Shakespeare's Orlando was wrong about this (as about so many other things): Music is not the food of love. Food is the food of love. First-time lovers may dine delectably on air and moonbeams, but the more amatory experience you get, the more you appreciate the snack that refreshes without breaking the mood.
What I'm talking about here is the game of love, not its purely reflex or domestic variations. A mid-bout foraging expedition ࠤeux may be just fine for established partners, but the interior of someone else's reefer at 2am is rarely a stimulant to romance. But when love is new—safely past the sweaty-palmed, "my place or yours?" stage and, as yet, well short of the "I'll bring takeout: Chinese or Italian?" level—the right food and drink, appetizingly assembled and conveniently presented, is a more arousing contribution to an erotic encounter than such modern accessories as edible underwear, videos, or satin sheets.
For the perfect pillow picnic, presentation is as important as content. Ideally, the container it arrives in should remain in the beloved's ambiance as a permanent reminder of your taste and consideration. So no aluminum pie pans or paper plates topped with foil, OK? The choice of container is dictated by the recipient. If your opposite number is a kitchen magician, then a classy enameled gratin dish ($70) is sure to enchant. Shops that sell such items are also great sources for colorful linens ($5.95- $19.95) to serve as napery, bedspread, and classy wrapping. Does he/she accumulate objets de virtu? Then you're more likely to score with a one-of-a-kind bowl from a master potter or some intriguing platter or crock turned up at a thrift shop. (If you're the kind of lover who can spring for an 18th-century silver bonbonni貥 to set off an array of sensuous finger food, you don't need any advice from me.)
Finger food? Absolutely. Your lusty snack should be able to function at need as a luxurious prelude or a post-passion pick-us-up, but it must be devourable in media res should necessity arise. This means no hardware to misplace among the covers and, above all, no crackers to turn the couch of Venus into a bed of ill-ease. Even proper glassware is questionable: You and your lover can please yourselves, but, to my mind, a couple of disposable hollow-stem plastic glasses will present your beverage as well as Riedel flutes—this is, after all, a t괥-୴괥, not a wine-tasting. And for keeping wine cold, nothing does the job like the Styrofoam shipping containers wineries use to secure mail orders. Every wine shop has more than they can use; if the container isn't glamorous enough for you, gift wrap it or swaddle it in raw Cambodian silk.
The no-hardware narrows one's choice of wine to bottles openable without a corkscrew, but since nearly all sparkling wines, sherries, and ports (except the vintage kind) can be opened with no tools beyond a pair of dexterous thumbs, this limitation is largely illusory. Among traditional foods of passion, only raw oysters in the shell are effectively excluded by the ground rules.
Caviar lovers, on the other hand, can build a redoubtable passion platter with mounds of traditional accompaniments—finely chopped egg white, onion, egg yolk mimosa, tiny capers, sour cream, butter curls, lemon wedges surrounding a mound of thinly sliced, and just-al dente boiled or steamed waxy potatoes. Add at least four ounces of luscious golden osetra ($175-$200)—none of your mingy little two-ounce jars from the deli case—and serve the delicacy in its chilly rubber-banded tin.
The essence of the pillow picnic is its hand-assembled one-of-a-kind quality, so the following platters should be seen purely as suggestions for customizing your own. The central thing to keep in mind is the more thought and trouble you take in planning your dish of delectables, the more effectively will the result inspire a response. Nothing feeds upon itself like gratified desire. Some suggested pillow picnics, just to get your own imaginations going:
Fruits de mer: A platter of freshly cracked crab legs (buy enough cracked crab to justify asking for six, but save the loose meat for another, less demanding occasion), mild-smoked salmon roll-ups, smoked whitefish (North Sea eel's the best, if you can find it), scallops, mussels, oysters, or other seafood favorites. For contrast, add curls of English cucumber and radish, or if you feel the need for a starchy component, thinly sliced boiled potatoes (see the caviar plate, above). Dip: Dill- and lemon-infused cr譥 frae. Wine: Nicholas Feuillate non-vintage brut ($30).
Italian Extravaganza: An array of thick, marinated boletus mushroom slices, curls of parmesan, chips of lightly braised fennel, rolled anchovies, large pitted Greek or Spanish olives marinated in olive oil laced with oodles of crushed garlic, roasted red pepper slices. Dip: An egg-cup of white-truffle oil (a little goes a long, long way). Wine: Ferrari Spumante "Riserva del Fondatore" 1991 ($40).
Sweets to the Sweet: Chocolate truffles, of course, but also rum soaked babas, succulent gingerbread, candied ginger, lavender shortbread . . . you get the idea. Dip: A lightly sweetened cr譥 frae. Wine: Paul Bara champagne ros頨$45).
From Fruit to Nuts: Perfectly ripe whole pears and apples (the smaller the better), figs, walnuts, with the softest, ripest cheese you can find to dip them in—mascarpone, perhaps. Wine: Fonseca 10- or 20-year-old non-vintage port ($25-$50). (Vintage ports are less suited since they require a corkscrew.)
Roger Downey is a senior editor at Seattle Weekly.
Urbani of America, 800-281-2330, www.urbani.com
Fancy Foods Gourmet Club, 800-576-3548, www.ffgc.com
McCarthy & Schiering, 2401B Queen Anne N, 282-8500; 6500 Ravenna NE (corner of NE 65th), 524-9500
University Seafood and Poultry, 1317 NE 47th, 632-3900
The Wild Salmon, 1900 W Nickerson (at Fisherman's Terminal), 283-3366
Kitchenware and kitchen fabrics:
City Kitchens, 1527 Fourth (at Pine), 382-1138
Mrs. Cooks, University Village, 525-5008
Home Kitchen Collection, Bellevue Square, 425-451-9507; Redmond Town Center, 7545 166th NE, 425-881-4400