Illustrations by Kathy Boake
As a kid, you cut hearts out of construction paper, slapped on some sparkles and white glue and – voila! – a half-decent Valentine. When the teacher wasn’t looking, you ate the paste. It was a good day.
Sadly, as an adult, Valentine’s Day comes with higher expectations. You need a gift or an outing that says, “I adore you,” without being boring, creepy, cheesy, sappy, overzealous or unoriginal, or triggering your sweetie’s nut allergy. But with V-Day schlock everywhere, you’re bombarded with many, many terrible choices.
To take the pressure off, we’ve recruited four people to weigh in on this tricky holiday and explain how they do it right. And, for the singles, radio host Paul Brown has some advice to take on the prowl.
What to Buy?
“Valentine’s Day gifts don’t have to be expensive. It’s not about money; it’s about doing something unexpected. A gentleman once got me a chocolate soccer ball for Valentine’s Day. I played a lot of soccer, so it was both sweet and funny.
“I admit that Valentine’s Day gifts for men are harder to find, but chocolate is a safe bet, and so are more practical gifts, like magazine subscriptions. For something a little saucier, women can buy lingerie for themselves, and gift it to a boyfriend or husband. The gift is you, really, but I think it still counts.
“But a word of caution: If your relationship is new, steer clear of jewellery, which can spook someone. Flowers, silly cards or a gift certificate to a spa are better, at least until the six-month mark.”
Where should we go?
“Do something that’s special to the other person. It doesn’t have to be expensive or a big ordeal. If a couple likes to go for a walk, they should go for a walk. Maybe hide some flowers ahead of time that you can come across during the walk. Keep it simple and show you’ve put some thought into it.
“My husband gets an A-plus for romantic surprises. Last year, he and I were in Panorama on Valentine’s Day, and he surprised me with reservations for a fondue restaurant at a chalet on the mountain.
“It was a great day, but I don’t expect this treatment every year. I think Valentine’s Day is so overblown and so many people have such high expectations that they get disappointed easily. The point is to do something nice for your partner. Try taking the pressure off by exchanging cards and arranging for ‘couple time’ a week after Valentine’s.”
Where do I find singles?
“The bar scene’s been done. That’s coming at it from the front – but it’s all about the other side.
“I’ve been helping out a charity called Dogs With Wings, which trains service dogs. As a byproduct, I’ve realized that girls like dogs. For guys, a good way to meet girls is through charities, since you look like a nice guy.
“Men are like peacocks; we show our feathers and women get to choose. But most get tired of peacock-ing. I’ve done the bar hook-up, but now I’m all about laying down the groundwork because I’m 36, and I think that’s a younger man’s game.”
Where to eat?
– Suggested by Bob Baker, Artistic Director of Citadel Theatre
“I used to live across the street from Cafe Select when it first opened in the 1980s. It has a lot of fond memories for me, and some romantic ones, too.
“It’s really good French cuisine and there’s not a lot of that in the city. My very favourite dish is the three-pepper filet [beef tenderloin with a trio of peppercorns and a Cabernet reduction finish]; I’ve been known to have it twice in one evening.
“Cafe Select is downtown and close to the Citadel Theatre. So, you could easily enjoy some French cuisine before heading over to the Rice Theatre to see Blind Date. Fittingly, the play tells the story of a couple on a blind date in a French bistro.”
What to cook?
– Suggested by Andrew Ihasz, Executive Chef of Fairmont Hotel Macdonald
“Because I’m a chef, I’m always working on Valentine’s Day, so my wife gets some roses at the very last second. But, if I wasn’t working, we’d probably eat in since we prefer to eat at home and have two small children.
“There are actually many things an amateur cook can make for a Valentine’s Day dinner at home, including higher-end things you’d normally go to a restaurant for.
“Since you might indulge in some Champagne anyway, why not pair it with oven-roasted shrimp skewers with linguini and a Champagne cream sauce? It’s easier than it sounds. And no-bake cheesecake? A piece of cake.”
Ingredients for two
8 oz cooked and cooled 227 g
linguini pasta (tossed
with a little olive to
12 blanched asparagus tips 12
8 cherry tomatoes 8
12 raw large shrimp, 12
peeled and deveined
2 bamboo skewers 2
2 tbsp olive oil 30 ml
1 tsp chopped garlic 5 ml
1 tsp fine diced white onion 5 ml
1 tsp chopped chives 5 ml
1 tsp lemon juice 5 ml
Kosher salt and ground
black pepper to taste
Champagne cream sauce
2 cups heavy cream 500 ml
1 tbsp diced onions 15 ml
1 tsp chopped garlic 5 ml
cup Champagne 125 ml
or sparkling wine
salt and pepper to taste
Directions: Cook linguini pasta and blanch asparagus tips (by plunging them in boiling water and cooling immediately) ahead of time. Keep covered in fridge until you are ready to use.
- Run six raw shrimp onto each bamboo skewer, place in a shallow pan. Pour over olive oil. Sprinkle on garlic, onions, chives, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Gently turn the shrimp over in the oil mixture.
- Set oven to 375F. While it heats, saut onions and garlic in a little butter on medium heat in a large frying pan until translucent. Deglaze pan with Champagne and reduce by a third. If sauce becomes too thick, add a little more heavy cream or a little hot water to thin.
- Put the shrimp skewers in the oven, cook for 10 minutes. Add in heavy cream to champagne reduction and bring to a slow simmer until thick. Toss in linguini and asparagus tips with a pair of tongs. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Divide linguini into two portions on large plates, with cherry tomatoes as a garnish. Place the shrimp skewers on top of the linguini. Add a couple of lemon wedges as garnish if desired.
No Bake Cheesecake with Raspberry Coulis
1 nine-inch round Graham 1
cracker pie crust
1 lbs soft cream cheese 454 g
(let sit for 1 hr. to soften)
cup white granulated sugar 60 ml
1 tsp vanilla extract 5 ml
1 cup 35% heavy cream 250 ml
1 cup frozen raspberries 250 ml
1/3 cup white granulated sugar 80 ml
Directions: Place frozen raspberries in a bowl. Sprinkle sugar over the raspberries evenly. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let the bowl of raspberries sit out at room temperature for six hours.
- Puree raspberry mixture in a high-speed blender until smooth. Pass sauce through a strainer if you want to remove the seeds. Set aside.
- Beat the cream cheese in a blender or with beaters until smooth. On low-speed, slowly sprinkle in white sugar. Add in vanilla. Beat mixture on medium speed until smooth.
- In a chilled stainless steel bowl, beat the whipping cream until you reach soft peaks. On low-speed, slowly beat the whipped cream into the cream cheese mixture.
- Spoon the cream cheese mixture into Graham cracker crust, and smooth out evenly with the back of a warm spoon. Chill for four hours in refrigerator.
- Cut into wedges. Spoon raspberry sauce on top of each cheesecake wedge just before serving.