If I happen to be in a drugstore on Valentine’s Day, I see men of all ages standing in line to pay for those heart-shaped boxes of chocolates tucked under their arms, and I say to myself, “You can do better.” By waiting until the last minute, they wind up in stores open later than others and buy chocolates that can be waxy, too sweet and filled with artificial flavorings. With a bit of planning, people seeking Valentine’s Day candy can present their loved ones with something really delicious.
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That chocolates have taken their place as a Valentine’s Day gift of choice is easy to understand. It is a sensuous food that gives instant pleasure, having a flavor and texture people truly love. In the words of cartoonist and humorist Sandra Boynton, “Research tells us that 14 out of any 10 individuals like chocolate.” Her book “Chocolate: The Consuming Passion” came out in the 1980s when we believed that chocolate wasn’t good for us and would buy carob from health food stores, thinking it a worthy substitute. About this practice Boynton says, “Carob can, when combined with vegetable fat and sugar, be made to approximate the color and consistency of chocolate.” She adds, “Of course, the same arguments can as persuasively be made in favor of dirt.” Happily, these days we are told that chocolate contains properties that are healthy, and when eaten in moderation can provide nutrients as well as pleasure.
For reasons that have never been clear to me, gifts of chocolates have been assigned to what men are supposed to give to women and not the other way around. But I dare say that we all know men who like candy, just as we know women who love beefsteaks and roasts, foods thought to be the prerogative of men. With this in mind, I have suggestions for gender-free Valentine gifts bound to make almost anyone happy.
Most cities and many towns have chocolate shops run by independent chocolate makers who have specialty items that make wonderful gifts and, like other businesses, these shops have online services giving everyone access to these treats. In Boston, where I live, we have Burdick candy shops, and their signature chocolate is in the shape of a little mouse filled with divine ganache. These come in your choice of dark, milk or white chocolate, and packed together in a little wooden box make charming gifts.
While in New York recently, I gazed into the Jacques Torres shop at Grand Central Station and understood why this famous pastry chef and chocolatier has been dubbed “Mr. Chocolate.” His window was filled with stunning examples of his art including chocolate boxes filled with beautifully shaped pieces, and a clever and elegant Valentine’s gift of a three-piece puzzle that, when put together, forms a heart that says “I love you.”
Less is more
This leads me to an important point I want to make. Fine chocolate makers offer small sizes of gifts that are affordable as well as appropriate. Encased as they are in exquisite packaging, they are a far cry from those cardboard red hearts with tacky gold bows found in drugstores. That they are available in five-pound sizes does not make them better.
If you prefer a homespun candy, then I would recommend See’s Candies, a confection that was started by Charles See in Los Angeles in 1921 and is available in shops throughout the American West. Its logo is a picture of Mary See, the founder’s mother, whose sweet-faced, white-haired, bespectacled image is meant to reflect the fresh and wholesome ingredients found in the company’s chocolates. This brand happens to be a favorite of mine, and when Warren Buffett bought the company because he liked the product, I said to myself, “If it’s good enough for Warren Buffett, it’s certainly good enough for me.” Like any of the shops mentioned, See’s does a flourishing online business that even allows you to select only the pieces you like. This avoids the infamous practice of people squeezing and peering at chocolates found in assortments to examine their fillings, then putting them back in the box when not to their liking.
Chocolate to last
If a single gift of chocolates seems too minimal, then perhaps signing up with a chocolate-of-the-month club will strike you as a good idea. These deals vary in the quality of the chocolate, the varieties available and the frequency of the deliveries. You can, for instance, sign up with a company such as Godiva or Harry & David that can send out the gifts every three or even four months instead of once a month. There is something really exciting, not to mention romantic, about receiving such a gift throughout the year; in this way, the intent of Valentine’s Day — to express one’s love — is stretched out, too.
Don’t let your sweet tooth cloak your inner wisdom
When making this rather pricey overture, however, a word of caution is in order. Make sure that your relationship is on solid ground, for what could be more galling than knowing the person who dumped you is still receiving your generous gifts.
Main photo: A Valentine Day’s message that needs no explanation. Credit: Barbara Haber