Champagne and Roses
Aphrodisiacs: Experiments in a Tenuous Faith
When it comes to aphrodisiacs, I remain something of a skeptic. Chances are that if your lover doesn’t want to ravish you in the first place, force-feeding him or her a half-dozen membraneous pearls isn’t going to help. I know because I’ve tried. Yet, despite the cynicism born of failed attempts, I refuse to dismiss the idea entirely. Food and sex are simply too inextricably, anciently linked. I like them that way; I believe we all do. Certain foods, certain meals, certain methods of presentation and preparation have encouraged this tenuous faith. Sure, food might not be able to create a fire where none exists, but it could perhaps feed, manipulate, enhance an already existing flame … I recently tested this burning hypothesis on my husband.
First, a few warnings
I came to the kitchen with a heart full of a difficult wisdom: tempted as I was to pull out the terracotta pot and attempt artichoke-stuffed squab, delving into exotic cuisine and complicated preparation has only ever turned me into a flour-covered martyr. This time, I avoided all tendency to perfectionism. I urge you to do the same. It will only make you hate the meal (for being impossible) and your lover (for being insensitive to what you have endured on his or her behalf). Also, cook nothing that will make your chasms sweat, the vein in your left temple twitch, your blood pressure rise or your face blotch in asymmetrical patches. Ease is the thing, the sexy thing. Ease, elegance and a handful of ingredients. The idea is to do it all laughing, champagne in gloved hand — okay, so I could never do it laughing; champagne, on the other hand …
Libations and the art of balance and selection
Tempting as it was to use a bottle of Patrón as Cupid’s bow, I resisted the almighty urge to get him drunk. That said, libations areas essential as mood lighting and bossa nova. I attempted, therefore,to keep us teetering all night on the threshold of tipsy. In addition to not drinking too much, one must consider the type of swill one is going to elect as one’s ambrosia. It has been my experience that each alcohol breeds in me a different sort of beast (I cannot be alone on this). Naturally, only some of these beasts are good in bed.
The thing is to know thyself and thy alcohol-spawned creatures. Too much tequila and I’ll speak in tongues. Wine, on the other hand, can make me brood. Gin turns me into a bleary-eyed smirker. In the end, I chose champagne for its giddy lightness, its celebratory feel and its sexily suggestive connotations. While good champagne served in a chilled flute is, in itself, bliss, consider the following suggestions: top 4 ounces of best-quality champagne with 1/2 ounce of crème de pêche, cassis, Chambord or Midori (a melon liqueur); serve with a bowl of strawberries; place a raspberry or two or four into each flute before pouring.
Sex in a salad
Now, both of us lightly swaying, our edges pleasantly blurring, we were ready to eat. I wanted something that would sing with the champagne, something light and teasing. Something, more importantly, I could put together drunk. Salad was, I thought, a wise choice. And if I ever ate sex in the form of a salad, it was in London, at Jamie Oliver’s Fifteen. Mixed leaves with mint, peach, prosciutto and fresh buffalo mozzarella: heaven.
Though none of these ingredients are famed for their aphrodisiac properties, remember that I had long given up the idea that an artichoke leaf would somehow cause us to lunge at each other like wolves. What I was after here was something more sophisticated, an interplay of flavours and textures to tease the tongue and throw it for a loop. And indeed, the ambrosial mingle of cold, sweet peach with salty prosciutto and velvety smooth mozzarella spiked with chili and mint did indeed break the heart and stir the blood all at once, giving truth to the edict that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
Now I know that peaches aren’t exactly plentiful in February but I cannot apologize for this. Nothing is less sexy than being in the crotch of winter. Denial, I feel, is in one’s best interest.
Dinner as prelude
Essential for the second course is lightness. Dinner, in this case, is the prelude not the dénouement. It has been my experience that indulging in one’s carnivorous desires tends to quell other lusts. Why have steak when you’re going to be having each other? Besides, in this post-Atkins age, bleedingly raw meat is now on the side of angels, no longer the indulgence it once was. Carbs are the quintessential sin now. Which, of course, makes them sexy (they were always sexy).
To me, the sexiest carb by far is pasta. And below is undoubtedly the sexiest pasta I have ever eaten. Adapted from Anna del Conte’s Gastronomy Italy, it’s the tongue-teasing surprise of herbs and lemon-infused cream that does it. While I demand you use fresh basil, rosemary and thyme, you can use all the additional herbs you might like. Thyme and rosemary for no other reason than how fabulous they are, but basil for its alleged aphrodisiac properties. Supposedly, it drives men wild. Women, in fact, used to dust their breasts with it. While I wouldn’t go that far, I am the sort of skeptic who still says her prayers from time to time and throws in a pinch or two for good measure.
Dessert instead of my husband
Having done the honey-drizzled fig, the bowl of bruised raspberries, the Spanish mango eaten on the balcony of a Paris apartment, I can safely say that the ultimate sex-inducing stuff for me is and always will be chocolate. Even eaten alone, in the blue-white glare of bad television, chocolate can be transformative. It is an ingredient so deeply anchored in its libido-enhancing myth that we must yield simply to it.
The Mayans worshipped the cacao tree, calling it “food of the gods.” Aztec ruler Montezuma reportedly drank fifty goblets of chocolate each day to enhance his sexual abilities. Chocolate is known to contain phenylethylamine and serotonin, both “feel-good” chemicals that occur naturally in the body, which when released by the brain produce a euphoric feeling,much like that of being in love. What I’m saying is: there are nights when I would rather have chocolate than my husband.
The following chocolate pots, stolen from Nigella Lawson, are dead easy and fabulous. So easy in fact that I forgive them for requiring some advance preparation. The addition of allspice, Lawson claims, adds a vague Aztec-ish quality that you will no doubt be drunk enough to imagine, if not actually taste.
And now the burning question
Can a cocktail-laced feast turn one’s husband into a creature with come-hither eyes, slithering ever closer while you coyly recline? Not necessarily. In fact, if neither of you are in the mood, it won’t even make you blink more rapidly at each other from opposite shores of the couch. But if there is a flame to be fed, certainly this is a feast that may just do the trick.