What's a love affair without a candlelight meal? What's a loaf of bread or a jug of wine without a 'thou'? Dining together is essential to the tradition of romance. You can't fall in love without eating together. Our culture says it rather grossly, but the sentiment has more refined connotations: if the way to a man's heart is through his stomach, then a subtle and sensual meal may enhance the relationship too.
Dining together is important, as Susan Hartz and Kathleen Kent discovered, to the tradition of paperback romances, too. Friends for 15 years, looking for a change of pace from the history, English and economics they had been teaching, Hartz and Kent decided to try their hand at popular romances: "Design for Love" and "Love's Remedy" -- drugstore, one-a-month gushers -- are a couple of the titles they sent around.
"We didn't get anything published, but we did notice that the intimate dining scene seemed as important to category romances as the love scene," says Kent.
"There was the obligatory eating scene just as there was the obligatory love scene," says Hartz. So the two of them changed their plans, and came up with a more original item. "The Great Lovers Cookbook," published last fall by Betterway Publications ($9.95), proposes menus and recipes invented to evoke the tastes, smells and feelings of romance through the ages.
Imagine 21 pairs of lovers, down through history, from around the world. Envision them in their most private and passionate moments -- no, not groping and fondling but gazing deeply into each others' eyes over sumptuous morsels of food and shimmering glasses of wine.
Now imagine what was on the menu. It had to be something splendid and seductive, something that enhanced the atmosphere, charged as it was with the electricity of anticipation. Whether the game birds that Solomon and Sheba might have picked at, the mulled wine that Lancelot and Guinevere sipped, or the hazelnut gateau that Josephine and Napoleon paused to nibble -- this is the stuff that "The Great Lovers Cookbook" is made of.
If food is the music of love, eat on. And if the food of love is music to your ears, read on. Here are two dishes by which your love can simmer with the passions of Antony and Cleopatra, Scheherazade and the Sultan Schahriar. They are only appetizers, but perhaps all your romance needs is a little epicurean foreplay to make you one of the great pairs of lovers of the world. ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA'S CAVIAR-STUFFED EGGS (2 servings) 2 eggs 1 tablespoon caviar 2 teaspoons mayonnaise 1/2 teaspoon finely minced onion Lettuce, endive or parsley for serving 2 tablespoons sour cream 2 teaspoons milk 1 tablespoon finely minced cucumber
Hard-cook the eggs and let them cool. Shell them carefully and cut each one in half lengthwise. Gently pry yolks out. Combine egg yolks, caviar, mayonnaise and minced onion. Spoon 1/4 of this mixture into each egg white half. Arrange on a bed of lettuce, endive or parsley and chill before serving. Make a dressing of the sour cream, milk and minced cucumber and pour over eggs just before serving. SCHEHERAZADE AND SULTAN SCHAHRIAR'S CRAB AND FETA TRIANGLES (2 servings) 3/4 cup crab meat 1/4 cup feta cheese 1 tablespoon minced scallions 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice 1/4 teaspoon dried dill 1 teaspoon chopped parsley Dash of pepper 8 sheets of phyllo dough, each measuring 3-by-12-inches 3 tablespoons melted butter
Clean crab meat, being sure to remove any bits of shell. Rinse with cold water and drain. Combine crab meat, crumbled feta cheese, scallions, lemon juice, dill, parsley and pepper.
Lay phyllo sheets out on moistened towel one by one. Brush with melted butter. Fold over once in half, to 3-by-6-inches, and brush once again with melted butter. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of crab meat mixture into lower center of each piece of phyllo dough. Fold corner over diagonally, then continuing folding over until triangular pouch encloses crab meat filling. Place triangles on cookie sheet and brush liberally with remaining melted butter. Bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes, or until triangles are golden brown. Serve immediately.