Some things go together. Others do not. Therein lies a tale.
Several years ago -- over a decade ago, actually -- I was living in a walk-up in Mt. Vernon right there in the center of Baltimore City. I walked out my front door and the Walter's Art Museum greeted me. Turning right put me in-between the Basilica and the Pratt Central Library. A left put me a block from the best sandwich in town. It was a good place to be and it was a good time for me to be there.
In those heady days, I was always looking for new sensations. This was often tempered by my empty-as-usual wallet. During a particularly hairy financial crunch, I was forced to eat nothing but Idaho potatoes. The Epicurean in me got by by spicing up the diet trying any and all condiments with my daily potatoes. Classics like mustard and sour cream worked just fine. Mayonnaise was strangely addictive. Relish didn't work for me at all, but straight dill and vinegar -- excellent. Old Bay and butter is classic around here, Wasabi made me cry, lemon juice made me pucker. I used to bring home little take-home samples of all the condiments from the place I was working; though the Wasabi was left-over from a jaunt to a sushi buffet. I guess I didn't so much live on potatoes as I lived on condiments. The potato was just for texture.
Anyhow, all this mix and match got me itching to try out all kinds of new concoctions. That's where I came up with what is either the greatest idea I've ever had or the most utterly useless taste sensation known to humankind.
It started with a bag of ground coffee beans.
At this point in my life, I was completely and utterly addicted to coffee. It was useless trying to get anything done in the morning before my third cup of Colombian. I was averaging two pots a day. A late night could easily turn that into three or four. (For the kids in the audience, this was in the days before Starbucks... a cup of joe cost maybe $0.75 and refills were free. Yeah. That's why we hate Starbucks).
So there I was trying my best to distort the natural readings off of every synapse in my body. I was made for coffee.
I had a second love, however. A food item that to this day I consider the greatest of the earth's spoils. (Ironic I remember this story today after my post of yesterday about the fish). You see, dear reader, I humbly concede that I am a slave to GARLIC.
Dear Lord. Honestly. I bet heaven smells like garlic bread.
Can't get enough of the stuff. I can still remember the first time I ever tasted garlic. I was a kid and we were visiting my grandparents in New Britain, CT. This was after they had left their homeland of Jersey City, NJ. They were old, but there is some sort of connection between the very old and the very young and I remember I loved my grandmother any much. Anyway, we all went out to a pizzeria one evening.
Now, my grandfather was blind. Went off to W.W.II. with sight, came back without. He actually had a pinhole of blurred sight in one eye, so he'd often aim his eye at what ever he was trying to make out and lean his whole body forward towards the thing (menu, TV, cash in his wallet). I always imagined he must be using his whole body's energy to see through this tiny pinhole. I couldn't imagine how frustrating it must have been for him. Nonetheless, there he was in the pizza joint trying to make out the condiments on the table. My father put them in front of him in a line: crushed dry parmesan, dried red pepper, powdered garlic.
I watched him make his choice. He picked up the cheese first and shook it near his ear. No, that wasn't the stuff. He picked up the red pepper and did the same. Bingo. He shook the flakes onto his slice of NY cheese. Then came the garlic. I swear as he poured it out the whole environment changed. I was like the kid in a Joyce short story. Suddenly it all came together.
The old man put down the glass jar. I picked it up. "You don't want that," said my mother. I ignored her (a mechanism which would prove useful for the next eighteen-or-so years).
I shook out a little too much garlic. It sat in a little mustaba-like mound in the center of my slice. That pyramid represented my future.
Back to that little apartment in Baltimore.
I confess. I'm an idea man. Very rarely do I ever actually finish anything. There's the opera libretto based on the story of Germanicus and Agrippina. There's the children's book about the rabbit-creature and the giraffe and the trio of ladybugs. And there's the screenplay about the guy who thinks he's a werewolf. And the sci-fi novel about tribal androids. It's a wonder I actually finished the new album. Amazing, actually. I'm mostly good for ideas.
So, I get these ideas. Sometimes they are just temporal sorts of things. Other times they become like these wild obsessions. I roll them over and over and over in my mind. And the best of these ideas turn into experiments. Like when I got the notion to use tinfoil as a musical instrument.
This thing that went down in that apartment was one of these sorts of things.
There I am, living a quiet existence when it comes to me:
I love coffee; I love garlic.
I can tell by your smile that you know where this is headed. For the less erudite among you, I offer these two words:
Yup. Say it together, now:
Friends, I tell you this. It was only seconds after I came up with the idea of mixing garlic and coffee together into one blend that I was convinced that my genius had revealed itself to me.
I immediately went to the cupboard (in times like this, there is no time to waste... just ask Archimedes).
As luck would have it, I had a quart-sized plastic container of powdered garlic on hand. I stole it away from the shelf and immediately threw a pot of French Roast ground-bean in the great god-like icon we call the coffee-maker.
But instead of just brewing the coffee straight -- and for those of you keeping score at home, this is where the 'genius' moniker earns points -- I flipped out a filter and filled it two-thirds of the way with ground beans and the other third with straight garlic powder. A third.
You know how sometimes you have dreams and you can smell stuff in the dream? I hope this happens to you because it is one of the most incredible psycho-physiological events our bodies offer us. So, I have this now-and-again dream where I am in a pizza parlor and someone is brewing coffee back in the kitchen. That smell -- the scent of fresh pizza, crushed peppers, garlic, and the distant brew of a dark coffee -- is what I would consider the closest thing to a perfect smell. A perfect smell is -- well, for you folks who remember 'Northern Exposure', it's the nasal equivalent of a perfect moment. It defines beauty. It's like what the Sistine Chapel is to the eyes; what Stevie Ray Vaughan's Strat is to the ears.
So that's the place I'm in as this perfect blend is working its slow magic in my little rental kitchen.
And before I realize time has passed, it's ready.
Slowly, I take my favorite cup from off the counter. With the care of a biomedical researcher examining the latest form of Ebola, I gently pour the GARLIC COFFEE (TM) from the glass pitcher.
I stare at it. Somewhere deep down, I realize that in there lies all my dreams and aspirations. I realize that this cup contains all I know about what is good in the world. This cup represents the highest level of my sophistication -- the highest level of my artistry.
This cup defines me.
And so it is with great deliberation and trepidation that I bring the steaming cup to my lips.
I take a swallow.
And in an instant I know.
I know a secret truth no human ever before had dared to know.
I know a secret that only today dare I share with those of you who actually read through this whole post.
The truth is:
Garlic Coffee tastes like hot spit.