I can imagine this drink as an aphrodisiac. I can also imagine it as a night-cap. I can sit with my bitterness, my sadness, and my joy.
I do like an occasion, and Valentine's Day certainly is one - to celebrate love: familial, platonic, marital, erotic. I know I've left out Agape, but what could you possibly cook for that?
Usually I make a nice family meal with lots of things shaped like hearts and take out my mother's pink tablecloth.
But like most things chocolate, Valentine's Day is so over-sugared, we've diminished the breadth of the experience of love as well as left out those who feel: lonely, searching, rejected, burned, exhausted, unwanted, unlovable, unloved, bitter.
Time to listen to Aretha Franklin - Sweet Bitter Love.
Feeling active - and receptive
Maybe Valentine's Day could be, not about excluding so many, but empowering everyone to celebrate just where they are, at this particular moment, on that ever compelling, painful and wonderful journey called LOVE - sweet, bitter, sour all.
Yet I had also wanted to write something about aphrodisiacs - foods, drinks, smells, and substances that open our bodies up to desire and allow us to feel both active and receptive.
I asked friends - so many talked about the power of smell - of bodies, and also of flowers / essential oils - Ylang Ylang, Jasmine, Rose.
Tropical fruits, weed, chocolate ...
Others mentioned fruits, tropical ones, lychees, figs, mangoes, pears, peaches, pomegranates, mulberries, raspberries, cherries - all in perpetual fruit in this Valentine's Garden-Beyond-Seasons.
Lots of people were into foods with a sensuality in the mouth - creme caramel, panna cotta, creaminess in general - and finger licking - buttery, as in artichoke leaves, and truffle oil.
Of course delicious chocolate is ever sexy, as are chilis, that spicy heat that gets lots of us feeling alive. Smoking a little weed is wonderful for certain people. As is nice wine.
And of course gestures of love, of help, of sharing the burdens of life. And if only the sweet gestures of intimacy and tenderness were a substance - but that's what I suppose we seek from chocolate, when such gestures may be lacking.
Making your own fun ...
I own a wonderful book called Make Your Own Aphrodisiacs, by Julie Bruton-Seal & Matthew Seal. I recommend it, and their Hedgerow Medicine website, to you.
Yesterday I began to look through it and started getting 100 inspirations, even if I didn't have, at that late notice, ingredients on hand to try their recipes.
The authors look to traditional Chinese, Indian and European ideas of foods and herbs that inspire sexual energy, and they concoct modern and appealing recipes using world foods.
Really fun. And much better than any of the Tantra / Aphrodisiac cookbooks I've ever so far happened upon.
Seizing the sour
Reading their description of Moctezuma, Aztec King, drinking his Xocolatl reminded me of a friend who always made his cocoa without sugar, and how I enjoyed experiencing the taste of chocolate without its bitterness being hidden. He did use milk, which isn't ancient.
I like bitter. I like sour. I feel these flavours are rejected because they are not easy, and as well because our sweet-obsessed society skews our taste buds ...
In my fermenting workshops, I often ask participants when they are uncomfortable, to just "be with" the sour, or the bitter, and try not to judge the experience, especially as negative.
And this all brought back to me the connection to Sweet Bitter Love, being able to be with, to honour, the parts of love that aren't so easy or sweet.
Xocalatl, it shall be then!
And easy enough ingredients: water, chilis, vanilla, cocoa powder. (I thought I could also use cocoa nibs and grind them, but cocoa powder just felt effortless.)
The recipe had me simmering then straining the chilis, then mixing all the liquid and further simmering with the cocoa and vanilla extract. I don't know. In the end I added extra raw chilis to intensify the spice.
As an aside - I had never known, and learned from the Brutons' book, above, that Vanilla comes from an orchid whose "very name is derived from the Spanish for 'little sheath' or vagina".
Vanilla to me is liminal between food and perfume, and in every way is such a happy ingredient to be included in this recipe.
Uncle Phaedres, Finder of Lost Recipes has interesting things to say about Xocolatl, if you fancy a read.
How was it for you?
The result? It's nice, and actually with the spice tastes invigorating. I might add lots of vanilla seeds and pulp to the mix next time. I drank it by myself.
I am feeling a calm surrender to everything in my life. A little heady, actually, a little high. I can imagine this drink as an aphrodisiac. I can also imagine it as a night-cap. I can sit with my bitterness, my sadness, and my joy.
I am on my Journey of Love. I can experiment further with Xocolatl ...
[EDIT, half an hour later: This beverage IS an aphrodisiac, I can attest. That combo of chili heat, bitter cocoa, perfumy vanilla - quite effective at its task.]
Next time ... cocoa beer?
Being the fermenting enthusiast I am, I'm most interested next time to explore what would happen if I let this Xocolatl concoction ferment - seemed for sure that historically some kind of fermentation would have been desirable if not unavoidable.
Searching around the internet on this subject, I found this very fascinating piece on the website of one of my favourite museums in Philly, the city of my youth.
This is an amazing piece that looks at the Aztec archaelogy of drinking and storage vessels, discusses the pulpy fruit around the cocoa seed, mentions human sacrifice and blood and colouring agents that represent them, and finishes with a video about a cocoa beer they name Theobroma, which might be similar to what I make next time.
Or maybe mine would be more like a chocolate mead - or, a spicy chocolate liquer - which would really be ... something else! Stay tuned!
Happy Valentine's Day, Dear People, wherever you find yourself in your life story of love - I raise my teacup to you!
Recipe: here's an Instructables for a "Mayan Chocolate Drink" if you were to have cocoa beans themselves.
PS Have any readers experienced these shamanic Cacoa ceremonies like a this kind of thing? (I can't vouch for that link, I just know this is something groovy people are up to!)
Annie Levy is interested in the more unusual aspects of gastronomy including eating and cooking to music and wild fermentation. She blogs at Kitchen Counter Culture where this article was first published.