Friday, November 30, 2007

Mind-Blowing Sweets from The Best Pastry Shop in the World

Today I launch my Foodie Friday feature, which will cover some aspect of the “food” theme of my blog: recipes, restaurant reviews, food porn, and other edible topics. I’ll post twice a month, at least, more if there are foodie musings I’m inspired to share.

I’m going to start big with my homage to The Best Pastry Shop in the World. I’ve eaten many pastries in Europe, the US and Japan. Many of them have been exquisitely delicious. The warm walnut cakes in Tsumago. The hazelnut-raspberry-cream torte in Edinburgh. But the sweets of Café Zauner in Bad Ischl, Austria are by far the best for subtlety of flavor, a depth of experience that is truly comparable to an erotic afternoon in bed with the love of your life.

My husband and I stopped in Café Zauner on our drive from the storybook town of Hallstatt to Vienna in the fall of 1992. It was mid-morning, so we bought a slice of torte and a poppy seed pastry to go, having feasted on lovely walnut bear claws at our pension. I wanted to stop at Zauner because it was an institution even back in the 19th century when Emperor Franz Joseph summered here with his (platonic) mistress, Katharina Schratt. Katharina’s chef baked a raisin-studded Kugelhopf coffee cake for the Emperor’s morning call each day, but it was said she had a standing order for one from Zauner in case of unforeseen disaster in her kitchen.

Later that afternoon we stopped at a church with onion-domed spires on a bluff overlooking the Danube. There wasn’t much to see inside, though the place was full of tourists, mostly from Eastern Europe, who seemed hungry for life in the capitalistic West. It was then I remembered the cakes we’d bought that morning. I ripped the box open and divided each carefully into two pieces. We ate them with our fingers, my husband from the napkin, I from the torn box. The mocha torte was delicious, dense hazelnut cake layered with cloud-like cappuccino mousse. The poppy seed Danish was a marvel of the pastry maker’s art, not gritty and leaden like most poppy seed fillings, but silken smooth, almost frothy, with a kiss of lemon essence. The silence in the car was broken only by murmurs of pleasure. I knew without question—and how often do you understand these things precisely when they are happening?--that I’d never eaten anything more exquisite in my life.

I hope to return to Austria some day. My ideal vacation would involve a whole week in Bad Ischl with visits to Zauner for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Fortunately, the internet age has made it possible to order some of its less perishable treats for delivery in the US (no mocha torte, alas). In fact, I ordered some Christmas specialties this year: stollen (a yeast fruit bread), lebkuchen (gingerbread), and fruchtebrot (more on what this is in a moment). True to its reputation for refining pastry to the level of art, Zauner’s special gingerbread is a multi-layered affair, unlike the generous, moist and nutty disks of the classic Nurnberg bakery, Lebkuchen Schimdt (also recommended, but homier). A thin layer of nutty gingerbread is covered first with a rich, dense fruit jelly, then a layer of marzipan. The entire miniature square is glazed in fine chocolate. It’s superb. We’re saving the stollen for Christmas, but I’d bet it’s nothing like what you’d buy in your local supermarket.

And the fruchtebrot? We had some last night. Zauner’s has a thin pastry crust, decorated with almonds and angelica. The filling is a moist blend of dried fruits and booze that reminds you simultaneously of mince pie, plum pudding and fruitcake. Yet the sum is greater than all three. The Zauner version has a silky texture that is unique--it’s the essence of an old-fashioned Christmas and you find yourself eating it not just with your very happy palate, but with a luscious dose of nostalgia and wonder as well. After all these years, Zauner still holds its magic. If you don’t mind spending a bit on the postage, you can sample some of that magic here.

So, I hope you enjoyed a trip to The Best Pastry Shop in the World. Stay tuned for Mysterious Monday (sex) and Writer’s Wednesday (writing, of course).

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Rave Review of AMOROUS WOMAN from a Field Marshall in the Orgasm Army!

Most of the time, the novelist’s path is a lonely road. (Take out your hanky….) It’s hard to write a novel, harder still to get it published. Then comes the most terrifying part of the process—your virgin work is thrown to the critics to do with it what they will. I was fortunate enough to be initiated gently into this phase with Victoria Blisse’s wonderful review of Amorous Woman on SexyReads.

This week, I’ve moved into the thick of battle with an interview and review from a big gun in UK erotica criticism, Field Marshall McBirdie who blogs for LoveHoney, a super-sexy online store that will satisfy your every need. Or mine, anyway, because it’s the only place where you can buy Amorous Woman right now with no delay!

I can’t tell you how thrilling it is to get such a fantastic review from a reader who knows her stuff. The Field Marshall said it was rare for her to give a novel 4.5 stars and I am totally honored! Do go check out the interview and review and please consider leaving a comment. I’ll be eternally grateful.

To tease your palate, I’ll give you one of my favorite bits: “Focusing on sex in Japan is a great departure from the more usual erotic scenes and I certainly enjoyed getting a peek into such a different culture. Storey clearly has a love for and an interest in this land, and that comes through with her writing. A piece of erotica that works equally well story-wise and for an insight into a whole other life makes this a great addition to your erotic bookshelf. I have no doubt I'll be rereading this in the future.”

For a novelist, the praise doesn’t get better than that. So put away the hanky for the moment and join me in a glass of champagne as the Orgasm Army marches on to what I hope are many future victories!

Naughty Stories for a Very Nice XXXmas

I just got an early Winter Solstice present—my contributor’s copies of Alison Tyler’s newest anthology Naughty or Nice: Christmas Erotica. Alison always puts together a great anthology, but this one really rings my bells. It may be because I’ve always been enchanted by the year-end festivals of light (all of them, Diwali, Chanukah, Solstice…), or it may be that the stories are such a yummy winter buffet of sexy, smart, and funny with a dash of the bittersweet to add a satisfying complexity of flavors.

The book starts off with a champagne popping bang with Andrea Dale’s “The Queen of Christmas.” I ADORE this story! It’s so hilarious, I was laughing the whole way through, except when I was lusting after that very sexy, Christmas-loving electrical engineer across the street. And then I was kind of smacking my lips and making plans to attack my own electrical engineer husband later.

I’m next with “Fezziwig’s Balls.” When I review an anthology with my own story, I don’t pretend I can comment on its quality, but I do like to mention one or two of my favorite lines. In this case, the title is my favorite line! If you like corsets and dress up and fallen women and the electric thrill of waltzing with a stranger who dances divinely, you might like the story, too. I hope you do!

Get ready for a very sweet peppermint treat with Shanna Germain’s “A Good Little Girl.” Sparkling humor and glittering prose—it’s as magical as a Christmas tree. Really. I was grinning at the clever story and the awesome writing the whole way through. Sitting on Santa’s lap has never been so much fun, and I can’t seem to get that that Christmas tree dildo out of my mind. Someone has GOT to make one of those and give Shanna a cut of the profits.

Lisette Ashton gives us a witty, X-rated reinterpretation of Charles Dickens’ classic in “Carol’s Christmas.” Lisette knows her stuff, of course, as she hails from Merrie Olde England. The strong and silent Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come gives the heroine a chance to change her ways, posing the question dearest to the hearts of men--will she or won’t she? Come, that is. Read it and find out for yourself ;-)

Two of my other favorites are Joel A. Nichols’ “Nog” and Michael Hemmingson’s “Two Gifts.” Both have a bittersweet realism that strips away the fantasy of Christmas. What lies beneath is surprisingly and profoundly arousing. Kudos to Alison for giving us some savory stories as well as sweet ones to feast on in this book. Oh, and at that next Christmas party, remember to ask college kids in the house exactly what’s in the eggnog!

I’ve been a huge fan of Sharon Wachsler since I read her “Sappenschwester” in M. Christian and Sage Vivant’s Garden of the Perverse. “Tagged” fulfilled my yearning for more of her funny and very sexy stories. Thomas S. Roche’s “Hollywood Christmas” combines the delights of smart social satire with a steamy and very La-La Land interplay of voyeurism and exhibitionism. Of course at this time of year, interesting things happen when the lights are low. Saskia Walker’s “Caught Watching” is a perfect ambisexual cocktail of seeing and doing. You can always count on a red-hot story from Saskia and it’s always a thrill to be in her company in a toc.

Alison gives us a wham-bam finish with “Naughty or Nice?” It’s everything you ever wanted for Christmas—since you turned eighteen, that is. I could go on and on, but to keep it short—we all have shopping to do, right?--I highly recommend this anthology. I was told at the Cleis reception earlier this month that the major bookstore chains were stocking the book, so you can toodle down to Barnes and Noble and check it out. It’s a good gift for any naughty friend you want to be especially nice to this year!