This might seem off-topic, but the most cooking I’ve been doing recently is reconstituting tablespoon after tablespoon of KMR for two five week old kittens that I rescued from Tybee Island off the Georgia coast. Cooking for kittens is nothing glamorous. I’ve gotten good with a whisk and my mental math is certainly improving (if one cat weighs one pound and one cat weighs one pound two ounces and each cat gets four teaspoons per pound and four teaspoons equals one tablespoon and one teaspoon of powder – ). My hands smell faintly of babies and milk.
The first time I met the kittens, I was sitting in front of the TV, mesmerized by the slab of mayonnaise Paula Deen was putting into potato salad, when a wet, orange ball of cat, looking miserable, was plopped down on the couch next to me. Who wouldn’t have picked the whole thing up in one hand and pressed it to her chest?
A neighbor had found the litter huddled under a wall. One kitten was dead, another missing and presumed dead, the mother totally uninterested. Only two kittens, the orange one and a white one, survived. We kept them in the closed-in porch and fed them cat’s milk, which turned out to be a bad idea, since kittens can digest nothing but their mother’s milk – or a formula replacement – during their first six weeks of life. I found that out after a few days of cat’s milk, as I’d become worried about their excessive and runny stool production. (That’s a nice way of saying shit was everywhere.)
I’ve come to enjoy watching the kittens eat. About half an hour before a meal, Celine and Ja’mie (don’t ask about their names, it’s a long story) begin to synchronize mew. Like the smallest bells in a handbell choir, they ping in alternating bursts until finally, they reach a simultaneous mew and having heard how loud they are together, mew as a unit until I give in to the pitiful sound. When they first started eating the Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR), I fed them in a saucer, and they’d fling their whole bodies into the dish. Their faces, chins, and paws would be covered with milk and they’d leave crusty milk paw prints across the bathroom floor.
These days, they control themselves a little more, hopefully because their bodies no longer tell them to frantically eat as much as they can in case the next meal doesn’t come. I also feed them out of small sushi dishes now, which limits how much of their body they can throw into their food. Still, with their first bite, they stick their entire face into the dish and surface for air with milk beards dangling from their chins.
I rescued the kittens when they were three weeks old, wobbly on their feet, eyes still bewildered and blue. Soon after I said I’d take them, they drove with me from Savannah to Davidson, Davidson to DC, and DC to Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Ja’mie wouldn’t drink out of a dish, so I sat at every fifth Cracker Barrel on the highway, trying to get her to unclench her teeth long enough to slip the rubber nipple of a bottle into her mouth. Ja’mie was already much smaller than her sister; I could have crushed her with one hand.
Watching the kittens eat and grow, I’m understanding the combination of necessity and pleasure that influences what we eat. When the kittens were hungry, they ate everything ravenously, whether it was the cat’s milk which led to severe indigestion or kitten’s milk eaten so quickly the gas would have to be rubbed out of their bellies. Necessity.
As they begin to trust that they’ll be fed regularly, they take more time eating, even preferring a bowl of more thickly mixed formula to a milkier one. They eat half a portion, clean their paws, and leisurely finish the second half between bouts of play. Pleasure.
Living a life with few financial responsibilities, I eat mainly for pleasure, but I’m entering a world where first I pay my rent and my utilities. And then I eat. I’ve learned from the kittens that being truly hungry is not something I want to be, so if nothing else, they’ve inspired me to look harder for a better job.
I’ve also learned not to take eating for pleasure for granted. While necessity is the driving force behind staying alive, pleasure is what makes staying alive worthwhile.
As a post script, I’m writing this at the Tea Lounge in Brooklyn, and eating the most delicious tomato and basil quiche. Quiches are often too eggy, but this one has plenty of smoothly blended cream and Gruyere to offset any harsh egg flavor. A flaky crust and the hint of basil and tomato curb the richness of cream and cheese. I was hungry, and this is delicious. Necessity and pleasure.