The Forum's guide to Valentine's gift ideas from cottage and small businesses

Roses and mass-produced chocolates are great, but a carefully chosen, one-of-a-kind gift shows that you put a lot of thought into it - and into the receiver of the gift. Here's a list of 5 specific gift ideas (plus a few bonus ideas) from local small and home-based businesses.

Christine Hamre has started Gingersnap Vegan Bakery, her own home-based vegan bakery in Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

Sorry, Amazon.

Bigger isn't always better.

When it comes to Valentine's Day, the pressure is on to find something special and unique. Red roses and mass-produced chocolates are great, but a carefully chosen, one-of-a-kind gift shows that you put a lot of thought into it - and into the receiver of the gift.

The best source for those types of gifts are usually small businesses, cottage industries and DIY-ers. With that in mind, we've compiled a far-from-definitive list of gift ideas from local small enterprises.

Breakable chocolate hearts

Bolstered by TikTok videos and social-media influencers like Kim Kardashian, the breakable chocolate heart has become the must-have item of 2021.


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Elizabeth Denning, a marketing specialist by day, spends many evenings lately filling orders to mold these cake-sized geometric hearts from high-quality milk, dark or white chocolate. She includes mallets so lovers can break open the tempered chocolate shell to feast on a bounty of goodies inside.

The romantic confections are customizable: Customers can choose any message to garnish the hearts and can request to fill them with everything from Starbursts and truffles to Ferrero Roche chocolates and chocolate chip cookies.

Denning packages the hearts nicely in a cake box and can include add-ons like chocolate-covered strawberries and chocolate-dunked Oreos.

She says she “just got obsessed with chocolate work,” after taking a class on hot chocolate bombs.

She points out that her tempered chocolate creations stand out from similar, mass-produced hearts in that she never uses cheaper ingredients like almond bark.

Denning also dreams of opening a storefront someday. “I think there’s an untapped market here for it,” she says.

Vegan chocolate bakery sampler

What better way to express your love for the vegan in your life than through a decadent assortment of dairy- and egg-free chocolate baked goods?


Some of the treat selection from Christine Hamre's Gingersnap Vegan Bakery in Moorhead. David Samson / The Forum

Gingersnap Founder Christine Hamre says she started baking vegan after realizing how many of her own long-term health issues disappeared when she eliminated dairy and eggs from her diet.

She modifies her goodies with flax eggs, oat milk and plant butters, producing cakes and cookies that taste just like those made with animal products. “When my recipes get a thumbs up from my non-vegan uber-picky husband I know they're winners,” she jokes.

Formed in October, Gingersnap is a registered cottage food producer in Minnesota. The name is a tribute to her grandmother, who always kept family members well-stocked with her ginger cookies.

Hamre also makes a variety of bars, iced sugar cookies and candy. For a small up charge, she can make items gluten-free - with the exception of her cinnamon rolls. The bakery, along with another side business of making weighted blankets, allows her to work from home so she can take care of her 12-year-old daughter, who has special needs.

“I’ve always liked doing entrepreneurial things,” she says.

Saucy, not Salty Sauces

Perhaps the best way to give your heart to someone is to help them protect their heart.
That’s why a basket of locally made Saucy, Not Salty condiments could be the perfect Cupid’s gift for the person who loves barbecue, but needs to watch their diet.

The sauces were concocted by Mary Wojtalewicz, who developed this side gig after learning she had high blood pressure.


After reading lots of labels in grocery aisles, she realized how sodium-laden most American foods are.

She wasn’t satisfied with the low-sodium alternatives available, yet still longed for foods like pizza or burgers. So she began canning her own barbecue sauce, pizza sauce and ketchup.

Before long, everyone who tried her sauces was urging her to sell them. Wojtalewicz had found a way to pack the condiments with spices, so they were flavorful, without being salty.

That’s why 2 tablespoons of Saucy, Not Salty barbecue sauce contain 80 milligrams of sodium, while 2 tablespoons of a well-known barbecue sauce contain 290 milligrams of sodium.

She now sells her sauces as a registered cottage food producer in Moorhead, and plans to unveil two new barbecue sauces and a taco sauce soon.

As she says: “Keep the flavor, lose the salt, and love your heart.”

Funny singing telegrams

There is perhaps no greater tribute to love than the sight of a Russian, disco-dancing deejay, sporting a towering fur hat while playing that ethereal instrument of the angels: the accordion.

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Aimee Klein, who has a background in improv, music and sketch-comedy writing, has been delivering funny singing telegrams for 10 years, and her ability to make people laugh may be needed more than ever after the most unfunny year in American history.

Klein will unveil any of a cast of comical characters to present a musical message of sweet amore, including Hildegaard Von Bangen, German doctor of love and polka music; Natasha Vodkavitch, wacky Russian host of KGBTV and lover of disco music, and Francine, a former silent-film star who will frequently act out scenes from films she feels she should have been cast in.

Klein’s improv background comes in handy during performances, in which she’ll belt out a requested song, but also improvise lyrics based on special information provided beforehand on the “victim, er, recipient.”

Klein says her performances are ideal for “kiddos, grandparents or the keeper of your heart,” as well as anyone with a deep appreciation for David Hasselhoff.

Bath bombs, hot cocoa bombs

  • From $4 to $6 apiece
  • Sweet Serendipity, Fargo
  • Order at
  • Order by: Friday, Feb. 12 (must order ASAP for shipping)
  • Will deliver for small fee.

Cindy Kungel jokes that as much as she posts on social media about bombs, “I’m probably on the FBI’s watch list.”

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But Kungel builds bombs of a much gentler variety, from fizzy bath bombs in a variety of shapes, scents and colors, to the popular hot chocolate bombs - those little spheres of tempered chocolate that, when splashed with hot milk or another hot beverage, melt to reveal hot chocolate mix, marshmallows and other sweet surprises inside.

No one seems more surprised than Kungel about the success of her Sweet Serendipity sideline. As her job in child-support enforcement can be stressful, she started making bath supplies six years ago to flex her creative side. They were so popular she started selling them at vendor shows.


The cocoa bombs were a more recent venture. She tried some before Christmas and posted them on social media, just for fun. “I had so many orders I had to stop taking them about a week before Christmas,” she says. “I didn’t have time to do shopping or anything.”

She’s made beverage bombs that look like chocolate doughnuts, honeybee cocoa bombs and hot tea bombs, which are tea bags encased in translucent bubbles of sugar. They can be challenging to make, but she says she still has a lot of fun making them.

Check out samples of her work on Instagram: @indulge_bath_bombs

Also cool and cottage-y:

  • Cheryl Lynn jewelry is the intricate handiwork of Cheryl Lynn Ingberg, a long-time resident of Loon Lake in the Vergas, Minn., area, and a jewelry artist specializing in sterling silver and other metals. She apprenticed with professional gold and silversmiths while very young and has designed her jewelry with genuine stones, pearls and other natural materials for over 40 years. Ingberg has also designed a line of animal-themed jewelry that is ideal for the pet-lover in your life. Besides two store locations in Vergas, her work can be found at and . Contact her at or (218)342-3885.

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  • Dakota Vines is a mom-and-pop winery, which is located by Colfax, N.D., and specializes in cold-climate grapes and fruit wines. It is run by educators Bob and Deb Grosz, who say their bestselling reds are Mighty Bison (Marquette grape wine) and Roughrider (Frontenac grape vine) and their top whites are Flickertail (Brianna grape wine, available in semi-sweet and off dry) and Prairie Sky (La Crescent grape wine). Grape wines are $18.99/bottle and can be ordered online for pickup at the winery or delivery (you must be at home to receive the package): or .



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  • Lori Stahl of Dakota Rustics/Crafted with Care makes and sells wreaths and floral arrangements for all holidays, ranging in price from $35 to $80. Each wreath is one-of-a-kind. Stahl also makes cakes, cupcakes, cookies and candy bouquets for any occasion. She delivers if customers are in or around the Carrington/Glenfield area. For customers who live farther away, she will ship nationwide within the continental USA for a minimal shipping fee. Check out her Etsy site at

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Tammy has been a storyteller most of her life. Before she learned the alphabet, she told stories by drawing pictures and then dictated the narrative to her ever-patient mother. A graduate of North Dakota State University, she has worked as a Dickinson, N.D., bureau reporter, a Bismarck Tribune feature writer/columnist, a Forum feature reporter, columnist and editor, a writer in NDSU's Publications Services, a marketing/social media specialist, an education associate in public broadcasting and a communications specialist at a nonprofit.
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