Ah, Valentine’s Day, celebration of lovers. Or perhaps more accurately, celebration of dimly lit rooms, Marvin Gaye and One Dozen Red Roses. And nasty, pasty candy hearts with creepy pseudo-English messages like “MAD 4 U” or “2 HAWT.” And endless parades of paunchy Cupids, because, let’s be honest, nothing says “I love you” like a flying fat boy with a deadly weapon.
I don’t see where all this kitsch comes from. Like most Lit majors and chocoholics I know, I’m a big believer in romantic love, and I’m all for showing affection — but this sentimentality is yanking my heartstrings in the wrong way. Three hundred and sixty-four days out of the year, velvet is considered tacky. Is this what love has come to? A veritable velvet gold mine, an oversized teddy bear with red satin feet and a chalk-flavored Sweetheart that says “I’M SURE”?
As per usual, I’ve turned to the fridge for relief from the evil world; and as per usual, it has risen to the challenge. Our flaccid notions of romance pale next to the pairing of certain sweets and savories, certain textures and flavors. Food’s got it right when it comes to love: These relationships are symbiotic, harmonious, I’ll-wash-and-you-dry perfect matches. And so, in the spirit of recovering that artless affection that’s missing from our own danger-ish liaisons, allow me to present a few role models for your consideration. These couples would put Romeo and Juliet to shame.
1) Peanut Butter / Jelly. PB&J are the ultimate partners in crime, not to mention definitive proof that opposites attract. J can be super sweet, but is kind of neurotic and schizoid, whereas PB is just a cool dude — a little chunky, maybe, but typically pretty smooth. J keeps PB from getting a little too nutty and clingy, and PB makes sure J takes its meds. They’re also great with kids. Eat your heart out, Brangelina.
2) Carrot cake / cream cheese frosting. I have no idea what demented Yente decided it was a good idea to make cake out of carrots and frosting out of cheese. Maybe they were out of chocolate at Bellevue. Or Xanax. And if you think about it, eating carrots and cream cheese sounds kind of like stomach rape. But by some totally counterintuitive magical gastroprocess, carrot cake and cream cheese manage to leave behind their obvious personality issues, and work together in perfect harmony. No one talks about past relationships with bagels or hummus. That’s the sweet life right there.
3) Oil / vinegar. Everyone knows a couple like this: Thank God they’ve got each other, because you can’t stand either of them on their own. When separated, vinegar is a vicious, bitter bastard, and oil is a gloopy, obsequious slimeball. But reunite them, and they can make you a pretty tasty salad. Hey, they say that true love brings out the best in you — and what’s more benevolent than making lettuce leaves taste good?
4) Mentos / Diet Coke. Explosive romance. Google it if you don’t believe me.
5) Meat / potatoes. At least as far as the Anglo-Euro-ego-merican world is concerned, some part of an animal + some version of brown starchy tuber = the Adam and Eve of food coupling. Let us raise a V-Day toast to steak frites, fish and chips, bangers and mash, shepherd’s pie, tartiflette, corned beef hash and of course, our own homegrown burgers and fries. This power pair is at once homespun and cosmopolitan — if only we humans could be so lucky.
6) Padma Lakshmi / Anyone Who Has Ever Watched “Top Chef.” I just had to throw this one in there, even though (a) the love is basically unrequited, (b) technically Padma is not a food and (c) technically neither are “Top Chef” viewers, unless you count them as vegetables. But seriously. A model with a fork? Who wouldn’t want a piece of that?
To return to the issue of Valentine’s day: There is a lesson to be learned from the purity of food-to-food contact. If you don’t give it its due, food can be just as disagreeable as we can. Just like us, it might start weeping, or it might get soggy, or it might start to smell really bad. But PB and J don’t need Sweethearts to be sweethearts — sometimes the simplest interactions are the best ones. So throw out that stupid teddy bear and take a cue from the Diet Coke and Mentos: Stick to chemistry, pure and simple. And if all else fails, open the fridge and spoon the love right in.