Secrets of Seduction: Memorable Meals, Spicy Sex, and Chameleon Carrot Soup


Do you have “naughty” habits you’d like to break, but come dark moments of temptation, you can’t seem to give up? I could bend your ear for hours about all of my peccadilloes—my erotic stories might even function as a catalogue—but this month I’d like to bare all about one particular shameful urge I can’t seem to resist.

The top ten list.

Let me begin by saying that I oppose the very idea of qualitative top ten lists (I’m talking about the “serious” kind you’d find in a newspaper restaurant review section rather than the entertaining David Letterman-style parody). Popular as they are, they are founded on elitist principles—first that the worth of anything can be measured and ranked so facilely, and secondly that not making the list, for whatever arbitrary reason, implies unworthiness. Neither is true. Ideally, each experience stands on its own merits, incomparable to any other. Isn’t life richer if we can appreciate what is in the moment rather than judging it on some numerical scale—”this is the fourth best French toast in New York,” “this is the ninth best vacation I’ve taken”? Still, there are often occasions when I’m asked to list my favorite books or movies or foods, and despite my radical democratic philosophy, I do have preferences, even strong ones.

I try to get around the problem by refusing to adhere to a particular number, just calling it a loose grouping of “favorites.” This usually steers me past the shoals of illusory rankings. Unfortunately, just when I thought I’d conquered this reprehensible habit, a dinner at a friend’s house the other night seduced me into forbidden self-indulgence once again.

Perhaps I should blame the two flutes of rosé Cristal? Or the glass of flinty Sauvignon Blanc served with the coquilles St. Jacques? Was it the two glasses of Bordeaux I drank with the saumon en croute? The tawny port I consumed with the cheese course, which followed on after the two dessert courses I enjoyed: summer berries in champagne jelly accompanied by “raspberry good stuff” (a mixture of fresh raspberries and graham cracker crumbs in fresh whipped cream)?

In any case, somewhere around the presentation of the roasted tomato soup garnished with garlic croutons and a silky dollop of basil purée, I began to murmur to myself, and then aloud to my three dinner companions: “This is one of the best meals I’ve had in my life. It definitely makes the top ten list.”

Yes, I was tipsy, but I meant it. Principled protests aside, I harbor a secret list of transcendental dining experiences that are virtually engraved in my memory. First there’s that evening at my first two-star restaurant in the small town of Dinan, France in 1981, where my mother and I were treated to an elegant, amuse-bouche-to-petit fours service that blew my mind. I’ll never forget the exquisite summer kaiseki feast on the terrace by the river in Kyoto in 1984, an experience I’ve memorialized in two of my most critically acclaimed erotic tales.[“Ukiyo” in Best American Erotica 2006, and Amorous Woman] There’s the Verona restaurant my husband and I just stumbled into on our honeymoon in ’87. Course after delicious course kept arriving until our stomachs were nearly bursting. I could go on down the decades, but all of these early top-ten laureates had one thing in common. There were enjoyed in the some of the world’s finest restaurants and cooked by professional chefs.

The meal I had last Sunday at my friend’s house—a high-school friend I hadn’t seen in almost thirty years and rediscovered on Facebook—was not the work of a trained professional. And yet it was the most personally inspiring meal on the list. I found myself wanting to recreate this experience by and for myself, and with his example before me, it felt well within reach.

Yet, as I sat mesmerized by the play of the candlelight on the flower-like tendrils of the heirloom silver candelabra, I suddenly realized my desire was not to transform my own kid-cluttered dining room into a magazine spread or rifle through my library of cookbooks for the perfect five-course menu. What I really longed to do was write a story that would make my reader feel the same all-encompassing pleasure I was feeling at that moment.

How indeed could I accomplish such a thing? In the clearer light of the morning after, I got to thinking about the elements of the writer’s craft that would evoke the same response. That is, how could I cook up a story that would make an equally magic and memorable “meal”?

I had a few ideas.

First of all, although the dinner was delicious, the food itself was not the equivalent of immortal prose. Every dish was approachable for the serious home cook. However, this was no first effort. The care in planning was evident. And each dish was spiced with pleasure in the process. After all, you don’t go to the trouble to wrap salmon in pastry unless you’re into food as art and willing to take that extra step. So while you don’t have to be Shakespeare (or Thomas Keller) to beguile a reader, you do need to care enough to construct a compelling plot, keep the metaphors fresh and polish the prose until it glows.

Another key element to the magic was the physical presentation of the food, the stage setting, if you will. Details mattered. Three candles in the candelabra were mirrored by three tea lights flickering on the sideboard. The napkins were artfully folded. Each course has its own plate, which was whisked away—I thought of the old-fashioned word “remove”—and replaced with a new delight. In this way the meal took on a rhythm that allowed me to surrender to the program. Because I trusted my host to see to my needs, I could relax, open up, and enjoy the meal on a deeper level.

Since I haven’t yet talked about sex, at least not directly, this might be the time to invite a comparison to the BDSM dynamic in the bedroom—or wherever else you like to do it. If the number of calls for anthologies on this theme are any indication, dom(me)-sub stories speak to the sexual fantasies of many readers. Whether you like it mild, medium or hot, power play can certainly spice up sex. As I discovered the other night, it’s not a bad recipe for dinner either. In proper dom style, my host planned the menu and presented it to me, and in fact, in this recent top-ten meal, I had no idea what was coming next. No doubt part of my heightened enjoyment involved surrender to my friend’s carefully orchestrated sensual experience.

Planning, polishing, obvious passion, attention to detail—all make for a great story. Yet, I’m still not sure I can account for the totality of effect, the essential “rightness” that made me fall prey to top-ten-itis with such abandon. Only today as I’m writing down these impressions do I see that this meal represents more than a story. The complexity of flavors, the pairings of wine and food, the organic development of mood all suggest the scope of a full-fledged novel, the one I keep telling everyone I’m writing, but haven’t quite managed to start.

A novel is indeed an intimidating project and I’m finding it no easier to tackle my second than I did the first. But my top ten dinner has brought yet one more beneficent surprise. Now when I’m feeling anxious about my daunting project, I close my eyes and remember the thoroughly believable enchantment of my friend’s meal. I tell myself if I whip up familiar dishes I love, tackle a few new challenges, and offer plenty of candles and wine, maybe I can make such magic for my reader-guests as well.

I’ll bet you can, too.

In keeping with this month’s theme of the power of thoughtful presentation, I wanted to share a favorite recipe for a simple dish—carrot soup. The ingredients are few, but if you use sweet organic carrots, the flavor is sublime. I often make it for family dinners and serve it in rustic bowls accompanied by bread, cheese and salad. It’s sweet enough that even my picky kids will eat it without much protest.

However, I’ve also served it as a light soup course to guests. The brilliant orange purée complements good chinaware quite nicely, and although it has the texture of a cream soup, it arouses rather than suppress the appetite. Since it can transform itself from homey to elegant depending on the context, I’ve dubbed it Chameleon Carrot Soup. Either way you serve it, I hope it inspires a very good story!

Chameleon Carrot Soup
(Makes 8 small servings)

2 T butter or extra virgin olive oil (or 1 T of each)
2 onions, sliced
2 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced, ideally sweet, fresh ones from the farmer’s market
6 1/2 cups or more chicken or rich vegetable broth
2 T Arborio or medium grain rice
2 T chopped fresh dill

Sauté onions in oil or butter in a soup pot until translucent, 5-10 minutes. Stir in carrots and cook for a few minutes, add stock and rice. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer uncovered until vegetables are tender, about 35 minutes. Puree soup with wand blender or purée in batches in a food processor. Stir in dill. Season with salt and pepper.

Donna George Storey
September 2009

“Cooking up a Storey” © 2009 Donna George Storey. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission from the author.

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