Go completely off the grid this Valentine’s Day with a warming tiki party to take the edge off both the weather and the over-the-top romantic shtick of the day itself.
Valentine’s Day really asserts its presence every February, with that red-white-pink motif making cameos in the workplace, the supermarket, and the drugstore. Whether you want to engage with it or not, whether you’re heartbroken or not—whoomp, there it is.
I’m of two minds about the holiday: It’s a good opportunity to indulge in luxe food like caviar and steak… but I don’t need a holiday for that. (Nor do I to celebrate romantic love.) And I’m sort of a sucker for its cheesy potential. In college, I once ordered heart-shaped pepperoni pizza, put on a shimmy black dress, and dragged my boyfriend to a James Bond film. But most years I’m either oblivious to V Day or I cook at home; to my mind, the night often a way for restaurants to eke more money out of diners for lesser-quality food. Or I celebrate my friends, and although I like the concept of Leslie Knope’s famous “Galentine’s Day,” in which women celebrate their gal friends over frittatas, I’m not a fan of its execution. I love my women friends, but an all-lady party—no matter the orientation of its attendees—often turns, conversationally, to love lives. (As much as I’m a feminist, I’ve had book clubs that have turned into dissections of first online dates within four minutes.) This can be brutal for the heartbroken and the lovelorn.
So celebrate your friends a different way; throw an all-gender, all-orientation fiesta the night of Valentine’s Day. Make it an early happy hour, since it’s a school night. Be sure all your single friends are on the list, but if a couple sneaks in, that’s OK, too. And go overboard. Not on pricey things—you don’t need to do Champagne and caviar—but like a politician, change the conversation. Give everyone a break from stuffed bears and “Are you dating anyone?”
Throw a tiki party! Walking into a room and seeing everyone there wearing a lei—which you bought for 40 cents a pop or less—says “it’s party time.” It’s silly, but it lightens the mood of guests. Make a big punch in a pretty bowl, using an ice ring to keep it cold all night. (I like this easy, bright lemony rum punch.) This will keep you out of the kitchen, let people help themselves, and create a “water cooler” vibe so folks chitchat. And for goodness sake, invite both genders, but don’t call it a mixer or a singles’ party. If love happens over overproof rum, just take the credit later, once the duo has purchased their first stressful piece of IKEA furniture.
For food, keep the tropical angle going. With all due respect to Hawaii, I wouldn’t serve Spam, but I would serve pigs in blankets. Just buy crescent roll dough, wrapping it around mini hot dogs or full-sized franks you’ve chopped into 2-inch lengths, and bust out a sheet pan at a time as people arrive. Put them on a platter and have one of your chattiest friends walk around with it, flirting and making introductions.
Try to do something sweet, too, if you have time. I like to make a pineapple upside-down cake, which is yummy and retro and looks cool. You’ll want napkins, so get some with a tropical theme (or better yet, flamingos). For music, put on surf (Dick Dale and Man or Astroman? are personal favorites), reggae or rock steady (such as Desmond Dekker or Toots and the Maytals). In a pinch, Prince will always get people moving.
Because on Valentine’s Day, whether or not you’re single, you need a break from both the ubiquitous red-white-and-pink calico and the brisk February weather. Warm it up with something tropical, joyful, and irrelevant to the holiday. Your singleton buddies will be grateful.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Martha Stewart Living, Travel & Leisure, New York Magazine, and Epicurious. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @alexvanburen.