Kraft Jet-Puffed vs. House-Brand Marshmallows in Grasshopper Pie
Submitted by Susan Heeger

Every summer around now, I whip up a pair of “hoppers,” the chiffon-green, crumb-crusted pies from the 1950s that my husband and mother demand like children for their birthdays. True, there’s not a whole lot new about this pie, except that it’s fallen into what I see as undeserved obscurity. Maybe because it’s crammed with calories, fat and chemicals but feels so light and minty going down that you keep eating and eating it. Or maybe I’m wrong about obscurity. One Internet site said the Grasshopper’s staging a comeback. And there were quite a few online recipes for this so-called “Queen of Pies—” which grew out of a hundred-year-old New Orleans cocktail — though some cooks called it, condescendingly, “Grandma’s favorite.”

Wherever the truth lies, may I say that none of the recipes looked as good or easy as mine, a copy of a copy of an old news clipping I’ll eventually spell out for the patient reader. For now, just know it’s made with marshmallows, milk, crème de menthe, crème de cacao and whipped cream, all mixed up and piled on a buttery roadbed of crushed chocolate cookies.

What is new — to me — is a test I ran while making the pies this year. It harks back to an argument I used to have with my dad, a marketing man for food companies. For Dad, processed food was like religion. He believed in “pasteurized cheese food;” he worshipped canned peach halves “in their own syrup.” He spent his life promoting products for certain companies (Libby’s French-style green beans, Nalley Big Chunk Chili) while at home we ate “house brands,” cheaper versions of the real thing sold under various grocery stores’ names. Why? Because Dad, a thrifty child of the Depression, claimed that most were the real thing, just repackaged and sold to stores for less by their manufacturers. Only a fool, Dad believed, would pay extra for a label.

Impossible! I thought. I watched TV. I knew the jingles (“When it says Libby’s, Libby’s, Libby’s on the label, label, label, nothing’s better, better, better on your table, table, table”). Also, I saw the difference. House-brand ice cream lacked the Day-Glo rainbow stripes; house-brand peas were a truly disgusting olive-green. And, hey, wasn’t it hypocritical not to buy what you sold to other people?

Now that I’m grown up, I don’t buy those products, so I hadn’t thought much about our old debate till I found myself shopping for hopper supplies: Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers for the crust, Hiram Walker green crème de menthe (Do not settle for white; your pie will look like cheesecake.). Then, in my grocery store’s baking aisle, I had a sudden, ten-year-old’s moment. As I weighed the fatter, more confident bag of Kraft Jet-Puffed marshmallows against the plain house brand ($2.79 each vs. two for $3), I badly wanted to prove Dad wrong. I wanted Jet-Puffed (“Have Fun With Your Yum”) to make a smoother pie than its low-rent knock-off. If it was a knock-off.

I bought a bag of each, went home and launched the competition.

I made two crusts, combining 24 crushed cookies with ¼ cup melted butter in each pie pan, chilling these in the freezer. I melted 24 marshmallows in each of two pots with ½ cup of milk. I stirred and stirred on medium heat, and after ten minutes, the pot of Jet-Puffed —those large, powdery poofs—had reached the silkiness of cream soup while the other — smaller, stickier, harder to handle — was as peaked and rippled as a white-capped sea.

This didn’t change, even after I cooled both mixtures, stirred ¼ cup crème de menthe and 2 T crème de cacao into each, chilled them till they began to thicken, added a cup of whipped cream to each, turned them into the ready crusts and froze until firm. Lumps, I’m sorry to say, remained in the pie with the house-brand product.

Honor forces me to add, though, that the lumps were unexpectedly good, hitting the tongue in super-sweet bombs you had to chew a little.

Conclusion? These products weren’t the same — but did it matter?

Dad, I’d have to say, it didn’t.

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Grapery Brand Cotton Candy Grapes
Submitted by Kevin Tasker

Grapery Brand Cotton Candy Grapes smell ominously like the carnival confection that shares their namesake. They taste the same way too, albeit fleetingly. They’re also yellow in a sad way, and delicately smooshy. Along with their Moon Drop, Flavor Drop, and (disturbingly oblong) Tear Drop brethren (designed for a gift at funerals, perhaps), they are supposedly non-GMO, merely selectively bred (yes, upon hearing cotton candy has been crossed with grapes, Gregor Mendel is likely enduring paroxysms). The Grapery website confirms this “natural” feature — though the wording is ambiguous to the point of resembling legalize. One really has to suspect some sort of crafty bio-tinkering went into their genesis given their overwhelming sweetness and the decidedly un-grapelike residue they leave behind. We all remember the filmy palate-lacquer certain juice boxes created in our youth, the result, most likely, of that most notorious of food-devils: High Fructose Corn Syrup. This is like that, but somehow worse. Somehow more unapologetically alien. And yet, it must be said, they’re gum-smackingly addictive. Your reviewer munched them by the fistful, despite himself, all the while making the unhinged face of a feline licking itself to combat the aforementioned residue. After consuming two bunches, however, the realization dawned that the cotton candy quality could actually be a sort of sweet-hearted placebo — a collective delusion shared between my taste buds and those of the duped stock-photo folks all over the Grapery site. To test my hypothesis, I surreptitiously introduced the grapes to a few officemates who reflected on their colossal sweetness with feelings of both revulsion and intrigue. None had ever tried something so luscious and beguiling. “Yes, but what did they taste like?” I asked. Like something un-grape. Or grape with an identity crisis! “Uncanny” was the verdict, and there’s no clear answer in sight. More will be needed for testing purposes. I’ve made requests via the appropriate channels.

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Nature’s Answer Sambucus Black Elderberry Extract
Submitted by Elizabeth Majerus

When I’m sick, I need something to believe in. To be honest, it doesn’t really matter what. For a while there, it was Echinacea. Remember Echinacea? No one talks about it anymore, but a dozen years ago or so, it was considered a miracle cure for all upper respiratory ailments. Then it was zinc, which I consumed in the form of lozenges that left my mouth dry and tasting vaguely of coin, fouling the flavor of anything else I ate for at least three hours. For a year or two, I drank the fizzy elixir known as Airborne, which had a pretty intense ad campaign a few years back directed specifically at teachers and anyone who travels by air. Lately, though, my cold remedy of choice has been elderberry.

Usually, I take elderberry in the form of a lozenge. Zand makes a pleasant-tasting elderberry lozenge that has the additional benefit of zinc (which I no longer deeply believe in, but hey, it can’t hurt, right?). It’s also nice because it doesn’t have too much sugar (which supposedly suppresses your immune system). A few days ago, when I came down with a little ailment I’ve come to think of as the “upper respiratory creeping crud from hell,” I went to my cupboard to get an elderberry lozenge to soothe my scratchy throat and calm my painful cough. But the cupboard was bare (of elderberry lozenges, at least). What could I do?

I remembered that I’d bought a bottle of elderberry syrup, which I sometimes give my kids when they’re sick. I decided that if I couldn’t suck an elderberry lozenge, I’d swallow some elderberry syrup. I usually give it to my kids mixed half-and-half with honey in a tablespoon, because it’s reputed to be pretty bitter on its own. They seem to like it that way. But I decided to try it straight, since I’m an adult and I don’t need no stinkin sweetener. (Also, the thing about sugar suppressing the immune system.)

The syrup is so dark blue it’s nearly black (hence the plant’s Latin name, sambucus nigra) and extremely viscous. You can fill a soupspoon to the very edges and it won’t spill over the side. On contact with the tongue, it’s reminiscent of the simultaneously sweet, bitter, and funky flavor of blackstrap molasses, with a slight trace of some nasty thick liqueur that your grandparents keep in the back of their cabinet for “special occasions.” But it has an additional tang that’s hard to place. If I had to guess, I’d say this bit of tang is akin to fresh urine, though I’ve never actually tasted that. (Speaking of belief and health, plenty of people worldwide believe that drinking a bit of your own first morning’s pee is super healthful. But thankfully I do not believe this and so I’ve never had to try.) In general, the taste is not pleasant, but not as unpleasant as I expected. It leaves a strong flavor memory at the back of the throat for several minutes after the tablespoon is swallowed. The bottle recommended taking a tablespoon four times daily. I dutifully did this, and the flavor got less weird the more I took it. I guess it’s an acquired taste.

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Trader Joe’s Almond Windmill Cookies
Submitted by Amy Barnes

There are homonyms in the English language that just feel naughty. Even “homonym” itself can be easily misconstrued. Just saying “the damn dam” with a complete disregard or parental ability to identify the cuss word by pronunciation. Is it a “dike” or a “dyke” that Hans Brinker held his finger in to save his entire Dutch village from flooding? While I have seen a dam and a dyke on occasion (and have definitely said damn dam for fun), I have yet to see a dike of Hans Brinker legend.

Hans Brinker. A legendary lad with legendary silver skates. National hero. Early contestant on Ru Paul’s Drag Race, Holland? Perhaps. What I do know is what Hans Brinker of the silver skates must snacked on as he stood guard at the dike wall, one finger occupied with saving his village. It had to be Trader Joes’ Windmill Cookies of course. Easy to stick in his knee-length skating pants’ pockets. The perfect craft services snack for drag races or Amazing Race Holland.

The windmill cookie isn’t a new cookie. Bakeries with authentic sound names like Voortman and De Ruiijter have been making them for years. Cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves and always the ubiquitous almond slivers, presumably for quick protein on Dutch town-saving missions. Interestingly enough, Trader Joes chooses to eschew the Dutch references in their copy for these cookies. Instead they go with a wink and a nod to Quixotic windmill tilting. Windmill graphics on the container. Cervantes reference in the copy. Wrong country, Trader Joes. These are Hans Brinker cookies. He wore the damn dam silver skates for Pete’s sake. Why can’t Trader Joe’s just identify with his country of origin instead of going the comedian J. Peterman route?

While I imagine that Hans’ mom usually packed him some great windmill cookies in his skating pants’ pockets, the Trader Joes’ Almond Windmill Cookies do kind of just tilt at the windmill so to speak taste-wise. They are butter-y and shortbread-y as billed but they are pale, beige-y conservative cookies — crunchy enough but kind of baking-contest-you-didn’t-bake-these-quite-long-enough-to-get-good-color cookies. The Voortman version is dark and extra crunchy and full of almonds that break up their slightly spicy version. The Trader Joe’s cookies are good and addictive in their own way like every cookie that sits in its plastic tub on a shelf just high enough that Hans Brinker (or any kid) can’t quite reach them. The mini peanut butter cups are up there too on the naughty Trader Joe’s shelf. I found myself wanting almonds (tasted but didn’t see them), more spices and just maybe a little more Dutch in the Trader Joe’s Almond Windmill cookies.

If I am going to spend 140 of my day’s calories on 2 cookies, I want them to be worthy calories. Town-saving calories. Dutch cookies on steroids that can stand up to odd Cervantes references from across the ocean. The Trader Joe’s version sadly would probably be crushed and forgotten in Hans Brinker’s pocket and he would starve at the damn dam. Or the dyke’s dike. The entire story might have ended entirely differently. Hans Brinker without an authentic windmill cookie. His mother tired of baking sends him out with his silver skates to save the town and he falls asleep due to hypoglycemia due to lack of sugary cookies.

I did read that smearing the Trader Joe’s Almond Windmill Cookies with Trader Joe’s Speculos Butter as a sandwich cookie turns them into the sandwich cookie of your dreams. Perhaps that is how Holland was saved by Hans Brinker: with a dam/damn Trader Joe’s Almond Windmill Cookie coated in Trader Joe’s Speculos Butter (which is actually dam/damn good all by itself). In all reality, the Almond Windmill cookie ascribed to Holland because of the eponymous windmills probably isn’t eaten in Holland anymore than Chinese people eat Sweet and Sour Chicken. Tilt at Trader Joe’s Almond Windmill Cookies by themselves as compared to say the TJ Cat or ABC cookies or a windmill cookie made by Moeder Brinker, not a chance.

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Peeps Oreos
Submitted by Emily Greene

Ah, Oreo. Just when we thought you had hit rock bottom with your Swedish Fish Oreo mash-up, you snorted at us like an over-compensating Frat boy and said, “Hold my beer.”

If you’ve ever wondered what Easter tastes like, the new Peeps Oreos have answered the question. The first bite holds the nostalgia of your excited, grubby 6 year old hand reaching into the woven basket your mom the Easter Bunny left for you. Pastel marshmallow eggs lined the plastic grass filled basket, taunting you with their sticky sweet promises of saccharine-induced mania. Pushing past the fluffy yellow duck in the middle (or lamb, or rabbit — whatever that year’s stuffed toy would be), you shoved one of those delicious egg-shaped morsels of sugar into your mouth, your euphoric bubble quickly bursting as the “marshmallow” crumbled into a gritty, bland mess. Not unlike Peeps themselves, which, let’s face it — no one really likes. Peeps’ sole purpose for existing is to entertain us by having duels in the microwave, complete with toothpick swords. Peeps Oreos were the embodiment of Easter morning — the innocent enthusiasm followed by the disappointment that comes from not finding the Golden Egg. The Red No. 3-turned-Pepto Bismol-pink cream filling tastes exactly how it looks; artificial, cancerous, a little chalky, and oddly metallic. But wait, there’s more! Peeps Oreos are the gift that keeps on giving. After you’ve downed an entire sleeve (because what choice do you have? You can’t just throw $4 in the trash), you will be pleasantly shocked to learn that you are, in fact, a unicorn, as your poop has now turned bright pink. In a surprising turn of events, could this end up being the Best Easter Ever?

And thus, I raise my glass to you, Oreo. You tackled this challenge head on and have really outdone yourself this time. My only complaint is that you haven’t figured out a way to make our poop sparkle, but I now have full confidence that you will manage to further impress us with your future endeavors. Here’s to continued success with questionable flavor combinations and a rainbow palette of upset stomachs. Cheers!

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Girl Scouts Thin Mints Cereal
Submitted by Katy Luxem

There are purposefully no Walmarts in my city and also no traffic-less roads. So believe me, I don’t enter one often. Last time, nearly at the automatic doors, I saw a woman attempt to drop-kick a bottle of Chardonnay through the automatic doors. She did not have great aim.

But today, I was further south than I planned to be for at least six months. I entered a Walmart pushing a cart with a wonky wheel, my baby strapped in the front seat. “Let’s make this quick,” I said, mentally noting its impossibility as soon as the words left my mouth.

The place leaves me wide-eyed and curious, wandering like a visitor in a foreign country. You see foodstuffs you aren’t sure should exist, as if they might be something my six-year old would conceptualize in a drawing. Like the time she made a picture of a “tiger watermelon.”

Such was the moment I entered the cereal aisle and saw Girl Scouts Thin Mints Cereal. Sure, it’s got the name behind it, arguably the most popular fixture of the $5-a-box cookie machine of late winter. No adorable Scout needed to convince me I need it, I tossed a box in my cart.

I love a good chocolate cereal. It is the poor man’s late-night dessert, after all. But mint? With milk? I walked to the next aisle, a little unsure. I don’t even like Shamrock Shakes or drinks with Bailey’s. In the end, I decide this is the first chocolate-mint cereal ever, so I’d be stupid not to jump on this trailblazing product expansion. An hour (three?) later, I pay for my cart full of oddities and head north.

Later that night, with the kids finally in bed, I’m definitely ready for cookies, not breakfast. But I stumble upon my green-box hybrid of “Limited Edition” sustenance. The label promises that there are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives. They could sell this at Whole Foods. It’s practically a Lara Bar at this point, and a quick check of ingredients assures me it has been well-fortified with actual vitamins and minerals. I open the well-designed box, hoping they’ve literally just crushed up the mangled Thin Mints not fit for perfectly encased plastic sleeves. But no.

Reminiscent of Wrigley’s-infused Dog Chow, it looks cookie-shaped on a micro level. But the kibble is not enrobed in chocolate, as its parent form, and this is when I know I’m in for disappointment.

More chalk than chocolate in flavor, the mint is nearly subtle enough to be ignored (dare I say, “thin?”) but not delicious enough to taste like its namesake. After the initial crunch, the milk dissolves the somewhat powdery cookie coating. The liquid soaks in relatively quickly, leaving a puddle of goop before I finish. I doubt I will have subsequent bowls.

But when my six-year-old wakes up and I go into her room to settle her, she says, “Oh, I can smell you just brushed your teeth!” So, there’s that.

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Taco Bell’s Naked Chicken Chalupa
Submitted by Eric Nelson

Aside from the title of the pertinent dystopian Orwell novel, 1984 was also the year that saw Ronald Reagan’s re-election helped in part, by a television advertising campaign helmed by ad wizard Hal Riney, which included the commercials “There is a bear in the woods” and “It’s morning again in America.” (Sound familiar?) Looking back, it should come as no surprise that the same election year started with Michael Jackson’s hair up in flames while filming a commercial for Pepsi.

White America tends to have a conveniently short memory, something I myself am guilty of as well, more specifically with fast food. A friend of mine had once told me “The last time I took a bite of meat from Taco Bell I threw the whole thing out the window of the car I was driving.” To be fair, he told me this more than once, but after five beers and nothing open save a 7-11, it didn’t matter.

When I walked into my local Taco Bell in Queens and saw the signs for the “Naked Chicken Chalupa” I was immediately reminded of KFC’s “Double Down,” a breadless sandwich announced on April Fool’s Day of 2010 that thumbed its nose at childhood obesity rates and promised “so much 100 percent premium chicken, we didn’t have room for a bun.”

The Bell’s version uses minced and reconstituted all-white meat chicken in a rubbery patty as its outer shell. Unlike its older sister, which saw melted cheese, bacon and “the Colonel’s secret sauce,” the Naked and the Dead opts for lettuce, tomato, shredded cheese and a cool avocado ranch sauce as its fillings. I noted that the spicy chicken, with its thin coating of grease, provided a balance with the somewhat tart sauce coating the vegetables within, like a reverse engineered salad topped with chicken strips. I wanted to buy another one that following weekend to try it again.

But the next day, my stomach was in mourning again in America, Pa Bell’s chicken discus taking a ride through my digestive system that echoed the five stages of grief, “Anger” being my hour-long case of heartburn. Perhaps I deserved it, having my head buried in sand, ignorant of the latest fast food science had to offer me, a consumer and member of Yum! Brands’ key demographic. I certainly was unaware, until I ate it and then searched for the product on Google, that there was a national ad campaign for it based on a combination of tongue-in-cheek 1950’s aesthetic and essentially the company trolling itself via a fake “The Council for Eating Fried Chicken the Same Way You Always Have.” The question is: Will America Buy it?

I don’t know. Does a bear shit in the woods?

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Kettle’s Moscow Mule Potato Chips
Submitted by Kevin Tasker

Tangy tart with an odd bubble-facsimile powder that honest-to-god makes one’s nostrils twitch à la the genuine article, the newest entry into Kettle Brand’s adventurous pantheon o’cruch, the Moscow Mule, largely succeeds despite its bewildering ambitions. Transposing a gingery vodka cocktail served in a copper mug into a paper thin, flavor-dusted crinkle disc is, one imagines, no small feat of foodie engineering. There had to have been some serious focus group investigation into the philosophical underpinnings of this weird little vixen (e.g. What consumerist palate-itch is the Mule in liquid form failing to satisfyingly scratch? If it’s sheer novelty, then what’s next, Singapore Sling chips? What on earth would a White Russian become when zapped with Kettle’s metamorphic ray?) In any case, once the chip vessel proper has been swallowed up, whatever would be the taste bud equivalent of the Uncanny Valley sensation begins to take hold, and a Turing Test of flavor profiles would be needed to really understand if one were eating the stuff or drinking it. The Mulishness is so suspiciously precise, in fact, that if that recent Seth Rogan atheistic diatribe is to be believed, and food is secretly anthropomorphic, I would give the following quasi-Pynchonian advice to the whole of the grocery store: just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not trying to replicate you via Kettle chip. What more can one say? The chip’s smell is lemon-heavy and ruthlessly bright, not unlike certain cleaning products. And despite the cognitive dissonance inspired by the eating/drinking confusion outlined above, the things really are fiendishly addictive. Try one for yourself and see.

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Sneaky Chef No-Nut Butter
Submitted by Jen Knox

I do not have a peanut allergy, but I have a similar allergy that makes me curious about products in condiment aisles. Said curiosity, along with a fondness for peanut butter, brought me to the oddly palatable flavor lovechild of baby food and peanuts: a peanut butter-ish product made from yellow peas, No-Nut Butter.

I haven’t always had such food curiosities. It all began with hives, which were a result of an actual allergy to a product that I had been over-consuming: almonds. At the time, I had been drinking almond milk in my coffee, adding a scoop of almond butter to my oatmeal each morning, and drinking more almond milk on days when I had an afternoon black tea or a late-afternoon White Russian, not to mention the myriad other milk-craving beverages that may have required the milk substitute (side note: the dairy industry has never been much of a fan of milk-like substances being sold using the word milk. It’s a contentious subject in some circles and has been for many years — I think because branding is EVERYTHING).

Anyway, I was at a run-down but charming farm in Nebraska when my hives peaked (long story). At first, I figured they were an allergic reaction to something airborne. I took allergy pills, washing them down with almond milk-infused coffee. The hives got worse. When I finally got a prick test, the results came back that I was almond-allergic. Alas, I made the sad transition to rice milk. Why no regular milk, you ask? Look, I’m a redhead, a walking recessive gene. Let’s just leave it at that.

So I came across this novel food item at Target, where any true food connoisseur does her shopping. In all fairness, it was on a short trip to buy some new socks and a bra. I didn’t seek the product out. I just happened to take a quick side trip over to the condiment aisle, nearby a sample station, just to see what was up.

It was here, in a South Texas Target, that I first found Sneaky Chef’s Creamy No-Nut Butter. I was ecstatic because I had tried almond butter (sigh), sun butter, myriad “classic” peanut butters, natural peanut butters, peanut butter powders (peanut butter with all the fat sucked out of it so that there’s nothing more than peanut dust that you need to hydrate to resurrect), and cashew butter. I had also tried pea protein in drinks and smoothies because I don’t eat meat and try to curb soy, which leaves me … pea protein. Why don’t I eat meat you ask? Soy?

Anyway…

When one uses gold peas to make a peanut butter-like product, the natural inclination would be wordplay. Pea(nut) butter spread or pea-no-nut butter spread or peanut butter spread. The fact that the Sneaky Chef was so confident in her product that she didn’t need to resort to wordplay impressed me. I have since found some competing brands that come a little closer, but perhaps there’s a trademark on “peanut” when used before “butter” in the mentioning of a “spread.”

Oh food industry! So. I saw that the stuff was about the same caloric count and consistency of peanut butter, and it was a healthy protein, so I bought it. I bought it without even looking at the price. It was a non-negotiable purchase, and no sooner was I home was I sticking a teaspoon into my new “No-Nut Butter.”

Remind me to never read this aloud.

The first bite was impressive. The consistency was about as on-point as any natural peanut butter. I had to stir! Talk about authenticity. I took a small bit on my tongue and mushed the stuff to the roof of my mouth. It reminded me of childhood, the way the peas were already mashed for me, their subtle sweetness and peanut-infused flavoring almost too much to handle. I put a touch more on a cracker, and it was pretty damn good.

But then I ate a bit more. I had started with no more than a pea-sized amount. By this time, I was working with a serious dollop that covered almost the entire second cracker, and things changed. The mushiness began to overpower the slight resemblance to peanut butter, and all I could taste was baby food. I imagined the jar I was holding shrinking and being served alongside stringed carrots.

I don’t know what to do with this plastic jar of yellow peas, canola oil, sugar (containing tapioca starch), palm oil, salt, mono, and diglycerides, cocoa powder, and natural flavors. I may eat some more one day, in a very small dose. I don’t know.

I do know that it did not taste awful. I did not get hives, and when I looked back at my Target receipt, I felt no real regret. The pain of never knowing would’ve been much worse. So now I keep the jar next to my jar of peanut butter, or slightly behind it, and should anyone with an appropriate allergy swing by, I’m ready.

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Oolong Tea (Several Varieties)
Submitted by Becky Adnot-Haynes

It was a difficult time. I was four months pregnant and recently laid off from a job writing fanciful catalogue descriptions for a clothing purveyor famous for its floor-length dusters and whimsical narratives. I’d spent the last year describing international adventures undertaken by roguish diplomats and seaplane pilots and several fictional women who, in sexy ways, were not who they claimed to be. Naturally, each of the protagonists was extremely well-dressed.

So it didn’t seem so far off to take a gig describing fine oolong teas that hailed from the fog-covered mountainside of Nantou, Taiwan. The client promised to send me a sample of each of the teas, which arrived in little plastic baggies labeled with Sharpie.

I laid them out on the dining room table and felt like a drug lord surveying her empire. OK, I thought. I got this. They’d hired me because they liked that I had experience with product description, but the products I’d described were mostly tattersall shirts and wide-wale corduroy pants and, once, a women’s motorcycle jacket you could wear if you wanted to be noticed by the mysterious gentleman in front of the Trevi Fountain. I promised to try my hardest.

Still, the timing wasn’t the best. I had reached a point in my pregnancy where most solid and liquid foods normally consumed by humans over the age of five were out. Omelets disgusted me. BLTs were repulsive. Marinara sauce might as well have been the blood of orphans. The dog’s farts smelled exactly like boiled eggs, though in retrospect that had always been the case.

It is an understatement to say I did not want to drink those teas. But goddammit I am a professional woman and I needed that money and I would drink those teas. I brewed the first one in the Cuisinart kettle that I normally used to heat water for Swiss Miss Marshmallow Lovers. All twelve varieties of tea tasted exactly the same: like wet spinach leaves with after notes of dirt. I wrote the descriptions based on things other people said on the internet.

I tried the teas again later, after my son was born and I was gainfully employed again. They still tasted like dirt, but I noticed some had pleasing qualities I hadn’t appreciated before, fruity and floral and subtly bitter, like my feelings toward my former employer. My favorite tea had notes of honey and a spicy ginger finish; I found myself brewing it again the next day. I wouldn’t say I liked it, exactly, but it was enticing. Of course I knew by then that the most enthralling emotions are the ones that are most difficult to explain.

Soon enough, I understood that these were special teas. They would be appreciated by someone extraordinary and just the tiniest bit nuts: a person who ached to swim the Hellespont to the Aegean Sea. To fly a Stinson over the Badlands. They were teas to be consumed by a romantic, a pioneer, a writer of love letters — the kind of person who wore her Chesterfield through the harshest of winters, with bravado, open to the wind.

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Brennivín “The Black Death” Original Icelandic Spirit
Submitted by Ellen Gordon

I like brennivín because I like the way it makes me sound when I describe it to friends. "Oh, it’s just liquor that you can only buy in Iceland, it’s known as ‘Black Death,’ and, oh yeah, I happen to have a whole big bottle of it.” While I did taste some on a brewery tour in Iceland, I was seven drinks in and, therefore, want a real, unbiased taste to see if it’s all I remember it to be.

The beverage is made of potato mash and caraway seeds, 75 to 80 proof, and is part of Iceland’s rocky history with Templar (think Nic Cage, National Treasure) enforced prohibition. In this day and age, it is either drank once a year with fermented shark by locals or every night by tourists searching for something to make them look cool.

The “bottle” I have, bought with my leftover kronas at the Duty Free in Keflavik airport, is actually a plastic flask accompanied by two shot glasses all neatly packaged together in a box covered in a picture of a man who looks like Santa would look. Or, at least, he looks how one would imagine Santa would look if he worked out and threw cool parties where they only played vinyl. I was hoping to channel all of this during my grand plan for tonight: use this drinking experience to incite a hang out with the boy I’m trying to trick into dating me. He would have been enticed by the whole package — Black Death, hipster Santa, and then me — effortlessly cool, edgy, and wearing an Icelandic wool sweater with perfectly untied boots.

Instead, my roommate and her boyfriend are staring at me with condescending fascination as I try to find a spot on our messy coffee table for my room temperature, plastic handle full of Icelandic potato liquor. I’m grumbling about taking this shot, but still refuse to budge. At least if I finish, I can tell myself that this whole endeavor wasn’t just an excuse to hang out with that aforementioned boy.

When the drink finally sloshes down my throat, it ends up tasting like a combination of black licorice and ground up metal poles. Not as great as I remember. I don’t even get tipsy from it, but I’m not sure that’s what drinking brennivín is really about anyway. The only thing I am completely sure of is that while some questionable decision-making led me here in the first place, I’m glad I skipped the fermented shark.

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Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes
Submitted by Yelena Taytslin

Normally, I’m not a sweets person. My favorite food item, for context, is a tomato; favorite drink, black coffee. I avoid frosting on cakes, and really only eat the cake part if it’s some sort of semi-sweet ultra-dark chocolate lava cake, more reminiscent of actual dried, burnt-to-a-soullessly-dark-crisp lava than cake. Naturally, no one, myself included, would choose cookies as my go-to snack, but for some reason the package of Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes grabbed my attention. Most likely because, really who the fuck thinks of these names? Whole Paycheck should be able to afford creative marketing/labeling. Perhaps it was this very dichotomy between the simple, overly honest packaging of the 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes and my standard expectations of cookie advertising — loud, colorful, difficult to look at for long periods of time, thus leading the consumer to never fully read the nutrition facts so that any shame and buyer’s remorse become impossible — that forced my hand on that fateful Thursday afternoon, East Providence, RI shopping trip. Immediately after putting my groceries away, I climbed out my roommate’s window to the coziest part of the roof and proceeded to watch traffic and get unbelievably stoned. Somehow, after ending up in the kitchen (no memory of conquering the stairs, I’m just going to assume I figured out how to teleport), I realized how badly the munchies had set in. Luckily for me, I had an entire fridge stuffed with Whole Foods goodies, mostly an obnoxious amount of tomatoes, plus some greener, leafier, less ambiguously fruity vegetables (or is it vegetative fruit?). None of these things, satisfying as they surely would be when cooked into one of my usual curries, a tagine, or freshly chopped into a salad with hummus, were already prepared. In my current mental state, the pots and pans were too much to handle; I needed something now, not half an hour from now. I had completely forgotten about my earlier impulse snack buy, and honestly it was like the second coming of Jesus, my personal munchies salvation. Take me to the Rapture, 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes, and let me bring along a big glass of coconut milk since I doubt they make that in heaven, and also those cookies look as dry as their unimaginative title. I get the box open, and suddenly I’m faced with a rather huge dilemma: the “mismatched” part of the cookie’s namesake means that half the cookie (I’m sorry, “sandwich creme”) is dark chocolate, and the other half is like a blonde Oreo, that off-color vanilla/sugar cookie. Inside is the usual “creme” taste — sort of like buttercream, but grainier. Everyone knows what that taste is, even if we don’t have a specific flavor name for it. Cream-and-sugar blob flavor. Anyway, I was frozen, cookie split in half, coconut milk in front of me, and a little bit of creme per mismatched sandwich half. I decided not to panic. Whole Foods’ 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes were merely providing multiple snacking options, and I hadn’t realized it until that moment. Now, I was able to forgive the non-advertising that initially made me so curious about this snack: calling these 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Three Way Sandwich Cremes would probably create too many mental images of really dysfunctional threesomes, like combining a horny giraffe, a contortionist from Cirque du Soleil, and Mel Gibson. Nothing good can come of that, but good things absolutely can and do come from 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes. I started with the simplest option, since I had already split my sandwich creme in half: eat the creme off both sides, as usual, then dip the blonde/vanilla, eat it. Not a bad flavor, richer than I had expected. Then I dipped the dark chocolate half. I was right to save it for last, as it was hands-down the best part of the sandwich creme mismatching. But, I still had two other methods for eating these things to try, and like any good stoner-cum-food scientist and critic, try them I did. I switched the order in which I dipped — same flavors, chocolate still needed to go last since the vanilla side was very bland in relation, especially when eaten right after. Then I did a mildly heathenish thing and bit right into the whole thing, a dry bite with an after-sip, followed by a whole dipped bite. Whole dipped bite won, across the board. There’s something about snacks from Whole Foods which ensures that they won’t be too sweet, probably the cult-like following of sugar hating yogi moms who shop there. Add too much sugar and not enough Stevia, and they will know. They will know, and they will be angry. They will storm the corporate headquarters armed with sustainable, bamboo-handled knives and tight, sweat-wicking pants for ultimate comfort and an excuse to show their toned, little white married asses in public. So yes, Whole Food’s 365 Everyday Value Mismatched Sandwich Cremes, “the cookie with the really stupid name,” (you’re welcome, WF branding team) makes for a great stoner snack, as well as a somewhat threateningly versatile, pretty tasty cookie.