On Feb. 14, a combo plate of Western romance and Eastern traditions will be served as Valentine's Day coincides with the Chinese New Year.
It's the Year of the Tiger — deep thinkers, risk-takers, short-fused, hasty decision-makers. One tiger person will probably be spending V-Day in the doghouse (Mr. Woods) along with Brad Pitt, Charlie Sheen and Jon Gosselin. Others, such as the recently engaged Derek Jeter, will probably have romantic tête-à-têtes with their fiancees or honeys, and might I suggest a romantic Chinese Valentine-themed dinner for two to celebrate these parallel events.
Coincidentally, Valentine's Day immortalizes the passions of the heart and the color red, which the Chinese believe is lucky because red symbolizes the fire that wards off evil spirits. So set a red-hot mood — wear something red, make a sanguine tablescape with red roses and matching tablecloth, hang some red lanterns and light scented candles, play traditional Chinese music in the background such as Hong Ting's soothing and sensual "Lotus Out of Water," and serve some spicy red-hot food.
On your double A-List (Asian Aphrodisiac), start with the almond, a symbol of fertility back in biblical days. Its heady aroma was thought to elicit passion in women. Samson wooed Delilah with these nuts loaded with vitamin E, magnesium and fiber to boost energy, libido and well-being.
The Romans discovered oysters in the second century A.D. as a high-octane aphrodisiac loaded with zinc, which hikes sperm and testosterone levels, triggering libido. Casanova was said to have consumed 50 raw oysters a day. (That was before cadmium, mercury and PCBs contaminated these bivalves rendering them unappetizing to the health-conscious).
Ginger will heat things up and get the heart racing. Allicin in garlic improves blood flow to essential body parts. Celery contains andresterone, a hormone that gives guys that manly aroma that women go gaga over.
The spear-shaped asparagus packed with potassium and vitamins A, B and C was thought to enhance potency, especially since it increases histamine production that amps up certain pleasure points for everyone.
Ginseng, a root used by the Chinese for centuries, gives stamina and desire a jump-start. Kiwi, mandarin oranges and other fruits packed with vitamin C keep the sex glands well lubricated. Dark, leafy greens give gals hormonal balance, while mustard is thought to stimulate the sex glands and boost desire.
Finally, dark chocolate, a heart-healthy aphrodisiac, contains a substance that affects the romantic wiring in the brain and is a mood elevator.
For an Asian-inspired aphrodisiac in appetizer form, start with a chicken salad with honey roasted almonds, vegetarian lettuce wraps with plenty of garlic and crunchy celery, dumplings dipped in spicy mustard sauce, or dried orange peel and oyster sauce pate (when the oysters come from safe waters).
For main dishes, try almond and cashew chicken, shrimp and scallops with asparagus tips in black bean sauce, Peking duck exuding ginger and garlic from its pores or almond encrusted wild-caught salmon.
Finally, tantalize your tiger's palate with super dark chocolate — melt, dip, chew, lick. I make my treats with low sugar and fat, which won't put him to sleep, and high in cocoa content, which tends to make us all amorous and buzzed. Make your own chocolate-dipped fortune cookies and slip in a romantic message customized for your sweetie.