"Someday's gonna be a busy day..."

Monday, 28 May 2012


I come from a long line of garlic lovers. My Babushka lived to be 96, and I'm convinced it was due to her daily consumption of garlic. She grew it herself, threw it into almost every dish she cooked, and even put it in her ear during one well-intentioned but unfortunate ear-ache incident (apparently it works, but it's preferable to stick a whole clove in your ear rather than chopping it up and shoving it into your ear canal).

My father's favourite appetizer is a slice of raw garlic on top of a slice of summer sausage on top of a cracker. My sister and I tend to avoid kissing him goodbye after visits involving this snack. My mother was another famous garlic-lover; she's the one who taught me the sacred trick of mashing a clove all around the bowl before you make caeser salad dressing, and jamming little slices of it into your roast before you cook it. One of our favourite things to eat was artichokes - she'd chop up raw garlic and douse it in melted butter, and we'd swish the artichoke leaves in the golden liquid and run them through our teeth. My sister and I used to challenge each other to drink a glass of milk afterwards; milk never tastes as foul as after a spoonful or two of garlic butter.

As for myself, I used to be addicted to roasted garlic smeared over crusty bread when I was just out of university and learning to enjoy food that didn't come in a can. It was all the rage in restaurants in the 90's. And I started getting spoiled: the great dried lumps of Chinese store garlic paled in comparison to my Baba's sweeter, smaller version; I would beg some from her whenever I'd visit and go home with my precious cargo. It was almost too good to share.

If you haven't grown up with it, garlic can be something of an oddity. I can remember being shocked when making spaghetti sauce at a friend's place; when I asked him for garlic, he handed me garlic powder. He'd never even seen a bulb of garlic before. After my shock wore off, I gave him a lecture and sent him to the grocery store; I credit myself for creating a life-long love of the stuff after that first meal.

Sadly, D has a love/hate relationship with the stinky bulbs of goodness. He is of the garlic-powder generation, and while he enjoys all my garlic-infused sauces, marinades and roasts, his body can't seem to process the stuff. It oozes out of his pores, no matter how long the garlic's simmered in a pot of pasta sauce or soaked in a beef stew. God forbid I ever serve it to him raw; I think his head would explode.

So, for the sake of marital harmony, I rarely make anything with raw garlic these days. Until last night.

Last night I was glancing through my mother's old cookbooks for inspiration. I had one eye on Jade as she devoured her grape/crackers/cheese snack while watching Toopy and Binou, and one eye on Mom's tattered, splattered pasta cookbook when a recipe for pesto lept out at me. I checked the ingredient list: I had pine nuts. A bunch of basil. A hunk of parmesan. And of course I had garlic. Tally ho!

After a quick rummage through the fridge, and a brief tussle with the Magic Bullet, I had my pesto. I sauteed mushrooms in wine and butter, threw in some steamed asparagus and chopped up leftover chicken breast. I gooped all the pesto on top and stirred it in. I tossed the sauce, which smelled like happiness, with some spagettini, topped it with fresh parmesan, and JOY!!! Supper was served.

While my daughter ate plain noodles, asparagus and chicken and eyed me warily ("Why you eating grass, Mama?"), I tucked in to my masterpiece. The first bowl was heavenly. The basil and parsley tasted of spring, the olive oil mingled richly with the fresh parmesan. And the garlic....it had bite and spice and flavour galore. Why didn't I use raw garlic more often? I could live to be 96 too! I was going to make a caeser salad tomorrow for breakfast!

Halfway through the second bowl, I began to feel that slightly queasy, sweaty, self-loathing feeling I like to refer to as garlified. My body hadn't had raw garlic in quite some time; now it was waking up and telling me so. I drank two glasses of water and packed away the leftovers unceremoniously in the fridge.

Strangely, my husband ate his garlicky pasta without a word of complaint. Then again he did top it with more chicken and a handful of the salad I'd made; perhaps this downplayed the effects. At any rate, I brushed, flossed and even mouthwashed that night to no avail. Every exhalation turned into a cloud of noxious nastiness that seemed to hang over my head. After a fitful sleep, I woke up feeling like our septic tank had leaked into my mouth. Even hanging my mouth open in the shower didn't help much.

So the pesto was delicious, but the aftermath - the garlic hangover - is too gross to repeat anytime soon. And the irony that my husband is suffering no ill effects at all is just plain annoying.

I'm sure that somewhere in the afterlife, my mother is rolling her eyes Baba is shaking her head at her daft granddaughter. And somewhere, a garlic bulb is laughing.