Maybe the run-up to Valentine’s Night in Lockdown is a good time to review both our film watching and perk up our romantic food choices.
When it comes to film, there’s plenty of romance being dished up and lashings of sex. From the smoldering intensity in “Casablanca”, the smug innuendo in the “Carry On” films and James Bond’s facile seductions to the more complex couplings in “Moonlight” and “Blue is the Warmest Colour”.
There is also plenty of food being served up in films to accompany it. In “Tom Jones”, the charming but raffish Tom, shares a meal with Mrs. Waters which is a steaming hot hors d’oeuvres before the inevitable main course to follow. Then there is the famous coffee house scene in “When Harry met Sally”, that encourages us to join in with a chorus of ‘I’ll have what she’s having’ and of course and the cringe inducing embarrassment of “American Pie” and THAT apple pie scene! Has any teenager ever managed to watch it with their mother was also watching? I never could!
However, there are more subtle offerings, which might also tingle our taste buds. From the scene in “Matrix Reloaded”, where we get to see the effects of a very special dessert the Merovingian created, to the sexually nuanced role played by eggs in “The Shape of Water”. In film, it seems, food and sex often come together.
But, although it might be fun, we don’t need to re-enact “9½ Weeks” to get a flavour of how food can perk up Valentine’s night in Lockdown. Although feeding each other chocolate while blindfolded and transferring wine mouth to mouth is a delightful way of sharing and as for strawberries … ! Anyway, if your favourite restaurants are closed, one way of fighting the Lockdown Lows and Brexit Blues is to plan and cook our partners a gorgeous meal, which both delights the senses, shows you care and releases a few extra, much needed endorphins in these grey days.
There are multiple studies, which suggest that certain foods can have a positive impact on people’s love lives and these often include zinc rich oysters, clams and scallops, which are said to contain compounds which raise testosterone and oestrogen levels. Casanova is said to have eaten 50 oysters a day to improve his appetite and stamina, while mainland Europe loves to consume loads of the shellfish we used to export to them so easily.
Another simple way to spice things up is to add chilli, citrus and spices to your Valentines meal, which will get your heart racing, toes curling and lips burning. Chilli contains Capsaicin, the chemical that gives you a tingling sensation when you eat spicy food, and it increases your metabolic activity and heightens skin sensitivity. Try kissing someone a few minutes after eating a jalapeno, but just be careful where you kiss them … experienced cooks know the danger of cutting chilli peppers with their bare hands or touching any tender areas too quickly after de-seeding them!
You may wish to add some alcohol to your evening. It’s not just about the possible loss of inhibitions or fragrant bouquets. Several studies suggest red wine can boost testosterone and bestow a sense of well being, while champagne and sparkling wines also contain antioxidants, magnesium, potassium and zinc, which help keep our immune system healthy. However, while drinking delicious, aromatic wines can be a delightful sensory experience, it is worth remembering what Shakespeare had to say on the subject. In Macbeth, Macduff asks the Porter, “What three things does drink especially provoke?” The Porter replies: “nose painting, sleep, and urine”, the first of which is usually taken to mean the red flush that comes across a drinker’s face. It also leads to lechery, as the Porter adds: “it provokes the desire, but it takes away the performance”.
However, as far as aphrodisiacs go, a dark, largely unsweetened, high cocoa content chocolate is about as perfect as it gets. Rich in antioxidants and high in caffeine it is said to increase blood flow and jump-start the libido. Moreover, there is also a unique sensual aspect to eating chocolate and letting it melt on the tongue. Especially if it contains a little chilli. Ok, the calories are high, but maybe you can think of some post chocolate exercise to burn these off!
Much of the lore surrounding the desire- and sex-enhancing effects of certain foods is anecdotal but a good diet is obviously vital to ensure your body is working well. So plenty of fruit and vegetables are important! Just be careful what you do with them!
While a home-cooked Valentine’s meal and a good film is a great way to unwind with your partner and build intimacy in a relaxed and pleasurable setting, when it comes to sensuality, affection, intimacy, and desire, remember, the most important organ is … the brain!
Recipes for Romance
Valentines meals are a good time for a treat. Over-eating and over-drinking are not recommended (as Shakespeare warns!), but preparing meals in advance does enable us to have delicious food which just requires simply re-heating or quick cooking.
A delicious, earthy, spicy, ruby red beetroot soup makes a super lunch or starter. Fish parcels, packed with light vegetables, chilli and citrus, prepared in advance, only takes 15-20 minutes to cook in a pre heated oven and when you ‘un-dress’ them at the table, the savoury aromas fill the air. For dessert, it has to be ice cream (shared), warm fruit compote and the best dark chocolate you can find. All accompanied by a fine English sparkling wine. Enjoy!
Ed: Martin Griffiths was the food and wine correspondent for Herefordshire and Worcestershire Life and Taste magazine.