Writing Contest: How Sensuous Can You Be?

Jan 072010
 

In the wee hours on Saturday, I’m taking off for the first Food Blogger Camp at Club Med Ixtapa Pacific, Mexico. I’ll be teaching a class on Writing with the Senses, and looking for a few good laughs if people write over-the-top pornographic examples.

There might also be magical prose like this:

k7252-47  “The crust is as crunchy as a butter cookie, so brittle that it cracks audibly when you press it with your fork; grains of cinnamon sugar bounce off the surface as it shatters. The bottom crust is softer than the top, but browned and still breakable. Where the top and bottom meet, there’s a knotty cord of dough that becomes impregnated with enough fruit filling to make it chewy. Inside is a dense apple pack of firm Ida Red crescents bound in syrupy juice.”

— Jane and Michael Stern, The Ultimate Apple Pie, Gourmet

Why is this paragraph good? Notice how the Sterns describe in slow motion as they evoke the senses. You watch that fork and hear it shatter the surface of the pie. You imagine the chewy crust and the syrupy apples. Now appreciate the powerful action verbs: cracks, bounce, shatters, impregnated.  And admire their use of analogy (crunchy as a butter cookie) and metaphor (a knotty cord).

Since I’ll be in Mexico for a week where Internet service is limited, I’m announcing my first writing contest. While I’m gone, I invite you to experiment with these techniques and submit your writing below in a comment. Give me 150 words maximum of sensuous writing. More will disqualify you. 

Deadline is January 16, when I return. The following week I’ll announce the winner, who receives a free hour of my consulting time, to discuss

  • blogging or writing samples
  • writing career
  • questions about recipe writing or freelance writing
  • book ideas, etc.

Be funny, be creative, but most of all, get readers to see it, smell it, hear it, touch it and taste it in their minds. Good luck!

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  29 Responses to “Writing Contest: How Sensuous Can You Be?”

  1. Known for their romance and their risottos the Italians have perfected the art of serving rice. For a Valentines Day supper why not offer up this classic dish. The perfect Risotto Milanese combines the tenderness of sweet Arborio grains with the smoky delight of subtly fragrant liquor. The simple mound of lovingly prepared rice has an almost pudding like consistency that invites the diner to slowly sample this ultimate savoury comfort food. Each moist mouthful reveals the nutty flavour of the rice, rich chicken stock and white wine infused with saffron, onions softened into submission with butter and parsley, all combined with patience, slowly melded together with each additional stir and enlivened by the tang of aged parmesan. A true labour of love that is sure to please.

  2. I’ll never forget the tuna melt I used to have at the Woolworth’s lunch counter on King Street in Charleston, South Carolina: buttered toasted, white bread, browned to a crisp on a flattop grill; freshly made tuna salad dotted with diced celery and Georgia sweet onions; American cheese melting out the sides of the sandwich; and a side of Lay’s potato chips and slices of bread-and-butter pickles. I’ve re-created that classic tuna melt at home, and I’ve also made lots of other variations using different kinds of bread, cheese, and condiments. The results are always tasty. Hot melted cheese over cool tuna, hints of sea air from the confluence of Ashley and Cooper Rivers-the scent of pluff mud, the sound of horses hoofs in the background. Sea birds overhead. Taking a bite, the melted cheese dripping, ever so gently from the side of my mouth-wiping carefully with a napkin. The perfect sandwich!

  3. My grandmother poured the milk in the big cauldron, shiny copper, like brass. We children were allowed to pour the sugar, one spoon, two, ten, twenty. White sugar was banned in our house. Our grandfather was a doctor, he called white sugar and white salt the white killers. The spoon to move the milk and melt it with the sugar was of wook, olivetree, smelling of Middle East, as the cedars in Leban.
    After several hours of moving and spooning the dulce de leche was ready, vanilla, caramel, sticky, some cinnamon, some seasalt, some cocoa, everything was allowed. Childhood dulce de leche, as tempting as Proust madeleine in a cup of camomile tea.

  4. There is a moment in one’s life when the understanding of food is born…

    As a little girl, I vividly remember watching Daddy
    in the morning as he stood at the old stove in our second generation
    Baltimore born Italian delicatessen,
    Palmisanos, fondly referred to as “the shop.”

    I looked on with fascination as he passionately prepared that enormous 10–gallon pot of tomato sauce.

    He carefully poured in the olive oil from a beautiful square tin.
    He made this sauce every morning of his life
    with such grace, love and ceremony.
    Carefully adding the aromatic ingredients of chopped onions…
    the garlic,
    those colorful little red and orange dried pepper flakes,
    the basil, the oregano
    and so on.
    It only took a few minutes for the air to joyfully exclaim,
    “It’s Italian!”
    From that moment, my food journey began …

  5. The unmistakable smell of caramel and pecans permeates the air as I think to myself, “it done”. You just know, without even opening the oven door, you know that its baked to perfection! A sudden blast of moist, hot air hits my face as I open the oven door. Grabbing two of my favorite potholders, I carefully pull my pan of hot, steamy pecan rolls, browned to perfection from the oven. I carefully turn them over onto the cold white serving plate. Slowing and reluctantly they release from the pan. The sticky caramel doesn’t seem to want to let go, but it does and the pecans gently fall into their place. The suspense is killing me, but I allow them to cool just enough so that I won’t burn myself. Most civilized people would simply plate one and sit down with it formally at the table. Not me, there’s no time for that. I pick one up in my fingers and take a huge bite. The buttery, gooiness of the caramel and the soft roll would just melt in my mouth if it hadn’t been for the crunchiness of those toasted sweet pecans.

  6. The aroma of the coffee seemed to envelop the room. She gripped the cup tightly in both hands up to her face and breathed in the nutty, earthen scent. She took a sip. The dark coffee rested heavily in her mouth, the acidity racing to the back of her tongue as hints of flowers and nutmeg blossomed. She rolled the liquid around in her mouth for a moment, the deep flavor reminiscent of the smell of the earth and the air after an afternoon shower, then swallowed potent moment.

  7. Creamsicle Dreams

    I strolled on wobbly legs to the ancient shoreline. Two little girls squealed and chased each other as their father exchanged rupees for frozen treats. Inspired by their glee, I did the same. My selection was an icy, electric orange with a ghostly interior. When my tired taste buds first met the tart, tropical mango crust, the shock was an almost violent resuscitation. Crisp, bright shards lit up my weakened, fever-drained body like edible pyrotechnics. An embrace of calming, mellow vanilla cream gradually soothed the frenzy. It was a miracle! I was healed! I walked, licking and slurping hungrily until my medicine was gone. I chewed on the bare wooden stick, pondering each tiny splinter with my tongue. There was no doubt about it. As an adult, I clearly required a second dose.

  8. Horizontal shards of heat rose from the road as the brutal sun mercilessly bleached everything the color of sand. Parched and exhausted, I slipped inside the cool thick stucco walls seduced by the perfume of warmed olive oil and herbs.

    A young waiter appeared as I strained to adjust to the dim interior. He offered cool wine and dark sultry comeliness. The wine, lusty and sanguineous swirled seductively in my glass yielding tendrils of deep black cherry caressing my nose. Raising the glass, I allowed the liquid to languidly bathe my tongue.

    Unable to understand the language of the menu, I merely pointed. Soon, plump, chewy twists of pasta arrived at my table bathed in a pool of steaming brodo. The pasta resisted slightly at first, but then yielded its soft, buttery cargo and there it was… the very definition of al dente!

    Pasta, for me, was never the same.

  9. I can imagine the first fish I wil catch from my sea kayak. The emerald water sparkles under the tropical sun with a cool breeze at my back as I glide over the ocean in my vibrant green kayak. My paddle slices into the waves with the steady power of a wind turbine. The tip of my flyfishing rod juts from the bow, pointing towards the rocky cove ahead where it will pull in marvellously fresh and brightly colored fish. There is total harmony in the steady lapping of waves all around, the rhythmic plunges and dips of the paddle, the crashing surf pounding the distant sandy beach. I feel the subtle power of the ocean rocking the kayak as urgent, rapid tugs pulse down the length of the fly rod. A torpedo shaped amberjack writhes and thrashes at the surface, attempting to sprint away from the carefully honed fillet knife it is soon destined to face. Dinner tonight will be a sparse and reverant celebration of this impeccable fish. I can taste it. Just a bowl of plump, fragrant rice accompanied by a glistening mound of ceviche. Kissed with the brightness and salt of the sea, I’ll stir small raw cubes of the firm, transluscent flesh with sweet red onion, fresh tomato, aji chili, cilantro, and a burst of lime. I will finish my meal on the beach, bathing in a brilliant amber sunset, my skin quietly humming with the heat of the sun long after it passes from the horizon.

  10. Her laksa is thoroughly enjoyable from the first bite to the last slurp. Stir in some salty-spicy sambal belacan, a squirt of tart kalamansi lime juice, and tuck in. The thin, rice vermicelli noodles still have a little crunch to them. The tender, shredded chicken meat tastes like chicken should. The bean sprouts, their tips meticulously picked, add a cool, crisp, contrasting bite.

    And the broth? Oh the broth! Rich, savory, coconutty, with a pleasant chilli heat to it, it is slurp-a-licious! This is not a broth to be left alone once you’re done eating the noodles. This is a broth that is good to the last drop.

    Next thing you know, it’s all gone.

    You push back from your bowl with a sigh, face slightly sweaty, nose lightly runny, lips and throat tingly. You’re satisfied for now, but you know you want to come back for more.

  11. My salame is roughly 12 inches long and three inches in diameter. Its exterior, an irregular cylinder, is mottled beige, bound by rough twine. The casing is obviously something that once was inside the pig, damp and tacky to the touch- almost waxy. Its translucency allows me to perceive the meat inside.
    The salame is soft and pleasantly tender to touch, an indication of its succulence. As soon as the first slice is on the board a musty, carnal butcher shop aroma hits me –appetizing but with a hint of dark cellar corner.
    A generous hunk reveals pebble-sized pieces of pork fat and whole black peppercorns swirled within crimson coarsely ground meat. There is an unctuous sheen to it.
    On the tongue the salame melts effortlessly yet the peppercorns’ sharp crunch wakes me from my slow ecstasy. The sensations are both primal and luscious; salt, spice, flesh and fat; heaven.

  12. Tearing up the sourdough was my favorite part – the easy acquiescence of the interior, the gentle tug of resistance at the crust. She would wield the knife to cut the smallest dabs of salted butter. Water brought to a roiling boil, and then gently – so gently, using a spoon to slide in two eggs. Turning off the heat and fidgeting, waiting that eternal 7 minutes. The contest between my dexterity and that stubborn membrane clinging to that slippery and yet unmarred white surface. Placing the eggs in the nest of bread and waiting for her nod to take the fork and free the yolks – deep orange from chickens who scratched out that protein from our hardscrabble dirt. Even as I put that first forkful of comfort to my mouth I was already losing her attention. Soft boiled eggs on ripped up bread and a few minutes of my Mom’s love.

  13. Tender and sweet, the size of a kiss, hold one in the palm of your hand like lips touching your skin, lips curved into your neck, the perfect fit. Bring it up to your mouth, to your lips, hesitate, but only briefly, knowing that ecstasy is not far behind. The French macaron, the perfect union of a feminine froth of white meringue, gently, lovingly folded into fine almond meal, fine like sand on the beach, like arms wrapped around your body. Scented with whatever your mood, your desire, your urge, sweet as a kiss, salty as tears. Seduced by the crisp barely-there shell, find yourself pulled into a passionate burst of flavor, intense, exotic, and you are swept off your feet. The flavor lingers like the feel of his kiss, like honeyed words whispered barely loud enough to be heard. Close your eyes and lose yourself in one perfect kiss.

  14. Breakfast. My father squeezed my hand as he tugged me past alleyways that smelled of morning-after booze and sex. It was warm enough that the ground had started to steam, and my stomach was growling.

    I looked up at the wrought-iron balconies and listened to the music all around me. Where were we? God it was hot.

    When we turned the corner I saw a tent through the haze of morning light. The air was sweet here, and ribbons of melted coffee ice cream threaded the air.

    My mother handed me a napkin. In it my reward: a little pillow of dough burning through the paper, sticky with powdered sugar. I bit and a pouf of sugar blew away like dandelion petals.

  15. I gripped the ripe peach gently with my fingers. The flesh beneath its downy exterior gave gently as I eyed the beauty in my grasp. The intoxicating peachy aroma announced the lusciousness that was to come. I bit into the warm orb and relished the first burst of juice as it ran from my lips down to my hand. Its nectar meandered eventually down to my elbow where it clung in one sweet drop. Bathed in its juices, I delved further inside. The first peach of summer had me in its sensual grasp. Each mouthful washed away the memories of Winter’s and Spring’s pitiful hothouse offerings. With methodical precision I carefully chose every bite until I reached my beloved’s bitter end. My teeth tugged at the final sinewy bits clinging to its crimson stone. At long last the hot days of summer had come. They had come and brought with them this seductive, ambrosial peach.

  16. The slick brown paper carton pulsates with heat while the escaping sultry aroma only intensifies my desire to get it home. I gently unlatch the box’s slots and behold the golden half moon of my shrimp taco, its jade green fringe of chopped lettuce slyly peeking over the edge of its crisply fried tortilla. I know the only approach is complete abandon. As I take the hot, filled crescent in my hand, its dripping juices begin to flow. My first bite shatters its bubbly shell and lays bare its innermost secrets: plump, succulent shrimp straining at the bondage of creamy melted cheese beneath an undulating layer of red flecked guacamole. Suddenly, the fiery salsa ravages my tongue. I want it to stop but no – I give in, wantonly biting, licking till every last morsel is mine. In the afterglow, I suck its remnants off my fingers, sated at last.

  17. The first time I tasted masala chai at an Indian restaurant I was transported to an imaginary spice market, breathing in the scents of malabar pepper and cardamom, and watching the crowds flow by, while a merchant tried to convince me that his turmeric was worth the extra money. Good chai is exotic, creamy, sweet, spicy and invigorating, all at the same time. After a few sips, the caffeine is singing in your blood and you feel the tannins like chalk on your teeth. You can’t help but go back to the chai wallah for another cup. He plunges his ladle into the seething pot and then holds it up high, laughing as he pours a dramatic arc of milky tea. Wrap your hands around the fragile clay cup to guard against the advancing evening chill and when you’re finished, smash it on the ground, returning it to the source.

  18. (from the Corn Pop’s exercise at the Club Med Food Blogger Camp in Ixtapa, Mexico)

    Corn Pops was an off limits breakfast cereal, banned in my childhood home by my macrobiotic mother. While my five-year old friends pulled glossy cardboard cereal boxes from well-organized shelves, I scavenged cluttered cabinets for plastic bags of dried, puffed rice that my mother bought at the city co-op.

    I did my best to doctor the cereal to make it more palatable for my young palate. For sweetness, I poured a sludge-like macrobiotic sweetener onto the floating pillows of puffed rice. But no matter how hard I fought the laws of physics, the flavorless cereal shirked the syrup’s weight, leaving me with an immovable bed of brown rice syrup at the bottom of my bowl.

    Ah, but Corn Puffs were what I craved! Unnaturally uniformed in yellow food coloring, the almond-sized puffs of corn offered a candy bar crunch and a pure white sugar buzz. Corn Pops were the gateway cereal to a better life: one with peanut butter and fluff sandwiches, macaroni and cheese dinners from a box, and guilt-free ice cream sundaes for me and my siblings.

  19. The chocolat aux noisettes morsel sat patiently, inviting, just waiting for me to embrace it with my lips. Already I can feel the outer shell melting in my hands, a grim reminder of its coming end. Subtly aromatic, the chocolate calls to me, whispering sweet nothings for my nose. Like a fine wine maturing into its prime, I bring it close and take a deep breath. My tongue dances as my taste-buds ache with anticipation. I open my mouth and begin to take a bite, liberating the soft delicate ganache imprisoned inside. An exploding concert of flavors and textures hits me, first the smooth creamy sweet of the chocolate and then the small crunch of lingering hazelnut bliss. Only I and the chocolate exist during our transient acquaintance. Then, all is silent. As suddenly as it began, the flavor quickly extinguishes, one last gift of pure joy.

  20. I think something was wrong with me as a child. I detested most breakfast cereal, the sugary kind advertised on Saturday mornings right after a cliffhanging episodes of Power Rangers or Ninja Turtles. I found the taste to cloyingly sweet and the epileptic colors unappealing (though I did have a secret love of Captain Crunch, my one exception). Whereas I happily ate Raisin Bran with bananas my brother adored Corn Pops. It wasn’t for their taste but their value as a play thing which was the way he evaluated the potential enjoyment of any food. Corn Pops were one of his favorites; their saccharine sheen made them stick to his skin with ease, so in the morning the family would be entertained by the terror of the pop-marked space creature, and less so when he shot them out of his nose onto the table with enough force that they would explode in a yellow puff, the airy crack echoing in the tile kitchen.

  21. A squeaky sound flows from your mouth as you chew, slowly. It’s like the sound of your fingers rubbing across your teeth for a few seconds. Hear that? Squeak-y, squeak-y, squeak-y. Firm but not hard, Halloumi cheese holds up to the flame of the grill without melting into gooey liquid but gives in easily to the fork as you cut through its grill-marked, golden and crisp top. The inside is still bright white as when the cheese was raw, just a little softer. With each chewy bite, salty juices coat your tongue and a subtle tang tickles the back of your mouth. And it squeaks.

  22. The wilted spinach carried a scent of spring, the first greens returning to the market. chasing after the tulips we’re now buying with abandon to dispatch the memories of winter. At first bite there’s a saltiness tinted with a zest of white wine, that serves as the perfect counterpoint to the lingering flavors of the gooey sweet pecan doughnut of this morning.

    Strangely, though I could see their meaty mounds throughout and delighted when a bite yielded the gentle kiss of earthiness mixed with the pillows of cheese, the mushroom flavor scratched softly at the rear window rather than announcing itself with a fanfare at the front door. Maybe it was the strong voice of the goat cheese, or the tingly warmth of the paprika oil on the tongue, but this was a mushroom risotto for those who haven’t decided to commit to a long term relationship with mushrooms.

  23. The beige exterior of the butternut squash gave no suggestion of the rich vibrancy I would find inside. The bland exterior gave way to crimson orange. The tight flesh perspired in pearls of juice that left a thin film of sweetness on my hands. The squash cooked into a soup the color of Georgia O’Keeffe’s New Mexico desert. Eating the soup felt like consuming pure energy, like swallowing spicy magma or sipping the sun’s rays. I felt powerful eating that soup, like Popeye and his spinach, only fortified not with bulging forearms but with a feeling of optimism. If something so luscious could be concealed in plain sight, what other possibilities in life might I be overlooking? Every time I cut into a butternut squash, I remember that first time and the feeling of potential extending far beyond my kitchen cutting board. -142

  24. As I catch a glimpse of the pink grapefruit colored sunset, I am aware of a chill in the evening air as the temperature drops. The smoky smell of steak grilled over coals drifts into my kitchen through the patio door. I wait for the meat, succulent as summer’s peaches in their prime, to rest before slicing and serving. Finally, it is time; I slice through the warm beef on the diagonal with my razor sharp knife. The moist, pink-red center of the steak reveals itself and juice dribbles out in little rivulets of intense flavor, garlic, tamarind, lime, and adobo, across the cutting board. The first bite is juicy, earthy, and salty in my mouth with just the right amount of resistance to chew. I gnash my teeth in carnivorous joy, while the steak satisfies a primal human urge, in this primitive ritual of grilling and eating.

  25. Didn’t realize I missed the deadline but wanted to post anyway:

    The cartoon corn pops on the box smiled garishly up at me, and the foil bag inside was so tightly sealed I felt it was protecting a great treasure I had to work to obtain. I poured the light as air kernels of cereal into my hand and began to smell hints of corn and honey that my tongue was begging to taste. As I bit into my first corn pop my teeth recoiled in horror at the honey coated piece of Styrofoam assaulting them. Certain they must be mistaken, I eat another and another, until the crunching in my mouth overpowers every sound in the room. I felt I’d been conned, rather than mining for treasure, my tongue is digging around my teeth trying to erase ever last trace of the sickening cereal.

    • Hi Diana, I’m extending it to Monday morning in case anyone else traveling home from Ixtapa wants to join in.

  26. Here’s a little homage to my favorite neighborhood in Pittsburgh:

    Pittsburgh’s Strip District implies something X-rated, but apart from the obscene number of folks clogging a 12-block “strip” of Penn Avenue, there’s a nothing but a wholesome love for the ‘Burgh and its attendant quirks on the street.

    Red-faced men proudly hawk super-sports-fan Steelers and Penguins gear (“On Ice or Grass, We’ll Kick Your Ass”) to shoppers ripping open greasy deli containers of olives and dates, weighed down with pounds of Parmesan as they awkwardly navigate coolers past Wholey’s Fish Market, Stamooli Brothers, and Pennsylvania Macaroni—institutions that have supplied Pittsburgh’s immigrant population for the past century.

    Sidewalk stalls cater to carb-lovers with freshly-griddled scallion pancakes, ‘roni-and-mozz “sangaweeches,” and tiers of pizzelle and cannoli, but the detail that fully crystallizes this hometown scene comes from the tinny but persistent tune floating above the clamor—a lone panhandler on the corner playing the city’s unofficial anthem, “Here We Go Steelers,” on his flute.

  27. Ok, here’s mine from MX:

    The neon-yellow puffs stuck together like a clump of cat litter in the bottom of the litterbox. They smelled vaguely of petroleum but tasted like a summer twenty years ago, when sticky fingers probed the corners of the cereal box, praying that the junk food gods would send me just a few more.

    Their cloying sweetness sunk into my tongue and made me gag while little bits of fluff wedged themselves between my teeth. My entire body screamed, “What the hell are you doing? Stop this madness!” But it was too late. The addiction had begun.

    Hours later I might wind up semi-passed out on the beach, clawing at my face in a sugar-induced rage while begging a frightened cabana boy for my eighth Mai Tai. I’d be frothing at the mouth. I’d be banging my head into the sand. I’d be parched and sunburnt and twitching for more Corn Pop Crack.

    Until then, I had these God-forsaken headache-seeds to enjoy, biding my time until insulin resistance set in.

  28. Can we add a second? I wanted to write one in a different strain:

    Creamy and rich, smooth as silk, sensuous as it shimmers on the spoon and slides over the tongue. As delicate as an angel’s touch, as light as air, Panna Cotta warms his heart as sure as my hand placed on his cheek. His guilty pleasure, it was up to me to create for him the most exquisite dessert, a sure sign of what I was willing to give of myself. For each perfect bouquet of flowers he ever placed in my arms, for every jewel he slid onto one of my fingers, this gift was for him. Romance in a slender glass, the color of faded roses or pale pink champagne, the scent, the taste of sweet sugar-kissed violets, a jewel-dark blackberry coulis adding depth and richness, the full flavor of the fruit bringing out the best of the Panna Cotta, like a fur wrap draped over a delicate satin gown.

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