- Ward Cleaver's Prozac Fever The Merry, Merry Month of Meat

The doddering Transylvanian Saxons slowly stuffed casing after casing with mountains of exquisite garlic-laced pork as just one mile away, my frowning doctor wagged a warning finger in my airspace and gave me his cholesterol danger decree.

So began my unexpected Month of Meat.

As I began to battle the lipid demon, I became the unwitting participant in an extraordinary exploration of my bizarre culinary pedigree --- a cooking tradition replete with enough cholesterol to choke the English Chunnel to a pinhole.

I'd read a rhapsodical piece about the Transylvanians and their centuries-old sausage recipe in the local rag, and whipped into a porcine fugue, I found myself tearing through the Yellow Pages and phoning in my advance order for twenty pounds of the fatty stuff.

You have to wait in line for hours with a salivating horde of septuagenarian Slavs as wheelbarrows of links are divvied up, and bagged in recycled blue plastic shopping sacks.

"I've never had the liver sausage, how do you make it?" I asked a frail babushka in line, figuring I'd benefit from her century of cooking acumen.

"You COOK it," she spat, cutting in front of me in the queue.

That night, I shared my hoarded sausage with my Hungarian mom, who felt compelled to respond the next day, in kind, with a gift of meat.

It was the meat I had feared most as a child --- and now 40 years later, here it was in my own house, jiggling malevolently on a tin pie-plate as my ma beamed triumphantly.

"What luck! I got the butcher's last plate of kocsonya!" Her smirk slowly grew to an immutable ear-spanning grin.

Kocsonya, quite simply, is cold, jellied pig pieces. You say it "KUTCH-uh-nyah," but I can guarantee you won't be saying much of anything at all after you try it.

While it can be a pig's head (do remove the brains as the recipe suggests), I remember it as pig's feet in a freezy, greasy brown Jell-O. As a little shaver, I'd come bounding in our bungalow in the steamy summer prowling for a Dreamsicle, but recoil in abject Hitchcockian terror as the horror of cloven jellied kocsonya wubbled menacingly in its cholesterol stew of pork aspic.

I shook myself back into the present.

"Mmmm, I like the jelly best," my ma purred, chasing the stuff with a weighty chunk of the blackest rye, "it's a delicacy in Hungary! Just be sure to take your cholesterol pill afters," she winked, greedily slurping the final quivering bite.

In the next few nightmare weeks, a terrible parade of pork, lard and assorted viscera slithered across my doorstep. Rice rings and other competing sausages fat with gristle and giblets; a calf's brain stew; and a soup made of duck's blood punctuated with prunes and a healthy dollop of sour cream.

On the day I felt my piteous arteries thumping hard in my arms and chest, I knew I must put a stop to the madness of Meat Month.

Terrified, I ate nothing but lettuce and grapefruit for weeks on end. I took my medication religiously. I kicked up my walking gait and jaunted in a power stride toward my heart-healthy future.

It was all starting to happen for me now.

My long-suffering wife, having noticed my valiant anti-lipid initiative, convinced me a minor culinary reward might be in order, and sensing my gnawing gastronomic desperation, she whipped up one of my favorites --- a savory dish called Shrimp de Jonghe.

I came bounding in my bungalow that night to be greeted by my daughter, who sported a new toothless grin.

"Lost a tooth, daddy!" she radiated, "...and I know about the Tooth Fairy thing. Just leave a check under my pillow." And she was off on her banana bike to check her bank balance at the ATM.

I sat down, ready at long last to tear into some real food.

"I'm throwing the rest of the kosconya out," chirped my wife, "it's drying up."

"Mmm-hmm," I burbled, a forkful of shrimp now just inches from my gullet.

"...and I'm freezing all that other weird meat until you figure out what to do with it."

"Mmm-hmm," I said, the fork closing in.

"And the tooth your daughter just lost, umm, I put it on the cutting board and now I can't find it. So be careful chewing the de Jonghe."

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1999 Howard D. Fencl