Valentine’s Day… hearts, cards, flowers, homemade candy

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, a day traditionally filled for many with hearts, cards, flowers and candy. Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world, second only to Christmas in number of greeting cards purchased, checking in at about 145 million cards.

Growing up, I loved Valentine’s Day. My mother helped me decorate a shoebox with red felt and white eyelet trim leftover from some sewing project. She cut an opening in the lid for cards and candies to be dropped into. It was by no means fancy or elaborate, but it held so much excitement for when I took the lid off to dive in and read the little cards that classmates deposited. Mom always had the house decorated for Valentine’s Day, with special gifts ready for us when we walked in the door from school.

With darker origins I won’t delve too deeply into, Valentine’s Day has come a long way in the one thousand, seven hundred and fifty years since, a Roman priest named Valentinus sat in prison, awaiting his death. He defied an oppressive Roman emperor because he presided over the marriages of Christian couples who were in love, at a time when such a thing was not allowed.

One legend states that while Valentinus was awaiting his execution, he healed the jailer’s young, blind daughter, who often visited him. On the day he was executed, he left her a note signed, “Your Valentine.”

Over the years, St. Valentine has become known as the Patron Saint of engaged couples, happy marriages, love and lovers.

Represented in pictures with birds and roses, his feast day is celebrated on February 14 – the day Valentinus was executed. Such a tragic story, and not at all what most people think about when Valentine’s Day rolls around.

Different cultures have different reasons for celebrating February 14.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. By the 1840s, the first mass-produced valentines were sold in America, made from real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures. Did y’all know that women purchase approximately 85 percent of all Valentine’s Day cards nowadays?

In Slovenia, St. Valentine is a patron saint of spring, and it is believed that on February 14, plants start to regenerate, and so this day marks the first day of working in the fields for the New Year.

In Ghana, February 14 is “National Chocolate Day,” as Ghana is among the largest cocoa producing countries in the world.

In Japan, women buy gifts and chocolates for their male companions on Feb. 14, but men can’t give gifts in return until March 14, which is called, “White Day.” White Day began in 1978 as a way for men to “pay back” the women who gave them gifts and chocolate… should it be a surprise that the National Confectionery Industry Association created this day to compliment Valentine’s Day, one month later?

Several years ago, I bought silicone candy molds when I discovered that I could make chocolate at home. Using a few natural ingredients, I was hooked from the first bar I made in a loaf pan. I’ve lost count of how many delightful little bites of differently-shaped chocolatey goodness I’ve produced and consumed since making that fateful discovery.

I like to mix in a little cayenne and cinnamon to the chocolate for a spicy kick, or add a few drops of peppermint oil for a cool twist. Adding a few drops of orange oil is delicious. You can press nuts into the bark when you have it in the pan, or stick a nut in each compartment of the silicone candy mold if you’re using melted chocolate.

The options are only limited to your imagination. Add nuts and dried fruit, or a few drops of your favorite flavoring. Lemongrass chocolate and lavender chocolate candies are not something I’ll make again.

Today’s the perfect day to make homemade chocolate, whether it’s to share with your sweeties or enjoy without having to share. You’ll love it.

 

Quick and Easy Three-Ingredient Chocolate

(Watch out, you’ll be buying candy molds and expanding your recipes in no time)

1/2 cup cocoa powder (or cacao for a healthier chocolate – but cocoa and cacao can be used interchangeably)

1/4 cup coconut oil, at room temperature (soft, not melted)

1/4 cup maple syrup

Place cocoa powder in a medium bowl. Add coconut oil, maple syrup and sea salt. Mix ingredients thoroughly with a spatula, pressing the oil and syrup into the powder. Mix well until smooth.

Line a loaf pan or small baking dish with parchment paper. (Note: The larger pan you use, the thinner your chocolate will be – a loaf pan makes a nice bar.)

Pour chocolate mixture onto parchment paper and smooth out evenly.

Place in the freezer for at least 1 hour.

Once your chocolate hardens, cut it into small squares. Store in the freezer until ready to serve. Remember that when coconut oil reaches about 74 degrees, it melts… so that’s why you’ll want to keep these chocolates at least refrigerated, if not frozen until you’re ready to enjoy them.

Printed with permission of the Alpine Avalanche

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