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The food of love

Valentine’s Day celebrations can start in the kitchen

I fondly reminisce about early courtship days before my husband and I were married. There was a week, over what must have been Christmas holidays, where we stayed in bed together fuelled by a steady diet of chocolate, red wine and love. In those days I scoffed at the idea of reserving one day – Valentine’s Day – to celebrate relationships. After all, shouldn’t we celebrate our love for one another every day of the year?

Well seven years, two careers and two children later I now understand taking the time out to reconnect, slow down and enjoy each other’s company is not as simple as it used to be. Celebrating Valentine’s Day is a good way to make sure that couples do this at least once a year! For all of you out there enjoying romance regularly, celebrating love daily, take a moment to pause and appreciate – love is beautiful.

Since the dawning of human kind, people have hoped to mimic, or augment, the natural chemical mixture that ignites the fire of romance through the use of aphrodisiacs. Historically, aphrodisiacs were used for two distinctly different functions, firstly, to increase libido or sexual desire, and secondly, as a potent mixture to increase fertility.

Unlike modern times, food was not as available to ancient people as it is to us today, with the result that nutritional deficiencies were common. Inadequate nutrition can have negative effects on the reproductive system which, in earlier times, wreaked havoc for cultures that were religiously and morally bound to procreation. Foods believed to insure male and female potency included fruits, vegetables or other items which naturally represented seeds or semen – eggs, bulbs or snails, for example. Foods that resembled the physical appearance of genitalia were thought to be sexually stimulating: asparagus, artichokes, figs, carrots, ginseng root, rhinoceros horn or bananas, to name a few.

These days, remedies for fertility and sexual dysfunction are increasingly solved through the magic of science – think Viagra. So that brings us back to the first use of aphrodisiacs, to arouse sexual desire. Science has little hope of discovering the components of "the spark" of romance between two people. The chemical processes that create the subjectivity and individuality of emotion are as impossible to decipher as the components of the soul. As such, the scientific study of aphrodisiacs is limited and inconclusive. Foods or drugs that are believed to act as aphrodisiacs operate as much out of impression and suggestion as they do out of reality. It is the receptiveness to the idea of the effectiveness of aphrodisiacs that perpetuates their use throughout the ages.

What about Spanish Fly? Long believed to increase sexual arousal to the point where a person would readily and easily copulate to relieve desire, Spanish Fly is not actually a fly but a beetle. The blister beetle (lytta vesicatoria) is dried and crushed into a powder and traditionally used as a breeding facilitator fed to male livestock. It stimulates sexual arousal by irritating the urinary tract when excreted. Attempts to ingest it by humans are considered extremely hazardous – skin contact alone produces blisters.

The word aphrodisiac comes from the Greek Goddess of love, Aphrodite. There are two ways in which aphrodisiacs are thought to arouse sexual excitement, internally, through food, drink or drugs, and psycho-physiologically, using the five senses (touch, taste, smell, sound and sight). Translated this means that, not surprisingly, in order to increase libido, it helps to set a romantic scene with dim lighting, soft music, subtly perfumed flowers, good food and drink.

Some important tips to remember when preparing a romantic dinner for two: be sure to arrange the seating so that you will be physically close to your partner, either touching knees under the table or elbows on top of the table. Scattering pillows on the floor for an impromptu picnic in front of a fireplace is also a great idea. Choose a meal that has most of the preparation done in advance. Foods that are eaten with the fingers can be a sensual act in itself. Peeling and eating the individual leaves of an artichoke to reveal the heart, for example, is quite erotic. Grapes, strawberries and raspberries are perfect foods for hand feeding your lover; they are also referred to as fruit nipples in erotic literature.

The following is a brief list of aphrodisiac foods, but remember, the best aphrodisiac is the natural attraction between two people.

Oysters — Romans in the second century AD claimed oysters as an aphrodisiac. Since some oysters switch from being male to female and back again during reproductive cycles, there are claims that eating oysters lets one experience the masculine and feminine sides of love.

Alcohol and marijuana — thought to increase sexual excitement by lowering inhibitions. Drinking wine or champagne creates a warm glow in the body, but only when taken in moderate amounts.

Truffles — Expensive with a heady, earthy taste. The musky mushroom is believed to arouse the palate and sensitize the skin to touch.

Vanilla — the scent and flavour are thought to increase lust.

Licorice — Particularly stimulating to women, chewing bits of licorice root is believed to increase love and lust.

Banana — Aside from its suggestive appearance, the fruit contains an enzyme, bromelain, that some studies show enhances male performance.

Asparagus — Phallic shaped vegetable long believed to have aphrodisiacal powers, especially for men.

Chocolate — Contains both a relaxing sedative and a stimulant. The texture gives a meltingly soft mouth feel that is sensual and addictive.

The following recipe is a perfect make-ahead-of-time treat. Paired with the caramelized burnt sugar taste of Malmsey Madeira or the rich berry taste of ruby Ports, it is a decadent dessert worthy of any celebration but particularly the celebration of love.

Bittersweet Chocolate Cognac Truffles

• eight and a half ounces finely chopped bittersweet (not unsweetened) chocolate, preferably Lindt, Valrhona or Callebeaut brand

• three quarters of a cup of heavy (whipping) cream

• one and a half tablespoons cognac (or very good brandy)

For the coating: either finely chopped semisweet chocolate, which is slightly sweet or cocoa powder, which is bitter, or a mixture of the two.

Put chocolate in a medium-sized deep bowl. In a medium saucepan bring cream to a simmer over medium high heat. Lower heat until mixture just barely simmers and cook, stirring occasionally, three to four minutes, or until liquid is reduced to two thirds of a cup. Immediately strain cream through a fine sieve into chocolate, stirring until chocolate completely melts. If any chocolate remains unmelted, set bowl in a slightly larger bowl of hot water and stir until melted. Take special care not to get any water into the chocolate mixture. Stir cognac into chocolate mixture until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for at least four hours (or freeze, stirring frequently, for about an hour), until mixture is very cold and stiff. To form truffles, use a teaspoon to scoop up mixture and roll between palms into three quarter inch balls. Don’t worry about them being completely round – uneven shapes are more appealing. Roll the balls into coating, shaking off the excess. If the chocolate mixture becomes too soft to roll, return it to the refrigerator briefly; then proceed. Pack airtight and keep in a cool place, preferably not the refrigerator, for up to a week.




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