By P. Allen Smith

As a public service, I’d like to remind everyone that Valentine’s Day is almost upon us. I find that the most successful sweetheart celebrations are those that have the benefit of a little planning and forethought. Spouses and partners seem to know when a Valentine’s Day gift, token or dinner has been cobbled together, and believe me, that is not a good day.
You can make this the year when you get a gold star for not only remembering the holiday but also doing something a little different and special. It’s your time to shine.
Buying flowers? Think outside the box (the box that contains red roses). Red roses are readily available for Valentine’s Day – almost too available. Unless you have a partner that has a special affinity for them, why not try something new but equally glorious? I’m especially fond of Stargazer Lilies with their striking pink and white petals and heady fragrance. There are many other cut flowers that are guaranteed to delight, including miniature or sweetheart roses, tulips in a variety of colors, hydrangeas and mixed bouquets.
There are also some easy things you can do to help extend the life – and enjoyment – of your bouquet. Make sure the flowers are in a vase with fresh water. And you know the little packet of “plant food” that often comes with the bouquet? Don’t throw it away! It’s actually an effective floral preservative that contains sugar, citric acid and bleach to help extend the life of the flowers.

If your bouquet didn’t come with the packet, that’s okay, too, because you can make your own. Start by filling your flower vase halfway with fresh water, then fill the remainder of the vase with lemon-lime soda. The soda has citric acid, which will help open the pores in the stems to enable absorption of the sugar, which will feed the blooms. And if you’d like to take a page from my grandmother’s book, add an aspirin to the water to help lower the pH even further. Finally, add half a teaspoon of bleach to help keep bacteria from building up.
It’s pretty easy to give someone a bouquet, but it takes a real hero to prep the water in the vase so that the floral show is extended for maximum enjoyment.
The next step in your Valentine’s Day playbook might involve setting a romantic mood, and for many of us, that involves candles. But here’s a tip: Not all candles are created equal.
I almost exclusively use “natural” candles made from beeswax or soy, even though they’re slightly more expensive. They simply burn cleaner, preventing the buildup of soot, and you don’t have to worry about unknown chemicals being released in the air from paraffin candles.
Plan ahead and have some of these natural candles on hand. This is a hero moment where you can get credit for keeping your indoor air cleaner and your honey safe from airborne chemicals. (Bonus idea: Decorative beeswax candles as a Valentine’s Day gift!)
Beeswax and soy candles come in all shapes and sizes, including votive candles. If using votives, put a few drops of water in the glass before adding the candle. This will help prevent the melted candle wax from sticking to the glass, making cleanup headache-free.
And last but not least, you are guaranteed hero status with homemade candy. I’m sharing a recipe here for chocolate-dipped orange sections with sea salt – an incredibly easy and relatively quick recipe to make. Consider throwing in some strawberries and marshmallows and making a platter.
Whatever you decide to do this year, take a few extra moments to plan ahead and maybe try something a little different. And remember that even though the joy is in the giving, it doesn’t hurt that you will also get to enjoy the fresh-cut flowers, a romantic candlelit evening and chocolate-dipped fruit. Does that make you a hero –or a genius?

Chocolate-Dipped Orange Sections with Sea Salt

1 or 2 oranges (or tangerines) per serving
1 pound of baker’s chocolate
1 tablespoon Crisco Sea salt

1. Peel oranges or tangerines and separate slices.
2. Melt chocolate with Crisco. Heat on low, constantly stirring until smooth.
3. Once chocolate is melted, dip orange or tangerine slices at least halfway and let them drip before placing on a parchment-lined surface.
4. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt before they are completely dried.
5. Once the chocolate has hardened, remove and arrange on a serving platter.