Julia Child had a thing for Valentine’s Day. In the 1950s in Paris, America’s greatest-ever French cookbook author would spend nearly as much time with her husband, Paul, crafting original Valentines, as she would perfecting a soufflé recipe. “Valentines cards had become a tradition of ours,” Julia writes in her posthumously published memoir, My Life in France, “born of the fact that we could never get ourselves organized in time to send out Christmas cards.” One year, Julia and Paul created a Valentine in the shape of a stained glass window, with each of the five panels having to be painted by hand. “For 1956,” she writes, “we decided to lighten up by doing something different. We posed ourselves for a self-timed valentine photo in the bathtub, wearing nothing but artfully placed soap bubbles.”
Bubbles were only the beginning of Julia’s Valentine’s Day wisdom. Here are five tips for navigating a home-cooked romantic French feast for two.
The Unambiguously Romantic Toast Is Essential
The Beef Bourgignon is on the table, in its enameled cast-iron casserole, the wine’s poured—don’t squander the moment! Deliver a toast that’ll make your beloved melt. One of Julia’s favorites: “You are the butter to my bread, and the breath to my life.”
That Meal You Cook for Your Valentine is Forever
So you spent a whole day shopping and endured a sweaty, seven-hour cooking session—your efforts are not in vain, even if that soufflé you stressed about disappears in 5 minutes: The memory of a lovely meal never fades. As Julia’s first cooking teacher in Paris, Max Bugnard, once told her: “You never forget a beautiful thing that you have made. Even after you eat it, it stays with you—always.”
Cooking Is the Only Gift You Really Need
With a carefully planned and cooked Valentine’s dinner, you don’t need to sweat buying any other gift for your beloved. “I think careful cooking is love, don’t you?” Julia once said. “The loveliest thing you can cook for someone who’s close to you is about as nice a valentine as you can give.”
The Pleasure of Food is Related to All Other (Ahem) Pleasures
Julia was no shrinking violet—she pursued intimate pleasures with her husband, Paul, the way she slapped a chicken around the kitchen counter: with gusto. “The pleasures of the table, and of life, are infinite,” she said. “Toujours bon appétit!”
In the End, Just Being Together Is a Gift
A perfect romantic relationship, like the perfect French meal, is something you never want to come to the end of. “The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person,” Julia observed. “You know they’re right if you love to be with them all of the time.”
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