Reviews of New Food
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The Eleventh Batch, 2013.
RUFFLES MAX Flame-Grilled Steak Potato Chips
Submitted by Meg Thompson
Having just hiked Blackhand Gorge, we stopped at the Sunoco station on 146, just outside of Newark, Ohio. It was the kind of place where you spray-painted your house number on a sheet of plywood that leaned against your mailbox. Driving through the winding hills, my husband asked if I thought it would be easier to believe in God if we lived out here.
I had bigger issues to think about, however. Inside the Sunoco, I walked past the prerequisite platter of aging bananas and went straight for the jerky. There was elk jerky, bison jerky, pepperoni-flavored venison jerky, and even hickory-smoked beef jerky for the purists. Maybe I really was in God’s country.
I selected a crinkled rod of meat from each available member of the animal kingdom, but something wasn’t quite right. I didn’t feel whole yet.
I wish I could say my decision to purchase meat-flavored chips in addition to the bouquet of jerky I already held in my hand wasn’t wholly the result of growing up in Ohio on a beef farm, seeing as how I am now 31 and know who Michael Pollen is. Sure I’ve been known to dabble in the high-end faux naturalism of Whole Foods, but it’s like my husband always says when I roll my eyes at animal rights activists: you can’t take the seventh-generation small family farm out of the girl.
Cue the Brooks and Dunn music.
We had been planning to go to a winery, but opted instead to sit on our porch and drink gas station wine. Also, one of my biggest complaints about wineries is the crippling lack of potato chips inspired by passing fads, even in southeastern Ohio. Because I am member of the liberal elite, I paired my sack of chips dusted in powdered steak with a 2012 Pinot Grigio. I know, I know, I should have bought a red, but I thought the artificial smoke of the chip would come to life when matched with the floral bouquet of your classic Pinot.
The freakish accuracy of today’s flavored potato chip gave me hope for the future until I read the back of the bag:
“RUFFLES™ MAX Flame-Grilled Steak flavored chips bring you that char-grilled meat taste that makes the caveman in you smile and want to club something.”
I wondered: Would my femininity malfunction as I enjoyed these chips?
I also wondered: Smile and want to club something?
While my age and gender suggested I should be drawn to the hint of Dove wrapper-like rhetoric, I couldn’t help but think that they were spreading themselves too thin. Why not just stick to your target demographic, which is apparently people who like crunchy steak?
On a more positive note, I don’t know much about veganism, except that it sucks. But if I ever try to be one for a week, I will buy these chips.
Kelp Krunch Energy Bar
Submitted by Jessica Golembeski
At one time, these had been in the health food store nestled in with all the make-sushi-at-home goodies. I mean, where else would you put seaweed, right? (I guess.) Everything about the item made me laugh. The intense red and blue color scheme depicting a humpback whale, leaping majestically from the ocean and brandishing what I assume is a stalk of kelp, strategically positioned to underscore the product’s name. Kelp Krunch, how can I take you seriously when you spell Krunch with a giant K? Have you considered an ad campaign featuring Krusty the Klown?
The under-title says “Original Sesame,” but I see no indication that there is any secondary variety of Kelp Krunch. In fact, when I turn the package over to where the plastic is clear, the product reveals itself to be almost entirely formed from sesame seeds, flecked with the titular kelp. The ingredients list indicates that this is all glued together into a neat little bar with brown rice syrup and maple syrup.
Now I am intrigued. As a wicked diehard New Englander, I may have easily dismissed this “ORGANIC Gluten-Free VEGAN Seaweed ENERGY BAR” as something for fragile people who take themselves too seriously, something for people who do not have the stamina to withstand thirty inches of snow in one month, or the lab-rat confidence to navigate a maze of one-way streets (particularly when many of them have not been cleared of thirty inches of snow.) But maple syrup! Even a gallon of moderate-quality maple syrup is worth ten times its weight in gasoline, and for good reason. Living in New England all my life, I had taken it for granted as a kitchen staple; only recently have I noticed true maple syrup is a relative novelty in places inaccessible from I-91. I accept no maple-flavored substitute, and Kelp Krunch does not offer it. Is this a cookie?! Now I need to know.
I go to the counter with my purchase and hold up the whale in front of me. “Are these any good?” The cashier shrugs. He’s judging me. He works in a health food store. Come on, his face says, don’t you think $1.99 is a little hefty for one ounce of gimmick?
“Let’s find out.” I open the package and break off a piece.
Slightly sticky, but solid, then crunchy, then chewy, then sticky again. Simultaneously sweet and savory, I can just tease out the saline glimmer of ocean greens.
I snap off another piece and offer it to my monosyllabic friend behind the register. He pops it in, chews a bit, and nods casually. I can see that for him, it’s simply not as bad as it looks, and I move on to bagging my other items and politely exit the store.
For me, Kelp Krunch is a damn near revelation. It must be the creation of a Zen master, for it is both everything and nothing. Neither intensely delicious nor powerfully filling, yet one bar is in fact strangely satisfying. It does not so much give the notion of sustenance as it eliminates the feeling of hunger. I will look for this again.
After an awkwardly intimate drunken all-nighter with the newfound man of my dreams, I am gliding blindly, still unshowered, through the health food store, on a beeline for kombucha. I’m so dazed by exhaustion, thrill, and despair that I almost fail to notice the object of my conflicted feelings has also come to drink from the fermented vinegar well. In spite of my disturbing appearance, he plants a hand firmly on my shameful posterior, in public, and I start to think maybe things are going well after all. He asks if I like Sea Snacks. “No,” I reply, “those are gross. Try this.”
After some searching (again, awkward), I locate and hand over a Kelp Krunch to the man who needs to be the father of the child I never knew I wanted before. He holds it up, scrutinizing the whale.
“What is this?” he says. “Sesame seeds? That’s stupid.”
Submitted by Geoff Martin
My wife and I never agree on TV so we end up with stuff from the library. One time we checked out this DVD documentary about some monks in France who took a vow of silence. Talk about boring! Two hours of guys doing housework, reading the bible, occasionally going for a walk. So we clicked on the extras, which finally produced some narrative. Turned out the monastery supported itself by making a special kind of liquor. There was footage of monks mixing piles of herbal stuff into stills. What came out was an intriguing green fluid called Chartreuse. I was intrigued. So I decided to start drinking. I didn’t start drinking Chartreuse because (a) where the hell was I going to find it, and (b) it costs like fifty dollars a bottle. I started drinking whiskey, which reminded me of my father. Then I switched to gin, which was kind of novel and has a good flavor when ice cold. I appreciated the taste and the way it kept tragedy in perspective. So I drank gin consistently for a few years and, I won’t lie, we went through some tough times, with the wife always complaining about the drinking. But I am an adult, and it’s my prerogative to live my damn life as I damn please, and its not like I am going to actually lose my job or anything. So we made it through. Then, finally, we are going to have a baby. And there I am, one night, standing in a super-fancy grocery store with my super-pregnant wife, and I am feeling like spending about fifty dollars on some kind of ridiculous personal indulgence just for me, when what do I see but an actual bottle of Chartreuse. So I buy it. And we go back to the borrowed apartment next to the hospital where we are waiting for the baby to come. And I rinse out my glass and pour a couple inches of green liquor over a chunk of ice. The melting ice dilutes the spirits in shimmering lines that spin outwards towards my hand. The smell is crystalline, pungent and dank, like something buried in a forest for a long time. I take a sip, and the flavor is a dark pool into which the whole forest has fallen and decomposed, pine needles, birch bark, ferns. It’s cloying sweet too, so sweet it hurts to swallow. My tongue feels numb and my breath tastes like blood.
ABC Brand Maantaap! Sauce
Submitted by Joshua Flenniken
I first experienced the culinary delight of ABC Brand Maantaap! sauce in a roadside warung (Indonesian eatery) in Lovina, Bali. There was a leftover scattering of white rice on my plate that I was having difficulty spooning up. I looked across the homemade, splinter-laden table barbed with tetanus-inducing scraps of miscellaneous rusty metal at a collection of available sauces to use for binding the errant white grains into a scoopable mass. The colorful label of the ABC Brand Maantaap! caught my eye. Two things about the sauce bottle appealed to me. I liked that the name of the sauce contained an exclamation point because I insist on yelling things that end with an exclamation point. Secondly, the two sets of double “a”s make it fun to say even if you don’t yell, though I can’t conceive of a reason not to scream it, as the exclamation point seems to demand. Yelling it feels like a battle cry. MAAAANTAAAAAP!
So I grabbed the bottle and poured a little dab on my rice to act as mortar to coalesce the loose grains. The Maantaap! came out chocolaty brown, thinner than peanut sauce, but thicker than soy sauce. It was the ideal medium for globbing rice together.
The second the perfectly congealed Maantaap!-infused rice ball hit my tongue, my taste buds transmitted deliciousness to the pleasure center of my brain. I don’t know what Maantaap! is, I don’t know what is in it, and I don’t care. I made a vain attempt to decipher the label but I can’t read Indonesian. I assume that the ingredients said something like, “Unicorn tears, powdered saber-tooth tiger adrenal glands, 150% of IDA (Indonesian Department of Agriculture) daily allowance of awesomeness.” The moment the Maantaap! hit my tongue, I fully realized for the first time that I was living an adventure on the far side of the world. This was no mere rice glue. This was smoky, sweet and savory deliciousness the likes of which I scarcely imagined could exist in the physical universe. It acted as a flavor portal into another culture.
The taste was fundamentally Indonesian. The tangy zip on the tongue, the molasses-esque smell, and the texture will always have an indelible sensory connection in my brain to a dirt-floored roadside warung amidst the wonder and enchantment of Bali, where my first bite of Maantaap!-inundated rice was swallowed amid cats and smiling children. Maantaap! evokes rice paddies, outrigger canoes, and pyroclastic volcanism. The flavor encompasses art and culture and history. Ingesting Maantaap! must cause cancer or sexually transmitted disease because nothing is that good that doesn’t cause cancer or a sexually transmitted disease. Swallowing it probably prevents you from getting into heaven like pork does in the Old Testament and the Qur’an. If God doesn’t want you to eat bacon, he sure as shit doesn’t want you eating Maantaap!
If a flavor can convey the exact opposite feeling of patronizing a corporate fast food restaurant full of obese disenchanted people eating to cram their feelings down, shoveling dietary abominations into their children’s faces to get them to shut up, even if only for a few minutes, ordering four-thousand-calorie meals with a diet soda to make it seem okay, gluttonously chewing their way to an early grave, and actively accelerating their own demise as hormone-injected beef and genetically modified potatoes bind their colons, condemning an entire generation to a plague of adult onset diabetes, this was that flavor.
I contemplated tilting the bottle of Maataap! to my lips and taking a tap hit (Maantaap! hit?), but I reflected that the small brown container had probably been refilled hundreds of times without being washed. In a refrigeration-free warung, taking a tap hit off the bottle seemed A) rude, even in laid back Bali and B) like it might result in death by diarrhea. So I ordered more food. I was already stuffed from eating a full order of chicken satay cooked on the coals of an open fire in the glow of a propane lantern under a tin roof but I needed to get more Maantaap! down my gullet. I ordered fish skewers and laid down a stack of rupiah that made me feel like a high roller if I didn’t stop to recognize that it was the equivalent of approximately $1.85. I tried not to salivate as I watched the proprietor of the warung, a tiny, beautiful, smiling Balinese woman, slide tender morsels of fresh barracuda onto thin bamboo stakes and throw them on the glowing coals. I poured a dab of Maantaap! on my finger under the table and furtively licked it to hold me over while the fresh fish sizzled.
Maantaap! on grilled barracuda is glorious. After slavering over four bamboo skewers worth of sauce-drenched fish chunks, I seriously considered experimenting with bulimia. In a rare instance of introspection, I realized that throwing up just so I could eat more food covered with Maantaap! would be terrible and irresponsible anywhere, but especially in a poverty-stricken country where malnutrition exists.
So instead I counted down the minutes until I was hungry again. MAAAAANTAAAAAAP!
Fudder Pucker (Powdered Sugar)
Submitted by Amy Barnes
Pucker up. Fudder Pucker up that is. It wasn’t enough my kids learned the “F” word from playing Minecraft and Growtopia with 45-year-old men living in their mom’s basement. I truly thought the baking mix I purchased on sale after Christmas would be safe from any potential cuss-word exposure. I was wrong. My first clue should have been Whoopie Pie on the label. Spelled Woopie Pie. Apparently the dry ingredients were getting busy in the package while they waited for unsuspecting shoppers. If the box is rocking, don’t put us on the conveyor belt.
When I opened the box, the first thing that popped out was a bag of white powder labeled: FUDDER PUCKER. Immediately it became a chant in the kitchen because it was just so fun to say. It was also fun to giggle at the quick obvious letter switch that was just waiting to be said.
Our baking session ended as I pondered the white bag of powder. Had the Swedish chef used me as a baking mule? Was he going to appear at my door sing-songing, “Give me the Fudder Pucker and no-von gets hurt?” I went to the only safe place to figure out the mystery: Google. A quick search netted a translation from Fudder Pucker to “powdered sugar.” We were safe. The children and I didn’t need to run for the hills while the Gestapo chased us and our neighbors sang “Auf Weidersen-Good Night.”
I still have no idea why a suburban K-Mart was selling contraband powdered sugar at 75% off after Christmas. And the middle-aged Minecraft players have now been dissed in another language. By an eleven year old. You Fudder Pucker, you.
Trader Joe’s Speculoos Cookie Butter
Submitted by Emily Greene
I obsess over cookie butter several times a day. How much do I have left? How many days until I can get more? An empty jar wouldn’t be such a problem if the nearest Trader Joe’s weren’t nearly an hour and a half away. Not that I have much of an issue traveling for food. That comes from my father’s side. His family used to drive almost three hours to Savannah, Georgia just to eat at The Pirate’s House, back when it was a town tavern. And, when I was a kid, we’d drive to Abbeville, South Carolina to eat at an incredible Amish restaurant by the name of Yoder’s. So joy riding an hour and a half to Columbia, South Carolina, to shop overpriced specialty foods isn’t that a big deal.
I got suckered into the cookie butter by the checkout guy during my last trip Trader Joe’s. He suggested that my boyfriend and I head over to the sample table and try some. I was hesitant to taste the stuff, as I assumed it would be some sort of tricked-out peanut butter/cookie dough mixture. I don’t have much love for peanut butter.
But I was wrong. SO WRONG.
The description on the label reads,
“A deliciously unusual spread reminiscent of gingerbread and made with crushed biscuits.”
What it should say?
“This is crack.”
Speculoos Cookie Butter is ground up Speculoos cookies (you may remember these as the cookies they hand out on Delta flights), palm oil, canola oil, sugar, and an emulsifier. I now know what Christmas tastes like: velvety cinnamon and nutmeg, and slightly nutty. It’s no coincidence either, as Speculoos cookies are traditionally baked before St. Nicholas Day festivities in the Netherlands, and at Christmastime in Germany.
My boyfriend argues that cookie butter is supposed to go on toast or a cracker, but that is ridiculous and you should not listen to him. All you need is a spoon or a knife. I’m also not above using my finger in a moment of desperation. And, if you want to step it up a notch, do what I did by making the Speculoos-filled chocolates in he Liddabit Sweets Candy Cookbook. Granted, you’ll run out of cookie butter faster (hence my dilemma), so I recommend buying at least seven jars on your next shopping trip, whether Trader Joe’s is 2 blocks or 2 hours away from you.
Hot Chips and Cheese
Submitted by Sarah Grainer
The chief delicacy sold at the corner store next to the school where I am a teacher is colloquially known as hot chips and cheese, and can be ordered as such. One could fairly, almost objectively, call it disgusting. Like most disgusting things, it has a vast and loyal following. The kids like to walk over to the store after school, un-tucking uniform shirts as they go through the crosswalk. Were you to observe them, the first disorienting thing you’ll notice is they’re carrying bags of chips with forks sticking out of the tops of the bags, an alien sight. They are Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, specifically, a food that stands alone in the culinary stratosphere of 11 year olds in New Orleans in the year 2013. The Cheetos bags have been cut open all the way across by the middle-aged Vietnamese man who owns the shop and wears ’70s-style striped Polos I admire regularly. He uses kitchen shears. He sticks a plastic fork before handing the bag over, a gesture that strikes me as pure kindness, as if to say “I do not judge you and in fact here is a fork, a civilized utensil for your civilized snack item.” Inside the bag, he has generously ladled hot yellow nacho cheese from a countertop Crock Pot. The kids eat the Crayola-red Cheetos covered in nacho cheese with the provided forks or sometimes just use index finger and thumb. The cheese drips down the sides of the bags and seeps out the corners of their mouths and they look very happy. They like it with strawberry kiwi juice in particular.
When I first saw them walking around with those top-slit bags, I was horrified, and then transfixed. I considered that fifth-graders have good taste, in a sick, primal sort of way. They still eat raw Ramen noodles on the bus, the MSG powder sprinkled atop like a fine truffle oil. I, too, ate this as a fifth-grader, and it always makes me satisfied and nostalgic to see it in action. They like pizza, barbecue, candy bars, and hot chips and cheese. They kind of know what’s up.
And so, for weeks, I thought about hot chips and cheese whenever I was in the corner store, which was almost daily. Around 4 pm each day, students waited in line holding sweaty dollars and responding to the man’s “Hello” with “Hot chips and cheese.” Kids walked out the store triumphant, those holding chips (at the bottom, palm cupped around the bag, fingers curved, the way you hold your hand around a caught bug) letting the sad and chip-less reach in for a sticky grab.
I could not bring myself to order a bag of chips and cheese. It didn’t seem justifiable, like how it’s always fair for me to drive through Taco Bell on the way home from the airport because I’m right there, and taking people to the airport is, like, valiant, and deserves reward. I could never think of a good reason to walk up to this nice man and ask him to ladle nacho cheese into the open chip bag of a grown woman.
One day it was, as usual, so hot that my brain was melting and I was standing around on the school lawn talking with my favorite student Amari before she walked home. She was telling stories and eating from a bag of chips and cheese. Amari, as usual, sweetly asked if I’d like any. I tried to control all of my face muscles so that I looked as indifferent as possible, like a flat skilletface of not even a minor, passing interest, and I shrugged. “I guess I’ll try one,” and she handed me the bag.
Hot Cheetos in yellow nacho cheese have the feel of a dusty phalange dipped in snot, like something you uncovered between couch cushions. They have the usual radioactive redness of Hot Cheetos, but when mixed with the slimy cheese, it becomes a bleak yellow-orange, like Sunny D. Eating it, I found the temperature of the nacho cheese did sort of trick my mouth into thinking I was eating something resembling real food. As anyone who has tried them knows, Hot Cheetos have this indescribable quality, like when you’re eating them it seems pretty obvious they could kill you. They taste so chemical and chalky and spicy, but spicy in a way that does not occur in nature, not like any actual spice, pepper or flavor that exists. They taste how a highlighter looks. Somehow, the warm yellow nacho cheese, equally chemical and the texture of melted plastic, is a welcome addition. It made my tongue feel coated in rubber, surprisingly not an altogether unpleasant sensation.
We split the rest of the bag standing in the shade, our fingertips wet and red.
Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme Cereal
Submitted by Rory Kulz
Do you remember the moment you felt saved?
I mean truly saved, washed clean? Like the Prodigal Son must have felt when he came back after being a supermassive dickhead, and then, instead of getting blasted, he got a feast? Well, hold on to your swivel chair and prepare to have your scrotum smashed because this review is going to crack straight through your weltschmerz-soaked zombie state and make you buy some Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme cereal tout fucking suite.
I didn’t expect to be telling you this. My Tuesday starts as any other; I check my email, watch a YouTube video of whatever tiny animal we’re into this week, and reminisce about the time I tried heroin. Pretty typical and suffice it to say, at this point, I’m thinking, “Yeah, I know what heaven is like.” I’m doing nothing with my life, and it’s fantastic, but Fate’s one crazy hellcat. Turns out I’ve been on the outer limits of the heavenly firmament, not a bit aware that there’s another level, like being Vice President and thinking you have all the clearances. Yeah right. See, I stagger to the kitchen for Honeycomb yum-yums… and boom. None left.
So, I roll up in the bodega, shades on, ready to get down with some Honeycomb like Hov got down with Beyoncé or Genghis Khan got down with half of Asia. Here comes Fate: no more Honeycomb. No more Honey Smacks either, my usual fallback. But then, what do I spy with my normal-sized eye? No, not Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme. Calm down bro; I’m getting there. It’s this girl I went to high school with, Kathleen Henderson, kind of cute but real pious and a total gossip, and a communiqué about my lifestyle choices is about the last thing I need dispersing through my hometown social network.
I go into full avoidance mode and swing around to the end of the aisle, the land of Entenmann’s cakes and the condiment equivalents of sad orphans: Worcestershire, fish sauce, fruit mustard (Google it). And at the end of the aisle, what do I finally see? If you said Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme cereal, then a winner is you.
A new cereal based on candy? Not since Reese’s Puffs has a Reese, a Hershey, or any corporate personhood been so bold. In this post-Super Size Me political environment fraught with gluten-free this and deliciousness-free that, this product is virtually guaranteed to kill a lady boner on any Lululemon-wearing helicopter mom this side of Park Slope. Thankfully, I don’t fit that demographic, so I snatch the Hershey’s, duck Kathleen Henderson, and cruise on back to the man cave.
The name is the biggest thing on the box, but next largest is the declaration, “Naturally and Artificially Flavored,” obviously the only way they could put “Natural” anywhere within a million light-years of this Morgan Spurlock nightmare fuel. The carton also shouts, “Made with 100% Whole Grain,” a turn of phrase so perversely detached from the cereal’s inconsequential fiber serving and 33% sugar content that, were the Marquis de Sade alive today, I’m certain he would want to copulate in a room filled with these miniature chocolate balls. I tear through the packaging, pour out a pile of what seems like two-tone bespeckled rabbit poop, and douse it in milk. Whole milk, because I’m feeling powerful.
I inhale. Ah, the potent odor of a Cookies ‘n’ Creme candy bar, specifically one that’s been left in a pocket or a bag long enough to get melty and weird-shaped. As the cool milk and processed spheroids pass through my lips, I pray a tiny prayer. Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus, and he has been put through a 273-step industrial process and blasted directly into my mouth. The rough nugget mouthfeel gives way to a cloying chocolatey sweetness, immediately recognizable as that favored candy bar of my eight-year-old self, then resolves into an aftertaste that demands, “Put more of this in your food-crusher, animal.” I am the experimental rat ceaselessly ramming the cocaine button. I am become Death, the destroyer of breakfast. Bite after bite goes down my face hole, my top butt, until the box is empty and I am left with lingering notes of sugar, corn syrup, dextrose, and regret.
Not regret about eating. Regret about living.
The nostalgic sensation of Cookies ‘n’ Creme contentment, combined with breakfast’s semiotic coding of a new day or a new dawn, had unlocked a realization. Maybe I was, ironically, too wrapped up in proceeding through life in a childlike manner to see the world as a child truly would: a garden of delights in which humankind can possess so much goodness that this veritable Platonic ideal of a fortified foodstuff can exist. Maybe my existential ennui was a lie told by a mind that was merely waiting for the experience of living-to-its-fullest-potential, of a shock like Kiarostami’s contra-suicidal mulberry, of Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme cereal. Maybe I definitely had an erection while I ate that bowl of cereal, and that unearthed some psychological questions I am not yet ready to address. Maybe, mostly, I realized I should take “carpe diem” to heart and go out and do something. We’re only on this merry-go-round once; why shouldn’t the whole ride be a Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Creme gorge-fest?
So eat this fucking cereal, okay? Because it will change everything. Now BRB, gotta go watch this video someone sent me of a tiny antelope called a dik-dik (google it).
Cheetos Xtra Cheesy Mix
Submitted by Jonathan Kang
After eating a bag of this multi-colored snack, I wondered if a truthful review could be written without the words “flames” and “anus.” I have concluded that it cannot.
Submitted by Helen Labun Jordan
Hákarl, or rotted shark, is old news in Iceland but new news on the international food scene, where it’s poised to become the darling of the emerging market segment Xtreme Gourmets.
The kaestur hákarl preparation for Icelandic basking shark debuted in Viking times, when it presumably received rave reviews, since up until the moment someone decided to bury it in a shallow grave and let it rot for six months, Icelandic basking shark had been poisonous. Now, it was “edible.” And way more Xtreme than any possibly toxic dish that’s currently on the market. I’m talking about you, Fugu.
Modern reviewers, however, have not been kind.
Enter “hákarl Reykjavik best” into Google and the search engine spits back a long list of blog posts warning “for the love of god don’t try the shark.” Chef Anthony Bourdain, on his Xtreme pilgrimage to eat weird stuff, describes hákarl as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever eaten. Chef Gordon Ramsey simply—yet eloquently—puked on set when his turn came. TripAdvisor suggests ordering hákarl only in restaurants that will deliver your sample in an airtight mason jar. Some diners find the reek of ammonia off-putting.
I ate my first hákarl in Reykjavik’s Café Loki based on a review reading “aaaaaaaaarrrrrrrgh.” It came as part of Icelandic Plate VI, four little white cubes in a ramekin, right next to the sheep’s head jelly with mashed turnip.
Rotted shark gets two thumbs up from this reviewer. It’s a fascinating new taste sensation. Pop a cube in your mouth and you can experience a full three-course meal, a la Violet Beauregarde in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (but without turning into a blueberry at the end).
First, there’s the fish course, combining the texture of a calamari ring with the taste of dried fish. If you haven’t tasted dried fish, then you are not a real Gourmet—but you can approximate it by taking a deep whiff from a jar of goldfish food.
Second, there’s a burn like tossing back a shot of moonshine. Icelandic tradition holds that you chase hákarl immediately with a shot of the local whiskey, Brennivin. Not for this frugal traveler! Not with alcohol as expensive as it is! Let the shark do the work for you.
Third is the cheese plate, the sort of denouement favored by sophisticated Europeans who select stilton, with perhaps some apricots or wine grapes or a drizzle of honey, as their dessert course.
I’m sure that any day now America will unveil its own knock off version of hákarl, something with calamari, fish food, Jack Daniels, and a product from Kraft. At which point Gourmets who are familiar with the word terroir will turn up their collective noses and hop on the first plane to Iceland to experience the real deal. The Vikings would be proud.
LEAN – Slow Motion Potion
Relaxation Beverage, 16 ounces.
Submitted by Shea Bartel
At the suggestion of an adventurous co-worker who tried this beverage, I decided I might try it too. I gave him several dollars, and he came back with a 16-ounce can of LEAN in the “Purp” flavor. “Purp” equates to grape, in case you were wondering. I might also add that the marketing decision to name this beverage LEAN is both edgy and dumb. As many will recall, rapper Lil Wayne was recently hospitalized due to coma induced by an illegal drug concoction also known as “Lean” or “Purple Drank”. Obviously this product, available at convenience stores, is perfectly legal and hopes to ride the coattails of the popular codeine-based drug.
No codeine was to be found in this stately purple can, only a handful of natural relaxants: melatonin, valerian root extract and rose hip extract. If not for the presence of artificial colors one might find this beverage on the shelf at a health food store. The bold font on the can promised me “Premium Relaxation”. What I experienced was something other than that.
I drank the LEAN over the course of two evenings, an equal amount each night.
Night 1: Apocalypse
I drank a syrupy glass of cool LEAN as a watched an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space 9. I do not recall which episode it was. Already tired, I soon felt the beverage taking effect. My limbs became heavy and I began to drift into sleep. Accompanying this bodily fatigue were waves of slight nausea. I brushed my teeth and lied down in my bed. Despite the “relaxation”, I found sleep hard to reach, and when I finally dozed off, my slumbers were fitful and fevered.
I dreamed of a world broken and corrupted. A vast machine ravaged the land, laying waste to town and countryside alike. Wherever the machine traveled, it left a open wound of fire upon the earth. It seemed these were the final days.
My dream then jumped to a city, one that belonged to the builders of these torturous, world-raping machines. There, it seemed the heart of human culture had broken and lay in a shadow of supreme cruelty and viciousness. I saw a city in which weaker children, those not liked by their peers, were put to death, their bodies discarded like garbage in the river. I saw a young boy, not more than ten years old cannibalizing an infant.
In the morning I awoke, feeling disturbed and poorly rested. The dark stain of that dream clung to me for a good part of the morning.
Night 2: Ejaculation
Despite my upsetting visions, I was determined to finish the remainder of my LEAN. I had stored the remaining 8 ounces in a mason jar, hoping to preserve the effervescence. A bit of the carbonation remained, and I quickly downed the beverage. The experience of physical exhaustion was not as pronounced as the previous night, but the gentle waves of nausea reappeared and soon I was sleeping.
The dream that followed was brief but memorable. In my dream I was masturbating. There seemed nothing out of the ordinary about this, and I cannot recall where I was. As I climaxed, I began to ejaculate and to my surprise, continued to do so for quite some time. All said, I would estimate I produced about a quart of semen.
Something I found interesting was that upon waking, I discovered that I had not actually had a nocturnal emission. Despite the copiousness of the experience, it did not stand out as spectacularly pleasurable. If anything, my dream-self took more enjoyment in the sense of sheer exaggeration more than the actual orgasm.
My overall experience with LEAN was both unsettling and interesting. Despite the upsetting nature of my first dream, I find that a very disturbing dream can sometimes be a gift. I’m not entirely certain why I feel this way. Perhaps it is because such a dream allows one to safely bear witness to unimaginable horror, even marvel and laugh over it the next day. One can’t help but feel thankful for the relative comfort and safety of their waking life.
As for the second dream, I now know what it feels like to ejaculate without pause for several minutes. An interesting life experience to add to the docket!
My can empty, I had no urge to further experiment with LEAN.
McDonald’s Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie
Submitted by Dylan McDowell
This McDonald’s is spotless. The furniture is inoffensively modern, the kind you might buy at Target, done in pastel shades of blue and yellow. The overall color scheme is medical, and there is something in the attitude of the young girl at the cash register that reminds me of a nurse. Punctilious, exasperated, still somehow warm-hearted. The message is sent and received: this McDonald’s is a place of healing.
I order a double cheeseburger meal with a pomegranate blueberry smoothie to drink. The smoothie calls to me from the well-lit menu board. The beverage in the image is a strange kind of pink. The other colors in the ad are more washed-out pastels, colors that happen when you leave plastic toys outside for too long. Playground slides in poor neighborhoods. The pink of the smoothie on the sign is a brazen, almost shocking addition to this muted palette, but when taken on its own reminds me again of medicine, of vitamin pills and the handles of dental picks. I can taste this color and it tastes like artificial sweetener and chalk. “Does the smoothie come in a small?” I ask. “Yes,” she says, clearly annoyed, “But the meal comes with a medium”. I respond with a nod and an “Okay” and her good humor is restored. McDonald’s has made me pliable, childlike. By outfitting the restaurant like a hospital they have made me into a patient. I wonder if this is intentional—I wouldn’t put it past them.
I sit down and wait for my order. My ears are ringing. I went to a concert last night and it was the loudest thing I have experienced in my entire life. The sound was producing/was embodied in giant puffs of warm air, which passed through the tangled kelp forest of bodies in the mosh to brush tenderly against my legs. I understood for the first time how old people could be scared of rock music. A middle-aged woman surged in and out of the crowd, powerfully, irresistibly, like tides and procreative desire. She carried pairs of cups of brown beer to share with her clearly underage son, and had to be removed by security after urinating in the middle of the crowd some short time into the second act. A wrinkled, hunched-up sailor of a man showed his Atlanta Braves ball cap with a light-up A on it to everyone and no one. I saw this elderly old goat grind-dance on a sturdy young man who seemed more than happy to receive him. I paid four United States dollars for a single Pabst Blue Ribbon tallboy, at which point I realized that I was no longer a part of reality as I had previously understood it. The whole evening possessed a whiff of paganism, seductive and spiritually dangerous. My ears are still ringing. It was incredible.
The smoothie is tart, very tart, so goddamn tart. It’s much less watery than I’d feared, with a silky texture. I hoped it would have little black seeds for me to crunch down on, but then I remembered neither pomegranates nor blueberries have those. There is a swelling, almost syrupy sweet aftertaste. Floating around somewhere in the mix is the homey blandness unique to supermarket blueberries. I perceive it as a kind of un-flavor, brief rests in the symphony of sour and sweet. This is almost the moment of regeneration I now believe I was seeking in this most wholesome of purveyors of unwholesome meals. This smoothie, specifically that blueberry blandness, pulls me back to the umwelt of my daily life if only for the time it takes to sip. The fries though, those exactly yellow, salty little devils, pull me back into that warehouse where I was so recently enchanted. They lie in disorder on the tray, providing a perfect, seductively salty tongue-puckering counterpart to the smoothie. The shapes described by their relative positions convince me of the power of divination by casting of lots. They whisper secrets to me, tidings of great import, but I can’t hear them over the ringing.
Cherimoya: The Ice Cream Fruit
Submitted by Victoria D.
I’ll spare you the cumbersome details. The long and short of it is this; I used to be depressed. To cope, I ate cheeseburgers for breakfast, washed them down with milkshakes and Mountain Dew. Consequently I got fat. Really, really fat. When the cashier at Taco Bell mistook my food belly for a baby bump, I hauled tail (and my bruised ego) to the gym and started eating less like a frat house stoner and more like a vegan yogi. On day one as a born-again health nut, I visited my local food co-op and stumbled upon a magazine article about exotic fruits. I’d already tried the usual suspects—starfruit, guava, kumquats, dragonfruit—but couldn’t recall seeing cherimoya fruit anywhere. Even the hemp-laden store clerk who’d convinced me to buy chia seeds and Bragg Liquid Aminos had never heard of this so-called “ice cream fruit.” I might’ve ended my search right there, settling instead for pineapple or papaya, but the stomach wants what the stomach wants. And so began my hunt, my mission to find what Mark Twain once called “the most delicious fruit known to man.”
I started by visiting every specialty grocer, health food store and international market known to Google. I struck out at the local Dutch market, Trader Joe’s and even Whole Foods. On a whim I wandered into the popular Asian grocery chain, H-Mart, hoping for a win. They sold everything except my desired cherimoya, of course, but I did happen upon a canned version of a similar fruit called soursop. It’s in the same family as cherimoya, a less impressive first cousin according to a shopper who spotted me inspecting the label. So while I left the store empty-handed I was not defeated. “You’re getting warmer,” I reminded myself and celebrated with an ‘Orange Carrot Karma’ smoothie from Jamba Juice.
Nearly three months later, I stopped by Giant Food to pick up a few hippie essentials: spinach, almond milk, flaxseed, etc. Lo and behold, there it was, perched between the organic cantaloupe and watermelon—the ever-elusive cherimoya! “You’ve gotta be kidding me!” I screamed and immediately began inspecting and squeezing the exotic produce. Ok, so here are the deets—At first glance, cherimoya strongly resembles an artichoke. It’s the color of lime and its smooth leathery skin is covered with tons of pointy, triangular edges. It is also surprisingly dense. Though nearly the size of a mango it’s considerably heavier. And at eight bucks a pound it’s a lot more expensive too. Nonetheless, I pulled out my wallet and bought one, ONLY ONE.
The next morning I sliced the cherimoya fruit in half and removed the purplish, peanut-sized seeds that I’ve read are actually poisonous if consumed. Per the instructions of about a dozen YouTube tutorials, I simply scooped out the insides with a melon baller and sampled the soft, beige-ish, custardy flesh. Gotta tell ya, it’s delicious! The texture is like gelato, creamy and smooth, but just a tiny bit firmer. It’s sweet too, as if the lovechild of a pineapple and an extra ripe banana. The March/April 2012 issue of Clean Eating Magazine suggests using the fruit to make a smoothie, which totally makes sense given its dessert-like taste. Even though their recipe sounded delicious, I decided to channel my inner Julia Child and create my own concoction. My smoothie consisted of one-half banana, a bit of unsweetened almond milk, a few ice cubes, a couple frozen peach slices, a dash of vanilla, and of course the remaining half of my cherimoya fruit. Talk about a delicious—not to mention healthy—little drink! Cherimoya may be hard to find in some parts of the country (esp. the East Coast), but it’s definitely worth the extra effort. Without a doubt. Mr. Mark Twain was correct.
Covered Bridge’s Homestyle Ketchup Chips
Submitted by Jamie Ritzo
Wandering the lonely aisles of a campus grocery store in rural New Hampshire, I am looking for something exotic, something to add spice to my life, something to hydrogenate it, enrich it with four essential daily nutrients. Something Canadian. Amidst the other off-brand, off-Broadway, forgotten potato chip bags, I find my muse. Packaged in pink, white, and red stripes with a cartoony ketchup bottle printed on the front of the bag, I had found Covered Bridge Homestyle Old Fashioned Kettle Cooked Potato Chips. Was this a hallucination? I grabbed up the crinkling, shimmering bag and shambled to the register. Later on, when I exclaimed to my friend in passing that I just bought the craziest thing, ketchup chips, can you believe that, he told me that ketchup chips are no new phenomenon. He informed me that I am regrettably out of the flavored potato chip loop, and that ketchup potato chips are a kind of gateway chip, and that it’s a dangerous path to go down. He says ketchup chips are like brown-brown, a mix of gunpowder and cocaine used by child soldiers in Sierra Leone, and that they will utterly fuck your life up.
I had garlic bread flavored chips once, and I enjoyed them, eating chip after chip in the lamplight of my friend’s dorm room at 3 am, unable to keep myself from devouring this, the pinnacle of drunk food, the flavored potato chip. Now, that seems fairly tame compared to the adventure that lay before me. Garlic bread is one thing- a food, a real food- that can be imitated, but ketchup? Ketchup exists only in the realm of condiment and cannot stand alone. Ketchup needs a vehicle, something to carry its robust flavor, and I have doubts as to whether a chip is capable of that level of commitment.
Very sober and alone in my twin bed, I rip open the hefty 7 oz. bag. I’m hit in the face, assaulted really, first by the odor of potato chips, followed by a hint of ketchup-y tang. Tentatively, I eat one, then four others. Salt. Delicious ketchup powder. At about a dozen chips in, I know I will eat this whole bag in one sitting, in the span of one episode of Arrested Development streaming on my laptop as I pile chips into my face, no longer cautious of their unusual flavoring, embracing the homestyle ketchup powder coating my tongue and lips. The chips are a speckled red color, allergic rash color, with little pieces of what looks like some kind of dried herb. I check the ingredients. Parsley. Genius. I can taste the parsley, the garlic, the vinegar, swirling around my rejoicing taste buds. It’s a bacchanal. It’s joyous. It’s life. When I wake up from the inevitable food coma nap that will follow this feast, when my breath reeks of, well, ketchup-flavored potato chips, and my body is wondering why I had to eat the whole bag, instead of, oh I don’t know, a carrot maybe, I will regret this. But for now, I’ll just keep filling the empty space in my heart with Canadian potato chips.
There is something in food marketing called the Bliss Point. It is the perfect mix of salty and sweet, the perfect crunch, that leads consumers to consume far more than they should. The food scientists at Doritos, whom I like to imagine wearing white lab coats and thick glasses, intently bent over their microscopes, studying Doritos samples, engineer their chips to have a Bliss Point, as do other giants in the chip industry. I now believe that Covered Bridge Homestyle Old Fashioned Kettle Cooked Potato Chips reach the penultimate Bliss Point, and do so without the assistance of terrifying Doritos scientists, the fingertips of their latex gloves dusted with fake orange cheese. No, no, Covered Bridge Homestyle Old Fashioned Kettle Cooked Potato Chips does it naturally; they assure me on their label. Covered Bridge Homestyle Old Fashioned Kettle Cooked Potato Chips are God’s work.
Betty Crocker Decorating Cookie Icing, Blue
Submitted by K. A. Polzin
I discovered Betty Crocker Decorating Cookie Icing at my nephew’s third birthday party, which cost eleven hundred dollars. As I was scraping the icing from a cookie with my teeth, my sister said, “Wow—you sure like icing!” As a “joke,” she handed me my own bag of BCDCI. She had a lot left over after the Nut Allergy Consultant had quarantined several batches of her cookies.
Until recently, if you wanted to decorate some cookies, you had to buy the icing and colored sprinkles separately and apply them successively to your batch. No more. Betty Crocker now integrates these two cookie decorating components into one gooey mass, squirts it into a squeezable nozzled bag, and trucks it to your local grocery store by the pallet. It comes in six colors, each with a different type of sugar sprinkles (e.g., traditional cylindrical and spherical shaped, and aggressively festive star-shaped).
How does it taste? I’ve honestly never tasted BCDCI with cookies, and I suspect many users will prefer, like me, to snip the nozzle and squeeze it directly into their mouths. I favor the blue color for the crunch of its tiny multicolored spherical sprinkles. BCDCIB has a sugary nose, followed by an expansive sweetness with no hard edges, and a long finish. Each 7-ounce bag has 720 calories, about what the average person expends during a twelve-mile walk. It contains 174 grams of sugar, and satisfies 50% of my daily requirement for icing.
If you enjoy eating products like Cool Whip or marshmallow creme directly from the container with a spoon or cupped hand, then you will enjoy nozzling a bag of Betty Crocker Decorating Cookie Icing.
Snyder’s of Hanover
York Peppermint Pretzel Sandwich Dips
Submitted by Vijith Assar
When I bite into a Snyder’s of Hanover York Peppermint Pretzel Sandwich Dip, I get the sensation that I’m about to die in a ditch and my rotting corpse will be picked apart by raccoons before anybody finds me. I’ve been stranded in an isolated part of Georgia for the better part of day along a remote “highway,” a term I’d previously thought at least implied that the path would be fully paved. Not so. About thirty yards that-a-way, the already unreasonable state of the road suddenly and inexplicably gave way to what I can only describe as an impact crater. In what’s left of my rearview mirror, craggy chunks of asphalt snarl upward like stone teeth buried deep in the earth eons ago specifically so they could one day sprout and slice apart my tires in much the same way I’d been tearing through Slim Jims all afternoon right up until the crash.
They’re my go-to driving snack specifically because I usually can’t bring myself to eat them in front of anybody else, but their peppery bite usually stings my tongue for longer than I’d prefer, which is why I also picked up a bag of these silly looking contraptions at the last convenience store. The combination was even better than I’d expected—the crunch of the pretzel briefly compliments the meaty aftertaste, and then both get washed away by the cool mint and creamy chocolate. Then, for about a minute afterward, I can still taste a little lingering sweetness—which is really nice, but I still hope someone drives by soon, because I think my leg might be broken and it’s starting to get dark.
Xochitl Totopos de Maiz
Submitted by Joe McGonegal
It’s possible that the last ounce of my proud hybrid European heritage just dripped into the salsa jar next to this bag of the most thin, greasy, salty, and heavenly tortilla chips known to man. Or at least the man who buys for the Shaws grocer snack aisle.
Thank you, Xochitl, for actually trying to teach me something, if only a word, of Aztec culture. Gone is the dimunitive “itos” that usually suffers the bag tear on the corner of whatever ground-corn binge I’m on in a given week.
Nothing naked or blue about you, no soy or flaxseed, nothing cool about the ranch you call home. Just “Oven baked and quicky passed through hot Non Hydrogented Oil” as your website (also made by ancient Aztecs?) insists.
That’s right: “Non Hydrogented Oil.” Did you mean “hydrogenated?” No, dirtbags, they didn’t.
This is oil so tasty, so “Non,” requiring a plastic liner on its paper bag and probably another exiled night on the couch. With a steady look in the morning mirror, you’ll feel a little less like an Jalisco rancher shmearing asadero on each shell. But it’s worth it.
Mary’s Gone Crackers
Submitted by Katie Estes
As part of the backbreaking process qualifying me for MFA candidacy, I compiled a two-week food diary that would be later graphically designed into a heroically original and awe-inspiring chart. The exercise quickly became a study of my mental hygiene instead. Ordinarily I would tell myself otherwise, but facts provided, I eat a shit ton of packaged food. But, I eat pretend healthy packaged food so everything evens out. Who doesn’t feel good about themselves after eating a desert dry gluten-free chocolate orange quinoa cookie? I feel so good, I eat five or six of these individually wrapped gluten substitutes.
Another quinoa-injected grocery basket favorite of mine is Mary’s Gone Crackers crackers. They have four impressive ingredients all compressed into a dense flat mess that in final stages resembles a paved pebble sidewalk. The opposite side is shiny and reflective. My friend comments on their distinctive smell every time I open a box and listlessly feed myself one after the other, entranced in TV glow. “Earthy” I believe is the term he uses. They are inordinately dry, certainly not swallowable by the handful. Their physical features nicely limit the amount consumed, but it is still fine to eat half the box because they have flax seed in them.
Just to avoid complete judgment, I do sometimes eat real quinoa, straight from the bulk bin where it grows. What a fantastically pretentious health food. KEEEN WAH! I’m nourishing myself and pronouncing words differently than how they are spelled!
I am not gluten intolerant nor do I have Celiac’s Disease. I once ate a loaf of bread (fancy bread from the bread counter) because my stomach hurt and afterwards I felt better. My parents have tried every gluten-free brand ever invented and I simply find Marys Gone Crackers crackers the least appalling.
The groundbreaking conclusion to my self-dietary analysis was that I eat for the most part like shit, and every now and then eat a banana to even things out. Then I fill in the rest of my basket with packaged quinoa products.
The end result of my chart—sorry, infographic—was that I do not really know how to make an infographic. I still graduated despite failing this markedly poignant test of a graphic designer. I also still eat like crap.
Who Nu Cookies
Submitted by Monique Madrid
When I first sent my husband to the grocery store with a list that included “Healthy/low calorie cookies” I expected him to come home with nothing. His theory is that “those kinds of cookies don’t exist, because if it tastes shitty, then it’s not a cookie.” If he did come home with cookies, it’d be a bag of the most fattening yet delicious cookies ever, with the expectation that I could suddenly sack up and grow some willpower. To his credit, he came home with two bags of Who Nu cookies, one soft chocolate chip and one Oreo type.
Instantly, Who Nu gets a point deduction (or star deduction? letter grade? smiley face? How are we grading this?) for its name. I am religiously opposed to diet foods with cutesy, pretentious names. Skinny Cow – WTF? Clearly a man named that one. Lean Cuisine – really? Because saying it French will make it taste less like piss and cardboard? I don’t think so. And now, Who Nu, as in “Who Nu, everyone in the grocery line needs to know that I’m not happy with my body.” You don’t see junk foods having brand names that spell it out so obviously. I’d love to see the Actual Sized Cow brand or cookies brought to you by the good people of Gave Up Trying A Long Time Ago.
Of course I’d love to sink my teeth into a rich, homemade Snickerdoodle or a pint of Cherry Garcia premium ice cream, but when you’re a 5-foot 2-inch Hispanic woman with my Uncle Pete’s metabolism, all you have to do is think about a sandwich and you gain weight. So forget will power, I just don’t have it. I will totally eat Chex Mix off my dog’s fur; seriously I don’t give a fuck. So in order to curb said lack of self control, I settle for mocking dessert brands with clever names like SnackWells, which sounds like something that could taste good if it didn’t in actuality, give you diarrhea.
So in the grand tradition of buying shaming diet food brands, my husband brought home Who Nu cookies. I tried the Oreo ones first. I opened the cookie as I always do, ate the side with less filling first, saving the most filling one for last. And standing there in the kitchen, my tentative chewing became more purposeful and I literally said it out loud. “These are actually really good… Who Nu?” (Meanwhile: the ad-wizard who came up with the name just popped a boner). The soft-batch chocolate chip cookies were equally as delicious. They were chewy, moist and only had the slightest hint of fake low-calorie store-bought fakeness to them. Sure, they’re no homemade cookie, but they definitely hold up to something a cartoon elf would’ve baked.
With a serving size of three cookies, low calories and low Weight Watchers points, they are absolutely worth the slight embarrassment I still feel knowing I’m eating a diet cookie. They’re definitely a dessert I’ll be enjoying again soon… Who Nu?
Trader Joe’s Inner Peas
Submitted by Ian Candy
These are not Calbee’s Snapea Crisps repackaged in a generic Trader Joe’s bag. They are not shaped like real snap peas. They do not taste like real snap peas. They do not satisfy your cravings for salt, fat, and green vegetables all at once. To repeat, these are not Calbee’s Snapea Crisps.
They do not contain at least three grams of dietary fiber. They do not contain more snap peas, by weight, than cornmeal. They do not contain more snap peas, by weight, than sunflower oil. They do not make you excited for the future of food. Once again, these are not Calbee’s Snapea Crisps.
They do not make you proud to share with friends. They do not give you the courage to call your ex and say “There’s something I always wanted to tell you, and I’m going to tell you now.” They do not make you less afraid of flying, heights, intimacy, or death. They do not tell you they love you. They do not make you feel, even for a second, like everything is going to be okay from now on.
They do cost forty cents less than Calbee’s. I still ate the whole bag.
Taco Bell’s Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco
Submitted by Andy Bankin
Please the loyalists. Convert the naysayers. Make a taco with a Cool Ranch Doritos shell.
What would success for the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco mean? Would it bring about a cult following despite its intended novelty and short-lived presence? A modern-age Spicy Chicken Crunchwrap Supreme. A cascade of sensations still missed by a loyal few.
Would “The Bell” have to prepare itself for a new hot ticket item? Perhaps following the path of its Nacho Cheese brother, Cool Ranch would integrate itself into customers’ orders as a wild card. Something so out of the norm it can’t be duplicated. Can’t be ignored.
Would it be so perfectly in sync with what the establishment is known for, one would think it had been there for years. A Cheesy Gordita Crunch. At once feeling new and alive, while calling back memories of a foregone era when men were men, and boys were boys. And those boys got high and went to Taco Bell with their friends.
This is what I wondered as I drove up to the Taco Bell on Route 34 in my mother’s Nissan Altima.
Although the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco had brought me out, I couldn’t focus solely on it. Doing so would betray the hodgepodge-style medley the palette naturally responds to when ordering multiple menu staples. I didn’t want to misstep on the careful dance that Taco Bell orchestrates.
The Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco would serve as a digestif, and would be graded as such. The meal can’t be treated as a singles parade, but rather a concept album. If one is truly serious about auditioning a new item for a role in the permanent drive-thru line-up, one must prepare not just the mouth, but also the mind.
“Sir, what do you want? I don’t understand.” asked the drive-thru attendant as I got up to the window. “If you’d like something else, you’ll have to drive around and order it, sir.” No need. There was a perfect clearing at the far end of the parking lot where I could recline my seat and allow the soothing sounds of some podcast or something to create the ambiance for my dining experience.
First, the introductory items must be ingested. A Volcano Taco allowed for the palette to be shocked into preparation. To be initiated. The texture; scarring and healing. Bruising and restoring. Would the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco share its zest? Its joie de vivre?
Washed down with a Mountain Dew Baja Blast my buds were ready for the next round. The sun shone through the windshield, and memories of pico de gallo that were lost to that space between the seat and center console were lost to time as well.
Next, the Beefy Nacho Loaded Griller. Complex. Unafraid. Soft and delicate, and yet dark and troubled. At times too hot and at times too cold. Would the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco share its devil-may-care attitude? It was time to find out.
I unwrapped the paper packaging and slid the dish out of its novelty cardboard container. This was it. It was finally happening. I bit down and experienced the greatest explosion of flavor and emotion of my young life.
To eat a Taco Bell Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco is to eat layer upon layer of intrigue. Of desire. Could this Doritos Locos Taco be too loco?! As soon as one pierces the zesty, maddening Cool Ranch shell, one is attacked by a barrage of ground beef in a juice so brown—so god damn brown—that it distances itself from the other contents and soars. Soars through the air and onto your hoodie. Staining it forever. As if to say, “I will travel with you wherever you go.”
This is juxtaposed by lettuce so crisp, one has to take notice and admire the lettuce on its own terms. One must look at the lettuce and exclaim, “You are not that cheese, and bits of what I assume are tomato, you are a beast of your own nature. And I respect you. I respect the hell out of you.”
Taco Bell begs you to experience all of these sensations as if they’re creating a gustatory picture book of memories. Then Taco Bell wants you to take that gustatory picture book of memories and eat it. Taco Bell isn’t seeking a seamless blend. Taco Bell wants each sensation to have its say without overstating its case. Taco Bell is the Jean-Georges of fast food nonsense you eat alone in your mother’s car in the middle of the afternoon.
To not order the Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco again would be a betrayal of everything I know about food. And life. The Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Taco didn’t just find itself a place in my regular drive-thru order rotation; it found a place in my heart.
WalMart Powdered Donuts
with Raspberry Jelly Filling
Submitted by Amy Barnes
There is open carnage in Music City. During a recent trip to Sam Walton’s haven for pajama-clad shoppers, I discovered an oddity of my childhood in the Midwest: the powdered donut with raspberry jelly filling. After years of scouring eBay for the “pastry” and yet still not buying because they were $12 a box plus shipping, I saw them on the bottom shelf next to the multi-grain bread in some attempt at calorie equalization. Since they have been off the shelves for thirty-five years plus, they are a new food to the Deep South. I had thought the dream was over because the gooey original of my childhood was a Hostess product. Many years ago in a donut-induced craving fit, I called Hostess and was told they couldn’t ship across country due to the fragile nature of the donuts. I guess interstate trips were okay if the donuts had a trained psychologist on board the transit truck.
The donuts themselves are a bit of a mysterious anomaly. With an innocent white-powdered sugar outside, shoppers may not initially know that a dark center of raspberry jelly awaits them. I silently dared the lady with a baby and two toddlers loose in her cart to buy a box if for nothing else but to get them on auto-reorder to give me future fixes. I also secretly wanted her to get the surprise jelly bomb of confusion. She didn’t pick up the battered box and I knew they were mine. I took them home and whispered sweet nothings so they wouldn’t have a mental breakdown in the car.
When I got home, I opened the box with the fervor of Carrie Bradshaw addressing a pair of Manolos. The first bite was the expected powdered mess. And then the bloodshed began with that familiar glop of raspberry jelly. It was over in a huge caloric sugar rush. I shut the box lid as if I had consumed contraband. The kids asked if they could have a donut and I told them they were mommy food. And it was. I was only able to eat one donut before the expiration date that fell on the following day. The fragility factor was definitely there. The remaining five donuts were hard white pellets by morning.
The next time I went to WalMart, I saw they had added chocolate frosted donuts with raspberry filling to the shelf. In the neatly organized donut and bread aisle, the white powdered donuts were oddly scattered. The confused shoppers must have taken a look and then discarded these donut oddities. Or in my warped WalMart brain, I imagined some kind of donut gang war for shelf dominance.
I will stick with my mentally unstable white powdered donuts but the craving has lessened. The love affair I had with them when I was five is not the same as in my forties. I realize the laws of retail reordering and offer a thank you for this one-time offering by the donut trucking gods. Something old has been made new again. But only for a moment before each white powdered donut with raspberry filling is deflowered anew.
Kimchi Tortilla Chips
Submitted Jenn Bernstein
One weekend not so long ago, after a visit to the gym, I dragged my post-run depleted self into a store looking for a snack that wouldn’t cause my hips any harm. I managed to make it past the rows of chocolate bars, and aisle of cookies, and was walking out with my raw, gluten-free, fruit and nut bar when I stopped short as I reached the door. I did a double-take at the display placed next to the entrance for weak-minded shoppers like myself. I turned to my friend, “Whoa, did you see those chips? Are those are Kimchi-flavored?” Low and behold, I had spotted a little known creature hiding in plain sight, a love child of sorts from the Korean Mexican taco fling from a few years ago—the Kimchi flavored tortilla chip.
I obviously had to buy them, not simply because I am a sucker for novelty food products, but to see if this multi-cultural mash-up would lead to a superior snack experience on par with my Tropical Skittles discovery from years ago. The first chip I tasted seemed familiar, and I may have hastily proclaimed they were simply overpriced Doritos branded for yuppies. But, then I reached for another (and another) and realized they I could taste the Kimchi. I kept eating just to be sure.
My fervent snacking led me to realize that I should spread the news, so that if you are lucky enough to find these exotic munchies in your own deli you’ll be prepared to throw caution to the wind, provided they are on sale of course. What you’ll experience in return for your sense of adventure is a chip with hint of cabbage funk, if your palate is as refined as mine. But, the most assertive flavor to reach your taste buds will be some food scientist’s formula to make these delicacies taste like Gochujang, the Korean red pepper paste that separates Korean food from the ubiquitous Asian flavors of soy and sesame, and after cabbage, the dominant flavor in Kimchi. This paste with its warming spice and back-of-the-throat slow-building heat cause Korean food loving Gringos to develop sweaty brows and runny noses about. It’s that physical sensation that Anglo-Americanized food can’t deliver that keeps the non-Korean among us clamoring for more. There are also little seeds, black sesame in this case, to add texture and an illusion of health food. This helps to foster the belief that the chips you’re eating are a far more intelligent choice than the Cheetos that you (read: I) probably really want.
Dietary concerns aside, back to the chips—following up the funk, the heat, the crunch, the final act is that wonderfully addictive flavor: vinegar. A tangy pickled waft of air hits your nose as you bring yet another chip up to your lips and inhale. Since taste is heavily influenced by smell, don’t be surprised that this vinegar-y goodness will make you want to inhale your Food Should Taste Good snack, as you mumble with your mouth full of chips over and over, “These are so weird.” You’ll keep going, snacking like a boss, until you realize you’ve lost a hold of yourself and ate the whole bag (these bags only come 2/3 full, right?).
I’ve always found half the fun in a food discovery is getting to share it with other easily excitable food dorks, but it’s just plain rude to save the empty bag to show your friends (although, nothing’s stopping you from tweeting about it). Probably a better plan is call up said friends, ask if anyone’s in the mood for Korean BBQ for dinner, and tell them all about it as you eat the real thing.
McDonald’s Grilled Onion Cheddar
Submitted Chris Vola
3:45 am, I stagger up the subway stairs to a frigid, muted world of shuttered delis and pharmacies and the occasional cackling bevy of after-bar cretins, wondering whether my stomach is staging its final revolt or simply in need of immediate trans-fat placation. Ahead gleam the Golden Arches, emitting a kindly glow and the oddly saccharine aroma of fat-injected fry-broth. The McDonald’s façade is plastered with what is clearly the work of Pulitzer nominees—an immense sea of golden-crisped McNuggets expertly contrasted by a soothing azure background, a Neapolitan milkshake rainbow accented by sealing-wax-red cherries, a Filet-O-Fish with its suede-brown bun cheekily askew to reveal a genetically modified seafood patty doused in the batter of the gods (or NASA). My gut emits a plaintive gurgle. No further diagnosis needed.
The restaurant’s interior assaults my precarious vision with a blaze of hospital lights, primary colors, and cartoon-earth tones, ill-defined patrons guzzling beefy treats amidst the beige pleather. As I take my place in line I begin to panic. The highlighted menu items, accompanied by more award-winning photography, are a wildly foreign smorgasbord. Hallowed standbys like the Big Mac jostle for attention with the Angus Mushroom and Swiss Burger, the Premium Crispy Chicken Ranch BLT Sandwich, and any number of snack wraps, parfaits, fruit smoothies and salads. When did Mickey D’s become T.G.I. Friday’s? Where are the simple, time-tested, and dirt-cheap favorites, the Double Cheeseburgers and McChickens that played such an integral role in my pudgy youth and munchies-fueled adolescence?
But before any real despair can set in, a large text-and-image box appears to the left of the main menu: GRILLED ONION CHEDDAR in a pleasing sans serif without an accompanying BURGER or SANDWICH, causing my starved synapses to imagine a pile of perfectly browned onion strings immersed in a thick mass of congealing cheese product, the whole glorious glob simmering in an unpronounceable chemically enhanced broth. Euphoria. The burger image below the text does little to stifle my enthusiasm. A plethora of sheared (caramelized?) onions and a thick slab of white cheese caress the glistening meat. And is that a healthy dollop of barbecue sauce I detect?
My request for two Grilled Onion Cheddars is met with perplexing annoyance. “Two What?” the cash register operator moans, eyes glazed.
I repeat the order, point at the menu. She turns, gazes up for what seems like a long time, shakes her head, clucks.
“Oh, that new shit.”
“Yeah, I guess.”
“I ain’t tried that yet.”
She taps her computer screen, violently. For a second I wonder whether her indifference is a front because she knows the awesomeness of this novel concoction and wants to guard its secret for herself and her fellow employees. But as the burger artist behind the coffee machine stares at the order for at least a minute with the same ponderous vacancy and then begins to assemble my meal with the precision of a hungover garbage truck operator, I doubt it.
I disassemble the burger’s sallow container (which I notice is actually a wrapper for a regular Hamburger) and am greeted by what appears to be top and bottom bun slices with nothing in between. And these slices are not blessed with the monotone smoothness of the ones in the Filet-O-Fish photo, but instead are plagued by extensive flaking and deep creases that bear a freakish resemblance to those dotting the skull of the octogenarian slurping coffee in the adjacent booth. With trepidation I ply apart the bun. The burger’s innards, though sadly meager, haven’t been forgotten. A gaunt slab of cow covered by a chalky white “cheddar” substance with a consistency not unlike microwaved rice pudding and a silver-dollar-size portion of greenish-gray vegetable matter. Remnants of an indecipherable condiment appear as a couple of measly red and brown steaks fusing with the upper bun region. The first bite—a mildly unpleasant dryness envelopes the familiar patty tang, a disconcerting lack of the salty gooeyness provided by the ketchup and mustard combo so vital to the standard McDonald’s Cheeseburger, a sandwich of roughly the same girth and heft as the Grilled Onion Cheddar. There is no discernible difference in flavor between the albino cheese and its popular jaundiced cousin. But perhaps the biggest letdown is the absence of the Cheeseburger’s distinctive crunch that is ostensibly provided by a healthy smattering of pickle slices and non-grilled onion chunks. Instead, I find myself at the mercy of a few flaccid, barely noticeable onion-like noodles that do nothing to embellish the burger’s blandness and only add weight to the oatmeal-thick mass sliding down my esophagus.
A sudden surge of anger ripples through me. Why didn’t I just stick with an inimitable classic instead of falling prey to some immoral charlatan’s masterful high definition lens? How could I have been so stupid? I look across the eating area at the cash register operator, hoping to elicit some flicker of sympathy. She’s ignoring the world and the future diabetics trying to order, picking at something under one of her Wolverine-length fingernails. I sigh, unwrap the second burger.
But before I can cram down this seemingly identical travesty, a curious thing happens. The hollow grinding in my stomach morphs into a state of near-calm. As I take a bite, then another, the gastric relief increases. And what’s more, this burger tastes better. Maybe there’s more barbecue sauce to lube the gullet. Maybe there’s a better onion-and-cheese-to-burger ratio. Maybe everything at McDonald’s is just so full of Chernobyl runoff that a state of debilitating tranquility (often referred to as “The It Is”) is inevitable. Whatever it is, it’s working. It’s no McDouble, or even a Fruit ‘N Yogurt Parfait, but at 4:13am, a Grilled Onion Cheddar will do.
I bring my tray up to the cash register, clear my throat.
“How you like them?” the operator asks, staring at her phone.
She nods, knowingly. “Word.”
I order two more Grilled Onion Cheddars to-go, along with some wilty apple slices (under the pretense that I am somewhat concerned about my own mortality). At home and in bed, I gorge myself into a state of contentment so pervasive that I pass into a dreamless wonderland, a bulging black hole of saturated bliss that seems like it could be endless. Except for when I wake up three hours later in despicable pain, dangerously close to detonation. I run to the bathroom on the verge of tears, cursing the McDonald’s Corporation and its man-sized moth lights, vowing never to return to its vile laboratory of carcinogen candy and broken promises. Until the next time I emerge from the subway and nothing else is open.
Submitted by Lindsay Bloch
Without insider knowledge I would not have chosen Smoki. Given the array of brightly colored bags of salty snacks in a Belgrade corner store, who would opt for the bag that looked as though it had been on the shelf since the Socialist Era? Not being overly fond of cheese puffs to begin with, the package photograph of brownish kidney-shaped curls did nothing to enhance the appeal. I was wary of the name as well. Was the English homophone a coincidence, or descriptive of their flavor? Had there been consumer focus groups in Yugoslavia to discuss the merits of product names and package designs?
All of these concerns were irrelevant.
Smoki defy assumptions, mocking our American notions of what a puffed corn snack can be. Smoki are not cheesy (or cheezy); nor are they smoky. They are instead imbued with a coating of peanut butter, in the perfect ratio that does not overwhelm the delicate flavor of the crunchy corn curl. Brilliant! No trace of sugar mars this savory snack, and the peanut-y veneer does not transfer to hands and nearby surfaces like their neon-orange American counterpart.
Yugoslavia may no longer exist, but in a world where its products were mercilessly ridiculed—remember the Yugo?—Smoki announce, in their own quiet way: “We kept the best for ourselves.”
Goldfish Mix Up Adventures, Xtra Cheesy Pizza
Submitted by Teddy Hose
“Creativity is just connecting things.” — Steve Jobs
I browsed the aisles of the corner grocery looking for something, anything that welcomed tomorrow’s embrace. There, I spotted a glistening pouch in colors of the Italian flag, promising a cascade of endorphins as its crinkle applauded the excitement of my grasp. One smiling fish, Brooke dressed in parmesan, while Xtreme, her male counterpart, “Flavor Blasted Xplosive Pizza”. It was too much for one cracker fish, so like fondue they were to be served separately, only to have the recipient repeat the joy of fitting the final puzzle piece again and again.
My hunger led me to a modern day Italian Renaissance of artisan craft, as Brooke and Xtreme made sweet love in my mouth. I dub thee the Romeo and Juliet of flavored crackers! Your sins and fortunes are welcome upon this warm palette at any hour, for the forbidden bliss of rogue lust can be felt in the walls of its master’s quarters alike.
A toast to you, old spokesman of yesteryear’s Pepperidge Farm commercial short. Though you are with us no longer, your survived associates raise a shimmering flag of promise for seasons of enterprise profound. And on that flag it reads, “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish.”
Jell-O Strawberry Shortcake
Artificial Flavor Pudding Snack
Submitted by Molly Brodak
This is one of those food products that has a huge photo of a different food product on its packaging, a better food product, the one you really want but are too lazy/cheap/fat to give yourself or make. On this box, against a cheery blue background, is a photo of a beautiful and gigantic strawberry shortcake dessert, while inside the package are two cups of milky pudding with separate saucers of potpourri crumbs atop, like a kitchenless-bunker friendly deconstruction of something that requires too many fresh ingredients to make. In a demented reverse-gourmet translation of each ingredient, the cake/biscuit element has been transformed into tiny fish food-like cylindrical pellets, the strawberries represented by shards of dehydrated apples dyed hot red and soaked in citric acid for tartness, and the whip cream, I suppose, is the white goopy glue itself, the pudding, which has an upsetting rubbery milk texture and a hint of artificial strawberry flavor in case the oxblood apple shards aren’t strawberryish enough.
Once the potpourri is mixed into the milk lard, the pellets, impressively, stay frighteningly crunchy and the concoction makes a texture wholly unnatural, of two opposites forced together into mutual detriment, like Nerds in a Blizzard, something that must only be enjoyable to the house dog who eats fresh, soft, litter-studded cat poo out of the litter box. Cutting out the photo of the strawberry shortcake dessert from the cardboard packaging and eating that might come closer to approximating the experience of eating such a dessert, or anything normal, more accurately.
Food for Life Wheat-Free, Yeast-Free, Dairy-Free,
Corn-Free Multi-Seed Rice Bread
Submitted by Katie Browne
The truth of the matter is, we live in a contradictory world. We live in a world littered by food that makes no sense. We live in a world saturated by dangerous flavor enhancers and intensely under-acknowledged intestinal diuretics. When one comes to the realization that foods are hardly what they claim to be, packed with ingredients of unpronounceable proportions, the result teeters somewhere between soul exhaustion and life crisis. Yet, there is a shimmer of florescent light aglow somewhere, beyond these culinary dire straits. That shimmer is the overhead lamp of the alternative bread aisle at my local health foods store. That shimmer illuminates with incandescent glory—my life food, my salvation, the Multi-Seed Rice Bread made by Food for Life.
According to the short commentary on the back of a loaf’s packaging, this quasi-bread claims to be the "result of countless hours of research and development.” This comes as no surprise, as the bread is altogether wheat free, yeast free, dairy free, corn free, and an utterly incredible carbohydrate conglomerate. The bread retains a pale khaki color that walks the fine line between beige and sandstone. It comes condensed into a brick-like structure within a plastic bag that is outlined at folded corners by two shades of blue, offering the consumer a refreshingly simple aesthetic. I made the decision to purchase a loaf because I desired not only to expand my culinary horizons, but also because my development of a slight gluten intolerance, along with rest of the world, pushed me forth with vigor to achieve maximum health. I needn’t get into the details of said affliction, but I had begun to suffer from an intermittent distended abdomen upon wheat consumption, and felt as though I needed to take measures to alleviate such bloat.
I must admit, I had trouble coming to terms with the fact that bread could be made from rice. I had trouble adjusting to the conceptual contradictoriness of it all. I toiled over the notion of sandwiches, and the potential toastability of the simple rice grain. I mourned for nearly two and a half days, for I feared that never again would I experience a crunch of bread in a satisfying way. Yet alas, it was precisely an hour before the cock crowed to ring in day three of my bread mourn that Food for Life saved me by way of breakfast toast and a smidgen of butter upon it.
My time with Food for Life’s Multi-Seed Rice Bread has thus far been enthralling. There is not a meal that goes by without a slice, each containing the special succulence that only the squish of rice can embody. I have experimented widely with the specificities of warming and preparing each slice; heated to a temperature of 350º, the bread results with a bagel-esque consistency, while when heated to a temperature of 250º, the bread more so contains the texture of a pita. Further, I have gone wild with comparing toasting a slice to baking it, a microwave session to a grill. I have played around with toaster positioning. I have broiled. I have poached. I have even placed a rice bread slice in a large oven, just to see if the greater space surrounding it would add to it, a special crunch.
Food For Life’s Multi-Seed Rice Bread is a staple of health. For breakfast, I tend to use two slices in crafting an egg sandwich. While the egg taste in conjunction with the rice taste makes for a rather satisfying, mildly nutty flavor, I take issue with how the bread texturally collaborates with the egg upon it—it seems that the moisture of a newly cooked egg overpowers the chemical makeup of rice, liquefying the bread as a result, and spurring a rather mushy experience upon mastication.
For lunch, I toast one and a half slices from the glory loaf and butter each with nut butter of various sorts. Most recently, I have paired a slice with sunflower seed butter. The texture of the butter in conglomeration with the bread creates a savory palatal situation that resembles a pastry, pointing towards an inherent culinary versatility contained within the revolutionary, rice-based food.
However, dinner can sometimes be a challenge. Around a table intimate by circular design, and underneath low-hanging incandescent lights, perhaps a taper candle, it seems rather strange to whip out a bag of rice bread and place a single slice upon a plate. Up against surrounding bits of warmed baguette and odd, judging glances, a slice of multi-seed rice bread can seem peculiar in its insubstantial shape and almost sickly, khaki color—almost to the point of being inappropriate. Yet, all this strangeness recedes as I bite into it, for the pleasure in my doing so quickly becomes apparent to surrounding diners, who realize, as I close my eyes in satisfaction to succulent chewing, that bread in and of itself is a wholly subjective experience that ought not to be judged by the width of its slice, or its color.
Food for Life’s Multi-Seed Rice Bread taught me that one ought not be so quick to judge a simple grain, for it is precisely its simplicity that contains within them endless versatility for new food development and revolutionary culinary experiences. It seems as though Food for Life lives up to its name, offering the world a timeless food for healthful living.
Submitted by Emily Greene
Because my boyfriend lives in a part of town known as ‘The Bottom,’ we (I) often find ourselves in places not normally frequented. This includes, but is not limited to, crossing the bridge about 2 blocks away into the adjacent town. One of the main roads across the bridge houses a small but plentiful Mexican grocer. There, we purchase chili powder in bulk, a delicious style of Mexican sour cream called ‘crema,’ full sugar cokes for rum & coke, and, my favorite, Taki Fuego.
Apparently, I’m a little late to the game of Takis. Takis Fuego are hot chili pepper and lime flavored rolled tortilla minis imported and distributed by Barcel. I have to give credit where it’s due, and that is to the boyfriend for purchasing these and offering them for me to try.
I think that I’ve slightly destroyed a majority of my taste buds, due to my penchant for flaming foods. Not just ‘medium’ or ‘hot,’ like the Taco Bell sauce options, but shake-inducing, near-shock burning goodness. And as a result, I clamor for more, infinitely more. So I tried the Takis, and the crunchy corn flavor is what hits you first. Momentarily, I am unimpressed. But as the flames began to settle in, I reached into the bag for another. Turns out that they should be eaten in small handfuls at a time to really feel the aftershocks of intense mouth burning.
As a pale, Eastern European, WASP-y atheist who only calls Jesus’ name under alternative circumstances, I’m lacking in the subculture that exists amongst Takis. I ask my Spanish friend in Texas if she’s ever heard of these.
“Those are like crack in Sage’s school.”
Apparently, Takis are of high value and can be used for trade at her daughter’s middle school. She and my boyfriend then tell me the legend of Hot Cheetos. Banned in schools because of their “addictive” quality, “hyperpalatability,” and—the best—because the students leave sticky red hand prints everywhere. There are even YouTube videos of kids eating and discussing, nay, singing, the merits of Hot Cheetos. And now, Takis.
I get it.
I, too, want to upload a video rapping about the deliciousness of Fuego Takis. You eat one, two, a dozen, and feel empowered. Frantically grabbing into the bag dyes your fingers a color somewhere between Winsor Red and Alizarin Crimson. The satisfying first crunch, with its spicy melodic explosion of chili pepper, lime, and various artificial flavors. And then the moment after you’ve finished masticating these tangy, mini masa tortillas of joy: the slow, satisfying burn that makes its way down your esophagus and into the lining of your stomach, leaving your tongue throbbing and yearning for more.
I’m sold. I cannot help but feel like a drug addict when they’re in the apartment, sneaking shadily into the kitchen for one or two, and backing in again when I think my boyfriend isn’t looking; or huddled on the couch, bag in hand, eyes wide in a euphoric high. You win this round, Mexico.
The Got Milk? Milk Straw
Submitted by Kevin Tasker
A few days ago, in a violent hypoglycemic binge of titanic proportions, I stormed about the aisles of my local five-and-dime, searching for the proper sweet ticket to whisk me off to the land of jitters and instant gratification. I decided on cereal—of the sugariest variety imaginable—and chocolate milk, for that little extra kick (sadly, they were sold out of strawberry milk, the obvious choice for a dutiful sugar-slut such as me).
Armed with my sloshy dark brew and a goodly pound of sugar flakes, I prepared to make my exit from the all-seeing floodlights and Panopticon-like security system of the grocer’s. But then, all at once, my downcast eyes alit on a peculiar product, shoved rudely in a corner by the Pop-Tarts.
“What is this?” I chortled. “Something extra to love?”
Cradling the crinkly package and squinting to read the surreptitiously curling letters, it occurred to me I had stumbled upon a gift from the Industrial Food Gods. The Got Milk? Milk Straw—my new muse, my sacred titan!
It’s here I should point out that the Got Milk? Milk Straw is not technically “food.” At least not in the sense you are accustomed. It belongs to a category far more divine. It has, like the milky secretion of a benevolent godhead—transcended!
Before I implore you to suckle at its plastic-y mouth that’s indented for your oral pleasure, I must describe the sheer bliss of the Got Milk? Milk Straw. The first sip unseats the interior beads of pure love, which come in a variety of tantalizing flavors: Cookies & Cream, Vanilla Milkshake, and Peanut Butter Chocolate among them. The suction of milk through these beads unleashes their glory. To the untrained mouth, the sensation of swirling flavor can be surprising, even off-putting (some drinkers compare their first draught to a sip from the artery of a seizing diabetic). But each sip magnifies the beauty of the beads. Draw them up into your mouth in a flourish and feel them dissolve wetly into a velvety gruel across your tongue. These “flavor pods” have been cosmically designed for your absolute fulfillment. Indeed, there is little chance you will ever want to drink from anything else ever again.
The Got Milk? Milk Straw is primed and ready to destroy all preconceived notions of the way sugar may be reasonably consumed. It will change your life if you let it. You’ll pound through the 48-count box in little time, using four, six, even ten straws at once, crowding them about in your glass and slurping mightily until every last taste-bud incinerating bead has been absorbed and is coursing its way through you. What more can be said about this ingenious confection?
Got Milk? Milk Straw, light of my life, fire of my loins, provider of all the nutrition one could imagine from a shaking pencil-full of sugary plastic. You have saved me from the banality of my every other drink. How ever can I repay you?
360 Glazed Donut Vodka
Submitted by Madison Bernath
It’s Halloween and I’m in Total Wine. I’m too poor to buy drinks at the bar, so instead I’m buying a bottle to last me. I want something sweet, a treat. I figure the best place to find something like that is in the vodka section. Last year I soaked a bunch of gummy bears in vodka—no special flavor, just the regular kind. I soaked them for a week and they grew to four times their size—huge, puffy, and slimy. When I ate them, though, they tasted just like vodka. I was hoping it would happen the other way around. Hence, no gummy bears this year. I’m going to try something new.
I pace the aisle. It’s fully loaded, both sides, top to bottom, all vodka. My options are limited, however. I refuse to go any higher than fifteen bucks, so the aisle isn’t really that daunting with its choices. I could go for Frïs, but I’ve had it so many times. Pinnacle has a habit of making me fall asleep on the bathroom floor—I’m beginning to suspect it’s cheaper vodka than meets the eye. Then there’s that bottle with the V on it with the thick cloudy glass. I always buy glass—even if I’m going cheap—because plastic is a death wish.
Then I see it. High up, right in the front on the left. The label is blue. A transfixing blue. Sea-foam blue. In the center of the bottle are five glazed donuts, just shining. And they aren’t your everyday Dunkin’ Donuts either. Oh no, these scream “Krispy Kreme!!!” The top of the bottle really gets me. It has a kind of plastic cork that you can pop on and off with help from this metal bit—like what you might find on a fancy water carafe. Plus, the glass (an aspect that plays a large role in my decision making) juts out with the numbers 360 in the center of a circle; it reminds me of a wax stamp on an envelope. I run my fingers over it. It feels right.
I pick the bottle up and hold it to my chest. What in the hell do I mix glazed donut vodka with? Orange juice? Like a breakfast-type theme? Maybe Coke? Gorge myself on all things fatty. It is just the day to do that. I bite my thumbnail. It all sounds gag worthy. Even the vodka itself sounds questionable. But it is sweet and the bottle—the bottle is just so vibrant. I ask a clerk for suggestions, and I buy club soda. I get home and begin my drink before my purse is even off my shoulder:
1. Thick ice cubes from my only non-empty ice cube tray.
2. Vodka. You should always pour the vodka first so you know just how much you’re drinking; I fill my glass 3/4 of the way.
3. Club soda, which only tonight did I learn is different from tonic water.
I take out a butter knife and swirl the contents. I give the drink a sniff. It smells like vanilla icing. I give it a taste. It tastes like icing. It’s thick and sugary just like the stuff I used to put on Toaster Strudels. This is fine, you know, for a bite, but I’m gulping it. I am chugging me some thick sugary icing, and I hate it. I should have gone for the breakfast beverage. A couple more glasses of this, and my teeth will be riddled with cavities, but it’s all I have so I keep drinking it. I’m slurping syrup. My tongue is dead from the intense wash of sugar over and over again, and my mind still can’t get around that thick molasses texture. It reminds me that I’m drinking alcohol and my throat begins to block. I’m drinking and gagging, and cursing the vodka, but I know if I could go back in time I would do the same thing, because there the bottle is, sitting on the wood cutting board in my kitchen, brilliant and blue, and I just can’t take my eyes off of it.
Guiltless Gourmet All-Natural Chili Lime Tortilla Chips
Submitted by Karen Czmarko
I selected “Guiltless Gourmet All-Natural Chili Lime Tortilla Chips” on a whim when the brand I was looking for wasn’t available. This “Gourmet Without Guilt”TM packaging told me that it was “NOW: Bolder Taste! Crispier Crunch!” with the word crunch broken in half like so many Taco Bell promises from long ago. After my first bite, I realized that the “crispier crunch” was in fact my teeth breaking in half. I love a crunchy product, and I love even more a snack food, but this combination of bone-shattering crispiness coupled with a feeling of sucking in sawdust for flavor, only then at the end, burnt chili heat in the back of my throat, was inedible. I am of the junk food ethos for things like pizza, popcorn and other snacks, that even when it is bad, it’s still pretty good (and by good I mean edible) but this product proved me wrong. Shame on you, Guiltless Gourmet. Shame on you.
Birds Eye Homemade Inspirations Meal Starter Kung Pao
Submitted by Zachary Tyler Vickers
What do you think of when I say, “mouth intercourse?” That’s right: Birds Eye Homemade Inspirations Meal Starter Kung Pao.
There is so much to love about this stuff. First of all, just look at the name: Inspirations. How did Birds Eye know that men like me (out of work, really into jazzercise, likes sweatpants that look like jeans) walk the aisles of our local grocers just looking for inspiration? My friend Dave (also out of work, still sort of wading the waters re: jazzercise, still into traditional sweats) spent fifteen minutes yelling at the lettuce, “Let us what? Let us what, you bastards!” until he was escorted from the premises, and now has to shop at the overpriced co-op where he steers clear of the produce all together just to be safe. But yes! I purchased, followed the boxed instructions (which were in English, by the way, super helpful) and upon my first bite, I started to get all these really great ideas. And I didn’t even add the recommended chicken!
Here are some of the inspirations I came up with from that first box (already patented):
1. Slippers that look like very expensive Italian loafers.
2. Sweatshirts that look like a suit and tie.
3. Sweatpants that look like khakis.
Birds Eye claims that with their “inspirational” Kung Pao you can enjoy veggies in the most wonderful ways. Time, place, season, it doesn’t matter. I can safely attest to this statement and say that this is not false advertising. I ate it at six in the morning on my roof in the middle of a Nor-Easter and it was just as good as it was at six in the evening in my bathtub on a humid day in August with the cicadas ratcheting.
To spice it up, Birds Eye suggests hot chili sauce, which I do not own. But I do have generic Louisiana hot sauce, which I had stolen off the table of the local breakfast place when the waitress wasn’t around. I took it because Dave wanted it, he likes it on his eggs, but he wouldn’t take it because he now had a record thanks to the whole yelling-at-lettuce-getting-banned-from-the-grocer fiasco. So I took it but felt a sudden entitlement to the hot sauce, which Dave was not too happy about and went as far as to say that he felt that he had ownership rights to the hot sauce on account of it being his idea. So I asked, “Do you want to go to fucking arbitration over this hot sauce that technically doesn’t belong to either of us?” To which he requested that I please keep my voice down since we are still in the establishment that the pocketed hot sauce belongs to, then added that I didn’t even like hot sauce, and then made a real dickish, condescending snort when I said I might keep it for a rainy day. So I suggested he maybe try taking his own fucking hot sauce in the near future. Well, Dave got all teary at the word “future,” (remember, he’s still in traditional sweatpants) so I gave him the hot sauce and took another for those just-in-case scenarios, to which I found myself in with the mouth-intercoursing goodness of Birds Eye Homemade Inspirations Meal Starter Kung Pao.
Birds Eye also suggests spicing it up with “sliced” green onions and crushed peanuts. I’m not sure if they mean together or on separate occasions. Either way, I’m not quite sure what a green onion is, and I’m allergic to peanuts.
For “pizzazz” they suggest pineapple “tidbits.” I suggest eating the Kung Pao right out of the box. Sometimes I get my best inspirations eating it dried. You really taste the essence of the veggie this way, in my opinion. Take the water chestnuts. You ever eat one? They are so crunchy and satisfying. Just think of how crunchy they are when you eat them dried right out of the (slickly designed, I might add) Birds Eye box. And the red peppers? The pop of a fresh or dried red pepper is like winning a marathon, I swear to God. Also, in the ingredients, there are a whole bunch of sauces I cannot pronounce (Hoisin, Sesame) but I am convinced this only adds to its exotic taste.
But, to be fair, there are some things that do not taste so good right out of the box. Such as the broccoli. You ever try raw broccoli? Probably at some office party, which, being out of work, I have not been to in quite some time, and if they are still serving raw broccoli on the veggie platter well then good riddance. I’d rather be unemployed than eat those! It’s like kissing your sister, exactly like that.
Are you ready for the kicker? THREE GRAMS OF FAT! (And if you eat the entire box, like I sometimes do, and Dave pretty much always does, though he’s into the Birds Eye Homemade Inspirations Meal Starter Chicken & Rice (just add chicken), then you’ve ingested 2.5 servings, which if my math is correct, is like not even ten grams of fat! Though, do yourself a favor and don’t look at the sodium). Also, FOUR GRAMS OF PROTEIN! That’s more protein than fat so you know it’s good for you.
So, in conclusion, if you are down on your luck, or even not, I guess you don’t have to be, and like Kung Pao or Inspiration, give Birds Eye a good old-fashioned American go. Here’s more proof. You know what Dave said after his first box of dried Chicken and Rice, in between all the painful-sounding crunches of the rice? He said, “You need to share this stuff with the world. It could help people. We are down on our luck right now. There is a fiscal cliff and a conflict somewhere, and such. The world could use some inspiration of the just-add-chicken-or-not kind. Share this. Maybe write a food review? People still read, right? This inspiration could create jobs. You’ll save the world.”
Starburst Flavor Morph Fruit Chews
Submitted by Molly Brodak
In middle school I distinctly remember an uppity girl giving me a barf face as I was unwrapping a Starburst at the lunch table. “Those things are like, one molecule away from being plastic,” said the girl, something maybe her dad told her and she squirreled away as a cool insult to use on a poorer girl as soon as she got a chance. There were probably not high fives from her friends after the insult, but I remember it that way, along with my open-mouthed and drooly over-exaggerated chewing of the candy for all to see.
She wasn’t too wrong. Of course, she meant atom, not molecule, and of course, as it turns out a lot of things are one atom away from being a lot of other things. Water is one atom away from being hydrogen peroxide. Chlorine gas is one atom away from being table salt. Middle school girls are like, one atom away from being angry, steaming coils of dogpoo. We were all one atom away from being good, valuable, intelligent human beings, who in general are like one atom away from being monkeys anyway.
There are only two kinds of morphing chews here: orange and red. Orange ‘morphs’ into Orange Strawberry and Cherry into Cherry Lime. A few seconds into mashing the plasticy square into your molars, the Orange transforms from Bitter Makeup flavor to Perfume Makeup flavor, and perhaps, because it takes so long to chew, the Perfume element wears off and the mush morphs back into Bitter Makeup. I liked the Cherry slightly more, what with Red Cough Syrup morphing into Red Cough Syrup plus Mild Battery Acid. There must have simply not been enough room on the cubed-tube package to advertise all of the further morphing the chews undergo: upon swallowing both morph again instantly into Bad Breath Mouthcoat, and about twenty minutes later both morph again into Heartburn Burble, then even while their liquefied remains seep through your gutwalls into your bloodstream they morph yet again into Rapid Heartbeat and Sugar Shakes, even for someone with a morbidly enormous tolerance for sugar, someone who grew up eating Starburst Fruit Chews instead of actual fruit, which, to this day, has no flavors that morph.
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