Picks and Pans Review: Aphrodite: a Memoir of the Senses

updated 04/20/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/20/1998 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Isabel Allende

Aphrodite explores the enduring and passionate bond between the culinary and the carnal—and concocts a heady stew of amour and cuisine. Allende (The House of the Spirits) combines reminiscences about cooking, travel and romance with brief essays on the nature of desire (the title of one chapter is "Cooking in the Nude"; another is "Sins of the Flesh"). She writes about taste and smell, flowers and sauces, gigolos and harems, alligators and piranhas, the sensuality of language and music. She quotes from friends and relatives and fellow writers, including Catullus and Pablo Neruda, William Butler Yeats and Anaïs Nin. And she seasons this highly literary broth with recipes for dishes believed by different societies to have aphrodisiac properties. Her recipes, ranging from the fanciful and ambitious to the more practical and intimate, provide appetizing footnotes to a book that offers a road map—via the stomach—to the innermost chambers of the human heart. Here is the Empress's Omelet: "For two people in love, you need 5 eggs, fresh from the nest of a virgin hen, salt and pepper, fresh country butter, chopped chives, 4 fine but succulent slices of Norwegian smoked ½ cup of beluga caviar (if possible from the Baltic Sea), 2 teaspoons sour cream and, of course, toast." (HarperCollins, $26)

Bottom Line: Plenty spicy

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