The 10,000-Calorie Diet
It is easy to remember the cheekbones that once emerged, not surprisingly, above my cheeks. In my unpublished manuscript Zen Sex, I counseled men to pad their boney protuberances to avoid bruising women. If I recall, this was in a chapter titled “Sensual Compassion: Dos and Don’ts for the Eighties,” which included rather compendious notations on the flip side of the void that is sex, including the advice that it is unseemly to bray and hoot during orgasm. The main thrust of the chapter, however, was a ten-thousand-calorie-a-day diet so that boney lovers might not injure one another.
Not so sad to say, this manuscript was lost to a computer virus called Spritzer in 1981. But I took my own well-considered advice and presently have what women call a “safe” body, though I rather miss the way they would whisper “sinew” through moistened lips when I shed my war-surplus jumpsuit. It is not for me to point out that their own sexual behavior is shot through with irony, frivolity, and an icy captiousness that recalls Lola Delmonte at her most discouraging. For instance, a friend in Beverly Hills told me how a very famous (international) actress had aimed her bare bottom at him at poolside as if taking a photo, then rushed into her palatial villa with a trilling laugh, my friend in pursuit. Alas, he was delayed by pain when he bumped his wagging member against the usual mauve wainscoting. He both crooned and bellowed her name as he padded through twenty-nine rooms not including the bathrooms and closets, without success. He later discovered through her previous lover that there was a secret, cryptlike room in the villa where she would hide, lying on a cold, white marble slab, and where she could achieve orgasm only by hearing a frustrated man call out her name, over and over. That would take the cake, should one be offered.
Before being sidetracked, I mentioned the ten-thousand-calorie compassion diet, assuming the one you love deserves it, and this includes any of the three gender combinations. Despite their efforts, it is best not to leave definitions of sexuality up to members of Congress, the governments of the nation and states, and their multifoliate police bureaus. The diet itself is a cross-cultural barrage of feast dishes including cassoulet, feijoada from Brazil—the black-bean stew that contains a dozen smoked meats—a daub made of hindquarters of Charolais and a case of good Burgundy, a Michigan doe for six, a Thracian lamb for four, a Georgia piglet for three, a wild turkey stuffed with fruit and sausage for two, the ten-pound rice-and-fish Sumo stew for one. I forgot the choucroute garnie made of pig hocks, seven varieties of sausage, potatoes, and sauerkraut for seven, and the bollito misto for six or nine, whatever.
The cassoulet is the last dish on this thirty-day wonder, as you must start on the first day with three fat geese to make the confit, then wait at least twenty-nine days for the confit to cure. It is no fun to butcher your own geese, but the supermarket birds are far too lean, and then neither is it fun to live a life where all the dirty work, the realities, are left to someone else by virtue of our purchasing power. Country wisdom says to buy fat geese from a fat farmwife, as a lean woman tends to feed them on potato skins rather than troughs laden with grain and corn, which a fat woman readily imagines to be in order. I’ll spare you the gory details, including the fact that geese do not want to die, and that it is better to lock up your bird dogs in the house because they are overeager to help out in the process.
The rest of the ingredients, including lamb and sausage and a couple of heads of garlic, plus instructions on the processes of cooking, are readily available in sophisticated cookbooks (I’d recommend Paula Wolfert’s). I beg you, though, not to make one of the dreadful shortcut versions one sees featured in the media, especially newspaper cooking pages or in ladies’ magazines slipped between articles on estrogen, cellulite, and flaccid-weenie problems (be shameless!).
Now the new you is on your kindly way after thirty days, having gained at least fifteen pounds because you have also eaten all the leftovers. You will immediately notice that women are now likely to tweak at your ears, tug at your wattles, back up to you like a sleepy truck to a loading platform. You have become the teddy bear their moms tossed out when they left for college. If they are also burly, they’ll give you sheepish grins during long pauses at the protein counter at the supermarket. In short, everyone is more amenable, gentler, if not actually happier.
Of course, there are specific drawbacks. Last year I attended the funeral of a southern writer of no consequence who had weighed more than four hundred pounds previous to death, his final go at the diet business and one in which he was to be an odds-on favorite. He passed away a scant week after winning a soft-shell-crab-and-corn-on-the-cob-eating contest, and the resultant impaction, plus a real bad crab, had taken him from us. At graveside his precocious nine-year-old son, who reminded me of Kolya in The Brothers Karamazov, had whispered to me, “Death is not the less unique for being so widespread an activity.” A true southern writer in the making, already having adapted the coloration of intelligent lassitude—unlike the North, where writers assume a bogus heartiness and wear lumberjack shirts in classrooms and on their drunken forays into nature of whose actual processes they are utterly ignorant, somewhat like the famous blimp New Yorker poet on Nantucket, who raised his face from his desk for the tenth time of the summer and asked his wife the name of the bird, a gull, that perched on the porch railing. For reasons of her own, she rammed a well-bred little finger deep into his ear, perhaps the better for him to hear, and left for good without packing.
So there are downsides to becoming a gentle beast. Compassion can be an impure virtue, a mixed bag containing, among other things, a puff adder. Even now, at this very moment, I am splayed out on a mat on a cold stone floor aiming down my gunsights through the opened door at a Mexican blue mockingbird (Melanotis caerulescens). This bird has never appeared in this country before, and dragging behind him are hundreds of dweeb bird-watchers hanging on my fence with huge camera lenses and spotting scopes. I cannot get up at dawn and bow to the six directions in my birth skin. I am under a scrutiny that far exceeds the nastiness of book publication.
It was severe pain that drove me to the floor, somewhat like Robert Jordan on that bed of pine needles so long ago, a pain so severe that I had to crawl to the closet to get the shotgun. I lift my head above the sights and watch the gabbling row of birders adding this unique creature to what is known as their “life list” in the sport. They can’t see me and thus are ignorant that this bird can soon disappear into a halo of blue feathers, an unnatural mood indigo. I pause thinking of my pain and how it came to be: Maybe it is the wolf in my body growing not like those chickypoo hyenas in Kenya living off lions’ spoils. I can see the enemy coming, but it happened I think in the mountains on surveillance with Peacock when we ran out of the Bordeaux, five bottles, which was very good with the thick, juicy rib steaks we put between tortillas because we had no plates and forks, also the Italian sausages, which were very good rolled in hot tortillas. Then it was dawn and the time of coyotes was gone; also the Bordeaux bottles lay bleak and empty as a politician’s head. We woke and drove hard and well on the rutted red-dirt roads of Indian country to a store without Bordeaux and bought whiskey, which around the campfire that night after hard walks through canyons we pretended was good wine. Not. So I slept on cold ground with frost thick in hair and eyebrows, my body twisted like a pretzel from false amber wine, and when I awoke I could not untwist myself. I was frozen in a bad shape and the javelinas passed upwind without seeing me and I could see two ravens coming up the dry riverbed.
Now it is an hour before twilight and the birders are coming again, as they do at dawn, relentless nature zombies. Mexico’s only a few miles south of here, but the bird wouldn’t “count” in Sonora. I take aim again at this lovely creature, the grayish blue of wet slate, its eyes turning to my movement through the door. He peeks out from behind my Weber barbecue, and my finger gently touches the trigger, the pain blurring my vision. Beyond the Weber, the bamboo thicket, the turbulent creek and cottonwoods and green willows, the watchers are still coming and I can’t pull the trigger that would send them away. I shot in the air last week, but they came back. In the face of an old woman raising her binoculars I see my widowed mother, who, not incidentally, has 582 birds on her life list. What if she found out? And startlingly enough, against all racial stereotypes, there is a young black couple joining the rest. The blue mockingbird flits up into the bamboo thicket, and I turn on my side, suddenly letting the shotgun fall with a sharp clatter to the stone floor. In a seizure of compassion I think I’ll settle for sending someone across the border for a case of Zebras, setting off the firecrackers, string after string, until everyone is gone.
Out in the wilderness with Peacock it occurred to me again that the natural world is made up of nouns and verbs on which we have heaped millions of largely inappropriate and self-serving adjectives. I wondered how we may shape ourselves, body and mind, to fully inhabit this earth.
EAT OR DIE
In no department of life, in no place, should indifference be allowed to creep;
into none less than the domain of cookery.
It is a few degrees above zero and I'm far out on the ice of Bay de Noc near Escanaba in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, beyond the last of the fish shanties. It doesn't matter how far it is but how long it takes to get therean hour out, and an hour back to my hotel, the House of Ludington. Unfortunately, I've been caught in a whiteout, a sudden snow squall out of the northwest, and I can't see anything but my hands and cross-country skis, a short, broad type called Bushwhackers, which allow you to avoid the banality of trails. I turn myself around and try to retrace my path but it has quickly become covered with the fresh snow. Now I have to stand here and wait it out because, last evening, a tanker and Coast Guard icebreaker came into the harbor, which means there is a long path of open water or some very thin ice out there in the utter whiteness. I would most certainly die if I fell in and that would mean, among other things, that I would miss a good dinner, and that's what I'm doing out here in the first placeearning, or deserving, dinner.
I become very cold in the half hour or so it takes for the air to clear. I think about food and listen to the plane high above, which has been circling and presumably looking for the airport. With the first brief glimpse of shore in the swirling snow I creak into action, and each shoosh of ski speaks to me: Oysters, snails, maybe a lobster or the Kassler Rippchen, the braised lamb shanks, a simple porterhouse or Delmonico, with a bottle or two of the Firestone Merlot, or the Freemark Abbey Cabernet I had for lunch ...
The idea is to eat well and not die from itfor the simple reason that that would be the end of your eating. At age fifty that means I have to keep a cholesterol count down around 170. There is abundant dreariness in even the smallest health detail. Skip butter and desserts and toss all the obvious fat to your bird dogs.
Small portions are for smallish and inactive people. When it was all the rage, I was soundly criticized for saying that cuisine minceur was the moral equivalent of the fox-trot. Life is too short for me to approach a meal with the mincing steps of a Japanese prostitute. The craving is for the genuine rather than the esoteric. It is far better to avoid expense-account restaurants than to carp about them; who wants to be a John Simon of the credit-card feedbag? I'm afraid that eating in restaurants reflects one's experiences with movies, art galleries, novels, musicthat is, characterized by mild amusement but with an overall feeling of stupidity and shame. Better to cook for yourself.
As for the dinner that was earned by the brush with death, it was honest rather than great. As with Chinese food, any Teutonic food, in this case smoked pork loin, seems to prevent the drinking of good wine. In general I don't care for German wines for the same reason I don't like the smell down at the Speedy Car Wash, but both perhaps are acquired tastes. The fact is, the meal demanded a couple of Heileman's Exports, even Budweisers, but that occurred to me only later.
Until recently my home base in Leelanau County, in northern Michigan, was more than sixty miles from the nearest first-rate restaurant, twice the range of the despised and outmoded atomic cannon. This calls for resourcefulness in the kitchen, or what the tenzo in a Zen monastery would call "skillful means." I keep an inventory taped to the refrigerator of my current frozen possibilities: local barnyard capons; the latest shipment of prime veal from Summerfield Farms, which includes sweetbreads, shanks for osso bucco, liver, chops, kidneys; and a little seafood from Charles Morgan in Destin, Floridatriggerfish, a few small red snapper, conch for chowder and fritters. There are also two shelves of favoritesrabbit, grouse, woodcock, snipe, venison, dove, chukar, duck, and quailand containers of fish fumet, various glacés and stocks, including one made from sixteen woodcock that deserves its own armed guard. I also traded my alfalfa crop for a whole steer, which is stored at my secretary's home due to lack of space.
In other words, it is important not to be caught short. It is my private opinion that many of our failures in politics, art, and domestic life come from our failure to eat vividly, though for the time being I will lighten up on this pet theory. It is also one of a writer's neuroses not to want to repeat himselfI recently combed a five-hundred-page galley proof of a novel in terror that I may have used a specific adjective twiceand this urge toward variety in food can be enervating. If you want to be loved by your family and friends it is important not to drive them crazy; thus the true outer limits of this compulsion are tested only in the month of eating during the fall bird season when we are visited by artist Russell Chatham and the writer and Frenchman Guy de la Valdene, as well as during a few other brief spates throughout the year.
The flip side of the Health Bore is, after all, the Food Bully. Several years ago, when my oldest daughter visited from New York City, I overplanned and finally drove her to tears and illness by Christmas morning (grilled woodcock and truffled eggs). At the time she was working at Dean & DeLuca, so a seven-day feast was scarcely necessary. (New Yorkers, who are anyway a thankless lot, have no idea of the tummy thrills and quaking knees an outlander feels walking into Dean & DeLuca, Balducci's, Zabar's, Manganaro's, Lobel's, Schaller & Weber, etc.) I respected my daughter's tears, albeit tardily, having been brought to a similar condition by Orson Welles over a number of successive meals at Ma Maison, the last of which he "designed" and called me at dawn with the tentative menu as if he had just written the Ninth Symphony. We ate a half-pound of beluga with a bottle of Stolichnaya, a salmon in sorrel sauce, sweetbreads en croûte, a miniature leg of lamb (the whole thing) with five wines, desserts, cheeses, ports. I stumbled to the toilet for a bit of nose powder, a vice I've abandoned, and rested my head in a greasy faint against the tiled walls. Welles told me to avoid hatcheck girls as they always prefer musicians. That piece of wisdom was all that Warner Brothers got for picking up the tab. Later John Huston told me that he and Welles were always trying to stick each other with the tab and once faked simultaneous heart attacks at a restaurant in Paris. In many respects, Orson Welles was the successor to the Great Curnonsky, Prince of Gourmands. This thought occurred to me as I braced my boots against the rocker panel to haul the great director from his limousine.
Last week when my oldest daughter, who has since moved to Montana (where the only sauce is a good appetite), came home to plan her May wedding, her mother cautioned the Food Bully, threatening the usual fire extinguisher full of lithium kept in the kitchen for such purposes. While dozing, I heard my daughter go downstairs to check out the diminishing wine cellar. (I can't hear an alarm clock but I can hear this.) Certain bottles have been preserved for a few guests the evening before the wedding: a '49 Latour, a '61 Lafite, a '47 Meursault (probably turned, but the disappointment will be festive), a '69 Yquem, and a couple of '68 Heitz Martha's Vineyards for a kicker. It is a little bizarre to consider that these bottles are worth more than I made during the year she was born.
The first late evening, after a nasty January flight, we fed her a winter vegetable soup with plenty of beef shanks and bone marrow. By the next evening she was soothed enough for quail stuffed with lightly braised sweetbreads, followed by some gorgeous roasted wood ducks. I had shot the quail and wood ducks earlier in the month down south, and we especially enjoyed the latter because I will never shoot another in my life. Wood duck are the most beautiful (and tasty) of all ducks, and are very simpleminded in the way they flutter down through the trees. I felt I deserved to be bitten by the six-foot water moccasin sleeping off the cold under a nearby log. I don't feel this preventive remorse over hunting other birds, just ducks and geese.
This meal was a tad heavy so we spent the next afternoon making some not-exactly-airy cannelloni from scratch. Late that evening, I pieced up two rabbits and put them in a marinade of an ample amount of Tabasco and a quart of buttermilk, using the rabbit scraps to make half a cup of stock. The recipe is an altered version of a James Villas recipe for chicken (attribution is important in cooking).
The next evening, we floured and fried the rabbit, serving it with a sauce of the marinade, stock, and the copious brown bits from the skillet. I like the dish best with simple mashed potatoes and succotash made from frozen tiny limas and corn from the garden. The rabbit gave one a thickish feeling so the next evening I broiled two small red snappers with a biting Thai hot-and-sour sauce, which left one refreshingly hungry by midnight. My wife had preserved some lemon, so I went to the cellar for a capon as she planned a Paula Wolfert North African dish. Wolfert and Villas are food people whom you tend to "believe" rather than simply admire. In this same noble lineage is Patience Gray, a wandering Bruce Chatwin of food.
Naturally, I had been floundering through the deep snow an hour or two a day with my bird dogs to deserve such meals. My system had begun to long for a purging meal of a mixed-grain concoction called Kashi, plus a pot of mustard and collard greens with a lump of locally made salt pork. This meal can be stretched into something bigger by adding barbecued chicken laved in a tonic sauce, which I call the sauce of Lust and Violence. The name refers to what it does to the palate rather than a motivation of behavior.
We weren't exactly saving up for the big one when the few guests begin to arrive the following evening. The cautionary note was something Jack Nicholson had said to me more than a decade ago after I had overfed a group in his home: "Only in the Midwest is overeating still considered an act of heroism." Still, the winter weather was violent, and lacking the capacity to hibernate it was important to go on with the eating, not forgetting the great Lermontov's dictum: "Eat or die."
We made a simple, nonauthentic "scampi" as an appetizer. Garlic is a vegetable and should be used in quantity, and must never be burned. To avoid this I broil the shrimp for two minutes in the shells, then add the garlic, oil, butter, and lemon juice. Infantile but good with sourdough bread. Next came the innovation of the evening, an idea that came after talking to my neighbor and hunting friend Nick. We breasted eighteen doves and my wife made a clear stock of the carcasses. Each whole breast was cut in four pieces. We added finely julienned red pepper, mostly for color, and a little shredded endive to the clear stock. We poached the pieces of dove breast briefly so they would be soft and pinkish in the center. It was a delicious soup and we looked forward to making it with surplus woodcock in the fall. The final course, rare venison steaks with a sauce made of venison marrow bones and a little of my prized woodcock stock, was almost an afterthought. Enough is enough.
The final evening we went to a restaurant called Hattie's in the small nearby town of Suttons Bay. I wondered if we had actually planned a wedding but didn't want to ask. My wife and two daughters were in good humor and ate lightly. I couldn't resist the cassoulet with an enormous preserved goose thigh smack dab in the middletrue homemade confit here in northern Michigan when it is hard to find even in New York! I would resume running at night, all night long across frozen lakes, were it not for the dangerous holes left by the ice fisherman.
Excerpted from THE RAW AND THE COOKED by Jim Harrison. Copyright © 2001 by Jim Harrison. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.