Trader Joe’s Apple Cider Donuts
Submitted by Lindsay Eanet

Summer in Chicago is a two-step, first slowly into joy and then quickly into swamp-ass. And before you know it, Chicago Autumn, which is polarizing and even briefer, a grey, pleasantly biting blip between Sweaty Chicago Summer Encore and “Character-Building” Chicago Winter.

Chicago in the summertime is magic, we’re told. It is the City at its best, its most alive. The parks and the Lakefront path are filled with joggers and cyclists and families having cookouts, music from every corner of the world blasting from blown speakers. There’s a reason you see people in the city’s yuppier enclaves clamoring for patio seating the first day the thermometer sneaks above 40 degrees. We’re told this is fleeting and we have to savor it, and do everything that can only be done in this season.

But Chicago Autumn is even shorter, and therefore this savor and do all of it feeling grows even stronger and more distilled. And nowhere is this feeling stronger than in the gravitational pull that sends us roughly 60 minutes beyond city limits to Farms That Offer Fall Activities. Pumpkin picking, apple picking, corn mazes — name a fall activity and I will show you a friend or neighbor who has posted that activity on Instagram every October. And chances are, diving into that feeling will mean consuming, at some point, a cider donut.

Last October, I road-tripped from Chicago to southwest Michigan with some friends and we decided to spend a day doing Fall Activities. But instead of going to the corn maze close by, leaving the remainder of the afternoon for us to drink beers at a picnic table and hike the dunes, one member of our party insisted we go to the Fall Activity Emporium more than an hour away, because, as she noted enthusiastically, that one had cider donuts.

And so we spent the day wrapped in seasonal idyll, lost and bug-bitten in a drying corn maze that only two friends actively tried to enthusiastically solve while the rest of us just wandered and wondered how long it was acceptable to try to walk through this in earnest before we start thrashing through the stalks to get out. We pondered sweet, mopey Highland cattle and watched youths catapult rotting pumpkins into an open field. And then there were the cider donuts, normally the pinnacle of Midwestern autumnal decadence, which were stale, dense, and missing some serious apple flavor.

And the donuts had been the entire point! Which made me wonder — do we really love doing all these fall activities, paying to pick apples and get muddy in cornfields — or do we just love eating cider donuts with our loved ones?

We likely won’t make it to a corn maze this year, let alone one out of state, but luckily, the Trader Joe’s down the street from my office has cider donuts. The apple flavor is a little timid, but the dough is nice and spongy and the cinnamon sugar leaves a sweet, speckled kiss. The cider donut I’d eaten as a sad desk breakfast before a day of meetings turned out to taste better than the one I’d eaten as part of a crisp and overly ambitious Fall Activities Day amongst friends, and even the most idyllic atmosphere that screams SAVOR THE SEASON! SAVOR EVERYTHING! cannot change that.

But, on the other hand, even mediocre snacks eaten amongst friends are snacks worth having, but that would have been true no matter the season or the setting. I’ll call it a draw.

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Market Pantry Sugar-Free Grape Drink Mix
Submitted by Kevin Tasker

Market Pantry’s Sugar-Free Grape Drink Mix with Natural Flavor and Other Natural Flavor (plus Caffeine and B-Vitamins) slowly impregnates a glass of water with thin mauve swirls and leaves a fine white grit in its wake. Pouring it and inhaling a wisp of the ominous, candy-scented smoke it produces, you might feel as if you’ve stumbled on a latter-day Radithor. As you watch, the white grit will become a dissipating galaxy. It will be at once both majestic and morbid: a vision of our own dear Milky Way as she finally shuts down. Just as deliberately, the water will turn from its original mauve to deepest royal purple. That sick chemical smell, when the grit hit the water, will no longer be around, unless you press your nose quite close, in which case the smell will register as unmistakably… purple. The taste will be sweetly acidic, with the drink seeming less like a liquid and more like a delivery system for the galaxy of grit. It’ll find a home in the molars. The water itself will sit in the stomach like something ten times its size as the cocktail of nutrients and natural flavors stage their assault on the CNS and start to elicit all sorts of Benzedrine-y shivers. As the sips go on, there might come a sense of dread as you study the unstirred portion of the alien powder, dark at the glass’s bottom. By the end, however, you’ll feel dubiously invigorated, and then, with the last sip or two, the smell will return. The galaxy’s ghost. An olfactory delight.