When I worked in the restaurant industry, February 14 was more affectionately known as "Amateur Night." Reservation lists would be booked solid, every table had an expensively wrapped gift on it, and couples attempted to enjoy the perfect, romantic evening.
So it was with some relief that I married a man who abhorred the idea of Valentine's Day. Still, that doesn't mean that I don't want some sense of romance once in a while. It merely means that I'd rather do things a little differently. For instance, Chip and I have started a tradition where instead of going out to eat, we cook a fantastically involved and decadent multi-course meal—a luxury that we normally don't have time for.
If you'd like to celebrate Valentine's Day in a way that's less commercial, more environmentally responsible, and infinitely more meaningful, let these ideas inspire you.
- Make a fancy dinner at home. Spend some time in advance poring over your favorite recipe books or searching recipe sites for elegant, lavish choices that you wouldn't ordinarily splurge on. To make it even more special, treat yourself to a bottle of nice wine or Champagne, start out with a course of fantastic artisanal cheeses, and make or buy a decadent dessert. Be sure to buy all the groceries a day or two in advance and allow enough time to be able to cook together in a leisurely manner — sharing in the cooking process is half the fun. Pull out your fine china and linens, then light some candles to set the mood.
- Give a living plant instead of cut flowers. A dozen red roses are a quintessential Valentine's gift, but they're not exactly good news for the environment - the flowers could be heavily sprayed with pesticides and other chemicals (bad news for you and the workers who pick and handle the flowers.) Many are flown from South Africa or Latin America, travel that uses resources and causes pollution. Instead, find an eco-friendly florist or garden shop and give your sweetie a living plant that will stay green long after those red roses wilt.
- Make your own truffles. Don't waste your money on fancy commercial chocolate brands — instead, head to the kitchen and make your own truffles. Recipes can easily be found online for a delicious, thoughtful gift that also helps the earth.
- Or, buy chocolate responsibly. If playing chocolatier in your own kitchen is beyond your skill set, try to do a little research and find sweets that are organic, fair-trade and made locally so you're supporting small business people in your community.
- Shop for gifts at thrift and antique stores. Your local flea markets, thrift stores or even eBay can be a treasure trove of one-of-a-kind, meaningful gifts for your honey. Look for vintage purses, a pretty glass vase, or some beaded necklaces that you can take apart to make your own personalized piece.
- Take a jewelry making class to make a handcrafted bauble. If you plan far enough in advance, you can take a jewelry making class (or, for the time-pressed, even a one time only afternoon workshop) so that you can make a piece that's truly unique and from the heart. Look online for a class and you might even find someone who teaches you about giving new life to old objects, like this one taught at New York City jewelry store Lunessa.
- Splurging on a diamond? Go conflict free. Most commercial diamonds are mined in ways that harm the environment and the workers. If you are going to splurge on a diamond, make sure it's a conflict-free gem. There are plenty of eco-responsible jewelers, such as Green Karat who specialize in recycled precious metals and responsibly mined sparklers.
- Create a home spa experience. Instead of a gift certificate to a fancy spa, create a luxurious spa experience in your own home. Find recipes for homemade bath salts, scrubs or facials, then light some candles and put on some Sade.
- Make your own Valentines. Whether they're for your child's classmates or for friends and loved ones, making your own valentines can be a satisfying way to use the things you've been hoarding, such as scraps of fabric and ribbons, random buttons, and old greeting cards and magazines. Gather up all the materials you think you might need, buy some construction paper or card stock at your supermarket, and get to work.
- Go risqué responsibly. Looking for some sexy underthings to spice up your night? Stay away from synthetic fabrics like polyester satin, and seek out lingerie made from natural and environmentally responsible fabrics like bamboo, organic cotton, hemp and silk. Green Cheeks Boutique has romantic options ranging from colorful thongs made from silk remnants to lace-trimmed, organic cotton babydolls.