A special Valentines meal can take many forms this year

As we come to the end of a collective year of pandemic firsts, Valentine’s Day is next up. And showing love and gratitude can feel more important than ever.

Perhaps during a regular year, you and your dearest might have gone out for a romantic dinner, or somewhere special like the theater, a concert, a horse-drawn carriage ride. Or maybe you’d have chosen to stay in and have a quiet evening … but this year we’ve all had a lot of those.

If food is your love language, however, there are lots of ways to make this Valentine’s Day feel special without putting your health at risk or spending a lot of cash.

Starting with the totally DIY: a home-cooked dinner for two. (Or more, if you have kids or others at home; this year, Valentine’s Day may well be a family affair.)

Is there a place you’ve vacationed that holds a special place in your hearts? A honeymoon in Thailand, an escape to New Mexico, a bike tour through Tuscany? Let that be the inspiration for your dinner. Plan a menu featuring your favorite dishes from that region: Recreate that pasta dish you adored in Lucca or those enchiladas from Santa Fe.

Or maybe there was a trip you were planning to take, and still hope to. Think about the meals you want to eat once you do get there: chakalaka and pap from South Africa, maybe, callaloo from Trinidad and Tobago, paella from Spain. Dive into a cookbook or a reputable website and make that your mission for dinner.

Another idea: Treat yourselves to a new kitchen appliance, and make Valentine’s Day the day to play with it. It could be an Instant Pot, say, or an Air Fryer, sous vide machine, pasta maker. Homemade pasta for Valentine’s Day? That seems pretty romantic to me.

Some local eateries might be offering Valentine’s Day take-out meals, or menu items for special occasions. For instance, if you are feeling splurgey and live in New York City, Michelin-starred Aquavit has a very upscale meal kit for two, featuring your choice of entree (think rack of lamb or arctic char), plus a bunch of sides, and desserts including chocolate cake with mascarpone and coffee cream.

Or get yourself a kit and unravel the mystery of a new kind of food together. Uncommon Goods has a Chinese Soup Making Kit, Brooklyn Brew Shop has a bunch of beer making kits, and MMTUM shop has a molecular gastronomy cooking kit if you really want to geek out with your partner in the kitchen.

Williams-Sonoma has kits for making everything from the famous Rainbow Explosion Cake from Flour Shop, to a Cocktail Infusion Kit, to a mozzarella and ricotta-making kit. Internationally focused will send you the basics for making everything from Japanese Tonkotsu Ramen to Vietnamese Pho Noodle Soup to Aji de Gallina from Peru.