3d-shadow-box-art-ssThat’s the question of the moment. Ads on TV, in newspapers, on line, in magazines, on billboards, buses, subways, just about everywhere you look, make suggestions about what to give your lover to show how much you treasure her: romantic dinners, cruises, hot air balloon rides, diamonds, earrings, pearl necklaces, chocolates, spa treatments, cakes, pies, tarts, sweaters, and of course, flowers.

Years ago when I lived in Rhode Island I had a friend who refused to buy any of her gifts. For Christmas or a birthday, she’d knit a gift, create a handmade card, or construct a collage. Risa was an enthusiastic practitioner of the hand-made movement because she felt that making a gift was a more emotional way of connecting to someone you cared about. To her, going into a store and plunking down a fist full of cash wasn’t as intimate and personal as making something.

I took Risa’s lesson to heart. Many Valentine’s Days I baked. Apple pies with crystallized ginger crusts. Flourless chocolate cakes with roasted almonds. And banana cakes with chocolate chips and roasted walnuts, one of my wife’s favorite desserts.

For this Valentine’s Day I was presented with a problem. I couldn’t bake Michelle a cake because she had sworn off dairy products and sugar. No matter how much she used to like my desserts, a beautiful cake wouldn’t tell her “I love you” the way it used to. So what could I make or do for her that would show her I love her?

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chochearts.jpgThe classic combination of chocolate and hazelnut paste, called gianduja in Italian, is my absolute favorite way to enjoy chocolate. It was Invented in Turin, Italy in the middle of the 19th century. Ferrero, one of the most famous brands that manufactures it, sells it as Nutella. In Europe it's as popular as peanut butter is here in the States. I'm addicted to it and spread it on apple slices, crêpes, and sandwiches, where one slice of bread is spread with peanut butter and the other with Nutella.

That was my snack of choice while studying abroad in Europe, where Nutella is sold in little cups. Once emptied, the jars can be used as drinking glasses—I actually ended up building an entire collection in my cupboard. So to come up with a sweet treat recipe for Valentine's Day, I immediately thought of cookies sandwiched together with Nutella.

What better cookie could there be to pair with Nutella than chocolate cookies? These rolled cookies get cut out with fluted heart-shaped cookie cutters in various sizes. The dough is not that difficult to put together and, when rolled out between plastic, is very easy to handle. It also makes for a very tender cookie when no flour is used in rolling.

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vintagecard.jpgThere is one day in February that excites women across the country... Valentine's Day. A day she hopes to be showered with flowers, chocolates and a great dinner with the love of her life.

Believe it or not, Valentine's Day (or St. Valentine's Day as it is really known) was not created by Hallmark. There are a few schools of thought that surround St. Valentine, and who he was.

The Catholic Church recognizes three saints named Valentine or Valentinus whom were martyred.
One story claims Valentine was a priest living in Rome during the 3rd Century. During this time, marriage became outlawed because soldiers were thought to be stronger if they were without a family. Valentine did not agree with this law, and continued to marry couples against the wishes of Emperor Claudius II. Once Claudius learned of this betrayal, Valentine was jailed.

According to one legend, Valentine sent the first "Valentine" greeting. He was in prison and fell in love with a young girl who visited him while there. It is said he sent her a letter and signed it "From your Valentine" — an expression we still use today.

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cupid-with-tamborine.jpgLooking back fifteen to twenty years ago, I am amazed at the weighted significance I placed on Valentine’s Day gift giving.  It was forever the holiday filled with potential of making or breaking a relationship.  Those feelings all seem so ridiculous and childish now, but then, with very little relationship maturity under my belt, it all made logical sense.

When it came to giving the “right Valentine’s gift” I placed a lot of energy and time concocting my gift giving plan of attack.  I completely lost sight of what the celebration was about. Love. Right?

I distinctly recall dating a “certain guy” at the young and clueless age of twenty.  We had only been going out for a short time and Valentine’s Day was quickly approaching.  I know…the pressure.  There is nothing worse than an impending holiday like Valentine’s to put a young relationship to the ultimate test of failure or success.  At least that’s what I thought.

I was of course ecstatic.  I made this “certain guy” a very clever card, had a picture of us framed, made him my, “Yes, you will fall in love with me Chocolate Chip Cookies” and bought him a shirt.  I know the shirt sounds lame, unimaginative and pathetic, but believe me when I tell you it was a very cool shirt.  It. Really. Was.

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breaking-up.jpgI broke up with my boyfriend the night before I took off for Ohio to canvass for Obama.  Well really, I broke up with him three nights later, but I knew in my head that I would do it the night before I left.  What I did that night before was tell him I could not talk to him for three days.  Three days of: landing in Ohio the morning after the red-eye; having breakfast with Carol Ogline (my 84 year old host) at the fanciest restaurant in Alliance; Ohio (where the side salad is $3.00 extra); driving to the Alliance, Ohio campaign office (the first national campaign office to ever exist there); taking off from the office to canvass down the street; getting chased down that same street by a rabid dog, finding out the owner was an Obama supporter and recruiting him to volunteer; returning to the office to make phone calls; going back to Carol Ogline's house and eating peanut butter sandwiches with her at 1am while her 1 month old puppy rolled around on the floor; getting back to the campaign office the next day to canvass some more; promising a man I would show up at 6am the day after election day and chop the wood piled in his yard if he voted; taking a picture at the end of that street; returning to the office to make phone calls; going to Applebee's with my volunteer coordinator; returning to the office the next day to canvass, swaying a voter, swaying another voter, going to another county to meet the 20 new volunteers that had just arrived; jumping on a conference call to hear Obama give us all an amazing half time speech; and going into the backyard after that phone call to sit by the empty pool and have that final phone conversation with my boyfriend.

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