Valentine's Elixir

Expecting oysters, foie gras, and caviar to carry you to Valentine's Day ecstasy is like waiting for Santa to come down the chimney on Christmas Eve. Worse: If you're not used to eating these rich, luxe comestibles, you may find them working their way through your gastrointestinal tract faster than fat Santa free-falling down that chute. Sorry, but the truth isn't always pretty.

On the other hand, that's not to say that you can't have a romantic dinner. Dim the lights. Put on music. Cook a light, satisfying meal that finishes with a decadent dessert. Then cap things off with fragrant, stimulating sambuca liqueur, with its' full, round, intoxicating star anise flavor. There are lots of distinctive brands on the market, but bang-for-the-buck I like Sambuca Averna -- especially their Liquirizia flavor, which adds a zesty licorice kick to the star anise. Averna likewise makes a basic sambuca, as well as one laced with citrus. The bottles retail for $28.99.

Serve sambuca neat or on the rocks -- adding ice spins the transparent spirit into pearly opalescence, and as it does so you can quote this line from Shakespeare:

"Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy."

I can't emphasize enough how much more effective this will be than a dozen Malpeques.

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