It was sad to celebrate garlic without having Lola around because she is a garlic fiend. She just loves it. She loves the smell of it. I could be gutting fish in the kitchen but if there was a pan with garlic sautéing on the stove at the same time, she would say in bubbly tones, “something smells good in there!” It’s kind of a safe bet to put garlic in anything for her (barring desserts of course). She likes it in her guacamole. On her steak. As part of her nachos. And on her bread. She just has the anti-vampire reaction to garlic. And she was not here today to enjoy.
That was probably for the best because I wasn’t feeling all that ambitious today. No, I was having a day of laze. I had worked for a bunch of days in a row, some of which became unexpectedly super busy. I took a five hour round trip to Connecticut for the holiday in the middle of it (all while nursing a hangover and being more than a little sleep deprived). I had a 4 am trip to the airport in there too. I was just beat so I was taking the day to recuperate. Garlic is a great food to celebrate, but there are so many ways you could prepare it. It wouldn’t be just by itself, although it could be, but most recipes just call for garlic as part of the ingredients, not the main focus. Garlic doesn’t need to be the main focus in the written recipe because most of the times, it just sneaks its way into being the main focus of the recipe’s taste. When I was looking through recipes, I just couldn’t get motivated to make a giant meal that featured garlic for just my lazy self.
According to the folks at Grey Duck Garlic, garlic has been around for over 5,000 years and is one of the oldest cultivated crops in the world. It is believed to be a native of central Asia, South Asia or southwestern Siberia and when explorers from those areas headed out to conquer new worlds, they took garlic with them and brought it to new lands. The name garlic comes from garleac, an old Anglo-Saxon word meaning “spear leek.” It is from the lily (Liliaceae) family and is closely related to onions, leeks, chives, and shallots. In ancient times, it was worshiped by the Egyptians and used as local currency to pay and feed workers and slaves on the great pyramids. Garlic was considered too coarse and common for the refined palates of the upper class so only the rough, lower classes would eat it which is probably why it found its way into so many great recipes that are found in the simplest of kitchens. Today there are over 2.5 million acres of garlic crops being cultivated throughout the world which speaks to its universal popularity and continued growth. It’s popularity has also been a boom for the breath mint industry as well.
I thought about what I would make for Lola if she were here. We met at the Mexican restaurant I used to work for and one of her most favorite items from that place were the Tomato Garlic Nachos. They were the most simplest nachos to make with just chips covered in cheese and then sprinkled with fresh diced garlic and tomatoes. The garlic really brought a whole new taste to the plate as it would mix with the creaminess of the cheese. She still craves them every now and then, so if she was here, I may have made them for her. Or maybe I would have just made some kind of pasta dish with some good crusty garlic bread. To make the garlic bread that Lola likes, I usually take a ciabatta roll that I cut in half (or any heavy, crusty bread). In a small pan, I melt about two tablespoons of butter and add in about four cloves of finely chopped garlic. When it has cooked for a bit, I pour it over the top of the bread and then generously sprinkle on some parmesan cheese. It cooks in the toaster oven and I finish it with the broiler feature to ensure the top gets crusty. It’s super buttery, very garlicky and extra crunchy. Lola loves it that way. She eats it methodically adding small bits of sauce or pasta to it as she works her way through the dinner. It’s a joy to make it for her because she savors it so much. I think either one of those recipes would have done garlic right for today’s celebration. But not without Lola.
I thought about it throughout the day and in the end, I went the bachelor-life way. If you missed yesterday’s post, Lola is down in Florida with her sisters for a few days so that’s why I am home alone (I didn’t want you thinking she left me for some garlic peddling salsa dancer). In any case, because I am in that odd spot of being the married man home alone, I did what anyone in my situation would do: I ordered Chinese food for dinner. Now to be fair, the Chinese regard garlic with honor and it is an essential ingredient in so many of their foods, so I was keeping inline with the celebration of the day. I was just letting someone else do the cooking. I wasn’t particularly craving Chinese food but my other option was some kind of pizza that would be heavy on the garlic (maybe a white pizza with garlic and broccoli). We just had pizza the other day and I actually had a piece of the leftovers for lunch today, so pizza wasn’t my first choice. Then I thought I remembered seeing a specific garlic dish on the menu at the Chinese place, so I looked at the menu and there it was: Shrimp in Garlic Sauce (although I don’t do shrimp). I then perused the menu and saw there was also a chicken version (Number 92 on the menu if you are ordering at home), so that’s what I would order.
Our Chinese restaurant is right up the street. They are called New China and we find them pretty good. The best part is that they are so close that when you order, you can get there and back in no time which means your food is fresh and still piping hot. That adds a lot of quality to the meal. They have probably only been there for less than ten years. I know that because there used to be a pizza place there (Hollywood Pizza). They have done us right over the last few years, so I recommend them to be as good as any neighborhood Chinese take out restaurant. When I walked in, they were just getting my order ready. They never take your name for the order, they always just ask for your phone number when you pick it up. That seems more efficient than struggling to have your name recorded by someone who speaks English as a second language. The staff is always friendly and fast too.
My first impression after digging in was wow, this is spicy. The sauce is generally made with garlic, which definitely adds its own brand of heat to a dish, but also chili sauce. That’s where the heat came from here. I don’t mind heat and it was a nice surprise. My next impression was how fresh it was. Even the veggies, especially the bright green broccoli and pea pods, which were particularly tasty. I thought the chicken was going to be fried, like General Tso’s, but this was not. It was boneless and cooked nice and tenderly right in the wok. It’s not a dish that is part of our usual order, but I think it should be because it was really tasty. Lola might balk at the excessive veggies in it, but she would like the chicken and sauce for sure. I liked the veggies and I think I was even craving some green in my dinner, so it was a nice surprise. This was a good dinner and the garlic taste was ever present in the background of every bite. I also used chopsticks today which is significant because I used them without Lola being here. Normally I just use them when Lola is here because that’s her preference. I’m not so talented with my chopstick skills, but I will give it a try every now and then. Today I used them all by myself to great success. I deserve a sticker or something.
I am no stranger to celebrating the joy of garlic. We probably go through a bulb a week in our house because it’s such a versatile addition to anything we cook. Lola has really taught me to love the garlic. That’s why it was just not the same celebrating it without her. That’s ok though because I needed a day to chill anyway. In the end, I celebrated with food that really highlighted the taste and versatility of this amazing bulb. I enjoyed every last forkful. (Chopstickful? Is that a word? Would it be every last pinch?) So cheers to garlic for making everything it touches better, even my day of relaxation.
Next up: National Cheddar Fries Day