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Commentary: Food Secrets

By Amy Ludwig VanDerwater

Buffalo, NY – It happened early this year.

"Mom! Mom!" Three children met me at the front door, eyes ablaze. There was a mouse in the butter!" They were breathless, amazed that a mouse had a fat-fest while they added two digit numbers at school.

My husband, with whom one cannot take a walk without identifying several sets of footprints, studying who has been mating, who has eaten what, and which tree each critter has climbed, shook his head, puzzled. He had, in fact, been studying the butter for quite a while before I'd arrived home from school.

"What is going on, honey?" I asked, setting my backpack on the floor, not sure I understood what our children were talking about.

"Well, we were looking at the butter and we noticed all these weird tracks on it." Mark gestured to the dining room table making little scratching motions with his fingers. "Mouse tracks. Lines streaking up and down the stick. It was disgusting, just covered with mouse tracks. But don't worry," he assured me, "I threw it out."

My ears perked up butter, tracks, lines "Ohhhhhh," said the voice in my head with a deep recognition.

"A mouse?" I asked.

"Yes, it really messed up the butter, but "

"Yeah, Mom - it was all dug up," added my son, "TOTALLY dug up."

"It ate a lot of butter for one little mouse," said one of my girls.

"It was amazing," said the other.

I pulled Mark into the kitchen with me, embarrassed but knowing I'd have to tell him the truth. "Uh, Mark..." I said.

"Don't worry Aim. I threw it out." He shook his head again, looking like a man with holes in his farmhouse, realizing that while he may win a battle against intruders, he won't win the war. I had to tell him; it was only fair.

"Uh, Mark...those weren't mouse tracks." He looked up. I looked away. This was embarrassing. I studied the parquet floor and remembered that Redbook article about keeping a marriage romantic by never letting your mate see you floss or clip your toenails. This was grosser than either of these two things. Maybe the mouse theory was better. Preserving the romance might justify my silence.

"What do you mean they weren't mouse tracks?" he asked, hoping I would solve this latest family nature mystery. I could hear the children on the porch, playing with one of our seemingly useless cats.

"I mean " I spoke quickly. "It was me. I run pretzels through the butter sometimes when it's late at night. For a snack. I eat pretzels dipped in butter." I didn't tell him about sliding popcorn along the top of butter sticks, how I pretend each fluffy kernel is an ice skater. I didn't even look at him. For here it was, my little food secret, revealed.

And so today I wonder. Surely other people, even some of you, must have such furtive snacking habits, combinations of foods eaten late at night or when no one else is home. What are they? What am I missing?

Back in the 70's, in the days of latch-key children watching early MTV videos, I would make my own after-school snack: an inch of Nestl 's Quik, a few tablespoons of milk, and there it was - chocolate sludge. As a pregnant woman, it was M&Ms mixed with raspberry yogurt, a mixture later discovered on grocery shelves. Many times have I re-enacted the Reese's commercial alone in my kitchen. Plunging a hunk of Hershey bar into a peanut butter jar, I say, "You got peanut butter in my chocolate" Then I answer myself, "You got chocolate in my peanut butter." I chew and smile, silently agreeing that there are two great tastes in one candy bar, also recreated with chocolate chips on peanut butter toast.

Peanut butter and potato chips potato chips and plain sour cream red licorice straws in Diet Pepsi There was never any evidence. But now the mouse is out of the bag, my butter-dipped pretzels out on the table. And so I invite you, strange-snackers of greater Buffalo, to join me. Tell a family member, a friend, a colleague, about your secret snack. Heck, why not buy the ingredients and share the strangeness with someone you love. We are not alone. I've been taking an informal survey, and it turns out indeed, we are not alone. I have family members who drink pickle juice straight from the jar, eat peanut butter and bologna, peanut butter and bacon, peanut butter and potato chips, cream cheese bagels topped with salt and vinegar chips, plain butter sticks, a meal of Raisinettes and beer. My friends eat frosting straight from the tube, whipped cream from the can with Chardonnay on the side, potato chips dipped in ketchup, grilled cheese and strawberry jam sandwiches, tuna fish and peanut butter sandwiches, and Hershey's Syrup right from the bottle. So go ahead, join us. Eat those unusual foods you love in plain sight. Come out of the cupboard. Share.

You know, I've even heard rumors that my sister-in-law used to eat a mix of powdered sugar and water when she was a little girl. She stirred it in a plastic baggie and ate it like soup. Doesn't sound bad.

Listener-Commentator Amy Ludwig VanDerwater is a writing teacher who lives in Holland.

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