Valentine's Day - a time to share a special pear

Valentine's Day is just around the corner, and there's someone special you'd like to have dinner with, surely. A friend? Your husband? Your wife? A neighbor you're constantly borrowing a cup of sugar from and never returning?

You don't want it to be schmaltzy, but you want it to be nice. Nothing terribly fancy, but nothing that looks prefab, either. And it has to be at least four courses - of course.

Consider a soup you can make ahead and a salad with two or three kinds of greens, sliced oranges, and Bermuda onion with a raspberry vinegar and walnut oil dressing. And an interesting main course. Your butcher will gladly cut a special piece of meat for two. Or perhaps you could buy the ever-popular rock Cornish game hen. It's not quite a turtledove, but it will do in a pinch.

A decorative table setting is easy to arrange. A few candles, some fresh flowers, your best china and crystal. If you don't have anything really special, this may be the time to buy two place settings of that fine china you've been longing for or a new cut-glass crystal dish.

If you don't have a dining room, perhaps you could set up a table in the living room. This would be a nice change from eating in the kitchen, and it would add a more formal touch to the meal.

You may want to try your hand at one of those fancy napkin folds that look like a fan or a bird.

It's also a good time to be ever so slightly silly and frilly. A few ruffles or ribbons and rose petals dropped on the table can work wonders.

If it all sounds a bit too much to handle, then consider dinner at that new restaurant in town that everyone - it seems - has been to except you.

If you do decide to eat out, save room for dessert or salad, set the table, and have it at your place.

Here is one recipe, and a simple variation of it, that may be prepared ahead of time except for the final touches. Bosc, Comice, and Anjou pears are in season, so take advantage of them by poaching. The slender-necked Boscs are the most elegant, but the others will do if Boscs aren't available. Poached Pears 2 Bosc or Comice pears Juice from 1/2 lemon 1/2 cup sugar 1/2 stick or 1 teaspoon powdered cinnamon 4 whole cloves 1/2 teaspoon vanilla 1/2 teaspoon sugar Few drops vanilla for cream 1/2 cup whipping cream 10-ounce package of frozen raspberries Candied rose petals or violets, or a few green leaves

With vegetable peeler, carefully peel pears, leaving stems intact.

In saucepan, bring to boil 1/2 cup sugar, cinnamon, cloves, lemon juice, vanilla, and enough water to cover.

Add pears and simmer 15 minutes or until tender but not too soft when tested with a skewer.

Remove to cool, or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Boil poaching liquid until reduced to 1/2 to 1/4 cup. Cool, strain, and pour over pears.

Whip cream with vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, and 2 drops red food coloring. Add more coloring as needed for light rose color. Or puree raspberries in blender or food processor until smooth.

Serve pears in individual dishes or stemmed glasses. Pour whipped cream or raspberry puree, or both, over one side of pears and top with candied violet or rose petal or any green leaves. Poached Ginger Pears 2 medium pieces crystallized ginger

Poach pears as above, but omit cloves and add a few pieces of chopped crystallized ginger instead.

If poaching pears ahead of time, keep them submerged in poaching liquid to prevent them from discoloring.

Arrange pears on a serving dish with small scoop of coffee ice cream. Pour whipped cream or raspberry puree, or both, over one side of pears and top with a teaspoon or more of chopped, crystallized ginger.

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