, couples. They were, as my mom tried to convey for years, a particular way of saying: I love you.
Wish I could have a do-over with my mom. But in her honor, I’m starting to melt the chocolate….
Aimee Lee Ball is a journalist whose work is at the cleverly named www.AimeeLeeBall.com.
8 T. (1 stick) unsalted butter 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate
1 t. espresso powder 1 1/4 c. sugar 1 t. best quality vanilla extract 1/4 t. salt 2 eggs 1/2 c. all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 400 F.
Over very low heat, melt butter and chocolate together, stirring occasionally until smooth.
Off heat, stir in espresso powder, sugar, vanilla, and salt.
Stir in eggs one at a time.
Add flour, stirring until smooth and the mixture pulls away from sides of bowl.
Line an 8-inch-square pan with aluminum foil.
Brush with melted butter or a flavorless oil, or spray with cooking spray.
Scrape batter into pan and bake for 20 minutes.
As soon as brownies are removed from oven, place in a larger pan filled with ice and ice water until cool.
This is the fudgification process—do not skip.