Every February brings the return of candy hearts to the grocery store aisle and the plans to celebrate what many consider a “greeting card” holiday in the name of love. If you’re tired of celebrating the traditional Hallmark holiday of Saint Valentine, this February I urge you not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and instead, remember the best part of Valentine’s Day and these five oft-forgotten February holidays.
I suggest you take one of these holidays as your own, and celebrate your love with a homemade meal in a new way. Here are some cookbooks to get you started:
Groundhog Day // February 2
Afield: A Chef’s Guide to Preparing and Cooking Wild Game and Fish by Jesse Griffiths
I’ve never wanted to learn to hunt so badly as when I cracked the cover of this cookbook — cue Downton Abbey-inspired shoot in the countryside. Griffith’s James Beard Award finalist shares recipes for Smoked Goose Sausage, Smothered Boar Chops and Squirrel with Herb Dumplings (you can substitute turkey legs if desired). It also tastefully shows you how to pluck and prepare a meal of doves — perfect for a pair of love birds.
Publisher: Welcome Books
Super Bowl // February 7
Beer Bites by Christian DeBenedetti & Andrea Slonecker
Yes, I realize this isn’t a nationally recognized holiday, but it’s near enough to make it on this list. Maybe you’re married to a sports nut like I am. Here’s the opportunity to score kudos for not only making a sporting event the center of your date, but food paired with beer as well. Pair Fried Burrata Sandwiches and Blood Orange-Tomato Soup with a Pfriem witbier and you’ll find the way straight to your man’s heart.
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Chinese New Year // February 8
Lucky Peach: 101 Easy Asian Recipes by Peter Meehan & Editors of Lucky Peach Magazine
Given that the Gregorian New Year falls so close to Christmas, I hardly notice it in my recovery from holiday revelry. The Chinese New Year is a perfect opportunity to reset. These are indeed easy recipes, and any novice home cook will be whipping up a meal to rival the best takeout classics in celebration of the year of the monkey.
Publisher: Clarkson Potter
Mardi Gras // February 9
Besh Big Easy: 101 Home Cooked New Orleans Recipes by John Besh
My experience of Mardi Gras is limited to the long-gone Everett restaurant Alligator Soul and my childhood experience of Carnival in the Caribbean — all king cake and cheap trinkets. It’s a holiday home to some of the best comfort cuisine, and one I’ve grown to love. Besh packs his book with Nola favorites along with the perfect hangover food: Red Beans n’ Rice. Grab a copy, your date and laissez les bon temps roulez!
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Valentine’s Day // February 14
The New Sugar & Spice: A Recipe for Bolder Baking by Samantha Seneviratne
Of course you can stick with this classic holiday, and I would be remiss If I didn’t take advantage of this sweet day of love to give you a dessert selection to cook. With recipes separated into sections on Peppercorn & Chile, Cinnamon, Nutmeg, Clove & Cardamom, Vanilla, Ginger and Savory Herbs & Spices, Seneviratne’s book is an exploration of spice, helping you bake the perfect treat for your valentine.
Publisher: Ten Speed Press
Presidents Day // February 15
The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food by Matthew Gavin Frank
The Mad Feast is indeed a bit mad, if not maddening, and certainly not a book for everyone. If the love of your life is a bit sarcastic, snarky and enjoys their cookbook with some salty language, this is one to consider. Frank, a creative writing professor, is more writer than cookbook author, but he makes his trip through the dishes of our United States anything but dull. Enjoy such classics as Philly Cheesesteak, Key Lime Pie or our Founding Father’s Peanut Soup from Virginia along with stories of origin — or at least how Frank came to find each recipe. Then regale your date with Washington’s love story to the aplet, of Aplets & Cotlets fame.
Publisher: Liveright Publishing
I should also say that February 10 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, should you instead need a holiday to stick to that New Year’s resolution of cutting back. This could include a long walk on the beach or gazing into your true love’s eyes while sipping a cup of bone broth or turmeric lemon water.
However you choose to celebrate your love in February, don’t feel hamstrung to the 14th, there are plenty of other holidays to go around.
4 cups apple pulp
4 cups sugar
4 tablespoons gelatin
1 cup cold water
3 cups chopped nuts
1/4 teaspoon rosewater
Use Jonathan apples or Winesaps. Cut up and cook with sugar in as little water as possible. Drain and press through a sieve. Soften gelatin in water; add to apple pulp and mix thoroughly. Add nuts and rosewater after mixture has partially cooled. Pour into buttered pans 3/4 inch thick. Let harden, cut in even pieces, and roll in powdered sugar.
Aplets are the most genial palate ticklers, that have come our way since the advent of fudge. They are done up commercially at the Liberty Orchards in the Wenatchee Valley.
—Cora Brown, America Cooks: Practical Recipes from 48 States (1940)
Excerpted from The Mad Feast: An Ecstatic Tour Through America’s Food by Matthew Gavin Frank. Copyright © 2015 by Matthew Gavin Frank. With permission of the publisher, Liveright Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved.