Day of Hearts… Heart-filled Gestures

The Cupid Cook

It’s time to thank the kind hearts that have cared for not only my Dad, but the loved ones of many others at a local Sr. Living Residence. Those tumultuous days, weeks and months of 2020 pushed right into 2021 with a renewed vengeance. Suddenly the director, nurses, and care partners who had managed to keep the residence COVID free for the majority of 2020 with only a few cases, were challenged with the care of a dozen elderly residents who tested positive for COVID in early 2021. While we refrained from taking Dad out of the residence during the holidays, and he rarely left his room, somehow he was among those who tested positive.

We found ourselves feeling the same helpless emotions described by so many when faced with the inability to enter the building and care for our loved one. We had to totally trust and depend on the staff to nurse our Dad back to health. The director lovingly transported each resident one by one to the local hospital for antibody infusion appointments, and the staff stepped up to provide the care and attention that we, the families could not.

While the separation throughout the entire pandemic has been difficult, this was the most frustrating period yet. When Dad finally tested negative and was able to sit up and talk to us again, the relief was overwhelming.

Free clip art found online.

I sent little gifts of appreciation for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but with Valentine’s Day just a week away I decided to bake heart shaped cookies, each individually hand decorated, to send to the entire staff and other residents. When I shared this idea with Dad he got very excited about the idea of riding around in his electric wheelchair (with some assistance) and handing out each cookie with a friendly “Happy Valentine’s Day” greeting.

Both of my parents loved to give, not only to their family, but even total strangers. If someone in line ahead of my Mom at the grocery store started pulling things off of the conveyer belt because they didn’t have enough money (especially if they had a child in the shopping cart) she would tell the cashier to add the items to her bill – was just one tremendous examples of her giving heart.

Their giving nature was instilled in both my brother and I as well, and while Dad is limited in what he can do, we do our best to provide opportunities for him to still enjoy giving.

Cut with a paper cutter to make each look professional.
Using a hole punch, I punched hole in center of the heart to pull the ribbon through
for a Victorian vintage look.
Pretty floral paper use as a background in the bag for the cookie presentation.
Dollar store bags 20 count for $1.00

I baked four batches of my sugar cookie dough on Friday evening and asked a neighbor- friend if she would mind helping me decorate them. I was challenged with baking, decorating and individually bagging 60 cookies and knew I would need help. I brought 25 of the baked cookies to her the following morning to decorate, while I ran my Saturday morning errands.

I was so surprised when I saw all of the cheerful, fun ways my friend (and her husband) had decorated the cookies. I was so focused on getting so many baked, that I hadn’t considered more than one or two ways to decorate them. I was especially drawn to and inspired by the heart flowers she had created.

When I had finished another round of baked and cooled cookies, I started decorating and had so much fun making designs I would not have thought of without their creative collage of inspiration.

I baked and decorated well past 9 p.m. and started again Sunday morning. I had completed decorating and bagging around 11 a.m. Sixty cookies ready for Daddy “Cupid” to deliver this Valentine’s Day. The joy it will bring him in the giving, and to those in the receiving was worth all of the time and effort and I’m so grateful for the help of my friends.

60 cookies ready to go

While Valentine’s Day is mostly associated with Sweethearts, romance and love, in these trying times where we’ve had to rely on others to lovingly care for our family members – Valentine’s Day for me is about those who have shown their “sweet” giving hearts; those who have done their best to fill in as a family member and demonstrate that no matter how difficult things get, human kindness far outweighs all the difficulties. Who has shown their “heart” to you lately? Find a way to show them yours.


Romantic Gestures for the Day of Hearts

February is the month to celebrate love. When was the last time you swept your loved one off of their feet with a simple romantic gesture? I recently rewatched the cute romantic comedy “Hitch” where Will Smith’s character as “The Love Doctor” inspires his clients with uniquely designed romantic gestures, suited specifically to capture the attention of a woman they want so much to win the heart of.

In that same spirit, here are some ideas to inspire you where the currency starts with nothing but time and thought if that’s all you have. Have someone help you beautifully wrap a box of chocolates with a luxurious silk or velvet ribbon. If available select a special vintage brooch from your mother or grandmother’s jewelry box (or find one in a local antique shop) and pin it to the ribbon’s center for a bit of Victorian romance.

Place a delicate bracelet, pearl or heart shaped earrings into a satin or velvet draw string bag and then tuck the bag into a Victorian Hinged Heart Shape Christmas ornament. Another Victorian style romantic presentation- more unique and thoughtful than the typical jewelry box. To wrap, lay the ornament inside a red velvet or specially wrapped box on a fluffy cloud of delicate tissue wrapping paper and it looks just as elegant as a faberge egg. (Pretty boxes often with bows can be found at Homegoods stores, charm bracelets and the individual charms can be found at affordable prices at craft stores like Hobby Lobby and Michael’s.)

You still have time to order a Victorian ornament – here’s a source online that I found

A bracelet filled with charms representing memories you share.

How do I love thee…. let me count the ways….. A priceless gesture of love is something that comes straight from the heart. Rather than stopping at the drug store on Valentine’s Day to sift through the last of the cards remaining, filled with someone else’s words, why not sit alone and write your own thoughts into a poem for the one you love; words you don’t say often enough or not at all, long over due. Whether hand written or printed out from a computer, sign your name at the end and find a beautiful frame to present it in. 

Okay, if you think you can’t possibly write a poem – stop at a library and search online for love poems. Find one that says what you feel and want to express to your loved one and again personalize it by signing and framing it.

Some of the greatest love stories are based on hand written love letters discovered in the attic long after their authors are gone. Letter writing has become a dying art form and is totally unexpected. Never underestimate the power of what one can do for your relationship. Regardless of what your handwriting looks like, a hand written letter is personal, intimate and romantic. Whether mailed to the recipient or tucked inside a special place for the recipient to find, your words of love are recorded directly from your heart and hand to remember for years to come. A proclamation of love in one’s own handwriting to be read over and over again, is a truly romantic gesture.

Those of you who are fans of “Sex in the City” may recall the episode when Carrie discovers the numerous emails that her assistant moved to a folder containing the historic love letters of great men that her beloved “Big” had sent her everyday for weeks (captured from a book she had been reading long before their planned wedding) and then finally his own love letter that begged her forgiveness for his mistake. The truth is that there was no book of love letters in publication in reality and following the episode a small book was published when one could not be found. So there is at least one out there. What if you left a different love letter from the book each day for a week for your beloved and then ended on Valentine’s Day with one of your own?

How about a romantic concert at home while you sip on your favorite beverage with only candlelight and cozy blankets to cuddle up with on the couch? One very romantic concert that occurred years ago and was captured on DVD is Andrea Bocelli – Under the Desert Sky. He sings romantic love songs beneath the stars in Las Vegas. Diana Krall’s sultry cadence is another great candidate- Live from Paris. Either may inspire a little slow dancing around the living room. A variety of concerts can be found for streaming on Amazon.

Valentine’s Day is on a Friday night this year. The restaurants will be packed with couples, stressed out waiters, and long waits. Why not plan a romantic evening at home? Begin with a trip to the grocery store to pick up a couple of steaks, chicken or other protein that you can cook on the grill, a salad package with dressing and everything you need; and most grocery stores have chocolate dipped strawberries that can be served for dessert. Choose one of the favorite wines you both enjoy or that holds a memory of another romantic time you shared. An inexpensive bottle of bubble bath and votive candles. A bouquet of roses also would be nice, but if there are roses in your garden, snipping a bundle would work just as well.

So here’s the plan- try to get home before your partner. Surround a clean bathtub with lit candles, a small vase of roses and a poured glass of wine. Minutes before your partner’s arrival, fill the tub with warm water and lots of bubbles (if you hold your finger on the end of the faucet as the water flows it will froth the bubbles and they will rise and multiply). Once the tub is filled, drop a few rose petals on top of the bubbles. Lay a towel and your favorite nightie that she wears on a chair or bench. Hang a robe from the top of the door. Close the bathroom door and create a path of rose petals from where your partner enters the house to the bathroom door where the candlelit bubble bath awaits her. (By the way no one says you can’t join her – but since this is a surprise for her, wait to be invited.)

Invite your partner to take a hot bath to relax and unwind from the week, while you grill the steaks, prepare the salad and set the table. Either prepare a playlist of love songs you both enjoy or Pandora has a love songs station from Pop, to Country, or Jazz that can take care of the background music while you dine. (You may even play music from the artist that you will then watch in concert from the couch afterward in the previous section.)

The language of flowers can be considered floral poetry: “Floriography is the ‘language of flowers‘. Dating back to the Victorian times floriography was used as a means of coded communication through various flowers and floral arrangements, allowing people to express feelings which otherwise could not be spoken. For centuries, this cryptic language has inspired the giving of flowers to convey emotion. Floriography originated in the courts of Constantinople in early 18th-century Turkey, spreading throughout Europe and Asia, eventually making its way to America in the mid-19th century.” (source: Traditional Home Magazine & All Florists in the UK)

The rose is a classic symbol of grace and elegance, and while most associated with Valentine’s day because the red rose stands for love and passion and the pink rose is often given as a token of admiration and appreciation, the rose may not be your partner’s favorite flower. My mother, my daughter and I are all partial to hydrangeas of all kinds regardless of what meaning Floriography has assigned the luscious ball of beauty – but if you want to make an appropriate choice according to the philosophy -Pink hydrangeas symbolize heartfelt emotion. Blue hydrangeas symbolize frigidity and apology. White hydrangeas symbolize boasting or bragging. Purple hydrangeas symbolize a desire to deeply understand someone.

The tulip is also readily available this time of year. A Turkish legend may be responsible for the red tulip’s symbolism. The story goes that a prince named Farhad was love struck by a maiden named Shirin. When Farhad learned that Shirin had been killed, he was so overcome with grief that he killed himself – riding his horse over the edge of a cliff. It’s said that a scarlet tulip sprang up from each droplet of his blood, giving the red tulip the meaning “perfect love.” Different colors of tulips also often carry their own significance. Red tulips are most strongly associated with true love, purple symbolizes royalty, white tulips are used to claim worthiness or to send a message of forgiveness. Yellow tulips symbolizing cheerful thoughts, pink tulips – a symbol of caring, attachment (not as strong as love, like the red) and good wishes. They would be appropriate for a friend or family member or someone you’ve just met and have grown to care about, but it may be too soon to express love for.  The colors typically have similar meaning with each variety, red – love; yellow-friendship; pink-admiration; white purity, forgiveness.

If you choose to consider the language of flowers in a mixed bouquet you present, make a little note about your selections on the card to explain the choices you made so that your partner realizes that your bouquet was personally designed with thought from the heart.

Maybe your partner has always wanted to go to Paris or Bora Bora or Africa , but it’s simply not in your budget. Create a night at home bringing that dream place to her. Let’s go with Paris for this example. Search images of Paris where she most wants to go, i.e. Paris cafe’s, Giverny Gardens. Engage the help of a friend or family member to help you transform a small corner in your home into an evening in Paris. A small round table, and two chairs with a white tablecloth – cafe’ style. Candlelight, white twinkle lights strung from above. Pandora has a French Cafe’ station to help you with the music. If you’re a cook, make a French bistro favorite or order from a French restaurant and bring it home. Buy a decadent chocolate dessert (Le Madeline’s Sacher torte is perfect or some other decadent chocolate favorite from a local bakery). You don’t have to do all of the work, let the resources out there help you with your plan.

If your partner loves chocolate – don’t forget the chocolates! Just know that you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get good chocolate. When I was a little girl, my Dad bought a Whitman’s Sampler box of chocolates every year for my Mom. I’d patiently wait for her to pull the plastic wrap away and lift the lid. She the chocolates with nuts were her favorite, so she always let me have the solid milk chocolate messenger man in the middle of both layers of chocolate. All these years later – the box still has two layers and costs about $15 – I’ve seen it for $7.99 on sale this time of year – you can wrap it beautifully as indicated at the beginning.

While Valentine’s Day has become filled with expectations of flowers and heart shaped boxes of candy – an unexpected well thought out romantic gesture goes much further than a last minute stop at the store to grab the last of what’s left on Valentine’s Day. I hope these ideas will inspire you to form your own expression of love with a thoughtful, heartfelt gesture that you know will please your Valentine. As for those of you who receive these special gestures, you are very fortunate and very loved – make sure to express your appreciation for the effort that has been made in your honor. Your encouragement made lead to more romantic gestures.

  • A candlelight picnic by the fireplace on a cold winter’s night.
  • A drive to an open area for star gazing with a thermos of hot chocolate, bring warm cuddly blankets and spend some time in the quiet to just talk and be together.
  • A chocolate and wine pairing to do together or with friends (google search for ideas).
  • An Alpine fondue for two – see my Alpine Alsace Friendsgiving post – a cheese fondue can be made from scratch or there are boxed versions in the cheese departments that simple require heating. (Whole Foods and other wine stores that also sell cheese)
  • If there is a favorite restaurant that you frequent, ask to speak to the chef or manager. Ask if the menu for Valentine’s day has been decided. Negotiate to have the special prepared for you and your partner the weekend before the holiday – with your chosen table. This avoids the crowds and while you may not be a celebrity that can pay to close down a restaurant for the night for just the two of you, making this special private arrangement will make someone feel very loved and appreciated.

However you plan to spend your Day of Hearts – here’s wishing everyone love!


Wine Club: A Valentine Themed Wine Tasting Party

Known only as ZIMER, Brooklyn artist applied Wild Style, his name is woven into the ribbon-like shapes of the seductive Lady in Red.

The inspiration for this February- Valentine themed meeting began with this beautiful wine label of Intrinsic: 2016 CS-Columbia Valley, Washington State. The image was romantic, passionate and sexy.

Front and center the winner.

I invited guests to bring North American reds and a small bite. In my mind I expected to see wines for States other than California like mine, but instead the competitors were from different Californian Valleys…. Napa, Sonoma, Alexander & Dry Creek Valley and Rutherford Napa Valley. I’ve learned from my guests over time to be more specific in order to achieve the variations, as one member said – “you should assign each of us a State and then we would have known”. A valuable lesson to note for your invites.

It is rare that we (my club) ever come across a wine that we don’t like. One that may not be interesting during the initial tasting (without food), may later round out or be established as a food wine when we re-taste with food. Usually I try to get member votes based on the wine tasting prior to the addition of food, simply to judge the wine solely on its own due to the fact that once food has hit the palette, the wine changes.

Cherub or angel votives used with candlelight at the table's center.

To set the table I used a red velvet runner from Christmas and angel or cherub votives to add candlelight. I attached place cards to small heart shaped boxes of chocolate that doubled as take away favors and a heart folded cloth napkin at the suggestion of one of my members. The paper napkins with sweetheart dogs were just to add a little whimsy to the table and reminded me of Valentines we exchanged as children.

The table was set with a velvet runner, cherub-angel votive candles, small heart boxes of candy as place cards, and heart folded cloth napkins.

The week prior to the meeting, I ask my members to text a photo of their wine label to me for two reasons. This allows me to create a list of the wines to distribute after the meeting (having learned that creating the list on my laptop, while opening and bagging the bottles and then printing out the list was too time consuming- having the list prepared prior too made more sense) as well as monitor possible duplications of wine. If you think it can’t happen, it can especially if wines are all from one country for example – the number of affordable wines for a specific country may be limited at you supplier and create duplications). Once, I did receive images of the same label, but at closer examination I noticed one was a red blend and the other was a cabernet sauvignon. So while the label was the same the wine was different.

After four years of meetings and preparing small bites, it grows more and more challenging to find something original. As the host I try to also monitor the food with the intent of creating a somewhat “balanced” meal of protein, veggies, etc.

Sometimes I ask my guests to try to create small bites that fit our theme when it is possible to accomplish, (i.e., for our Summer grillin’ meeting I requested bites associated with summer grilling), but not all themes allow for this.

Keeping my guests from becoming at a loss for what to bring is also important. I’m constantly posting ideas from Pinterest to inspire me. Following the email invitation, I send a second email with inspirations for small bites and ask members to give me an idea of what they decided to bring. Again this is to monitor for duplications and balance. I learned this lesson when we had three different versions of caprese salad at one meeting, and four versions of puff pastry at another. While I don’t want to tell anyone what to bring, I’ve explained that my intention is only to give us a good balance of bites.

If the list of food doesn’t have enough fresh veggie items, I throw in a bag kit salad like the one below or something else that appears to be off balance. This chopped cranberry kale kit from Walmart is an inexpensive way to add in some freshness and color, while still blending in well with the other small bites and holding up well to the hearty red wines. It was originally served at one of our book clubs and everyone loved it. I have nicknamed it, “The Book Club Salad”.  (

My contribution included the red wine spaghetti with meatballs. While the meatballs were tasty, they did not pair well with the spaghetti. My intention was to provide another protein, but it would have been better with a sauce that better complimented the pasta. The red wine spaghetti recipe begins with sautéing garlic and spices in olive oil, then an entire bottle of red wine is added to the pot and brought to a boil before adding the pasta. My tip is to use a very dark red wine to achieve the red pasta seen above. I tried with an inexpensive bottle of wine that was a lighter variety and the pasta was pink instead of the desired red. The pasta on its own it very flavorful.

My dessert for the night was a chocolate crepe cake, filled with chocolate ganache between it’s layers and a pool of Amarena cherries that I discovered while planning our Italian themed wine night and has become a favored ingredient of my group.

My chocolate crepe cake with ganache and Amarena cherries.

While searching among the Valentine items for inspiration for this wine club, a memory came forward that I had not thought of in decades. I think of it as a “God Wink” from my Mom who passed away several years ago.

I was drawn to look for a box of Whitman’s Sampler Chocolates. Not the heart shaped box version, but the rectangle box with the cross stitch design and basket of pretty flowers. The exact box that my Dad used to give my Mom every year for Valentine’s Day when I was a little girl.

Memories stormed back, of my Mom removing the cellophane wrap from the box and lifting the lid. As she slid the crackly lining away, she would at the same time lift the box in my direction so I could select my favorite piece, the solid chocolate messenger boy. I would lift it to my mouth and close my eyes to savor the creamy chocolate with sheer pleasure. It wasn’t long before I peeked below the second liner that divided the top layer from a second layer of the same selection of chocolates and quickly grabbed the solid chocolate messenger hidden there before anyone else did.

I finally found the familiar rectangle box in a drug store and purchased it. I was astonished at the low price (in comparison to other chocolates) and to discover that after peeling away the cellophane wrap as my Mom once did, that inside the box were the exact same variety and quantity of chocolates as I had remembered (including a second layer below another liner), and my favorite piece the solid chocolate messenger in both layers.

In our current world of downsizing, reduced quality and re-designing for a better bottom line, while asking for the same price, Whitman’s remained the same. In fact, I later found it on sale at a large grocery chain where two boxes were less than $11. The chocolate’s quality is as good as some European varieties at five or six times the price. I decided to purchase a box as the prize for the winning wine on this night.

When the evening had ended and I was alone on my sofa, I reached for the box and my favorite piece of chocolate to savor once again the sweet memories it provoked of Valentines Day and my Mom.

P. S. I decided to save the second piece for another time, with no threat of anyone around to steal it from me.