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Beyond Edible Underwear

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The Earth has circled around once more, bringing us to this cold month the French call fvrier, and to the Hallmark love-in called St. Valentine's Day. It's hard to take the holiday seriously when you're assaulted by giant pink singing teddy bears and red foil-wrapped candies at each turn -- each "gift" more shameless than the last. It is a terribly commercial holiday, but why not use it for what it's marketed as: an excuse to fill your life with romance?

It doesn't take much to create an aura of seduction. Filling your home with silks and velvet, candles and incense can't hurt, but not all of us have the resources, or the desire, to turn our houses into the inside of Jeannie's bottle. If you truly want to throw your lover into fits of passion, go to the grocery store.

People overindulge in food more than just about anything else, and why not? It caresses all of the senses: the texture of caramel sliding over the tongue, the taste of rich crme brle, the sound of sizzling stir-fry, the sight of taut, bright, curvaceous fruits, and the heady scents... oh, God, the scents. The Romans placed food on the same level as sex, and rightly so. Each of us has had at least one dish that caused an involuntary moan of pleasure. For Valentine's Day, create your own orgiastic feast of the senses.

Even simple foods like carrots, lettuce and beans carry with them aphrodisiac properties, and just about every fruit under the sun has been used in some gypsy love potion. Okra is a powerful and unlikely stimulant, rich in relaxing magnesium as well as vitamin B, zinc, folates and iron, all nourishment for the libido. They say the scent of pumpkin pie turns men on above all else, and that might be due to the rich aromas of cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg. I've heard that asparagus does wonders, and a female friend who shall remain nameless to protect her Anas Nin "Veiled Woman"-like anonymity swears that all sensual food should be simmered in coconut milk.

Of course, you can't go wrong with chocolate-covered fruit. People think that I'm some kind of Martha Stewart, but for the sake of eroticism I'll let you in on a little secret: In most grocery stores, you'll find little cardboard tubs of something called Dolce Fruita sitting around the fresh strawberry display. It's about $1.99, and contains delicious chocolate discs. Nuke for 30 seconds, dip dry fruit, lay them on wax paper, toss carton, and in about 10 minutes you have elegant, confectioner-quality candied fruit.

For a sweet meat dish, soak boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce, a tablespoon or so of garlic salt, perhaps a little fresh basil (also an aphrodisiac) and some decent Chardonnay. Alcohol strongly permeates meat, so mess around until you find the right amount of wine and the right length of time to marinate. Moderate with water if needed. I made up this recipe a few weeks ago when I was trying to use up some old wine, and I couldn't believe what a sophisticated combination of flavors it created. Grill the chicken -- it will be sweet yet salty, herbal and smoky, and unbelievably tender. Your lover will be impressed.

Sometimes it's not even what you're eating, so much as how you eat it. After watching me eat a slice of kiwi, I once had a highly composed gentleman grab me and kiss me with shaking passion, murmuring, "your lips..." -- quite possibly one of the most romantic moments of my life, thanks to a kiwi.

Eat slowly. Savor each bite like you'll never have another. Watch each other eat, the subtle movements of the mouth can be more arousing than any striptease. Don't be afraid to get sticky. Eat with your hands when you can, and invest in silver-plated utensils for when you can't. A set of medium-quality silverware for four can be had for around $30 at Ross, and you can use it every day without tarnishing. Use cloth napkins and sip from wine glasses, even if you're drinking Pepsi. Sit on the floor. Dine naked. Feed each other -- it's not clich. Show your lover just how comfortable you are when she's around.

It's a very intimate act, the nourishing of the body. Food can enhance any situation, but the beauty and excitement it brings to a romance is unparalleled. Practice erotic cookery and even the weekly trip to the store will become an act of love.

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