Barbara’s Bakery Chocolate Mini Cookies
Submitted by Miriam Pollock

I slowly tear open the box. “Big Flavor. Tiny Calories,” proclaims the 100-calorie package of Barbara’s Bakery brand organic chocolate “mini cookies” I retrieve from within. I’m decidedly suspicious, because I know from experience that this kind of “healthy” cookie has a tendency to be about as moist as the Sahara.

The appearance and feel of the first small and crumbly cookie I remove serves only to confirm my initial prejudices. It’s similar in consistency to sand, but it doesn’t remind me of days spent languorously watching waves lap the shore. Rather, it reminds me of this one time my friend dared me to eat dirt. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised: what is one to expect from packaged, mass-produced snack foods shipped across the country from Clinton, Massachusetts? But I try to forget the cookie’s negative first impression as I prepare to bite into it.

It does not snap, as I have expected, and its mild crunching sound is barely detectable. Its chocolaty layers seem to fall away in my mouth, and the rough texture is pleasing rather than sandy. The cookie is not chewy but is at least reasonably moist, and the tiny morsels of organic oats provide a nice contrast in texture. However, I detect only one flavor: chocolate. A chocolate that gets stuck in my teeth, a honeyed, sweet, Hershey’s cocoa powder chocolate, a chocolate I am perfectly content to let mask any other flavors.

I offer one to my friend. She, too, is pleasantly surprised, exclaiming, “These are pretty good!”

Before I know it I have consumed the rest of the eleven cookies in the package. Sadly, dark brown crumbs are all that remain. The cookies have done little to quell my hunger and leave me wanting more. I am ashamed to admit I take out another package and make short work of its contents.

The large quantity of sugar I have just consumed, together with the chocolate stuck in my molars, feels as though it’s corroding my mouth. It’s not unlike when you’re at the movies and you just keep shoveling in the popcorn, and then your fingernails are scraping cardboard and fake butter and oil and salt, and you suddenly realize your lips burn and you’ve saved yourself a ton of money on lip-augmentation surgery.

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Blueberry Beer
Submitted by Becky Adnot Haynes

Hiking in Maine, my sister kept asking, “Are these blueberries?” before pulling things off of plants and eating them. She must have developed a taste for the stuff, which may or may not have been blueberries, because at dinner in town that night she immediately zeroed in on a ‘Blueberry Beer’ on the menu. “Is it very, very blueberry-y?” she asked our waiter. “It’s fairly blueberry-y,” he replied. He did not tell us that there would be actual blueberries floating in the beer, which tasted a lot like Bud Light. I drank four pints.

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Nissin Top Ramen, Chicken Flavor
Submitted by Marina Weiss

I craved ramen for the first time in middle school. I had never even eaten ramen before, but when lunchtime rolled around, I envied the kids who left the classroom to go get hot water. I imagined that they got to giggle together for a second before edging their way back with steaming Styrofoam bowls, trying not to scald themselves.

Ramen had a dangerous glamour that threatened to slop over and spill boiling hot freeze-dried carrot and corn bits down my classmates’ fronts. Ramen was the badge of privilege of those fourth-graders who could convince their parents to sacrifice nutrition for convenience. Ramen was freedom to rise and have unsupervised adventures. My cold leftovers in their Tupperware were literally yesterday’s mashed potatoes by comparison.

I was sold. And at the time I had no idea that ramen was not conventionally valuable in any sense—but it wouldn’t have mattered a whit. It was precisely because Top Ramen was generally considered as wholesome and timeless as “grape drink” that it was so hard to finagle from parents. But that was only half of its appeal. I also honestly lusted after those soggy noodles. Although he never stooped to Cup O’ Noodles, my father, a frugal Jew from a long tradition of frugal Jews, was at some point moved to purchase Nissin Top Ramen, Chicken Flavor by my shameless, fervid checkout-line pleas or, perhaps, by the same mysteriously thrifty force that drives him to Costco for wholesale rates on canned tuna.

It’s no surprise, really, that at the age of ten, I failed to identify degrees of cultural capital in other children’s lunches. What is strange is that, fourteen years later, it still means nothing to me that Nissin Top Ramen, Chicken Flavor contains 910 milligrams of sodium. This quantity suggests that both the ramen noodles and the “seasoning mix” are just vermiform and powdered sodium, respectively, with, in the case of the “seasoning mix,” some natural and artificial flavors thrown in. I listen when my mother, a long-lived WASP from a long line of long-lived WASPS, lectures me about what a high sodium diet will do to my blood pressure. I understand that there are no ingredients in Nissin Top Ramen, Chicken Flavor that have potential to impart health benefits with the dubious exceptions of chicken powder, celery powder, and dehydrated leek. I recognize that chicken powder is an unsavory enterprise, which should disturb the thinking consumer.

Yet I slurp on. I would even go so far as to make a Sontagian argument that it is the “high camp,” the total artifice, the very lack of actual nutritive value that attracts me to what is otherwise a bowl of greasy, yellow-tinged, salt-laden, convoluted carbohydrates. Ah, I think to myself, slurping happily, at 24, I am finally one of the kids who gets to choose to eat badly of her very own accord.

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Submitted by Emily Garber

It recently came to my attention that the Vietnamese noodle-and-broth dish spelled “pho” is not pronounced “foe,” as I had always assumed, but “fuh.” This was a heartbreaking revelation, because it shattered my dreams of opening hit restaurants called Pho Fo’ Sho’ (free Cristal with every bowl!) and Faux Pho (Pho Sho’s vegan spin-off).

However, my discovery did give me the courage to order pho for the first time, from a food cart near my office. I walked up to the booth proudly, with confidence. “I’ll have the…number four,” I said, totally chickening out. But soon my prize arrived, steaming hot and tucked securely into a plastic bag.

I spirited the pho back to my desk and unpacked it. An abundance of vegetables greeted my eyes, and a delicious aroma wafted to my nose. I took a spoonful of broth and immediately burned all my taste buds off for the next three days. But it was delicious. I kept spooning. Best of all was the accompanying plastic bag containing a variety of kick-it-up-a-notch bounty: hot sauce, plum sauce, a lime segment, a bristling stalk of Thai basil, and enough bean sprouts to keep an Asian family full of phytochemicals for a month.

I dumped everything in and began eating in earnest. Bite after bite of chewy tofu, plump mushroom, and crisp celery vanished into my mouth. Bliss.

Suddenly, halfway through, I looked down. No vegetables were in sight. Instead, I was faced with an enormous mass of flavorless, soggy noodles. I began to regret squandering my plastic bag of treasures so soon. And why didn’t I mix any of the mushrooms or celery down to the bottom? My salad days, as it were, were over. Anyway, I ate it.

All I can say is: pho that.

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Pure Milk-Chocolate-Covered
Mint Oreo Sandwich Cookies
Submitted by Julia Calagiovanni

Perhaps, like me, you have an elderly relative who is struggling with a lifetime Andes Candies addiction. The telltale signs: she pops them after every meal, and labors under the delusion that the rest of us are equally enamored with their sickly, extra-whitening mint flavor with hints of 1950s kitsch.

Luckily, there’s a more socially acceptable alternative, brought to us by the friendly folks at Nabisco. It could best be described as a genetic experiment involving an entire tube of Crest and a lifetime supply of Thin Mints, drenched in—yes—more chocolate. The end result is not exactly a health food. But when you don’t have any teeth left, does it really matter?

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Roast Beef Po Boy Sandwich

Submitted by Lizzie O’Shea

I arrived in Louisiana and all anyone could talk about was Po Boys. This phrase, like so many in American English, seems suspiciously politically incorrect, like “mental retardation” or “fanny pack.” Even “muffalata” seems slightly naughty. There are only so many visual indicators of quotation marks that you can give in a conversation before people start assuming you have a tic. After all, Americans are known for their elevated levels of irony and self-reflection, so it can be sometimes difficult to discern if one is being taken for a ride on the proverbial streetcar. So I try and stick to the word “sandwich”. Obviously these edible delights are not new, but for me, as an Australian, they’ve never been featured in my culinary consciousness. Until now.

I’m not normally a roast beef kind of woman. I’m a lentil kind of woman. So when I petitioned Chad, the guy who leaned against the grimy kitchen tiles, to tell me which was the best Po Boy, imagine my disquiet at his super-quick response of “roast beef.” I liked Chad already; he was friendly, he had a Metallica tattoo and he thought I was English. He was from Tennessee, and boy, did he sound like it. His response to my inquiry was the quickest I had heard him speak since we’d begun chatting, which was not an insignificant amount of time, given that we had already discussed his mother’s squirrel pie recipe (which is highly sought after) and his homebrew moonshine (which is not, except for the purpose of lubricating generators—or was he employing a sophisticated euphemism? Hard to tell.).

Despite the pleadings from the better angels of my nature, I followed Chad’s recommendation. The dish served to me was like one of those terrible sad stray dogs you see sometimes hanging around remote campsites. Half its guts were trailing around behind it. Indeed, the bread was almost like an afterthought, corks of carbs bobbing on a frothy tide of lumpy protein and non-descript gravy. The polystyrene plate creaked under the weight; it felt like the remnants of an entire cow, garnished with a limp pickle.

Incredibly, I had no problem with the beef. Indeed, it was more delicious than the tofu steak I had had for lunch. But how did I attempt to eat this Leviathan? This White Whale of white bread? This Moby Dick of muffalatas? Every bite I took, more of the insides oozed out, less went in my mouth, and some found its way down my top.

Physical integrity in a sandwich is important to me. Otherwise a sandwich loses its portability, elegance, and its social acceptability to those who must watch it be eaten. My Po Boy became two slippery pieces of gravy-flavored bread, the filling having slopped onto the plate below, rather than a gastronomical cross section of delicately balanced flavors and proportions. Despite such physical obstacles, I give the Po-Boy-oh-boy full marks for taste. In terms of being structurally sound, there is definitely room for improvement—it is the sandwich-which-ain’t. Pass me a fork, please.

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Ham-Flavored Ruffles
Submitted by Lindsay Eanet

During my brief stint living in Pamplona, a city known mostly for its Hemingway-lauded Mardi-Gras-for-twentysomethings-with-a-deathwish festival, I often found myself wondering how a population who enjoyed so much animal fat, nicotine and bull-goading had (at least, according to our guides) some of the longest life spans in the world. And each month, down to my last few Euros before paying rent, I’d be faced with the proverbial two roads: buy the more substantive baguette, or the bag of Ham-Flavored Ruffles.

For about half of this time, the baguette won out. But just as Juan Ramón Jiménez believed the soul of his beloved Moguer was in its bread, so I believed the soul of the entire country was in its ham and ham-flavored food products. Ham became less of a food and more of a presence, an apparition at various points in my day like Banquo’s ghost leering at me as I dined alone on my sad-looking scrambled eggs while my roommates bopped around the kitchen listening to Spanish country songs about Consuelo who wants a boy like Johnny Cash, or at least that’s what I could make of it. I could sometimes inexplicably even taste it in my milk. It was clear: in order to make this place home, I’d have to go forward with the Ham Immersion Process.

The initial taste of the Ham-Flavored Ruffle is reminiscent of BBQ-flavored chips in the States, with a slightly lingering burnt meat sort of flavor and a smokiness that works well to counter the overwhelming essence of salt. If the creators were going after recreating the ham experience at all, at least they came close to what I imagine it must be like to bite into one of the giant hocks of cured ham that hang above every pintxos bar in Pamplona. All salt and a vague idea of an aftertaste of some sort of chewy meat product. They’re not bad though, provided you’re not stuck with the chip at the bottom of the bag with all the ham powder.

Spain also has ham variations of Lays and Pringles, but something about the texture of the Ruffles, the crunch and definition of the ridges, likely, makes them a better complement to this particular combination of salt and artificial flavorings. There is also a “York’eso” variety of the Ruffles, promoting a ham-and-cheese combination, but trust me, this ham flavoring is better left unadulterated.

Before I left, I was told Spain was the center of the culinary universe right now, with chefs in the major cities being elevated to demigod status and earning Anthony Bourdain’s rarely shown affection. What I took with me, though, were the snacks.

My love for Ham-Flavored Ruffles runs parallel to my affair with Pamplona: I was not swept off my feet in a flurry of red handkerchiefs and confused steers and violently passionate ex-pat trysts. Our relationship was cemented in lazy days drinking cheap wine in parks (and nothing goes better with cheap wine and Coke than Ham-Flavored Ruffles), in cheesy Euro-disco hits rather than flamenco strains, in ex-pat friends who had the same appreciation for Lady Gaga and La Liga soccer and greasy, processed treats.

On my return home, I managed to get two snack-sized bags through Customs (by then reduced to the tasty, tasty niblets), which I later shared with friends in Missouri. They commented on the saltiness and offered a few nondescript “not bads,” while I took the last handful of them for myself. As I broke down their carefully architected ridges with my molars, I smiled as the last greasy, comfortable taste of home hit the back of my tongue.

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Whole Foods Gourmet Gumdrops
Submitted by Reema Ghazi

In my head, gumdrops exist solely in the magical far-away kingdom of Candy Land, where mountains of them must be surpassed in the quest to find the lost King Kandy, and possibly depose him (or such was the dream in my sugar-addled days of youth). Imagine my confusion, then, when these artifacts of an alternate reality presented themselves during a weekly staff meeting, when my boss offered them up as the consequence of an aversion to “gummy things.”

First: Whole Foods Gourmet Gumdrops are gargantuan. So gargantuan, in fact, that busy Washington traffic momentarily came to a halt when a clear-eyed bus driver spotted me popping one of these gelatinous behemoths into my mouth from two blocks away, and was subsequently compelled to stop, once our paths had crossed, to scream “Looks like you got some candy! Can I have some?!”

On to the flavors: There are six distinct flavors, each of which comes as no surprise given the package’s point of origin: Acai Berry, Pomegranate, Pink Grapefruit, Key Lime, Tangerine, and Meyer Lemon. Gone are the days of red, purple, green, orange—no, the gumdrops of today must reflect reality, signal current trends, be hip. Luckily for the manufacturer, they are delicious and remarkably true to their labels. Biting into a magenta gumdrop, which more closely resembles a Crayola-created abstraction than an actual real-life fruit, is a affront to all that you thought you knew. Perhaps pomegranates actually are one-inch domes covered in sugar. Maybe Acai Berry isn’t just a hyped-up blueberry touted by admen and scam artists, but a mouthwatering and compact little product that can easily be obtained in a matter of minutes.

The blissful illusion is shattered, however, once you sample the Meyer Lemon. Just like Pine Sol, and recognizably “yellow,” sticking to your teeth for a good 6-8 hours, just as the great King Kandy intended. Pawn these off to unsuspecting coworkers while you enjoy the remaining treasures of a lost Utopia.

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Frozen Banana
Submitted by Leigh Patterson

For years I struggled with frozen bananas. When you freeze a banana, its sweetness increases. Tenfold. Still, they’re a pain and a half to eat, what with giving you instant brain-freeze and being rather messy for, well, a frozen banana. (They seem to evolve from rock solid to sludge-like in mere instants.) One day my friend says to me, “Cut them in coins!” Ay carumba! My life has never been the same.