Jim Harrison’s

an excerpt from Big Brown’s unpublished (1986)
Smoke Signals food column

(dictated while mildly deranged by grief and hope)



One wonders, doesn’t one, why historically we are insufficiently wily in foreign affairs.  Without question it is because we do not eat vividly.  We are always euchred out by people with superior diets with more interesting food, technically speaking of course.  Mitterand made mincemeat of Reagan in Europe mostly because of the superior foods he eats. Let’s face it, Mitterand drink superior Bordeaux, Burgundy, eats garlic, truffles, goose livers, various forms of tripe, sweetbreads, intestines, jellied calves feet for midnight snacks.

By contrast, Reagan’s diet is nightmarish, though it stops short of the ketchup and cottage cheese trip that Nixon had – which wasn’t as bad as some people say it was, it’s just not something you want to eat more than once in your life. Reagan was into a diet of bran flakes, very lean dryish turkey breasts, probably no garlic whatsoever, lean fish. . . just thinking about it makes me wonder what William Buckley eats?  I understand his wife is a famous hostess.  William Buckley shows signs of eating far too many club sandwiches.  Anyone who can eat a quarter of a club sandwich without expiring from torpor is beyond me. Buckley no doubt has a food perversion, a food that perhaps his wife doesn’t even know about.  Something like Franco American on toast or Kraft instant Macaroni and Cheese.  My daughter likes the latter and I’ve tasted it, and it’s proper for a 14-year-old girl.  Maybe Buckley secretly cheats because most of his philosophical viewpoints are formed by his efforts to justify being rich.  Who cares if he’s rich?  If you want a philosophical justification of it you can’t pull this white Christian trip because you’ll never find a man in the history of mankind who was less impressed by moola than Jesus.

What is a diet of vividness but to live vividly, to see vividly, to write vividly, to make love vividly, or as the French say it, “To fricadelle”, which is a new French hip term. I’m making the presumption that you want to live vividly.  Everyone knows that D.H. Lawrence said that the only aristocracy is that of consciousness.  Rather than schlep through life on this Reagan diet, eat vividly.

We start at base with garlic.  Without garlic, forget it.  Garlic should be bought in odd numbers. You should get one pound, three pounds, five pounds, seven pounds of garlic.  Roast these heads like they do at Mustard’s famous restaurant near Yountsville, CA.  Use a little olive oil, fresh rosemary, thyme, beef stock.   You cut the top off the garlic, a little flat spot on the top so you can baste it.  Eat several heads, I have on numerous occasions.  Just squish them out or go at them with an oyster fork.  Drink a pint mug of Cabernet with this, anything less is cowardly and won’t be vivid.  Nowhere in the United States that I have traveled have I seen people that live more vividly than in Cajun country.  Of course much is being made of this diet but essentially what you get in NYC is a very watered down variety except forTexarkana and the great chef Abe de la Houssaye.   Down there they’re not afraid of your basic hot peppers.Go over to Nogales, it’s the same thing. The best menudo in the country can be gotten across from the Historical Museum in Nogales.  They serve these wild little chilies.  There are wild Senoran chilies on the side, freshly chopped cilantro and there are nice fatty morsels of calves feet in there with tripe.  It’s just splendid.  Myself and the grizzly expert, Douglas Peacock, go there.

Of late I’ve been following this How To Eat Vividly Diet because I don’t want to die.  It’s called Eat To Win, by Doctor Bob Haas.  Of course the question is win what?  Now I don’t recommend this as a vivid diet but the principles are correct to reduce the amount of fat in your diet, simple carbs and going for complex carbs and protein.  Get the sludge out of your veins.  The recipes in the book, I’ve been meaning to write Dr. Bob, who known henceforth as Bob, a comforting name.  Bob being the most popular name in the United States.  Naturally there are some good Bobs and some bad Bobs, but most indifferent Bobs, not to speak of the old fashioned BeBob-a-aree-Bobs.  I’ve been thinking of writing Bob about improving this diet because there are too many recipes in there that are torpid.

The best salt substitute that’s adequate are plenty of hot peppers.  My grizzly man sent me a care package from Arizona of about 30 different kinds of ground and whole chilies.  Other than the fact that the place is hot and stupid, why doesn’t one live in Arizona where all these chilies are available?  I didn’t know.  I just loved it “here” and it never occurred to me to move down there until years later when I realized my soul was drawn towards the Apache and Hopi and Navajo.  I watched the sacred Yaqui Deer Dance and had some snacks at this Yaqui Festival.  Let me tell you these Indians aren’t afraid of a little hot pepper.  They adore them, they hang wreaths, strings and medallions of peppers all over there little adobe huts.  I’ve made wild rabbit tacos with plenty of hot peppers.  You could actually make a giant burrito with a whole squirrel but I don’t really care for squirrel. It reminds me of a really extravagantly premature baby.  Some of the key to this diet that I might eventually publish along with a Frenchman and a Montana painter on a cookbook which is to be called Sporting Food.  It’s the kind of food that Balzac would eat without getting pissed off.  It’s not boring food.  How am I going to stop such foods from killing me?  Well I learned a secret in Brazil, and this secret had nothing to do with the extraordinarily cheap pharmaceuticals there.  That threw me off my feet for awhile, those softball sized sacks did nobody any good.  As it’s known locally, that kind of snort is known as “bone-be-gone.”  If you want to turn your pecker cold as stone just keep it up, boys, keep it up.

Down in Brazil I was at a churrascura and their beef down there is grass fed so it’s not full of fat, like ours.  You’d see vast tonnages of meat roasting on wood fires and they would hack you off what you want.  They would wheel it around on carts that took several peasants to push.  Along with these meats there were extraordinarily hot salsas. My favorite cut of meat was a little fatty. It was the hump of Zebu cattle, it’s about the texture of a brisket but much more delicious. I discovered the Black Pope Tankard reconfirmed my feeling about the word seven.  If I’m stir frying a little pork loin and fresh asparagus I have a tendency to put seven hot peppers and seven cloves of garlic in it.  It just makes it a much more vivid little dish.

Another vivid food that is much maligned in our country, the most nutritionally sound meal, is black beans and rice.  (It’s a given you can eat a salad with it) or you can make pinto beans and rice. Mexican kids, the athletic kids are so much stronger than our junkfood puff balls that we are breeding up here.

Beans and rice are vivid food.  You can tell when you go into Cuban bars in Florida or Mexican bars or by listening to my current favorite rock group Los Lobos.  That is beans and rice music.  That is incredible music of the streets.  Some of the more odious seem to prefer English rock. Give me a break!  When England lost India and her superior die she went downhill in a hand basket.  You can eat well in London of course but it is generally where there is Italian food.

I had a foreign visitor who started to get depressed at being in New York a week with the expense account bungfodder that we eat in Gotham, so I made him a simple dish of fresh pasta with a sauce made out of cacciatore of rabbit and pheasant and sausage.  His energy was immediately restored.  The repellent fact of life to anyone who likes to cook is that the domestic duck is full of fat because they are raised on Long Island along with other banalities and absurdities.  That duck is appropriate for East Hapton, South Hamption, Sag Harbor.  Once you get interested in a vivid diet, I don’t mean these kind of yuppie nightmare foods. Instead, get the farmer down the road and con him into raising you some Muscovy ducks if you don’t want to do it yourself.  Muscovy duck is very lean, gorgeous duck that I roast in just short of twenty five minutes at a super heat in my forced air oven.  They hare delicious when their flesh is deep pink.  Superb duck.  Buy Muscovy.

Many of you stickball queens would be a lot better off if you put aside this stickball and bought yourself a shotgun and went into the forst every fall and shot yourself some healthy, meaty fowl.  Buy a fishpole. Even as I am dictating this in my auto I am heading back to my hidden cabon on the forest in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and my car is loaded with fishing tackle.  I even like the less desirable species Pike; I like perch, lake Superior whitefish, lay trout, the small pinkish ones.  There is no industry within 150 miles of my cabin but there is some acid rain up here , but of course Reagan refuses to do anything about it because he thinks of it as some kind of a Grecian formula.  Somebody told him acid rain keeps you from growing gray hair.

When I started writing the dead food scrolls I didn’t know where it would take me but I’m not able to eat meat as much as I used to. I like it but it makes me mean and vindictive for some reason.  If you look deep into the eye of a rib eye steak you fully don’t realize it’s dead, but just leave it out in the sun for a hot afternoon. . .Then take a whiff.

Jim Harrison – Our Food Editor - If you’re hungry check out Big Brownie’s The Raw and the Cooked.
A novelist, poet, essayist, screenwriter, his newest collection of novellas is The Farmer’s Daughter.

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