Requiem for a Black Cat


Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine.

In paradisum deducant te Angeli

Nearly ten years ago, Tybalt Holder-Webb, aka The Black Death aka Buddha Cat, was laid to rest.  The angels rejoiced at his coming.

I dined tonight on Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic, and was transported back in time, lo, these 24 years.

At the time, I lived with an individual who we will call…Ronald.  Ronald enjoyed the fruits of my culinary labors, and no dish was more loved than the immortal Chicken With Forty Cloves.

Now, Chicken With Forty Cloves is where I discovered – before it became in vogue – the Delights of Roasted Garlic.  You can find it absolutely anywhere these days, but thirty years ago, it was Not So.  Then the advent of Chicken With Forty Cloves.  The beauty of this dish is that it’s a one-pot delicious roasted chicken that delivers a heap of roasted garlic for bread alongside…and that’s only the first night.  The second night benefits from the deployment of the carcass into a soup.   

The process is this:  throw the chicken and a bunch of herbs into a pot with 40 cloves of unpeeled garlic.  Seal the lid onto the pot with a paste and shove it into the oven.  90 minutes later, it’s Culinary Heaven all the way.  You turn the garlic cloves out of the pot into a bowl, cool them, and squish the garlic paste out and smear it on bread.  Eat until you are stuffed.

I have an immoderate love for roasted garlic and always have.  So this dish is…well…sublime.

The problem, however, is that garlic isn’t a substance you enjoy once.  You get to enjoy it at least three times.  Once as it goes down, once as it circulates through your system and perfumes your blood and thus your sweat, and finally as it makes its way back out into the world.  It reminds me of really good French cheese, that way.  Roy and I were traveling in the Loire Valley years ago and paid a visit to a farmstead where they were dishing up a rustic supper and a pageant (“un spectacle!”).  The dinner featured – in addition to one of the best red table wines I’ve ever had, and for 5 whopping euros the bottle – a log of the local chevre, a cheese for which the region is justly famed.  We were in Culinary Heaven then, too – especially with the cheese and pate – and stayed there until the next day as we traveled north in our tiny rental car.  Thirty minutes on the road, and we became aware…of…an…Odor.

Not an odor.

An Odor.

Possibly an ODOR.

I suggested we had driven close to a dairy farm, perhaps, or a feed lot.  We rolled the windows down, but it became immediately clear that the Odor did not emanate from any exterior source.

Then we considered the possibility that some small rodent had crawled into the engine and passed away.  But usually animals take a good bit longer to become quite that aromatic.

Then, as one, we arrived at the stunning conclusion that the Odor emanated from none other source but ourselves.

“Oh my God,” I said. “We’ve gone Native.”

Once we identified the origin of the Odor, the source became immediately clear:  it was the Cheese.

There could be no question.  There we were, rolling through the French countryside in a tiny rental car, reeking of Goat Cheese.

I was certain that this would cause us major problems when we hit US Customs in New York the following day.  As soon as we arrived at our resting place, I showered.  And I showered, and then I got up in the middle of the night and showered again.

Nothing helped.  Parfum Du Chevres had to run its course.  Thank heavens it had mainly done so by the time we boarded the flight, because really, I cannot conceive of the likely response of our Fellow Travelers in Coach Class to being warehoused in with us, reeking as we were.

And then, there was also the Customs issue.

Back to the Requiem.

I overindulged in the roasted garlic, as I inevitably do, because it is SO good, and woke in the night because I reeked of the stuff.

I smelled so strongly of garlic thanks to that overindulgence that I woke myself up.  Astonishing.

I lay in bed for a while, with the Black Death curled up on my chest where he preferred to sleep, thinking about what to do.  Finally, at 2am, I decided I was going to have to shower, I couldn’t take it for one more minute.

And so I sat up.

The cat, irritatable, whurrred at me as he was dislodged from his Living Pedestal.

And suddenly, I realized, I could no longer smell the garlic.

It took a moment for the penny to drop, but when it did, I grabbed the cat’s face and sniffed it long.

And nearly passed out from the garlic.

Ronald, bless his heart, was on KP that night, and had neglected to store the remaining roasted garlic.

He left the bowl of roasted garlic cloves, cloves that were covered in a layer of chicken fat, sitting out, open, on the counter.

And the cat ate every atom of that stuff right up.  And then came to bed, curled up on my chest, and spent the next hour exhaling Feline Garlic Breath directly into my nose with every purr.

What can you say to something like that?  “Get the heck off me!” is what came to my mind…

Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic

4 lb. roasting chicken
salt and pepper
7 T olive oil
40 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
rosemary, thyme, basil, celery top or parsley
1½ C flour
1 loaf French bread

Preheat oven to 400°.  Season cavity of chicken with salt and pepper.  Place chicken in casserole.  Drizzle olive oil to coat evenly.  Arrange cloves around chicken.  Add herbs.  Season with salt and pepper.  Mix flour with just enough water to make a dough.  Roll the dough out into 1½” strip slightly longer than the casserole is round.  Place dough around the rim of the casserole and seal with the lid.  Cook 90 minutes.

Slice and toast  the bread.  When the chicken is finished, carve it into pieces and serve with the cloves of garlic (press them to make the garlic come out, then spread on the bread like butter).

Store the leftovers tightly covered in the FRIDGE.


The heavens rejoiced at his coming, while the angels quaked in their boots. Or, in the immortal words of one of our apartment’s maintenance men, “There’s some kind of ANIMAL in there!”


About Lori Holder-Webb

I'm a Southern Woman by birth and a Texan Woman by upbringing...and yet I find myself living in New England and married to a New York City boy. Up here we use the same currency as we do at home, and I don't need to travel with a passport, but the commonalities pretty much end there. The language is different, the jokes are different, the people are different, and the weather and terrain sure are different too. I moved away from Texas in 2002, and ever since then, I've been the stranger in the strange land... I've had some questions about the name of the blog - if you were not alive, or living abroad or under a rock, or in grad school during the late 1980s, Oldsmobile attempted to shuck its stodgy image with a series of commercials intended to bring brand appeal to the younger generation: this car, they said, is not your father's Oldsmobile. If you have a morbid curiosity, hit YouTube for William Shatner will take you right there.

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