* Be focused. Turn off the TV, unplug the phone (and the pager) and lock up the crotch-sniffing dog.
* Be lighthearted. The soft glow of candlelight will transform the simplest meal into an occasion (not to mention cast a flattering light upon you). For this special dinner, go one step beyond by using lots of candles to illuminate the entire space you plan to occupy. Avoid heavily scented candles that do battle with the subtler aromas of the food. Beeswax candles emit a pleasant scent that should compliment what’s already in the air. For inexpensive candles, head for the motherload: Ikea, where a box of 50 will cost about the same as a fancy pair from an upscale store. Don’t worry about matching candlestick holders. But if you’re improvising be cautious — you’re trying to ignite passion not the tablecloth.
* Be jazzy. Select music that helps set the desired mood but that doesn’t distract or overpower the witty repartee. To avoid untimely interruptions, pre-select your music for the entire evening. Choose your own favorites, or fill the CD carousel with these timeless classics and hit “shuffle.”
1. Chet Baker Let’s Get Lost
* Be bubbly. Nothing suggests “romantic occasion” more than Champagne. There’s a non-vintage California sparkler or French Champagne to fit the budget of every sentimental fool. Keep it well-chilled. If you don’t have an ice bucket, show a little unconventional flair by using an empty four-quart tin of canned tomatoes or even an empty gallon paint can. If you get no kick from Champagne on its own, concoct a Kir Royale cocktail by adding a splash of Cassis.
* Be floral. Scatter a path of rose petals that leads to the dinner table. To create a “scentsurround” effect, buy a bunch of tuber roses or lilies, divide it up and place one or two stems, in water, in various locations throughout the living area.
* Be light-handed. Serve sensuous food, not sensational portions. Nothing shuts down a romantic evening faster than that bloated I-can’t-move feeling.
* Be blind (like love itself). After dinner, blindfold and feed your companion morsels of seductive delicacies — one bite at a time (e.g., peeled grapes, mango, kiwi, sorbets, chocolate truffles). Alternate temperature and texture and arrange in natural pairings. For example, serve a peeled slice of pear followed by a nugget of stilton cheese followed by a spoonful of port.
* Be sweet and intoxicating. Cap off dessert with chocolate martinis. (2 1/2 oz. vodka + 1 oz. clear Creme de Cacao. Shake over ice and strain into two chilled martini glasses.) Garnish with a Hershey’s kiss and deliver with one of your own.
* Be noble. Send me the Polaroids.