Recipes For Love: Confessions of a Sensual Foodie
~ Harriet Van Horne
Once Upon a Time
Last year I began this food blog. It was something to write about among other writings, such as personal essays, fiction, and poetry. Writing about one of my greatest pleasures, food, soon became my passion. So I followed my heart. I had forgotten all about the few years that I spent in culinary school, learning French classic cooking and pastry. That was when I was in my early twenties and single. I did it to learn how to cook, not to become a chef. I learned basic knife skills, and the marvels of butter. But in rediscovering this pleasure of mine, I began to cook more often, until it boiled over into an obsession.
When my children were babies, I made their baby food. Avocados are plentiful in California and make a perfect baby meal. Bananas, of course, are easy to mash. But how about blending up a ripe mango with Greek yogurt? If I had the chance make their food fresh, I did. In some cases it’s not easy to do, when you are busy. Soon my local farmers market became a regular visit for fresh produce.
Grocery shopping on Sundays was just the kind of simple pleasure I enjoyed. More than spending the day in a bookstore, which I also found relaxing, I loved wandering through the market, lingering over the farmers’ tables full of rotund and happy tomatoes, fragrant red strawberries, dewy lettuces, feathery green herbs, feeling the heat of the sunlight on my skin, walking through the crowd of people, eating from the food stalls, delicious things like roasted corn on the cob, baked yams, tamales, empanadas --- all the smells, sensations and colors, it encouraged impromptu menus and the inspiration to cook to my heart’s content. I must have seemed a mad woman to my children, carting them along in the morning, coming home with the overflowing bags of farm fresh produce after the market, chopping away in the kitchen for many hours of the afternoon, putting together a feast for dinner. Sunday was my only day to really, truly cook.
Or un-cook. For a brief period of that time, right after giving birth to my third child, I had the grand idea of going raw and vegan. I was already vegetarian. So going raw and vegan wasn't that much of a leap. I was eating lots of nuts, seeds, avocados, collard leaves and kale. Almond milk was fun to make, but... I'm a grumpy gal when on a strict or restrictive sort of diet. I need eggs. And I don't think I can live without butter. Cream and dairy are delicious. And oh, the grand glory of really good cheese. Soon I fell off the raw food wagon.
I wasn’t doing much of anything in the kitchen during the week as I was working a job I didn’t want to do anymore. Well, I'm still doing that, but I'm in transition, a life change, seeking a new direction, following my heart. I have to work to support my family, all with my one income, so there is little time for pleasure. Frazzled, worn out, exhausted, worried about paying the overdue bills.
But indulge me for a moment and let me talk about this in past tense. Because soon, very soon, The Sensual Foodie will be my full-time passionate career. It may seem like a dream, but I dare to follow my bliss.
You see, last year when I started this blog, cooking and dining for pleasure was almost fantasy. After the long workday, I’d come home to my three children and piece together some semblance of dinner. Most of the time it was a cobbled together casserole or quiche. I didn’t have time to make a homemade quiche crust so I’d buy a pre-made one (which I had on hand in the freezer). I’d whip together the filling with eggs and hope the thing came out edible. It was hardly sensual and not quite how I’d imagined my life to be at that point. I waited out the week for my marketing Sunday to cook and eat a leisurely meal. What I craved was a positive change. So the blog was created. I wanted food adventures, explorations, pleasures.
I Dream of a Garden with Chickens and Eggs
I imagined a garden outside my kitchen window, a few chickens roaming free in the backyard for fresh eggs. Eggs for omelettes, frittatas, quiches and cakes, or just a simple poached egg and toast. In this beautiful imaginary life, there would be a lovely place to put a table outside, maybe under a shady tree, and have friends join us for home cooked meals. I had visions of the kids digging in the garden, planting vegetables and herbs. I imagined the joy and wonder on their faces when the plants sprouted from the soil, and the pride they might have in eating what they grew. That source of enjoyment in nature just might replace video games and cartoons. Possibly. Well, I might be dreaming wildly there, but I want to teach them how to bake a cake, how to grow things, and how to enjoy the pleasures of food.
But reality can be as cold as a frozen TV dinner. I've been living in a cramped two-bedroom apartment in this big city of Los Angeles. I sleep in the living room so the kids can have their own bedrooms. I have a tiny balcony that doesn't get much sunlight, if at all. Even worse, I make due with an electric stove and range top. My clay pots have ugly rings on their bottoms from the coil of the burners and the oven under bakes everything. The kitchen is the size of a ship galley, only fitting one person comfortably. And I'm rarely home to do much cooking and baking. But somehow, I figure out a way to cook when the chance presents itself. By writing the blog, I had pushed myself into making time to cook, eat, enjoy. I roasted vegetables and made clay pots full of delicious soup.
"I want a little sugar in my bowl / I want a little sweetness down in my soul..." ~ Bessie Smith
I wanted someone to cook with me. But how could a couple cook together in such a tiny kitchen? My (former) relationship (at this time last year) wasn’t going well and we weren’t cooking together. I urged him to try to cook with me on Sundays, but we didn’t, and that was recipe for an argument. He said he didn’t know how to cook for me. I picked at what he did make, suspiciously poking at the overcooked vegetables. He’d then mope about and slam the oven shut. Pots and pans clanged as he washed them. I was snarly. He was sullen. It all went sour from there. It was clear that the broth of our relationship wasn’t good enough to make the soup. The proof was in the pudding, as the saying goes. Because of this, I wasn’t in the best of spirits, and the kitchen reflected all of our woes. I was ignoring my state of unhappiness and pretending that all was well, just like adding salt to a dish to make it taste better. And I wanted a little sugar in my bowl.
To add to the stew, I had also begun an early menopause at the ripe age of forty-one years old. Hot flashes, night sweats, insomnia. I couldn’t tolerate red wine anymore, particularly Chianti. It gave me heart palpitations. Hormonal changes kept me from enjoying a glass of wine! Believe me, this is true suffering. My one comfort: a big jammy, juicy glass of red.
"How beautiful life is when it gives us riches." ~ Frida Kahlo
My acupuncturist, Dr. Maoshing Ni, gave me medicinal herbs in a tea blend. He also gave me a list of “yin nourishing” foods to eat. I made the connection of aphrodisiacs and healing Chinese herbs and thought there must be something to it. In fact, my acupuncturist suggested that I eat oysters. Oysters! Aphrodisiacs could also be for wellness and vitality, not just for inspiring romance.
Some Day My Darling Will Come
So I’ll tell you about how I met my Darling. I didn’t use an aphrodisiac or love elixir to charm him. No, love happened at a time in my life when I wasn’t expecting it to find me.
In the midst of all the difficulty, I found solace in writing, cooking and eating. I started exploring recipes and writing about food. But what I didn’t realize was that by posting my thoughts online via my food blog, with the saucy title The Sensual Foodie, I was conjuring up a cyber font love spell to seduce the man of my dreams.
Darling read my blog and admired my writing. He wrote. I responded. We direct messaged, then we emailed. I called him. We talked for hours. I forgot to run errands that day and I cancelled work appointments.
I didn’t know it then, but I had found the love of my life.
Thanks to my acupuncturist (Dr. Mao, my cupid) and his list of foods to nourish my “yin essence,” namely oysters, I was exploring aphrodisiacs, herbs, spices, and became immensely curious about many foods I had avoided out of sheer vegetarian stubbornness. At the top of my list of things to eat were: (yes) oysters, shellfish, and a variety of herbs and spices that were beneficial to a woman’s health.
There were also other things bubbling in my mind. I could not stop my milk from foaming over about this man who admired my writing. I was intrigued by his photo with a chicken foot in his mouth. Who could imagine that I'd fall for a man with a chicken foot in between his lips? Now he's the honey in my tea, sweetening everything.
True Love's Kiss
"I never knew it could be like this. Nobody ever kissed me the way you do." ~ From Here to Eternity
It was a sunny Friday afternoon when Darling and I met. It was also National Oyster Day. The “aphrodisiac oyster” was a playful foodie innuendo we teased about through emails and phone calls, here and there, about the oyster and its supposed powers for lovemaking, and maybe it was the reason we chose to finally meet. Well, I’m making it out to be a theme, but it wasn’t really. It was just a little flirtatious joke. As you may know, the oyster is considered the main aphrodisiac that most imagine for seduction. Of course we talked about many things, not just aphrodisiacs.
And I had never tried an oyster in my life.
So after many hours of writing messages to each other that day, he decided, spontaneously, to just finally come meet me in my work studio. My stomach fluttered with anticipation! It was three in the afternoon and he was on his way over. My heart thumping away as I hurried to make myself look pretty despite the fact that I was caught in my sweaty gym clothes with an empty office fridge. What kind of foodie was I with an empty refrigerator? So I rushed off quickly to the market and bought some good cheese, apples, a baguette, fleur de sel chocolate, and champagne.
He knocked on the door, and I opened it to see this tall, handsome man standing there. Without a moment’s pause he swept me into his arms and kissed me. It was a kiss I will never forget so long as I live. A storybook kiss, sudden and passionate, a soul satisfying true love’s kiss, the kind of kiss that awakened Sleeping Beauty and the very sort of kiss that consummates all romantic films.
And so we began with a fairytale kiss. It was then that I realized what true love is and you might say it was love at first sight (or kiss) for me. As nervous as a schoolgirl, I offered him my fancy French chocolate and champagne, of which he had a tiny morsel of the fleur de sel chocolate and a sip or two of the bubbly. But it was just that kiss that worked its magic, without herbs, spices, or any other aphrodisiac, except love.
Before that kiss, I wasn’t sure if I’d find love. I’d had hints and ideas, many romances, a marriage, a divorce, and another long relationship after that which wasn’t working out. I also had three children. My life was scattered between pick up and drop off times, baseball practices, school plays, and other motherly events. I began to think that romantic love wasn’t meant to be. What was real honest-to-goodness true love? Did it really exist? Or was it some fictitious concept made grand by all the novelists and storytellers of historical past? Poets could not write romantic words without it. And I was a hopeless romantic at one time--- a poet, a writer. I even considered writing romance novels! But disappointments had dulled the sparkle in my eye. I didn’t want to admit that I was becoming cynical, scoffing at love quotes and syrupy greeting cards. I thought perhaps I was becoming more of a realist, not thinking about the idea of true love or whatever I thought it was. I had become used to “almost” and as a result, I gave up on the notion that I’d ever meet that special someone that made my heart rise like a glorious soufflé.
"They call me oven, say that I’m red hot / They say I’ve got somethin’ the other gals ain’t got / I can strut my pudding, spread my grease with ease / ‘Cause I know my onions, that’s why I always please."
~ Nellie Florence, “Jacksonville Blues”
But there isn’t a single recipe to make someone fall in love with you. No magical potion, aphrodisiac, elixir or tincture exists. There is a way, however, to live passionately. I truly believe that following one’s heart is the way and being a passionate person brings us unexpected gifts. It can also attract that special someone to you. When we are inspired, we are open, receptive to wonderful things, alive. And that is how I felt, awakened by my own true love’s kiss. Darling made me feel alive and inspired.
I was so inspired by my Darling that I decided to write a cookbook about being a sensual foodie. It's about passion, for love, life, and aphrodisiacs to inspire. Not just for love, but for our vitality.
"You so sweet you whet my appetite / You make me hungry I just want to get a bite / You resist me baby but I’ll get you yet / There’s one thing I know: sugar melts when it’s wet / Oh, baby, you make my sweet tooth ache." ~ Albert Collins, “Sugar Melts When it’s Wet”
A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good
Aphrodisiacs are good for you. There are many Chinese herbs that support sexual health and increase “qi” or “life force energy” which is essential for our overall well-being. In Eastern medicine, our sexual energy is our good health. There is no separation between sexuality, health and life. Good chi is sexy.
Here is a recipe from Isabel Allende's wonderful book, Aphrodite: Memoir of the Senses, a little excerpt discovered on page 123:
APHRODISIAC SOUP OF ACUPUNCTURE MASTER
For two, you place in a beautiful clay flameproof casserole, with due ceremony:
- 4 pieces of red Korean ginseng
- 1/4 of a chicken, in pieces
- 2 chives, minced
- 4 slices fresh ginger
- 2 tablespoons red or white miso
Cook over a slow fire until the chicken is tender, meanwhile, reading an erotic text, and at the end add 1/2 cup of sake and 6 raw prawns, shelled and deveined, which, in order to preserve their potency, should not be allowed to boil any longer than 5 minutes.
So my sugar bowl overfloweth.
I have someone to cook with, to eat with, to love. And so, The Sensual Foodie is full of passion! Love, pleasure and cooking together. Dining, drinking wine, and kissing until we simmer, froth, boil, and melt into one another in a pot full of love.
He's the cream in my tea, the jelly in my roll. He's the sparkle in my champagne and the sugar in my bowl. He's my joy, my love, my darling love. And I'm so happy.
"One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well." ~ Virginia Woolf
All the stories on this blog have developed from my dinners out with my Darling. We've also been cooking together, and sometimes he surprises me with dinner he's made, or a pink pastry box full of guava and cream cheese pie, or a container full of mango sticky rice. It's a wonderful dream come true. He's made my life a big bowl full of cherries, refilling it when I eat them, and tossing away the pits. I'm so lucky. I've found the love of my life. I'm following my passion, and I am writing about food and pleasure. It's a bon appétit recipe for love!
The Sensual Foodie is an adventure in the pleasures of food, love and life.
Aphrodisiacs for Love, Wellness and Vitality.