Sexy Herbs: The Aphrodisiacal Powers of Truffles and Cilantro

I recently began a resurrection of sorts, writing stories in the vein of Cocktails & Conversations from the Astral Plane for Devour. In the teaser below you'll eavesdrop on three strangers as their night evolves into unctuous exchanges involving truffles and cilantro. Click through for the conclusion and cocktail recipes.  Many thanks to Clive Watson of Triple Sequitur for helping this come to life, and Sam Thompson for introducing me to the Chicago Fizz.

 Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland, 1885

Cast in the piano glow of fading candles, the end of the evening lingered alive in specks of conversation as I swept the floor among the gimlet-eyed. Hiding behind my work, I made my eavesdropping rounds. One woman, who’d out-wined her friend four glasses to two, repeatedly insisted in a voice meant to shout down a crowd of naysayers, “No. No. No. In tantric, your heartbeats need to match up…”

A gray-haired couple sat leaning forward over the bar, each with an arm around the other, whispering to each other. Every now and then the woman giggled and his chuckle chirped shortly after. They reminded me of a teenage romance that could never be, finally finding fruit.
Keeping on, I locked in around a group of three: two men and a woman. All strangers initially, each arrived during the slow build up to the 7:30 grind four or five drinks/hours ago. The woman worked in film—costumes, I’d guess. The older gentleman, who’d bought the last bottle, consulted corporations. The younger gent in a bow-tie, now loosened, probably hailed from lawyer stock. Each placed dinner orders before the dining room began to bulge, forcing upon us their overflow of guests. Service slowed as drink tickets piled up, but these three managed to land ahead of the curve and developed a lax camaraderie.
“Raw egg?!” the woman asked, scanning our cocktail list. Duty bound, both men turned at the same time, charging her up.
“The Chicago Fizz was a fog-cutter,” I explained, “a gloom-lifter, a corpse-reviver.  People drank Fizzes to resurrect the morning-after.”
“I’ll try one,” she said, and the men congratulated her, each with his own story of crazy things consumed on the road. Now, hours later, having come into their cups, they’d suddenly broke new ground over the aphrodisiacal powers of cilantro.  
Flowering Cilantro
photo: H. Zell 
Wikimedia Commons 
Collected in hurried scribbles on a pile of cocktail napkins found wadded up in a pant pocket the following morning, here's what I overheard:
“Your sosommé was soup,” she said, nodding to the older gentleman. “And mine was raw tomato. What’s yours?”
The younger man leaned forward, then sat back, battling with something, before, finally, “Truffles.” His small audience made the outraged faces the context of their conversation required.
Feeling the need to defend himself, he sat up, eyes bulging. “Here’s why: First, they’re all farmed by female pigs.”
“Yeah,” the woman said. “And they’re delicious!”
The older gentleman nodded. “My wife and I paid $50 a plate for black truffle risotto and it was incredible!”
The younger shook his head. “I find something downright repulsive about them. Everyone treats them like this awesome delicacy, but they really just smell like…”
Her eyes perked up, “What?” 
“Think of it this way,” he back-pedaled. “Aside from the way they look, truffles grow two-to-three feet underground in the gnarled roots of oaks. Female pigs must have great snouts to find them. But why are they attracted to them in the first place? Because truffles contain the same chemical produced in the male boars’ sex glands. 
"But that’s not even the freakiest part. Turns out the same musky substance is produced in human sex glands. It’s actually secreted from our armpits.”Downing a large sip of wine, the woman’s eyes widened.

“It’s true,” the older said. “It’s amazing how close our genetic make-up is to pigs.”
“That’s crazy!” she held back her outrage. “You’re basically saying we like truffles so much because they remind us of our own B.O.?
“So-sue-me!” the younger lifted his arms triumphantly. “And it gets even weirder.”
“Only the females search for truffles…”
Seeing where he was leading her, the older gentleman cut in. “So it would have you believe that male humans who like truffles, on some primordial level, are attracted to other men, since the chemical comes from the sex glands of other males.”
Uproarious laughter covered my retreat.
“Yes,” the younger nodded, “I smell truffles and it’s unctuous; it is of the sex—and not the kind of sex I want to be on board with.”
“It’s musky and deep,” she agreed. “And it’s kinda like….”
“Yeah,” his pace speeding up, “And to me, everything connoted by female sex, I’m good with—like when I metaphorized cunnilingus, it was in the direction of snack foods. There are a lot of parallels. Salt-and-vinegar chips are called crotch-chips for a reason…”

In 2008 I was hired to write a short piece for a new magazine that never made it off the ground as the world economy fell into a tail-spin, so I tucked it away until a chance encounter with Men Ink editor David Frederiksen over a few drams of fire water reminded me of this love song to the salty crags. See it in David's Summer 2013 issue or read and take the regions test below.  

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0
Scottish whiskey calls forth images of ancient campfires where long beards, kilts, and daggers rarely left the hall without a flask of fiery spirits to fend off the bitter, long winter chill. Each sip calls forth visions of sea-misted crags and heather-hidden crannies in a land of lake monsters and leprechauns. But rather than firewood, it’s dried peat moss, containing a thousand years of history in each square foot, burning in the hearth. 

Neat, or on the rocks, scotch is the handshake following a hard won deal in a glass. If this sounds too much like a Hollywood dramatization, I offer this anecdote: I recently had to help an attorney back to his feet after he collapsed to the floor when the woman he’d been chatting with carelessly tossed back his single malt. When we finally managed to get him back to his feet, he reprimanded her with a string of playful expletives.  Cutting the curses, words like “hasty inebriation” in deference to “sipping in celebration of life’s deeper pleasures” remained. Such episodes set Scotch aficionados apart from the rest of the cocktail set. They’re purists, and bartenders love them because they’re easy. Pour, and you’re done. 

Touring Scottish distilleries is a far more difficult matter.  Why anyone would choose to build on a remote, storm-lashed island crag (Talisker, Lagavulin, Laphroaig), or on a desolate, wind-whipped patch of Highland wilderness (Oban, Fettercairn, Dalmore) traces back to 1777, when most production was forced underground to avoid English taxation.  For 150 years after the Act of Union, smuggling became the norm and bloody skirmishes were common. Casks were often stored in pulpits and smuggled in coffins.  George Smith, founder of The Glenlivet, was the first to accept a licensing agreement and later received threats on his life (legend also tells of a pair of silver pistols from the Duke of Gordon) for his compliance. 

Can you name the Regions?

Today, Scotch ranks among the most expensive spirits in the world. A bottle of The Macallan 1926 single malt, when available, sells for around $40,000.  The 40 year old The Macallan 1939, along with Chivas Regal’s Royal Salute, hover just over $10,000. That’s a lot of loot for what’s basically barley germinated in water, cured over a peat fire, mashed in hot water where enzymes convert it to sugar, allowed to ferment, distilled of impurities, aged in casks, cold filtered and finally bottled. But what the straightforward process fails to describe are the wisps of air encapsulated almost a century ago, the unpolluted rivers and streams of ancestral times. 

But whether one prefers a steady, consistent blend or one of the more individually nuanced single malts; Scotch, like almost all spirits, began as medicine. Not only an excellent reviver and stimulant, it was also an antiseptic readily available to pour on wounds.  Scotch-Whiskey’s international appeal followed the invention of the Coffey still, leading to the production of lighter grain spirits to blend with more traditional malts. The tipping point of international export in the late nineteenth century took the form of a tiny, sap-sucking insect. Known as phylloxera, this epidemic aphid imported from America destroyed almost all the vineyards in Europe, and Scottish merchants took full advantage of the demand.  Soon empty wine and brandy cellars filled with the spirit of highland kings with Scotch eventually landing a permanent place on the backbar of establishments around the world. 

Courtesy of

My suggestion: find a bartender who’s willing to pour you a flight.  You might have to go in on a weekday or a touch early when the place isn’t jammed and you can manage to hold the bartender’s attention for a few moments.  Often, for the same price you would pay for a full pour of one, a good bartender will pull two or three down and offer smaller portions of each for around the same price.  Have them all without ice or any other mixer, just a glass of tepid water on the side to help cleanse your palate in between tastes, and sniff and swirl each as you would a fine wine. Close your eyes and visualize the subtle differences in character.  Embrace the burn.  Before long might find yourself reinvigorated, ready to charge off into the night and finally organize your office or clean out the garage.

How did you do?

Shooting the Breeze with Shaun Mitchell

published in Focus on the Coast, June 2013

Poet, actor and playwright Shaun Mitchell has been a fixture of the Wilmington arts circuit for twenty-two years. Often the first (and sometimes the last) on the dance-floor, Mitchell's a hard man to miss, often acting in his own plays.

Active Image
photo by Jason Armond
Some of my favorite works are his decade poems - cadenced verses performed with a strong voice. We sat down the night before he was about to debut his fifth in the series at UNCW's Spoken Word Poetry Slam for a quick chat at Old Books on Front. Here are a some highlights:

I've heard you referred  to as a "frustrated historian." Let's say you could control history and look back on your own life, how would you like to be remembered? 

As a writer, a historical playwright, and [smiling] at 51, a rapper. 

Is rapping new? 

I was a teenager when hip-hop started and it wasn't about rap. Before hip-hop, you'd go to a party and everybody danced, then the record stopped, and you have to put another one on. Hip-hop originally meant two turn-tables so the music never stopped. I never wanted to write rhymes about gangsta stuff; I wanted to write about what's relevant, like the Breast Cancer rap or about children eating good food - socially conscious subjects. 

So, prior to 51, you'd just say "poet" then? Tell me about your newest Decade poem. 

I want to capture history so people can experience it in a way like Andy Warhol's photos of Marilyn Monroe. I want to capture essences of America so people can see what we are like nationally. These poems are lists of the things that affect all of us. Most of my plays are about historical figures who many have never heard of but have affected change, like Willis Richardson Jr., a largely forgotten character in the Harlem Renaissance who was born in Wilmington. Another play explained how Emperor Constantine's Council of Nicaea led to our current Christianity. Both of those were produced locally, one at Thalian Hall, the other at UNCW. 

To find out about Shaun's current projects, including the most radical act he ever witnessed, read the rest of the interview here.