By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Feb 13, 2013 at 9:04 AM Photography:

I generally err on the side of hopeless romanticism, but there’s something that rubs me wrong about Valentine’s Day.  Maybe it’s because it’s a "Hallmark" holiday. Maybe it’s because it over-emphasizes the importance of coupling. But, most likely it’s the fact that it’s become an almost ineffable excuse for materialistic consumption and nearly obligatory gift-giving.

You’ve seen the commercials. Every woman lusts after diamonds and huge bouquets of flowers. Every man covets expensive watches and jewel-studded cufflinks. And the more you spend, the more he or she will love you. Right?

In a word, no.

If you’re spending a boatload of money to impress someone this Valentine’s Day, my guess is that your heart’s not exactly in the right place. But, I’m not here to judge. 

That said, if you’re a romantic who has simply fallen prey to the wiles of procrastination, there is still hope. In fact, here are 10 genuinely romantic ways to make the most of Valentine’s Day and improve your relationship at the same time.  And not one of them will break the bank.

Get take out. Think you need to go out? Nope. Special occasion restaurants are likely to be all booked up for the evening, so take-out is probably an even better idea. Pop by the Chinese place and get his favorite moo-shu pork or that spicy dish you had on your first date. Light candles and pour a glass of dry German Riesling. Or grab sushi and eat it with chopsticks while sitting cross-legged on the floor sipping saki. Not in a relationship?  Grab a friend and do the same thing!

Make a date. Been together so long you can’t remember the last time you took time for date night?  Commit to something fun in the future – a movie night, tickets to the theater, dinner at a favorite spot. Make plans to play hooky from work on the next sunny day and take a trip to the Art Museum. The sky is the limit. Just make it fun, make a commitment to it, and give your lover something to look forward to.

Mad Libs. Think you need some quality time together? Well, there’s nothing more amusing than finishing one another’s ridiculous sentences. Grab a bottle of wine and get to it. You never know where that will head. You can even go paperless! Download the Mad-Libs iOS app online.

Cook together. I know some of you like to cook. So, why not go all out? Stop by the market after work and buy the ingredients for a romantic Italian dinner. Light candles, pour wine, and spend your evening together puttering in the kitchen. And I know it pains you, but leave the dishes for tomorrow.

Sign up for dance lessons. You want to know what’s sexy? Getting to know the way your partner moves. Fixing your two left feet. Breaking out in laughter when you just can’t move the way they do on television. And just taking the time to pay attention to one another for an hour or so each week. The Delaware House in Bay View offers a wide variety of reasonably priced classes.

Buy her flowers, but not today. Do it every day next week. Or once a month for the next year. Give her one rose a day for 12 days. Surprise her. Spend time including a sincere note telling her one thing you love about her. Trust me, she’ll love it even more than that big over-priced bouquet you were going to send over to her office.

Eat custard. Kopp’s works wonders in a pinch. Head over and order a pint of one of the flavors of the day (Grasshopper Fudge or Chocolate Cherry Kiss). Take it home and eat it while curled up on the couch watching that movie you know he or she wants to see, but that you have been resisting for weeks. The minor pain you’ll experience surviving the movie will be well worth the brownie points you’ll get for your generosity and the sugar buzz you’ll get from the custard.

Kick it old school and bring the mix tape back. Browse through his music collection and compile a playlist that you know is going to make him smile. Whether you are creating a workout mix, or a collection to help him wind down after a busy day, find songs and create a digital playlist that’s just perfect for iPod.

Make coupons for IOU’s. You think it’s cheesy, but that’s because you’ve never done it the right way.  You love this person, right? Just be nice to him or her. Fulfill a real need, not a temporary desire. Has your partner been stressed out? Why not offer to run errands, do chores or take care of the kids? If you’ve been together for a while, this could also present an opportunity for you to strengthen your relationship by offering support in unexpected ways. The catch is in the follow through. Don’t give someone a coupon for something you can’t do without complaint. 

When in doubt, chocolate is never a bad idea. Sure, it’s trite; but, it’s also delicious. Grab a box of customized truffles from Indulgence in Shorewood. Peruse the offerings at Red Elephant in the Third Ward. Or stop over and pick up an assortment of fudge at Kehr’s in the Milwaukee Public Market. Pair your loot with a bottle of wine from Thief Wine and you might end up with a more romantic evening than you anticipated.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.