If you milk a strawberry cow…

27 12 2010

When I was a kid, juice boxes and I had a love/hate relationship.

I was dangerously close to becoming addicted to apple juice, and those little boxes were the perfect containers to drink it out of: portable and convenient. But they were only big enough to last all of three minutes, tops — which is where the hate portion of the relationship came in.

It wasn’t just apple juice that I drank out of those boxes, though. I had fruit punch, grape juice, cranberry juice…

But never, ever milk.

So when I came across little milk-filled boxes sitting on the shelf, two things came to mind:

1.) That hardly looks legitimate.

2.) Wait a second. Isn’t milk supposed to be refrigerated?

As far as legitimacy goes, what concerned me the most was the Comic Sans text slapped across the side of the front of each carton: “R U thirsty???”  Uh, R U ten years old? The only plausible explanation for this slogan is that the company is trying really hard to market their product to grade-schoolers by using rudimentary chatspeak and excessive question marks in order to appear trendy. (And I mean “trendy” loosely, like oh-dear-Lord-my-mom-is-wearing-leggings-with-Uggs kind of trendy. So basically … not.)

As far as why milk was sitting out on a non-refrigerated shelf, I was stumped. The ingredients said “milk,” and there was even an allergy warning, so it had to be real. Even now, after further research into the ingredients list, I’m still stumped. Sodium phosphate is an emulsifier, carrageenan is another emulsifier, Vitamin A palmitate is a vitamin and Vitamin D3 is — you guessed it — another vitamin. Nothing special here, unless I’m missing something and one of these is a preservative.

The container, though, did say “ultra-pasteruized.” I’m not sure I want to know what goes into that process, but I guess it made me feel a little better.

At any rate, when faced with the choice of buying regular milk or strawberry milk, I opted for the strawberry, purely for the containers’ disgusting Pepto-Bismol hue.

And when I got home, I refrigerated it for a solid two hours. I didn’t care that it had been sitting on the shelf at room-temperature this whole time (or well actually, I did care a little) … I knew lukewarm strawberry milk would be automatically nasty.

When I finally pulled one out to drink it and poked the little straw through the aluminum-covered hole, I felt a sense of nostalgia that was immediately replaced by the reminder that I was about to drink something I was probably going to hate.

I took a sip.

Sweet. Very, very, very sweet.

But other than that, not actually that terrible.

I drank some more — slowly, because it really was a sugar overload. This stuff was definitely more strawberry than milk … and really just more sugar than strawberry, since the strawberry flavor hardly tasted like fruit.

It shouldn’t have surprised me: The second ingredient, after milk, was sugar. And with 20 grams of it in that little 6-ounce container, the stuff was loaded.

I’m still not entirely convinced it was milk, even though the carton promised it was. (Announced it, actually, in a speech bubble on the front emitting from a crazy-eyed emoticon — which brings me back to the trendy-but-not point.)

Much as I love (and sometimes hate) boxes full of drinkable things, I can’t see myself sipping on this stuff anytime soon. But if you’re looking for a cheap, portable, low-spillage-risk variation of milk for kids, this could work. Just be warned: despite all the vitamins in it (a whopping two), it’s also chock-full of sugar — and that’s apparent from the very first sip.

———

Ingredients: Low fat milk, sugar, natural flavors, sodium phosphate, carrageenan, Red 40, Vitamin A palmate and Vitamin D3.
Price: $2.50 at Fry’s Marketplace (four per package)
Pros: It does have vitamins and calcium in it, and it comes in nice little boxes with straws. Oh, and apparently you don’t need to refrigerate it, somehow.
Cons: Sugar. Lots and lots and lots of it.





Festive raisin cookies … the nontraditional way

20 12 2010

Even though I’m not a fan of raisins (I call them grape corpses, if that’s any indication of my feelings toward them), they’re normal in cookies.

And red cookies are even normal, especially around this time of year. My mom made some red-dyed chocolate chip cookies just the other day. Red is festive.

But beets?

Beets are not normal in cookies.

I’m blogging from the not-so-far-away state of Oklahoma, where I’ve been staying with a friend for the past several days. I asked her where I could find unconventional grocery food around here, and she drove me to a place called Akin’s Natural Foods.

Akin’s carries food that’s organic, gluten-free, sugar-free … basically any variation of “healthful” you can think of. But “healthful” does not always equal “yummy.”

When I came across these beet root and raisin cookies, I nearly passed them up purely by instinct. Beets + grape corpses = cookies? I don’t think so. I may be a journalist, but that’s simple math right there.

But their they were, in all their red, festive glory. “Taste the Dream,” the front of the package read. I wondered if dream was a nice way of saying nightmare.

I flipped the package over. It had a nice little blurb on the back:

Cookies inspired by a loving mom with a devotion to teach the art of baking. We start with fresh beet root from the garden. Each cookie is individually sealed for your enjoyment. You can serve these cookies anytime and people will be delighted. Our cookies are baked in a dedicated bakery and are cookies you can trust.

Even after this assurance, I didn’t feel especially trusting toward these cookies — not with their bright red hue and beet pulp running through them like veins.

All of this made them a prime candidate, of course.

When I got them home (figuratively speaking, since I’m still in Oklahoma), I opened up the package and all but stuck my face inside, prepared to take a big whiff. I smelled nothing … and then I remembered the “individually wrapped” part. Of course.

So I pulled out a neatly-cellophaned cookie and delicately unwrapped it. It almost felt like Christmas.

It almost smelled like Christmas, too. It was like a gingerbread cookie, warmly spicy … but with a pungent vegetable scent mixed in. If I could push past the beet flavor, I thought, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad. I took a bite.

It did not taste like Christmas.

In fact, it was absolutely horrifying. I kept chewing slowly, torturously, hoping to be able to muscle past that beet taste (and my gag reflex) and arrive at that sweet, cinnamon flavor I’d smelled vaguely. But no such luck. All I could taste was beet. No sugar, no spices … nothing. Even the grape corpses were undetectable.

In the end, this is as far as I got:

I couldn’t handle any more.

The upside to these cookies is that they’re chock-full of healthful ingredients, from beetroot (obviously) to wheat flower and all-natural, gluten-free molasses. (The molasses — mixed with spices like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves — was apparently what gave it the gingerbread-cookie smell.)

The downside is that you can’t taste any of the ingredients except beets.

(Oh, but according to the website, the packaging is biodegradable. Maybe it’s edible. It probably tastes better than the cookies.)

Bottom line: If you are absolutely in love with beets, then you’ll probably like these. And since you’re probably the only person in your general vicinity with said beet-love, you’ll probably get the entire $6 bag to yourself.

But if you’re looking for cookies that actually possess some resemblance to cookies in terms of taste … these are not what you’re looking for. Stay far, far away.

———

Ingredients: Beetroot (raw), wheat flour (white all-purpose, enriched and unbleached), butter (salted), organic cane sugar (granulated dried cane juice sugar), nonfat dry milk (with added Vitamin A), raisins (gourmet plump seedless), baking powder (aluminum-free), soy lecithin granules (all natural soybean lecithin granules made with no fillers or additives), water, pure vanilla extract, salt, nutmeg (ground), cinnamon (ground), baking soda (aluminum-free), molasses (all-natural, unsulfered and gluten-free) and cloves (ground).
Price: $6.99 at Akin’s (8 cookies per bag)
Pros: Individually wrapped, so you can give them as Christmas presents to each neighbor you can’t stand. Also, might make great horse treats.
Cons: Beet cookies.





“I’ll take a Venti café mocha. Carbonated, please.”

14 12 2010

Across the street from the local high school, a new soda shop called Rocket Fizz opened up a short while ago. They sell almost every kind of soda you can think of.

But whoever thought of Cola Azteca must’ve had a pretty twisted imagination.

My friend Mike referred me to this stuff for the blog, and I was hesitant at first because Rocket Fizz isn’t a grocery store … but when I heard what was in the soda, I knew it was worth reviewing.

The brand is called Taylor’s Tonics. If that moniker wasn’t enough to make me uneasy, the description on the label certainly was: “Sparkling and spiced café mocha.”

I’ve had café mocha before. It’s not a bad drink, even though I’m partial to caramel in my coffee.

But a café mocha shouldn’t sparkle. Glitter sparkles. Cider sparkles. Heck, even vampires in sad excuses for literature apparently sparkle.

Coffee does not sparkle.

So basically what I got out of the label is that if a Starbucks specialty drink and Coca-Cola hooked up on New Year’s Eve, this would be the product of that unholy union.

Oh yeah, and it has something to do with the Aztecs.

The ingredients list included coffee, cocoa, cinnamon bark and cayenne. Now do you see why I said “twisted imagination”? It sounded like it would be great as a hot drink in a mug on a cold winter day, but as an ice-cold, carbonated soda?

Drinking it almost felt like an adventure. And I don’t mean the good kind.

I poured some into a glass (because it’s so much more ladylike than taking a swig from the bottle — or actually because I wanted a photo), and I took a generous sip. My taste buds reeled from the attack.

Cola? Nope. Mocha? Possibly. Cayenne? Check. Coffee? Check, check, and triple-check.

Carbonated, spiced black coffee with a hint of mocha. That’s what it boiled down to.

I took another sip (much more tentatively this time) to see if it would taste any better the second time around. It didn’t.

My coffee-loving sister chose at that moment to wander through the kitchen. When she saw the soda, she eagerly grabbed a glass and took a gulp. Her reaction? A face I rarely ever see from the least-picky person I know.

After a few repetitions of “Ew!” and “Gross!” she summed up her opinion: “If you added cream and sugar, it might be edible.”

I don’t know. I think even if I poured in some cream and dumped in some sugar (even though it supposedly contains cane juice — which is undetectable at best), it wouldn’t be any more palatable. Besides, since cola is acidic, wouldn’t it curdle the cream anyway? Food for thought.

Coffee was never meant to be carbonated. It’s that simple. The flavor itself wasn’t awful (especially if you like strong black coffee), and the aftertaste was bearable (cayenne and then — finally — a hint of cola), but let’s face it: there’s a reason coffee is usually sold as either hot or iced, with no “carbonated” option.

An exception to this rule, I guess, could be Coca-Cola BlāK — coffee-flavored Coke. I’ve never tried it, but if it’s anything like Cola Azteca, I think I’ll keep my distance. (Plus, it was discontinued. Maybe there’s a reason for that.)

Dear coffee and cola: You’re both great; you really are. But please keep to yourselves. It’s better that way.

———

Ingredients: Filtered water (infused with certified organic fair trade coffee, cocoa, cinnamon bark and cayenne), evaporated cane juice, natural flavors of vanilla, mocha and spice, citric acid and natural caffeine (40 mg).
Price: $1.29 at Rocket Fizz
Pros: Well, it would be great as a hot, non-carbonated beverage…
Cons: It’s a cold, carbonated beverage.





Yet another note

13 12 2010

I am such a slacker.

Except I’m really not, because I’ve been busy with finals and figuring out an internship … but I know, I know, those are excuses. And what’s more, they’re kind of lame.

So, yeah, maybe I’m a slacker.

My blog last week was late by a good three days, and it’s already Monday this week and I have yet to post. I bought the item I’m going to review earlier today, though. And I had every intention to blog tonight, but a meeting ran late and I still have internship paperwork to fill out and fax in.

(Excuses, I know.)

Anyway, what I’m getting at is that I’m 99 percent sure I’ll have a chance to blog tomorrow. I can’t promise anything, but I’ll do my absolute best. I’m leaving for vacation on Thursday, so I’ll definitely post before then. (Speaking of vacation, that post might come a bit late, too, depending on how my schedule ends up turning out. But hopefully I’ll be able to tell the tale of some weird food from Oklahoma.)

After I get home from vacation, it’s back to the grindstone — and no more slacking for me.





If you put a s’more in a blender…

8 12 2010

Note to all food marketing managers: If you package your product in a container shaped like a jellybean, there is no way I can force myself to take it seriously.

Now, that doesn’t mean I have anything against jellybeans. Actually, if you give me a bag of jellybeans, I will spend a good half-hour meticulously picking them out and sorting them one by one into their separate flavors. (Moral of the story: Never give me a bag of jellybeans.)

When it comes to Jelly Belly beans (I feel weird calling them Jelly Bellies), my favorite flavor, hands-down, is buttered popcorn. You can hate all you want; I think it’s delicious. Coming in close second, however, is toasted marshmallow.

And it was for that reason that, when I saw toasted marshmallow-flavored dessert topping on the shelf next to all the other ice cream syrups, I got excited. Even though I still couldn’t take it seriously.

Maybe “excited” is too strong of a word. I still had my reservations about the stuff — for one thing, anything called “dessert topper” worries me a little. How much more vague can you be? It’s like Smart Balance, which is described as a “buttery spread” — clearly you can spread it, but it’s not butter, no matter how hard it tries to be. So the “dessert topper” description didn’t do a whole lot for me.

But then again, it was toasted marshmallow-flavored.

The bottle gave no indication of serving suggestions, but since I’d found it next to the ice cream toppings (the rest of which had normal flavors like chocolate and strawberry), I figured the best serving option would be good old vanilla ice cream.

So I scooped out a small portion of ice cream and drizzled on a generous amount of…dessert topper. It was about the same color as the ice cream, just a little darker and almost a little grayish. Not the most appetizing color, in my opinion, but who am I to judge? I just know that when I toast marshmallows, I like them golden-brown, not grayish-tan. But then again, when I toast marshmallows, they taste nothing like jellybeans.

I took a bite of topping-covered ice cream, expecting something at least as magical as Jelly Belly beans.

What I tasted can only be described as sugar-covered sugar.

Honestly, I could barely taste the topping. And I didn’t taste toasted marshmallow jellybeans at all.

The flavor of the ice cream was definitely stronger than that of the topping, which probably didn’t help matters any. But I could still taste the topping, and all it really tasted like was brown sugar. It was slightly reminiscent of caramel…but caramel is just sugar, so I guess that makes sense.

The flavor itself makes sense when you consider the topping’s ingredients: corn syrup, sugar, brown sugar…  No wonder it tastes like sugar. The ingredient list also includes “natural and artificial flavors,” but I’m going to bet that at least the natural flavor is sugar.

Because the ice cream was so overpowering, I tried a small spoonful of the topping by itself. As I expected, it tasted like a spoonful of sugar. (Cue the Mary Poppins song.)

As far as unconventional products by Jelly Belly go, this wasn’t as strange as the watermelon pudding. It was, however, a little disappointing. Part of me wants to go find some toasted marshmallow jellybeans and try them once more to see if they really taste like anything at all, or if the flavor is just brown sugar. Maybe some jellybeans have the Skittles factor: people say they’re different flavors, but it’s actually just a psychological trick because we think that yellow means lemon and purple means grape.

Just because it doesn’t have much of a flavor doesn’t make this topping a failure, though. I actually think it would be decent with brownies, and it’s not bad on ice cream, if your goal is to make the ice cream even sweeter. It has potential; it just doesn’t have much of a point, unless you’re specifically looking for a “dessert topper” that tastes like plain old sugar.

———

Ingredients: Water, high fructose corn syrup, natural and artificial flavors, corn syrup, sugar, light brown sugar, salt and sodium benzoate (preservative).
Price: $2.99 at Fry’s
Pros: Toasted marshmallow. Sort of.
Cons: It’s basically just sugary syrup marketed as being marshmallow-flavored. If you close your eyes and use your imagination, then it might live up to its name.








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