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Watch what you eat ...
I am a HUGE fan of beets, and I will frequently pop open a can, or grab some leftover beets, put them in a bowl and shake some herbs on them as a mid-afternoon snack.
I work from home, so most meals are taken at my desk and are eaten blindly as I continue to work, staring at my computer screen and keyboard.
On this particular day there was no change in that habit; I munched away at my bowl of herbed beets, unknowingly also munching on some VERY ALIVE insect larvae.
Eventually, yes, I looked down into the bowl, and noticed movement.
That's about when I screamed.
Upon investigation, I determined that some insect made a warm and cozy nest out of my dill jar (OK, I might have left it slightly ajar) and those little eggs did hatch and I basically shook them onto my food.
Added protein? Maybe.
More meticulous about spice storage and closing lids?
ASHLEY SETCAVAGE / Mt. Lebanon
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Can you pass the goldfish test?
Back in the late '60s I pledged a sorority in college and part of the initiation process was a scary night of hazing. With no warning, the 20 freshman pledges were pulled out of bed, blindfolded and driven to a rural abandoned house. Blindfolded for the entire four hours, we were ordered to perform many terrifying tasks.
One of the scariest ones was to swallow a live goldfish. I could hear my fellow pledges screaming, crying and even (ugh!) dry heaving. When it was my turn, in spite of all the horrible sounds I had heard all around me, I managed to swallow the little critter. When dawn broke and we had our blindfolds removed, the upper-class girls assured us that all of those horrible things we had endured were very tame and innocent.
Turns out the squirmy little goldfish, which only about half of us were able to get down, was nothing more than a big slimy pimento!
Or was it? Still not sure what to believe.
CHRISTINE WATENPOOL / McCandless
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Tastes like chicken?
I was raised in a large family with a grandmother who barely spoke English and still kept to many of her Italian "old-country" ways. Even though we didn't live on a large farm, she wanted fresh chickens. She never wasted any parts, so to see chicken feet that would be used for soup, or other chicken parts in the old, round cornered "Frigidaire," was not uncommon. I can still see her wringing those chickens' necks to kill them, dunking the dead bird in boiling water, pulling the bird out, then plucking it.
I found out the hard way that she had a fondness for using the chicken blood as well. She would cut off the chicken heads and drain the blood.
Being a chubby, little Italian girl, I could never resist anything sweet. I spied what I thought was marble pound cake in the refrigerator, looked left, then right, to make sure no one was watching, then snuck myself a slice of that cake. I bit into it, and gagged. The container in the shelf above that held the chicken blood had leaked onto the yellow pound cake below, giving it a marbled appearance.
To this day, some 50 years later, I do not eat marble cake.
LILLIAN JORDAN / Marshall
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Grin and bear it
Being on staff at a little, rural, weekly newspaper -- Allied News in Grove City -- led me to some... um... interesting experiences.
Like the time I wrote about a Game Dinner.
And I don't mean checkers.
The Methodist church in the neighboring town of Harrisville, population 899, hosted a potluck-style dinner where hunters could tote in and share dishes made of the stuff they'd shot (or in a few cases, caught).
It was a family affair; the wives often were the ones who cooked the dishes even though their husbands generally had done the shooting. So I was by no means the only female in the room, but I probably looked young and intimidated because I got twitted. Like when one guy, eyeing my notebook, asked me if I was actually going to eat or if I was just going to watch everybody else eat.
Oh yeah, I was going to eat. My editor had made it clear that this was part of the assignment. (Of course, I had said I was willing. What had I been thinking?)
I had a moment of panic when someone asked someone else to "save me the skunk."
Skunk? You really mean it?
Turned out it was part of the woodland scene frosted onto the cake we were having for dessert.
Whew. Sigh of relief.
What did appear on the table was a large assortment of venison preparations (predictably, this being Western Pennsylvania), along with wild turkey, trout, Arizonan wild pig, and bear stew.
And in all honesty, it was mostly fine. Being skeptical about eating wild game is nothing more than a head game. I had grown up on a beef-cattle farm, so I was quite accustomed to eating the critters that had trotted around on four legs just weeks earlier. Why should I have eyed wild animals any differently?
But what I still count among my scariest food experiences was that bear stew, which sat thickly in the pot under a glistening, inch-thick layer of grease.
I've seen bears at the Pittsburgh Zoo, lumbering back and forth in the stone pit they call their home. I swear you can watch the layer of fat ripple under their fur as they walk.
Well, apparently when you cook up bear, all that fat has to go somewhere.
REBECCA SODEGREN / Post-Gazette contributor
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I survived to tell this tale
I've eaten challenging: raw liver. I've eaten weird: grasshoppers. I've eaten repulsive-looking: huitlacoche (corn smut). But I can remember only once being frightened by the food set before me.
I was at a dinner party with women friends. During wine and appetizers, I moseyed into the kitchen, not to be nebby, but just to poke around, checking pots and sniffing ingredients. I like kitchens. This is what I do.
A stew was quietly simmering and salad was plated. Then I glanced into a very full, open trash container. I saw several empty cans. Their ingredient was the key to the saucy entree. The insides of all of them were mottled with blotches of evil-looking matter and black "stuff."
I checked the labels. More than five years out of the use-by date, and produced and canned in Asia. And isn't that a dent? OMG, Holy saints in heaven! That's gotta be poison. That's botulism, I thought, a swift and potent killer.
At the dinner table a few minutes later, I stuck the barest tip of my tongue on the entree, and thought I detected a bitter taste in the mix of flavors. I wiped my tongue on my napkin. Nearly in a panic, I made some lame excuse for not eating. I expected my friends to succumb and keel over. And I wasn't driving.
A few hours later, at home, I called several members of the dinner party. "If you get sick and die, tell survivors to autopsy for poisoning."
Hands waving and wide-eyed, I told the incident to my husband-the-scientist. He informed me that botulism toxin, exuded by the botulinum bacteria, is the most lethal poison known, but it's not visible in foods and certainly isn't black. What I saw likely could have been mold, and it could have made us sick. Or not.
Nobody got sick. Nobody was turned off by that bitter flavor.
But me? I was shaken to the core.
MARLENE PARRISH / Post-Gazette contributor
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Yum, that grassy flavor
While excitedly feasting on beautiful, fresh, green, perfectly cooked broccoli from my boyfriend's first garden, we simultaneously commented on how "grassy" it tasted, but kept on eating and enjoying it. When my boyfriend went to the kitchen stove for a second helping, he discovered floating in the hot water amongst the broccoli stems a monstrous boiled green caterpillar with wilted legs and shriveled black spots and antennae.
The "grassy" taste was cooked caterpillar juices.
CYNTHIA ZEITNER / Mars
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Leptodactylus Fallax (Mountain Chicken)
Billy corrects us with a stern whisper. "They're jumping back into the water because they hear you. But if we can keep them on land, we're faster than they are."
Cynthia and I make costly mistakes: We move fast, stumble over rocks, laugh out loud. With every splash of an escapee, my stomach grumbles louder. In the dark, I practice stealth more seriously, mimicking Cynthia's cousin Billy, our Native American wannabe, who uses his flashlight, not moonlight, to search the water's edge.
The frogs' eyes reflect bulging, demonic discs. Billy moves closer, 5 feet from our delicacy, and steadily holds the beam onto the glowing embers. When the flash of light hits its eyes, the frog is mesmerized and immobile like a deer in headlights. It can hear us, so we are slow-motion mimes. Cynthia positions herself behind the frog, tightens her tendons, and, cat-like, pounces. She grabs the frog with both bare hands.
We are ecstatic with a silent jump and victory dance and quickly hone our skills on the next innocent, somewhat homely, victim. Billy spooks this frog by throwing a rock into the water behind it, forcing it to hop onto dry land away from the stream. Billy shows us the Indian walk, toe-heel, for sneaking up silently.
I watch the dirty work from a few feet back, holding open Billy's empty backpack, into which Cynthia drops the booty. My job is to keep them there. It sounds like an easy task, but I want to drop the bag of frenzied frogs and run into the night. When in distress, bullfrogs scream like crying babies. I know the humane thing to do would be to release the frogs. Billy throws the light beam onto my face, reads my thoughts and says, "Frogs have teeth." If I release the frogs, I'm sure they will go for my ankles.
We catch enough for a frog-leg feast. Billy kills the creatures away from the fire so I do not witness the butchering, but I do see a rock in Billy's hand. Billy finds sticks with branches; he demonstrates how to sharpen the branches with a Swiss army knife and how to skewer legs onto a stick. I manage three legs on one branch and roast them like miniature hot dogs.
Twitching frog legs cooking over the fire horrify me, but Billy explains that heat causes the movement, that warm-blooded muscle gets rigor mortis more quickly. He encourages us to eat because the legs are rich in protein, vitamin A and potassium. How does he know so much? It's 1969, Cynthia and I will be college seniors in the fall, and we know nothing so practical. When I take a bite, I concentrate on the science.
Between each crispy leg, we look up at the tiny lights on the Eiger Mountain and discuss if the mountain climbers are higher than last night. Like rabbits in a farmer's garden, we shamelessly nibble until all 24 legs are gone. They taste like delicious chicken morsels. We wipe our mouths on our long sleeved T-shirts and decide we are too tired to hunt for more. Inside my sleeping bag, under the Alps, I dream of giant, climbing frogs that smell like fried chicken.
LESLIE EVANS / Mt. Lebanon
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When in Rotterdam ...
We were guests of two Dutch business men at an elegant restaurant atop the Euromast in Rotterdam. I asked our hosts what was a local dish that they would recommend and order for me. The answer was smoked eel. I had silent reservations but felt it might be possible to cope with a few slices on small plate.
However, a waiter wheeled up a fancy cart to the table with a whole eel curved on a board and proceeded to dissect my portion. It was a frightening experience but I didn't dare show my disgust. The rest of the family admired my bravery.
AMY McKAY CORE / Zelienople
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A nice cuppa ...
When I was 6 and my brother was 3, we were each dipping graham crackers in a cup of warm tea with milk. I kept holding up the crackers and crumbs dangled from them. I yelled, "Mom -- come look! They look like your good earrings!"
Then we noticed there were bugs crawling on the package. And when we dumped out the tea, there was an inch of dead bugs on the bottom of our cups. The crumbs were dangling because the bugs had made webs. Yuck!
P.S. To this day, I still cannot eat graham crackers.
LINDA BEAUDRY / Penn Hills
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Night of the living rice
I'm going back 46 years to an afternoon in a junior social studies class at Bethel Park Senior High School.
I still vividly remember the teacher reminiscing about his days as a Marine stationed in Asia. He talked about the dish of rice that he had as part of his dinner. He relayed that he was halfway through the entire meal when he noted that the grains of rice were moving! Yes -- there were "things" that were alive that he consumed, thinking it was rice.
To this day, I am unable to eat rice without staring at the bowl for several minutes to be sure that it all stays in the same place!
(Another personal scary part to this is that I remember the story so vividly -- but cannot recall the teacher's name. Sigh.)
MARY ANN WEBER / Bethel Park
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Having your dinner scare you beforehand
You would think that being a city kid would mean that you never had to actually meet your food before you ate it, but not so. I grew up in a multi-generational household, and my Granny came from Poland as a toddler. We enjoyed many Polish dishes, but every once in a while the grown-ups made czarnina, a soup made from duck, the crowning touch being the addition of the duck's blood near the end. We kids called it "chocolate soup," because that is the color it became as the blood cooked.
You would think that is the scary part, but no. During the Depression, my Granny kept chickens in the back yard of our West Homestead home, where I still live, and she was skilled at killing and cleaning them. Therefore, they purchased live ducks from Derda's market on the North Side and did their own killing and cleaning. (The down was saved for homemade pillows!) In any case, I grew used to the wooden crates that would show up in the kitchen from time to time containing a duck that would soon become a delicacy.
Apparently my Uncle Stash had always wanted to roast a goose. And apparently, in all of their minds, the logical thing was to buy the goose live from Derda's and follow the "usual procedure." Imagine my surprise, then, when I approached the crate in the kitchen expecting to find the usual taciturn duck. Instead, I was eye level (I was only about 3; this, unfortunately, is one of my very earliest memories) with the goose from hell. Instead of waddling over so that I could pet it through the slats, as I was used to doing with the ducks, it stuck its head through the slats, opened its mouth and hissed at me.
I remember being hysterical, adults crowding around trying to explain the difference between a goose and a duck, and absolutely refusing to taste the roast version of said creature. It was scary food in the most literal sense.
MAGGIE HOLDER / West Homestead
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Eight reasons not to like this meal
A long time ago on a plane to Europe, a flight attendant asked if I was enjoying the meal.
I told her it was a very good Swiss steak.
She said it was octopus.
All of a sudden, it wasn't very good. In fact, that taste is still with me and probably part of my DNA.
FRAN YUSCHAK / Carnegie
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To make kidney stew, first you clean the kidneys...
It happened more than 35 years ago but I remember parts of this story like it was yesterday.
One of my neighbors asked me to come over while she was making kidney stew. I never heard of kidney stew but I was willing to see what she was up to. What a mistake. I walked into the kitchen and it hit me like a bucket of cabbage heads, broccoli and cauliflower. I couldn't believe the stench. "What is that foul odor?" I asked.
"I'm soaking the kidneys," my neighbor said nonchalantly.
"Why do the kidney beans stink so bad?" I asked.
"Not kidney beans. I'm soaking the kidneys to get the urine out of them," she said.
I wondered who could eat something that smelled so bad. My neighbor said it was really popular. "I called you over because kidney stew is really good and I wanted you to taste it," she said.
"No way," I said with a nervous laugh.
I think I'm pretty brave when it comes to trying new things -- the big water slides at amusement parks, the scary roller coasters at Cedar Point and the haunted house tour in South Park -- but I couldn't imagine tasting a urine-free kidney stew. That was all I could think about; the smell of urine being "cooked" out of the kidneys.
Finally the stew was done.
After what seemed like an eternity of being teased, badgered and belittled, I grabbed a spoon and dipped it into the stew.
Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. Like you tell your kids, "Eat the carrots. How do you know you won't like them if you don't try them."
So I did it. I put a little of the stew it my mouth and ... I spit it out faster than you can say Kidney Stew.
ARLENE BURNETT / Post-Gazette contributor
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The eyes had it
Back in the summer of 1972, I worked as an au pair in Germany. The family for whom I worked vacationed at their chalet in Switzerland the entire month of August. One morning they decided to take a car trip to a lake in the area known for its breathtaking scenery and trout hatchery. We took a flat-bottomed boat out on the lake and then trout was purchased for our meal later on in the day.
Since I was busy with cleaning and watching the kids, the father of the family prepared the fish and put them on the grill to cook. I didn't see how the fish had been prepared. When it was time to eat, an aluminum foil packet was placed in front of me. I opened it and saw my biology experiment from a few years earlier in high school, minus the formaldehyde and yet-to-be-performed dissection, staring at me! I didn't even know where to begin to even try to cut into the trout. It didn't matter, since I had already lost my appetite for trout at this point for all eternity.
My employers grabbed my packet and devoured the fish faster than a group of stray alley cats!
BETSY SCHRECK / Dormont
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Passing through the eye
In my younger years, one of the scariest things about food was whether it harbored bacteria. With a grafted kidney easing my way though life, I always wondered what could happen to a reduced immune system with a massive influx of nasty germs. It made me careful about water, fresh vegetables and poorly cooked meat.
So, there were my wife, Sherri, and I in the Galilee village of Deir al-Asad, Israel, attending a wedding, and slapped down on the table in front of me was a large platter holding an oval of raw lamb kibbee. Hands grabbed a piece of pita and picked up a large portion of the lamb and then pushed it toward my mouth. Common courtesy dictated that I not refuse. So I chewed and swallowed my fear along with lots more lamb with yogurt poured over it.
Another time I was afraid of offending my hosts was while at a banquet at a Druze village held with the sheep farmers of Moledet, a cooperative farming moshav, to celebrate a good year of sheep sales.
As a guest of honor, thanks to my background as "the American," I was offered one of the eyeballs of the huge butter-basted lamb sitting on a tray in the middle of the banquet.
What would it taste like? Would I gag and embarrass myself and my family?
Fear washed over me as the dish was held at chest level. I was expected to pluck the eye off the plate and transfer it to my mouth, finally swallowing the morsel so that the assembled guests could begin tearing into the lamb and dozens of vegetable and grain dishes.
I thought about trying to transfer it to my left hand and palm it while placing it in my mouth but that good a magician I am not.
So, scared that I would choke or gag at the taste, I placed it on the back of my tongue and swallowed. No taste. No squishiness. No more fear.
LARRY ROBERTS / Post-Gazette photographer and writer of "Dine Quixote" column
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You are what you eat?
To surprise my family at a holiday dinner, I decided on a unique dessert -- edible faces of Mom and Dad.
First I had to make the molds -- by lying on the floor with straws in our noses so we could breathe while the applied goop could dry and harden. My husband discovered that he was claustrophobic and freaked out and could not go on. I toughed it out and got a mold of my face.
Ingredients started with Jell-O, Cool Whip and assorted food colorings. I decorated the cake with everything from hair, eyes, earrings and glasses made from icing.
When I brought the cake to the table, the kids were so grossed out that they refused to eat it. They said, "We can't eat Mom's face!" I had to eat my own face. It was delicious.
EILEEN GESK / Robinson
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No seconds, please
Once my frugal mother was given deer meat and served it to us kids, not telling us what it was. It was fried, breaded and gravied but we could tell it was something we had never had. Then, after dinner she announced that it was deer meat. Well, all three of us immediately "spit up" as our mom euphemistically called it.
I felt then and still do 58 years later that it was a mean thing to do to a little kid (she and my dad knew what it was and didn't eat any). Thereafter, I was leery of eating anything I could not immediately ID.
SUSAN PARKER / Ligonier
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Crumbs that stink
Like everyone else around this area, I really, really hate stink bugs. Several years ago, we had quite an infestation in our home. But, it seemed like we were getting the situation under control. One day, I was cleaning the kitchen counter. As I was emptying the toaster crumb tray, I noticed a very large, strange-looking "crumb". I mean, this was the biggest crumb I'd ever seen. Upon closer inspection, I realized that this odd fragment was actually a dead stink bug! OH YUK! I wasn't exactly sure how long it had been in there, but I usually emptied the tray at least once a week. I was sickened by the thought of our toast being "browned" along with the unwelcome squatter.
I quickly bought another toaster, along with a cover to make sure this never happened again.
JOAN HUBER / Coraopolis
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Coffee that stinks (reprise)
I was sitting with my co-worker, Chris, for a late lunch in our office conference room when we noticed something small fall from the ceiling. We heard a soft "plunk" noise, but didn't happen to see where the "UFO" landed. A few moments later, Chris took a sip from his coffee mug, and made a strange expression.
He grabbed the nearest napkin, spit out his sip of coffee, and there, still crawling around on the napkin, was our "UFO" -- a stink bug! Needless to say, this was the last time either of us drank anything in the conference room without a lid on it.
SANDY LOY / South Park
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'The Twinkie of Terror'
I was 8 years old and playing in my grandmother's front yard, when she brought me a Twinkie! Turns out, it was everyone's favorite treat but mine, because I took one bite and left it, sitting on top of its wrapper, on the front steps. Later, my Mom came out to call us in for dinner, and when she noticed the Twinkie, picked it up to finish it off. She didn't happen to notice the hundreds of tiny baby ants crawling all over it until she was mid-bite.
To this day, I can still remember her scream. I'm 23 now, and neither of us have eaten a Twinkie since.
KATE LOY / South Park
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OMG it was an MSG OD
On a bright October late afternoon in the '60s, driving through Columbus on our way back home from Indiana, we decided to stop for an early dinner. Our choice was an Asian restaurant on the main road. All of us wanted wonton soup as a starter. Our server apologized and said that very little soup was left but that he could serve three small portions. My husband, gallant man that he was, said that the kids and I should have the soup and he would order something else. We ate and enjoyed our food, got back in the car and headed for Pittsburgh.
About 30 minutes later I felt a tingle in my finger tips. The sensation crept up my arms ... into my shoulders ... then my neck, and started down my spine. Seconds later this sensation repeated in my legs although not as severe. Seconds later my three children were having the same symptoms. Within a minute our arms became almost paralyzed.
My husband was OK. He drove on, trying to find a hospital, but with no luck. In 15 or 20 minutes the sensations began to subside and by the time we reached home we felt OK. We decided it might have been excessive MSG concentrated in the bottom of the almost-empty soup pot. We still love wonton soup but always ask if the pot is full before ordering.
SYLVIA FRIEDMAN / Wilkinsburg
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Maybe a bun?
I was making tacos one day and I felt like my little girl could not handle a taco shell. So I put on a plate the ground cooked meat with lettuce, tomato and cheese. My girl looked at the plate and cried: "Why did you give me dog food?"
MARY JANE KUMMER / Upper St. Clair
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The salad with something extra
A number of years ago, my husband and I attended a banking conference in San Francisco and had dinner at a well-known restaurant there. The salad was asparagus spears on lettuce leaves and with just one leaf on my plate I noticed two slugs slowly creeping on it. The chef, of course, was quite upset and just remarked that they would have to do a better job of cleaning the lettuce.
To this day I wonder if I ate any of those slimy little slugs!
JANE M. BITTCHER / Zelienople
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Custard lesson learned
Once upon a time, junior-high-school students in Pennsylvania were required to enroll in the home-economics class. In the early 1950s, I was one of those students. We learned lots of good homemaking skills including sewing and cooking. For our cooking class periods, our teacher organized the class into "units" of four or five students. Each unit met in its own complete, efficiently organized "kitchen."
The cooking project that did me in was preparing custard. As I remember it, the custard involved eggs and other dairy products. Well, I had never been served custard before and did not know how the finished product should appear or taste. At home, we relied on Jello pudding prepared from a box purchased in the grocery store (just added milk).
My unit mates and I did our best to prepare the recipe correctly. One requirement of each cooking class unit was to consume our finished product. We did. Evidently we did something wrong because that evening at home I showed the symptoms of food poisoning, which kept me out of school for two or three days. Several phone calls were exchanged between the school office, our home economics teacher and my alarmed parents. I have never had the desire to try tasting custard again!
BRENDA McCRADY / Penn Hills
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My scariest food experiences were the ones I shared with three fellow students while preparing to become future teachers of home economics at Penn State University. We were clever enough to discover that there was a "unit kitchen" toward the rear of our preparation classroom. It was the only one equipped with a garbage disposal.
EILEEN LACEY / West Mifflin
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Gnocchi with that something extra
On a dinner break at the hospital where I've worked for more years than I like to admit, a friend and co-worker had brought in a treat for those of us working the evening shift. It was gnocchi in sauce that had been homemade by her mother.
Since my mom was Italian, I knew how much work this had been and was thoroughly enjoying the escape from cafeteria food when I found something very hard in my mouth. I took it out and saw that it looked like a teeny tiny bone, about 1 inch in length. I showed it to my friend and she said, without moving her lips, "Shut up and keep eating." She could see the questioning look on my face and repeated, "Just shut up. I'll tell you later."
At that point, I was done eating. I'm pretty sure that my face started turning a strange shade of green and I could feel my stomach churning. After the lunch break was over and we were back in the laboratory, Gina explained to me that when her mom was making sauce, she sometimes added whatever meat that she had in the kitchen, which included meat from animals that her father had shot like, oh, squirrels! Gag! I had been eating squirrel meat! Gag again!
I don't think I actually threw up but it was mighty close. That was about 30 years ago and we still can laugh about it. I haven't eaten gnocchi -- or squirrel meat -- since!
PEGGY BLOCH / Natrona Heights
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Two cheers for modern food processing
I went on maternity leave on May 2, 2012. I returned to work on Aug. 2, 2012.
On Aug. 3, I was hungry in the morning and grabbed my "Jimmy Dean Breakfast Croissant" from the door in the office refrigerator. It looked a little soggy, but, eh -- I heated it and ate it anyway.
At the end of the day, I retrieved my lunch pack from the fridge, and noticed that my "Jimmy Dean Breakfast Croissant" was still in it. Yes, I accidently ate the sandwich that I left in the office refrigerator BEFORE I went on maternity leave!
It was not frozen, it had been in the DOOR of the fridge some 90 days! Of course, I panicked and had no idea what to do. And, of course, everyone in my office laughed and laughed. I tried to gag myself, but to no avail. So, I waited it out, expecting the worst. Turns out, I didn't even get a stomach ache.
CAROLINE WOODWARD / Squirrel Hill
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A Thanksgiving memory
Like many home cooks, I remember the dinner mishaps more than the successes. One kitchen catastrophe from a Thanksgiving more than 30 years ago is still vivid.
I was young, just in my 20s, when my then-husband and I invited both our families to our new home for Thanksgiving. The guest list topped 25 people, and many called and offered to bring food, but I foolishly declined, wanting to orchestrate the entire meal myself. Oh, the folly of youth.
By mid-morning on the big day I was in over my head. One turkey was cooking in my oven while another roasted in the next door neighbor's, and I was scrambling to prepare a multitude of side dishes in a small, countertop-challenged kitchen. A cousin from out of town arrived with her newborn baby and asked if she could use the fridge; I was too scattered to pay attention and just pointed to the appliance. More relatives arrived early, knowing I'd need their help, but in that little kitchen they were in the way, so I sent them out, one by one, with a tray of olives or a bottle of wine, asking them to just enjoy themselves.
As the dinner hour drew near I had wrangled things into a controlled chaos, and had even taken a few moments to leave the kitchen and greet guests. The turkeys were glorious, resting under tents of foil, and bowls of salads and sides lined the table, which stretched into the living room. I was just congratulating myself for pulling the whole thing off without incident when one of my sisters-in-law -- not known for her culinary skills -- entered the kitchen, insisting that she help with last-minute chores. She refused to take no for an answer and I finally relented, asking her to mash the potatoes. I heard her ask which milk she should use, but I was busy carrying dishes to the table, and there was only one carton of milk in the fridge, so I shrugged her off.
When I returned to the kitchen she had filled a large serving bowl with the fluffy mashed potatoes, and put a nice pat of butter on top, along with a sprinkling of pepper. The spuds looked perfect, and I felt guilty for having doubted her ability. As everyone eagerly sat down at the table, resplendent with steaming platters, I returned to the kitchen for a serving spoon, and that's when I spotted an opened jar of what looked like milk on the kitchen counter, right next to the mixing bowl the potatoes had been mashed in. I discretely waved my S-I-L back into the kitchen where, confused, she told me she'd gotten the jar from the refrigerator and assumed it was milk. With the mystery unsolved we returned to the dining room and enjoyed the holiday dinner with our family.
It wasn't until after dinner, when our cousin, the new mom, asked where the jar she'd stored in the refrigerator had gone, that S-I-L and I discovered that those delicious fluffy mashed potatoes -- every spoonful of which had been eaten -- had been mashed with breast milk.
KIMBERLEE LOVE / Glen Osborne
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Took a deep breath
When I was a kid, my dad and uncle killed a hog they bought and my father took home what they called the "pluck" -- all the internal organs. One day after school I came home to find a pot simmering away. I raised the lid and peered in to see lungs cut up and the heart! I ran to my room! When suppertime came, my dad served it up and all my family dug in, but me. After dad's speech of "waste not, want not," I tasted the lung! To my horror it tasted like a sponge, which was nasty, so I spit it out!
And went hungry for the night!
KIMBERLY BARCA / Bethel Park
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Shortly after we were married, my wife, for some reason -- maybe her experience with creaming liver for fondue --decided to cook a large beef tongue. To add insult to injury she placed it in gelatin. When it was presented on the table, the tongue kind of moved up, down and in-between. You had to cut through the "skin" of the tongue before getting to the "meat," but her parents, at whose house we had dinner, thought it was great (they grew up during the Depression).
A few years later I was at a local meat market and saw corned beef tongue for sale. To get even, or maybe I had become more sophisticated, I bought one and cooked it. I ended up doing all the cooking for the past 37 years.
TOM BATES / McCandless
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Tongue tie (reprise)
Some years ago my husband and I traveled to St. Petersburg in Russia for an alumni tour with Case Western Law School. Accompanying us was my 95-year-old mother-in-law and her daughter.
It was a very beautiful trip but of course the food was quite different than that in the U.S. Every night there were set dinners for the tour group and they really were quite good, especially at the Hotel Europa. However, toward the end of the tour I asked the tour guide what we were having for dinner. She replied very excitedly, "Beef!" I guess I was expecting a tenderloin steak of some sort. When we were served it was very light pink and sliced paper thin. I do like my meat rare so I was glad that it was pink but I never saw beef sliced so thin. Well, I was hungry so I dug in and ate it all. When we finished dinner my husband asked me how I liked it and I agreed that it was really good. He then shocked me by telling me it was tongue. If he had told me before I ate it, well, I wouldn't have eaten it. I was gagging.
(By the way my mother-in-law thought it was fabulous! Of course, she lived through the great Depression, when there was no food, especially meat.)
KATHY KING / Robinson
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Here, kitty kitty
Many years ago, I had just returned from work when my mother called and said she made liver and onions (which I do not now eat) and that I should come and get it.
I got a plate out and went to get the ketchup (no ketchup now, either).
When I sat down to eat, no liver!
Racing up the stairs was my cat, Bubba, hungrily gnawing at my dinner. I let her eat it. I was too scared to take it out of her mouth.
But boy what a tasty mess I had to clean up on the stairs.
D. KUBIAK HART / South Side