Eating Aphrodisiacs

EAT-LOUBENNIKOV

EAT-LOUBENNIKOV

Being a sensualist is being passionate about life... eating is an experience of smell, taste, texture and emotional fulfillment. It is delight, a lover's afternoon, a bowl of pleasure. 

I've been curious about aphrodisiacs to enhance life--- how food, herbs and spices affect our health and vitality. Sensuality is the force of inspiration in our daily lives.

The idea of using aphrodisiacs for wellness and vitality isn't new. Chinese women have used libido-enhancing recipes for centuries. Herbal formulas and acupuncture were added into their anti-aging, youth rejuvenating beauty regimen to stay vibrant. Once I began my own search for rejuvenating recipes, I discovered that the path to wellness was peppered with spicy aphrodisiacs. Then and there the quest for vitality opened my senses wide.

Sensuality is a part of my life, and I cannot live without it. When I lived in New Orleans, I became intensely aware of my need for it. The crescent city swelled with decadence in its music, food and joie de vivre. I fell in love with everything and was intoxicated by all --- every smell, taste, sound, sensation. In the sultry warmth of the night, I heard the smooth sound of a saxophone, the blurt of a tuba, and laughter. It lured me out of bed and outside to my balcony. It was a second line band going down the street in front of my house. In syncopated rhythm--- saxophone, tuba, trombone, and a line of people behind them--- laughing, carousing. I watched them in wonder and amusement. Such a beautiful moment, I thought. I wanted to throw on some clothes and follow them down the street. What it was to be, to feel so absolutely alive. Joy.

After a heavy rainstorm, all the scents, from the pavement, from the trees, from the damp soil; all odors, good, bad and delicious, awakened my nose. I noticed the faded colors of many layers of paint upon the facades of the French Quarter buildings. So many years, history, washed away from the warm rains, and years of layers, creating a color like the inside of an abalone shell. Awareness of beauty. Sensual and marvelous beauty. In those moments I was inspired by everything. Alive. Aware with all senses. The drum of heavy rain on the roof melding with the damp and almost rotting soft odor of wood. The dim interior of a nightclub, red lights, blue lights, my cocktail gown nipping the skin of my low back where the zipper pressed into my flesh. Bubble of champagne on my tongue, its yeasty twang and flurry of happiness tickling my mouth. Heat radiating from cypress floorboards under my bare feet, spicy flavors of French-Creole cuisine, sharing stories with friends at a local coffee house. The taste of roasted garlic mashed potatoes, shameless in their cream and butter laden density, the brandied scent of citrus and cinnamon, waft of a flame and pungent with a coffee aroma, as the waiter at Arnaud's made Café Brûlot. Savoring the creamy Hollandaise sauce on my Eggs Sardou while sitting on the wrought iron and crooked balcony overlooking Royal Street. Remembering the afternoon when I ate beignets for the first time, white powdered sugar all over my black dress. So many vivid memories come to me just by traveling through my sensory map. So do the writers, artists, bohemians, and musicians I've known who ate along with me. Sumptuous tastes and textures, scents and visions. Creative energy is life energy. So juicy and sweet is life.

EATING--LOUBENNIKOV

EATING--LOUBENNIKOV

Approaching the stove like a sorceress, using certain herbs and spices, that's how I like to cook. In New Orleans they say, "First you make a roux," and then you begin your recipe. I like to begin with a little flavor in a pot of soup. Even if it isn't a true roux, it's something like garlic or red onion in olive oil and butter, the alchemy creates a delicious fragrance. Raw vegan cuisine uses herbs and spices to make dishes come alive as well, and certainly deserves a plate in my kitchen. Raw soups are just as delicious and sensuous. So let's say in both cooking and uncooking, you can make food sing with your passion and emotion.

When I contemplate recipes that would invite aphrodisiacs, I think like a witch creating a magic spell. When I think this way, I imagine my clay pot is a cauldron where each ingredient has special healing properties. I love soup for this reason. Soup has the potential to transform you. There is no one way to make a pot of soup, regardless of the type of soup it is. You can make each one a variation on a theme. My favorites are butternut squash with cashews and curry, mushroom soup, and lately I've been exploring rustic soups that give comfort, infusing them with healing herbs and spices. If you want to make someone feel better, make a pot of soup. If you want to seduce and delight, make a pot of soup. It's magic because of your desire to give pleasure, to please, to make someone you love feel loved. Soup is a way of expressing love.

Here is a soup that allows you to mingle the healing qualities of garlic, shiitake, chicken and ginger with the seduction of chantrelles and butter, and the earthy comfort of cannellini, chickpeas, squash, carrots and kale. Cast your spell with a wooden spoon and a soup ladle.

EatApplesLOUBENNIKOV

EatApplesLOUBENNIKOV

Two years after the birth of my third child, I had severe exhaustion, migraine headaches, low back pain, and mood swings. Night sweats, insomnia and heart palpitations were becoming part of my bedroom ritual instead of deep satisfying sleep. And so I began menopause, just like that.

During that time I was eating a diet of raw vegan foods and drinking freshly juiced smoothies. Being a life-long vegetarian, I was doing everything necessary to get fit and be my best radiant self. When menopause came along, I was surprised that it happened so early. I didn’t understand why two glasses of Chianti caused heart palpitations and night sweats. Wine interfered with my weight loss and hormones. I gave up my comforting glass of wine at night because I was desperate to feel better.

When I explained this to Doctor Maoshing Ni, my acupuncturist, he reassured me that it was all part of the Second Spring, what the Chinese consider a transition into the prime of a woman’s life--- the moment of blossoming into all she has experienced.

I was exhausting my energy with intense workouts. And the raw vegan diet was not helping me balance my yin deficiency. I needed yin nourishing foods. The list of dietary suggestions, according to Chinese medicine, mentioned oysters, shrimp, lobster, venison, oxtail, and many other things and creatures I had not eaten nor had I considered eating. But fish and meats that supported vitality and my sexual energetic health were of importance. I needed some cooked foods and certain vegetables, herbs and spices as well. I had to change how I was eating, and enjoy it. I was too strict with myself before. Pleasure, above all, needed a comeback.

I had forgotten about pleasure. I wasn’t giving any room to enjoying my food because I was so obsessed with its nutritional content. How did I forget that I was, deep down, a sensualist?

What I felt was ceremonious when I ventured into the wilds of eating aphrodisiacs. I didn't melt into a puddle like the wicked witch when I ate a bite of oxtail. It was magnificent the way it melted in my mouth instead. Fish, succulent. Chicken gave me strength. Rabbit gave me insight into historic French recipes. Shrimp, sweet. I wasn’t a true vegetarian anymore; I was opening my soul to the primal energy of food rather than examining it, separating it by animal, mineral and vegetable. And so, I realized that my body craved eating seafood and animals. While nourishing my yin, I rediscovered eating in a whole new way. Oysters could be, in a small shell, quite a thrill. Turmeric in fried rice with crab meat, lobster in truffles, --- suddenly my world renewed.

Chinese tradition offers a paradigm completely different from the Western vision of midlife and aging. To the Chinese, this is the time when a woman truly comes into her own, when the distractions of the householding, childbearing, and child-rearing years wind down and her inner beauty emerges. ~ Dr. Maoshing Ni

Eating aphrodisiacs is a way to celebrate life. We can view our food as true nourishment to our soul and body, as even the ceremony of setting the table or relishing a mouthful of something delicious can transform the act of eating into a practice of self-love. Cooking for our beloved or even our family can make something ordinary extraordinary just by creating the food with a sense of the alchemical, the intention of our heart--- to make it special.

EAT-Cherry-LOUBENNIKOV

EAT-Cherry-LOUBENNIKOV

Two nourishing breakfast recipes that I eat often are full of nutrients and keep me satisfied. They also allow me to use plenty of berries and other ingredients that I love. I blend maca root with pistachios to make a nutritious topping for my morning porridge. Maca root is a nutritional super-food that contains high amounts of minerals, vitamins, enzymes and essential amino acids. It is rich in B-vitamins and a vegetarian source of B-12. It has calcium, magnesium and is great for women's menopausal symptoms. It helps balance hormones too. I use my maca nut blend on top of quinoa porridge, and it's also good on Greek yogurt with honey. I like the taste of maca root, which is acquired, a bit malty in flavor.

ADDING APHRODISIAC HERBS TO YOUR BOWL

There are some herbs I've wanted to try. How would I make something with them, I wondered. What do they taste like, and can I find the true herb or does it come in a tincture? How much is needed? My mind wanders through ways of preparing these mysterious ingredients.

I learned about the Chinese herb Horny Goat Weed and its benefits. Known asYin Yang Huo in Chinese: 淫羊藿, it is beneficial not only as an aphrodisiac, but it also alleviates menopausal symptoms. Used for over 2,000 years, horny goat weed is a species of epimedium, a plant which grows in the wild in high altitudes. It contains flavonoids, polysaccharides, sterols and an alkaloid called magnaflorine. This plant has long been used to rejuvenate sexual energy, alleviate menopausal symptoms, and boost the libido. Of course I want to try it. 

Other aphrodisiac foods and spices like cinnamon, ginger, coriander, cardamom canspice up your love life and health. Oysters, clams, mussels, shrimp, and scallops have zinc and the amino acid arginine needed to boost your hormones in the right way. Flax oil and flax seeds have lignans which are phtyoestrogens, which improves good estrogen levels. Oatmeal contains avenacoside which supports healthy testosterone levels. Walnuts, almonds, chestnuts, sesame and hemp seeds all support a healthy libido due to their high arginine content. Sea cucumber. Yes. Sea cucumber. High in mucopolysaccharides and chondrotins, vitamin A, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, B vitamins, calcium, iron, magnesium, and zinc. Sea cucumber is considered an anti-aging and super libido booster.

How would I prepare a dish with sea cucumber? I am exploring the many ways to eat aphrodisiac foods. Pleasure is eaten out the hands of the curious. I feel inspired, alive, vibrant with the passion of food. Now let's find out what happens when you combine  yin yang huo with snake in a Chinese dish? Or perhaps sea cucumber? The Chinese name for it is hai shen, or "sea ginseng." Yet, what I suspect is that it may be an adventure in balancing yin and yang, strong with delicate. There are many other aphrodisiacs to taste and discover.

{all painting images by artist Ivan Loubennikov}