There are a couple ways of looking at it: A Valentine’s Day double date or one fellow with his hands full. I prefer the latter.
My mother is all things to all people, but when we went to see Casablanca at The State Theatre on Valentine’s night with Koen and Marina, I didn’t consider her my date. No, I looked at our new Belgian friend Koen as an escort for 168 years of womanhood.
For almost a week the poor guy had to answer our questions on everything from his blue eyes to his twin brother to how he met Marina in Croatia. Richard is used to being out-numbered by questioning women when in State College. But I’m not sure we were what Koen bargained for. Then again, there was the Scrabble game…
My mother could not get over how well Koen spoke English. She kept asking where he grew up—Belgium—and why he spoke English so well. I explained that in Europe they teach English in school, along with their native language. Koen politely clarified that while he had English classes he actually learned to speak by watching American television shows—especially The Simpsons. He would hear the English while reading the subtitles in Flemish.
Yes, The Simpsons is this country’s longest running sit-com—but I’ve never watched it. So I had to do a little Google homework. Episodes deal with parodies of American culture and society, and the dysfunctional family. Maybe Koen did know what he was getting himself into!
He speaks English beautifully and plays a mean game of Scrabble. He not only whooped Marina and me, he taught me a new word…razzia.
Getting back to Valentine’s Day. I wanted to keep it low-key, an at-home dinner. So I went to Fasta Pasta for pink, heart-shaped cheese ravioli. I topped the ravioli with a simple Prosecco-Butter Sauce: ¼ cup minced shallots, 2 cups Prosecco, 1/3 cup butter cut into 2” cubes, salt and pepper. Heat shallots and Prosecco to medium high, stirring until reduced to a glaze. Whisk in butter cubes, a few at a time. Serve over ravioli.
I asked Koen to make Prosecco cocktails, mixing an elderflower liqueur from Ghent with Prosecco—a blending of Belgian and Italian spirits.
The dessert was a surprise for Marina. I figured if she could whisk me away to Corning, NY, without me knowing, I could whisk up a vegan Avocado Cacao Mousse, a repeat our special weekend. I went online, searching for Chocolate Avocado Mousse, and lo and behold, found several to choose from. The waiter from The Cellar told us his chef’s secret ingredient was maple syrup, so I substituted that for the sweetener used in another recipe, and then gave it an Uptown Espresso Bar twist. Years ago, Tweet made a Hot Chocolate Cheesecake with a touch of habanero for the “hot”. I used cayenne for a hint of heat.
Avocado Cacao Mousse
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, such as Ghiradelli
4 very ripe avocados, peeled and pitted (I used two small and one large)
½ cup maple syrup
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup almond milk
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
¼ tsp. salt
2 hefty dashes of cayenne
Place chocolate chips in a bowl that you place over a small saucepan of simmering water. Stir chips until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes Set aside and cool slightly.
Place everything in a blender or food processor, and blend until smooth and creamy. Be sure to scrape sides of container as needed. Spoon into glasses and chill for at least three hours. Makes four large servings.
Truth be told, I’d rather eat my avocado as a salad—and then have chocolate for dessert. But I was curious to see if I could recreate a mousse in which you can’t tell there is green, not cream. If you have dietary restrictions or are just feeling adventurous…give it a try. Or maybe, pull one over on everyone for April Fool’s Day! Laurie Lynch
Here’s looking at you, kid: “And I will cover you in diamonds the size of walnuts, place pearls as white as truffles at your feet, pluck emeralds as large as kiwi fruit…” spoken by Guido Brunetti in Donna Leon’s Willful Behavior. Ah, Guido, the Venetian policeman-poet-philosopher who always has an appetite for good Italian food continues to keep me up at night.