Meet the people who can make your Valentine's Day go perfectly
Monica Higgins, 39, owner of Flowers by Monica Higgins, Edinburgh (0131-477 2923, www.flowersbymonicahiggins.co.uk)
"Towards the end of Valentine's Day, there's usually a tense atmosphere in our shop. It's a bit like being in an airport. For some of the men who come in, it may be the only time they visit a florist and they'll often just order the same as the man who's in front of them. We can help them with their choices, however, by asking if they know their partner's favourite colour, if she likes strong scents and whether her taste is feminine or extrovert. We tend to sell a lot of soft, romantic flowers, such as old-fashioned looking garden roses and pretty things, like tiny alliums and white narcissus.
Sometimes I'm amazed at people's budget – around 100 on a bouquet. But I also always have customers who'll buy something petite, like a couple of bunches of Cornish anemones. The gesture is no less meaningful.
When people phone up to order flowers, we have to write messages inside the accompanying cards, so we hear a few pet names. I never laugh, though. Last week we had someone calling from America, who wanted us to compose his whole message and find him an appropriate poem. If I had answered the phone, I would have told him we were far too busy for that, but the girl who was here at the time went on the internet and spent ages finding him the right Robert Burns piece."
THE CARD DESIGNER
Kate Holliday, 29, owner and designer, Sunlight on Closed Lids cards (www.sunlightonclosedlids.co.uk)
"I know my Nan and Grandad are big fans of poems in cards, but the inside of my designs are blank because I think people prefer to write their own personal messages.
I like to use bold red colours and my envelopes are scarlet, but as Valentine's Day can be schmaltzy enough I steer clear of glitter and pink. People want to say 'I love you' in a manner that they're comfortable with, rather than being overly soppy.
It's for that reason that my cards feature bold images that celebrate everyday sentiments – things that couples can actually relate to. For example, one features a pair of toothbrushes, while another has two mugs of tea and biscuits on it – both with the words You and Me on the top. However, the card with a pair of pants, alongside some boxer shorts on a washing line, is my best seller – customers prefer that one because it's a little bit cheeky.
I've had some nice feedback from people who've said that they've been framing my designs, which has made me think about creating some prints. After all, cards do tend to have a short life span and it's a lovely compliment when people hold on to them."
Introduction to Chocolate Making Workshop, 75 (Cocoa Black, Unit 7, Southpark Industrial Estate, Peebles, 01721 723764, www.cocoablack.co.uk)
Want to spoil your partner? Then treat them to a half-day at Cocoa Black, a chocolate and patisserie business established in Peebles by chef Ruth Hinks. My girlfriend Sarah and I took part in its Introduction to Chocolate Making course, which, among other things, involves watching a demonstration of how chocolate pellets (or callets), are melted – a precise process which ensures that the cocoa butter forms fat crystals, which give the finished product its brittle texture.
As I struggle to chop a formed block into neat squares, Ruth, 37, chats about her cocoa obsession: "When I was 15 years old, I made Easter eggs for friends. I took some of these to a neighbour and to my surprise they offered to buy one. It snowballed from there."
Moving on to the truffle making element of the course, Sarah and I carve out marble-sized balls of ganache. Simple. These are put aside while we dip our earlier efforts into the milk, white and dark chocolate that's bubbling in hot 'temperature baths'.
After an embarrassing amount of mess, our pralines and truffles are ready. Although it seems slightly excessive to take home three boxes and two bags' worth, we can't resist.
This article first appeared in The Scotsman, Saturday February 13, 2010