IT IS THE sort of confessional story a scandal magazine would love: "Famous Food Editor a Salt Addict: 20 pounds overweight, popping 15 pills a day . . . craves margaritas, bloody marys, peanuts and hot dogs . . . job may be vacant soon."
With disarming candor, Craig Claiborne was telling people all over town last week of the life style that led to a serious case of hypertension and the subsequent retooling of his diet. Foods he now prepares as part of a low sodium, modified fat, sugar and chloresterol eating program include meatballs, couscous, mushrooms bordelaise and pizza; which may help explain why the just published book "Craig Claiborne's Gourmet Diet" (Times Books, $10.95) is considered best-seller material.
"I don't pretend to be a chemist or a medical specialist," Claiborne said in an interview. "The book is a collection of recipes developed to compensate for an absence of salt. You can't just leave salt out of recipes, you have to find flavors to compensate for its absence. Two places to begin are with curry powder and chili."
Claiborne isn't living a life totally free of salt, nor is he proposing that readers put on the slide-rule-dominated straight-jacket that many heart patients wear in the kitchen and at the dinner table. His objective (less strict than his doctor would wish it) is to limit salt intake to 2 to 3 grams per day. He now exercises regularly and uses two precautions against letting his weight creep up again -- a notched belt and "the best scale I can possibly afford."
He talks enthusiastically about the natural flavors of unsalted eggplant and mushrooms, of some no-salt wontons made lively with a sauce of chopped ginger and vinegar, of how he has always preferred chicken and fish, which he can eat, above all other meats. "I can honestly say I don't feel deprived," he said.
Claiborne speaks of "trade-offs," the taste advantages of the "mild" use of cream or mayonnaise, of how he nibbles fresh, raw peas in place of a mid-day snack. "I am not neurotic about this diet," he declared firmly. He fully intends to enjoy the food he does prepare and to eat a satisfying quantity of it.
Guests are served Claiborne's no-salt creations at his home. Some say, "Gee, it's good. All it needs is a little salt." But there is no salt shaker on the table. "You can't judge a no-salt recipe in relation to a salt recipe," Clairborne said. "You should judge how good it is on its own terms."
Postscript: Two recipes from the book prepared in my home last week, a steak dish and broccoli, were eaten and enjoyed without a negative comment on the seasoning or a request for salt.
Any kid can sell lemonade, but how's this for a contemporary twist on juvenile exercises in free enterprise? Cleveland Park residents have responded to the door-to-door sales campaign of two 9-year-olds, Ben Luzzatto and Andrew Lottman. The boys take orders for fresh pasta, run home, make it from scratch and deliver in time for dinner. Their prices are not for publication, but customers have responded with enough enthusiasm for Luzzatto to purchase an extensive set of collector baseball cards.
Joe Sutler, the popular speciality butcher whose Arlington store was razed by fire last winter, is back in business. He reopened with a party last Sunday and is now preparing his filets and New York strips, crown roasts of pork and lamb and other custom cuts Monday through Saturday in the shopping center at 4536 Lee Highway, near Glebe Road. Sutler took advantage of his enforced layoff to redecorate the shop and expand the deli and frozen food selections. Among other products he is selling the highly regarded hams and sausages produced by Shaller and Weber of New York City. Call 527-4717 for information and special orders.
There is a trio of special, food-related events coming up.
This coming Sunday, June 8, the Vegetarian Society of D.C. is holding its annual potluck picnic. The society asks those who plan to attend to bring a vegetarian dish of sufficient quantity to feed four times the number in the group, a copy of the recipe written on a 3-by-5-inch card, eating utensils, plates and cups. Various games and activities are scheduled. The picnic begins at 4 p.m. The scene is Grove No. 8 in Rock Creek Park. Call 232-8343 for further information.
On June 11, next Wednesday evening, the Afghanistan Relief Committee is sponsoring a dinner at the ballroom of McLean Gardens. Admission will be restricted to 200 persons, each contributing $125 for Afghan refugees who have fled to Pakistan. According to one of the sponsors, "Mountains of streaming, fragrant rice dishes in varying shades of colors are designed to stimulate and satisfy the senses and are a symbol of Afghan hospitality." There will be eight of nine different preparations, donated by members of the local Afghan community. The Khyber Pass Restaurant will grill kebabs for hors d'oeuvre. Afghan artifacts and James Cudney's photographs of the country and its people will be displayed. For reservations call 362-8797.
"Taste of the Town," an ambitious two-day food festival to benefit the American Cancer Society is scheduled for June 28 and 29 at the Shoreham Hotel. Restaurants from The Washingtonian Magazine's "Top 50" list, plus others, will offer samples of their cooking to guests who gain admission through purchase of a $2.50 "passport." Wine, beer and food will be on sale and there will be "continuous entertainment. The object is to stress the diversity of fare available in this city and to raise funds for the Cancer Society. The festival will be open from noon to 5 p.m. on both Saturday, June 29. For further information, contact the Cancer Society, 483-2600.
For those who dream of writing cookbooks instead of novels, the Writer's Center in Glen Echo has organized a workshop titled "Eat Your Words: How To Write a Cookbook." It will be given over six Wednesday evenings, from 7:30 to 10 p.m., beginning June 25. The instructor is Barbara Hill, who teaches English at Hood College. Tuition is $48. The Center is located in Glen Echo Park on MacArthur Blvd. For further information call 229-0684.