Valentine Series: I Hate Valentine’s Day

I’m excited to continue my Valentine series today with a new perspective from my friend Erica.  I met Erica when she became my coworker last year.   Though we never worked directly together, we bonded immediately as there were few people under 30 at the firm and her office was in a basement space across from my friend Cat (it was as window-less as it sounds.)  Thankfully we moved office spaces in June and Erica now has a climate controlled, above-ground office!

Erica spends most of her days traveling around the country giving clients her valuable counsel while also somehow manages to be one of those people who runs, swims and bikes long distances for fun and makes time for her great boyfriend.  She hates Valentine’s Day so you won’t find her dressed in pink and headed out to a fancy prix fixe on Thursday, but I like her message about unexpected pleasures bringing the most joy.

former coworkers: me, sean, cat and erica
(now all fabulous guest bloggers!)
E: Unlike Britt (and girls everywhere), I hate Valentines Day. HATE.  Hate, hate, hate.  There’s no really good reason: I was never dumped and left heartbroken on February 14th, or left sitting alone in my apartment while coupled-up friends paired off for candlelight dinners, or mocked on the playground for writing a love note to put in the crayon-covered, doily-decorated bag of the cute little boy in my elementary class.  There’s no childhood trauma: I just have never liked V-Day.

I also find it a bit presumptuous that Hallmark (or Hersheys, or any other corporation) feels the need to dictate how and when I should tell people I love them. But that’s a rant for another time.

While I hate V-Day, one thing that I DO love is research. Which is why I love Gretchen Rubin’s blog, The Happiness Project, and her 21 day Relationship Challenge: it’s full of interesting studies and insights into human nature. I particularly liked this, from Day 9 of the Challenge:  “Studies show that we react more strongly to an unexpected pleasure than to an expected one. The brain gets a bigger thrill when some little treat comes as a surprise, whether it’s a dollar found in the street, a free cookie sample, a gift for no reason, or an unexpected compliment from a boss. And not only do we feel happier, but these little boots of happiness also make up temporarily smarter, friendlier, and more productive.”

This sums up my favorite way of showing love: I love surprises.  I actually like planning them much more than receiving them.  And I ESPECIALLY love them when I know the person on the receiving end is going to really appreciate whatever I have planned. Which brings me to how I celebrate love, non-V-Day style.

Much like Britt’s new fiancé, my boyfriend is a healthy eater. He’s annoyingly good at saying no to candy, and follows the paleo diet (well… most of the time).  He also is a road warrior, so while we don’t technically have a long distance relationship… sometimes it feels like we do.  Which brings me to my surprise.

The b/f and I had just returned from a few days in Brazil (work trip for him; I joined him for the weekend), and he had to turn around and fly to Belgium and Russia (again for work) a few days later.  I knew he’d had a rough couple weeks, and really needed a little TLC,  so while he was gone, I picked up his paleo cookbook and looked through all the recipes for paleo-friendly treats he’d mentioned wanting to try: paleo brownies, mint coconut bark, coconut and walnut clusters, etc.  I then trekked around Virginia (which, as a DC girl, was a new and painful experience) tracking down all of the crazy ingredients (coconut butter/agave nector/coconut sugar/etc.) required.  This- more than the baking- might have been the true act of love.

After many, many, hours of baking, my surprise was complete: packaged and frozen paleo treats, ready for him when he returned home.  I labeled all of them with sticky notes, and put an “Open Me” sign on the freezer door and a “Welcome Home” sticky on the top of the cookbook (to give him a little clue of what was in store!) .  Of the options, the candied coconut walnuts were far and away the best and easiest– and didn’t call for many of the crazy ingredients the other recipes required, making them much more accessible.  So if you need a little high-protein, gluten-free snack for the cave man (or woman!) in your life, you’re in luck: these are sure to please.

Candied Coconut Walnuts (adapted from Paleo Indulgences cookbook)
1/3c pure maple syrup
1c raw walnuts, coarsely chopped
½ c unsweetened coconut flakes
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ tsp almond extract (this is an Erica special addition- I add almond extract to nearly everything)

Preheat oven to 350 F
Toss all the ingredients in a small bowl, making sure everything is well coated.  Pour mixture onto a parchment paper-covered cookie sheet and spread evenly (note- parchment paper is key, so don’t overlook this step!)  Bake 15-20 minutes (I found I had to go slightly longer than this- but mostly you want to make sure they are golden brown, bubbly, and the coconut flakes look a bit toasted). Cool completely, then break into pieces to store.  For what it’s worth, I think these would also be amazing with dried cherries or cranberries… but we’re still working our way through the first batch of goodies, so those will have to wait for next time!