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Kathleen Hill: Valentine’s Day, from sacrificing goats to delicious meals in Sonoma


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Now that most of us, except those who love or live in Philadelphia, have recovered from the Super Bowl’s food, commercials, halftime show and game, we face the ultimate of Hallmark holidays.

According to the Greeting Card Association, of the 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards sent in each of recent years, 85 percent are purchased by women. I am guessing that includes all the little kids’ cards bought to give to schoolmates, and probably those colorful little sugar hearts.

How did St. Valentine’s Day start?

One popular story runs that Valentine was killed for helping Christians escape from harsh Roman prisons. Just before his execution, Valentine sent a greeting signed “from your Valentine” to a young girl with whom he had fallen in love, rumored to be his jailor’s daughter.

Another legend is that Christians decided to celebrate Valentine ’s day of death in mid-February to counter the pagan Roman priests’ festival of Luperci, which originated in a cave where infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were supposedly cared for by a lupa or she-wolf.

The priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility, cut the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into sacrificial blood, and run down the streets slapping women with the strips of hide. The ritual supposedly made women more fertile, so they endured the brutality, hence the association of red with the holiday.

In the Middle Ages when many people in France and England believed that Feb. 14 was the beginning of birds-mating season, the day suggested universal romance. The oldest known existing Valentine is a poem written by the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was behind bars in the Tower of London.

In the 18th century, friends and lovers exchanged tokens of affection or handwritten notes. Printed cards surfaced in the early 1900s.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, some of us like to just pick a flower and put it in a pretty vase, give someone a plant to suggest long-term connections, buying packaged or locally made candy, cooking a special meal, or going out for a little romantic food.

Here are some offerings by Sonoma Valley restaurants and bakers, alphabetically.

Aventine offers a slightly aphrodisiac à la carte menu of oysters on the half shell, lobster salad with blood oranges, red beet risotto, red heart shaped ravioli with ricotta and rock shrimp, 40-ounce grilled prime rib-eye steak with red chunky mashed potatoes, a dark chocolate cupcake, and even dark cherry butter, plus their regular menu. 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. 934-8911.

Breakaway Café serves a three-course prix fixe dinner of endive salad with arugula, walnuts and apples, sautéed lemon sole with cauliflower puree, cauliflower and fingerling potato chips or New York strip steak with potato strudel, followed by a chocolate fondant. $45, $15 additional for paired wines. 19101 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma. 996-5949.

Crisp Valentine’s Pop Up Shop and the Girl & the Fig will host a Valentine’s Day Pop Up at the Rhone Room next to Fat Pilgrim and Harvest Home on lower Broadway on Tuesday and Wednesday, Feb. 13 and 14 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Della Santina’s will have an à la carte menu to include burrata speck (smoked cured ham), crab cake, green salad, faro soup, Caesar salad and quail as antipasti. Try gnocchi with tomato basil sauce, lasagna, wide noodle pasta with wild boar ragu, porcini mushroom risotto, chicken breast stuffed with prosciutto and fontina, rotisserie half Petaluma Duck with wild rice risotto, filet of beef, and Chilean sea bass with baby artichokes and capers. 133 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 935-0576.

Depot Hotel offers a three-course menu based on the price of your entrée, to include winter squash soup with French black truffles and puff pastry; choice of fried oysters with creamed spinach, salad or sausage and warm potato salad. Entrées include their Dungeness crab cannelloni, filet of beef, spinach and ricotta ravioli, salmon filet with Chanterelle mushrooms, or Sonoma duck confit. ($40 to $52). Tiramisu, limoncello cake or flourless chocolate cake top it all off. 241 First St., W., Sonoma. 938-2950. Depotsonoma.com.

Edge and chef John McReynolds will prepare a seven-course food and wine pairing to include Miyagi oysters, day boat scallops, stinging nettles tagliatelle with Black Trumpet mushrooms, Wolfe Ranch quail with sun choke, filet mignon with marrow crust, vol au vent with époisse and quince comfiture, and chocolate caramel soufflé with crème Anglaise. $250 includes Stone Edge and other fine wines. 139 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 935-6520.

Glen Ellen Star will serve a three-course dinner in addition to its regular menu. Valentine’s special includes baby cauliflower baked in brioche with garden greens and watermelon radish, a choice of sautéed sturgeon with farrotto and red beet butter or Snake River Farms Wagyu ribeye with spinach-artichoke dip and fingerling potato chips, followed by a chocolate tahini tart and sesame brittle. $55. 13648 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. 343-1384.

Ramekins’ Love To-Go allows you to order a complete romantic dinner for two to take home and enjoy in privacy. It starts with a “petite cheese platter” of Marin French Brie, and Humboldt Fog, Vella Dry Jack and Bellwether Carmody. Also includes a pear, bacon and chicory salad, wild mushroom soup, braised short ribs or Pacific King salmon; sides of root vegetable gratin and roasted winter vegetables; and chocolate tartes with port and cherry compote. $125 serves two. Order by noon Monday, Feb. 12, pick up by 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 14. Ramekins.com.

Saddles Steakhouse will have butternut bisque, melted endive with arugula and Laura Chenel goat cheese, followed by a choice of Black Angus filet mignon with twice baked Yukon potatoes and wild mushrooms or seared halibut with marble potatoes, baby bok choy and winter vegetables or wild mushroom and chard risotto. And there’s a whole trio of desserts for everyone. $90, $49 for children 12 and under. 29 E. MacArthur, Sonoma. 938-2929.

Santé at Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn chef de cuisine Andrew Cain will create both four- and seven-course menus which may include Maine lobster bisque, beet salad, squash ravioli, a “surf & turf” of Diver scallop with pork belly and crispy pig’s ear chiarrónes, filet of Niman Ranch beef or filet of cobia with mussels and clams, and pear and almond tarts and Valrhona chocolate soufflé. ($115). 100 Boyes Blvd., Sonoma. 939-2407.

Sonoma Grille is offering a special four-course menu as well. Choices include seared Bay scallops, salon en croute, mixed grille, honey wine pear and more. ($65) Reservations recommended 938-7542. 165 W. Napa St.

There is also a Valentine’s Day pop-up dinner at the Starling, featuring Wine Country chef Richard Visconte and his team. Visconte will be preparing a three-course Moroccan dinner. The menu features an exotic salad trio, followed by Chicken Tagine with cous cous, flatbread with onion marmalade, and cardamom rosewater pot de creme. Gypsy music provided by Isaac Carter will accompany the dinner. The dinner (two seatings) is by reservation only at 938-7442. 19380 Sonoma Highway.

Wine Country Chocolates owner Betty Kelly says, “Year after year, our chocolate creations, especially the boxes of freshly-made truffles are our top sellers. We are currently also busy filling many chocolate orders for various wineries and hotels and other hospitality businesses who have upcoming Valentine’s promotions. Sonoma Plaza shop: 414 First St. E. Open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Jack London Village shop and factory: 14301 Arnold Drive, Glen Ellen. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., both daily. 996-1010. Winecountrychocolates.com.

Frenchie pop up

Chefs Sarah Pinkin and Elizabeth Payne will hold a pop-up at their “Frenchie Space” next to Top That Yogurt today, Feb. 9, all with carry-away food that includes Moroccan salad with chickpeas, quinoa, cauliflower, mint, cilantro and cabbage with Moroccan spiced yogurt dressing; a Frenchie salad with fennel, radishes, parsley, sunflower seeds, butter lettuce and lemon roasted shrimp with champagne shallot vinaigrette; assorted baguette sandwiches; French lentil soup with Relax and Eat bread; Madeleines, and Arnold Palmers with vanilla bean infusion. 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. 521 B Broadway, Sonoma.

Beltane Ranch pruning party and pig roast

Help the Beltane Ranch family celebrate survival of the October fires and see how they have recovered at this great pruning party and pig roast experience.

Learn to prune vines with award winning pros, drink Beltane Ranch’s estate wines, have a blast, watch and dine on open fire pig roast and making handmade tortillas and Beltane’s organic vegetables, enjoy a bonfire and listen to Mariachi Azteca, all on Saturday, Feb. 24. When you arrive you get a snack and coffee, clippers/pruners, Beltane crew t-shirts, and rubber boots if pre-ordered by size.

The whole Beltane family pitches in, which to them includes blood relatives and all workers, who actually roast the pig and make the tortillas and beans while guests compete (if you want to) in the pruning contest and sip Beltane wines. $95 wine club members, $125 public. 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. rain or shine. 11775 Sonoma Highway, Glen Ellen. Beltaneranch.com.

Nibs & Sips

Popular baker and server Marcia McDonald has left the Breakaway Café. Good news: Marcia is making her coffee cakes, occasional pies and, eventually, churros at Karen Waikiki’s El Molino Central. Wonderful for all of us.

Picazo Deli now offers fried chicken and waffles every day.

Ramekins new Instant Pot class

If you couldn’t get a space in either Ramekins’ or Williams-Sonoma’s Instant Pot classes, Ramekins just announced a new one on Saturday, March 3. Super smart chef Hollie Greene will give the class on how to use the multi-cooker that functions as a slow cooker, electric pressure cooker, rice cooker, steamer, yogurt maker, sauté and browning pan and warming pot.

In the process of this class, you will learning to make chicken pho with spring veggies and brown rice noodles, one-pot tarragon chicken and mushroom wild rice, Parmesan fennel gratin, and strawberry and chocolate bread pudding. $95. 3 to 6 p.m. 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 933-0450.

Today is National Pizza Day

Enjoy your favorite at Mary’s Pizza Shack, the Red Grape, Swiss Hotel, or any other favorite.