The night I tested the aphrodisiac cookbook
If anyone had seen me flicking through the recipes in Mark Douglas Hill's new book The Aphrodisiac Encyclopedia they probably would have thought I had just been subjected to a series of very severe face lifts.
With every page turned my eyebrows raised just a little bit higher -- Salt-Cured Duck Foie Gras, Linguine with Sea Urchins, Pufferfish -- and I was supposed to choose one of these to cook tonight?
The Aphrodisiac Encyclopedia brings together a lifetime's work of gathering recipes that "encourage friskiness and enhance frisking" the cover sleeve announces. I wonder how much selfless experiments the author conducted in this lifelong pursuit of frisk. I also wonder what I have let myself in for.
Since I have already agreed to try out some of the dishes on my unsuspecting husband, there's no escaping it now. Besides, as parents to three young children we need all the help we can get.
Currently time to ourselves usually includes at least one fight about which one of us is the most tired before flouncing off to bed to see who can start snoring first. So it's lucky that assistance is at hand.
So who exactly is this guy and what makes him such an expert? Well, the book describes him as "an epicurean, glutton, sybarite, sensualist and bon viveur, and proud of it".
He began his food education in Leith's School of Food and Wine and has owned and consulted in numerous restaurants and food chains. During this time he has researched, tried and tested ingredients and recipes from all over the world to seek out the sexiest foods around, which has resulted in The Aphrodisiac Encyclopaedia.
I finally settle on one safe dish and one a little more daring. Oysters to start and Crispy Beef with Ginger Fries as the main.
My own little personal experiment includes not telling the husband what all the fuss is about -- after all, if the foods are true aphrodisiacs then they should do the talking right?
So later that evening, with the kids ushered to bed, I slip on some music, light the candles, pop the cork and start getting the first course ready -- Oysters with Sauce Bon Viveur.
The introduction to the recipe entices us in with this: "A single oyster can produce over a million eggs and enough sperm to turn the sea milky white. They are so supercharged they even fertilise themselves!" But by the time I read that it's too late -- I've already bought them.
With the mood set and first course on the way I realise that the husband is already suspicious. "Have you broken something?" he asks with narrowed eyes.
The sauce is coming along nicely when I start getting ready to 'shuck' my first oyster. I don't have an oyster knife but I do have something similar and anyway -- how hard can it be? Cue one slipped cheese knife, a cacophony of cursing and a bloody hand. Just what you need to get you in the mood.
Once my hand is safely strapped up, I place the platter of broken oyster shells in front of the husband and try to look alluringly over the top of my wine glass, lashes fluttering whilst he downs the first one.
"Are you ok?" he asks. "Oh I'm fine," I respond seductively. "How are you?" "You just look like you have something in your eye that's all." Hmm. Time for the next course maybe.
The crispy beef is a little tricky to prepare but well worth the effort. The steak and fresh ginger mix are supposed to rouse passions and quicken the pulse. With the wok furiously sizzling, a second pan boiling vigorously and about five bowls of different ingredients to throw in I can certainly say this is true.
Though I'm not sure temper tantrums and an anxiety attack is exactly what the author has in mind. Surprisingly, my husband declares it the best dish he's eaten in a long time. "Anything else?" I add hopefully. "Yes actually." I prepare myself for the come-on. "It reminds me of No. 23 from the Chinese down the road."
Clearly it's time to break out the chocolate. Mark Douglas Hill includes scientific evidence of a number of aphrodisiac 'suspects' contained in chocolate. However, he also states that "dissolving chocolate on the tongue or snorting cocoa powder are probably the best ways to bring this love-drug to the brain".
I don't know about you, but I can guarantee that seeing someone snort a line of cocoa and then trying to move in for the kiss whilst looking like a black-and-white minstrel isn't going to really do it for me.
I'll stick with the boring traditional method, thanks. So we take our chocolate and the last of our red wine and snuggle up on the sofa.
Feeling the warm glow of the food and wine in my belly I confess to my husband the true nature of the evening's experiment.
Fortunately, he's quite taken with the idea and as he leans in I think to myself that there just might be something in this aphrodisiac affair after all.
And then I hear the cry from above -- "Muuuuuuum!" Better luck next time, maybe.