The playbook of love



Ballroom dancing
Professional serenades
Romantic dining
Quirky dates
Beta Bridge
Request a song
Cooking classes
Drive-in movie
Open fire
McCormick Observatory
Parlez vous Français?
Full-moon picnic
Train for a race
Cook together
Couples’ massage
5 fun daytrips
Renew your vows
Lingerie shopping

Love has been said to be like many things: a butterfly, a heat wave, a rollercoaster. But researchers at Stanford University recently found that love affects the brain, more than anything else, like a dose of codeine. So if you find yourself in a spot where love hurts, as it did for the Everly Brothers, it may not be love at all. Either that, or you need to up your dose. Toward that goal—and with Valentine’s Day fast approaching—C-VILLE staff put together a list of the best ways to play at the game of romance and love. How the game is won remains unclear. But we do know that its rules are written in French, it is best set to a passionate soundtrack and at a nice restaurant, hotel or fireside locale. If you find yourself losing at the game, remember, in the immortal words of Pepe LePew, that “all is love in fair and war.”



Not strictly ballroom

Along with the myriad ballroom studios in Charlottesville, there are a few other intimate options for perfecting dance floor flirtation. Local wedding DJ Derek Tobler happens to have a background in ballroom dance, and offers classes at his home. Then, there are the romantic dance alternatives to ballroom classes. Have you tried contra dancing? How about ’80s night at three, on the Corner?

Or, for those couples that consider themselves to be four left feet, here are a few Hollywood dance scenes that just might encourage you to try the two-step for yourself.

The Gay Divorcee (1934) Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers are the Hallmark of hot feet—almost every dance caught on film gets the love across. But the pair dances an entire courtship to Cole Porter’s “Night and Day.” Watch his arrogance and her reluctance turn to harmonious flirtation, and try to avoid playing footsie with your guy or gal.

Beauty and the Beast (1991)

“Tale as old as time,” right? Belle and her hairy beau hoof it in Disney’s finest digital ballroom and cement their courtship. Plus, you know the new couple totally did it after Mrs. Potts told Chip to head “off to the cupboard.” Right?

Swingers (1996)

Jon Favreau’s “Mikey” is a nearly irredeemable mope. He finds his redemption, however, in the arms of Heather Graham, who lures him into a swing dance and a romantic epiphany. Maybe that mid-’90s swing resurgence was a good idea after all…

Dirty Dancing (1987)

Hey, it was either this, or Grease. Baby and Johnny—dance in peace, Patrick Swayze—get an entire audience shaking all over. For those of you who enjoy role-playing, head to Mountain Lake Hotel in Pembroke, Virginia, and recreate the moves on location.

Scent of a Woman (1992)

Like love, great dance is often propelled by intuition. Al Pacino, playing blind Lieutenant Colonel Frank Slade, reads his partner Donna (Gabrielle Anwar) beautifully in a two-minute tango. But Anwar provides the real heart as she guides Pacino to and from the dance floor.




Get a pro to serenade your sweetie

If you don’t want your window serenade to result in a call to animal control, defer to the experts. Looking for some Old-World-meets-New-World charm? Hire the swoonworthy local songwriter Wes Swing, left, (825-5381) to fill the night air with love’s vast palette of emotions; his cello can rend the heart or repair it, throttle or massage it. 

What’s in the offering? Swing says he “could perform original love songs or tasteful covers,” or even Bach’s cello sweets—excuse us, suites—for your sweetie. It’s “hard to put a cash value” on the kind of private performance that may make or break your relationship, he says, so he’d accept a “pay what you will within reason” scenario (though nothing below $100). A C-note for everlasting love? Talk about a bargain.



Eat your heart out 

Like the perfect lover, good food smells just right and makes you feel like you don’t need anything more than what’s before you. Small wonder, then, that romantic dining is the cornerstone of any lovey-dovey celebration. Where in town should you bring your loved one? 


With white tablecloths, good service, great food, the best wine list and an only slightly out-of-the-way location, the warm, quiet upstairs at C&O (515 E. Water St., 971-7044) is as romantic as it gets without getting away.

Imagine that your lover is an angel at Nellysford’s Basic Necessities (2226 Rockfish Valley Hwy, 361-1766), a cafe and wine shop, where food is thoughtfully prepared and, for Sunday brunch, accompanied by harpist Virginia Schweninger. 

You don’t have to spend top dollar to prove to your number one that he or she is just that. Don a poodle skirt, run a comb through your hair and take your sweetie for a frosty daytime sweet (or, if it’s your style, a sandwich and an iced tea) at Timberlake’s (322 E. Main St., Downtown Mall, 296-1191).

Thomas Jefferson designed the mansion now in ruins at Barboursville Vineyard, but a perfectly intact, contemporary structure there plays host to perhaps the most romantic restaurant in the region: Palladio (17655 Winery Rd., 540-832-7848). If it won’t break the bank, the reservations-only experience features Northern Italian cuisine inspired by what’s local, prepared by chef Melissa Close Hart.

For romance on Emmet Street, you can’t do much better than Savour (1250 Emmet St., 295-2220), which offers simple and hearty, yet eclectic and contemporary fare at a reasonable price point.




Tiptoe through the…

A flower whose name literally sounds like “two lips”? Hard to deny the romance in that. Cash in on the sentiment by taking your sweetie to Madison County’s EcoTulips (, 242-6369). That’s where owners Keriann and Jeroen Koeman open their showgarden to the public every year for the Organic Tulip Festival. This year’s is tentatively scheduled for the second weekend in April, depending on the weather.

The 10,000-square-foot field of flowers boasts nearly 20 varieties of tulips ripe for the picking—$1 a stem. To pack in the romance, pack a picnic and enjoy it field-side.



Have a sit 

Talk about romance: How about surprising your partner with a grown-up dinner in one of Charlottesville’s charming restaurants? Because for parents romantic moments can be seldom and hurried, pulling off the perfect date night is vital. 

First step: Hire a trusted babysitter (expect to pay about $10 to $15 an hour.) If you’re not sure where to start because you usually leave that kind of thing to your honey, know that both the UVA Women’s Center (call Sue Gerrans at 982-2361) and the UVA School of Nursing (924-0141) have a babysitter list, updated each semester with names, contact information and potential sitter’s availability.



5 dates that take you beyond dinnerandamovie

Up, up and away

Imagine how you’ll feel, 2,000 feet in the air, the gentle breeze flowing through your sweetheart’s hair, your eyes locked on each other—and your knuckles white from terror, clutching the side of the hot air balloon basket. Why, it practically takes your breath away. (Not recommended for acrophobes.) Blue Ridge Balloon offers a sunrise flight for $210 per person. Call 589-6213 for more information.

Bowling for two

You know what they say: The couple who plays together stays together. We suggest sharing a pitcher of beer and hitting the lanes. Low lighting, the thrill of a little friendly competition and the shared humiliation of wearing those awful shoes? Nothing could bring you closer. Locally, try Kegler’s Lanes up 29N, where a game and a pair of shoes will run you $10-20 (depending on the time of day). If you feel like a drive, hop over Afton to Wayne Lanes, where you can get a game and shoes for under $5. 

Howl do you do? A visit to the SPCA will get you and your honey feeling warm and fuzzy.

Puppy love

Cue the “awws” as you stroll through the local animal shelter. With your hunnie by your side and a furry baby purring on your shoulder, it’ll be hard to resist the thought of, some day, starting a litter of your very own. The Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA, at 3355 Berkmar Dr. (just off Rio Road West), is open daily, noon-6pm.

All aboard

This ain’t no Amtrak, baby. The James River Rambler ambles from Dillwyn to New Canton and back, affording you nearly four hours to snuggle up and watch the world roll by. The Rambler has two air-conditioned cars, but we recommend the converted box cars with open rail sides, perfect for taking in some fresh air and the passing terrain. Trips range from $12-22, depending on the length of the ride. Call 800-451-6318 for more information.

Ready, aim…

Trust is an important component in any healthy relationship. Imagine it put to the test at a firing range, then, as you stand shoulder to shoulder with your better half, firearm in hand, poised to shoot. Recommended: Augusta Springs’ Hite Hollow Shooting Range, about 40 minutes west of the city. Looking for something closer? Join the Rivanna Rifle & Pistol Club (located on Old Lynchburg Road). Not for the casual shooter, membership fees and annual dues could cost you more than $150. Call 977-5482 for more information. 




Paint a rosy picture

Could decades of love notes, aubades and spray-painted serenades eventually compromise the structural integrity of Rugby Road’s 88-year-old Beta Bridge? Let’s hope not. Frats, social clubs and students have scrawled memorials and mementos on the structure for decades. Indeed, local resident John Beard recovered a chunk of Beta Bridge in October and set about counting the layers of paint on the structure. His total? An impressive 618 layers—some bearing, perhaps, ancient love notes.

Learning to love means learning to articulate your emotions—large enough for your beloved to read, and blunt enough to get the message across. Preserve your partner’s name in pastels, or make stencils and paint a pair of portraits for passersby to envy. Be sweet, be sultry, be downright crude, but be brief. If your message doesn’t fit the bridge, then you’re missing the mark.



Whitney may have belted this country gal’s tune, but nobody does it quite like Dolly.

Say it with a song


Suppose for a moment you’re the kind of romantic who wants to broadcast your affection to the world. Showing up at your lover’s house to play some sappy Jimmy Buffett cut on a borrowed ukulele can be a little invasive. But if you’re looking for a grand act that combines the emotional power of song with a public gesture intended to prove your love is real, dedicate a song on WTJU.  The trick? Finding the right song. If music be the food of love, request on.

1. “This Guy’s in Love With You,” as performed by Herb Alpert. This tune was penned by Cupid’s man on the ground, Burt Bacharach.

2. “Something,” by The Beatles. Frank Sinatra said it was his favorite Beatles song; your honey will probably agree.

3. “I Will Always Love You,” by Dolly Parton. Nobody listens to anything but the chorus in this emotive, high-flying number.

4. “In Your Eyes,” by Peter Gabriel. If your beloved has seen Say Anything, he or she will be powerless to this song’s charms.

5. “Nothing Compares 2 U,” as performed by Sinead O’Connor. Use only in case of emergency.



Stir it up together

Your sweetie’s having a little trouble with his knife skills? Why, you can help. Just sidle up behind, reach around to cover his hands with yours, and demonstrate how to slice garlic delicately, insinuate the core out of a tomato, or fillet a tender piece of fish. Unless, of course, you don’t know how to do these things, either. In which case, get thee to a cooking school—together. It’ll be sweet to bone up on kitchen skills while feeding each other delicious morsels of whatever you’re prepping in the class. Charlottesville Cooking School (963-2665) offers a number of tasty choices (we think Ashley Clarke’s Classic Flavors of Southeast Asia, on March 24, sounds like a winner) and so does Seasonal Cook (295-9355).




Practice your pick-up lines

 The Fork Union Drive-In can hold nearly 200 cars, and easily attracts that number for weekend screenings from mid-spring through September. After a few double features last summer, we decided that they don’t call the back of the pick-up truck the “bed” for nothing.

To be clear, we’re not advocating for an NC-17 intermission on a PG night. Rather, a drive-in devotee knows that the best seat in the house is the back seat—or, better yet, a trunk with a view. That new Volkswagen Jetta will barely hold your popcorn and crushed-ice Cokes from the snack stand. The trunk of your average Isuzu Rodeo, however, offers about 60 cubic feet of space—enough for refreshments, a pair of sleeping bags and, er, wiggle room. 

So throw a mattress into the back of your pick-up and make the trip. Arrive early enough to back into a prime space and pop the tailgate. Pack a blanket, because the second screening always gets a tad chilly. And tell the nosy gawker munching his Milk Duds to keep his eyes on the screen.



I’m burning for you

Now that the “yule log” video is available on YouTube, a romantic fire is really only a mouse-click away. But if you insist on doing things the old-fashioned way, here are a few tips.


1. Open the damper.

2. Crumple 2-3 sheets of paper (go ahead, use C-VILLE, we don’t mind!) on top of the grate.

3. Put a generous handful of kindling (the small stuff) on top of the paper.

4. On top of kindling, criss-cross up to 10 dry pieces of hardwood.

5. Warm the flue by lighting another two pieces of paper and directing them upward.

6. Light the paper in the grate at either end. Once the paper lights the kindling and hardwood, add three pieces of split wood. Replenish as needed.

Rather than fell that mighty oak yourself, check local Craigslist posts for good deals on firewood. A recent search turned up decent prices on firewood, from Afton Oak ($60 for an 8′ bed, with an additional $30 for delivery) to Earlysville cherry wood ($80 for a cord—128 cubic feet—and another $20 for stacking). Additionally, Frye’s Firewood (825-6203) offers a variety of wood at a range of prices. Or, if the weather permits, simply head south on Route 29 until you spot a plywood sign with a tempting timber deal. 

Now, to bring those flames of passion to a blaze without scaring the neighborhood. City Fire Chief Charles Werner says Valentine’s Day is usually a bit too chilly to take your beloved outside for a bonfire, and even those outdoor fires approved by the city must be extinguished if a neighbor complains. In short, keep it indoors, or find a restaurant that has a hearty hearth.

“My wife and I always enjoy sitting by a fire in the fireplace at home, at a restaurant or at a hotel,” says Werner. “The warmth, the flickering flame and the crackling of the wood create a warming of the heart, a time for reflection and a sense of peace and calm.”

And if that heartwarming sensation gets a bit out of control? “We certainly don’t want to quell the fires of romance,” says Werner. “But we want to be of assistance, and to assist in a way that is safe and enjoyable.” So, jot this number down: 970-3240. Just in case.



Two spoons, please

Because splitting a milkshake is so 1953, we recommend this modern upgrade: The Grandy Delight from über-charming Chandler’s Ice Cream at 921 River Rd. It’s enough for two and then some. Soft-serve vanilla piled high with M&Ms and Reese’s cups, then smothered in chocolate and caramel sauce and topped with a few dollops of whipped cream (with a cherry on top!), it’s so sweet, you’ll think you’ve fallen in love.





Flesh out your love

In some relationships, saying that your love will last forever isn’t enough; you have to prove it. 

One popular method? Scarring an inky symbol into your earthly vessel. Between Ben Around (923-8282), Capital (979-8282), Bigg Dawg (293-4279), Flash Tat (293-8998) and Acme (293-6730), you’ve got your choice of tattoo artists, styles and methods in Charlottesville. 

Then again, nobody wants to end up like Johnny Depp, who changed his tattoo from “Winona Forever,” to “Wino Forever” after his relationship with Winona Ryder went down the tubes. So if like Johnny you need some help making your tat go poof, Charlottesville Skin and Laser Center (984-4491), Innovative Lasers (984-1094), and Charlottesville Dermatology (984-2400) all offer the long therapy that can help remove (or at least fade or blur) your jilted body art.



The original romantic: Mr. Billy Shakespeare

Compose a love sonnet

What could be sweeter than a handwritten letter professing your adoration? Why, a handwritten sonnet professing your adoration. We asked UVA Professor of English Stephen Cushman to provide some Valentine-worthy tips for would-be poets, and he came through like a champ (see below). Read and learn, love bards. Oh, and make sure you steer clear of tired clichés, lest your beloved conclude that you will prove a too-predictable mate. We’ve provided a handy list following the professor’s notes.

Some suggestions for Valentine sonneteers

1.  You only have 140 syllables, so make them count. If you use “elective liposuction,” you’ve already shot five percent of your sonnet.

2.  You can cheat on number 1 above by ending your lines with words like “liposuction,” which end with unstressed syllables and will give your lines so-called feminine endings. The term “feminine endings” miffs some people, but their miffedness could be a good subject for a valentine sonnet.

3.  The meter of most sonnets in English is iambic pentameter, which is Greek for “beats on the even syllables in a ten-syllable line.” But unless your love loves mindless mechanical repetition in other contexts, too, mix it up in this one.

4.  Rhyme is the name of the game. Depending on the sonnet form you choose  (Petrarchan, English or Shakespearean, Spenserian, one you make up), you may need as few as one rhyme sound or as many as seven. Make ‘em good ones. In fact, one effective strategy is to come up with the rhymes first and then build your lines and sentences around them. Rhyming on your love’s name or nickname or pet name could pay off big time. If your love likes variety, mix up masculine rhymes (Scott/hot) with feminine ones (Candy/randy). Or liposuction/tax-deduction. But never, never, never rhyme “desire” with “fire,” unless you know from previous field-testing that cliché turns your love on.


• Do not compare anyone to a summer’s day.

• Hair must not “cascade,” eyes must not “shine,” and thighs must not be “creamy.”

• Hearts can do a lot of things, but please do not have them “pound,” “swell,” or “thump.”

• Avoid these words: “sweet,” “pure,” “ravishing,” “damsel,” “special someone.”

• Avoid these images: secret gardens, fingers of dawn, roses or lilies of any description, and doves in flight.

• Rhyming “arms” with “charms” is right out.


5.  Some figurative language can spice things up.  Metaphors are good: “O liposuction, fount of youthfulness.” This metaphor, with its X of Y pattern, is called a genetive link metaphor and comes from translations of ancient languages into English. But such metaphors are like jalepenos; one per sonnet is plenty. Or you can use similes, which are just metaphors with “like” in front of them: “Your liposuctioned skin, so like a bed / That’s freshly made,” etc. WARNING: If you have reason to believe your love is turned off by bad grammar, watch those likes. “Like” is a verb or a preposition but not a conjunction. “You heat like a burner on high” is fine, but “You heat like a burner on high heats” isn’t. Similarly, “I like it like that” is O.K., but the middle “like” in “I like that like you like this” could be as disastrous as spinach in your teeth. Then there’s the more recent “like” as used in much spoken American English: “Like, liposuction’s not for you, my dear.” Some people sniff at this usage, but at the end of the day what matters is just between the two of you. You know your love best. Or you sure hope so.

6.  It’s not absolutely necessary, especially if you just want to praise the heck out of your love’s fine enfleshment (poems that do so are called “blasons”), but it doesn’t hurt to have something to say. In lots of sonnets, for example, the lover sets up a problem that he or she then resolves, such as the problem of how it can be that the love between you two is unlike the love between any other two lovers in the history of the universe, even though everybody else in the history of the universe seems to have written and still be writing love poems to one another, especially on Valentine’s Day. Such a sonnet might begin, “The everyday uniqueness of our love.” You take it from there.



See the stars close up

Whether you’re starry-eyed, star-crossed or both, it’d do your love well to plan a romantic night to the McCormick Observatory at the top of McCormick Road on the UVA campus. In addition to its prime placement (atop a pitch-dark hill is the perfect place to steal a kissy-wissy), the observatory offers a fine opportunity, on the first and third Friday of each month, to view the shimmering rocks dumbly floating millions of miles away that’ve inspired lovers since time immemorial. Before you go, go beyond the Big Dipper (everybody knows it) so you can impress your lover with some astro-know-how.



Franc, my dear

Qu’est-ce que c’est the deal avec the French? Wikipedia says that terms of endearment “can reveal little or nothing about the true quality of the relationship in question.” But that doesn’t seem to apply when you parlez en français. So, here are a few useful French phrases that will either bolster your bliss, or send you running for a couples’ language course.

Vous êtes beau  You are beautiful

Lèvres de sucre  Sugar lips

Est-ce que je peux prendre votre main? May I take your hand?

Ma biche  My doe (What’d you think this meant, you unromantic ass?)

Pâté en croûte de miel  Honey pie (Caution: Do not use in a bakery.)

Votre robe/veste est renversante Your dress/jacket is astounding

Est-ce que je peux embrasser votre main/joue/bouche/pieds?  May I kiss your hand/cheek/mouth/feet?

Pour toujours  Forever

Ne nous dérangez pas  Do not disturb us



February 18; March 19; April 18; May 17; June 15; July 15; August 13; September 12; October 12; November 10; December 10

Picnic under a full moon

Ever been to the Monticello farm trails? If not, let us enthusiastically recommend them as a prime spot for a romantic gambol in the grass. (To get there, park as though you were taking a hike up the Saunders Trail toward Monticello, but head off to the right instead of up the mountain.) A 10-minute walk will bring you to an expansive rolling field dotted with enormous old trees. Noon is nice, but midnight’s magnificent: Time your visit with the full moon (this year’s schedule to the right) and everything, from your beloved’s face to the classic Albemarle setting, will seem more seductive. We suggest you pack your picnic basket light: just a few of Gearhart’s raspberry-zin chocolates, a bottle of Barboursville Brut, and perhaps a pair of edible panties.

Editor’s Note: Our friends at Monticello, while applauding the spirit of our full-moon picnic suggestion, have been in touch with a few important clarifications: The trail to is open sunrise to sunset only, and alcohol is prohibited at all times. Moreover, before things start getting too amorous, you’re advised to know that Secluded Farm, at the end of the trail, is a private residence. As we know you get the gist of this recommendation, we advise you realize it in another location.




Get in shape

Never mind the funny outfits, the strange smells, the sweat. Running with a partner is one of the best ways to take a small vacation in your own town. Weave circles around your dream home, wonder if the restaurant you just passed is any good, and try to avoid trudging past places where your friends hang out, all while improving your body and sharing a goal you might otherwise be reluctant to undertake. 

Where to start? Set reasonable goals, pick a race and agree on a training schedule. (They’re free all over the Internet.) The Charlottesville Running Company keeps a good list of local races on its website (www.charlottesville, including the renowned Charlottesville Marathon and Half-Marathon. If it’s your first, the Charlottesville 10-miler, coming up on March 26, is a good bet. For the complete romantic experience, plan to run a race somewhere you’ve never been and book a nice place to stay. Not really a battlefield, love is an endurance race.



Rekindle the flame

Low light that gently bounces along the walls can create an almost “sacred place” for a couple, says Raven Long, a local candle maker who specializes in unscented beeswax and soy candles. Because so many people are sensitive to scents, Long, owner of Flames by Raven (, makes candles from beeswax, especially enjoying their “nice glow and the natural scent of honey.” Light up the night with his candles or those from other local

craftspeople, such as Emily and Jacob Gray ( Their rosemary-mint or chamomile-sage soy candles, available at Ivy Nursery, are sure to relax and impress. 



Turn food into love

Why did Mom’s meatloaf always taste the best? One word: love. Same goes for that delightful spread you’re gonna cook up for your sweetheart. Nothing says “I love you”—and nothing’s quite so delectable—as a thoughtful, elegant repast that you yourself have prepared. 

Meatloaf’s not what we have in mind, though. Instead, we turned to Charlottesville Cooking School’s Martha Stafford, who came up with this memorable menu (recipes below).

Fittingly, Stafford’s own dear husband, Virginia Wineworks owner Philip Stafford, has some ideas about local wines to pair with this meal. Before eating, he says, quaff a flute of Claude Thibaut’s Blanc de Chardonnay (a Virginia sparkling wine); then pour a Viognier with the meal itself. Stafford suggests the Viognier from his business partner Michael Shaps or from Veritas Winery. Another good choice, especially if your crush has green ideals: Virgina Wineworks’ bag-in-box Cabernet Franc. It’s four bottles’ worth of wine in a minimal package. 

Flounder Baked in Parchment

Serves 2 

For this dish you are going to create a sealed packet containing fish, vegetables, herbs, salt, pepper and wine. You can use all sorts of different vegetables like bell peppers, green beans, zucchini, carrots, celery, snow peas, leeks and scallions. The tricks to remember are thin fish fillets, finely sliced vegetables, fresh herbs for flavor, salt and pepper to brighten, and wine or lemon juice to create steam. The packets can be assembled ahead of time and taken out of the refrigerator 10 minutes before you are ready to bake them. Bring each packet to the table on its own warmed plate and cut the top open with a small sharp knife. You and your Valentine will enjoy the delicious aroma. 

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

To create the packet you will need a roll of parchment paper (available at the supermarket). Tear off two sheets of paper approximately 20" long. Fold the paper in half and draw half a heart on one side. Cut it out and unfold it. You should have a big heart with a crease running down the center.

2 tbs. unsalted butter, melted

1 large carrot, coarsely grated 

4 scallions, dark green part and roots trimmed off, sliced crosswise in thin circles

1 stalk celery, sliced into very fine 3" matchsticks

1/2 a red bell pepper, sliced into very fine 3" matchsticks

Salt to taste

Freshly ground pepper

8-12 ounces flounder filet, skin off, pin bones removed

2 tbs. chopped fresh tarragon or fresh dill

4 tbs. white wine (you can use the same wine you will serve with it)

1. Open the parchment heart and brush or rub a little melted butter over one half.

2. Toss the vegetables together and put on the buttered side of each heart close to the crease. Save some vegetables to put on top of the fish. 

3. Drizzle a little butter over the vegetables and season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Flatten them down to make a bed to put the fish on.

4. Cut the fish into slices approximately 2" wide. Place the fish slices on the vegetables.

5. Put the remaining vegetables on the fish, drizzle with the rest of the butter, sprinkle the tarragon and wine over the top and season with a final pinch of salt and pepper.

6. It is important to seal the packet well. Refold the paper to cover the fish.  Start where the heart comes to a point. Fold the edges together in a series of diagonal folds about a 1/4" deep smoothing the folds down with your fingers after each one. Continue in the same way until you reach the bottom of the heart and then twist the remaining paper to close it. You can also fold and staple it shut as you go. The goal is a tight seal so the steam will stay inside.

7. Place the packages on a baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes.

8. The packet is done when the paper is puffed and starting to brown.

9. Put the packet directly on a plate and cut it open in front of your Valentine.


Barley Pilaf Style

4 servings

1 tbs. extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped shallots

1 cup pearled barley

3 cups low sodium chicken, beef or vegetable stock

1 bay leaf (optional) 

1/2 tsp. kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1. In a heavy medium saucepan, heat the oil over medium-low heat and add the shallots. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes until they are soft. Add the grains and stir to coat the kernels with the fat and onions.

2. Add the stock, bay leaf, salt and pepper and bring it to a boil, reduce the heat and cover. Cook over low heat until the barley is soft and liquid absorbed, about 40-50 minutes.


Savory Butternut Squash

Bread Pudding

Serves 4 as a side dish and 2 as a main dish

1 cup whole milk

2 eggs

1/4 tsp. Kosher Salt

1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper

A pinch freshly ground nutmeg

1 shallot, diced small

2 cups day-old bread, cut in cubes (or lightly toast cubed fresh bread)

2 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced small or sliced in 1/8 inch slices

2 ounces hard cheese, grated

Butter for buttering ramekins

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

1. Whisk milk and eggs together until thoroughly combined. Season with salt and pepper and nutmeg.

2. Butter the inside of four 6-ounce ramekins, or one 16-ounce ovenproof casserole. Alternate layers of bread and winter squash. Sprinkle the shallots over the layers. Pour in enough egg mixture to cover. Top with grated cheese.

3. Bake for 30 minutes. Can be baked ahead and reheated.



Meet each other’s kneads

“Looking is free,” goes the adage, “but touching’s going to cost you something.” Below, a selection of couples’ massages and spa treatments to give you and your mate a matching set of goosebumps.


Boar’s Head Inn Spa

The luxe country club offers a “Spa for Two” package at $280 per person. The package includes overnight accommodations, welcome gift, and $100 credit towards spa services.



This Downtown spot offers a 30-minute “Happy Feet” treatment followed by a 60- to 90-minute spa treatment, for $210 to $255 per couple.


Escape Day Spa

$170 for a 60-minute couples’ massage.

For those of you sneaking out during work, try the “Quick Getaway” for $135 per couple, or for those of you with more time, try the “Grand Getaway,” two hours of relaxation and rubbing for $230 per pair.


We Relax Virginia

A true massage should leave you loosey-goosey, right? We Relax offers a couples’ massage at your home, and sends two therapists with all the expertise and equipment necessary for the job. Personal massages start at $80 per person per hour.



Become a day tripper 5 easy ways

About an hour north of Charlottesville, you’ll find the pint-sized town of Sperryville, where we recommend you sample the 12 award-winning wines of Sharp Rock Vineyards (5 Sharp Rock Rd., 540-987-9700). Overindulged? Stumble to one of the winery’s two cottages and spend the night. Dine at the Thornton River Grille (3710 Sperryville Pike, 540-987-8790), located in the heart of town next to a 150-year-old country store. Savor freshly cut meats from the in-house butcher shop. If you feel like a short drive and price is no object, venture 20 minutes north of town to the Zagat-rated Inn at Little Washington (309 Middle St., Washington, 540-675-3800), but reserve early for this in-demand culinary and hospitality sanctuary. 

Gardens, parks and wildlife—oh my! Visit Maymont estate in Richmond for a romantic (and historic) getaway.

Nestled between Charlottesville and Skyline Drive, you’ll find Montfair (2500 Bezaleel Dr., Crozet, 823-5202), where you can rent an eco-friendly cedar cottage. Grab sandwiches and supplies at the old-timey Piedmont Country Store (2958 Browns Gap Tpke., Crozet, 823-6670) on your way, and stop off at Gryffon’s Aerie (4803 Mount Air Farm, Crozet, 531-0451) for grass-fed beef burgers you can prepare yourself in the cottage’s kitchen. After dinner, stroll around the resort’s six-acre lake. Get up the next morning and follow a hiking or biking trail, accessible from your cabin’s front door. 

Across Afton Mountain in Staunton, browse the boutiques in the charming downtown area, then grab dinner at locavore-loving Staunton Grocery (105 W. Beverley St., 540-886-6880). Take in a superior performance at the American Shakespeare Center (10 S. Market St., 540-885-5588) or, if that’s not your bag, nab seats at Mockingbird Roots Music Hall (123 W. Beverley St., 540-213-8777), where you can find a show by the likes of Jesse Winchester, Alex Caton or The Steel Wheels almost nightly. If you don’t want to drive home, stay at The Storefront Hotel (14 S. New St., 804-218-5656), a unique B&B that gives you free reign of the building’s two floors: bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and bar. 

Drive a little further north, and you’ll reach Harrisonburg. Grab a burger and a fried Oreo at cozy, just-enough-room-for-two Jack Brown’s (80 S. Main St., 540-433-5225) before heading to James Madison University’s campus to people-watch from the Kissing Rock on the Quad. Feel like staying overnight? Book a room at the Joshua Wilton House (412 S. Main St., 540-434-4464), a restored Victorian house-turned-inn, and have dinner on the outdoor patio. For dessert: Try the créme brulée, which Bon Apétit once called “so ethereal it could steal a Frenchman’s allegiance.”

To the east, spend the day walking around Richmond’s historic Maymont (2201 Shields Lake Dr., 804-358-7166): The 100-acre estate boasts a pre-industrial-era mansion, wildlife exhibits and specialty gardens. Recommended: Marie’s Butterfly Trail, where you might find more than 40 different species. Stay at Maury Place at Monument (3101 W. Franklin St., 804-353-2717) in the Museum District. Built in 1916, the B&B’s four rooms have each been tastefully renovated by its owners (who include a UVA School of Law grad!).


Something so nice, you say it twice

You needn’t wait for a specific anniversary to go the extra step. Renewing your vows is a romantic act that reinforces a long-lasting love. It can even, at least in one case, be a surprise for one half of the couple, as interfaith minister Claire Goodman discovered. “It took me a while to get my mind wrapped around it,” she says. “How do we do it without really putting her on the spot and without making her feel totally uncomfortable?” But, in the end, the brunch celebration proceeded seamlessly with 30 friends in attendance. The wife, by all accounts, was happy as can be. 

A cleric is not necessary for vow renewal, but no matter who does it, the refreshed exchange of promises can rekidle the flame. “If you have been through a bumpy time, maybe a big health challenge, or something that has really shaken you up—to me that would be a really good reason to have a vow renewal,” says Goodman.



Get underneath it all

You know how it goes, ladies. Your man brings home a slinky little something that’s just not quite as, er, tasteful as you’d prefer. Combat this problem by going lingerie shopping together. You’ll go home with something a little more Dita Von Teese than Pam

Anderson, and while you’re shopping, he’ll enjoy watching you model all the options.