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One of the Kensington Ladies, my English friend, who, like her partners is known for her lusty works of literature, invited herself for tea one afternoon. As we drank Darjeeling tea  and nibbled plum tartlets sprinkled with almonds, we talked briefly about books or movies. Suddenly she  exclaimed, “You’ll do it! Problem solved.”

Do what?” I asked.

You love cooking; we love what you prepare. There you are! Our anthology is being published by Ten Speed Press. The Ladies Home Erotica, is right now coming off the press. Everything is ready. We’ve sent the invitations. We need a wonderful party at my house in ten days.”

My friend’s home up in the Oakland hills is lovely. It offers fabulous views from its elegant rooms, but I’m sure I frowned. 

No, I said, “Impossible. I’ve never cooked for more than ten people; I wouldn’t know where to start .”

There’ll be between eighty and a hundred guests,” she replied airily. “Just multiply by six or seven, whatever works. It’ll be perfect. I must run! See you in ten days.”

I don’t even know what you want!” I wailed.

Do what you like,” she said. “Here, that should cover it.” She pushed a wad of banknotes into my hand before vanishing down the stairs. I stood, paralyzed, my fists full of dollars. What if there wasn’t enough food? What if, because of my catering, the masked  Kensington Ladies didn’t like the food? What if the party to celebrate the Kensington Ladies’ book turned out to be a fiasco?

My mind spun. I was between jobs, and the idea of “doing what I liked” was exciting, but what on earth did  one serve at an erotic buffet? Which foods were aphrodisiacs? Which were not? I’d never considered the question.

I ran to the library and gravely consulted several books, hoping to look professorial with my glasses low on my nose as I took notes. I discovered that during the Middle Ages garden peas were considered highly aphrodisiacal, and were therefore reserved for the aristocracy.  Because tomatoes were believed to be so poisonous, they were to be used strictly for decoration. 

Eggs, from geese’s to caviar, as well as snails, were aphrodisiacs because of their resemblance to semen. I learned that avocado trees are called testicle trees in Spanish, that banana flowers have a phallic shape, and that fennel contains a natural estrogen; that raspberries, in erotic literature, are called “fruit nipples.” Then there is the pineapple, used in homeopathic medicine to treat impotence; so are pine nuts, since their zinc content helps maintain male potency. And there is quince; saffron and cinnamon, whose excess causes hallucinations; sage, pistachio nuts, turnips, nutmeg. I don’t want to bore you with more.

Oysters are greatly appreciated as aphrodisiacs, I discovered. I love them raw, the way they are served in France, with a few drops of lemon juice on top, which causes a slight shiver on their edges, proving perfect freshness. However, it wasn’t oyster season. I sighed with relief:  no need to spend my time during the party shucking an infinite number of oysters on ice, and no need to dispose of their shells after the last guests had said good-bye as well.

 I learned all about figs, apples and pomegranates, vanilla, gladiola bulbs which Greeks and Latin lovers consumed grated and raw in anticipation of . . . well, you know. I read about honey used in mead, pears, furry kiwis and marzipan to be shaped like fruit. All figured on the list of aphrodisiacs together with red meat, while white meat, grapefruit and fish didn’t even rate at the bottom of said list. I began to think in terms of presentation. Phallic white bananas emerging from their skin would . . .  no, they would not do since they darken in the air. A pity. But steamed carrots or parsnips could emerge from thick cucumber slices. 

With my blank slate now overloaded with information. I sat down at my desk to devise a menu to delight the masked Kensington Ladies, their men, the business people involved in the publication, families and friends of the venture. I was dizzy with knowledge, fear and hope. Then, for several days, wrapped in the frail security of an apron, I worked frenetically hard to prepare the aphrodisiacal feast. 

The day before the party, I bought stems of pink and purple orchid that I kept in my cool bathroom. I wanted to decorate each dish with at least one orchid flower, since banana flowers, even at the Berkeley Bowl flower stand—always generous and helpful—were unavailable.

I stuffed Black Mission figs with goat cheese and topped each with a fresh garden pea. I prepared pomegranate seeds to scatter over thinly sliced pineapple wedges. I boiled quail eggs in their freckled shells. I crushed nuts, peeled and scraped and measured and stirred and baked and hardly slept. 

The buffet centerpiece was a voluptuously creamy six-pound Brie cheese, decorated with flower petals arranged in a heart pattern, of course, to be enjoyed with crisp baguette slices or moist German brown bread. I served dozens and dozens of tartlets no larger than the base of petit-fours, filled with cream cheese, chives and smoked salmon; curried eggs topped by chili flakes and a grape. There were little crêpes filled with asparagus spears in a lemon-tarragon sauce. There were small Crimini mushrooms filled with paté out of which soared a blade of red pimiento. There was diced chicken marinated in apricot-and-mustard sauce, on toothpicks with chopped cilantro, my creation.  I’m sure I’ve forgotten some items of this celebration buffet, but I remember those. Bacchus also participated, since one of the ladies’ husbands had a contact in the wine country. 

The party lasted well into early evening. I had no time to feel tired, busy as I was replenishing trays, trying to clean up as I went, making sure everyone had a glass or a plate in hand with an assortment of morsels to sample, grateful for compliments. 

After a few hours the tablecloth covered with tiny remnants of erotic dishes was no longer presentable. I covered it with a clean red one before bringing in dessert plates and forks to place at both ends of the long table.

The dessert centerpiece was a large five-layer chocolate cake I’d made according to an excellent Alice Medrich recipe. It was decorated with two intersecting hearts outlined by an orangey-red braid of marzipan and two large orchids whose name—you guessed it—also means testicles. The rich chocolate confection dominated from the height of its cake stand, sitting on my doily of antique lace. It was too late to worry whether chocolate stains would cause it permanent damage. 

I ran to place a hundred thin, heart-shaped anise cookies of various sizes in the shape of a double giant heart directly on the tablecloth. The cake sat like a castle above villages, filled with  fresh raspberries, Chambord liqueur and pastry cream. To the left of the cake, breast-shaped meringues with a fresh red currant tip in a minute depression invited guests to take in hand, caress and enjoy their melting texture, while Prince William pears, like naked backsides from whatever angle you admired them, glowed temptingly. On the morning of the party, I raided the backyard for red nasturtiums, loving their joyful openness.

Good choice,” a rotund, tipsy guest later remarked with a wink. “Just like vaginas.”

I kept passing trays, smiling, not because it was expected of me but because I witnessed  first hand the amazing effect on the guests of a colorfully erotic buffet accompanied by libations. Ties and tongues loosened at the same time. Ladies in elegant plain or flowered dresses looked dreamy-eyed and languorous. Men took off their jackets, smiled mysterious smiles, and poured their partners more wine, giving up the pretense of discussing business or politics. People held hands in corners—even tired, elderly ladies sitting down on cushy chairs—while daring young girls, who’d made sporadic raids in the reception rooms to indulge in their favorites appetizers and the occasional drink, plunged into the outdoor pool and surfaced glistening like naiads unafraid of satyrs, perhaps even inviting them.

Then, I imagine, there was going home, indifferent to landscapes and neighborhoods; waking from a sort of torpor, starved for love; reaching for a partner on a suddenly voluptuous bed, clothes flying and ignored as they fell, to discover fennel-flavored forgotten caresses, kisses on arms and breasts and necks and thighs tasting of sweet, heady pineapple, or the saltiness of  body parts as partners fit close and closer still, their bodies, lubricated to perfection by the aphrodisiacal feast—my feast—in excited readiness for the climax.


Created in honor of the Kensington Ladies, authors of The Ladies Home Erotica    

Ingredients for 6-8 guests:

2 chicken breast, boneless, skinless.

1/2 cup Dijon mustard+ 1/2 cup Apricot jam

6 good dried Apricots

1 bunch of cilantro, rinsed, stem removed.

1 packet toothpicks

Place boneless chicken breasts in pan, barely covered with water.

Simmer till undersides are white. Turn breasts over, repeat simmering.

Do not overcook. Drain and pat dry on paper towels. Cool. Prepare sauce.


Sauce: 1/2 cup of Dijon Mustard mixed with 1/2 cup good apricot jam

Finely cut the apricots into the sauce.

Dice chicken to 1/2 inch wide and 1/2 inch thick.

Stir chicken pieces into sauce. Let stand overnight, covered.

Before serving: Place 1/2 of washed and patted-dry cilantro on a tray.

Lift chicken out of the sauce. Place separated cubes on top of cilantro.

Sprinkle remaining cilantro on top of chicken. Spear with toothpicks.

(Toothpicks with colorful frills look best.) Refrigerate.

As main course: Do not dice chicken. Reheat on stove at low temperature

10-12 minutes. Add cilantro before serving.

Excellent with rice, parsnips and Lima beans.