After weeks of being buried in snow and cold, it’s time to enjoy a little heat.
Forget the flowers and think heat this Valentine’s Day. Warm up your insides with hot chocolate (with a hint of spice if you’re feeling particularly lusty). Enjoy a hot and steamy night every night by considering that midwinter savior — the hot tub. Get above the slush and ice with a hot air balloon. Share a steamy and spicy Asian meal of hot pot. And fight cabin fever by taking one of the season’s hot getaways — whether it’s a local weekend of skiing, food and spas or a long weekend in points far south. Looking to heat up your February? We’ve got some spicy, steamy ideas.
Simmer slowly or bring to a lusty boil
By Rich Tango-Lowy
Young passion knows only fire;
Habañero-laced chocolate sears lips, throat, soul, heart.
Mother and babe suckle sweet chocolate
melted quickly in sugar-sweet milk.
With long hours chocolate and water become one.
Old woman pours the silky liquid into
burnished bowls and woman and man sip in silence.
Chocolate has long been the stuff of love. Montezuma is said to have consumed 50 cups of chocolate each day, and one additional to give him stamina for a night of passion. French writer Paul-Loup Sulitzer writes “I know nothing more erotic than a bar of strong chocolate.” Or if you’re really uninhibited, this from early food writer James Wadworth (1768-1844): “Twill make Old Women Young and Fresh; Create New Motions of the Flesh. And cause them long for you know what, If they but taste of chocolate.” Hot chocolate is hot for a reason.
If you think love and chocolate is all in your head, you’re right. Chemicals in chocolate cause your body to activate the neurotransmitter phenylethylamine, which mimics feelings of love, and to release dopamine, which creates a mild “high” and sense of well-being. Many foods have been hailed as aphrodisiacs, but chocolate’s the real deal.
There are many ways to enjoy chocolate, but a warm cup of chocolate, a blazing fire, and a cold winter night are a recipe for pure romance.
Chocolate for Passionate Lovers
Bring a cup of water with two tablespoons of honey and a dried chipotle chili to a lusty boil over a fierce flame. Reduce the heat, stir in two ounces of chopped earthy Venezuelan chocolate and wait impatiently for one minute. Strain the liquid into a blender with a cup of hot milk and blend for 30 seconds. Pour into glasses and consume lustily.
Chocolate for Husband and Wife
Bring two cups of milk to a simmer with two tablespoons of sugar. Stir in an ounce of African milk chocolate — at least 40 percent — and an ounce of dark Ghana chocolate and reduce the heat to very low. Cook 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour into china cups on saucers garnished with rose petals.
Chocolate for Those Long Entwined
The best hot chocolate is made with water rather than milk, but chocolate and water never truly blend. With patience and care, the two create something that is more satisfying than either alone, yet the chocolate remains chocolate and the water remains water.
Bring a cup and a half of water and two tablespoons of sugar to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat to very low, stir in two ounces of dark Madagascar chocolate and cook just below a simmer for an hour, stirring frequently. When the liquid is silky-smooth and you see no flecks of unmelted chocolate, stir in a pinch of sea salt and a drizzle of fresh cream. Froth briefly with a whisk, pour into comfortable earthenware bowls and sip slowly.
Hot tubs and saunas
Get away by getting in
By Jeff Mucciarone
Looking to spice up Valentine’s Day this year with something steamy? Or maybe you’d like to give your special someone an excuse to slip on something skimpy? You’ll probably want to wake up from fantasy land if those are your goals, unless you’re still in college — and in that case, you can’t afford to spice anything up anyway.
But both of you, and the rest of your family, might consider opting out of a costly vacation to Mexico and instead going with a hot tub this winter. Hot tub dealers say time spent reconnecting and relaxing in a hot tub away from the worries of the world will do lasting good for you and yours.
“The hot tub is great for therapy,” said Lance Connor, who owns Spa Life Hot Tubs
(www.spalifehottubs.com), which sells hot tubs online from a warehouse in Manchester and a showroom in Littleton, Mass. “It’s proven…muscular therapy. It’s great for stress relief. There’s nothing better than getting into a hot tub outside in a snowstorm. Living in the Northeast, it’s a good way to get away from the winter.”
“I think as we serve more of an aging population, it’s grown,” said Bob Stencavage, who owns Oasis Hot Tub & Sauna (www.hotspas.com) in Nashua. “Empty-nesters in particular are…enjoying hot tubs now. There’s still a fair amount of families.”
Stencavage has seen families hold off on vacations and instead buy a hot tub. Families figure for the cost of one vacation or a little more, they can take a little vacation every day in the hot tub. When people go on a vacation, they want a hot tub and a fireplace where they’re staying. Buy one yourself, and you can have the “next 20 years vacationing in your back yard.”
Including installation, hot tubs typically range in price from about $4,000 to $14,000, according to local dealers. Energy costs can be negligible, Stencavage said, estimating usage costs at about $1 per day.
Connor talked about how hot tubs serve as good places for families and couples to connect. He’s also noticed more people interested in swim spas, which double as hot tubs but carry enough jet propulsion so that someone can swim against the current. (Exercise? We won’t worry about that here.)
“The hot tub becomes an unplugged zone,” Stencavage said. “Something we don’t promote enough is that kids really open up and tell you what’s going on when you’re spending time one-on-one in the hot tub.”
Older folks are looking for relief from daily aches and pains. Hot tubs can provide some enhanced vitality for people not ready to admit they’re becoming less active, Stencavage said.
The entertainment and relaxation component is a big draw regardless of age.
Stencavage said he and his wife used to use their hot tub for socializing. Now, it’s a nice reward at the end of shoveling.
Connor has noticed sales have dipped given the poor economy the last few years — but interest hasn’t.
In the 1980s, there was only about a one-percent ownership rate in New Hampshire for hot tubs, compared to some parts of California where the rate was 27 percent. Since then, hot tubs have become more and more popular in the Granite State.
The sauna effect
A sauna is more specifically geared toward wellness and detoxification. It’s a good way to work up a natural sweat — Stencavage said it’s why women in Sweden and Finland have such great-looking skin. “It’s a part of their culture over there,” he said. Saunas also help people burn calories more efficiently.
“It’s a mild form of exercise,” Stencavage said.
Many people will hop into a sauna before or after exercise or before bed — it can be particularly relaxing, Stencavage said, adding that a stop in the sauna might alleviate the need for a pill in helping people fall asleep. As your body naturally cools back down after a sauna, drowsiness is induced.
Back to hot tubs
With all the snow that’s fallen this year and with winter not feeling any shorter in New Hampshire, hot tubs provide relief from the cold, especially if you’re relaxing on a deck or patio in a hot tub as the snow is softly falling around you, Stencavage said.
“A lot of people dread winter, unless they have a hot tub outdoors…,” Stencavage said. “If it gets dark at 4 p.m. … but it’s a starry night, and you have light snowfall to look forward to, go outside and be outdoors, and be perfectly comfortable as long as you want to.”
“There’s always a romantic angle to it, of course,” Connor said.
The one big thing Stencavage said he hears from customers is that they wish they hadn’t waited so long to get a hot tub.
They say, “If I had known it would be so restorative, and good for the relationship…,” Stencavage said, adding he’s seeing previous hot tub owners buying a hot tub for their new home before they set up cable and other appliances.
Many dealers offer a chance to try out a hot tub before you buy.
Stencavage said people are happier when they’re investing in experiences rather than just material goods.
“A hot tub is just a box of hot water,” Stencavage said. “But what it represents is so much more.”
Things to consider
Connor recommends always trying out a hot tub in advance. Energy-efficiency is one factor to consider, along with a quality service contract and warranty.
Most hot tubs are portable, so they can be set up just about anywhere. There’s no plumbing to connect — just fill them up with water.
Spalifehottubs.com has a list of frequently asked questions for prospective consumers.
Connor suggested taking into account how many people are going to be using the hot tub at once. If you’ll frequently be entertaining for six or more people, a three-person hot tub isn’t going to cut it.
Connor also suggested being aware of what seem like too-good-to-be-true deals, particularly online deals. They probably are, he said.
Hot air balloons
Sail in the clear winter sky
By Adam Coughlin
For hundreds of years, man strove to harness flight. But there is only one form of aviation that truly resembles the silent, graceful flight of a bird: the hot air balloon.
“The best way to explain it,” said Tony Sica, owner of High 5 Ballooning in Derry, “is that you put yourself in a bucket and God lifts you up and you look around.”
Sica said hot air ballooning is unique because it is the only form of aviation that is silent. There is no hum of an engine or whirr of a propeller. Riders are simply floating through the sky in a motionless air craft.
It is this quiet glide that Sica says puts many riders at ease. He said some 30 percent to 40 percent of his clients say they have a fear of heights. But in reality it is more of a fear of falling — a fear they do not experience in a hot air balloon.
Sica told the story of a young couple who was going to be married soon and the woman wanted to honeymoon in Martinique but the man was too scared to fly there. Yet the she was able to convince him to try a hot air balloon ride.
“When he got in, the basket was shaking because he was so nervous,” Sica said. “I told him to give himself some time.”
It worked. Within 20 minutes the man was having a blast. This was typical, Sica said. What wasn’t typical was when the woman called Sica two months later and said not only did they fly to Martinique but they went paragliding while they were there and the man recently signed up to sky dive.
“He loved being in the sky,” Sica said. “The balloon allowed him to do it without fear. Historically it is the safest aircraft.”
Yet the history of hot air balloons is riddled with fear.
Like the airplane, the hot air balloon was created by two brothers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Etienne Montgolfier in the 1780s. But, as Sica said, only one brother was crazy enough to ride in the contraption. The French king pardoned condemned prisoners and let them fly — “If they lived, they got to walk,” Sica said. “If they died, well they were going to die anyway.” Many lived, but the question arose: what is the best use for a hot air balloon?
“Naturally, governments tried to turn it into a weapon,” Sica said.
In theory, a hot air balloon provided a huge strategic advantage because you could see enemy troops. Unfortunately, it was too unpredictable and lacked control. If the wind blew in the wrong direction the hot air balloon basically became useless.
The modern hot air balloon, with an onboard heat source, came into existence in the 1950s and was built by Ed Yost. Sica said it was once again tried as a weapon but once again failed. This final failure would relegate the hot air balloon to a recreational activity. The problem, according to Sica, is the expense.
“Hot air ballooning is dying out,” Sica said. “Because of costs.”
There are only about eight manufacturers of hot air balloons in the world, according to Sica, and as a result a hot air balloon can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $75,000. But so can a boat. The difference, according to Sica, is insurance. If a hot air ballooner wants to take even just his friends for a ride, insurance costs skyrocket. To compensate, many get a commercial license.
While the summer may seem like the ideal time, in fact, many hot air balloon companies fly year round, as long as there is a clearing to take off and land. Unfortunately, January’s heavy snow has made that more difficult.
Yet, A & a Balloon Rides, also in Derry, is offering a special deal for Valentine’s Day.
“It is a special romantic occasion,” said A & a owner Andre Boucher. “A hot air balloon ride is peaceful and relaxing. You move with the wind.”
Boucher said he only flies at sunrise and two hours before the sun sets because that is when the winds are the calmest.
Sica said 90 percent of his clients are couples and many are middle-aged. He said many have it on their bucket list. It can be expensive — Sica charges $200 per person — “But it is a memory that lasts a lifetime,” Sica said.
Make your own meal at the table
By Angel Roy
To escape the cold winter weather and keep your love simmering this Valentine’s Day, treat yourself to some traditional Asian hot pot. An interactive dining experience, hot pot allows guests to cook their own food at the dinner table.
“It’s pretty fun,” said Bastian DiCaprio, owner of San Francisco Kitchen in Nashua, of hot pot, which he calls “Shabu Shabu” at his eatery. “It lets you work together as a team.”
DiCaprio first experienced hot pot during a visit to Japan four years ago, in a village whose members attributes their long life expectancy to their diet, among other things. When he expanded San Francisco Kitchen, he decided to try out the dining style in the Gate City.
For hot pot, guests may opt for thin cuts of fresh raw beef, chicken, seafood and, at San Francisco Kitchen, ostrich, as their main courses, to be accompanied by plates of raw vegetables and other sides, including bok choy, mushrooms, tofu and udon noodles.
At San Francisco Kitchen, a metal pot divided into halves is filled with a miso vegetable broth — a popular fermented tofu soup that is very high in protein and mild in flavor — and spicy kimchee base, a fermented cabbage broth, is placed on the table’s built-in induction burner. At Asian Breeze in Hooksett, which also serves hot pot, the waitstaff first brings over a propane burner, then a large metal pot filled with both plain and spicy seafood broth. Asian Breeze owner John Wu noted that hot pot can be a little complicated on the service side because it is not like a regular dish where servers typically only make one visit to the table to drop off an entrée.
Once pots and broths are in place, diners are instructed as to how to cook their meal. Meat, DiCaprio said, should be dipped in the simmering broth — which he said reaches the boiling point — for two seconds for a pink center or five seconds for a brown center. Seafood, chicken and pork, he said, should be cooked for 30 to 90 seconds, and leafy greens and ostrich for 10 to 30 seconds. Fish, he added, should be cooked until it begins to appear flaky.
“It all depends on how you like it cooked,” he continued, adding that the whole hot pot experience can last more 40 minutes, as guests like to take their time as part of the fun.
Chopsticks and tongs are used for dipping food into the broths, as are strainers with long handles so that guests can keep their food from floating around the pot.
The less hot the water, the longer it will take your meal to cook. Cook time is also contingent on how much food is kept in the pot at one time.
“Some people put everything in at once and that keeps the water from boiling, so it takes longer to heat up,” DiCaprio said. “If you let the broth boil first and put your food in little by little, it will keep good.”
After the meat and vegetables are cooked, many guests use a ladle to sip the broth as a soup. The broth, DiCaprio said, absorbs the flavors of the foods cooked in it.
“It ends up being a very good soup,” he said.
Wu noted that eating hot pot style serves as an easy and healthy meal choice.
“If you want vegetables, meat, mushrooms and tofu, you don’t have to cook everything separately,” Wu said. “The pot saves you some time.”
The meal, he said, is healthy because the food is not deep fried or cooked by stir-fry style and no oil is used in preparation. The Chinese-style barbecue sauce that is offered with hot pot at Asian Breeze contains fish and serves as a good source of Omega-3, Wu added.
Skis, spas and escapes
By Tori Loubier
Every winter, we long for a getaway. Here are some ways to celebrate a weekend away throughout this month and in March, to keep things hot on Valentine’s Day and beyond.
Outdoors and in love
Up north, Bretton Woods is offering a fun choice: on Saturday, Feb. 12, couples can participate in the Sweethearts’ Chocolate Tour during the day or the Sweethearts’ Moonlight Nordic Ski and Snowshoe Tour. Both are self-guided.
The Chocolate Tour is available between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and can be completed on cross-country skis or snowshoes; pick up a tour map and make six stops for a total fee of $10. Start at the Mount Washington Hotel and traverse to the Bretton Arms Inn, the Lodge, the AMC Highland Center, the Yurt and back to the Bretton Woods Nordic Center, according to Peter Smith, director of the Nordic Center. At each location, there is homemade chocolate.
“Each stop is accessible by skiing,” Smith said. “They can do it on snowshoes as well, but it will definitely be an all-day event.”
The Moonlight Nordic Ski and Snowshoe tour begins at 7 p.m.; couples guide themselves on snowshoes or skis along a candlelit wooded path. Afterward, there will be hot chocolate and treats to enjoy indoors.
Bretton Woods offers rentals for couples needing snowshoes or skis; Smith advises arriving an hour early to rent. Call 278-3322 or visit www.brettonwoods.com.
For an outdoorsy celebration further south, Charmingfare Farm in Candia offers one-hour horse-drawn sleigh rides every Saturday through March 5.
“It’s very romantic. You have a private sleigh, cuddling and a blanket,” said John Pyteraf, manager at Charmingfare Farm. “We have miles of trails. If you love animals and you want the scenery, you can do the ride during the day. Of if you want something more romantic, you can go during the night with the moon and the lanterns lighting the road.”
“You see all this wildlife just playing in the snow…it’s exceptional,” Pyteraf said.
Charmingfare Farm witnessed 11 proposals on a recent weekend.
“I always tell the gentleman ... to pack a duffle bag, hide the champagne and the ring beneath a blanket. When you find a great stop, ask the driver to hold up for a minute and then just hope for the best,” Pyteraf said.
If you want to devote a weekend to pleasing your taste buds, you’re in luck. Two locations in New Hampshire are offering excuses to treat your sweet tooth or express your inner oenophile.
The Wild Orchard Guest Farm in Deerfield is hosting a weekend of all things chocolate on Feb. 13 & 14 led by master chocolatier (and occasional Hippo writer) Rich Tango-Lowy. Guests can sign up for a two-day stay at this bed-and-breakfast with chocolate tasting, wine drinking and music. Call 424-0713.
Or take a weekend trip to the Seacoast to enjoy the Winter Wine Festival at Wentworth by the Sea in Portsmouth until Feb. 26. Valentine’s Day weekend will host wine-maker Peter Merriam on Friday; Saturday will feature “Black Diamond Truffles and Coastal Pinot Noirs,” followed by Domaine Chandon Bubbles and Jazz Brunch on Sunday morning, and a Veuve Cliquot Grand Vintner’s dinner on Monday night. Following weekends will include Joe Carr of Joseph Carr Wines and guest chef Earl Anthony Morse of Bedford Village Inn on Feb. 18; and on Saturday, Feb. 26, a grand closing celebration, with music, food and wine from the previous six weeks.
Visit www.winterwinefestival.com to reserve your weekend.
Got to get away
“Warm-weather destinations are a tall order in the winter,” said Nick Wallmer, manager of the Concord AAA office. But it’s doable.
If you’re looking to lay out in the sun for a few days, Wallmer suggests Florida or the Bahamas. “You need to go further south to really get good weather,” he said. “If you want a funky or unique weekend, fly into Miami ... or drive down to Key West for a neat town with lots of social life.”
If your job can afford you the luxury, make it a long weekend.
“You want at least two or three nights to be restful and make your trip enjoyable,” Wallmer said.
If you are unable to take extra days off, Wallmer suggests making a weekend out of New York City or Montreal. “The Westminster Dog Show will be going on Feb. 14 — that could be a great getaway for a Valentine’s Day weekend,” he said. “Then explore midtown Manhattan and take advantage of a play.”
For any weekend away, Wallmer suggests being flexible with your destination choices.
“It’s hard to last-minute book these days,” he said, but “Keep an open mind and you will find something that will meet your needs.” Call Wallmer at 228-0301 to find your own piece of sunlight.