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The Four Worst Meals of My Life

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Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 02:08 AM

Here's a food essay I pulled from our site. In times like these, a little laughter goes a long way.

Four meals I'll never forget, for all the wrong reasons. I'd rather skip a thousand desserts than live through these again.

1. Dagger Soup. My mother was a brilliant woman, but not a great cook. No problem, when dinner was hamburgers, broiled chicken or a simple stir fry. But now and then she'd attempt a recipe, and we suffered the consequences. She found some formula for celery soup in a magazine and spent the whole day preparing it. This wasn't a slow-cooked stew, but a quick-blended soup, requiring celery stalks be pureed and quickly boiled with curry and other spices. Unfortunately, she never knew to remove the veins/ribs of the celery before blending, and unless you cook them long and slow, those veins don't get tender. Imagine a thick, green aromatic soup dense with thousands of celery veins, hard as nails and only 1/16th of an inch long. Every spoonful stuck a dozen spikes into our tongues. They tore at our throats as we swallowed. There was no way to chew it into submission. It was like drinking porcupines, like a broth made from cactus spines. I called it "Dagger Soup" and refused to eat another spoonful. "You'll eat that soup I slaved all day to make, or you'll lose your allowance!" No problem. "You'll be grounded for a week!" My pleasure. "Two weeks!" It became clear that no threat was worse than the reality of that soup. Finally: "I tell you it's delicious!" but after a single spoonful--she broke out laughing. We poured it down the toilet and went out for pizza.

2. The Meal Without Flavor. One dish my mother prepared well was a stir fry of shrimp and broccoli, rich with butter. We all liked it. Nothing seemed amiss when we sat down to Sunday's meal, but when we took a bite--nothing. No flavor at all. Two bites, three--still no flavor. I don't mean the food was bland, or that it needed salt. I mean it had no flavor of any kind: taste buds simply wouldn't register it. You got texture, you could tell shrimp from broccoli, but it was as if an invisible hand was pinching your nose shut. Three solid minutes of silence later, I ventured, "Does this taste funny?" My sister nods, my father (ever politic) commanded, "Your mother does this dish, so no complaints, you eat it!" We ate, but even he started making faces. The orange soda had its familiar twang of saccharine, but the meal had nothing. Finally my mother couldn't stand it any longer, throwing down her fork and turning furious eyes on the stir fry. We eventually found the culprit. She'd mistaken the corn starch for baking powder! All flavor is based on the play of acid and base, and baking powder left the whole dish completely neutral. That dinner became the legendary Meal Without Flavor.

3. Chicken Tetrachloride. College dorms are famous for bad food. That's why everyone at the University of Connecticut wanted to live in a large dorm, where the cafeteria boasted half a dozen choices at each meal, as well as a salad bar. Even so, some days were bad. Chicken tetrazini was the worst night. When it came, you knew one choice was already inedible, so it lowered your chances. One Monday night in my sophomore year I joined my friends for dinner. We stood on line, bypassing the salad bar (it looked limp, brown and suspiciously like last week's), and skipped the chicken. The other choice was the tofu lasagna. Goodyear never made a rubber so effective as that "tofu lasagna." We couldn't eat that. Back to the salad bar--nothing. Well, they keep cereal under the salad bar when it's not breakfast time, but the cabinet was locked. We formed a human screen to conceal my friend Tom as he tried to pick the lock, but we were caught. They sat us down and served us all a lecture about respecting school property and that horrible chicken tetrazini. Instead, we found the one thing on the salad bar that didn't look too bad, the cucumbers. We sat there and ate cucumbers and drank Pepsi while the chicken tetrazini cooled into a landscape on our plates. One of us joked "Chicken Tetrachloride" and it stuck.

4. The End of Ambiance. When I was fifteen I had a couple of close friends who invited me down to Thanksgiving dinner with their very respectable Quaker relatives in south NJ, one of the grand families of Moorestown, with a line back to the Mayflower and a reverence for propriety. It was ruled over by their matriarch, a 90-year old dour thing, half deaf, used to bathing in ice water each morning at dawn, spending twelve hours a day at her stove and needle, and you'd darn well better appreciate it. Dinner was long and not without humor, but a sense of decorum floated over the table, as of a tradition generations long. Then the cat started puking up hairballs. Loud, wet sounds, throat-smacking, moist, evocative. Grandmother couldn't hear it, so we pretended not to. A hairball hit the floor with a splash, and my friend's father broke the table's symmetry long enough to put the cat out. Then the cat climbed back into the room through the ancient heating ducts, stuck its head out above the grate, and started coughing up hairballs again. Father went over and tried to pull the cat out of the vent by its head, but it wouldn't budge. It remained there throughout dinner, a living doorstop, stopping conversation every few moments to vomit up another odious mass. Grandmother couldn't hear or see it, and kept digging into her food almost in time to the cat's upchucks. We almost died trying not to laugh--couldn't eat a thing, kept having to run to the restroom to let out gales of laughter. That's the worst ambiance I've ever endured during a meal.

Peter
wells@emusic.com

A Burke & Wells Essay

Link: http://www.burkeandwells.com

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    Jim Leff RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 02:23 AM

    vegetarian, allergic-to-everything sister brought sweet potato soup bought from a health food store for thanksgiving dinner. my portion consisted of one greyish, puckering sweet potato chunk seemingly nailed to the bottom of the bowl, which was filled with flavorless watery broth. A lily pad of some sort of vegetable leaf floated on top.

    I did my best Tiny Tim (Dickens, not tulips) imitation, bravely intoning "God bless us, every one" as I "dug in".

    I believe there may also have been a tofu turkey, but I've kind of blacked it out.

    Nurture-not-nature,

    Ciao

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      Janet RE: Jim Leff Sep 20, 2001 03:00 AM

      I love tofu, but the tofu turkey I bought one Thanksgiving is probably on my list, too: Imagine, if you will, tofu formed in what seemed to be a Wilton-type turkey cake mold, and utterly flavorless. Another company has come up with something called a "Tofurkey" which, in concept, is even more disgusting, because it actually tries to mimic the bird (there are "drumsticks"!!) With so many delicious vegetable dishes to choose from, why would anyone inflict these atrocities on holiday guests?

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        Frank Language RE: Janet Sep 20, 2001 03:42 AM

        Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the supermarket...there's Tofurkey jerky! Although I've never had the dubious pleasure of eating it - and probably never will - it takes Tofurkey to a whole new level!

        A friend told me of how he'd bought some with the idea of putting it on bagels (?!), but he couldn't eat it at all. Just a friendly warning to y'all...

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          Janet RE: Frank Language Sep 20, 2001 06:04 AM

          My curiousity almost led me to buy it, but it was also ridiculously expensive. There's a whole Tofurkey line of products loose in the freezer case, made by (I kid you not) a company called Now & Zen.

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            Jeremy Osner RE: Frank Language Sep 20, 2001 12:28 PM

            Hmm... If you stuffed a soy duck-product with a soy chicken-product, and stuffed that into a soy turkey-product...

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              Lisa RE: Frank Language Sep 20, 2001 03:59 PM

              Don't knock it till you try it, people! Yes, it is a jaw-breaking struggle to eat, but I haven't eaten real jerky in so long (or meat, for that matter) that I have no idea any more how it compares to real jerky!

              I am highly amused by all your horror stories and I have to say I have been INCREDIBLY lucky!

              I think my worst meal ever was actually a recent airline meal (I realize they're mostly bad, anyway). This was a skewer of "grilled" vegetables and tofu on a bed of unseasoned but curiously yellow rice. The tofu was like rubber and brown around the edges, the mushrooms were -- seriously -- black, shriveled, hard nubs. The red peppers were soggy. Lucky for me, they actually give vegetarians real dessert now -- Oreos -- rather than the usual canned pear half. Those Oreos made a tasty meal on that flight. :-)

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                VF RE: Frank Language Sep 21, 2001 11:24 AM

                Actually, there's a asian veggie jerky. It's sort of sweet and sort of salty and quite chewy. I didn't love it while I ate the first piece, but I found myself continuing to go back to the bag to grab more. Very addictive, actually.

                You can get it onlien from www.vegecyber.com

                http://www.vegecyber.com/nutrition/10...

                - VF

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                  Janet RE: VF Sep 22, 2001 06:11 AM

                  There's also a veggie jerky which they sell in health food stores (at about $1. for a little bag, <1/2 the price of the jerky Tofurkey makes!). It's moist, chewy, and comes in several flavors. Last year I'd developed a "habit" for the beef-like one and therefore ordered a 5# bag via Internet from the manufacturer, which brought the unit price down remarkably. Having opened the bag on election night, and eating it compulsively as the results were reported and corrected, I will forever associate veggie jerky with the theft of Florida. The last four or so pounds sat in the cabinet for months.

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                zora RE: Janet Sep 20, 2001 11:14 PM

                That reminds me of one of my favorite New Yorker cartoons from long ago. Yuppie woman is proudly bearing a serving platter with a suckling pig on it, toward a table where a skeptical-looking man sits. He's saying "Tofu in yet another guise?"

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                  helen RE: zora Sep 21, 2001 10:47 PM

                  dont those cartoons rock
                  wow
                  im new at this chowhound thing
                  i seriously havent stopped to think about the four worst meals of my life
                  i'm gonna ponder this for a couple days
                  one happend when i was eight
                  a strange small town diner
                  in eaton rapids michigan
                  one chicken leg was bleeding and the other was ice cold
                  too bad my grandma had fond memories of the place's peanut butter pie
                  but when you're eight all you want is chicken legs and there is simply no dissuading you.

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                ironmom RE: Jim Leff Sep 20, 2001 07:25 AM

                What a flood of memories this brings back!

                Restaurant meals can be hit-or-miss. It takes involuntarily attended meals prepared by relatives to consistently hit the greatest lows.

                Or ex-relatives, in my case.

                There was the corn-on-the-cob which, as no vegetables were ever trimmed of questionable spots, was served to me with a worm looking out of its hole. One of the rare times I was unable to ignore what I was served and continue picking at the rest of the meal.

                The 59 cent a pound chuck steak which only had about 20% meat on it. So, in other words, 80% of the diners receive only a chunk of fat, gristle, and bone, with no meat on it.

                Turkey so overcooked, the legs became large slabs of jaw-destroying "turkey jerkey". Which I was served because they knew I like dark meat. (Hey, Ma, got a band saw?)

                Cream cheese mixed with dry Italian dressing mix and red food color only until it looked like spoiled and contaminated cream cheese, then stuffed into rounds of hollowed-out Italian bread.

                Jello salad served with globs of imitation store-brand Miracle whip which had sat opened on the shelf for an indefinite period of time.

                Instant pudding gently stirred until it thickened into a mass of stringy lumps.

                Leftover baked beans with mashed hot dogs and chili mix. Chili anyone?

                Canned mushrooms in unseasoned tomato sauce, served only to me, because I was the family "gourmet".

                Imitation velveeta with grape jelly smeared in it. Bacon ends and pieces-3/4" thick strips-cooked only until hot.

                Chicken cacciatore, chicken backs and necks stewed in unseasoned tomato sauce with potatoes, cooked until the chicken parts break down into a layer of chicken fat, and little vertebrae that get stuck in your teeth. The most memorable was the one that got away-a crockpot of this, intended to be eaten days hence. Unrefrigerated. Which thankfully disappeared without a trace, probably because tentacles were growing out of it.

                Whole cooked turkeys sometimes not refrigerated, left out for people to pick at for days. Regular epidemics of "stomach flu".

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                  Ruth Lafler RE: ironmom Sep 20, 2001 03:50 PM

                  Wow! Are you related to Ruth Reichl?

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                    ironmom RE: Ruth Lafler Sep 20, 2001 04:37 PM

                    If only...

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                    Frank Language RE: ironmom Sep 20, 2001 06:44 PM

                    ironmom writes: "Leftover baked beans with mashed hot dogs and chili mix. Chili anyone?"

                    Hey, chili is the original jailhouse food; it was developed in the kitchen laboratories of prisons as a way of serving spoiled meat to the prisoners - hence the spices. (I say "kitchen laboratories" sarcastically, but even then, they were industrial kitchens.)

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                    liana RE: Jim Leff Sep 20, 2001 03:21 PM

                    that reminds me of one of my worst meals, which was also vegetarian...

                    years ago, these friends of my parents were all agog after learning I had recently become a vegetarian (I no longer am) and decided to have us over for a vegetarian meal. The first course consisted of what I can only describe as small, black twigs in some kind of sauce that tasted like dirt. The other dish was mush with no flavor whatsoever (not even dirt) which I now think may have been some kind of lentil.

                    I felt terrible not eating it -- these people were extremely nice (their daughter was friends with my younger sister, I baby-sat for their kids, they let us copy all of their computer software), and they had clearly gone to so much trouble, but it was all I could do not to create a distraction and toss the whole thing out the window. I still shudder at the thought of it.

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                    Sam Stevens RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 10:36 AM

                    After my parents married in 1967, one of my mother's first acquisitions was a set of those spiral-bound Campbell's soup cookbooks. She proceeded to torture me and my brother all the way through the 1970s with an unending procession of casseroles and pot pies that make me queasy just to think about them...it's a wonder that I eat anything now.

                    Anyway, Mom's crowning achievement was the tuna casserole, which incorporated the requisite can of Chicken of the Sea, several cans of vegetables (LeSeur peas, Del Monte cream corn, etc.), several cans of Campbell's cream of ____ soup, a can of mushrooms, an onion, celery, and a topping of bread crumbs and "Parmesan" cheese from the green cylinder. On one particular occasion, she used especially stale bread crumbs, so the casserole smelled and (probably) tasted like dirty sweat socks. My brother threw up at the table, started crying, and had to go to bed. For my part, I had been discreetly spitting the vile stuff into a succession of napkins and kicking them under the table.

                    We started eating lots of grilled chicken after that.

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                      Janet A. Zimmerman RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 11:20 AM

                      Great essay. (Thanks for making me laugh.) It reminded me of my senior year of college and the dinners my roommate used to make.

                      The deal when I moved in was this: we’d share the grocery bill and take turns cooking dinner. Great, I thought. I assumed that this would involve planning menus and shopping together. Wrong. What it meant was that every third weekend or so, she would go home to her parents, stock up on the groceries of her choice, return to campus and present me with my half of the bill. Technically I suppose I was free to do the same, but lacking a car, I was limited to picking up a few light items at a nearby deli.

                      I also assumed that this meant that she was at least a tolerable cook. Wrong again. She was, quite possibly, the world’s worst cook. Don’t think I make the statement lightly. But she was in a class by herself. Because, unlike most poor or indifferent cooks, she liked to cook, and she mistakenly thought she could cook. Her enthusiasm for the kitchen knew no bounds, when it really should have.

                      One meal that jumps to mind is something she whipped up using Rice-a-Roni and lentils. I think she’d had a Middle Eastern style pilaf, or maybe couscous, that she figured she could duplicate at home. She started with the Rice-a-Roni, but threw out the seasoning packet. Skipping the sauté, she boiled the contents together with some lentils until the lentils were crunchy and the pasta and rice were mushy; in addition, the mixture had the unmistakable flatness that comes from cooking with unsalted water. Then she threw in some raisins (which I loathe, incidentally, even in edible food) and nuts, and something else. I have no idea what it was, but it tasted soapy and dusty at the same time. I tried salt and pepper. Still bad. More salt. Ketchup, a step to which I rarely resort. Nothing could save it, but at least the ketchup mostly drowned out the dust flavor.

                      So, during the year, I became an expert at salvaging her meals through subterfuge. Such was the case with the spaghetti sauce. She decided, one Saturday morning, to make spaghetti for dinner that night. I stayed in my room pretending to study while she opened cans and clanged pans and chopped. Finally she returned to her room, and I crept out to inspect the damage. What I found was a stockpot filled with faintly pink cloudy water, with a bay leaf floating over the surface. Given a stir, it revealed some half-cooked onion chunks, a few hapless canned tomatoes, and a fair amount of ground beef (cooked, thankfully). It wasn’t simmering; the burner was off. It was clear she thought she had a finished sauce. I sprang into action. Turning the burner on high, I tried to reduce the liquid as I added garlic, herbs, salt. When I heard her stirring I quickly turned off the stove and sprinted back into my room. She left and I came back out. I found some more tomatoes and a can of tomato paste and added both, boiling the sauce like mad. It started to thicken just as I heard her coming back out. Off went the stove, and back I went into my room. It went on like this for several more rounds before what was in the pot finally tasted and smelled like something you’d want to serve on pasta. When we sat down to dinner that night, she took her first bite and looked puzzled. “Did you do something to the sauce?” she asked. “Oh,” I said, “just added a little garlic.”

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                      1. re: Janet A. Zimmerman
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                        jen kalb RE: Janet A. Zimmerman Sep 20, 2001 12:20 PM

                        these bring back memories of an old boyfriend's crockpot meal, cooked all day - a pack of ground beef and some mixed frozen or canned vegetables. I dont remember if he added any salt - I never got past the layer of grease. He must have had a cast iron stomach.

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                        Mike Kilgore RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 11:48 AM

                        My grandmother was a wonderful cook. She worked as a dessert chef for 20 years at the VA hospital in West LA, retired and took over the cafeteria at a Warner-Lambert plant across the street from the Great Western Fair Grounds just off at Atlantic from the 5 Freeway. But one of the things she liked was buttermilk. She kept some in our fridge for the weekends when she would come over to cook and be with us. This led inevitably to my evil older brother pouring me a big glass of buttermilk, instead of regular. He laughed so hard he cried as I snorted it out my nose and spewed it from my mouth with the shock of the large gulp I,(partially), swallowed. From that point on I very carefully tilted my glass to test the viscosity of the milk in my glass before every meal. I did eventually get my brother back due to my grandmother having a thing for cod liver oil. But that was simply revenge in the best biblical tradition of a (taste) bud for a bud.

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                          Carolyn Tillie RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 12:36 PM

                          My lawyer (a dear friend) became a Mason and encouraged my boyfriend and several other friends to join for business reasons. Occasionally, there are events where wives and girlfriends may attend after the Lodge has ended for dinner.

                          Now there is an on-going joke that such dinners usually consist of rubber chicken. My boyfriend is very good about not staying long at these and subjecting us to the rubber chickens.

                          But one fateful night, that which was served for dinner was chicken-fried steak. I never knew that grey food existed before. Not just the gravy, mind you! Grey meat, grey potatoes, and grey gravy made for a grey plate. I was astonished as I cut into the somewhat gelatinized mass on my plate. Silly me! I foolishly thought that there might be pink meat hiding underneath the grey ooze. Nay, dear friends. All was grey - as was my ashen face at the spectacle.

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                            howard RE: Carolyn Tillie Sep 20, 2001 05:12 PM

                            You write very well,I enjoy your style.

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                              Carolyn Tillie RE: howard Sep 20, 2001 07:09 PM

                              Thank You! You don't know what that means to me -- being an aspiring writer and all that...

                              I've printed out your compliment to post above my computer.

                              You are gem.

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                                howard RE: Carolyn Tillie Sep 21, 2001 12:18 AM

                                See Not About Food posting.

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                            Leslie T. RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 12:47 PM

                            This wasn't the worst meal of my life, but one time my mother made a hash brown skillet breakfast for us that was funny. I don't know if they still make them, but one used to be able to buy frozen hashbrowns in frozen squares, separated by paper. Well, my mom forgot to remove the paper on the bottom when she cooked it. Needless to say, it didn't turn out very well.

                            Another strange meal we had was a leg of something, I think maybe pork or lamb that my brother rec'd as an expensive gift from Norway. We didn't know what to do with it. We didn't know if it was cooked or not, so we cooked it anyway and served it sliced, like you would slice a ham. It was salty and awful. We later found out it was something cured, that was supposed to have been served (with no further cooking) sliced paper thin like a procuitto, a real gourmet item. What a waste of a beautiful gift that we accidentally ruined.

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                              LBQT RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 01:15 PM

                              Many years ago, when cholesterol counting was brand new, my dad was put on a low cholesterol diet. My mom was determined to do her best to serve all manner of fish. Not being the greatest, nor most inventive, of cooks, she undertook to make salmon patties, using canned salmon, and some leftover cooked spinach. I'm sure she put lots of effort and love into this concoction. When none of us would eat it, we gave one to the dog. Daisy sniffed, picked it up, and trotted outside, where she buried it in the spot she reserved for "doing her business".

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                                berkleybabe RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 02:33 PM

                                What a great topic--thanks for making me laugh out loud. (Don't miss Sam Steven's 'evil tuna casserole' post below, another belly laugh inducer.)

                                One of my worst was a pot luck buffet luncheon back in Ann Arbor college days. A ladies lunch, it offered all kinds of delicacies and wonderfully inventive salads *if* you were at the head of the line. The very end, where I'd landed, had one choice left: lime jello with slices of corned beef embdedded in its glistening green dome. And a parker house roll. Needless to say, this girl passed on lunch.

                                And then there was the festive Christmas gala my twin sister gave. Beverage: canned eggnog, with a dusting of poultry seasoning. Resolving the goof with nutmeg hardly helped. This is the same "cook" who presented us with dry/tough lasagne and finally figured out "Oh, I didn't know you precooked the noodles."

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                                  bryan RE: berkleybabe Sep 21, 2001 05:18 AM

                                  My dear, dear sister got the cooking "bug' a few years after I. But she, like my mother, just didn't have the knack. I remember sitting at the table with my father, my brother and my older sister and the audible "crunch" sounds coming from everyone's mouths as we enjoyed her manicotti. Her uncooked manicotti.
                                  And then there's her famous baked french onion soup. Somewhere along the road she got the idea that french onion soup should be very, very sweet. She would lack the patience to carmalize the onions naturally and instead add a handful or more of sugar to this mean meal. On tasting this for the first time my poor husband made a face I'll never forget. He later called it candied soup. Her lasange is a symphony of pain. Layered undercooked sausage with, again with the sugar - the tomato sauce is so sweet and so powerfully underseasoned we've taken to asking her out to dinner everytime she suggests making it again.
                                  And least we should forget her curried tuna casserole with homemade french fried onion rings. Bleah.

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                                    berkleybabe RE: bryan Sep 21, 2001 11:16 PM

                                    So, are you sure there's not a genetic twin thread for bad, really bad, pasta ?

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                                  kcmarshall RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 03:25 PM

                                  OMG! Thanks for a wonderfully hysterical thread.

                                  My dear, departed grandmother was a wonderful woman and a wonderful cook. My fondest childhood memories are of big family dinners where my grandmother fed nearly the whole extended family.

                                  She did often make one dish which mystifies me to this day. How Grandma could have considered this dish worthy of her efforts escapes me to this day. I am aware that there is something called aspic and I presume that, in some incarnation, it is edible. Grandma's, however, was made from a combination of fruit-flavored jello (usually strawberry or cherry), tomato juice, green olives with pimento and diced celery.

                                  I escaped this creation in my earlier years but, at a certain level of maturity, I was judged aspic-worthy and instucted to eat my share. These meals usually involved squishy napkins and hurried, wordless trips to the bathroom.

                                  Kevin

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                                    Leslie T. RE: kcmarshall Sep 20, 2001 04:46 PM

                                    ah yes. I also remember tomato aspic at my grandmother's house for all the major holidays with all the extended family. She embellished hers with crab meat. What a waste of beautiful crab meat. I remember picking it out of the tomato aspic and leaving the rest.

                                    Does anyone remember Mock Apple Pie? I never had the pleasure of trying it, but I always thought nothing sounded worse than a pie with ritz crackers in it.

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                                      Frank Language RE: Leslie T. Sep 20, 2001 06:10 PM

                                      Fortunately, my mom never made "Mock Apple Pie", and a knee-jerk response of hers was to shake her head and click her tongue at the expense, since it's overwhelmingly expensive compared to using real apples.

                                      She was (is) an adequate cook, but has made some real faux pas, like when she tried out a recipe for a sugar-free cheesecake (using some artificial sweetener from the 70s; the recipe was on the box) for an intimate dinner where they invited two of their oldest friends. I think even my mother (who had made the cake) even complained about it.

                                      Fortunately, my mother and Natalie are still friends; the cheesecake was bad, but not that bad.

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                                      pikawicca RE: kcmarshall Aug 28, 2006 07:17 PM

                                      My grandmother used to make tomato aspic in the summer, using vine-ripened tomatoes. It was intensely tomatoey and exquisitely delicious. I loved a slice of it alongside a tuna sandwich on great SF sourdough bread. Very happy memories of childhood lunches at "Gam's".

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                                      Ruth Lafler RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 04:15 PM

                                      One common thread in these stories is being required to eat something horrible for social reasons.

                                      When I was 16 I traveled with my square dancing club to Romania on an "Ambassadors for Friendship" mid-'70s cold war-type cultural exchange. We were definitely expected to eat what we were served, and never more so than the night we spent with host families in a "peasant village."

                                      For dinner my roommate and I were served a meatloaf-like item completely frosted in bright yellow mustard, tomato and cucumber salad and hard boiled eggs (from the elder daughter's very own chickens). Many people might have dug into this with some enthusiasm, but it just so happens that I loathe every single one of those foods (except for cucumbers, which I tolerate if necessary -- on this occasion they were definitely the most palatable part of the meal).

                                      Still, not eating was not an option, so my roommate (who also loathed mustard) and I managed to choke a respectable amount down. Unfortunately, we were a little over-enthusiastic in our appreciation, and the leftovers were served up for breakfast (without benefit of refrigeration and with us having gotten a clear look at the flies in the outhouse in the interim).

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                                        M.Dale RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 05:39 PM

                                        Thanks for the much needed smiles, folks. The stories
                                        bring to mind a dear pal of mine, who always scoffed
                                        at my "picky" eating habits (perhaps because I
                                        didn't share her passion for canned corn and
                                        Little Caesar's pizza). Anyway, one evening, I was
                                        at her home around dinner time and was asked if
                                        "Her Majesty" could be prevailed upon to eat with
                                        the family. "I'd love to", says Unwary Moi. Whereupon,
                                        my friend proceeded to whip out the Velveeta and
                                        Wonder Bread for grilled cheese. "No problem", thought
                                        I (un-snootily even). Imagine my surprise and delight, however,
                                        when she slapped the bread and "cheese" together and...
                                        popped them in the microwave!
                                        (And, yes, I ate the darn thing - you have,I
                                        sincerely hope, no idea...)

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                                          Minty RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 06:10 PM

                                          Let's see, there was the elementary school lunch when the lunchladies, God bless 'em, somehow managed to mess up mac and cheese. The sauce was watery and translucent, and they didn't use slotted spoons to serve it. I was horrified when I saw one girl slurping it, like soup.
                                          I'll also never forget a brunch with my friend - she ordered a simple granola and fruit dish, and the waiter placed the dish before her: on top of a mountain of granola was a cockroach, legs slightly submerged, and twitching body.

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                                            Cliff RE: Minty Sep 22, 2001 11:49 AM

                                            That's nothing. We ordered satay in a Thai restaurant and one of the skewers came with a roach, properly skewered, and grilled with the chicken. The waiter was appropriately horrified, but we never returned.

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                                              berkleybabe RE: Cliff Sep 22, 2001 04:23 PM

                                              I was recently reminded of a shared dinner with a friend in Jamaica 15 years ago. Dinners on the resort menu were plain and horrifically expensive, so I ordered the cheapest-grilled chicken. The meal came to the table with a cover. On removing it a HUGE and energetic daddy longlegs stepped out. I was so starving I ate anyway, finding a only measly little thigh on the plate. When I aksed the waiter if I could have another piece he said....."No."

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                                                LBQT RE: berkleybabe Sep 24, 2001 01:22 PM

                                                And your post reminds me of the English trifle I shared with my grandmother many years ago at a very well known prime rib restaurant in LA. She took the first bite, felt something crunchy, and pulled half of a cockroach from her mouth. The manager was mortified, and bought dinner for our entire party of four.

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                                            mas RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 06:52 PM

                                            Newly enlisted in the Navy, going through the chow line for breakfast, they were serving something that looked like baby poo-poo ladled over two slices of day old toast. Never being the culinary adventurist, I always passed on this mush and went for the usual eggs, bacon, toast and coffee. Navy cooks were serving this ugly looking mixture at least once a week. They called it Shit on a Shingle. It took me almost two years before I tried this stuff on one forgettable hung-over morning, and my eyes and taste buds popped open to one of the most delicious concoctions I had ever tasted. From that moment on, I couldn't get enough of S.O.S. - I crave it to this day. I might even reenlist.

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                                              Frank Language RE: mas Sep 21, 2001 01:22 AM

                                              But was it really baby poo? I heard from my dad that it was really creamed chipped beef - which sounds kind of gross to me.

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                                              Sandi RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 08:52 PM

                                              In 1977, I was a single girl in Atlanta and was moving into my first apartment with the help of my friend, Nancy. As we were taking a load up the stairs an elderly woman with hennaed hair and coke-bottle-lens glasses peered out her door and asked us "Would yew girls lahk some lunch?" Thinking it'd be a good idea to get to know the neighbors, Nancy and I accepted.

                                              Her name was Lucille and we were sitting at her small dining table with anticipation about our adventure when she called from the kitchen, "Do you girls lahk hot dawgs?" and we answered, "Sure!" She brought out red hot dogs that appeared uncooked and left a magenta stain on the bun, and then hustled back to the kitchen to bring us coffee. It was then that we noticed that the silver pitcher on the table held cream with a decidedly green tinge.

                                              While Lucille was preparing the coffee, Nancy and I furtively whispered together about our dilemna with the scary hot dogs and dangerous cream. We decided to wrap up our hot dogs in the napkins and hide them in my purse. When our hostess returned with the coffee, we took a few polite sips and said we really should get back to moving in. Unfortunately, as we were getting ready to get up from the table, Lucille's ancient Siamese cat began investigating my purse, pawing at it, and meowing hungrily and incessantly. We mumbled some hurried thank yous and goodtomeetchas, and high-tailed it out of there-- grateful for this sweet lady's southern hospitality but giggling for days afterward over our escapade, feeling very much like Lucy Ricardo and Ethel Mertz.

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                                                JK Grence RE: Sandi Sep 23, 2001 11:51 PM

                                                I think I've seen those hot dogs too... it was a summer camp my mom sent me to. A military summer camp- the kind that about 90 percent of the recruits were sent by the court system, 5 percent really wanted to be in the military when they grew up, and the other 5 percent were like me; mom thinking it would be a good experience. What can I say- Mom didn't know what she was getting me into. It was truly one of the worst experiences ever for a free-spirited person like me. Anyway, one day they were serving hot dogs. I had never, EVER heard of anyone dyeing hot dogs red to make them look more appealing... until this place. Thankfully, one had broken apart in the steam tray and I saw this ghastly red ring around an otherwise grayish-pink hot dog. I don't remember what I had instead, but I centainly wasn't going near those hot dogs.

                                                Then there were the pork chops they served about a week later. I've seen meats ruined before, but NEVER like this. On first bite, I was immediately reminded of the movie Fried Green Tomatoes... Secret's in the Sauce! It's too bad only two other people at the table got the reference once I mentioned it. Everyone else dug in, we just kind of picked at it.

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                                                  Jaylea RE: JK Grence Oct 23, 2002 02:32 PM

                                                  Seriously? Red hot dogs are great! I love them! Maybe it's a Maine thing? But they're pretty widespread and available there, and really, they're delicious.

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                                                jenniferfishwilson RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 10:47 PM

                                                Thank you Burke and Wells for reminding me how to laugh. I am so glad you "delurked".

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                                                  hobokenhenry RE: Burke and Wells Sep 20, 2001 10:48 PM

                                                  You've never eaten bad food until you've tried C-rations, that good old US Army standby.

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                                                    Jim Leff RE: hobokenhenry Sep 20, 2001 10:51 PM

                                                    does anybody know if there's a way to order 'em mail order or via online order?

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                                                      Frank Language RE: Jim Leff Sep 21, 2001 01:18 AM

                                                      They even take PayPal now, so you can order online. (Seriously, if you go to the ebay site, someone is probably trying to sell their C-rations there.)

                                                      Link: http://cgi.ebay.com/aw-cgi/eBayISAPI....

                                                      Image: http://www.icontech.com/~antiques/MVC...

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                                                        Andy P. RE: Jim Leff Sep 21, 2001 02:02 AM

                                                        Okay Jim,

                                                        You asked, so here you go.

                                                        Yoroshiku,
                                                        Andy

                                                        Link: http://theepicenter.com/mre_military_...

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                                                          Nikel RE: Andy P. Sep 21, 2001 03:01 AM

                                                          Why would someone want to buy a MRE?
                                                          My military friends call these Meals Ready to Excrete.

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                                                            ben f RE: Nikel Sep 21, 2001 08:44 AM

                                                            I don't know... I could see keeping them on hand in case the in-laws stop by...

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                                                            fladd RE: Andy P. Sep 21, 2001 06:10 PM

                                                            MREs aren't actually all that bad. What makes them such a shudder-worthy memory for us Desert Stom-era vets is that while one or two MREs aren't bad at all, 40 or 50 in a row make you want to lay down under a tank. (Not a bad place to grab a nap, by the way)

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                                                            Bacardigirl RE: Jim Leff Sep 21, 2001 10:13 AM

                                                            They sell them at a local store here in Cleveland called Marc's. Out of curiosity I had to taste a couple and they were edible but pretty flavorless.

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                                                          gini dunlap RE: Burke and Wells Sep 21, 2001 12:25 AM

                                                          I guess I'm glad this is not my story, but I do wish it's 'owner' were telling it.

                                                          My college roommate was a minister's daughter and endured many a pot luck, etc. But one foggy evening a widow neighbor who was a member of the church had planned a supper for friends who were unable to drive to her home. My friends family was invited (required?)to sub. I think she was 10 years old, and even the most chowhoundish of us remember the horrible assault of really bad food at that age. She was served watery corn stew and jello with peas. Her mother whispered to her that she would be okay, just take a big gulp of water after every bite. She suffered through it and looked forward to dessert.

                                                          The awaited moment arrived and the old lady produced the ice cream - which she promptly doused with LIQUER. Probably the only way you could ruin dessert for a 10 year old.

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                                                            Bob Martinez RE: Burke and Wells Sep 21, 2001 02:49 PM

                                                            A number of people have mentioned that what makes these meals so horrific is the social pressure that prevents you from escaping from the table. A waking nightmare . . . So it was with me.

                                                            My worst meal was inflicted at the hands of an excellent cook - my ex mother-in-law. My fiancé’s family was Italian and I was used to eating wonderful but exceedingly large meals at their home.

                                                            I can still remember my first dinner at her house where we started with huge squares of baked ziti along with meatballs and sausage. It was delicious and I ate 2 squares, as did everyone else. Full to the bursting point, I was pushing myself back from the table when her mother disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a huge roast beef and 4 side dishes. I was stunned and looked over at my fiancé in amazement. "Another meal?" I blurted out. "Oh" she said, "that was just ziti." It was then that I learned that Italians have a different view of food.

                                                            I got used to eating these great meals and also learned how to pace myself. I even learned how to deflect her mothers' inevitable question when I had a smaller portion or only a single serving - "What, you don't like it?"

                                                            But nothing prepared me for Mom's Meatloaf. She had never made it before so this was a special meal. I even looked forward to it, figuring anyone who could turn out great Italian food would have no trouble mastering the American classic. Perhaps she'd add a few creative touches.

                                                            We started with a spinach salad, and I tucked in with real enthusiasm, anticipating the main event. Alas, it soon appeared - a giant gleaming pink loaf, flawless in its' symmetry and devoid of all irregularities. It looked like one of those perfect shiny geometric objects produced by computer animation.

                                                            I was amazed by this vision which looked nothing like the juicy brown crusted irregular loaves produced in my mom's kitchen. It left me speechless, and the rest of the family also lapsed into a hushed silence. She sliced it as we watched and I noticed that it's interior was as featureless as its' outside, utterly smooth and strangely mysterious.

                                                            I mentally uttered the phrase I always reserve for very risky situations - "How bad can it be?", and took a bite. It was very bad. Mom must have run the meat through the food processor 4 or 5 times so that all of the ingredients merged into a single homogenous whole. Even DNA testing could never have confirmed what was in there. The taste? It really had none, but the mind can do strange things. In the absence of anything familiar I began to have strange fantasies about Soylent Green and 9 Lives Super Supper. I choked down half a slice, ate all the side dishes, pleaded sudden illness, and left the table.

                                                            It was never served again and within the family the topic was forbidden. Afterwards, whenever my wife and I discussed that horrible meal I always referred to it as "The Meat of the Future".

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                                                              ironmom RE: Bob Martinez Sep 21, 2001 11:12 PM

                                                              Now my ex-mother-in-law made a meatloaf from the greasiest hamburger one could purchase, large hunks of white bread, raw onion, "meat loaf mix", among other things. None of us was able to figure out how it ended up tasting so much like dog food.

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                                                              e.d. RE: Burke and Wells Sep 21, 2001 04:53 PM

                                                              I've been reluctant to join this thread because, truth be told, I actually cooked the worst meal I've ever eaten. Almost 30 years ago (in my salad days when I was green and mixed up) I was very much in love and offered to cook a meal for my girlfriend and some very good friends of hers. It never occured to me that perhaps spareribs would be an inappropriate dish for these Jewish friends. And the ones I made were abominable--garishly red, tough, and too sweet (my mind has suppressed the other awful details). But the highlight (lowlight ?) of the meal was the spinach salad I made. The bacon and egg dressing was OK--though not a real good idea considering the circumstances--but my decision to use frozen spinach that wasn't even properly thawed marked this dish as the worst single thing I've ever cooked (?) and served to other people. It is a testament to my girlfriend's friends' kindness and tolerance that they ate any of the meal. I still live with the humiliation.

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                                                                helen RE: Burke and Wells Sep 21, 2001 10:56 PM

                                                                wow that was a funny one thanks so much
                                                                i really really need to do some serious reflecting on silly/awful meals.
                                                                you'll be relieved to know college dorm food has improved slightly the salad bar is better
                                                                tofu is still rubber
                                                                i really dont consider anyone who can get that stuff down outside of the occasional miso soup a real chowhound.
                                                                but the cereal's out all the time and we have a serve yourself ice cream cones at every meal so theres always something
                                                                its not hagaen daz or whatever you prefer but college is truely the time to become a chowhound but you'll die of starvation if you adhere adamently to its principles
                                                                anyhow i concocted something quite (realitivly) savory in the cafeteria today it involved combining cooked spinach, refried beans and parmesean cheese oddly like indian food minus exotic spices and plus cheese.
                                                                well enjoy!

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