The Nickel Pincher: Plan Now for Green, Creative Valentine's Day Gifts

Don't grab a box of stale chocolate at the last minute; get creative to show how much you care.

February 3, 2010

Consider giving wildflower seeds to plant, instead of flowers that are already cut.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Whether you think Valentine's Day is the most romantic of holidays, or an annual rite invented by greeting-card companies to unload excess stock of pink paper, the sight of all those cupids can help bring you out of your winter doldrums and add a little chocolate-covered joy to your—and your significant other's—life. The holiday's more than a week away, which mean's there's time to plan something more special than simply picking up a gaudy box of stale chocolate next week (hey, they were stocking the shelves with them the day after Christmas. How fresh can they be?). So this year, show you care with some creative Valentine's Day gifts. These suggestions are as sweet for the planet as they are for your sweetheart.


First, let's start with the basics:

The Card: Valentine’s Day is the number two holiday for greeting-card sales (Christmas is first), and while I’m a big fan of e-cards, a handwritten note does seem more appropriate for this holiday. Look for a card printed on recycled paper, or on paper embedded with wildflower seeds that you can plant. Or handwrite a love letter (you can find plenty of love poems online if you have writer’s block) on a nice sheet of recycled paper, and present it rolled up and tied with a reusable ribbon.

The Candy: Cupid’s day comes in at number three for candy sales, and I must admit I’d be a tad miffed if I didn’t get a few bites—just a few bites—of really good dark chocolate. Choose organic and fair-trade products to reduce their impact (a few brands include Divine Chocolate, Theo's, and Equal Exchange), and opt for a modest amount of something really good, rather than a huge box of mediocre treats. Trust me guys—bigger is rarely better here.

The Flowers: Commercial cut flowers are grown with lots of toxic chemicals in far-off places (nasty ecofootprint). Since fresh-cut local flowers are out of season this time of year in most places, look for locally grown flowering plants (which will last longer anyway). If it just has to be roses, buy from an online retailer that sells organically grown flowers that comply with fair-trade standards, such as Organic Bouquet or California Organic Flowers. If your sweetie gardens, some packets of flower seeds or a gift certificate to a local or a mail-order nursery would be a delightful twist.

Planning something on a grander scale? Keep reading…

The Main Event: For those who'd rather forgo the card, candy, and flowers for something bigger, your evening may require some extra legwork.

Considering that Valentine's Day is on a Sunday this year, a weekend getaway, if one is in your budget, is a great way to celebrate. And you don't have to go far. I’m always amazed how relaxing it is to just get away, even if it’s only a few miles from home. Look for hotels or B&Bs that offer green perks, such as local, organic restaurants or day trips to nearby natural attractions. If these lodgings are in locations you can get to by train or some other form of public transit, better still. And if curling up next to a fire after a day of skiing is your idea of a romantic V-Day, check out the Ski Area Citizens' Coalition's ranking of the country's greenest ski resorts.

A day at home can be just as relaxing and romantic, and you may even know of a nearby restaurant that serves organic and local food. For obvious reasons, you want to make reservations as far in advance as you can. But I’d rather share a relaxing and delicious meal at home. This year my sweetie and I plan to make homemade pizzas (I may go to the trouble of making heart-shaped crusts—then again, I may not) with a locally grown whole grain spelt crust (substitute spelt flour for whole wheat flour in the dough), our own home-canned sauce, local cheese, our own spicy chicken sausage, local mushrooms, and spinach from my hoophouse. Assuming you don't operate your own farm, you can still shop for high-quality local and organic items and craft the perfect feast. Pair it with a good local microbrew, organic wine, or sparkling water with a splash of pomegranate juice (great color), and enjoy it and each other’s company.

Next: Finish your evening with a few other homemade treats.

Round out the meal with "personal pies" baked in ½-pint wide-mouthed canning jars or oven-safe custard cups. Make a batch of basic pie crust (or buy rolled frozen pie crust), cut six-inch circles, and press them gently into the jars or cups. Fill the crust 2/3 of the way with the filling of your choice: a store-bought pie filling, thawed frozen cherries, thin-sliced apples with a pinch of cinnamon, or, my favorite, chocolate-pecan pie filling. Carve a small heart out of the excess crust and place it on the center of the filling, or cut a top crust the size of the jar or cup, carefully press it down to seal the top of each pie, and pierce it with a heart-shaped design to let the steam out. (Use up all your crust and filling for extra pies, and freeze them to bake later.) Place pies on a cookie sheet and bake at 375 degrees F for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown, and serve hot or cold…perhaps with some organic whipped cream or ice cream.

Set the mood with (energy-saving) low lighting, beeswax candles, some mood music, and a crackling fire, if you're lucky enough to have a fireplace, and let the evening unfold.

Final Touches:
Whether you're at home or away, give your sweetie a simple massage with scented organic massage oil. Blend ½ cup of olive, almond, or other light vegetable oil with up to 20 drops of the essential oils of your choice. Cinnamon, orange, ylang ylang, rose, sandlewood, cedarwood, jasmine, and vanilla are all reputed to have aphrodisiac powers. Guys tend to go for vanilla/floral (not too floral, though; that’s what Grandma smells like), woodsy-floral, or cinnamon/spicy. Gals go for rich florals such as rose, jasmine, and ylang ylang, but of course, individual tastes vary. Store your scented oil in a closed bottle or jar away from heat and light. To use, pour a small amount into the palm of your hand, rub your hands together to warm the oil, and smooth it on.

Farm gal, library worker, and all-around money-pincher Jean Nick shares advice for green thrifty living every Thursday on