Show your love

Creative gift ideas for Valentine’s Day

Enlarge photo

Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald illustration

They used to say “kiss me” and “be mine.” The little candy hearts we loved as children now celebrate Valentine’s Day by declaring “tweet me” and “you rock.”

Ah, romance – wherefore art thou?

The holiday actually is named after a series of Christian martyrs who ended up on the wrong side of the era’s ruler – and the ax – not romantic at all. But one legend has it that an imprisoned Valentine fell in love with his jailor’s daughter and signed his last letter to her “from your Valentine.”

Ending your days in a dank Roman prison cell might seem a far cry from the happy, sappy holiday of today, second in popularity around the world only to New Year’s. But by the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day was recognized as one to honor love.

Just as no one can say for certain what the origins of the holiday are, no one can tell you when chocolate, flowers and frilly heart-shaped cards came into it, either. But what the heck – who could say no to roses, sweets and thou?

Necco has been making its sweet hearts since Civil War times, when one might include a paper note pleading for a lock of your hair. Today, the printed message is more likely to be “text me.”

No matter, Thursday is a day to celebrate love in all its forms, whether it’s thanking your mother, romancing your sweetheart or pledging loyalty to your best friend.

“Not that we’re not loving people all the time, but it’s a day to shine in that way, to be silly in love,” said wedding planner Mandy Winn.

Winn, who owns Celebrations Event Productions, counts Valentine’s Day as the last gasp of the engagement season, which begins at Thanksgiving. About 70 percent of engagements occur in those 12 weeks.

If you want to impress your loved one, she suggests taking them out for a fine dinner and having the waiter present flowers at the appetizer course or a romantic gift like a massage for two with dessert (all arranged in advance, of course.)

That’s actually a rare thing when it comes to purchasing that de rigueur Valentine’s Day gift, chocolates.

“It’s funny how last-minute it is,” said Jessica Elkan, retail manager for Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory’s stores, of their single busiest day of the year. “It’s an impulse buy.”

Her best-sellers are truffles, chocolate-dipped strawberries and pre-made heart-shaped boxes. And while men still make up a majority of the buyers that day, plenty of women come in, too. A word to the wise – the strawberries are good only for a day.

If you’re looking for something saucier than your average raspberry truffle, April’s Garden offers chocolate gourmet popcorn in flavors like “blisters on her butter crunch,” “mutton-bustin’ milk chocolate” and “have bacon will travel.” Bacon’s possibilities as an aphrodisiac seem to know no bounds.

For the tried and true, however, April’s Garden also sells roses, and red ones are still the hands-down favorite on Valentine’s Day. If your beloved is a sweet hound to boot, you can include pink champagne truffles or heart-shaped petit fours.

Sometimes it’s the simple things that carry the day. Liz Mora, executive director of the Women’s Resource Center, romances her husband, Roland, with the biggest bag of Reese’s mini peanut butter cups she can find. They are his absolute favorites. For herself, she buys Dove’s chocolates.

She remembers fondly the days of wine and roses, but that was before children. Eight years ago, just before her daughter Isabelle was born, Roland took her out for Valentine’s dinner at May Palace (she was craving Chinese food, natch.)

“That was the last time the two of us went out on Valentine’s Day,” she said wistfully. “Dinner out and dating takes on a whole new meaning when you become parents.”

Yet you needn’t throw in the towel on romance because children fill the picture frame or dinner out isn’t a possibility. Eric Allen says the most memorable Valentine’s of his life was the first one he spent with his now-wife Ruby. They shared an intimate home-cooked dinner a deux, with champagne.

As co-owner of the Wine Merchant, Allen is well equipped to help you set the stage for your liaison, too. Champagne is a perennial, signifying love, happiness and a special occasion. Sweet red wines from Italy like Stella Rosa sell well for the holiday, too. But for something colorful, flavorful and somewhat surprising, he suggests a dry rose, Chateau la Mascaronne, from Provence, which he promises will go with everything, especially love. (For the record, most of his customers are women, even on Valentine’s Day.)

To round out dinner at home without spoiling the mood from over exertion, you could pick up a chocolate decadence cake, a flourless 6-inch torte from Serious Delights bakery or individual chocolate mousses.

But for some, the most romantic thing of all is a loving gesture expressed any ol’ time – a surprise, if you will. Amy Wendland, a local artist and college professor, is just such a person.

She lived in the down-on-its-heels neighborhood of Hennepin in Minneapolis before moving to Durango, where she met and married her sweetheart, Mike Smedley. But still, she pined for a talisman of good times from her old neighborhood, a concrete garden statue of a running boar.

“So I thought, ‘Let’s get one,’” said Smedley, a Durango Herald columnist and Bank of the San Juans executive.

He searched for it on Google, enlisted a friend’s help and found out that the fleet-footed pig was none other than the University of Arkansas mascot and easily obtainable. A week later, a box larger than your average microwave arrived at the office.

He was going to save it for a special moment, but he couldn’t help himself. He led his wife into his office and revealed the porcine statue. She gasped and grinned and uttered words of delight – “Where did you get that? I can’t believe you did that.” They named it Hennepin von Schnitzel and placed it on the backyard deck.

OK, it wasn’t Valentine’s Day, but it was a great gift.

“She loves surprises,” Smedley said. “If you limit your spontaneous affection to one day a year, you’re missing the boat.”

Romance lives, after all.