Monday, February 13, 2017

Available, Complicated, Taken

Aphrodisiac: food, drink or drug that stimulates sexual desire

So says Merriam-Webster, but would I really get any argument if I amended that definition a tad?

Aphrodisiac: food, drink, drug or 82-degree weather in mid-February that stimulates sexual desire

When you get up at 11 and it's already 70, your first order of business is opening every window in the apartment and then picking the music with which to launch such a day.

Joni Mitchell's "Court and Spark" at top volume does the trick quite nicely.

Walking toward the river, the first person who speaks to me is a guy driving down Marshall Street who calls out, "Hey, Mama," and makes a peace sign out the driver's window in my direction. I return same. Heading downhill through downtown feels like it's Folk Fest weekend because of the sheer number of pedestrians, cyclists and cars all going in the exact same direction.

Brown's Island may as well have had a festival going on for the masses of humanity spread out over it picnicking, strolling, lolling, sunning and, yes, on their cell phones, while the Pipeline walkway and its rocks and beaches were as congested as I'd ever seen them, even in summer.

Back at home, I put Joan Armatrading's "Walk Under Ladders" on the turntable and let "I'm Lucky" - a particularly apt reminder on such a glorious day - blast out my open windows and to the street below.

I have a theory that when the mercury goes up, so should the volume of the music, but more testing is in order.

Although I briefly considered attending another belly dancing technique class, I couldn't stand the thought of being inside with no open windows, so I read on the balcony instead, my pleasure tempered only by the knowledge that the warmth was to be short-lived.

Fortunately, my evening promised aphrodisiacs and a liberal sprinkling of "my people" at a pre-Valentine's wine dinner at Camden's, where the chef thanked the room for giving up Rick Astley at the National for his dinner and compensated with a vintage soul soundtrack.

Newlyweds Beckham and Beauty were already waiting for me (he having foregone a soccer game to be here) at a tucked-away table under an open window, making for the best possible seats on a still-balmy evening. Reminding them that tonight's menu pulled from the "Intercourses Cookbook," meaning all the recipes contained aphrodisiacs, Beckham smiled widely.

"I guess I know what we're doing after dinner," he said to his blushing bride. As well you should, my friend.

Pru and Beau arrived and we were all soon sipping and swooning over Schramsburg Vineyards yeasty "Mirabelle" Brut and nibbling croustades of house-smoked salmon and goat cheese.

When the handsome wine rep came to our table to explain the wine, he struggled to find the best verb to describe the winery's practice of moving the bottles of bubbly ever-so-slightly during fermentation to achieve such creamy mouthfeel.

He began with shake, which sounded too strong, then used agitate, which sounded even more violent and as he searched for a better word, Beckham suggested, "Fondle?"

Given tonight's theme, it got full confirmation from the table and I imagine his Mirabelle spiel will never be the same.

And while Beau had come to the dinner without any intention of buying wine, Pru let slip, "It is only for conversational purposes that I mention how much I like these bubbles," and bubbles were ordered.

The newlyweds were peppered with questions about their second wedding and month-long honeymoon (which included frequent beach outings, petting cheetahs, multiple wineries and enough indulgent time that each read a book a week) in South Africa, where the groom had discovered that South African-made pants were better tailored to his body, which he described as, "Large thighs and junk in the trunk."

But it was while he was trying to explain points of reference that he wisely resorted to drawing a map for clarification.

"Ah, handmade Google," Beau cracked about the ancient and noble art of cartography being executed in real time as we dove into Parmesan oysters accompanied by Virginia Dare Winery's "Two Arrowheads," a fragrant blend of Viognier and Roussanne named after a legend about a white ghost.

I was the first, but far from the only, wine lover to question a California winery called Virginia Dare, but we got the full scoop from the handsome one and I, for one, was satisfied to hear that it had its origins in a Norfolk winery and scuppernong grapes before heading westward ho.

The oysters were also the departure point for an 1871 tract being read that said that coastal men were less salacious due to their seafood diet.

"Coastal living is less stressful," Beckham observed, making me think maybe I should have taken that job at the beach after all.

As it turned out, we were only drinking the Virginia Dare because the wine that was originally chosen for this course, Taken Wine Company's "Available," was unavailable. You read right.

Happily that was not the case with their "Complicated" Chardonnay which showed up next and prompted the comment, "Available is unavailable, but of course complicated shows up. Isn't that always the way?" Pru shared that a wise woman had once told her that all men fell into one of three categories: gay, married or leaving on Tuesday.

I don't know about all that, but I'm here to tell you that "Complicated" was as perfect a pairing with crab quesadillas and peach salsa as could be hoped for.

We heard about Pru's new wine jail - emptying boxes meant 74 of 96 bottle slots were immediately filled - which Beau had assembled this weekend.

Dreary as that job sounded to me, he felt differently. Assembly held no appeal for any of the women at the table, yet when he asked of Beckham, "Do you like putting together Ikea furniture?" his answer was an enthusiastic, "I love it!"

Is it too far of a stretch to see a Venus/Mars metaphor there?

Spirits were high by the time Taken Winery's "Taken," a blend of Cabernet and Merlot, was poured (oh, and all those "takens" in the names? Because all the good wines names were taken by the time this winery needed some) and plates of coffee-rubbed lamb leg with warm artichoke and potato salad arrived.

We heard from the newlyweds how they'd re-created their first date by going to Secco and then on to L'Opossum for dinner, causing Beauty to reminisce about all the cocktails he'd ordered for her ("He quoted NPR on a first date, but he could have been roofie-ing me, for all I knew!").

And they say romance is dead.

The bill for the evening was high and, according to him, although she's the type to share costs, she didn't argue all that hard about paying her share that night. Mainly, she was wildly impressed because, "He hadn't tried to whip a kiss out," which may be one of my all-time favorite new phrases.

Instead he married her less than two years after laying eyes on her. Here's a couple who went straight from available to taken with nary a complicated phase to be found.

A nose of rose petals introduced us to Banfi "Rosa Regale," a sparkling red ("Italian, who else?" someone joked) made with the Brachetto grape in Italy's Piedmont region, that provided a delicately sweet accompaniment to housemade cheese and chocolate pate with pine nut cookies to close out the meal.

But with "my people," the final food course rarely means the end of the evening, and we were soon enjoying additional glasses of "Rosa Regale" with a small dish of conversation hearts (GOT LUV? mine asked) and random loopy conversation.

Their honeymoon had been a month too short. Beau's bittersweet chocolate cake had pleased him but not Pru. Jackass versus jackess.

So what did we learn tonight besides the limits of our waistbands and livers?

Manteo was chief of the Croatan tribe. Coastal men have it going on. And nothing sets the scene for a fine meal with friends like a sunny day.

Meanwhile, it is only for conversational purposes that I mention that not whipping a kiss out on a first date may just be the finest way to court before sparking.

Assuming no one's leaving on Tuesday.

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