Virginia Woolf knew what she was talking about when she said, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well if one has not dined well.” And her words ring the truest in February, the month of love, and a time when we go out of our way to make an extra special effort to celebrate the ones we love.
Valentine’s Day – and your love doesn’t need to only find its expression through expensive gifts, fancy restaurants, and meals made-to-order. In fact, for Chantal Lascaris, the homegrown South African cookbook Queen, every day and any day in February is the perfect time to celebrate your love and to do so by taking things into your own hands. Literally.
“When it comes to making the most of the month of love, I’ve always been a fan of doing it myself by putting a little extra effort into laying a dinner table with well-thought-out and affordable decorations (don’t worry, I’ve got a few tips to share that’ll make it easier) and to serve my loved ones a meal that is healthy, delicious, and easy-to-make. Because when it comes down to it, food is a love language,” says Lascaris.
In terms of meals for the menu, Chantal’s go-to is her Oysters on Leeks recipe from her All Sorts of Tapas cookbook, with a main course of Smoked Chicken and Artichoke Salad, which can be found in All Sorts of Salads. Says Lascaris: “When it comes to artichokes, I love sharing this little interesting fact about them – up, until the 16th Century, women in many countries were prohibited from eating them because they were thought to have aphrodisiac properties. Now if you ask me, that just gives us more reason to include them! And between my recipe and this fun factual titbit, you’ll be set to impress as you sweep your date off their feet with your food!”
Obviously, no date night is complete without dessert. Saving the best for last, Lascaris recommends her recipe for a chilli chocolate mousse, which can be served without the usual guilts because it’s lower in calories than normal chocolate mousse, while the chilli adds a touch of spice to the evening’s events. “An added advantage for this dessert is that it can be made the day before,” says Lascaris, “so, you get extra time to spend with your loved ones, instead of toiling away in the kitchen all evening.”
Chantal’s Top 5 Tips for Laying the Perfect Dinner Table This Month of Love:
- Light It Up. Candles help set the mood when it comes to a romantic evening, but removing melted wax can be frustrating, even to the point of a broken candle holder or two. For Lascaris, the answer is to use floating candles. They’re versatile and can be used in a normal water glass. Simply drop a tea light candle into a glass of water and it will float on top. Any wax that drips out will land in the water, which will reduce the mess you may have to clean up later!
- A Pinch of Salt. Another trick when it comes to candles is to use coarse salt. Simply fill a glass candle holder with salt and nestle the candle on top. This protects the candle holder from the melted wax, which will land on the salt. For your love month meals specifically, Lascaris recommends dyeing the salt another colour! To make a pinkish-red salt, add a few drops of red food colouring into a sealable bag with the salt and massage it together. This can make quite the visual impact!
- Blooming Love. A rose may be considered the bloom of love, but around Valentine’s Day, they can become extra expensive and rarely last longer than a few days. Chantal prefers to raid her own garden for flowers to feature on the table. And, if you don’t have access to a flower garden, simple greenery can add an elegant touch. Chantal loves the simple beauty of a bunch of green leaves in a vase in the middle of a table and a small stem of leaves on each side plate.
- Nail It with Fabric Napkins. If there is one element of your dinner table that Chantal believes it’s worth investing a bit, it’s in real fabric napkins. Not only do they bring the restaurant feel of fine dining into your home, but they can be re-used for years to come. White ones, specifically, can be bleached if they get stained and as colour palettes go, white really does go with everything!
- Music Be the Food of Love. Finally, as much as the food will serve as a sumptuous celebration of love, so too will the music set the mood. Prep your playlist beforehand to ensure your meal is accompanied by chilled background tunes so that you don’t have to be toggling between playlists. Choosing the music in advance means you’ll be able to give your partner all of your time and attention – which is really the most precious gift you can give someone anyway.