On February 14th, during the reign of Claudius II, an unfortunate priest by the name of Valentinus was martyred in Rome for aiding Christians in defiance of Roman law. He was beaten with clubs, then lapidated, and as the coup de grace, beheaded outside the Flaminian Gate.
For whatever reason, the better part of the Western world now observes the day of Valentinus' death by decimating fields of roses, putting up heinous displays of pink and red, and consuming what is perhaps the most inexplicable confectionery ever invented - the pastel-colored, Tums-flavored Conversation Heart.*
Now, I'm sure Valentinus would be glad to know that he hasn't been forgotten (then again, he's probably enjoying a wonderful afterlife in heaven, so maybe he doesn't care), but frankly, he's not the only poor bugger to have run up the curtains and joined the choir invisible on February 14th. I think it's time we broke the monopoly he seems to have on this particular date.
Which is why I'm going to suggest that we look to science, and consider Dolly the Sheep.
Dolly, arguably the most famous sheep in the world, was the first mammal to be cloned from an adult somatic cell. Born July 5th, 1996 at the Roslin Institute in Edinburgh, Scotland, Dolly was cloned from a cell taken from a mammary gland, and therefore named in honor of Dolly Parton.
Dolly kicked the bucket on February 14th, 2003. Valentinus has some competition for the limelight.
If you've had enough of Valentinus, Dolly makes for a welcome change. You can celebrate the marvels of modern science, pass on the roses, and avoid the eyewatering displays of red and pink. Best of all, lamb stew beats Conversation Hearts, hands down.
More of a method than a set recipe, you can vary the vegetables in this stew to your taste.
(Serves one with leftovers, but if you want to make it a dinner party, there's enough to share with two or three friends.)
Take a pound or pound-and-a-half (exact quantity determined by your carnivorous tendencies) of boneless stewing lamb, and cut it into one-inch chunks if the pieces are on the large side. Dredge the pieces in a few teaspoons of flour and shake off the excess.
Heat a small quantity of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan with lid. Add the lamb, and cook until browned all over. Add a splash of red wine to the pan, and use a wooden spoon to scrape up the brown bits on the bottom. Once the alcohol has burned off, turn off the heat.
Cut up two or three onions into quarters. Peel three carrots or parsnips and cut them into rough chunks. Add them to the pot with a tablespoon of salt, a bay leaf, and a few sprigs of fresh thyme. Pour in just enough water to cover.
Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn it down to a bare simmer. Put a lid on the pot, and cook for two to three hours, or until the lamb is tender. Fish out the thyme stems and the bay leaves.
If you'd like to add baby artichokes or broad beans to the stew, now would be the time. Cook, with the lid off, until the vegetables are tender. Check for salt; add more if necessary.
Serve over mashed potatoes or buttered noodles.
*If you must consume hearts, they're sweeter when they're made out of red-wine poached pears... and broken.