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Leave it to the Greeks to understand the many nuances of love. Unlike any other language, Greek has five words - not one - to delineate the enormity of love: the love derived from friends and family, the love of work, the love for children and the intense passions stirred by a lover.

It is in this spirit that I now host an annual lunch for my girlfriends on Valentine's Day.

After all, if you don't have a lover in your life, February can cast a chill to the heart. One year, I felt bad for a friend of mine who was suddenly single and decided to throw this party to perk up her spirits. And it worked. Hurt feelings melt when we feel the warmth from the love we do have, such as the intimacy and company of good friends.

Considering that 42 percent of all Americans over the age of 18 are single, it surprises me that more people haven't created this tradition. Furthermore, studies show that health improves when you are surrounded by good friends who can help banish the blues.

I love my girlfriends with all my heart and consider them not only a safety net but a sounding board to steer my life in the best direction, Men may come and go, but my girlfriends will be with me the whole journey and that cocoon of loyal support is one of life's true pleasures and treasures.

Therefore my friends know that Valentine's Day becomes the time to shower them not only with appreciation but with specific treats associated with the holiday. (My friends also know that I love to cook and entertain).

Instead of red roses as a centerpiece, I mix it up a bit by putting petal pink roses with red tulips in a lovely garnet colored vase and then sprinkle flowers around the table. At each table setting is a box of chocolates along with a little gift. Usually those gifts are poems that remind me of an experience we shared or one of their signature characteristics - one is a great chef, the other a lover of politics, another fancies Broadway. Or it can be a ticket stub from a memorable concert, Thymes candles which always bring a smile or a funny book such as Women Porn with pictures of guys who actually vacuum since my friend complains about her husband's messiness.

Lifestyle writer Carolyne Roehm is another person who is known for her stylish Valentine's Day lunches.

"Many of my friends are single and these lunches remind us that we have each other," concurs Roehm. The other advantage of a lunchtime fete is that if you have a significant other, it doesn't interfere with a romantic evening out.

Lunch consists of a "luscious light soup" such as green asparagus, watercress or zucchini and a salad with red touches - tomatoes, pomegranates or a sprinkling of dried red cherries or cranberries. Or she'll create a souffle. This simple repast is followed by a decadently delicious dessert which includes chocolate touches. She has a fondue pot filled with melted milk chocolate where friends can dip in either strawberries or heart-shaped cookies.

"Colors of food enhance the effects of a meal," advises Roehm, "I care about the silverware, the linen, the glasses and the plates matching the type of table being used. I may not be able to solve bioterrorism but making life pretty is what I can do. I want the environment I create to be memorable when people come into my sphere."

Of course there are many recipes that you can create to maintain the Valentine's Day theme and hopefully readers will share some with us.

To personalize the day, Roehm artistically wraps a thoughtful gift to each place setting. Often the boxes are as nice as the gifts which isn't a surprise considering she's written a book just on wrapping paper. One year for a friend who likes dogs, she gave a picture of a puppy in a silver frame. "One friend had a bad self-image so I enclosed a beautiful black silk short nightgown to give her a boost of self-confidence," smiles Roehm with girlish satisfaction. Inside Blaine Trump's box was a commitment to donate to God's Love We Deliver, Trumps' favorite charity.

You don't have to prepare these Valentine Day lunches at home, In fact, Fred Hochberg Chairman of the Import Export Bank for the Obama Administration is hosting his at New York's Jean Georges Restaurant on Friday since many of his friends won't be around on Sunday. After leaving the Clinton Administration in 2002 and moving to New York, he was inspired by his pal Mike Berman who had these lunches for pals in Washington D.C. "I started with 20 women and this year we now have 90 coming," he says. "It's a way to celebrate friends and now many of my friends also now know each other better."

As for seating, Fred, the consummate ringmaster and only man allowed, puts all the names in a derby hat and people pull out their name to be seated at a table. These little touches add to the fun.

But it is the spirit of the lunches that resonate with guests after they leave. Because when you plant a seed of true friendship you reap a bouquet of happiness. And luckily at all these lunches, the women also leave with a real flower as well.


Photo: Carolyn Roehm

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