‘Love Miscellany’ Author Deb Levine Talks Aphrodisiacs + Valentine’s Day Food

Author Deb Levine lives in the land of locavores, a.k.a. Brooklyn, New York.

To kick off a flurry of fun content we’ve got in honor of Valentine’s Day, we sat down with Deborah A. Levine, author of the just-released book Love Miscellany: Everything You Always Wanted to Know About the Many Ways We Celebrate Romance and Passion. A collection of letters, quotations, and fun facts, Love Miscellany answers questions such as which aphrodisiacs — if any — really work, why chocolate is a symbol of love, and much more.

In Love Miscellany, you dig into the topic of aphrodisiacs. We’re dying to know — do they really exist, technically speaking?

The idea that eating certain foods can enhance our sexual desire or potency has been around for thousands of years and exists in some form in most cultures. When I was researching this chapter in the book, I was amazed by the variety of unusual (by American standards) things people eat in the name of getting it on. (Deer and tiger penises, anyone?) As much as eating a slippery oyster or the silky flesh of an avocado may make us feel turned on, and despite extensive scientific research, however, so far there’s no conclusive evidence that anything we consume causes true sexual arousal. So, technically speaking, no, aphrodisiacs do not exist.

Even though there isn’t enough evidence to prove that aphrodisiacs are a real thing, why is it that food is so closely tied to Valentine’s Day?

Whether or not eating a luscious chocolate-dipped strawberry scientifically turns us on, there’s no denying that food and love (or lust) are inextricably linked. What do we do when we want to show someone we think they’re special? We take them out to dinner. Romantic ambiance, good wine, candlelight and a sumptuous meal can definitely put you in the mood, no matter what science says about it. Like I say in the book, according to psychologists, the power of suggestion is the most potent aphrodisiac there is. Anyone who’s ever been on a great date knows that sharing a romantic meal with someone you’re attracted to can be a real turn-on, whether you’re eating truffles and caviar or burgers and fries.

How did chocolate become irrevocably linked with Valentine’s Day in American culture? Where did that even start?

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Top Chef Just Desserts Season 2 Episode 7: Doughnuts + Double Eliminations

The yeasty doughnuts Carlos made are pretty cool...

Episode 7 of Top Chef Just Desserts season 2 touched on at least one subject very near and dear to my heart — doughnuts! Le Bernardin‘s Executive Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis is back to discuss doughy treats and chocolate showpieces!

I play in a band called Hot Doughnuts (founded many years before they became trendy), named because we thought that there are few people who do not like a hot doughnut. That said, I fear the trendiness of the simple and humble doughnut (see cakes, cup). Any thoughts on that?

Wow, a band? I never realized you were so multi-talented, Caroline! (Ed. note: Ha! Hardly!) Because fried dough is so ubiquitous — it seems every culture on the planet has some version of its own — it’s almost trend-proof. I guess the only risk factor would be the inevitable poor execution that comes with more folks jumping on that bandwagon. I have to say I am a fan of NYC’s Doughnut Plant; the tres leches creation is that good.

I’ll have to break down and try one of the DP’s doughnuts then. Also, our band is only slightly worse than Crucifictorious. So, create the perfect doughnut! That’s a tall order! My idea of it is a very simple, painfully plain doughnut. I love a classic plain for dunking (note: not ‘Dunkin’!) or a classic light and fluffy glazed. Oh, and an old-school jelly doughnut. What are some of your ideas around perfect doughnuts?

..but maybe not as cool as my band's logo?

Yeah, for the most part, I’m pretty old-school when it comes to doughnuts. Just as we tend to judge pizza on its crust, the fundamental aspect of the doughnut should be the dough itself. If I had one item that came close to Proust’s memory-inducing madeleine, it would be warm cinnamon doughnuts and apple cider, which takes me back to autumns of childhood, visiting the local cider mill in Michigan. And I’ve never really looked into the process that makes a classic Krispy Kreme  so good — maybe that they glaze while still warm — but I always say that one isn’t enough, but two is too many. In a good way!

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The Town Dish Dishes on Bravo’s ‘Top Chef: Just Desserts’ Season 2 Premiere

While we await the return of our pastry expert Chef Michael Laiskonis from parts unknown (actually, I know where he is, but I haven’t had enough coffee to remember), I asked my food blogger friends from The Dish to pinch hit for the first episode of Top Chef: Just Desserts season 2. Find out what you missed — and what The Dish folks thought of the premiere.

This is Orlando, and he will probably be this season's villain. You heard it here first. Or, maybe, second.

“Oh sugar-snap, it’s a guest post! Hold on to your cupcakes, it’s the second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts, and here’s our sweet take on the premiere.

We’re starting with a pair challenge. Note, that’s P-A-I-R, not P-E-A-R challenge. Wanted to be clear on that one. Returning this season are Gail Simmons, as our lovely hostess, and Johnny Iuzzini, celebrated celebrity pastry chef as head judge, who deliver the Quickfire Challenge to the rag-tag group. The pairs are to modernize a soda fountain treat in 30 minutes.

Kids. Let’s get something straight. If the first team goes for bananas, then the next team, then the next, and the next—you should feel pretty confident that you can stand apart from the crowd by not choosing bananas.

The bottom teams are the annoying pair of Lina and Craig and their Ode to Elvis. Hmm. I get the bananas, but featuring almonds instead of peanuts? Weird. As Johnny questions, “What makes this modern?”,  the duo just stares blankly at him. Do be cruel, Johnny.

The other team called out is Megan and Orlando, for serving up an uninspired banana split that Johnny poo-pooed for having an NFG. Anyone? Anyone? A “Non-Functional Garnish.”

One top team is the confident and comfortable Carlos and Rebecca, for their shake that made Gail blush, featuring bananas (check!) Captain Crunch (check! check!), and liquid nitrogen (CHECK!).

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Dining Poll: Do You Choose Just Desserts When Dining Out?

How sweet is your sweet tooth? Enough to make you pass right over a restaurant’s entrees and savory dishes and head straight for the pastries? Have you ever made an entree out of ice cream? Cobbled together a meal from cobbler? Share your opinion — or addiction — in today’s dining poll.