Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Junk Food Porn and Mom’s Homemade Erotica

The question seems to pop up everywhere—how do we determine if something is porn or erotica? One of the more common answers it to divide the categories by gender. Porn is usually made for and purchased by men, it tends to be visual, or if it’s written material, solely focused on the sexual act. Erotica is for ladies, it’s rarely pictorial and focuses on feelings and story, although these days steamy sex is part of the package as well.

There’s some truth to these divisions, generally speaking, but I tend to resist this view, if only because I find certain visual representations of sexuality very sexy. And I don’t always want my sex dressed up in a peignoir of emotion. The bare stuff can be just what I need—exactly the sort of raw, explicit depictions that are supposedly aimed at men.

I was recently reading Ian Kerner’s books, She Comes First: The Thinking Man’s Guide to Pleasuring a Woman and He Comes Next: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Pleasuring a Man (erotica writers need to fill the well with information and inspiration, too!) and happened upon an approach to the porn vs. erotica issue that makes more sense to me. Kerner compares porn to junk food (a “fast-food fantasy fix”), readily available, mass produced, targeted at the lowest common denominator, ultimately unfulfilling. He didn’t mention erotica, but I would say that erotica by my definition (and it could be a photograph or video as well as an artfully written story) is rooted in an individual’s vision. It is unique imaginative work that requires care and attention on the part of both creator and audience. Not that erotica collections all fall into this category or that you can't find a story or photo that arouses both body and mind in a mainstream "men's" magazine, but by my definition, erotica does tend to challenge and question, while porn soothes, even while the details (woman with horse, etc) may shock at first.

Although I picked up Kerner’s books as story research for tips on technique, I found myself far more interested in what he has to say about sexuality in our culture. Particularly interesting was his discussion of love maps—“the sexual template expressed in every individual’s erotic fantasies and practices” and how they are formed. “Ironically,” he writes, “we often don’t know our own love maps, which is why the expression of fantasy, especial via internal triggers that spring from our imagination is all the more crucial: It’s our only real way of knowing and sharing our sexual fingerprint.” (p. 82) Kerner is troubled by the way porn overrides this internal search. For example, a young man masturbates to Playboy and finds himself attracted to busty, cute blondes in a kind of Pavlovian connection. Even more detrimental, he becomes dependent on “external triggers that can both obscure and override the organic development of the love map.”

Of course, I can’t speak for my audience’s experiences of my stories, but I do know that I have learned a lot about my “love map” since I began writing stories with a sexual theme. (This is one reason why I recommend EVERYONE write erotica, even if you don’t intend to publish it!) I would argue that a person looking to truly understand more about female sexuality and about what women really want, will find more satisfying answers in Best Women’s Erotica than mass-market porn.

My reaction to a lot of porn may not just be a feminist resistance to what I perceive is a false depiction of female sexuality. It may be a resistance to an imposed set of standards and truths about such a deeply personal issue—this would be true for men or women. This brings us to Hugh Hefner, who has always fascinated me in his role as national tastemaker, as a man who imposed his own sexual preferences on a generation—or maybe more—of American males. Clearly he tapped into something that was there, and I believe there is a powerful collective imagination at work in our sexuality, but to what extent has Hefner distorted the individual’s true desires with his Playmates and the Playboy Philosophy and made men into passive receptacles for his vision?

I think it’s a lot more interesting to create my own fantasies. Like chocolate chip cookies, rice mousse pudding and sweet yellow cake with fudge frosting, homemade treats are far better than the things you buy. And wouldn’t you rather discover your own sexual fingerprint than study Hugh Hefner’s month after month?

I might be fooling myself, though, in my perhaps adolescent insistence of making my own taste. So, I refuse to swoon over Brad Pitt and Leonardo di Caprio on principle and prefer to focus on the ordinary, but no less powerful magic of people I actually know or more typically, people I make up in my head. I’m as much a slave to our culture as anyone, no doubt. But I do like the idea of exploring my inner landscape rather than using the prefab symbols and scenarios the media provides.

I would recommend Kerner’s books, less for the step-by-step cunnilingus program, although I could see how that may be helpful for beginners (I’d probably refer to it before a fantasy date with a hot lady myself). However, my personal preferences don’t completely coincide with Mrs. Kerner’s, although the book made my husband and me pay more attention to what we do, which is always valuable. Still, it’s Kerner’s intelligent questioning of the “givens” in our society’s view of sexuality—the opening of the mind rather than the legs--that makes these books worth reading.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Poem in a Glass: 1989 Penfold’s Grange Hermitage Bin 95

Our special indulgence this weekend was to break out one of the older wines from our cellar—bought way back in the early 90’s when we had disposable income (ah, those were the days). At the time, laying out $80 for a bottle of wine was thrillingly extravagant, and I felt quite naughty with my purchases. Today a new release Penfold’s Grange Hermitage goes for over $200, a price increase much higher than inflation, so it turns out to have been a good investment in the opportunity to taste one of the world’s premier wines.

I was trawling the internet for reviews of the 1989 and came upon a write-up of a vertical tasting of the wine from ten years ago. The 1989 was singled out as an unfortunate departure from the usual, too jammy as if the winemakers had poured in an equal amount of Chambord. Maybe ten years has softened the wine or maybe I just feel grateful to be able to taste it at all, but I really enjoyed the 1989.

Okay, now the wine porn begins. From the first whiff, you could tell you were dealing with a very fine wine with so much complexity and depth. It felt like velvet in the mouth, rich and smooth and compelling in its presence. I’d have to agree it was strong on the raspberry jam flavors, but it also had spice and the layers of brightness I associate with sunlight captured in a bottle. Then came the long finish, something you never get with a middle-range wine, no matter how charming. But with a first-growth wine, you can feel the flavors develop and change on your palate, unfolding over a minute’s time or more. Like a poem, it is more than what it seems at first taste. You take another sip not to get drunk but to learn more about the subtle pleasures it offers. And of course, it keeps getting better. I'd say the 1989 was at its peak; we drank it neither too early nor too late.

This is the first premier Australian wine I’ve had and it was notably different from French wines which always have a certain austerity—earthy undertones in Burgundy or Bordeaux, pepper in the Rhone Valley. This had more of a Napa-style roundness and sweetness to it. The fruit rather than the earth predominated.

Again I must contradict my advice for dinners of seduction. If you happen to have a 17-year-old bottle of fine red wine lying around, your dinner guest will most likely be very, very appreciative indeed.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

More Thoughts on Food for Sex

I was reading Rachel Kramer Bussel’s Lusty Lady column from last May in the Village Voice called “Eating for Arousal,” and thought I’d add a few thoughts about the sex-food relationship and meals for seduction.

In my last post, I suggested that there were no “magic bullet” foods to make a reluctant partner into a “fuck-me-now” lust bunny, and maybe I’m still right. But the way Rachel describes the effect of a cupcake on her state of mind and body makes me wonder! Not that a cupcake, or a dish of excellent rice pudding, would make me leap on the bones of someone I hated. It might tip the balance if I were on the fence, though, by taking me to a place where the senses are engaged and ready for more action. Still, there’s no way to make generalizations about what this magic potion would be for any given person. Women do seem more likely to be moved to passion by a sweet luscious dessert than men. Or at least they’re willing to admit it. For one it might be chocolate, though, for another something creamy. Finding out what this is involves getting to know the person—and I would still argue that the process of gaining intimate knowledge is itself the aphrodisiac.

I especially related to this quote from the article: “They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, but what about the way to his cock, or to a girl's tender bits? Is it possible to get someone in the mood with a well-cooked, sexy meal? According to Jacqui Malouf, author of Booty Food (Bloomsbury, 2004), it certainly is. ‘Good, bad, or burnt, there's something erotic about being nurtured with goodies made by a lover. When a new special someone in your life shares their favorite dishes, you really see who they are, and that kind of naked authenticity is truly sexy to me.’"

Sharing your favorite foods, especially ones you make, with someone is an act of intimacy, a way to let them see and be you, by experiencing the same sensual pleasure. And, this might even be too obvious, but our bodies and minds do not divide sensual enjoyment into discreet categories, though our society might insist that sexual joy is completely separate from culinary delights or appreciating a lovely sunset. (I also think reading a book or story that someone really loves is an exciting way to get to know them!) Maybe because food has so many connotations of maternal nurturing, it feels naughty to link it with sex? But it’s definitely not unnatural to do so.

Okay, really, next time, junk food porn and homemade erotica and why I have this bizarre fascination with Hugh Hefner and a few other things….

Friday, March 24, 2006

Seduction Dinners: The Best Food for an Evening of Good Sex

Any blogger who claims to have something to say about “Sex, Food, and Writing” should probably address the all-important issue of what to feed your lover, or prospective lover, before the evening’s entertainment moves on to more intimate activities. The topic is of personal importance to me as well because my husband and I took our relationship to the next level--and you know just what I mean--the night he first invited me to his apartment for dinner. Did what happened at the dining room table convince me to find out if his bed was a fun place to be, too? You betcha. There is something particularly alluring, and reassuring, about a man who will make the effort to please your palate. It bodes well for his willingness to look out for your pleasure in other ways as well.

My advice has its limitations—I can really only speak in general terms about a meal designed to seduce a woman. This may be an outdated stereotype, but I’d think men would want something heartier, such as slabs of red meat, to stoke the testosterone. But for a woman, a lighter menu will be far more likely to put her in the mood for love. First of all, it’s usually difficult for a woman to display her appetites in front of a man she is trying to impress—and let’s assume if she agrees to have dinner at your place, she likes you and wants to impress you. Give her the opportunity to be healthy and somewhat restrained at the dinner table, and she’s more likely to let loose in bed. More importantly, healthy, high-veggie, low-fat food really does make you feel good about your body, lighter in spirit, and more inclined to celebrate life. Really. The other day I had some Japanese vegetarian temple food for lunch at a restaurant in San Francisco called Medicine Eat Station. Steamed vegetables with sesame sauce, fresh tofu with ginger, miso soup and brown rice with plum topping—it was delicious AND better still, it made me feel wonderful and glad to be alive all day. Kind of like a natural high. This is a good frame of mind to be in to enjoy a new lover.

So, what sorts of things should be on a menu designed to seduce? First you have to know if she has food allergies, eats meat or just fish or is vegetarian, prefers white wine or red. (If you know her well enough to invite her for dinner, usually you know these things, but if you don't, make sure to ask.) For flesh eaters, I’d recommend grilled chicken breast or fish with a fresh salsa or low-fat pesto. To accompany this—a salad or steamed vegetables and rice or good French bread. For vegetarians, the same salad and vegetables and perhaps a risotto or stir-fry. Fresh, high-quality ingredients are key, of course. And it’s probably best to find recipes that allow for a lot of advance preparation so you can focus on her and not overly fussy cooking procedures.

Serve a decent wine, although she’ll be more comfortable with a mid-range, good quality for the money selection rather than something really expensive, which might be overwhelming until you get to know each other better. If you can pick up an interesting story about the wine from the wine merchant (it comes from a small domaine in Gigondas, etc) it will make for good dinner conversation. Oh, and don’t pour too much—maybe some ladies can handle their liquor better than I, but while one glass will lubricate the fellowship, more than two will dull the senses, which is not the point at all!

Okay, on to dessert. Here is where you will want to splurge a bit because it marks the transition from civilized restraint to hedonistic indulgence, which is definitely how you want the evening to end. Have some fresh fruit in season available, but also some bite-sized treats. She’ll be very impressed if you actually bake some fudgy brownies made with high-quality dark chocolate and a dash of Grand Marnier or framboise (no boxed mixes PLEASE—she deserves better, no?). Or buy some small pastries from a good local bakery, cut them into small pieces and share. Sharing food is always very sexy and a good way to soften the barriers in preparation for more serious bonding.

Two more tips from personal experience. One thing that definitely got my attention was watching my husband slice up the vegetables for the cashew chicken stir-fry he was making (I ate meat back then). I loved those deft hand movements—very promising indeed for the future practice of his manual skills on me. And when it came time for that delicate move from dinner to something else, whatever else that might be—hot sex or thank you and good night?—what assured the former was a good laugh together. Over a book of “man-bites-dog” type headlines of all things. For you it might be a good comedy DVD or some stand-up on cable or something else altogether. But if you can laugh together, you can most assuredly make good love, too.

Some people might be looking for recommendations for a specific food to turn a woman from a cautious lady to a raging sex machine. Oysters, chocolate, whatever. I don’t really know of any magic potion like that. A man’s careful and considerate attention works more wonders, in my experience. You can definitely do that by spoiling her with a good meal. Hope this helps all you folks who got here from a Google search for “good food for sex” ;-)

Next time: my thoughts on junk food porn and mom’s homemade erotica.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

World’s Best Chocolate Frosting for Cupcakes, Sundaes and Sex

For those who might be interesting in sweetening your life, here’s the recipe for chocolate fudge frosting/sauce/body paint I spoke of in my interview on All Cupcakes, All the Time.

Combine in a heavy-bottomed saucepan:
1 cup sugar
1 6oz (3/4 cup) can evaporated milk
1/4 cup butter
1 egg, slightly beaten
Dash salt

Cook over moderate heat until mixture thickens and begins to boil, stirring frequently, about five minutes.

Add and stir to blend:
1 or 2 oz. unsweetened chocolate, chopped**
1 teaspoon vanilla

Cool thoroughly before spreading on cake, use immediately as sundae sauce. Cool to lukewarm for use as a body paint.

**Since this is a recipe from childhood, it tastes "right" to me with less chocolate, maybe 1 1/2 ounces, although with our modern appreciation of dark chocolate, the higher amount might suit the current taste better.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

All Cupcakes, All the Time

I'm not sure if this entry relates to food, sex or writing...but the experience definitely got my juices flowing. Rachel Kramer Bussel, a great erotica writer and spicy sex columnist, also runs a drool-inducing blog called "All Cupcakes, All the Time." I actually go there for the pictures, not the articles--okay, it's a lie, I'm always on the lookout for pointers to new and exciting cupcake experiences the world over so I devour the reviews, interviews and recipes as well--but I also recently participated in the thoroughly enjoyable Cupcake Interview (mine is posted on March 11, 2006). It stirred up a lot of sweet memories for me, so you know, cupcakes can be more than just diet-breaking indulgence. Self-knowledge through cupcakes--don't knock it until you've sampled a few from the premier purveyors!

A Friday Night Three-way with E. Guittard

On Friday night my guys and I watched Wayne’s World and did another dark chocolate tasting to celebrate my older son’s acceptance into the middle school of his choice. The search was a simmering stressor all fall and winter and now we finally have a happy ending!

What better way to celebrate a happy ending than with a chocolate monoawase, this time with three different E. Guittard single origin chocolates? The first player was a repeat performer, the Chucuri Bittersweet in the dark green wrapper, country of origin Columbia. The official copy characterizes it as: “Long, deep, slow chocolate flavors are accented by pleasant hints of spice.” (I think you need to be over eighteen to read these descriptions). Next we tried Ambanja Bittersweet in the purple wrapper from Madagascar which “mingles tart essences with deep, rich chocolate flavor.” The third entry was Sur del Lago Bittersweet from Venezuela in which “complex chocolate flavors underlie subtle hints of red berry fruit.”

I actually enjoyed this tasting more than the previous one, probably because it seemed easier to focus on the flavors, given they were all the same 65% cacao and all from the same producer. This time we did not have a generation war, interestingly enough. My younger son stayed true to his first choice in the earlier tasting, the Chucuri, but the Dauphin switched his allegiance to the Sur del Lago. That came in first for my husband and me as well. It was definitely the most complex of the three—I tasted green tea undertones, my husband described it as hints of coffee. My husband thought the Ambanja and Chucuri tied for second place, with a slight edge to the Ambanja, if pressed. My older son and I put the Chucuri in second place and the Ambanja third. They were all quite nice, but the Madagascar chocolate was less distinctive and sweeter than the others, rather like good-quality chocolate I use for glazes. The Chucuri was still very earthy and forward, but in comparison to the Ambanja, it definitely had more depth, so I gained a new appreciation for the character of the “green one.”

Friday night chocolate tastings are getting to be a ritual around our house. They are definitely educational—a good way to practice the fine art of translating sensation into words. I hope my sons' wives/lovers appreciate this early training in talking about feelings!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

So You Want to Write Erotica?

When I first started writing seriously, oh, about nine years ago come April, I didn’t set out to specialize in erotic fiction, although sex and relationships were always of great interest to me—and I never seemed to be able to write a story without at least one sex scene! I often heard otherwise accomplished writers say they were afraid to write sex or they couldn’t do it well and I assumed I would face those same obstacles because sex was somehow inherently difficult to translate onto the page. And it is, of course. But somehow I ended up publishing more erotic fiction than the “serious” stuff, perhaps because I find sex so much fun to write. A heck of a lot more fun than a dissertation or an essay on a parent’s death, that’s for sure. These days, although I still consider myself a beginning writer, people occasionally ask me for “advice” on how to write erotica. I don’t really have advice, but the other day on my morning two-mile walk, I was mulling over a few writer-to-writer ideas I thought I’d share on my blog. After all, it has been a while since I’ve done a writing-focused entry and I want to stay true to my title.

The first thing that occurred to me is that if you WANT to write erotica or good hot and/or honest sex scenes, then you’re more than halfway there. That desire will carry you far in terms of imagining the scenes and learning the tricks and finally doing the hardest work of all--edit, edit, edit. Plus, beyond the usual blocks to writing, sex brings along a lot of psychic baggage. Nice girls don’t have thoughts like this. Men are all sex-obsessed porn-addicts who think of nothing else but fucking anything that comes along. What will your mother think if you write about sex like you’ve actually had some, even if you’re forty and have been married for fifteen years and have three kids? Stuff like that. There will be moments when you’re sitting at the computer totally shocked and amazed that such images are coming from your fingers and that some day someone else might read them, even if it’s under a pseudonym. But the desire to do it and do it right will carry you through those moments of doubt. Telling the truth about sex is truly a noble endeavor, and one that’s not often attempted. Certainly not in the popular media which is where most of us get our messages.

Okay, on to more practical writing tips. In my early morning musings, I realized that I automatically do something now that wasn’t so automatic at the beginning. I put myself in a safe space to write sex, a place where I’m free to explore the shadows of my imagination. Many of the scenes and images I write do not end up in print, and I think it was all the more crucial in the beginning to feel safe in my experimentation. So, yes, lock yourself away from mom and the cops and your third-grade teacher and see what you discover. In the end, no matter how many stories you publish, no matter how many millions of dollars and fans you collect (more likely hundreds or dozens of both if we’re talking reality), the real treasure you’ll gain is a clearer vision of what turns you on and what sex means to you. And that’s something worth doing right there.

Wow, I’m such a cheerleader. You’d hardly know that I get depressed about writing at least every five minutes! But when the blues hit, it’s time to turn back to your erotica collection (you want to write it because you enjoy reading it, no?) and start reading it all over again. But this time you do it for work, not pleasure. You reread your favorite stories with the goal of learning all the tricks that make it soar. You can also read to learn what you don’t want to do. Long, poetic descriptions bore you? Cut them out of your work if you wander there. Dialogue turns you on? Put in a lot of hot, nasty repartee. All of the writing books I’ve read (and you’ll know from an earlier entry that I’m a how-to-write-book addict) say the best writing teacher is a great story. The same works for erotica, too.

Not that there aren’t special techniques that make for a successful (that is, published) erotic story. Some of the best advice I’ve read can be found in Susie Bright’s How to Write a Dirty Story. In particular, her discussion of writing orgasm was an eye-opener for me. While orgasm may be the climax of an actual sexual encounter, it seldom works that way in fiction. Who knew? I’d also add that a good erotic story does not fly from sex alone. Above all, you need freshness is language and scene, and the easiest and perhaps only way to do that is to have a good story as a foundation. You know, a plot with conflict, characters with personalities, a little mystery, a little something that goes wider and deeper than the story itself. It’s not always necessary to get your reader hot, but it doesn’t hurt. And editors seem to love it.

But there’s one other thing Susie said in her book that sticks in my memory and that is, it’s worth writing erotica even if you’re never published, even if you never intend to be published. Doing what you need to do to write hot erotica—which above all means paying attention to the sensations, scents, sounds and sights of sex—will enrich your life immeasurably. I wish you the best with the writing and the research!

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Dark Chocolate Taste Test Reveals The Generation Gap is Alive and Well

It’s been a while since I’ve posted—we were in Tahoe for winter break doing a little winter sporting, but mostly dealing with strep throat and its complications. We’re all glad to be back home and healthy and to celebrate, we put on a dark chocolate tasting last night. My younger son just learned that dark chocolate is a Super Food and he thought it would be a good idea to do a comparative tasting.

The four chocolate bars we tasted were a fair-trade organic chocolate we bought through our progressive, socially-conscious Berkeley school and three from our local over-priced grocery store: Isis Luxury Belgian Dark Chocolate (70% cocoa); E. Guittard Chucuri Bittersweet (65%); and Lindt Excellence (70%).

The boys’ unanimous favorite was the Guittard because it was “more like milk chocolate” and “didn’t have a funny aftertaste.” (The extra 5% of milk and sugar apparently does make a difference). My younger son ranked the Isis next for its lighter taste and thought the fair trade and Lindt tied for third. My older son preferred the Lindt with a “fruity aftertaste,” followed by the Isis, with the fair trade coming in last.

My husband and I had just shared a bottle of 2003 Domaine Les Pallieres Gigondas, a lush, peppery Rhone treat from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, so perhaps it influenced our choices—unanimous for the older set on all four counts. Our favorite was the Isis because it seemed the most balanced and complex. The Lindt came second—smooth and multi-layered. The Guittard was our third choice because it seemed unbalanced and rather one-dimensional and overly forward in flavor, not surprising since the cocoa is from one region rather than a blend like the other two. The fair trade chocolate, which had seemed yummy enough when tasted alone, came out at the bottom with a rather harsh, earthy flavor. But we do appreciate that the small farmer got more of the profit out of this one. Really.

I’m thinking we might want to do a tasting with milk and semi-sweet chocolate, or perhaps an array of Guittard single region bars in the near future, because I suspect the bitterness of the 70% cocoa bars threw the results for the kids. Nothing like a good reason to taste more chocolate!

Soon to come, my thoughts on getting started writing sex scenes and erotica. It’s not as “hard” as it might seem.