Culinary Roots - The Joy Of Eating (Part 1)
How I became a foodie...
Yoda’s Hut: my grandmother’s homemade cottage had this same vibe. Located in northeast Arkansas, her acre backed up to ‘the big woods.’ She maintained a large ‘truck garden’ and a chicken coop. Her home, constructed piecemeal, had a quietude and serenity about it. She lived alone with her menagerie of dogs and cats. She was a rustic Zen master, effortlessly in tune with nature and her primal surroundings. The best meals of my life, gourmet peasant food, were constructed by her on a tiny propane stove that sat on an uneven kitchen floor covered in faded linoleum.
From a culinary perspective, as a child and teen, I was spoiled stupid. I thought everyone had a grandmother like mine, Rutha McAbee-Foster-Moore, and everyone experienced food as superb as what she made. Her cooking opened my eyes to wonder of taste. I immediately and whole-heatedly embraced the vice of craving deliciousness. She was a master at taking the cheapest, simplest ingredients and creating something spectacular.
When I visited (and because I was appreciative and a voracious consumer) she liked to dust off her cooking chops and stuff me till I burst. She ate like one of the tiny songbirds that lived in the peach tree outside her kitchen window; I ate like a pig every meal every day. After a stuff-fest meal, I would go lie on the wonderful glider swing that sat in the shade of the giant willow tree in her front yard with a fat pillow under my fat head.
I would immediately fall into a deep, narcoleptic sleep, dozing off while listening to the symphony of crickets, bullfrogs, cicadas, grasshoppers, and mockingbirds that inhabited the small stream that ran through her property. I was in a continual state of culinary-induced, post-meal bliss. Eat, sleep, wake up in a state of refreshed alertness, go drink some strong coffee.
Visiting her was the perfect undertaking for a skinny powerlifter (me) seeking to add muscle and size to become competitive. I would routinely gain ten to twelve pounds during a week-long visit. In later years, before coming to her Yoda cottage for my stay, I would diet down, lean out. I wanted to set the stage for an “anabolic burst.”
Athletes have long used keto dieting to lean out. Long before anyone ever heard the word/phrase/concept of dietary ketogenesis, i.e., going carb-free to melt off body fat, Dave Draper was using the infamous “fish and water” diet in 1965 to attain a fat-free physique. Whenever hungry, Dave would have a delicious can of oil-packed tuna fish (water packed tuna was still in the future.) Dave could also have all the water he wanted. Fish and Water.
Keep up this prison camp-style nutritional approach for ten straight weeks and get shredded. True, you will be weak as a kitten, listless, easily confused, suicidal, exhausted all the time and cranky, but so what, you will be ripped.
I would use a semi-keto diet in the month leading up to the visit. When calorie and carb-depleted, if you suddenly flood the body with calories and carbs, for a small window of time, all calories ingested, regardless how dirty, are preferentially channeled into a.) the construction of lean muscle mass b.) used to power daily activities or c.) excreted. The keto body has temporarily “forgotten” how to convert excess calories into body fat. For a little while.
Because my body had been continually low-cal and semi-keto, it’s fat-constructing mechanisms become a little rusty and out of practice. In the six weeks leading my Arkansas sabbatical, I trained hard and often, taking it to the razor’s edge between training and overtraining. Early morning fasted cardio coupled with off-season training: four weekly lifting sessions, a broader training menu, less emphasis on poundage, more emphasis on “feel.” Higher volume, higher reps.
I underpinned high-volume, moderate-intensity weight training with early morning cardio and a fat-stripping ketogenic diet with some weekend carbs thrown in. This high volume of training, combined with a low-carb, low-calorie dietary strategy, was the perfect precursor for a successful anabolic burst: the deeper the degree of depravation heading into the burst, the greater the burst results. The downside of keto dieting is simple: no muscle growth is possible in the absence of carbohydrate.
During my visit, I cut out all exercise, other than a daily, low intensity nature walk. I increased the quality and quantity of my sleep. Once I arrived at Rutha’s Yoda cottage, I began slamming calories, indiscriminately, a Mardi Gras festival of sanctioned gluttony. My low-carb/low-cal body, suddenly overwhelmed by calories, including lots and lots of glycogen-loaded carbohydrates, caused my muscles to swell like dry sponges dunked in hot water. I began stuffing glycogen-starved muscles full of glycogen. I was likely taking in (at least) 6,000 joyful, happy-go-lucky calories per day.
This “window of fat-storing amnesia” varies in length. The anabolic burst ends when the body “remembers” how to send surplus nutrients into fat stores. When the body remembers, “spillover” occurs. Ideally you stop stuffing your face before spillover occurs. I would diet down hard before an Arkansas visit so I could eat without guilt. Post competition bodybuilders were the first to discover the anabolic burst phenomenon. Later it would be called supercompensation.
While I was sleeping in the glider, post-meal, my body was super-compensating, growing muscle. I was anabolic bursting. Simultaneously, I was giving my stressed-out body, the highly trained/often trained soft machine, a deserved break. I had been subjecting my off-season body to an ungodly amount of training on account of my high aspirations.
Going off-line, no exercise, was the perfect RX for healing, repairing, and rebuilding. Back home, refreshed, revitalized, rested, physically larger, aggressive, I eagerly tore into the weights – which jacked my gains up further – for a little while.
Rutha predicated and exemplified the modern, all organic, farm-to-table, rustic cookery philosophy embraced on a widespread basis by elite chefs. I experienced farm-to-table meals prepared by an expert. My grandmother’s gourmet peasant cooking set culinary benchmarks that I abide by to this day. I was one lucky boy.
One year, after two hard days of driving from DC to Arkansas in a loud, slow, underpowered Jeep CJ7, I arrived in Arkansas stiff, sore, exhausted, stressed out, and twitchy. I said my hello’s and did not want to sit down to chat after sitting for ten straight hours in a buckboard masquerading as a passenger vehicle. To exorcise the mental and physical kinks, I walked the circumference of her acre property. I was feeling better with each accelerated step and with each deep breath of the bracing, cold, November air.
As I circled back around from the left, I saw Rutha open the backdoor and sat out for the “outside cats” their dinner: she fed them twice a day, in the morning and again around 3 or 4 pm. She always fed them the same thing, unable to afford commercial cat food, she fed the inside and outside cats her ethereal biscuits with white gravy (sans pepper.)
Rutha sat down the steaming pan of this godly food, stepped back inside, and shut the door. Without thought or hesitation I bull-rushed the pan…knocking cats and kittens out of the way. Famished, I would steal the biscuit pan. I scooped the hot pan off the stoop. These were country cats, feral, aggressive animals that killed and ate other animals for their proteins. They were having none of my shit.
Their leaders started leaping at my legs, some clawing, others rubbing up against me. I kicked away the clawing alpha cats, burning my fingers and tongue stuffing the too-hot gravy and biscuits into my mouth. God it was as good as I remembered! These cats would not quit, despite me punting one or two. Their caterwauling was such that Rutha opened the door to see what the ruckus was about.
She saw me kicking and flailing at the cat herd, baby kittens were running in circles at my feet in danger of being trampled, I held a pan of biscuits high in the air with one hand, stuffing a gravy-drenched biscuit into my gravy covered face with the other.
I must have looked like a lunatic street person committing some sort of animal cruelty crime. Her loud admonishment stopped me as dead in my tracks as surely and quickly as it did when I was caught doing something bad as a ten-year-old.
She scolded me and shamed me. I replaced the cat food. The cats immediately formed a circle around the tin of biscuits and began devouring it. Later, stuffed, the cat herd would settle in for the cold November night by laying in a big cat pile underneath the house, directly underneath the gas heater in my grandmother’s living room that she sat next to in her old worn recliner chair on cold, winter nights. The cats absorbed the radiant heat emanating from the floorboards, a few inches above their heads. On that particular night they went to bed a few biscuits shy of full.
About the Author - Marty Gallagher
As an athlete Marty Gallagher is a national and world champion in Olympic lifting and powerlifting. He was a world champion team coach in 1991 and coached Black's Gym to five national team titles. He's also coached some of the strongest men on the planet including Kirk Karwoski when he completed his world record 1,003 lb. squat. Today he teaches the US Secret Service and Tier 1 Spec Ops on how to maximize their strength in minimal time. As a writer since 1978 he’s written for Powerlifting USA, Milo, Flex Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Prime Fitness, Washington Post, Dragon Door and now IRON COMPANY. He’s also the author of multiple books including Purposeful Primitive, Strong Medicine, Ed Coan’s book “Coan, The Man, the Myth, the Method" and numerous others. Read the Marty Gallagher Biography for a more in depth look at his credentials as an athlete, coach and writer.