Ravenous Reading

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Cooking Light fans probably know that Steven Raichlen developed one of the best chicken recipes the magazine has ever run. Raichlen is a grill master par excellence, and readers can look forward to more of his recipes in our July issue.

Eating healthy should still be delicious.

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But Steven's been branching out of late. It's apparently not enough for the Fulbright scholar to author more than two dozen bestselling cookbooks (with more James Beard and IACP awards than you can shake a basting brush at), host cooking shows on television, and run his Barbecue University workshops. Nope, he needed to write a novel.

Island Apart is the name of Raichlen's fictional debut (due to hit bookshelves in June). It's set on Martha's Vineyard, specifically, Chappaquiddick. I'm not offering a review here; I'm only 80 or so pages in. The blurbs on the back cover bill the book as a great beach read, and that may be the case. But I'm here to tell you the book makes me genuinely hungry, which is the about the highest praise I can bestow. Already in the first few chapters, there've been detailed descriptions of super-fresh, sweet and meaty bluefish and a cabbage and short rib stew, as well as random talk of quinoa and heirloom tomato salads. One of the main characters has just baked some cranberry bread, another character reciprocates with some homemade preserves. It's on my nightstand, and sends me to sleep with visions of beach plums dancing in my head—an excellent way to drift off.

The Book of the Ravenous

I think calling it an obsession would have been an exaggeration. I’d have preferred the more acceptable term “hobby” to describe my collecting of old cookbooks. Yes, it was a hobby. We all need hobbies, you know. Something to pass the time between lunch and dinner, work and sleep, birth and death. My hobby never consumed the house or anything like that, with great dusty tomes snaking their way upwards until they eclipsed the sun. My wife made sure that the books stayed in my study, nowhere else. Unless, of course, I planned on using them, in which case they were granted access to the cupboards in the kitchen. You could imagine that, when most of my books were for 19th century aristocrats, or for people working around the world war two rationing system, few of my cookbooks ever saw my house beyond the dimly lit study, where the dust mites did not so much dance under the languid light as they did drift stagnantly, like clouds making their way across the sky. I found this arrangement agreeable, since it kept me on the right side of the oh so fine line all collectors walk, the line that separates a “collection” from a “hoard.”

So, I spent my nights sequestered away in the study, with its deep green carpet and custard yellow walls. The room was certainly an eyesore, but the shelves of cookbooks covered most of the wallpaper, and the dull light of the study meant it was easy to pretend the carpet wasn’t such an unpleasant color. The obligation was, however, that if I spent my nights flicking through the mottled pages of old cookbooks, I had to use some of my knowledge to put dinner on the table every night. I wasn’t a master chef, but I knew which end of a knife was sharp, and was happy to make meals for our little family of three.

The night before I found the book, I was ladling great heaps of risotto into our bowls, while my wife impatiently tapped her cherry red finger nails on the dining table. I always thought her having such bright, obnoxiously colored nails was unsightly, especially since my wife typically dressed in browns and beiges, but perhaps that was the point. Her nails were like a release from the blandness of the her attire. Hunter sat with his head resting on the table, no doubt itching to finish dinner and run back up into his room to play video games and do whatever else it is that thirteen year old boys do when they’re alone. I suppose in another family Hunter would have been reprimanded for being so solitary, but everyone in this household spent most of their time alone, so he was simply following suit. We began to eat, wordlessly, but as the oppressive silence grew thicker, we started trading pieces of small talk to alleviate some of the awkwardness.

“So, hon, I was looking at the calendar and realized that Hunter’s science camp starts the day I go to visit the ice queen.” Yes, my wife and I both decided that the best label for her mother would be the “ice queen.” I think that says all you need to know about her character.

“You sure you’ll be okay with the house all to yourself?”

I scoffed. “Somehow, I think I’ll manage.”

She knew I wasn’t going with her. The rule we established was that I only tag along with my wife every second time we receive summons from the ice castle. Every other time, my job as a librarian “keeps me too busy” to come see her. With that, the spell of silence was broken, and we all began chatting about school, work, and ordinary family things. I laugh now, thinking about how this was the last night where I was truly sane. It was the the night before I discovered my crown jewel.

My job as a librarian was an enjoyable one. While my library, like most, had a stunted and unloved cookbook section, occasionally I’d be asked to make the three hour drive up to the gargantuan storage facility where all of the older books in the regional library’s collection were held, to pick up books for people who had requested them, and return those that had been sent out previously. It was tedious, to be sure, but I was allowed the entire day for such a task, and I regaled in the ancient books found there. It was in this place my love for cookbooks was born, even if I necessarily couldn’t take any of these books for my keeping. Feeling the dusty film on their pages, the stains left from previous uses, each one like its own artefact forever preserved within the bound leather tomes, I fell in love with these recipes and the contexts they came from. From 18th century housewives to the dying breed of 20th century royal families, every recipe was tailored for someone. But, while there wasn’t a single book in my collection that I wasn’t in love with, some books were more loved than others. On this particular day, I found the book that would top all others, my one true love. My crown jewel.

Every collector has a crown jewel. A typically rare and special article of whatever item it is they like to collect. It takes a while, and some collector’s crown jewels are better than others, but if one persists at their hobby long enough, they’re bound to find the one addition to their collection that makes it special. I had finished all the work I was supposed to do in the facility, and spent the rest of the day wandering among the labyrinth of ancient shelves creaking under the weight of ancient books. I ran my hand along their spines, noticing how, just like the pages themselves, the exterior of these books were also coated in a fine layer of dust. Not all these books were cookbooks, but every one told an engrossing story. Maps of old prospector towns, letters sent between nobles, I was lost in this sea of times long gone. While wandering through the isles, drifting deeper than I ever had before, I found a large pile of books that had toppled from their shelf, spilling all over the floor. It was as though the shelf had violently vomited all of these musty books from itself, leaving them in disarray. As a librarian, it was my duty to stuff these books back in their shelf. I was unfamiliar with what order they were placed in, so I just used my best judgement. The pile of books seemed to be unending, and the work quickly grew monotonous. What broke the monotony was the book that lay at the very bottom of the pile, being smothered by all the others.

A leather bound tome, with its cover faded and wrinkled, but still intricately decorated. In that extravagant, old English font, the title read “The Book of the Ravenous: Dishes to Sate any Appetite.” The words within were a more standard Georgian font, placing it around the 19th century. The pages were a Pollack painting of brown and maroon smears and smudges, mouldering on the page like some sort of fungus or lichen. At first, as I skimmed the yellowed pages, the book was only of mild interest. Only when I focused on the ingredients of a particular page did I realise the uniqueness of this book.


I felt fear squirming in my stomach, like a black worm tying itself into knots. Skimming through the pages, more body parts appeared. Legs, thighs, ribs. There was no author, no date of publication, no introduction, just pages and pages of recipes, each one detailing another way to cook a human body part. Suddenly, the strangely coloured stains plastered on every page made more sense. What kind of library would have this book in its database? I searched for a barcode, or some sort of marker that showed the library owned it, and found none. This book was not actually in the library’s system. Had it been left here on purpose? Buried under all these other books? Such a morbid book frightened me to no end, to be sure, but to think that it was so unique, so strange, and far too authentically bound for it to be some kind of “gag” book, I couldn’t resist it. The woman at the front desk payed me no mind as I left the storage facility, my crowned jewel nestled safely within my jacket.

I stared at the slab of meat on the cutting board. It glistened under the kitchen’s pendulum lights. I stared at the veins of fat that carved their way through the flesh. I wanted to touch it, to press my thumb in it and watch the wet indent slowly rise, or remain pushed in. Grabbing my knife, I began to cut the beef. My afternoon was spent reading my latest find. Most pieces of flesh had at least one page dedicated to them, though certain pieces, such as the liver or the heart, frequented as the star of a dish. As I cut the beef, the images conjured up from that book hung about me, haunting me like phantoms. Filleting the inner thigh, deboning the fingers, skinning the forearm, it was as though these images were embedded into my brain with a soldering iron.

It was stir fry that night. I had mixed in with the noodles and beef lots of vibrant vegetables that seemed to glow as the steam rose off them. I generously spooned at least five different spices into the dish. Despite my best efforts, the meal seemed disappointing. The noodles became claggy paste in my mouth, and the vegetables felt rubbery and bland. “Sorry guys, this one wasn’t my greatest hit.” I said, trying to speak over their chewing sounds. “I don’t know what you’re talking about honey, this is great! Do you like it, Hunter?” She gestured to him with those red fingernails. Cherry red. Like blood. Blood running in rivulets across the white kitchen bench, creating new, red veins to mingle with the marble’s grey ones. Blood pooling at the bench’s edge, first trickling, then spilling, then nearly rushing over, landing on the tiles with a series of sickening splatters, like an overflow of rainwater rushing from a gutter. Blood, filling the valleys between the white kitchen tiles, as though they were veins in their own right, and the house was being granted new life. Blood. Blood. Blood.

I looked up to find my wife and child staring at me like I had just had a heart attack at the table. “Uh, sorry, what did you say?”

Leaning into Fall with Beef Short Ribs and Nebbiolo

August 31, 2018 by Jane 13 Comments This post may contain affiliate links.

While I enjoy the last warm sunny days of summer, cooler temperatures and fall wines like Nebbiolo paired with savory comfort foods like beef short ribs and polenta are on my mind.

This month the Italian Food, Wine, and Travel (#ItalianFWT) group also has fall on their mind as we lean into the cooler weather with Italian red wines. Join us on Twitter Saturday, September 1 at 11:00 am ET for the chat and check out more fall inspired Italian red wines at the end of this post.

Pinot Noir from Burgundy rates as one of my favorite red wines. Piedmont&rsquos Nebbiolo has been compared to Pinot Noir in its pale almost translucent color in the glass, intoxicating aromas, structure, and complexity. Nebbiolo, like Pinot Noir in France, is considered to be one of Italy&rsquos top red wines. I wanted to learn more about Nebbiolo and the wines made from this grape variety.

What I learned about Nebbiolo

  • Nebbiolo (Nebby-oh-low)
  • Nebbia means fog in Italian
  • Nebbiolo is also known as Chievannasca, Picutener, and Spanna
  • Flavor Profile: Cherry, raspberry, cranberry, anise, rose, violet, truffles, chocolate, smoke, leather, and tar
  • It may look like a light-bodied wine in the glass, but Nebbiolo can have gripping tannins and high acidity making it a powerful, medium to full-bodied wine.
  • Barolo and Barbaresco are two famous wines made from the Nebbiolo grape and known for their age-worthiness.
  • Nebbiolo d&rsquo Alba, Nebbiolo delle Langhe, Ghemme, and Gattinara are Nebbiolo based easy drinking and more afford wines produced in Piedmont.
  • Nebbiolo only makes up about 8% of the grapes grown in Piedmont but is sparsely grown outside of Italy.
  • Nebbiolo is a terroir-driven grape variety preferring hillside locations with southern exposure and clay and silt based soils.
  • Food Pairings: Rustic Italian stews and slow braises, rich pasta, risotto, and polenta, truffles.

My Nebbiolo Tasting Notes

2013 Massolino Serralunga d&rsquoAlba Barolo DOCG
13.5% abv | $39.99 Costco | 100% Nebbiolo

Massolino is a family owned fourth-generation estate located in the center of the Serralunga d&rsquoAlba region. The estate owns 23 hectares of vineyards with mainly calcareous soils. The vines range in age from 10-55 years. The first year of production was 1911. Vinification and aging: fermentation and maceration lasting 15 days followed by aging in large oak barrels for at least 30 months and then placed in bottles to age for just over a year.

Pale garnet in color. Medium+ bodied, high acidity and tannins. On the palate cherries, raspberries, cinnamon, anise, herbs, and leather. Well balance and structured.

2011 Pio Cesare Barbaresco, DOCG
14.5% abv | $69.99 Total Wines | 100% Nebbiolo

Pio Cesare was founded in 1881 and is a fifth-generation owned estate located in the center of Alba. The estate owns 70 hectares of vineyards with hillside exposure in the Barolo and Barbaresco appellations. Of those 70 hectares, 26,90 hectares are in the Barbaresco region of which 14,04 hectares are planted with Nebbiolo for Barbaresco. The grapes come from family vineyards in Treiso and San Rocco Seno d&rsquoElvio.
Vinification and Aging: Skin contact for 25-30 days in stainless steel tanks. Aging in oak &ldquobotti&rdquo(casks) for about 30 months with a small amount in French barriques.

Pale garnet in color. Full bodied, medium acidity and medium+ tannins. Notes of cherries, spice, violets and a hint of licorice. Nicely balanced with a velvety texture on the palate.

Food Pairing

Nebbiolo with its richness, high acidity, and bold tannins pairs well with a rich braised pot of beef short ribs and a classic Italian side of polenta.

Expanses recipes

Does anyone ever make any of the food mentioned in the books? Or know where to find any recipes? Reading about black noodles with mushrooms has made me ravenous.

Not from the book, but here's a recipe loosely based on my own chili recipe. We had it displayed in blue lettering on a pot over a fire in the tenement camp as Bobbie walked through in ep 210 (about 25 minutes or so into the episode).

Chili Sin Carne al Munroe

500 g vegetable scraps, finely chopped

90 g dried weed greens, finely chopped

1 L Synthro-cal tomato paste

250 ml Synthro-cal BBQ sauce

60 ml Synthro-cal hot sauce

Heat oil in a large pot over medium high heat and brown TVP on all sides, Reduce heat to medium. Add salt. Continue to cook, turning frequently, until heated through. Once cooked, remove TVP to a bowl to cool.

As TVP cools, add beer to pot to de-glaze - scraping up the good bits. Gently simmer the liquid for 4-5 minutes to reduce. Add scraps and sauté for 2 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and add spices, dried weeds, stevia, tomato paste, BBQ sauce and hot sauce, mixing well. Reduce heat to low and continue to gently simmer.

Remove TVP from the bowl, pull it apart along the fibers and stir into to the chili. Simmer for 30 minutes, then serve.

Get A Copy


  1. Make topping:
    1. Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle.
    2. Melt butter, then stir together with panko and topping cheeses in a bowl until combined well.
    1. Melt butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat and stir in flour. Cook roux, stirring, 3 minutes, then whisk in milk. Bring sauce to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking occasionally, 3 minutes. Stir in cheeses, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper until smooth. Remove from heat and cover surface of sauce with wax paper.
    1. Cook macaroni in a pasta pot of boiling salted water (2 tablespoons salt for 4 quarts water) until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking water and drain macaroni in a colander. Stir together macaroni, reserved cooking water, and sauce in a large bowl. Transfer to 2 buttered 2-quart shallow baking dishes.
    2. Sprinkle topping evenly over macaroni and bake until golden and bubbling, 20 to 25 minutes.

    Squash, Red Pepper and Goat Cheese Gratin

    Holiday veggies deserve a bit of wow factor. So if it falls to you to bring a festive side, may we suggest you think outside the bean? Homely traditions aside, there are some fabulous alternatives (with nary a can of “cream-of” soup) to add a bit of panache to a holiday menu.

    Warm gooey goat cheese melted with tender yellow squash, sweet red peppers and slow-roasted Roma tomatoes is sure to elicit oohs and ahhs—if not thunderous applause.

    Roast the tomatoes the night before. Oh, and you may want add to a few extra, as the intoxicating aroma filling your home will beg a taste or two.

    Ravenous Reading - Recipes

    Flavor for All

    Everyday Recipes and Creative Pairings


    Simple, dynamic, flavor-packed recipes from the authors of  The Flavor Matrix &mdashinformed by the science of flavor pairing but accessible enough for every cook

    Fans were ravenous for more recipes from James Briscione and Brooke Parkhurst, authors of The Flavor Matrix , so the authors are serving up 100 new recipes in Flavor for All , drawing on the principles and flavor-focused approach that informed their previous book. This is, at heart, a practical home-cooking book with delicious and accessible recipes, but with unique and unexpected twists based on scientifically approved flavor pairings. Recipes include Seared Steaks with Almond-Cherry Pesto Caesar Artichoke Dip Brown Butter, Maple, and Pear Pork Roast Spicy Kiwi and Bacon Grilled Cheese Sandwiches &ldquoUmami in a Bottle&rdquo salad dressing and Chocolate and Red Wine Bread Pudding. The authors explain why certain flavors taste so good together and provide plenty of practical tips on how to coax the maximum amount of flavor from your ingredients. This new cookbook will appeal to both chemistry aficionados and casual cooks alike, with simple, easy recipes for everyday life.

    Praise For Flavor for All: Everyday Recipes and Creative Pairings&hellip

    "Home cooks as curious about what goes on inside the pot as what goes into it will have a ball."
    &mdash Publishers Weekly 

    &ldquoBriscione and Parkhurst have mastered the science of flavors, exploring the chemistry of those organic compounds that so stimulate human senses.&rdquo
    &mdash Booklist

    "With 100 creative recipes, these dishes will be the talk of your next dinner party."
    &mdash Food & Wine


    For simpler family suppers during the week, you're unlikely to hear any complaints if you serve a spicy yet filling chicken fajita tagliatelle (7 SmartPoints on all myWW+ plans) or a hearty Quick Mushroom and Macaroni Bake (11 SmartPoints on all plans).

    Better still, they're both quick and simple to prepare you could easily have either dish on the table in about half an hour after you get home.

    'Using ingredients such as a reduced-fat strong cheese or a small amount of grated hard cheese such as Parmesan, skimmed milk and low-calorie cooking sprays enable you to make any recipe healthier for the whole family,' says Julia.

    'These are tricks you can use to adapt your own family favourites too,' she adds.

    'Try making healthier substitutions in other recipes, too, and don't forget to make use of the recipe builder feature in the myWW+ app to give you SmartPoints values to ensure you stay on track.'

    Why not also take advantage of your new health and fitness goals to encourage other family members to build a healthier relationship with food?

    'Try to get everyone involved in the planning and preparing as well as all sitting down to enjoy the food together,' advises Julia.

    'It's also a good idea to let them serve themselves from a bowl in the middle of the table so that small children can learn to understand how hungry they are and when they're full.

    'Encourage everyone to help clear up, too, including scraping unwanted food off their plate into the bin. This has the added bonus of ensuring you won't pick at children's leftovers as you clear up the meal!

    'As well as being surprisingly good fun, you'll be amazed at how quickly younger members of your family start to show an interest in the food they eat and how it can benefit their health.

    'They'll learn to form habits that will stand them in good stead for their adult lives, too.'


    The brilliant WW series gives inspiring dishes, including the quick mushroom and macaroni bake (above), designed to appeal to all generations while also being kind on your waistline

    Prep: 5 mins l Cook: 25 mins

    • 300g macaroni
    • Calorie-controlled cooking spray
    • 500g chestnut mushrooms, sliced
    • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
    • 200g cherry tomatoes, halved
    • 400g tin cream of mushroom soup
    • 45g vegetarian Italian-style hard
    • cheese, finely grated
    • 2 tbsp fresh parsley, roughly chopped, plus extra to serve
    • 25g fresh white breadcrumbs
    • Rocket leaves, to serve

    Preheat the oven to 200c/ fan 180c/gas 6. Cook the macaroni in a large pan of boiling salted water for 5 minutes.

    Drain, reserving a cupful of pasta water. Meanwhile, mist a large frying pan with cooking spray and fry the mushrooms and garlic for 2-3 minutes.

    Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes until softened, but not broken down. Season.

    Stir in the soup, 2 tbsp of the cheese and the parsley. Loosen the sauce with a little of the reserved pasta water, then transfer to a deep 20cm square baking dish.

    Scatter over the breadcrumbs and remaining cheese, then mist with cooking spray.

    Bake for 20 minutes until golden. Serve with the rocket.

    myWW+: 11 SmartPoints value (green, blue and purple)


    For simpler family suppers during the week, you're unlikely to hear any complaints if you serve a spicy yet filling chicken fajita tagliatelle (pictured)

    Prep 10: mins l Cook: 15 mins

    • 300g fresh tagliatelle
    • Calorie-controlled cooking spray
    • 200g skinless chicken breast fillets, cut into strips
    • 1 onion, sliced
    • 1 red pepper, sliced
    • 1 yellow pepper, sliced
    • 1 tbsp fajita seasoning
    • 400g tin chopped tomatoes
    • 2 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
    • 40g WW Reduced Fat Grated Mature Cheese

    Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the tagliatelle according to pack instructions.

    Drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water. Set aside.

    Meanwhile, mist a large non-stick wok or frying pan with cooking spray over a high heat.

    Cook the chicken, onion and peppers, stirring, for 5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender and the chicken is just cooked through and golden.

    Stir in the fajita seasoning and cook for another minute, then add the tomatoes. Season and simmer for 3-4 minutes.

    Add the cooked pasta to the pan along with a splash of the reserved cooking water and toss to combine. Pour in a little more water if it seems dry.

    Add half the coriander and stir through. Divide the pasta between four plates and top with the cheese and remaining coriander to serve.

    myWW+: 7 SmartPoints value (green, blue and purple)


    You could lose up to a stone in time to enjoy the freedom of summer and still serve family favourites, such as the delicately-flavoured recipe for fish pie with leeks and tarragon (above)

    Prep: 5 mins l Cook: 40 mins

    • 600g potatoes, diced
    • 45g low-fat spread
    • 600ml skimmed milk
    • Calorie-controlled cooking spray
    • 2 leeks, trimmed and thinly sliced
    • 25g plain flour
    • 80g WW Reduced Fat Grated Mature Cheese
    • 1 tbsp fresh tarragon, finely chopped
    • 350g fish pie mix
    • 150g raw king prawns
    • 200g green beans, trimmed
    • 200g Tenderstem broccoli

    Put the potatoes in a pan, cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.

    Drain and return to the pan, then mash with 15g of the spread and 100 ml skimmed milk, then set aside. Preheat the oven to 200c/fan 180c/gas 5.

    Meanwhile, mist a large non-stick pan with cooking spray and fry the leeks gently for 5-6 minutes until soft.

    Remove from the pan and set aside. Reduce the heat to medium. Melt the remaining spread in the pan, then add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes.

    Gradually whisk in the remaining milk until smooth and combined. Increase the heat and bring the mixture to a simmer.

    Cook for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the mixture has thickened. Season to taste then whisk in 60 g of the cheese and the tarragon.

    Fold the fish pie mix and prawns into the sauce, then spoon into a 20cm square baking dish.

    Meanwhile, cook the beans and broccoli in a steamer set over a pan or boiler for 5‑7 minutes until just tender.

    Serve the fish pie with the veg.

    myWW+: 12 SmartPoints value (green), 9 SmartPoints value (blue) and 5 SmartPoints value (purple)


    WW's healthy eating programme, myWW+, works because it's flexible and based on solid science.

    It is based on four key elements: healthy eating, exercise, good sleeping patterns and a mindset package that helps you to adopt a healthier frame of mind.

    To tailor your food choices to your lifestyle, myWW+ offers a choice of three plans: Green, Blue and Purple.

    You can go to ww.com or the myWW+ app for a personalised assessment to discover which plan is best for you.

    All plans are based on SmartPoints and ZeroPoint foods every food and drink has a SmartPoints value — one easy-to-use number that naturally guides you towards a healthier pattern of eating.

    On top of this, you can enjoy ZeroPoint foods. These are vital for your health and have a SmartPoints value of 0, meaning you can eat them without counting or weighing them.

    When you join myWW+, you're given a customised SmartPoints Budget according to which plan you are matched with. The list of ZeroPoint foods also depends on your plan.

    GREEN : For people who eat on the go or enjoy pre-prepared foods, Green gives a Daily Budget of 30 SmartPoints and 100+ ZeroPoint fruits and veggies to choose from.

    BLUE : If you like cooking, but also want the flexibility of the occasional ready-meal, Blue offers a Daily Budget of 23 SmartPoints and 200+ ZeroPoint foods.

    PURPLE : Tailored for someone who cooks from scratch and doesn't want to weigh or measure ingredients, Purple gives the lowest Daily Budget of 16 SmartPoints but the highest allowance of 300+ ZeroPoint foods.

    You also get a weekly allowance (weeklies) for splurges or bigger portions up to four unused SmartPoints from your Daily Budget can be rolled over to your weeklies.

    On top of this, you can also boost your SmartPoints Budget by earning additional FitPoints for any activity you undertake.

    Ravenous Reading - Recipes

    By Stephen Hunter
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, March 19, 1999

    Folly marches onward! Does Fox have so much money it wants to throw some away for a tax loss? And what kind of pitch meeting let this one happen: "R.M., how about a real meat-and-potatoes movie: a . . . cannibal western! Think of the product tie-ins: A-1 sauce, lemon pepper, Weber grills, Kingsford charcoal, Ruth's Chris!"

    Set in 1847, "Ravenous" shows what happens when men who don't play well with others get hungry. It seems to be gearing up to connect with the episode of the Donner party, but never touches that old chestnut, possibly because everybody in it is Australian or English or Scottish and it was shot in Czechoslovakia, so nobody ever heard of the Donner party's picnic that snowbound winter.

    As "Ravenous" has it, at the Conradian darkness on the farthest edge of the American empire part way through the last century, a fort has been set up for disgraced officers and loser enlisted men. During the winter months, a skeleton crew merely maintains the place, when it offers assistance to travelers west. One night, however, a daft Scotsman (Robert Carlyle) wanders in, claiming to be one of a party of settlers who, Donner-like, were marooned in a cave and began to eat the dead. The commanding officer (Jeffrey Jones) takes a small unit to reach the last survivor alas, they learn that the Scotsman is himself the only survivor and he's done so by eating the others. In an ecstasy of homicide, he kills every one of the rescuers except a cowardly officer played by Aussie Guy Pearce, last seen in "L.A. Confidential" and after the run of this movie he will still be last seen in "L.A. Confidential" because he spends most of this movie masked in blood, his own or other people's.

    Pearce survives. When he returns to the fort, the Scotsman, now miraculously reborn in an image of glowing health and vigor, turns out to be an Army colonel put in command of the little post. His idea, seemingly inspired by reading too many Anne Rice novels, is to use the post as a feeding station for selected fatties heading westward. There's a suggestion that cannibalism is the lifestyle choice of the young and hot it makes you buff without having to spend all that time on the Stairmaster.

    The film is one of those accursed self-styled "outrageous" comedies that play the horrific for broad laughs, with a comically inflated style of dialogue that's so hip one doubts it could have been conceived before 1997, much less 1847. It's "Eating Raoul" in buckskins. But the movie is also coarse and bloody (blood seeping, splattering, gurgling, gushing or blackening into aspic in the sun, is the visual motif) and uses far too many horror movie tricks, like the shock of the mutilated body or the unexpected plasma squirt.

    Possibly English director Antonia Bird and screenwriter Ted Griffin (Colgate, Class of '93) had metaphorical intentions. When the insane Carlyle explains his vision of the future and the true meaning of manifest destiny to the stunned Pearce, the flag flutters magnificently in the background as if to make some point about American hegemony of the continent: Was it cannibalism of the natural world, of people of color, of the animals of forest and fen? Are cannibalism and capitalism indistinguishable?

    Well, after a bit, this sort of bores them, so they go back to the stabbings, the crushings and the gougings. One minor note: Two scenes that figure powerfully in the previews and TV ads – a bare-chested blondie bathing in a mountain stream in the dead of winter with a blood-chillingly blue demon stare, and an image of Pearce crushing David Arquette's skull from behind with a sledge the size of a beer keg – turn out to be completely incidental to the story. The blonde guy is just a minor character the head-smashing is a dream sequence. Those two bits make the movie seem far more interesting than it truly is.

    Watch the video: THE RAVENOUS BEAST by Niamh Sharkey Dinosaur story. Kids books read aloud. Kids Picturestorybook (May 2022).