Food is sexy. Yes, yes, we're all tired of the whole "food porn" thing, and it's been done to death, but the fact remains. Food is sexy. Come on. Admit it. You've never sniffed and tasted a raw mushroom and thought to yourself that it smelled like sex? In a good way, I'm saying, not in a morning-after way. Really fresh oysters are sexy. Creamy, smelly cheeses are sexy. Wine is sexy. Sharing food with someone you are newly in love with is ridiculously sexy.
The first time I was actually embarrassed to eat something in public was in a little French bistro. I ordered a pastry (I think it was simply called walnut cake) which was made up of many layers of meringue and walnut paste and I can't remember what else. But it tasted so remarkably delicious and was so voluptuously velvety in my mouth that it made me want to moan with pleasure. I remember looking around furtively, wondering if the other diners could tell I was being transported. It was sexy, I tell you.
Sexy is one thing and the notion of aphrodisiacs is another-- it seems pretty obvious that it's not the ingredients themselves that turn us on, but the way in which we experience them. People have been using food to try to snare those they desire forever, and I suppose it made a certain amount of sense in the days before we understood psychology to assume that the ingredient itself was responsible for a successful outcome, but this cause and effect assumption led to some pretty odd ideas. We all know that asparagus, figs, caviar, chocolate, alcohol, and dozens of other foods have historically been considered aphrodisiacs, but did you know that cocklebread was used in the 17th century to get a man interested? Indeed, the bread dough was kneaded against the maker's erm, parts. John Aubrey wrote:
Young wenches have a wanton sport which they call `moulding of cocklebread' - they get upon a table-board, and then gather up their knees and their coates with their hands as high as they can then they wabble to and fro with their buttocks as if they were kneading of dough with their arses, and say these words: `My dame is sick and gone to bed! And I'll go mould my cocklebread'
In this case, I suspect that the young wenches got a lot more out of "wabbling to and fro" than their unsuspecting recipients got out of the cocklebread itself (and no, this post does not contain a recipe for cocklebread, nor did I try to make it. Jack was intrigued, but I do believe my withering stare changed his mind).
I bet you're wondering when I'm going to get around to an actual recipe, aren't you? Well, I'm not. Instead I'm just going to describe a favorite romantic meal Jack and I have been sharing for years, prefaced with the story of how we met and fell in love.
Jack and I got to know each other through the internet. He was in London and I had just moved to New York and we found ourselves arguing (on the same side and opposite sides, depending on topic) on a message board. Pretty quickly the arguing soon turned into sparring and witty banter and one day Jack posted he was going to visit the States and that NYC was on his itinerary. Naturally I posted an offer to buy him a drink. Though neither of us had ever expressed any sort of romantic interest or even acknowledged it to ourselves, it apparently became clear to the rest of the message board community that something was in the air and we received a fair amount of teasing. In the months before Jack's visit we emailed quite a lot and it is fair to say that receiving an email from him was often the happiest moment of my day (on lots of days).
And then that day in October, the Friday we met, arrived. I had suggested that we meet in Jimmy's Corner, one of the few "real" bars left in Mid-Town and just a couple of blocks from where I was working. We'd never exchanged photos, so I only knew I was looking for a man with dark hair and eyes and wearing black. When I arrived I did a quick walk-through, and not seeing anyone dressed in black, took a seat at the bar where I was promptly joined by some guy who was decidedly not Jack and who insisted on buying me a drink, even though I explained I was there to meet someone. It was mildly embarrassing to explain that I didn't know what that someone looked like and didn't know if he was, in fact, in the bar or not. After half an hour and repeated suggestions from the not Jack guy that I should give up and hand over my phone number, I decided to go and ask a lone man in a white (not black!) shirt if he was, in fact, Jack.
"I'm afraid so," he answered.
We had dinner in the East Village and spent the rest of the evening in a couple of dives (we like dives!) and then made plans to meet the next afternoon for a pub crawl in my neighborhood-- Williamsburg-- and to go to Coney Island on the following day. It was a lovely weekend and I was smitten, which became pretty obvious when I asked him to stay with me Sunday night (he turned me down!). I'm happy to report that on Monday he came to his senses and we spent as much of the remainder of his time in New York together as we could. All too soon it was time for him to fly back to England. We were very sensible and mature about it, agreeing that long distance relationships are difficult and that we should get on with our lives and not pine for each other.
Two months later I flew to London. That was it and for the next four years we were transatlantic, seeing each other about every six weeks, taking it in turns to cross the Atlantic. My passport from those years is very, very crowded with Heathrow and Gatwick entry stamps. During the times we were apart, the whining sound of an airplane beginning its descent into JFK or La Guardia would induce a terribly sharp longing in me many, many times a day.
Each time Jack flew into New York I made sure I had a selection of good cheeses, spicy olives, crusty bread and red wine on hand. He'd arrive in the early evening and we'd spend the rest of it in bed with the food and wine nearby.
Which brings me back to my point about sexy food... there is something about this particular combination of ingredients that plays all the right notes. We like to contrast a soft, oozing brie or camembert with a sharp and impertinently dirty blue of some kind. We usually add a firm, robustly-flavoured hard cheese such as an aged cheddar. Look at those adjectives! Soft, hard, oozing, dirty, sharp... cheese ought to be illegal. The other notes are the arresting bitterness of olives, the earthy and satisfying texture of ham spiked with tangy Dijon, the mouth-puckering sourness of cornichons... the bittersweetness of homemade marmalade against the cheeses... all played over the solid backing of good bread and a heavy red. Casanova wrote that blue cheese and red wine are just what is needed to "restore an old love and to ripen a young one."
Jack managed to get himself a job in New York five years ago, so the constant traveling is no more. But we still make it point to indulge in a meal of wine and cheese and bread several times a month. Just as surely as the sound of an airplane overhead never fails to remind me of how in love with Jack I was and still remain, this meal reminds us both of all of the richness of our lives together.
This is my entry for The Kitchen of Love event, hosted by Chris of Melle Cotte, who gave us this lovely logo and asked us tell her about an appetizer, main dish or side dish that includes at least one aphrodisiac. I'm not sure I quite followed the rules here, unless you believe a cheese board is a main meal, and while I don't believe in aphrodisiacs, wine is considered to be one. And if you take Casanova's word for it, so is the cheese.
Me, I just think food can be very, very sexy.