I’m reading M.F.K. Fisher again. Like many, I pick her up periodically, indulging in her words’ amalgam of food literature and memoir. I sit, I read, and feed myself with the narrative of love and filling its need in gustatory pleasures, with details woven through anecdotes, sketches, and the reminiscences of a life made more vibrant through the documentation of its nourishment.
The larger collection I’m reading from, The Art of Eating, boasts a title that works against the writing it contains. Mary Frances didn’t simply give a focus to the art of dining, entertaining, and consumption. Instead, her words explore the art of living that’s seen and understood through the lens of food and the many ways we connect to it.
This writing represents a manner of eating that’s genuine, unaffected, and honest. It’s a self-consciousness that’s not embarrassed or ashamed of its appearance to others, but rather concerned only with the knowledge of one’s existence, particularly the knowledge of yourself as a conscious being, capable of condensing taste to the human ability to enjoy, savor, and appreciate what life offers.
Eating then becomes an entirely visceral experience, and with Mary Frances’ emphasis on the pleasure of food’s simplicity, its enjoyment is easily made instinctive, something understood before its taste is given reflection. Such immediacy permeates her writing; we read not in anticipation of details unable to be felt, but in an expectation of experience to which we can respond, a pleasure nearly universal in its appeal.
I have a favorite vignette from The Gastronomical Me, a scene that concentrates and displays the sensual tangibility of food with its transition to the spiritual, holding resonance in its movement beyond temporal boundaries.
For Norah I would get a pitcher of milk and a pot of honey. I’d put them with the pat of sweet butter on the table, and a big square block of the plain kind of Dijon gingerbread that was called pavé de santé. There would be late grapes and pears in a big bowl.
Norah and I would sit by the open window, listening to the street sounds and playing Bach and Debussy and Josephine Baker on the tinny portable phonograph. The food was full of enchantment to my sister, after her gray meals in the convent, and she ate with the slow voluptuous concentration of a dévouée.
There’s a beautiful control held over the meal’s literary construction. It’s the simplicity of the food and the simplicity of her writing reflecting it that raises it all to a level of romance. She takes an astute consciousness over the moment, citing the visual details contributing to its intimacy, creating an atmosphere in noting the music, and centering it all around this humble meal. The food stands as a simultaneous backdrop for and agent to the construction of her delight. It stands as a necessary element, but holds an aspect of pleasure inextricable to the moment’s artistry.
Reading this now, and having reread it many times, has inspired a need to romanticize my everyday, invoking beauty, curiosity, and fascination into details, into the minute facets of daily life. Yes, I like grand, sweeping onslaughts of change, the occasions of awe-inspiring shift, but I love finding pleasure in what goes unnoticed, in the moments so ingrained into daily routine that they’re given no other mention, no space for reflection or admiration. By invoking joy in what seems unremarkable, everything turns to magic, everything becomes enchanting and extraordinary in its discovery.
And so on one of my last nights in Vermont, my mom and I prepared a meal so simple, with food so humble, that it set a foundation for an evening whose details harmonized into a single memory of hedonistic bliss. We loved the dinner, loved that night, celebrating it so that it became more than something to satisfy appetite. We instead ate with a devotion to our pleasure, satiating our hunger for a broader sensory delight. Practicing this, in the meals that are small, in the recipes that are really no more than a mixture of three or so ingredients, in the moments of hunger that ask for no more than a few bites of something ethereal in its taste...
Bringing romance to all of this, it is then that every day becomes ideal.
Pan Seared Salmon and Thyme-Roasted Squash
For the squash, preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Slice summer squash to ¼” coins, laying out on a baking sheet and drizzling just under a tablespoon of olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme, taking delight in stringing thyme leaves off the stem. Toss the squash in your hands, ensuring each piece is evenly coated in the oil and seasonings. Roast for 15-20 minutes, tossing once halfway through.
Set a cast-iron skillet above a flame set to medium-high heat, letting your pan warm for three minutes. Slick your salmon fillets in oil, seasoning with a sprinkling of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Slide fillets into the pan, cooking on one side for three minutes, turning over, and cooking for five minutes more, welcoming the beauty of the salmon’s burnished brown skin. Squeeze a lemon atop and scatter a handful of fresh parsley above.