Just a quick note…

31 10 2010

I try my hardest not to make excuses, but the fact is, I just got home from a weekend trip and have mounds of work to sift through before tomorrow. (Plus, tonight is Halloween — not that I would neglect blogging in order to go out, but…well, I’m neglecting blogging so I can go out. A little bit.)

All this is to say that, while I normally post every Sunday, I won’t be sharing any strange food adventures today. That’s not to say I won’t have any strange food adventures, considering that I’ll be sifting through the candy my little sister brings home late tonight (and there’s no telling what Neighbor Joe will put in there this year). But that’s not the point.

The point is that I’m going to make up for this. Sometime this week (probably Tuesday but I can’t promise anything), I’ll find something extra strange (and most likely really nasty — like squid eyes or frog eggs or something) to eat, and I’ll tell you all about it.  Until then, Happy Halloween!


Liquid gold

24 10 2010

Unhealthy as they are, I’m a sucker for energy drinks.

After working at Dunkin’ Donuts for nearly two years, I built up a tolerance to coffee. A daily dosage of caffeine does nothing to wake me up; I need something more along the lines of a complete caffeine assault. This will most likely give me a heart attack someday, and it’s why I rarely drink energy drinks anymore, but when I saw this, I was so amused I had to try it.

I found this baby at the dollar store (99¢ Only, to be exact), which isn’t exactly a conventional supermarket, but half the store is filled with groceries of some sort, so I’m going to say it counts. The store has an entire section of energy drinks, all off-brands I’ve never heard of. What caught my eye with this one was the brilliant packaging.

Exclusive Energy, it announced in a shiny calligraphic font. Three gold bars, emblazoned underneath the logo, also danced around the rest of the can in a smaller format. Now, I’m a journalist and therefore (on principle) know nothing about PR or marketing, but it seems to me that repeating the exact same image around your product in random places isn’t going to do much for its marketability.

I know, I know — the packaging isn’t as important as what’s inside.  This particular packaging, however, was trying to tell me something with all those repeating gold bars.  When I turned the can on its side, it read:

Success…stamina…gold…  I liked the sound of this.  If the price of success is only 99 cents and can be found within a metal can of highly caffeinated sugar-water, I think I’ll go ahead and drop out of college right here and now.

With such (ahem) convincing advertising, I wondered if this inexpensive pot of gold would live up to such the standard it set for itself.  Great-tasting power drink?  There was only one way to find out.

When I opened the can, my nostrils were immediately greeted by the scent of Sweet Tarts.  I got excited.  If someone were able to translate Sweet Tarts into a carbonated, liquid form, I’d probably be in love.

When I took a sip, though, it didn’t really taste like Sweet Tarts. In fact, it didn’t taste like anything at first — just carbonated water.

Then the flavor kicked in. Yep, Sweet Tarts — exactly the way it smelled. Beautiful sugary goodness.

And then came the aftertaste. Not so sweet, not so sugary…decidedly rancid.

It was a strange experience, to be honest. Energy drinks tend to have that affect: each sip brings a myriad of flavors. This was no different, just slightly more drastic than most.  I expected it to be sweeter, but the sweetness only lasted a second before that bitter, metallic aftertaste set in.

I went to the official Exclusive Energy website to find out more about the drink, and one of the things the site advertises is “no aftertaste.” Either I’ve gone entirely bonkers, or whoever taste-tested this had some tongue issues, because there is definitely an aftertaste — as there is with most energy drinks.

In all, though, it wasn’t bad. I can’t say it’s the first thing I’d go out and buy if I were in desperate need of an energy boost, but it’s certainly not a terrible bargain for only 99 cents.

The caffeine content is comparable to most other similar energy drinks: 140 milligrams per 16 fluid ounces compared to 144 milligrams in Full Throttle and 160 mg in both Monster and Rockstar. The entire can has 220 calories (also standard) and 54 grams of sugar, which is about 11 grams less than the sugar content of a 20-ounce bottle of Coca-Cola.

Oh, and as far as the energy aspect of the drink… I was falling asleep all afternoon and I’m wide-awake after drinking about half the can’s contents, so I think it’s safe to assume it’s effective. Whether or not it’ll make me wealthy and successful, however, remains to be seen.


Ingredients: Carbonated water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, taurine, sodium citrate, natural and artificial flavors, caramel color, caffeine, glucuronolactone, potassium sorbate, sodium benzoate, guarana seed extract, panax, ginseng extract, niacinamide, inositol, l-carnitine, pyridoxine hydrochloride, calcium pantothenate and cyanocobalamin.
$0.99 at 99¢ Only (which is shocking, I know)
Pros: Inexpensive energy drink compared to others on the market; still effective; tastes like Sweet Tarts — kind of.
Cons: Bad-breath-inducing aftertaste.

Smurf juice

16 10 2010

When I see a gallon jug, I usually expect it to be filled with milk.

But not always. Sometimes it’s filled with water, apple cider or fruit punch.

This was pretty close to fruit punch…except it was bright blue. And maybe a “blue raspberry fruit beverage” isn’t all that strange, but when it looks like someone stuck a Smurf in a juicer over a gallon jug, I’m going to question the edible (or drinkable) nature of what’s in that jug.

After lugging the gallon home, I poured some of the liquid into a glass, which seemed oddly incongruous. I felt like I should be drinking it out of a sippy cup, or at least one of those plastic restaurant cups with a squiggly straw. (Maybe it’s because if I were eight years old, I would’ve begged my mother to buy the pretty bright blue stuff as soon as I saw it.  Years later, it failed to excite me as much.)

As I lifted the glass to my lips, I was reminded of that scene in Star Wars when Obi-Wan is drinking glowing blue…something. (Yes, I’m aware this makes me a nerd, and that I probably need to…well, rethink my life.)

The liquid (I hesitate to call it juice, because it’s really not, and calling it juice reminds me of that Smurf) didn’t really taste anything like blue raspberry.  Then again, I’m not really sure what a blue raspberry tastes like, since I’ve only ever seen and eaten red raspberries, and all the “blue raspberry” flavored things I’ve consumed have essentially been sugar-flavored.  So actually, in that case, this tasted exactly like blue raspberry…because all it was was a sugary beverage with some sort of ambiguous artificial flavoring thrown in.

Now, don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t bad.  In fact, it tasted kind of like watered-down Kool-Aid. But that leaves me wondering: what’s the point of watery Kool-Aid?

The upside is the price: $1.19 for a whole gallon. So if you’re looking for a good beverage for your kid’s alien-themed birthday party — or you’re just getting tired of buying fruit punch — this is a decent option. But be warned: as far as flavor goes, you get what you pay for.

Oh, and one last note… The longer I stared at this stuff, the more it started looking like windshield washer fluid. So if you store your windshield washer fluid in a gallon jug (for whatever reason), and you’re fond of putting it in the fridge (for whatever reason), you may want to either leave this drink on the shelf or rethink your storage habits. Because you really, really shouldn’t drink windshield washer fluid. Smurf juice, though, is okay.


Ingredients: Water, high fructose corn syrup, citric acid, propylene glycol, natural and artificial flavors, gum acacia, potassium sorbate (preservative), neotame, Blue #1 and brominated vegetable oil.
$1.19 at Fry’s Marketplace
Pros: Great price, good kids’ drink except the sugar content (22 grams per 8 oz).
Cons: Watery, sugary, indiscernable flavor.

Peas that pack a punch

10 10 2010

I like to think I learn well from others’ mistakes.

My first introduction to wasabi was when my boyfriend and I went out for authentic sushi, and he took some of the green paste (not knowing what it was) and smeared it all over his sushi like it was guacamole.

After a few seconds of chewing his sushi in what looked like total agony, he downed both his glass of water and mine.

Wasabi, by the way, is Japanese horseradish.

Now, I’ve had horseradish before, during Passover Seder.  I know how strong and bitter it is. I’ve witnessed my boyfriend’s reaction to wasabi and heard the story of how his sinuses were on fire for the next hour.

But when I came across wasabi peas in AJ’s, I couldn’t resist.

Apparently I don’t learn from others’ mistakes as well as I’d thought.

When I opened the container, the first thing I did was smell its contents. (Has anyone but me noticed that I seem to have an obsession with smelling food before I eat it? This is such a journey of self-discovery.)

The peas smelled like Chex Mix. I love Chex Mix almost as much as I love indie hard rock, or fuzzy slippers on a cold day. This boded well.

I didn’t throw all caution to the wind based on smell, however. Tempted as I was to stuff a handful of these in my mouth (like I would with Chex Mix at a party, unless someone was looking), the word wasabi emblazoned across a red flag in my mind kept me from doing something so rash.

So I just took one. Gingerly, I put it on my tongue and waited.

About two seconds later, the burning began.

I clamped my mouth shut. I crunched the pea. My tongue wilted.

(All right, so my tongue didn’t wilt. But it felt like it.)

Hot doesn’t really cover it, nor does spicy. If you’ve ever tried wasabi before, I’m sure you know exactly the sensation I experienced from just one little pea. It burned, it tingled, it hurt… And although I thought I tasted Chex Mix during those first few seconds, that was probably due to my overactive imagination. I wouldn’t know, because any flavor was soon incinerated.

After trying one for himself (which he didn’t end up swallowing), my dad commented that maybe these are meant as more of a garnish than a snack — maybe they’re supposed to be put in a salad or something. But no, they’re sold in the snack section, next to the saltwater taffy and the yogurt-covered pretzels.  And apparently, they’re a popular snack in Japan.

My dad was right in part, though. AJ’s suggests crushing up these peas to make wasabi pea-rusted ahi tuna steaks (scroll about 2/3 of the way down the page for the recipe). I don’t know when or why I would have a use for this, but I suppose it might be worth a shot…especially since I have a rather large container of peas still sitting on my kitchen table.

The bottom line: Anyone who likes wasabi will probably like these, since the dried peas themselves have no discernible flavor and seem to only serve as a vessel for wasabi paste. (Plus they’re crunchy, I suppose.) These peas pack a punch, and if that’s what you’re looking for, they make a great snack. But if you’re not a fan of spicy food, stay far, far away.


Ingredients: Green peas, corn starch, glutinous rice flour, wheat flour, sugar, soybean and/or palm oil, salt, wasabi, FD&C yellow #5 and blue #1.
$4.49 at A.J’s Fine Foods
Pros: None personally, but for someone who likes excessively spicy food, I’m sure these are great.
Cons: They’re…well, excessively spicy. My tongue still hurts a little.

Banana Roadkill

3 10 2010

It was puke-yellow and kind of squishy, and it looked like someone had scraped it off the road with a spatula after some horrible accident.

But the package said “bananas”…in fact, bananas were the only ingredient listed. Bananas aren’t gross at all. Granted, I like apples and grapes a little better, but bananas are still a yummy fruit. The “dried fruit” part didn’t make me turn away, either — after all, banana chips make delicious snacks.

“Flattened,” though? That’s a little strange. What’s the point of flattening bananas?

I was intrigued.

In fact, I was so intrigued that before I even opened the package, I decided to try a little experiment. I cut a banana in three pieces and plopped it into a plastic bag. Originally I wanted to run it over with my car to get the full effect, but since I saw a future full of cleaning banana purée off the driveway if I went with that option, I opted for a rolling pin instead.

Then I put the bag out in the sun for a few hours.


No, I didn’t eat that.  Are you kidding me?  Even I have my limits.

I did, however, eat the store-bought equivalent.  While the results of my experiment had me a little iffy about my purchase (not to mention a little queasy), I figured the process the dried, flattened bananas went through was slightly different from my smash-and-leave-in-the-sun method.

(In fact, it turns out that dehydration is the process generally used to dry bananas — which makes sense, because from my experience, leaving them in the sun just rots them.)

When I opened the package, a very pungent banana smell assaulted my nostrils — kind of like when I’m baking banana bread and open the oven, only without all the added sweetness.

I expected the bananas to be a lot more dry than they were.  I went to pull one out, and I ended up with the entire chunk of sticky, gooey bananas in my hand.  (They’re a lot stickier and gooier than they look.  I think “dried” is a bit of an exaggeration.)

Using more than a little force, I ripped off a chunk.  I closed my eyes and put it in my mouth.

(I don’t know why I close my eyes when I’m about to eat something weird.  It’s not like it changes the flavor.)

Speaking of flavor…the taste of just that small piece of banana essentially exploded in my mouth.  All I could taste was banana. Ordinarily, this would be fine — but it wasn’t a very fruity banana.  It tasted old. Overripe.  And very, very strong.

I’m ashamed to say I never even swallowed it.  I tried, and my gag reflex wouldn’t let that gooey, sticky chunk past my throat.  So I spit it out.

Let me set one thing straight here.  Dried fruit is a great thing.  It makes a wonderful snack, and it lasts forever (or a year — close enough).

But these dried, flattened bananas were just not that appetizing.  Plain and simple.

Maybe it was the texture — and if it was, I can blame the whole experience on my texture issues and safely say that most people will probably like this.  But I don’t think it was just that.

The taste was overpowering.  The difference between this and banana chips is that banana chips have a much more subtle flavor in comparison.

(Then again, even wasabi has a subtle flavor in comparison to this. It was intense.)

The bottom line is, if you’re a huge banana fan who likes chewy food that tastes very strongly of overripe bananas, you’ll love this.  If you’re like me and prefer something a little more crunchy and lighter flavored, stick with banana chips.  Either way, you’ll have a healthful snack that will last forever …about a year.


Ingredients: Bananas.
$1.29 at Trader Joe’s
Pros: Decent price; healthful snack; great if you really love bananas.
Cons: Sticky and kind of messy; tough, chewy texture; strong flavor.

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