Great ideas for Valentine’s Day. Creative. Thoughtful. AND CHEAP!!

This post was inspired by my blog buddy, Hayden, who just wrote about The Big Day. And it got me thinking. I’ve done lots of sweet things for my husband on Valentine’s Day, I really should share some of them. So whether you lack creativity or money (or both), here are some ideas to make V-day sizzle. JUST REMEMBER: You do not have to spend a lot of money to make someone’s Valentine’s Day the best they’ve ever had. Romance is in the eye of the beholder and thoughtfulness always trumps money when it comes to true love.
Now.. onto the ideas!!

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1) I don’t normally toot company horns, but this one is so great, I am making an exception. My husband and I made books – REAL books – as presents for some of our loved ones this year, and they were fabulous. It was beyond easy to do and truly affordable. Go to BLURB.COM and download their bookmaking software for FREE. Then upload photos of you and your sweetheart, personalize everything, and order. Blurb.com does the rest. Choose from soft and hardback styles. We’ve done both and they are simply AWESOME. Your loved one will be touched beyond belief.

2) Not into that? Then make your own scrapbook. I have made several of these for my husband. One with all of the emails we exchanged in college. Sweet and silly. Another with all of our wedding mementos. Another with poems. You get the picture. All that matters is that it’s from you, filled with loving memories of your time together. They will LOVE IT.

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3) Make a gift basket filled with treats he or she especially loves. This does NOT have to be expensive! One year, I went to the dollar store and bought a brand new woven wicker trash can, a silk red rose garland, and every single Reese’s peanut butter cup variation I could find – 12 packs, singles, white chocolate, candy bar interpretations, etc. I went home and arranged everything artfully in the basket, wound the garland round the top, then delivered it Valentine’s Day to my husband’s office as a surprise. I cannot tell you how many women SQUEALED IN DELIGHT!! when they saw me coming. My husband was floored when he came back to find this sitting on his desk. They charge a fortune for this stuff online. DO IT YOURSELF. Just vary the basket filling according to what your significant other likes. Candy bars, snacks, health food, fruit, specialty foods, beer, wine, arts & crafts supplies, beauty supplies, sporting goods, you name it. IT’S ALL GOOD.

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4) Decorate your bedroom to set the mood. One year I went to the Dollar Store and bought a bag full of party decorations. Streamers, hanging lanterns, hanging hearts, etc. Then I pulled out some white Christmas lights and I decorated our bedroom, weaving the lights around our bed, hanging the hearts above, etc. My husband was so surprised!! And it was so lovely with the fairy lights and everything, it looked like our own private wonderland. We kept the stuff up for weeks afterward it was so nice.

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5) Instead of taking him/her out to eat, cook dinner yourself – or hire a friend, family member, someone else to. I dated a chef years ago – he made me dinner one night at his apartment and I still remember the meal – figs stuffed with cheese, softshell crabs. Amazing. But you don’t have to be a professional cook to impress. Check my website for recipes! Heck, email me and I will even talk you through it. Just take the time to show your loved one how much you care. Skip the expense of a faceless meal. Make your own. Or pick up take out food and pretend it’s your own. Still impressive! You can confess later, after you’re both full and happy.

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6) Couples massage ROCKS. But you don’t have to pay a professional to touch the one you love. DIY, baby! Buy a bottle of scented massage cream or oil, at home place a clean sheet over the bed, dim the lights or better yet, light some candles, and put on some relaxing music. Invite them to their very own “spa”. Crack your knuckles and work it. They will LOVE YOU for it. Trust me.

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7) Make your loved one a card. Hallmark doesn’t know them, BUT YOU DO. What is it about them that you love? Their smell? Their eyes? Their sense of humor? EVERYTHING? WONDERFUL!! If you’re good with words, write your own poem for them. They will never forget this most simple gesture, ever. If you’re not good with poetry, just write out your feelings. That’s all that matters. Even just, Honey, I love you. Always. For a woman this is everything.
I still have the only secret admirer valentine I’ve ever gotten. It was handmade, just a piece of plain white paper with blue pen. 18 years later, I still think it’s one of the sweetest things anyone’s ever given me.

Image courtesy of HomeLifeWeekly

8) Plan a date night out. IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE EXPENSIVE!! Be thoughtful. What does your s/o like? Art – take him/her to a museum. Nature? Go to a local park or arboretum. Sports? Take them to an event. Music? Go see a local live band. And so on. For our first Valentine’s Day together, my husband – then boyfriend- and I were flat-out broke. He took me ice skating along the Delaware River. It was magical and cost almost nothing.

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9) Instead of buying chocolates, make your own. Check my website for a decadent peanut butter truffle recipe. Bake them a heart-shaped cake, or a big tin of cookies. DELICIOUS + MADE IT YOURSELF > CRAP CHOCOLATES IN HEART-SHAPED BOX FROM CVS

10) Print and frame a nice photo of the 2 of you. My husband framed my favorite picture of us and gave it to me as a Christmas present this year. I burst into tears, it was so sweet. I LOVE IT. And he/she will too.

Image courtesy of PersonalizationMall

11) Have a special skill or talent? SHARE IT. Are you good at making things? Then make something for your loved one. Write them a story. Draw them a picture. Build them a birdhouse/ bookshelf/ mailbox. Good at fixing stuff? Fix that broken cabinet that’s been annoying her. Or the car. Or the dishwasher. EVEN If you’re totally talent-less, you can still do something thoughtful. CLEAN THE HOUSE! Or the basement, or the WHATEVER. Do the laundry. The dishes. You get the picture. I know you don’t want to do it, but neither does she, and trust me, she WILL REMEMBER THIS, and in a GOOD WAY.

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12) This one’s more for the men out there. Buy something to pamper her, especially something that she wouldn’t normally buy herself. A treat. Is she a waitress, a chef, a nurse or doctor? Someone on her feet all day? Buy her a foot bath, foot cream, and give her a foot massage. Is she an overworked mom? Give her a night of relaxation away from the kids. FOR INSTANCE: at Trader Joe’s they sell gorgeous French-milled natural soaps, with scents like lavender and lemon verbena. Since they go for $4-5 bucks EACH, she won’t splurge on herself, but YOU CAN. Buy her four different scents, along with a new thick bath towel, scrub brush, and a scented candle. Throw in a CD of her favorite relaxation music – I recommend Astrud Gilberto. Chill a bottle of wine for her. Fill the tub. Then take the kids to the park.

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13) Are you musical? Write her a song and she will be yours forever. Can’t carry a tune? Then make her a mix-tape of songs that remind you of her. Even if you can’t sing, they can. And that will woo her far better than you crooning the hits if you can’t croon, though she’d probably still like it anyway.

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14) This one may take some doing, so it’s good I’m posting this early. Make her a movie or simple video asking her to marry you, or just proclaiming your love. You can upload it to YouTube, or put it on your own website – or even just email it to her. Or you could invite her over for a special screening. Be creative.

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15) NEW!! JUST ADDED!!!!!!! Order a one-of-a-kind portrait of you & your sweetie!!

***Whatever you do, IT’S the gesture that counts. If it comes from the heart, it’ll be amazing. Just think of the person you love, only of them and what they enjoy. Then imagine how you can make them happy. Can you bring them something? Do something for them? It’s often the simplest things – not the most expensive or elaborate – which mean the most.

NEW! Reader Recommendations page

For those of you reading through from my “day job” — this morning I launched a new READER RECOMMENDATIONS page. I hope this will become a valuable feature of the site; a place to share and collect information about low-sodium products (and the all-important where to find them), salt-free recipes & other cooking tips.

I created the THE DAILY DISH website to be a COMPLETELY FREE resource to those in need. I myself despise those obnoxious flashing banner ads and loathsome deceptively-placed promotional links. So contrary to (what many see as) good sense, a year into this venture I still continue to run my website gratis for the world. Over this past year I have garnered a dedicated and growing readership. Hundreds of people visit the site each week and find it a useful tool. So… Here’s your chance to give a little bit back!

AS AN EXAMPLE.. People google into THE DAILY DISH each day looking for places that sell salt-free or low-sodium bread and lavash. If readers would just take a second to email about where they buy their bread, I can post a list of stores by state and location. I myself can provide information about not only Philadelphia, but Atlanta, as well as some parts of Vermont. And I’m just one person. If Knowledge is Power, then collectively we can all be stronger.

My readers are valuable, and I KNOW they have valuable information to share. People on low-sodium diets suffer from inconvenience as well as health ailments. Some feel alienated from life and loved ones, particularly when it comes to social (read, eating) situations. Eating out isn’t fun when you have to check and re-check orders! And having to explain your medical history to strangers is embarrassing. But life on a salt-free diet doesn’t always have to be so hard. Through this forum, YOU CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE and all it takes is a moment of your time. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanksgiving is nigh !

For those of you reading through from The Daily Dish, I wanted to do a quick run-down of all the holiday preparations I’ve been working on. Unfortunately, last week had to be written off work-wise due to a bout of vertigo, but this week I’m back in the kitchen and cooking up a storm.

The past several days have been devoted exclusively to holiday standards. Yesterday, for instance, I did a simple roast chicken with sage dressing and homemade cranberry sauce. I plan on creating a second orange-flavored cranberry sauce and another dressing – which I think will be an apple stuffing with raisins. I will be posting all of these recipes in the coming days, so stay tuned.

As for the the turkey, this year I’ve selected a kosher bird, which is much lower in sodium than the standard butterballs. But there are always other options – as I’ve said, roast chicken is a healthy substitute, and many butcher shops have fresh birds that have not been treated with the broth/salt injections commonly afforded the processed birds. I will be cooking dinner at home this year, so we didn’t need an enormous turkey, but my younger daughter picked out a decent-sized one and I just went with it. So I will likely be doing a follow-up recipe or two after the big day focusing on how to use up all those lovely leftovers.

Not to overlook vegetarians, I have recipes for several meat-free entrees that are sure to please. Vegetarian Holiday Loaf is adapted from a Vegetarian Times recipe of the same name. Vegetarian Lasagne, Zucchini Cakes, Baked Ziti, and Mushroom Quiche are all delicious, and there are other vegetarian main dishes in the recipe index.

Several days ago, I posted my recipe for pumpkin pie on the site – which is a must-have at our house. But there are some other absolutely delicious pies to consider as well – Squash and Pear Pie and Sweet Potato Pie are particular stand-outs this time of the year. And there’s also my recipe for Apple Cake, which makes an easy and beautiful dessert, and can be dressed up with a little vanilla or cinnamon ice cream.

Now, let’s talk sides. The baked apple slices I just posted are delicious with fowl, and are a sure hit with kids. Another idea is topping Mashed Sweets with some marshmallows, baking, and serving as an irresistible sweet potato casserole. Or you could try your sweet potatoes roasted, as in Fingers and Sweets. Standard roasted potatoes are also terrific. Baked potatoes are of course supremely healthy, and can easily be popped in the oven along with the turkey. Simply scrub the potatoes, pierce multiple times with the tines of the fork, wrap tightly in foil and bake. An hour at 350 degrees (or higher) and they’re done. For green sides, I highly recommend simple steaming. Green beans (6-7 minutes), brussel sprouts (15+), squash, are all incredibly easy to prepare, and totally delicious without the addition of butter or sauces. Or, simply boil some baby carrots until fork tender, drain, add a couple tablespoons unsalted butter and brown sugar, maybe a little ground cinnamon, and you’ve got another yummy low-sodium dish. And if you can find fresh corn on the cob, 7-8 minutes in boiling water, perfection.

Since most of us love some bread with our meal, try the simple rolls I made this summer with my daughters. Incredibly easy and delicious – and a great time even if you don’t have children of your own.

Finally, don’t forget beverages! I recommend a nice chilled white wine to complement the meal, but if you don’t drink alcohol, there’s no reason to feel deprived. Try some sweet milky Chai Tea with dinner or dessert.

Just remember, Thanksgiving is set aside as a day for giving thanks for all of our blessings, enjoying friends and family, and celebrating life. So don’t let your kitchen time stress you out so much you lose perspective. If things burn, flop or turn out just plain ugly, laugh and put your feet up, knowing you tried your best. There was always plenty of cursing around the kitchen while I was growing up, and my mom often sat simmering long after the meal was over. But there’s no reason to sweat the little things. So enjoy yourself, and enjoy a big satisfying meal without having to worry about the aftermath.