Trying to design a "special" evening for two in response to the dictates ofHallmark and its cultural cohorts can be a daunting prospect. It's a bit likegoing out to paint the town red on New Year's Eve -- the field is crowded withamateurs, and no matter how fabulous and original an individual you happen tobe, the whole enterprise can feel more than a little idiotic. If you're in arelationship, though, you may as well face the fact that you aren't going tobe able to get away with doing nothing and sneering. Only single people areentitled to that privilege. Lucky singles get to invite all their same-sexfriends over and have a terrific time complaining about the opposite sex,munching on pizza, drinking too much and eating too many rich desserts.Meanwhile, the attached are constitutionally obligated to make at least aminimally convincing and impressive Valentine's Day showing. Failing to do someans your partner will be (a) furious, and (b) embarrassed to admit to saidfury, because that would mean admitting he or she takes this ridiculousHallmark holiday seriously. This is not a recipe for mutual happiness in theweeks following. The only thing to do is summon up all the enthusiasm you canmuster and throw yourself into the proceedings in a Norman Rockwellian spirit.It'll be fun, really.
Start by making concrete plans for the evening: "I dunno, what do you wannado?" isn't going to score you any points. It's not necessarily too late tobuy a pair of tickets to an upcomingshow in your area. Even for the movies you may want to buy tickets inadvance, particularly for the most popular romantic comedies, which sell outfast. At a minimum, don't forget to pick out a pleasant restaurant. Trypaging through Zagat'sguide for ideas, or check the Gourmet/Bon Appetit restaurantindex of recommendations (mostly in the major cities, but try your luck). Ortry the James Beard ChefFinder feature, which has a little more regional, and, indeed, internationalcoverage. And make reservations early, not on Sunday afternoon. (In fact, insome cities and for some restaurants, it's definitely too late to reserve"early." If you've put it off thus far, best get cracking.)
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Those who intend, for one reason or another, to skip going out had better havean excellent home-based plan in place. Cooks looking to whip up somethingaphrodisiac can try the formidable Epicuriousrecipefiles. Search "chocolate," and up come 700, count 'em, 700 recipes, includingMousse-Filled ChocolateHearts -- a bit labor-intensive, but not all that difficult, actually, though it does require thingslike cream of tartar and a double boiler -- and The Ultimate ValentineCake, which has a show-stopping white-chocolate lid (you can make the lid a few days in advance andconcentrate on the cake on V-Day). There are are also 75 oyster recipes and45 for truffles -- at least, now I look more closely, that list includes quitea lot of chocolate-truffle recipes as well as those based on the exquisitemushroom-related sort, but then you can't go wrong with either, really, canyou? After dinner -- well, you're on your own. This isn't that kind ofcolumn. I mean, who do I look like, SusieBright? Please.
Valentines themselves are naturally available in virtual form, but, quitefrankly, I advise you to utilize a more concrete, offline medium for conveyingyour affection, such as a handwritten letter or an orchid blossom. In a spareten minutes, though, stop byCyrano, an e-greeting card sitewith a Mad Libs twist. Facing a blank "message" area and suddenly unsure whatto say to your valentine? No problem. Cyrano will not only V-mail acybercard to him or her but will also, if you like, offer you the benefit ofhis expert-designed love-letter templates. Select a recipient type or a tone(the choices on one screen include steamy, indecisive, surreal, desperate,intellectual, poetic, and regretful, which would seem to pretty well coveryour bases), fill in the proffered blanks, and away goes your missive.Speaking from experience, I'd say you're bound to get some sort of strongreaction. If Cyrano isn't to your taste, a more conventional Valentine's Daygreeting-card site is Valentine.com, oryou might try the appealing AwesomeValentines, some of which aremusical and/or animated. The craven or romantic (your call) may choose tosend a secret valentine.
Shopping for last-minute gifts is made vastly easier by the availability of1-, 2- or 3-day shipping at many online merchants nowadays. This is oneholiday not to be afraid of the cheesy and overdetermined. Try and givesomething the recipient would probably not have been frivolous enough topurchase for him- or herself. Victoria'sSecret offers anassortment of "dreamgifts" in theusual Victoria's Secret silk-satin-and-lace vein (including men's silk boxersand so forth), with a wide range of air-delivery express shipping options. Iflingerie isn't your speed (and what's wrong with you, anyway?), consider thisfast-shipping $45 waffle iron,which cooks up five heart-shaped waffles at a time and is sure to gladden anygender this Sunday morning. The incorrigibly textual may enjoy something toleaf through in bed, from The New Yorker Book of True LoveCartoons to The Complete KamaSutra (Alain Daniélou's elegant new unabridged translation of the classic Indiantext).
With V-day swiftly approaching, you'd better look sharp and start getting yourfinal arrangements made or else (and I'm addressing this particular cautionspecifically to all you men out there) you're going to space the whole thingand end up with one highly teed-off ex-valentine. Fortunately, as always, theWeb is here to help ... albeit I emphatically encourage you, once more, toconcentrate the bulk of your efforts in the real-life arena this weekend.