Ah, Valentine's Day, that time of year when you can order a heart-shaped pizza or eat copious amounts of chocolate. If you're single, you might do both and then cry yourself to sleep. Sure, the manufactured "holiday" feels judge-y to the unattached, but the pressure on couples to demonstrate their love with candy, flowers or dinner reservations is epic.
There's nothing wrong with any of those things, sincerely offered. But venues across the state are offering alternatives — from chocolate and wine tastings to socials and dances — for couples and singletons alike. Here's a sampling.
For the fifth year, Shelburne Vineyard is participating in a statewide wine-and-chocolate event on Valentine's weekend. Four of the vineyard's wines will be paired with Good Comida cheesecakes on Saturday and Bijou Fine Chocolate truffles on Sunday. Bijou chef Kevin Toohey, who uses Swiss chocolate-making techniques, says he chose the truffle because of its relatively lower sugar level. "If you pair a really sweet chocolate bar with a wine, often the sugar levels are so far apart, you end up picking up bitter flavors," he explains.
One of the pairings on Sunday is a raspberry truffle, which blends milk and dark chocolate, and Harvest Widow's Revenge, a semisweet red. However, visitors will be free to mix and match chocolates and wines as they please, according to Shelburne Vineyard co-owner Gail Albert.
Admittance and chocolate samples are free; wine tastings are $7. Fifteen Vermont vineyards are participating in the Wine & Chocolate Weekend. For the complete list and details, visit Vermont Grape and Wine Council.
Chef Courtney Contos will teach participants how to make an olive-oil-sweet- wine cake and a chocolate sunken soufflé cake in this special baking class. Also on the menu that day will be ham, cheese and leek scones; lavender icing; and chocolate, prune and whiskey cake. Like many of her classes, this one will be a social event. "It will smell really good, it will be messy and people will be laughing," Contos says.
Contos has been working with food for 15 years, earning her culinary arts degree in Chicago and then working for Martha Stewart's magazine Everyday Food before setting up her Shelburne shop in 2013. Food & Wine magazine named Contos' cooking classes among the best in the country. No two of them are the same, so the particular set of recipes on February 13 will be unique.
Recipes come from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak. Students will leave with four baked goods — or whatever's left after they've sampled their creations straight out of the oven. The class is BYOB and costs $70.
In this first installment of Misery Loves Co.'s winter cocktail series, you can celebrate your love or your independence with whiskey concoctions — made with WhistlePig Straight Rye Whiskey — and dessert. One cocktail example: rye, Campari, cranberry and husk cherry bitters. Participants will receive three drink tickets, which can be used for any of the drinks on offer. Among the unique desserts will be beets served with chocolate and chocolate halvah, and ricotta served with bitter orange. Tickets are $55, which covers drinks, dessert and gratuity, and can be purchased at localvoretoday.com.
Citizen Cider offers an option for those who don't want to celebrate Valentine's Day in the traditional way — or at all. Meghan Garry, general manager of the tasting room, acknowledges it's not a typical romantic date spot. Instead of fighting it, the venue created the Single Citizens Valentine's Day Social. "We wanted to make sure that folks knew they could come out on Valentine's Day — alone, in a group, with their partner — and feel happy in happily not celebrating," Garry says. The cidery will screen "non-sappy" films such as Labyrinth and Beetlejuice.
In addition, the Citizens team has crafted a special "forever alone"-themed cocktail list with such gems as Friend-Zoned (the Dirty Mayor cider with rum); Bitter Tears, a mix of bourbon, cider and Urban Moonshine bitters; and Dodged That Bulleit, with bourbon, Tuaca and vanilla bitters. The description attached to a drink named Big Red Flag reads: "Some red flags will have you running for the hills, but this one will have you coming back for more." The event is free; drinks are $8; ciders are $6. (The full cocktail list will also be available.)
This third annual daylong event includes a competition and showcase of chocolate confections, baked goods and other desserts. During the morning and early afternoon, couples can use the on-site studio to digitally record their love stories as keepsakes. At 4 p.m., there's a thematic lecture — this year's is "Loves Me, Loves Me Not...: The Origin, Tradition and Survival of the Daisy Oracle of Love," by University of Vermont German professor and folklorist Wolfgang Mieder. That's followed by the all-important tasting session from 5 to 7 p.m.
Underwritten by a "secret Valentine," the event is free, including samples and recordings.
City slickers looking for a rural experience might want to try Agricola Farm's monthly dinner club supper, which happens to fall on Valentine's weekend. First comes a tour of the farm and barn, then a five-course farm-to-table meal prepared and served by farmer Alessandra Rellini and Firefly Catering chef Richard Witting.
The Valentine's menu features the cuisine of Verona, Italy: handmade ravioli, rabbit, venison, polenta, focaccia from Barrio Bakery & Café and dessert from Shy Guy Gelato. Since Agricola is a dinner club and not a restaurant, diners must purchase a monthly membership for $75. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to make sure memberships are still available before purchasing tickets on agricolavermont.com. The event is BYOB.
Every Friday the Green Mountain Druid Order hosts a dance at Christ Church in Montpelier. The dance is free-form and the music will be an eclectic mix but mostly percussion-forward world music. The Valentine's dance will include a chocolate-drinking ceremony. Organizers will make chocolate using ground cocoa nibs and warm water. Participants will then drink the chocolate. Chocolate is known to help open the heart, says Fearn Lickfield, co-organizer of the event.
"It's a hard time for people who are single," says Lickfield. "We're a loving community, and you don't have to have a partner to have a really good time."
The dance is open to everyone regardless of religious affiliation. Guests are encouraged to bring an item such as a heart-shaped object, a rose or chocolate for the community Love Altar, which will be used as inspiration during the dance. The event is $15 but free for first-timers. Lickfield advises against having a heavy dinner before dancing. Check closing times of local restaurants if you plan to eat afterward.
The original print version of this article was headlined "Eat, Drink, Love"
Tags: Food + Drink Features, Love & Marriage Issue, Good Comida, Bijou Fine Chocolate, Vermont Grape and Wine Council, Shy Guys Gelato, Shelburne Vineyard, Chef Contos Kitchen & Store, Misery Loves Co., WhistlePig, Citizen Cider, Vermont Folklife Center, Agricola Farm, Barrio Bakery & Pizza Barrio