Thinking Outside the (Heart-Shaped) Box

I kind of hate Valentine’s Day. In a world where we should all be saying “I love you” any chance we can get, or where buying a partner flowers or candy should/could be a regular occurrence, there’s just way too much pressure to fill one particular day with a year’s worth of romance and caring. And because most people are out of practice when it comes to showing others that they care about them, they fall back on “tradition” (aka. the tacky and clichéd). So while, in truth, I don’t have too much problem with a heart-shaped box of assorted chocolates (I actually like the orange creams), so much of what falls into the standard Valentine’s Day gift list (a dozen red roses, champagne, romantic dinner for two) sort of makes me retch. Or at least roll my eyes and groan – and not in a good way.

Now while I can’t help readers with the other issues aside from advising that a gift that suits the recipient’s tastes is better than a gift that is simply “traditional” (ie. buy a cool plant or a bouquet of their favourite flower instead of those tacky roses; skip the teddy bear unless the giftee is under the age of 10; and wait until Sunday and go for a lovely brunch instead of getting shafted on an overpriced V-Day dinner…), I am able to recommend some non-traditional sweets and candies that show a lot more thought and creativity than a gift picked up at the gas station.

The folks at Yummy Stuff (1660 Queen Street West) have a really great selection of treats for Valentine’s Day. They’re still working with a mostly heart-shaped theme, but these handmade delights will show that the gift-giver has put some thought into their purchase and is thinking about taste and flavour, not just getting off the hook for another year. Morag and her team are offering beautifully decorated cookies ($4 each or 6 in a heart-shaped box for $25); cakes ($32 – $50); cupcakes ($4 each); brownies ($25/dozen); and handmade truffles ($8/4, $20/12).

Lesia Kohut of LPKs Culinary Groove (718 Queen Street East) is offering a diverse selection of pastries and chocolates in her east end shop where everything is green, organic and fair trade. The midnight cassis cake ($22/$34) is gluten free and is glazed in chocolate. There’s also a variety of tarts at $5.25; some are vegan and some are gluten free. A special box of 4 large Valentine truffles ($20) in flavours of “love” (wildflower honey and cinnamon), “desire” (bourbon vanilla and cardamom), “passion” (orange and tabaqueiro chili) and “seduction” (caramel ganache) is available for the big day, or try some of their regular truffle selections starting from $20. There’s also a variety of decorated cookies, some of which are vegan or gluten-free.

At Soma Chocolatemaker (55 Mill Street), they’re selling breathtaking lacy chocolate hearts ($12/$17.50) nestled in a bed of wild cherries tumbled in dark chocolate. Heart meringues with Madasgar vanilla ($5) add a light touch. There’s also a couple of seasonal truffle favours (Yuzu or pomegrantate and barberry), and a crazy love collection ($35) that includes a lacy heart, meringues, truffles and SOMA’s barberry crunch made with handmade toffee, roast cacao nibs, feulletine and barberries.

Readers also shouldn’t overlook the do-it-yourself option. Bulk shops such as Domino’s at St. Lawrence Market (92 Front Street East) have a huge selection of seasonal candy from jelly beans and gumdrops to chocolate-covered cherries. Add a couple of decorated sugar cookies from Future Bakery and it’s even more fun than a store-bought selection because it can be tailored to the tastes of the recipient – and it’s easy to keep quantities small if they happen to be one of the hardy few still sticking to their new year resolutions.

Finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention straight-up bars of chocolate. Personally, while I’d never turn down any of the goodies listed above, I’d be just as happy if my hubby gifted me with a selection of high-end chocolate bars. From the Varlhona single-origin bars to the many flavoured creations by companies like Dolfin, a stack of these with a red bow is all I really need to feel loved. Of course, this idea can go high-end as well, and anyone with a wad of cash and a chocolate connoiseur to buy for might want to consider the Pralus stack at Aren’t We Sweet at St. Lawrence Market. At $49.99, it tends to cause jaws to drop at the register, but for anyone who cares to send the very best, Pralus is widely considered the best chocolatier in