June 30, 2008

The structure of recollection

by winecountrydog

Food, wine, cats, and M.F.K. Fisher: That's what dog-ma delighted in talking about the night of the summer-solstice full moon in the Valley of the Moon. I can still taste the bites of domestic, washed-rind cow's milk Muenster cheese. It paired nicely with an intense, fruity, young Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Or so I heard. (As a dog, I drink beer.) Apparently the bottle was a nice guerrilla vino from a local wine writer.

I'm still thinking about all the palate-educated humans and four-footeds who've pawsed in and around this northern California valley. Jack London's dogs pawsed here with their author/guardian, who wrote the 1913 novel The Valley of the Moon.

M.F.K. Fisher pawsed long enough to become a cherished Valley human. She was also an esteemed author and pioneer of the culinary memoir. She lived in Glen Ellen and liked cats, you know. I can see Ms. Fisher's Siamese in a photo of the back cover of A Cordiall Water: A Garland of Odd & Old Receipts to Assuage the Ills of Man & Beast 'cuz the book's setting on dog-ma's dresser.

M.F.K. Fisher wrote about a lot of receipts. That's old school for recipes. For me, dog food recipes are woofable heaven.

The paw-point I'm getting to is that, to recognize good recipes, you've got to have an educated palate. And you get one by trying new things all the time.

One of my favorite veterinarians, Dr. Jona Sun Jordan, says a young cat is in need of having her palate educated by eating a variety of foods. This applies to all of us, pets and people, but it's crucial for cats. Eating a wholesome variety of fresh food gives us good mental and physical health for today, and nice memories and nostalgia for tomorrow.

Dog-ma says that Marcel Proust, early 20th century author of A la recherche du temps perdu, left us with the best quote about gastronomic nostalgia:

"The smell and taste of things . . . bear unfaltering, in the tiny drop and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection."

Pawse here. Read that quote again. Think about how smell conjures up memories. The more I sniff, the more I want to sniff. . . .

Author Joan Reardon, expert biographer of Fisher, said of Proust's writings on nostalgia: "In pursuit of vanished time, [Proust] found a transfiguring moment in the taste of a madeleine dipped in a cup of lime flower tea." . . . Goosebumps.

Ms. Reardon reviewed The Future of Nostalgia, written by S. Boym. Reardon said, "Harvard professor Svetlana Boym says that the word [nostalgia] was coined in 1688 by the Swiss doctor Johannes Hofer to identify the homesickness of Swiss soldiers who reacted physically to the hearing of certain folk melodies and the eating of rustic soups while on missions away from home."

Ah, food and music! But back to feline palates. There are ways to prevent pussins from being overly fussy eaters. We understand now, thanks to Dr. Jordan, that we have to make sure the pussin palate is educated. We also have to make sure the food is FRESH and species-appropriate. Cats respond to instincts that help nurture and protect them; when they reject food, they're expressing their need for SAFE, FRESH sources of protein and other nutrients.

I'm sure cats would rather eat the way they did back in the day: whole-prey dining. . . . Now that's nostalgic. By the way, a cat's digestive system and instincts render her unable to tolerate stuff that we dogs inhale without a first or second thought. I think Ms. Fisher would say, "A pussin always displays good taste."

A snippet from M. F. K., the 1992 documentary by filmmaker Barbara Wornum:

Cats must really like Fisher's recipes. As a recipezaar blogger reported: "MFK Fisher's The Art of Eating contains her most famous 5 novels in one! Anyone who loves food should try and get a copy. . . . My cat scratched the index pages to shreds."

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