A guide to eating sensually.
Thursday, August 3, 2000
''Warm and fuzzy" is an undeniably good feeling. This good feeling is accessible to all. It is not reserved for certain individuals, nor is it limited to human beings. We are generally enabled to respond with sounds that reflect the sensations we are experiencing. And the sounds give pleasure back to the pleasure provider, completing the circle in some master plan that is beyond our comprehension. Take, for example, the act of petting a cat. You stroke the cat; the cat feels warm and fuzzy. The cat purrs; you feel satisfied.
The same circle of events sometimes happens in the preparation of food. The cook relishes gathering each ingredient; she enjoys prepping, cooking, and then presenting the dishes with flair. Each step requires skill and concentration, but in order for the dish to deliver pleasure, pleasure must go into its preparation. Pleasure should go into its consumption, and usually it does. But sometimes we are just too stressed or harried to feel the full impact of the gift. The pleasure giver does not receive that well-earned reward--the proof of the recipient''s satisfaction.
I enjoy food. I make my living in wine, so I may pay more attention to it than others, but my sensory receptors are in general no different than anyone else''s. It is how we use our natural gift that can really enhance the experience.
How do we enjoy food? Let me count the ways. Just as in wine tasting, we use our senses--sight, smell and taste. Occasionally, our ears send pleasure messages. Pick up a flute of champagne and listen to the self-renewing stream of bubbles. We also use our sense of feeling. Texture is a source of sheer sensual pleasure, especially when enhanced by positive flavor and aroma jolts. Take caviar, for example. Those silky little globules slide across your palate, only to be squeezed softly and popped, their salty, briny contents oozing out and coating your tongue.
Caviar''s not for you? What about chocolate truffles? Just the sight of a truffle can bring a smile to the face of a chocolate lover. Pick one up and roll it gently between your fingers. Notice the dusting of cocoa powder on your fingers, which now you must lick off. But not, of course, until you have deposited the decadent morsel into your mouth. So in it goes, and you start to roll it around, but wait, it''s not sweet! It is silky from the cocoa powder. So you bite into it, and finally you arrive at a sweet, creamy, soft and gooey core of chocolate.
Is that soft, gooey core the only thing you enjoyed? Not at all. Look at everything you did before actually biting into the truffle. Each of these steps contributed to the total experience. But so often we''re already reaching for the next truffle while biting into the first one. We can take full advantage of the pleasure offered by food by slowing down and giving it our full attention.
Slowing down helps to focus our sensory receptors. Being hungry brings them into razor-sharp focus. This is something I learned while going through a series of wine tasting exams. When was the last time your mouth was watering, really watering at the thought of what was to come? Anticipation is a good first step toward maximizing sensual pleasures.
Sweetness, saltiness, textures, richness--all of these components add to sensual pleasure. So does earthiness, for some. Earthy vegetables such as eggplant or mushrooms, or game, for example, take us someplace our ancestors have been. Add wine to the picture and you add another layer of pleasure. Some wines are earthy, and in combination with earthy foods can take you right to paradise. Some wines are sweet and silky; some are earthy and silky. Take burgundy; red burgundy is earthy and silky. White burgundy is earthy and unctuous. Good California pinot noirs and chardonnays occasionally mimic these sensations, though most often with a fruitier slant.
I love the instant gratification of serving wine to a guest. I derive pleasure from their enjoyment, just as chefs derive pleasure when they see the happy, smiling faces of patrons in their dining rooms. This is a warm and fuzzy place, and you can experience it just as easily at home. Slow down. Through the simple act of dining, let nature''s grand plan have its way with you.
Pacific Grove resident Catherine Fallis is a Master Sommelier. Uncorked, her column about wine and food, will appear the first Thursday of each month.