Sweet Somethings: Valentine’s Day Memories

Need some authentically sweet tales to counteract all the saccharine of the season? Here are a few North Shore Valentine’s Day memories, starting with my own story.

It was Valentine’s Day in 1981, and a boy in my class named John asked me to “go with him.” It was my first real “boyfriend,” and to celebrate, my best friend, Laura, and I baked a Crisco-saturated Red Velvet cake, which was just terrible. Thirty-two years later, I still don’t eat Red Velvet, Laura is still my best friend, and John, while not lasting long as a boyfriend, now does a fine job managing my stock portfolio.

Here are a few more Valentine’s Day tales from the North Shore:

Patti Wolter, Evanston

It was our last Valentine’s Day before we moved from San Francisco to New York City, and we ate an amazing ginger cake at a restaurant called, no joke, Valentines. I requested the recipe but never got it. Fast forward two years, and I am working as a senior editor at Self magazine.  One day, I’m perusing the free book counter, and I see a dessert cookbook by a famed San Fran chef known for his ginger cake. I snatch up the book and yes, it happens to be the very same cake! I now make it regularly, including sometimes on Valentine’s Day. I have never made a single other recipe in the cookbook.   

Make this famous ginger cake for your special Valentine!


Liz Balsam Lynn, Evanston

It was our 1995, and our first Valentine’s Day together. We had reservations at a nice Italian restaurant on Clark St. We went there and did not realize that the prix fixe dinner was $100 per person. Well, it was not what we had in mind, so we left and walked around the corner to RJ Grunts. We were seated right away and they had flowers on all the tables, took a picture of us and put it in a frame, and ended the meal with complimentary chocolate-covered strawberries. It was a great meal and hit all the romantic notes we needed. The music and ambiance reminded us of countless shared experiences and cultural references that seem to make it easier to restore our deeper connections. We continue to go back there every year (with our two sons) to celebrate Valentine’s Day. 



Tracy Mullenix, MilleFiori Florist, Evanston

A few years back, Valentine’s Day was on a Saturday. A customer sent flowers to his wife at work every day that week, Monday-Friday. Each day a new arrangement came with a different flower, and each day got a little bigger in size. One day was tulips, one day hydrangea, one day calla lilies, one day peonies, etc. Needless to say, he was the talk of the office! When Saturday came we delivered a mass of 40 roses (how many years they were married) to their home. We remember this one so well because of the “oohs and ahhs” our delivery person got. We also got some business from the men in the office calling us!



Tom Collinger, Highland Park 

When I was about 13, I started thinking very strategically and carefully about Valentine’s Day and sent a card to Cindy Keller, who was the daughter of a good friend of my mother’s. She never responded, and I was crushed. A few days later, when I was still hopeful Cindy would write me back, my mom sat me down to tell me that she, in fact, was hurt I didn’t get HER a card. She then went on to say that in spite of the Valentine’s Day aura of “being about boyfriends and girlfriends,” she’d always want to be thought of as one of “my valentines.” From that point on, I never forgot to send my mom a Valentine’s Day card. Never.


Marie Douailly, Leonidas Belgian Chocolates, Wilmette 

I remember an older man buying chocolate over the phone for his first love. No note, because he didn’t want to upset her husband. He then went on to tell me all the details… that they had met in school and then reconnected more than 40 years later on Facebook. 


Photo credit: Couple Kissing by Bigstock