There is a moment in the musical “Title of Show” in which its creators, Jeff and Hunter, find themselves stuck in a quagmire of frustration and creative self doubt. Why should they bother putting on a show at all? What the hell were they thinking?
To the rescue comes their friend Susan, who tells them that vampires are eating up their confidence and creativity by way of a song entitled, appropriately enough, “Die Vampire, Die!“
According to her, “a vampire is any person or thought or feeling that stands between you and your creative self expression, but they can assume many seductive forms”:
1.) The Pigmy Vampires– “They’ll swarm around your head like gnats and say things like: ‘Your teeth need whitening’, ‘You went to state school?’, ‘You sound weird’, and ‘Shakespeare, Sondheim, (and) Sedaris did it before you and better than you.’”
2.) The Air Freshener Vampire– Who “doesn’t want you to write about bad language, blood or blow jobs… which will leave your work toothless, gutless, and crotchless, but you’ll be left with two tight paragraphs all kittens that your grandma would be so proud of.”
3.) The Vampire of Despair– “The Mother of All Vampires”. “It’ll wake you up at 4am to say things like: ‘Who do you think you’re kidding?’ ‘You look like a fool.’ ‘No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be good enough.’”
“Why is it that if some dude walked up to me on the subway platform and said these things, I’d think he was a mentally ill asshole, but if the vampire inside my head says it, it’s the voice of reason?”
With apologies to the second type of vampire, this last question is one that has seized me by the balls. It was important for me to hear that I’m not the only one who is plagued by them. The fact that the message was conveyed through the magic of musical theatre made it all the more resonant, because that’s how I learn most of my life lessons.
We all have our demons– ghosts that haunt us, ogres who hide under our beds, vampires that swarm around our heads. I know I’ve got them and, if you’re the least bit introspective, I know you’ve got them, too.
Or, if you happen to be one of those people completely untroubled by the monsters of self-doubt, I’d love to know how you’ve managed it, though I probably won’t believe you.
For me, this has been The Summer of Vampire #3. There is no logical explanation for his presence. No traumatic events have occurred in the past months; my life has been calm, stable, and full of small pleasures. I certainly didn’t invite him in intentionally.
But I must have left a window open somewhere.
My particular vampire sits on the edge of my bed in the morning and tells me there’s little point in getting up. He rides the bus with me to work and says, “I hope you love waiting tables, because that’s what you’re going to be doing until your body gives out. After that, you’re totally screwed”. He peeks over my computer screen to say things like, “You have nothing interesting to say, so why even bother? It’s not like you can ever make a career out of writing.”
After a while, I start to believe the things he says. I stay in bed too long. I feel trapped inside my white shirt and black waiter’s apron. I shoot down my own ideas. I avoid writing.
And then, I remember this little song and understand that I am old enough and (hopefully) sane enough to realize that this vampire is full of shit. (Again, sorry, #2). I play this song repeatedly to remind myself of that.
Clearly, this soul-sucking incubus has overstayed his welcome, if there was ever any welcome to have overstayed in the first place. I’d love to drive a wooden stake through his heart, but he lives inside my head, so the operation would more than likely be fatal for both of us. So I have decided to do the next best thing, which is drive him away. As a fallen Catholic, I no longer have any crucifixes hanging about, so I’m opting for garlic.
Lots and lots of garlic.
It’s about fucking time I got rid of the bastard.
Chicken with 42 Cloves of Garlic
There is a traditional Provençal dish that calls for 40 cloves of garlic. I have upped the number by two for extra protection. And I have peeled each clove, so that I have easier access to them, should the need for them arise, which it will.
The beauty of this dish is threefold. One: the raw sharpness of the garlic mellows into sweet softness as it cooks, making it Two: extremely delicious and easily eaten by those of us without fangs. And Three: it’s extremely simple to prepare.
With each clove of garlic you pull out if its skin, think of something sharp or unpleasant that has stung you over the years. That rejection letter from Martha Stewart Living? Drop it into your work bowl. Not skinny enough for skinny jeans? Toss that in, too. Continue to do so until all your cloves and cares have been peeled and thrown into the pile. Knowing that their power weakens with each moment of cooking makes the process almost as sweet as the garlic will be when you’ve finished.
Now I realize that the typical vampire is traditionally repelled by raw garlic, but never have I read anything indicating his tolerance for it cooked. So I’m taking my chances. If, for some reason, the vampire comes back to roost, I will immediately plunge myself into a large vat of skordalia for safe measure.
Serves 2 to 4 Vampire Offenders
• 2/3 cups olive oil
• 4 whole chicken legs– thighs and drumsticks attached (Many recipes call for whole chickens to be used, but I prefer to use dark meet exclusively because it has more flavor than white meat and it’s less expensive. Besides, breast meat tends to dry out faster than a 50 year-old wet nurse…)
• 42 cloves of garlic, peeled and emotionally processed
• 3/4 cups chicken stock
• 1/2 cup dry white wine (or vermouth)
• 6 to 8 branches of fresh thyme, about which I refuse to allude to philosophically in this post
• About 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon zest
• About 1 tablespoon of butter, salted or unsalted– it doesn’t matter which.
• Salt and pepper, to taste.
1. Pre-heat your oven to 375 ºF. Rinse chicken, pat dry with paper towels, liberally apply salt and pepper to them, and let them come to room temperature.
2. In a large skillet or dutch oven, heat oil over a medium fire. Add chicken legs two at a time, browning well on both sides– about 3 minutes per side. Do your best not to tear the skin. Remove chicken to a plate and set aside until needed later.
3. Let the chicken fatty oil cool down a little, then add your garlic cloves and cook them over medium heat again, stirring and shaking the pan all the while to let then dance about inside. The goal here is to give them a little color– something for which vampires seem to have no appreciation, given their well-known views on daylight.
4. When the garlic is sufficiently browned, add the chicken stock and wine. Arrange your chicken over the garlic cloves, toss in the thyme and lemon zest and bring to a simmer. Do not under any circumstances cross the chicken legs– this is no time for false modesty.
5. When a simmer has been achieved, cover your pan with its accompanying lid or, if you have no lid, aluminum foil, making certain you have a tight seal. Pop the pan into your already-hot oven for about 1 1/2 hours.
6. When the chicken is finished cooking, remove the pan from the oven and place it on your stove top. Take the chicken from the pot and place on a warm plate, covered. Remove, too, the garlic cloves and place in a bowl, also covered for warmth’s sake. Discard the thyme sprigs. Let the pot liquid simmer gently over a lowish medium flame until it has reduced by about half. Turn off the heat, add butter and stir in well. Your sauce should have the consistency of something slightly less than brown gravy. Taste and adjust seasonings to your own, particular preferences.
7. To serve, place chicken legs on a platter, scatter the garlic cloves around them and pour over the sauce. Or just grab a chicken leg, shake it violently at your now-weakened, fleeing demons, and eat it over the sink. However you choose to eat it, just remember to serve it with toast. Lots and lots of toast.
For the sweet, soul-saving garlic, I mean.