By Susan Constanse
Valentine’s Day is the pivotal holiday for couples, a day set aside to demonstrate, through gift and action, the love you feel for the most significant person in your life. The search is on for a thoughtful and unique gift, something memorable or sentimental. Here are a few edible ideas to get you started.
The Pittsburgh Popcorn Company
Downtown Store (822 Liberty)
Strip Store (209 21st)
Oakland Store (3710 5th Ave.)
You can step outside the box a bit with some very novel approaches to popcorn. The Pittsburgh Popcorn Company makes it easy to customize a treat for your sweetheart with novelty tins and even more novelty flavors. You can fill a tin with something from their regular menu of Chocolate Caramel, Caramel Corn, Wisconsin Cheddar, Kettle Corn, Peanut Butter & Choc Kettle or Movie Style Butter. Or take a chance on one of the items from their rotating, weekly menu. Weekly offerings include hot and spicy flavors, like Mesquite BBQ and Dill Pickle, along with sweet chocolate and fruit varieties. One of the three locations should be within your range.
You can further personalize your gift with a container of your own selection. A lunchbox, with favorite cartoon characters, or a hatbox filled with a variety of favors, would be appealing.
East End Food Co-op
Does your sweetheart love to cook? A selection of spices and herbs can make a lovely gift, especially if they are chosen with care. Peruse your love’s spice rack to see which are in the most demand and shop for replacements. (Pro tip: a relatively new-looking container that is only half full is a good indication that the spice is much used.)
The use of spices and herbs in cooking spans human history. In Victorian England, the language of flowers was formalized into significant meanings. By referencing this history of the symbols associated with herbs, you can write a love note using herbs and spices. Some of the herbs and spices associated with love are basil, clove, coriander, ginger, and rosemary.
Package your selection up in small glass jars, and be sure to label them clearly! Penzey’s, located in the Strip District, has a comprehensive selection and has containers available. The East End Food Co-op is a great source for fresh and local produce.
Don’t underestimate the power of chocolate. Rich and deep, filled or flavored; assorted boxes can be a solid treat. It doesn’t have to be some standard box of creams, though. Christopher George, a recent transplant to Pittsburgh, creates chocolate bars in traditional chocolate flavors, all handcrafted for you at Sinful Sweets. A unique item is the White & Milk Chocolate bar, swirled into intricate patterns.
Even more exotic are the imported chocolate selections available at Mon Aimee. They offer a selection of artisan candies with unusual combinations of chocolate and Sage, Cayenne Pepper, Rosemary, and more. The store is packed with a wide selection of chocolates in traditional flavors that will satisfy the quest for something very finely made.
A Sweet Twist on Cake
Vanilla Pastry Studio
3511 Butler St (412-683-2327)
417 S. Craig St (412-682-1718)
Lolly Cakes, a trendy treat that is popping up in bakeries and confectioners, are a sweetly small indulgence. Just a single bite of cake, covered in icing or fondant, or dipped in chocolate; no fussing with plates and sure to bring a smile. Vanilla Pastry has a regular Lolly menu that includes Salted Caramel, Chocolate Custard, Tiramisu and Dark Chocolate-Espresso. The desserts can be trimmed with a bow, or boxed in custom selections.
Cupcakes are a little more substantial than Lollies, but also give you an opportunity to create a customizable gift. Dozen Bakeshop has a lovely selection of cake flavors and their buttercream frosting is the best. My favorite is their Red Velvet cake; a rich deep color with a creamy vanilla frosting. Small three-layered cakes are also available, to top off that intimate dinner at home.
Susan Constanse is a painter, living and working in Pittsburgh. Examples of her work can be viewed on her website.