Zany Last-Minute Valentine’s Day Ideas for the Stir-Crazed and the Shuttered-In

Photo: Alexander Lipko

Can an algorithm find you your perfect match? A surge of dating questionnaires has swept over college campuses across the country this February, promising to deliver hopeful romantics their ‘perfect’ match. Who wouldn’t want someone served up on a silver platter during a time when genuine human connection feels like a thing of the past? As we reach the one-year anniversary of the Centers for Disease Control and Protection’s guidelines to social distance and self-quarantine on account of the ongoing pandemic, it’s becoming obvious that every facet of life is turning digital. Prior to the state-wide lockdowns, 48% of young adults have used a dating app but only 28% of these users feel hopeful in finding a match, according to a Pew Research survey conducted in 2019. This number has skyrocketed in 2020 and continues into 2021, with the top 20 dating apps seeing more than a million new users with each day of isolation, especially among LGBTQ+ users.

So, what about the majority of people who don’t think love can be downloaded?

Whether you have spent your 24/7 stay-cation swiping, letting a computer do the matching for you, or just waiting for “the one”, love feels too sparse in a pandemic. Budding romance is at a standstill as every environment prone to social mingling is shut down (except, of course, a Zoom chat).

Even if I am delivered my “perfect” match through an email, I’m not sure if I am ready to let technology take over that part of my human experience. I do crave love, as many do, but love is about something else this Valentine’s Day: a love for simply being alive. I can’t help but think this isn’t the time to worry about meeting a lover (natural urges aside) but, instead, taking the time to manifest self-love.

No matter what your relationship status, everyone deserves to feel love this Valentine’s Day. We all need a break from that feeling of apocalypse just over the horizon. You deserve it! So, whether you’re facing this Sunday in a relationship, situationship, with friends, or enjoying your own company, do something that will make you feel a lust for life.

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If you don’t have a plan, don’t worry. I’ve come up with some ideas that Cupid himself would approve of. They include activities for those with stir-crazed quarantine fatigue and desire some social distance fun, as well as ideas for staying in and spicing it up for those whose shuttered hearts remain at home. The outside activities focus on the New York City area but are general enough to find venues similar in your neighborhood. Whichever activity piques your interest, any of them can be done solo, with your best friend, your brother, or your significant other.

FOR THE STIR-CRAZED

The Hole

Photo: Misaki Kawai Moki Moki Doki Doki Exhibit, courtesy of the artist and The Hole New York City, 2021

The Hole is a small contemporary art gallery located on the cusp of the Lower East Side and NoHo neighborhoods in Manhattan. The Hole presents monthly exhibitions and focuses on showcasing emerging artists from around the world. What’s interesting about this gallery is their exhibitions range greatly between mediums and disciplines, always showcasing a fresh inspection of subjects. Their two current featured exhibitions are running through February 14th.

If you’re feeling especially touch-deprived, Misaki Kawai’s Moko Moko Doki Doki exhibit is for you. Kawai’s fluffy sculptures interpreting feelings like “Doki Doki,” which means heartbeat in Japanese, are completely immersive. All of the sculptures are free to touch, hug, and grab. This exhibition creates a world of play, using puckish images of emojis and feelings. The viewer is immersed in a tactile and colorful experience of wonder. Let your inner little kid out and hug a giant furry emoji sculpture.

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If you’d prefer to avoid being inside with others for any reason, or you can’t make it to NYC, no problem! Both of these exhibits have a virtual experience available online. There is a 3-D tour of the gallery space in which you can walk around The Hole just as you would in person. So, you don’t have to worry about moving along when all you want to do is stare deeply at that one painting you can’t take your eyes off. However, being a small and relatively local gallery, crowds will not be a worry.

The Hole Information
Hours: The Hole is open Wednesday – Sunday, 12-7 pm, by appointment.
Location: 312 Bowery between Houston and Bleecker streets on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Phone: 212-466-1100
Price: Free
Covid safety rating: ★★★★☆

Koneko

Koneko, Japanese-inspired Cat Café, New York City, courtesy of David Williams

If you had to postpone your vacation and desperately want to feel like you’re not in New York City, make a reservation at Koneko. “Koneko” means kitten in Japanese and brings the East Asian phenomena of cat cafés to the Lower East Side.

Koneko’s menu features artisanal Japanese izakaya-influenced house-made snacks and deserts along with local coffee, beer, wine, and sake. But the main attractions of this café are the 20+ adoptable cats that call Koneko their home. You can cuddle up close to these lovable furballs both indoors in Koneko’s sunlit upper Cattery and cozy lower Cattery, or outside in its unique outdoor Catio.

All of the kitties you’ll meet at Koneko are up for adoption, as the café is partnered with Anjellicle Cats Rescue. Koneko is dedicated to finding loving homes for NYC’s at-risk stray cats by introducing them to guests.

Koneko adheres to the utmost health and cleaning standards, with commercial-grade HEPA air filtration in every space and rigorous Covid-related cleaning standards.

Visit Koneko’s website for reservations. Reservations are still available for this Sunday!

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If you can’t visit Koneko, here’s a 2020 guide for the best cat cafés around the country.

Koneko Information
Hours
: 9 AM-9 PM, but closed from 3 PM-4 PM every day to feed the resident cats
Location: 26 Clinton St. New York, NY 10002
Phone: (646) 370-5699
Price: Aside from food and drinks, entrance to the café is $20.00 per person, per hour
Covid safety rating: ★★★★☆

Vale Rink

Photo: Vale Rink at The William Vale, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

I have lived in New York for 20 years and never knew there was a recently constructed luxury hotel in Brooklyn. The William Vale Hotel, located in Williamsburg, is a chic hidden gem with a 23rd-floor seasonal winter village including a bar, fondue chalets, and most importantly an ice-skating rink.

The view from the winter village is unmatched, delivering a 360° view of the New York skyline. Every major landmark from the Empire State Building to the World Trade Center is visible from the rink and chalets. I recommend making your reservation for 20-30 minutes before sunset so you can see the view in the daytime and nighttime while skating laps on their Glice rink.

Yes, you read that right. The Vale Rink is made out of Glice (rhymes with “ice”): a synthetic material that can be skated on year-round. Honestly, the Glice does not feel the same to skate on as regular ice. Even for an experienced ice-skater, this felt like learning how to skate for the first time. But if you like a challenge most likely you’ll have most of the rink to yourself to get the hang of it, as The Vale is taking only 25% of their usual capacity. However, this means reservations fill up fast, so you’ll probably have to book in advance. If you can’t get a reservation at the ice-skating rink, you can still check out the rest of their winter village. For our non-doer daydreamers out there, plan your next winter getaway with this list of the 20 most stunning places to go ice-skating outside around the world.

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If you want to spend a little extra money for dinner, reserve a cozy chalet in their winter village surrounding the Vale Rink. The private chalets provide a warm and very socially distanced dining experience while enjoying the breathtaking view. The menu, served by their resident restaurant Westlight, features an alpine-style fondue, seasonal cocktails and bites. However, reserving a chalet is pricey, with a $45 reservation fee for a party of 2 and $75 for parties of 3-7. If the Vale still sounds like a reach, bring the Alps to your kitchen and make this swiss fondue recipe at home!

Hours: Monday – Friday: 2PM – 10PM. Saturday & Sunday: 12PM -10PM
Location: 111 N. 12th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249 / 23rd Floor
Phone: 718-631-8400 x4017
Price: Aside from food and drinks and chalet, entrance to the rink is $20.00 per person, per 50 minutes.
Covid safety rating: ★★★☆☆

FOR THE SHUTTERED-IN

Movie Marathon

Photo: David Balev

In the past couple of years, we’ve been blessed with several documentaries dissecting the lives of some of the biggest female trailblazers of the modern era. Their careers, accomplishments, lifestyles, and attitudes were hyper-focused on by the media that surrounded them at the time. Twenty years later (and more), we are finally hearing their sides of the story.

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My proposal to kick off your quarantine Valentine’s Day is a movie marathon of documentaries divulging the real experiences of female celebrities from their point of view. If you’re looking for a sense of empowerment, a motivational kick in the butt, or hope that the truth always reveals itself in the end, these heroic stories will simply enlighten you. Here’s my choice list:

The New York Times Presents: Framing Britney Spears
Framing Britney Spears dissects the #FreeBritney movement led on social media, and Spears’ image in the media throughout her life.
Where to Watch: Hulu

This Is Paris
This Is Paris is a story told by Paris herself and her family members, highlighting how her untold abusive experiences at various schools she attended shaped her life and business ventures.
Where to Watch: YouTube

Homecoming
Homecoming is a concert film from her iconic 2019 performance at Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, written, executive produced, and directed by Beyoncé herself.
Where to Watch: Netflix

RBG
RBG follows the historic story of the iconic late justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Chosen by the National Board of Review as the Best Documentary of 2018, this film gives viewers an unprecedented look at the life of RBG, from her upbringing to how she became the rock star we all know today. You can see exclusive interviews of feminist icon Gloria Steinem, and other close friends and family.
Where to Watch: Hulu

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Icon Cocktail

Photo: Graham and Green, Free the Tipple by Jennifer Croll

Nothing makes staying at home more exciting than a drink. For some of us, an at-home cocktail usually means throwing whatever you have together and hoping for the best or settling with buying a 12-pack at the corner store. Change it up on Valentine’s Day and pamper yourself with a real hand-crafted cocktail recipe.

No one exudes self-love and grabbing life by the balls like Frida Kahlo. During her life in the early 20th Century, she marched to the beat of her own drum, never let the outside world tell her how to act and exuded a sense of dreamlike colorful wonder. This year’s Valentine’s is all about finding love in a world that seems to keep punching you in the face, and Kahlo had more than enough experience in perseverance. That’s why my cocktail of choice for Sunday is a pink hibiscus margarita, rightfully named after the tequila lover herself.

How to make the Frida Kahlo:

Ingredients:

  • Hibiscus tea bags
  • Sugar
  • Lime juice
  • Silver tequila
  • Optional: edible flowers

Directions:

  1. Make hibiscus syrup: Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil. Add 2 tea bags and allow to steep for 15 minutes. Remove tea bags, add 1/2 cup of sugar, and bring to a simmer again, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Allow to cool.
  2. Combine 1 shot lime juice, 2 shots silver tequila, and 1 shot hibiscus syrup in a shaker full of ice. Shake vigorously. Serve over ice in a margarita glass and garnish with edible flowers.
    Recipe from “Free the Tipple,” written by Jennifer Croll

Pretty In Pink Gnocchi

Photo: Food Republic, Pink Gnocchi

If gnocchi reminds you of your grandma as it does for me, you may not think it’s the sexiest of pastas. But gnocchi is one of the easiest pastas to make from scratch and doesn’t require many tools or hard to find ingredients. With the addition of beets, your classic gnocchi turns into an adorable Valentine’s Day feast.

Ingredients

  • 1 small beet, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan
  • 1 large egg
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Steam the beet until tender. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor and purée with the olive oil until smooth; set aside.
  3. Pierce potatoes with a fork; place potatoes onto a baking sheet. Place into the oven and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool completely.
  4. Cut in half; scoop the flesh into a medium bowl and mash. Transfer 1 1/2 cups to a large bowl; stir in beet purée, flour, ricotta, Parmesan, egg, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.
  5. Working on a lightly floured surface, divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece into an 18-inch-long rope, about 1-inch in diameter, sprinkling with additional flour as needed to prevent sticking. Using a sharp knife, cut each rope into 3/4-inch bite-size pieces; roll over pieces with a fork.
  6. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; working in 3 batches, cook the gnocchi until tender, stirring occasionally, about 4-6 minutes. Drain well. Set aside.

White Wine Tomato Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup of dry white wine
  • 1 can of whole plum tomatoes with juice, crushed by hand
  • 1 can tomato sauce
  • 2 sprigs of basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon of red pepper flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Heat oil. Add the onion and garlic and stir occasionally until the onion is translucent, 5-7 minutes. Add the wine and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  2. Add the tomatoes and juice, sauce, basil, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat and simmer until slightly thickened, about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper.
  3. Toss your handmade gnocchi in the sauce and dig in!

This recipe was inspired by similar gnocchi dishes prepared by Beatrice Peltre, DamnDelicious, and Martha Stewart.

Think Outside the (Chocolate) Box

Photo: Katarzyna Wojtasik, Homemade Chocolate Treats

A box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day has a different meaning to different people. Sad singletons crying into quickly-emptied boxes is a popular image in the media, while loved ones often expect one another to exchange boxes of chocolate. Screw both of those, screw Russell Stover, and screw Duane Reade. Make your own adorable set of chocolates at home.

In some countries, it’s more common for women to get together and make their SOs chocolates for Valentine’s Day, as opposed to America’s custom of men buying women heart-shaped chocolate-boxes. Who knew buying and receiving chocolates was so gender-political? It’s a dated custom muddling a sweet and simple treat. Redefine the meaning of chocolate on Valentine’s Day by completely cutting out the relationship dynamic of boxes of chocolates and find the amusement in creating these tasty treats. Making and arranging your own set is where the fun is!

This is my favorite recipe because there are lots of different treats you can make, from different designs and types of chocolates to decorate with, and fillings and more-see how creative you can get with these blank canvas bites.

Ingredients and Tools

  • Plastic heart mold/ice tray (optional for heart shape)
  • 1 1/2 cups of milk powder
  • 1 cup of cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cups of sugar
  • 1/4 cups of water
  • 1/3 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of chopped nuts of choice (optional)
  • Sprinkles (optional)
  • Colored mini chocolate chips for decorating (optional)

Directions

  1. Mix powdered sugar and water in a pan, let it slowly come to a boil, and keep on low heat. When completely dissolved, add butter and let it melt completely.
  2. Mix together cocoa powder, milk powder and set aside. Once the butter is completely melted, put the cocoa and milk powder mixture in the pan. Mix until there are no lumps. Mix in nuts.
  3. Poor your mixture into a mold, and let it cool down. If you don’t have a mold, use a spoon to dollop the mixture onto parchment paper.
  4. Once the chocolate is hard and ready for decorating, melt your chocolate chips so that it can be drizzled over chocolates and get out your sprinkles. Design your chocolates!
  5. Either eat them or package them cutely to give to others (they’ll love it).

This recipe was inspired by one written on Matcha.

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