Something Wicked in the Air

No, not the deadly virus that continues on its merry way while just about everyone acts like it doesn’t exist. Not the pollution that’s driving climate change. These may well bring about the end of the human race. Whatever. Until they do we’ll continue the need to breathe, an act that is becoming increasingly unpleasant thanks to a really serious problem. I’m referring to a major shift in the national cuisine.

Garlic, once considered by Americans to be a coarse and vulgar seasoning, one to be used, if at all, only in moderation is enjoying a heyday. As an indication of this change in the wind, so to speak, Virginia just announced “Kimchi Day.” This Korean cabbage concoction is so redolent of garlic that you could set a bowl of it in your vegetable garden to repel all manner of insect and animal pests.

As someone who has learned to appreciate and prepare many international cuisines, I welcome the fact that our national palette has evolved, but, as it becomes more diverse, people are consuming more highly spiced dishes at all hours — such as breakfast burritos. Garlicky Tex Mex for breakfast? What a way to start the day.

A Washington Post restaurant reviewer recently gushed over grease laden Philippine pork “breakfast” sandwiches loaded with garlic. If my daydream of scoring a gig at the paper ever were to materialize, I hope I would not be assigned to a desk near his. How can people even stomach such fare first thing in the morning, let alone foist the stench on their coworkers? Covid move over. The best reason to work from home is to avoid the breath of human garlic bombs.

During the Covid era we have dined at restaurants, strictly outdoors, just a handful of times. Not for the food, but to share time with friends. We don’t miss dining out. My spouse has no complaints about the cuisine chez nous and I have no complaints about the pleasurable hours I spend in the kitchen. An obvious benefit of eating virtually exclusively at home is the cash saved. It’s applied to our grandchild’s college expenses and gifted to the younger generations of our family. Another plus is that we have complete control over our diet.

Including our garlic consumption.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I enjoy a little garlic and routinely include a clove, occasionally even two, in dishes that call for it; enough to impart flavor, but not to overpower the dish or the diner. Our sacred dish, pizza (refer to blog, “Pizzaism,”) is, of course, like much Italian fare, a sacrilege without garlic, but since it’s homemade, we decide how much of the stuff goes into it.

Garlic, the undisputed world champion of halitosis inducing substances, is unique in that its odor is transferred directly to the lungs from the blood stream. It lingers in the body for days. It cannot be eliminated or masked by mints, mouthwash, toothpaste, herbs or even an atomic blast. If you rub garlic on your skin, it appears on your breath within seconds. Try it. But not before a date.

A sure sign someone is eating too much garlic is when people sidle further away from them during conversations. We have all experienced this from time to time. Whenever it happened to me, I was mortified. I don’t mind offending people with my opinions, but offending them with my breath is something I find most embarrassing. In my experience, though, such mortification is not universal.

During my working years, I endured many unpleasant hours of sitting in a small room with someone who seemed to have chomped down a whole head of raw garlic in preparation for our session. Even less pleasant was the thought that the lingering odor would give the next patient the impression I was the source of the odor. On many subfreezing days I opened the windows and ran an exhaust fan between sessions. Since restaurants use garlic liberally, out of consideration for the comfort of my patients I eschewed the luxury of dining out and minimized garlic in my home cooked dinners on evenings preceding work days.

One of my exercise partners mistakenly believed daily intake of raw garlic prevented every disease. I could tell before I was twenty feet from the the locker room if he had arrived at the pool ahead of me. When he gasped for air between sets, I wished I could have held my breath. What I found puzzling was that apparently no one else in his orbit seemed to mind.

Over time the reason became clear.

A very sensitive sense of smell and an intolerance to garlic are among the genetic traits I inherited from my grandmother. Though she was a wonderful cook, Grandma did not include garlic in her recipes. She told me the stinking weed did not agree with her. My own experience makes this entirely understandable. If I consume too much of it I can taste it on my own breath for days. My innards are roiled. My sleep is disturbed. I literally can’t stand to be in the same room with myself.

I can smell garlic on people’s breaths for days after they consume it.

I understand most people are not afflicted with this condition and are not as concerned as I am about being offensive to others. I accept this condition as akin to a disability. Some of the disabled deserve special consideration, but I don’t pretend to expect accommodations to mine. At least not from the general public.

When we were dating, my wife lived on turkey sandwiches, candy bars and chocolate cake. Among her many charms was the sweetness of her kisses. Early in our marriage, after she had learned to eat real food, the few times she ate something full of garlic– and I didn’t– our otherwise blissful union became decidedly less blissful. Subsequently, we swore a sacred oath. Never would we knowingly unilaterally consume garlic. All has been well since.

Ever since Covid came along and forced us to avoid close contact with people unless masked, we’ve added a bit more garlic into our dinners. I emphasize “a bit.” As I said, I do appreciate the zing it adds to many dishes, but more of a good thing is not always a better thing.

Apropos “too much of a good thing,” food writers at the Washington Post have an obsession of late with all things garlic, especially with that abomination of abominations, garlic powder. My emails to the food editors urging them to at least recommend fresh garlic and maybe smaller doses of it have, predictably, been met with the same non-response as those to the op-ed editors urging them to ditch the MAGA propagandists they stubbornly insist on wasting good paper and ink on.

This finally brings us to the point of why I am subjecting you to this admittedly self indulgent and gratuitous diatribe. Recently, Washington Post food editor, Aaron Hutcherson, suggested the following menu for a Thanksgiving meal that, I’d estimate, would serve six to eight people:

Roast Turkey with roasted garlic gravy made with a whole head, 12-16 cloves, of garlic. (Don’t tell me roasted garlic is milder. It’s about as much milder as is a blow to the head with a baseball bat rather than a hammer.)

A roasted cauliflower with a half teaspoon of garlic powder, the equivalent of four cloves, about a third of a head, of garlic. (For the record, I am sure the equivalency of powder to fresh is greater than this. Worse, its aroma is related to that of fresh garlic as the scent of bathroom freshener is to flowers. )

Green beans with the same overdose of that vile substance.

Sweet potato puree containing a mind numbing and stomach churning two full teaspoons of the Devil’s favorite desiccated food flavoring, the equivalent of at least an entire head of fresh garlic contaminating those few benighted tubers. Would it be so terrible to serve simple candied sweet potatoes or to mash them with honey and cinnamon sans garlic? With all the garlic already on the menu, wouldn’t the tastebuds appreciate a break, if for no other reason, for contrast?

The cook following these recipes could just as well serve whole heads of garlic and skip the rest of the ingredients. They’d save a lot of time and money and no one would be the wiser. Had such an assortment of indelicate delicacies been offered for the delectation of the diners in Norman Rockwell’s iconic painting, one shudders at how the expressions on their faces would have been portrayed.

Assuming there are six to eight at table, each person served this repast would consume up to a whole head of garlic, as much as I go through in two weeks or more of meal preparation for two.

One thing Aaron’s guests can be thankful for is that he omitted garlic from the fresh cranberry sauce and the desserts. I would not be surprised, though, to learn he has a recipe for pumpkin pie that calls for it as well.

Mr. Hutcherson is a handsome and obviously intelligent fellow. I’m sure he also has a lovely personality. One would expect him to do well in the romance department. Should these recipes be indicative of his usual garlic intake and should he find his love life to be lackluster, however, I can proffer a simple solution to the problem.

Tasty as these recipes sound, we will stick with traditional American fare as befits this uniquely American holiday. Our own little celebration will showcase the inherent qualities of the foods. Each individual dish will shine through, its natural flavors bursting forth gloriously on the tongue, unsullied by the superfluous surfeit of a singlular seasoning. Not only will we savor every bite, but I will sleep soundly that night. Better yet, I’ll spend the better part of the next day somewhere other than in the bathroom.


  1. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Sandy. We had our Thanksgiving today sans garlic completely, although I have no problem with it. Thanks for the laughs


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