Try a twist on Valentine's Day

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Embrace one of these unconventional ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day — with a sweetie or without

For Valentine’s Day in three short days, sure, you could buy roses and heart-shaped chocolate. Or you could bait hooks and huddle around a hole in the ice, snuggling close in lawn chairs, touching base every so often to ask, “Are your hands cold? Here, let me warm them up for you. You know, your eyes look so beautiful in the mid-day sun at 20-below. No, seriously, stop. You could be a model in those fleece-lined Carhartts . . . Oooh! A trout!”

Just sayin’. There’s options.

If you’re still looking for a way to celebrate, either as a couple or solo, might we suggest some out-of-the-box (of chocolates) ideas? They range from 1 to 10 on the romance scale and awesome-to-more-awesome in terms of good times.

Here’s to hoping the only thing that bites this Valentine’s Day is the trout.

Riding fat bikes in the snow

Details: Several local places offer rentals. At Lost Valley ski area in Auburn, you can get a bike and map all day for $35. At Pineland Farms in New Gloucester, $30 gets you a bike, trail pass and helmet for two hours

Romance scale 1-10: If you stay on your bike the whole time and hold hands at least once, 10; if you bite it in the snow, 7.

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Lost Valley currently has three bikes, and offers access to all the local snowmobile trails, as well as the ski area, tubing, full-service lodge and easy parking.

At Pineland Farms, you can rent a fat bike in frames sized for small, medium, large and extra-large riders, then take off down groomed snowshoe trails.

“If it’s hard enough (snow), we can let them go out on the ski trails,” said Mary Lou Lowrie, an instructor at the Outdoor Center, located downstairs from Pineland’s Market. “I’ve seen father and daughter, mother and daughter. Everybody that comes in has a big smile on their face. It’s totally fun.”

The super-large fat bike tires aren’t studded, but no worries about how they’ll handle in the snow.

“It feels like riding a mountain bike, and then you look down and see this big wheel that looks like it goes on an 18-wheeler and you just have to laugh, but it does the job done, it gets you places,” said Lowrie. “And it’s a great workout as well.”

Follow trails along the Royal River and through rolling fields, looking for turkey, deer and the famous dive-bombing owl. (A word of caution: The romance potential plummets if you get an owl in the eye.)

Mardi Gras & Sweetheart Valentine’s Party

Details: This is strategically scheduled for Feb. 13 at the Gendron Franco Center in Lewiston to let you get your jazz groove on with a live band and enjoy your fill of Cajun cuisine while still celebrating Ash Wednesday the next day. Tickets are $20 each.

Romance scale 1-10: It’s Mardi Gras masks and dinner and dancing on an otherwise ho-hum Tuesday night. Solid 10.

The State Street Traditional Jazz Band is back for its second Mardi Gras celebration there. This time they’re adding a few hold-your-honey-close love songs for the center’s first Valentine’s Eve dance.

“They bill themselves as the only pure, true, traditional Dixieland jazz band in Maine,” said center Executive Director Mitch Thomas. “We love them. The minute they got going last year, people were having such a great time, we just booked them right away again to get them back.”

The night’s menu includes jambalaya with chicken and shrimp, Cajun-roasted sweet potatoes and king cake, so maybe keep a little cinnamon chewing gum in your pocket for slow songs.

Last year, Thomas spotted a few men wearing tuxes in the crowd, many gowns and dresses and many an ornate Mardi Gras mask.

From the official event flyer: “Dress up! Dress down! But, come dressed!”

Solid advice.

Thomas asks that folks call ahead for tickets since they’ll need to make sure they make enough food — they don’t want to fall short on shrimp.

Two words: Doughnut crawl

Details: Start on Center Street in Auburn, snake over to Minot Avenue, beat feet to Lincoln Street in Lewiston, take a quick jog down Bartlett Street, and then make your way toward Sabattus and you’ll pass at least seven different doughnut shops. Make the crawl with your partner, grabbing one lovely ‘nut at each stop, or surprise him/her/co-workers by assembling an assortment of the best of the best.

Romance scale 1-10: As a gift to your honey in lieu of traditional chocolates, 8. As a gift to co-workers, 1, but rest assured, they’ll love you for it in an HR-appropriate way.

Thankfully, we here at the Sun Journal aren’t afraid to ask the tough questions. In this case, that involved calling three doughnut shops to ask:

What’s your most romantic doughnut?

“I’ll take a tally real quick of everybody here and we’ll come up with an answer,” said Jeremy Langlois at Georgio’s Pizza & Donut Shop on Minot Avenue in Auburn, gamely, before putting down the phone.

A minute later: An in-house tie between a raised honey-dipped strawberry frosted with sprinkles and a strawberry jelly-and-cream-filled.

“It’s Valentine’s Day, so chocolate, right?” said Jenn Tripp at Tripp’s Farmhouse Cafe, a gluten-free bakery on Center Street in Auburn. “We can do chocolate glaze, chocolate with sprinkles, chocolate with peanut butter.”

At the Italian Bakery on Bartlett Street in Lewiston, they make glazed red velvet doughnuts this time of year especially for the Valentine’s inclined.

“We also do heart-shaped bismarcks, which is a raised-doughnut base filled with raspberry filling with whipped cream and powdered sugar on top, and those are also very popular, and they’re bigger, a little fancier,” said owner Lisa Chouinard.

You were skeptical right? Doughnut crawl. Think about it.

Dinner, laughter with strangers

Details: Tasha Cote’s “Random Everything And Everywhere Kind Of Fun” group on Meetup.com is throwing a wide-open, anyone’s-invited Valentine’s Day dinner on Feb. 14, with the restaurant still to be named, for singles, the consciously uncoupled, people in long-distance relationships or those who don’t feel like sitting and stewing about not having Valentine’s plans.

Romance scale 1-10: 1; it’s not designed to be romantic, just good fun.

Cote, 40, who lives in Gray, started the Meetup group about 18 months ago and plans about two to three events a month: Bowling, craft nights, game nights.

The group has 273 members, though all aren’t active. Last year, eight or nine people turned out for the Valentine’s dinner at Madden’s Pub & Grill in Falmouth. 

“We talked and laughed and got to know each other — most of the people that showed up were all new people,” said Cote. “We were there probably a couple hours. Actually, one of the people I’ve made a great friend out of it. It was a good time.”

Members come from all over southern and central Maine with a wide range of interests and ages.

Cote was inspired to create the group after turning to Meetup herself when she moved to Gray seven years ago.

“As an adult, I had no idea how to make friends,” she said. “It’s been one of the best social things I could have done for myself. For the first time in my adult life, I feel like I have a very close-knit group of friends. I love being able to just do fun things, also. Some of my friends don’t share my hobbies, so to be able to post a Meetup event on something I want to do, but then have people go along with me is  a great thing.”

Check out her group’s Meetup page to find out the restaurant she’s picked for Valentine’s and to RSVP right up to the day of. (It’s free to join the group; you’ll only have to pick up the cost of your own meal and drinks.)

Brunch and berries, Green Ladle style

Details: Reserve a spot right away for The Green Ladle’s lovely brunch on Feb. 15, hosted and cooked by students in the Lewiston Regional Technical Center’s culinary arts program. Meals are $12 each.

Romance scale 1-10: With chocolate-covered strawberries on every table, 10 of 10.

I’m loathe to make you drool on your newspaper, but here’s a taste of the menu that day: An omelet bar with the toppings of your choice, carved ham served with fruit sauce, Florentine crepes, seafood crepes stuffed with scallop, lobster and shrimp, as well as homemade corned beef hash and desserts.

Pat Sarrazin, the program’s banquet and catering coordinator, said about 85 people usually turn out a week for the regular meals and spots go fast. Lunch runs from 11 a.m. to roughly 12:30 p.m.

“They can start with dessert if they want,” said Sarrazin.

She said to feel free to ask students how anything is made. They’re there to learn and talk with customers. You’re there to gaze lovingly into your partner’s eyes while wiping seafood crepe off their bottom lip.

Everybody wins.

Take your sweetie ice fishing. No, really.

Details: You can head to a sporting outfitters and buy the gear. You can hire a Maine Guide to take you out. Or you can swing on by the Canton Recreation Department’s free Fishing Frenzy event on Feb. 17 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Anasagunticook Lake where they’ll be showing folks the finer points of how to ice fish. It’s timed to coincide with the Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife’s free fishing days — there’s no license required to fish Feb. 18-19.

Romance scale 1-10: If no one falls in the hole, 7. If you cook your partner dinner with your catch, 10.

Canton Rec volunteer Phyllis Ouellette said it’s the first time for the event (weather cancelled it last year), which is designed to get the community out and about. There will be food for sale, raffles and fire pits for cozying up.

The mechanics of how to ice fish are simple, according to Ouellette, and there will be volunteers to lend a hand.

“You drill a hole in the ice using an auger and then you clear out whatever slush got stuck in the hole while you’re doing that,” she said.

Bait the hook, set the flag on your ice-fishing contraption and wait.

“If there’s quite a few people out there, it’s pretty exciting when the flag goes up,” Ouellette said. “Everybody yells out, ‘Flag!’ People run (over.) Everybody looks, ‘What’d they get? What’d they get?'”

On Anasagunticook Lake, it might be small mouth bass, trout or perch. She suggests dressing warm, dressing in layers and bringing lawn chairs in case the fish aren’t biting.

“It’s a great adventure that you can tell stories about,” Ouellette said. “Let’s see, what else could be romantic? Well, you’re on the ice and diamonds are also called ice . . . that might be a bit of a stretch, but, you know.”

And now YOU know. So go!

kskelton@sunjournal.com

Tasha Cote of Gray founded the Meetup group “Random Everything And Everywhere Kind Of Fun” 18 months ago to meet new people and get out and about. The group is organizing a Valentine’s Day dinner for anyone looking to get out of the house and have fun that night. (Submitted photo)

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