5 Simple Outdoor Date Ideas for Valentine’s Day

Creative, frugal, and romantic: the ideal date descriptives we aspire for on Valentine’s Day. Unfortunately, many-a-couple will get sucked down the whirlpool of cliche, costly, and cheesy, made inevitable by checking off the flowers-chocolate-Hallmark card-and-dinner list. I can hear you sighing over your own predictability. But it’s not too late to bring some fresh air to your date plans–literally.

Check out these five outdoor adventure styled dates that will help you achieve that personal, romantic, and wallet-friendly Valentine’s Day you’ve been dreaming of (and, don’t worry, you don’t have to be an Eagle Scout or a Dawn Wall climber to enjoy any of these activities).

Stargazing

IMG_3743

Before you quip that this date idea is just as cliche as a candlelight dinner, let me explain: there’s the “really-easy-obvious” way to do stargazing, and then there’s the “super-awesome-sweet-and-snuggly” way to do stargazing. This method is still fairly simple, but involves some important prep-time to make this date unique.

This is your new Stargazing Gameplan:

  1. Find the ideal stargazing spot. If you live in the mountains, this may be in your backyard or a 20 minute drive away. But if you live in the city or a valley, you will need to determine the closest drive to the area with the least amount of smog and light pollution.
  2. Know the best time to go out–just because the sun went down doesn’t mean it’s primetime for stargazing yet. Find out at this site when the moon will rise on February 14th, and whether or not the phase will be outshining the stars.
  3. BLANKETS. BLANKETS BLANKETS. Is stargazing in February possible without at least one blanket?
  4. Take advantage of that quiet-back-porch or nighttime-windy-road ambience and max it out by making a soft, sweet playlist of you and your date’s favorite music to play in the background.
  5. Get a little nerdy; Google up some astronomy. So instead of saying, “Hm, I wonder if that’s a constellation,” you’ll actually know. Better yet, get an actual book on constellations so you can carry it along with you. There’s also a constellation app available for all you app people.
  6. Get a little more nerdy. Ever wonder why a constellation or a star has its name? Ancient cultures created mythologies for the celestial map, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Chinese, and Greeks. Learn a few of these stories before your night out (check out Perseus & Andromeda, or Orion) and exchange them with your date. 
  7. Don’t forget to prepare some hot drinks!

Bonus style points: Stargazing from the bed of a pickup truck, on top of a water tower, or in a boat at the middle of a lake.

Build a Quinzhee

IMG_5995

For those of you living in a place with snow (the struggle is REAL in California this winter), you are in the ideal position to make that romantic snow fort–or Quinzhee–happen. A Quinzhee is basically like an Igloo, except much easier to make. Depending on where you live, this could take place near your house or during a weekend in the backcountry–and all you need are two snow shovels.

The simplified steps of building a Quinzhee:

  1. Shovel a ton of snow into a huge pile.
  2. Pack down the snow mountain as much as you can.
  3. Let the snow settle for a few hours, during which lunch and a snowball fight are recommended.
  4. Carve out a cave in the mound of settled snow.

This video will further explain how to properly make a Quinzhee.

Bonus style points: Prepare soup or chili beforehand to bring as a warm celebration meal to eat inside the Quinzhee. And hot drinks.

Hug a Tree

IMG_2389

Do you have a serious nature lover in your life? Better yet, are you BOTH serious nature lovers? Why not do some nature lovin’ for your Valentine’s date? Why worry about buying the right color of roses when you can’t go wrong with shrinking your carbon footprint?

Five ways to make your inner hippies happy:

  1. Instead of driving to the store to buy a Valentine’s Day card, make your own homemade note out of materials you already have at home.
  2. Pick up trash at a local park or beach, or volunteer your time to clean up a hiking trail.
  3. Plant a tree, or start a garden.
  4. Be doubly environmentally and socially conscious by not purchasing flower bouquets. Instead, cut from your own garden, buy a pot of organic flowers, or hike to a meadow (but remember to practice Leave No Trace by letting the wildflowers stay where they are!).
  5. Bike or walk to your date spot.

Bonus style points: Make that dinner date at a Vegan cafe or restaurant.

Like-a-Hipster-in-a-Museum Day Hike

IMG_3670

They slowly peruse the walls of art, with their trendy clothes and a camera slung about their neck–those hipsters. We might judge them a little for their show, but maybe we can learn a few style points from them…in this case, meshing their methods with a day hike to make it unique, different…and perhaps a little hipster?

How to day hike like a hipster in a museum:

Step 1: Choose a moderate hike with a comfortable length for you and your significant other. This hike isn’t going to be training you for Mt. Everest; it’s about spending time with your loved one more than conquering that mound of dirt or taking care of your calorie count.

Step 2: Keep the frame in mind that you’re treating this hike like you’re walking through a museum; take your time. If you or your partner sees something of interest on the trail–animal tracks, wildflowers, a hidden view, a funky lookin’ tree, etc.–stop and look at it, explore it (keeping LNT practices in mind), have an existential crisis about it–whatever it is. Take a picture or two.

Step 3: Bring a disposable camera and use all of the exposures–after the hike, get the film developed and see how your pics turned out. Other options include using a Polaroid camera, or just your phone, so long as the challenge is that you won’t look at the pictures until after the end of the hike.

Step 4: Pack a sack lunch or snack with a blanket to share at the top of the hike. You can be as thrifty or extravagant as you want with this one, but remember you get bonus hipster points for bringing an offbeat bottled drink.

Step 5: Don’t forget the Valentine’s notes–something homemade or handwritten, perhaps, or some of those Valentine’s you’d give to someone in third grade; whatever speaks to your hipster-at-heart best.

Adventure in the Concrete Jungle

IMG_0086

Clearly, you don’t need a week-long backpacking trip in the wilderness to plan a romantic outdoorsy excursion with your significant other. But what if you just can’t escape the city or suburbia? Here are a few ideas of how to adventure in that concrete jungle: 

  1. Pack a picnic lunch, some books, and/or a frisbee, and enjoy at the neighborhood park. Bonus style points for bringing a hammock.
  2. Plan a date at the climbing gym (maybe this one isn’t “outside,” per se, but it’s pretty darn adventurous for being indoors). Not sure about climbing? Gyms provide challenges for all levels of climbers, as well as technique classes you can sign up for with your date. Belaying also helps practice trust and communication with your partner. 
  3. Bike ride option A: ride together to a favorite cafe or dinner date spot.
  4. Bike ride option B: ride to a local department store for a spontaneous shopping spree, under an agreed dollar limit. Buy a LEGO set or puzzle to build/solve together after the ride back. Or pick out a random CD based on the cover art to listen to as you sit around a space heater. Or find a comic book to read together next to the fireplace. Or maybe buy some cheap t-shirts to draw all over and make each other wear for the rest of the day. So many options…
  5. Stoke up a bonfire in a fire pit on your patio. Complete the picture with a string of twinkle lights and fixings for s’mores.

Sense that inspiration smile creeping on your face? Now that you have all these fun ideas, you can throw out that old flowers-chocolate-Hallmark card-dinner checklist for a plan much more adventurous. And who says you need to be in a relationship to do any of these? Get together with a group of your single friends and have some fun–and make sure to exchange those corny-cute third-grade Valentine’s with them, too.

Date everything cookies

Let’s enter in the daydreams of Jenn for a moment here–the by-myself-staring-at-a-random-object sort of daydreaming–kay?

So, I’m a college girl, and what does a college girl think about all the time? Her future husband…of course. I’ll be all like staring at a tree and then wondering Geez, I wonder what he’ll be like? And then I go through the possible options; Maybe he’ll be a surfer-longboard type of dude,or one of those artsy-photographer types, or a rocker band guy…man, I really like rocker band guys…And then, of course, I analyze enough to wonder what it would be like to have to choose between a surfer-longboard dude, arsty-photographer man, or a rocker band guy if each one of them came up and stuck a ring in my face. And then I have to get myself to stop thinking…

But, apparently I’m the same way with cookies. There are SO many things I could put in a cookie; walnuts…peanut butter chips…M&Ms…Dark chocolate…white chocolate…apples…Geez, so many choices! Why can’t I have it all?

So this is what happened–do you remember that Oatmeal Date Cookie recipe I posted a while ago? Well…I took that recipe and decided to shovel my whole pantry in it. Well…maybe not all of it. Because there are definitely not pita chips in these. But just about everything else is in there.

Dates. Shredded coconut. Bananas. Unsweetened chocolate bits. Walnuts. And OH MY GOODNESS, oatmeal!

Oh, and guess, guess, guess how much sugar is in these? 3/4 a cup of brown sugar. That’s it. Half of what a normal recipe would have. And guess how much butter? Only 1/4 a cup. Which is a quarter of what normal oatmeal cookies have. No, I’m not lying! Geez. Why would I lie to you?

Best part? These cookies are just…amazing. Haha, yeah, I know! Who needs sugar when you have dates? Talk about candy that grows on trees…

Okay! Full recipe, right here, right now–

Cream:
1/4 cup butter
3/4 cup dark brown sugar

Beat in 2 eggs

Blend in:
1/2 cup ripe mashed banana
1/4 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup lowfat plain yogurt
3-1/4 tsp. vanilla

Add in:
1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
heaping 1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. cinnamon

Mix in 2 cups of white whole wheat flour (aka whole wheat pastry flour)

Stir in 3 cups of oatmeal

Now for the fun goodness stuff! Stir in:
heaping 1/2 cup of shredded coconut
1 cup chopped dates
rounded 1/2 cup of chopped unsweetened baking chocolate
1 banana, split into thirds and then cut into pieces
1 cup walnuts

Bake at 350 degrees for about 12 minutes.

Dang, there’s a party going on in those cookies.

So, eat these warm, eat them out of the freezer, or do what I’m going to do and take them with me on a backpacking trip (who needs Clif bars?) and try not to worry about the fact that I can’t do the same thing with men that I can do with cookies.

I Go to the Barn Because I Like the Oatmeal Date Cookies

Band of Horses has this song called “I Go to the Barn Because I Like the.”

Now, I love this song, it’s one of those “let’s go sit on a swing tied to a tree in the middle of a moonlit field” sort of songs. Melancholy, sad, chill, nostalgic.

But, to be honest,  I can’t help feeling kind of bothered that I’m not really told why the writer likes to go to the barn. “Because I Like the”…what? What is it? Why won’t you tell me?

I was listening to this song while I was baking today, though, and I think I figured it out.

Band of Horses is hiding something…in the barn, I mean. Cookies. They’re hiding cookies in the barn.

Bear with me here.

I was baking cookies, trying out a new recipe, and I used butter, eggs, yogurt, and buttermilk. Everything that comes from a barn, hence…Band of Horses goes to the barn because they like cookies.

And you would go sneaking off to the barn too, if you found these cookies there.

These cookies are just whoa. Think coffee cake meets granola bar. Dates, oatmeal, cinnamon, vanilla, coconut, allspice…secretly whole wheat and reduced fat…sounds good? Chya, that’s what I thought.

Cream together:
1/4 cup butter
1 cup packed brown sugar

Beat in 2 eggs

Add in:
3-1/4 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup low-fat plain yogurt
1/4 cup low-fat buttermilk

Mix in:
1-1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour

Stir in:
3 cups oatmeal

Finally, add in:
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped dates
rounded 1/2 cup shredded coconut

Optional: 1/2 cup bits of unsweetened baking chocolate (which will compliment the spicy sweetness with a dark, earthy flavor )

Bake at 350 degrees for about 16 minutes or until the cookies have slightly browned edges.

 Do eat these warm. Do eat them with milk. Do take them with you on a hike or a picnic. Do continue to wonder what it is in the barn that Band of Horses likes so much.

Joshua Tree Date Nut Bread

I am now convinced of two things: dates are amazing and great things come from Joshua Tree.

Not only do dates make amazing milkshakes, give cause for an awesome harvest festival down in Indio, or have 50 references in the Bible (according to Wikipedia), but they also make amazing bread.

Not only is Joshua Tree a funky-lookin’ tree…

(Photo credit not mine)

…or the name of an incredible U2 album…

…but it is also the place where my great-grandmother lived, who made fame in my family for her Date Nut Bread. So when I received a surprise care package from my aunt that featured a fine-lookin’ box of dates, I decided I must try my hand at the recipe.

The first time I made it, I ate it in four days. By myself. I wish I was joking.

I made it for the second time last Saturday, and worked up enough self-control to get it to last through the week. There’s still one piece left and I had actually shared some this time.

Fortunately for my conscience , this bread is full of natural ingredients and rather nutritious as a result of a few changes I made to my great-grandmother’s recipe. I used whole-wheat pastry flour, which adds some hearty fiber, and I substituted half of the sugar with unsweetened applesauce. The dates are the key ingredient of the bread, acting as a natural sweetener and giving it a very exotic flavor…if there is such thing as an “exotic” flavor…

First, crank the oven to preheat at 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine:
1 cup chopped dates
1 tsp. baking soda
1 cup boiling water
After stirring mixture, set aside and let cool.

…don’t worry, it’s supposed to look like something you might encounter in a college boy’s dorm room…

In a large bowl, beat together:
2 eggs
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup unsweetened natural applesauce

Stir in the date mixture. If it hasn’t cooled enough, the eggs will coagulate…and that’s bad. Frowny face :(

Hand-mix in:
2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Pour into greased loaf pan and bake from 45 minutes to 1 hour.

And check it out! Look at that fine bread!

Let’s get some natural lighting on that bad boy…oh yeah!

Just a little suggestion: I ate this for breakfast with hot Breakfast tea and a bowl of sliced banana with granola and plain yogurt (mixed with a few drops of agave nectar to sweeten it a bit)…and the combo was to die for. The experience might even have been further maximized if I had listened to U2’s The Joshua Tree at the same time…

Dates with Switchfoot

If Switchfoot asked me on a date, I imagine I would say yes. I imagine we would go surfing. Switchfoot seems like the let’s-surf-together-for-a-date type. And we would definitely get ice cream afterwards.

(Jon Foreman in the surf at Switchfoot’s Bro-Am…Photo credit not mine)

But stuff like that doesn’t really happen, which is too bad.

So instead, I went to a Switchfoot concert at a Date Festival. The Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival, that is.

Each year in the Coachella Valley, the Date Palm Harvest is celebrated by a 10-day fair festival that features the classic fair-style fried food, the spin-around-till-you-barf-all-the-fried-food-you-just-ate roller coaster rides, lots and lots of overpriced stuff to buy, and music entertainment.

Particular to the Date Festival is an Arabian theme that includes ostrich races, camel rides, a Queen Pageant, and a small showcase of exotic animals. And besides the regular fair kitsch, there are a lot of neat cultural things to buy, too, like Mexican sweaters, ponchos, and blankets, along with Native American jewelry, and hand-tooled leather purses. I definitely spent way too much time gazing over the Native American jewelry, which could have pulled me completely out of college if I had a spending problem. I did end up getting an ear cuff which probably isn’t antique at all, but it’s cute and it has a turquoise stone in it.

And, of course, what’s a Date Festival without Dates? I split a Date Shake with my roommate, and let me tell you, the hype about them is completely true. Basically, a Date Shake is a vanilla shake in it with dates (some recipes add vanilla extract, too), which I figure is somewhat akin to how Red Velvet Cupcakes are just regular cupcakes except with a major kick in them from the cocoa powder.

(Not a very good picture of a Date Shake)

Switchfoot was also kind enough to take a break from recording their new album Vice Verses and come chill with us at the Date Festival that night. Except when I say “chill with us,” I mean “they played some music on a stage and we screamed at them.”

There was plenty for us to scream about too, because the setlist was unbearably awesome, including “Stars,” “The Sound,” “Meant to Live,” “Dare You to Move,” “Bullet Soul,” “Mess of Me,” and “Your Love is a Song,” amongst many others.

If you ever have a chance to see Switchfoot…do it. The band gives a tight performance with stellar sound quality and loves to engage the crowd by directing everyone to contribute vocally during certain parts of the songs (like the whoa-ohs in “Awakening”).

And Jon Foreman can play the mandolin, featured in the song “Hello Hurricane,” which the band played for their encore.

Oh, and apparently he likes to climb things, too.

He’s one of those guys that just makes me want to smile.