Thursday 9 February 2017

Valentine's Day on a Budget

   Love it or loathe it, Valentine's Day is a thing. Seeg isn't fond of it, but as I was single all through high school, I've embraced it fiercely for the six we've shared together so far despite what I...may have said in the past. This year will be our seventh - perhaps.
   Not 'perhaps' as in 'we might not make it', but rather because money is frustratingly tight this year and I've had to choose between my best friend's birthday present and the 'holiday-that-isn't-really-a-holiday' in my boyfriend's eyes. Naturally, Lucy won out.

   But I've been quite reluctant to forfeit Valentine's Day, so I've been looking for ways to celebrate on a budget. I gathered up lots of ideas, and found some great articles like Payplan's budget Valentine's Day, and ultimately decided that the best, easiest and most financially sound way is to just get crafty. Presents are a no, but that's all right (though I did tell him I wanted some Rolos, but the corner shop doesn't bloody stock them, so that really is out), because it truly is about spending an evening together, setting everything else aside for a few hours. We go for a walk and have a movie night every weekend, and we hold our anniversary in May as the 'big one', so I usually like to try to take Valentine's day half way between the two.
   Usually, it would be dinner, chocolates, presents, a movie, and so on and so forth, but this year it's got to be reined in. But I've got Valentine's Day on a budget all worked out, and it's one that, though simple, will have a bigger impact and can completely avoid the crowded restaurants and cinemas which only really serve to compromise that special together-time.
   Go on. Tell me I'm wrong.

Valentine Dinner
   Forget eating out; cook at home instead. Cooking together is so much fun, and Seeg and I both have our specialties. He's actually the savoury chef, and I'm the dessert master, so we tend to make both at the same time without getting in each other's way - he prepares dinner while I mix up some brownies in the corner, and they only go in the oven when we settle down for the main course. It's usually quite simple: duck, roast potatoes, lots of veg and a boatful of gravy. It's simple, but it's delicious, and as it's all made from scratch it's also pretty healthy. Then we undo it with the brownies, fresh from the oven, and chocolate fudge ice cream. Because it's a special occasion.
   Everything is pretty basic, and the only expensive components are the meat and the ice cream, both of which can go in the freezer and subsequently be bought ahead of time to spread the cost. Freshly frozen veg is also good - that's vegetables that were frozen shortly after harvesting rather than having been prepared and diced first. They still have most of their nutrients and can in fact be healthier than 'fresh' vegetables - ie carrots that were imported from another country. It's not actually 'fresh' unless it comes from your garden or a local farm.
   Try my deliciously simple apple rose tarts, or make some chocolate leaves to garnish even the simplest desserts.

Valentine Chocolates
   Make them yourself. You can temper chocolate so it sets with a snap by using the seeding method at home, no fancy equipment needed. Just melt 2/3 of a cup of chocolate in a bowl over a pan of boiling water, then add the remaining 1/3 once it's fully melted to help cool it down. Pour them into heart- or alphabet-shaped moulds, add some rice crispies, nuts, fruit, whatever when they're half-full, then fill them the rest of the way with more chocolate and leave them at room-temperature to set.
   Or forget chocolates and make biscuits. I've got a wonderful and ridiculously easy recipe and how-to for Valentine locket sugar cookies, and the only unusual ingredient is isomalt - you can find it in craft shops, baking stores, or online from ebay or baking websites like Craft Company, and all you have to do with it is melt it. Or make some mini Valentine whoopie pies with some marshmallow fluff, which again is becoming increasingly common in supermarkets.
   Try my Valentine cake bites, or patchwork heart cookies.

Valentine Flowers
   Fancy bouquets of flowers cost so much money, and it's tempting to just go for the £5 bunch from the corner shop. But that's frowned upon, isn't it? They're only good for those "just because" moments, for spontaneous flower-buying. Not for special occasions. But with roses costing upwards of £25 at this time of year, there is an alternative, and it's much better! A cake bouquet. Get a nice, disappointingly thin bunch of those budget flowers, then head down to the cake aisle. See those packages of little individually wrapped cakes? Buy a few. Cadbury mini rolls, Mr Kipling, or some simple cupcakes. Brilliant. Now get some sticks. Wooden lollipop or cake pop sticks aren't hard to come by in craft shops anymore, not with baking being so popular a hobby, so get a few of those for about £1.50 and then unwrap the cakes, one by one, and push them onto the end of the sticks. Arrange your flowers in a vase with some pretty ribbon or tissue paper, then insert your cake sticks at attractive intervals, or cluster them in the centre and have the flowers surround them. There you go. And what did that cost? £5 for the flowers and another £5 for the cakes? And I'll tell you what: it'll leave a much bigger impression than a fancy but ultimately inedible bunch of flowers for £25+

Valentine Gifts
   Make something. Yes, it's that simple. Use something you're familiar with - paint, draw, cook. Put time into something that will show them you know them. Fold origami hearts for your love notes instead of buying a card - they're not as difficult to make as you might think. String them up, slip them into their pocket, scatter them around the house.
   Gestures are also a lovely idea - run them a bath with rose petals or bath salts. Make them breakfast in bed, even if it's just toast. Mix them up a special Valentine smoothie.
   It's easy to make even mundane food look festive - a heart-shaped cookie cutter is all you really need. Draw around it onto paper and cut it out to make a heart shaped coffee stencil. Use it to cut heart-shaped toast or make heart-shaped eggs or omelettes. Or reverse it with an inside out sandwich - cut a heart out of the top slice of bread and fill the hollow with something aesthetic. An egg salad sandwich with some curly carrot shavings spiralling out, or fill the heart with halved cherry tomatoes. Make a bacon and egg sandwhich and arrange it so that the fried egg yolk is presented in the heart. Or make a ham sandwich, fill the heart cavity with cheese and grill it.
   Give food a dash of Valentine colour with freeze-dried berries, paprika, bell peppers, tomatoes, salsa, strawberry jam and other red and pink foods.
   Try my Eros' Elixir Valentine smoothie, or my rather ancient tutorial for Valentine scratch cards.

Valentine Movie Night
   Do it at home. Rent a DVD, or grab one of the first ones you ever watched together, then gather up all the blankets and cushions in the house, shove the furniture out the way and snuggle down amongst it all. You won't have to deal with selfish people in the cinema who just go to make noise, you can pause it to run to the loo, and if it's a movie you saw together years ago, it will totally outmatch the newest blockbuster because you won't be so engrossed in the movie that you forget you're supposed to be on a date.
   Popcorn is also easily made at home, and as it's such a popular health food right now, you can get all kinds of flavours beyond the simple sweet or salty you'd find in the cinema. Or you can find any number of recipes and make apple pie popcorn, triple chocolate popcorn, spicy salsa popcorn, and so on. And you can have any bottle of wine that strikes your fancy.

   Valentine's Day can be amazing even on a budget, and by getting creative and putting in this kind of effort, it will stick in your mind for longer, too, and is guaranteed not to meld into the tangled mass of memories of other Valentine's Days a few years from now.


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