Saturday, November 18, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Blossom Water

     A couple of months ago I was wandering around Wegman's when I beheld something called Blossom Water.  To quote the bottle, this product is, "Water inspired by Nature.  Pure water infused with natural fruit & flower essences, lightly sweetened and finished with natural colors.  Blossom Water is a healthy beverage that is uniquely flavorful and aromatic.  We think you'll find it refreshingly sophisticated."  So how could I resist a pitch like that?  They had three kinds for sale, so I snatched them all up.  Specifically, I got the plum jasmine, the grapefruit lilac, and pomegranate geranium.
     The company website ( contained quite a bit of info.  Many testimonials about how people loved them.  Even an excellent review from the Today Show's Food Trends Editor (yes, that's a real title, and job) Phil Lempert.  Evidently, business is booming.  Blossom Water is listed as being available in 35 U.S. States, including the Northeast, Mid Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, and the Pacific Northwest.  So about everywhere except parts of the Great Plains and Alaska and Hawaii, apparently.  It's also sold in Ontario, Canada.  Aside from Wegman's, other huge supermarket chains which carry it are Whole Foods and Kroger.
     Founder/CEO Steve Fortuna was (and presumably still is) an avid gardener, and while doing this at his home in the Berkshires, Massachusetts, he came up with the idea of adding flower and fruit essences to water.  He took further inspiration from historic examples, such as rose water (which dates back to the 9th Century) and adding jasmine to green tea (as they've been doing in China for at least 1000 years).  Together with his wife, Trish, he began experimenting with various flowers and fruits, until he came up with several combos he found winning.  (Currently, along with the three I tried, there's also a lemon rose flavor.)  As the site explains, the key is using steam distillation to get the flower and fruit essences, rather than using "natural flavors," or other commonly occurring flavor sources that mimic flower and fruit flavors.  The company is also staunchly anti-sugar (a recent post on its blog around Halloween was about sugar's alleged link to depression).  Instead they use erythritol as a sweetener.  This is a naturally occurring sweetener found in fruits like grapes, watermelon, and pears.  The folks at Blossom Water claim that erythritol is superior to stevia (with its alleged bitter aftertaste), and other sugar substitutes, although it is costly to derive.  They also use agave  (more on that in my September 13, 2015 post).  Furthermore, this product is Non-GMO verified, gluten-free, kosher, and vegan.  Surprisingly, it's not organic, however.  The Fortunas began marketing their drinks in 2013.
     After all this buildup, the natural question is, how were they?  Here's what I thought.  All of these came in 16 ounce (474 ml.) glass bottles, and cost between 1-2 dollars each.

1) Blossom Water, grapefruit and lilac flavor.  Purple in color.  Weird flavor--not that strong, and not that tasty.  (Although it's true I don't like grapefruit at all.)  Also has blue agave in it.  Disappointing overall.

2) Blossom Water, pomegranate geranium flavor.  Red color.  As with the first, not a strong taste.  Maybe a hint of pomegranate.  Not very good or refreshing.  Almost made me thirstier.  Not a fan.

3) Blossom Water, plum jasmine flavor.  Purple color again.  Also has blue agave.  Once again kind of weak, bland taste.  Not bad, but not very flavorful.  Wouldn't buy again.  Not worth it.

     Therefore, I feel a little like a jerk for saying so, but I really didn't like these Blossom Waters, and won't buy them again (or try the one I didn't have, the lemon rose one).  The Blossom Water people seem like nice folks, with good intentions, but the end result I found disappointing, to say the least.  Maybe my palate is provincial.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Mexican Chips

     We're heading back to the Western Hemisphere for this week's post, to Mexico. I managed to procure three types of tortilla chips--guacamole, crunchy fajita, and nitro flavors.  Each came in a 280 gram (9.9 ounce) bag, and cost about $3 each.
     These chips were all from the Takis line, made by Barcel.  Barcel has been around since 1978, and is an American exporting brand of the overall Grupo Bimbo company.  Bimbo is monstrously huge.  It had 129,000 employees, 165 manufacturing plants, recent annual revenues of 14.1 billion dollars, and exports to 32 countries, including most of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa.  This company was started back in 1945, by Lorenzo Servitje, Jaime Sendra, Jaime Jorbal, Alfonso Velasco, and Jose Mata. The exact derivation of the name is a bit mysterious.  The most prevalent explanation is that it is a combination of the words "bingo" and "Bambi" (the Disney movie was very popular at the time).  The website notes that by a happy coincidence bimbo is also a common Italian  term for children, is similar to the Hungarian word for "bud," and that's its Chinese phoneme is close to the Chinese world for "bread."  (Left unsaid was that here in the U.S. "bimbo" has negative connotations, being a slang term for a woman of, shall we say, low moral character.)  Bimbo's corporate mascot is a polar bear wearing an apron and a chef's hat, carrying a loaf of bread.  I don't find this choice weird--lots of companies and sports teams, etc., use a bear as a logo, but I do find their stated reasons for this odd.  It's said that the polar bear was chosen for its "tenderness" and "neatness," among other things.  When I see footage of a real life polar bear bloodily tearing up a seal these descriptive words aren't what springs to mind.  Moving on, Grupo Bimbo is billed as the world's largest bakery company.  Other flavors of Takis include Fuego, Salsa Brava, Original, Cobra, and Explosion.
     Now on to my reactions to each.

1) Takis guacamole flavor.  These are thin rod shapes, about 7 cm (about 2.75 inches) long by .5 cm (about .25 inch) wide.  They were yellow in color, covered in green powder.  They tasted like corn, unsurprisingly, with a slight guacamole flavor.  Pretty good.  These had a "mild" one bar out of four, spiciness rating.  They were a solid chip-like snack.

2) Takis crunchy fajita flavor.  Same size and shape as guacamole kind.  Yellow color, this time with a reddish-orange powder covering.  They looked like rolled up nacho cheese Doritos.  Had a heavy corn taste.  Some bite, but not as much as I expected, given their two bar "hot" rating.  Alright, but a little tame.  Not as good as the guacamole ones.

3) Takis nitro flavor.  Again, same size and shape as the others.  Their spiciness rating was 3 out of four bars, or "very hot."  These were a deep red color, with a red powder.  These were noticeably spicier than the others, but not blazing.  I could definitely taste the lime and habanero  flavors.  I preferred these to the crunchy fajita kind, but not as much as the guacamole ones.  So solid overall.  The spice did build up as I kept eating (I was a pig and scarfed down the entire bag in one sitting).

     All in all, then, I came away fairly impressed by Takis.  They ranged from decent  to good, and I think I will buy them again if/when I get the chance.  I'm especially eager to try the Cobra flavored ones, if for no other reason than to find out what flavor the world's largest venomous snake has.  Also, similar to Cheese Doodles, et. al., all of these Takis were a bit messy to eat--your fingers will be coated in powder afterwards.  Finally, if anyone is interested, you can watch multiple challenge videos on YouTube wherein consumers eat the spicier flavors of Takis while avoiding drinking water, or milk, or other things to relieve the burn in their mouths.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Gummy Candies

     This time Wegman's supermarket provided 3 flavors of Japanese gummy candy--cola, Ramune soda, and melon.  They were all from the Puchao brand, manufactured by UHA Mikakuto Co., Ltd.
     Trying to learn more about the Mikakuto company was a little difficult at first, and simultaneously entertaining.  That's because the first company website I came across was, unsurprisingly, in Japanese.  There was a "translate page" option, but I soon found out this translation was limited. Only some passages were translated into English, and even these often used comical grammar and phrasing.  I don't want to come across as being ethnocentric--no doubt American websites translated into other languages also sometimes have stilted, awkward sentences and funny errors, too.  But I did notice this about the website, all the same.  Some of the product descriptions were a bit amusing too, possibly due to more cultural differences, or poor translations.  The ninja meat candy flavor was actually cola-flavored, and the tagline was, "You shall satisfy your hunger with hard garbage which chews up."  And one flavor was "bastard gummy yogurt."  Eventually I was able to locate another version of the company website which was a much better, and complete English language translation.  One of Mikakuto's slogans is "Deliciousness is gentleness."  With the notable exception of the "violent shigekicker extreme stimulant lemon candy," apparently.  The UHA in the company name stands for "Unique Human Adventure," and Mikakuto started back in 1949.
     But on to the ratings.  Each pack contained 10 individually-wrapped pieces, which were about 2.5 cm (about 1 inch) by 1.5 cm (about .65 inches).

1) Puchao gummy soft candy, melon flavor.  White on the outside, with a yellowish-orange center.  Very chewy gummy.  Reminded me a bit of Hi-Chew (see November 2, 2016 post), but better than that. Not that great, though, less than average.  But to be fair I'm not a bit fan of melons, or their flavors, in general.

2) Puchao gummy soft candy, Ramune soda flavor.  Continuing the soda theme, this one contained embedded "fizzy tablets" to mimic the carbonation of a soft drink.  This candy was also white on the outside, with blue stripes. The only textural difference I noted was it was even more chewy and taffy-like than the melon variety.  I didn't notice any carbonation-like effects.  It was fruity, and pretty good.

3) Puchao gummy soft candy, cola flavor.  As with the Ramune one, this kind also had the fizzy feature.  Which once again went unnoticed by me.  The candies were brown and white.  Rather like the ramune one, the cola flavor was solid, and decent.  I like cola sodas okay, so that probably helped my impression.

     Overall, then, these Puchao gummies ranged from less than average to slightly above average.  Better, certainly than their Hi-Chew neighbors, but not exceptional.  I might try other flavors of Puchao gummies, or other Mikakuto candies, but I don't think I'll buy these particular kinds again.


Saturday, October 28, 2017

More Baseball Trivia, Much of It Postseason Tidbits

     Major League Baseball's World Series is upon us, so I thought I'd discuss some baseball trivia.  Also, another holiday is fast approaching, so Happy Halloween, everyone!
     As before, I'm using some statistical abbreviations.  Rbi is runs batted in, the "slash" is a player's batting average/on base percentage/slugging average, and adjusted OPS is their on base plus slugging average adjusted for time period, ball park, etc., with 100 being average, and over that above average, etc..  Similarly, ERA is a pitcher's earned run average, and WHIP is walks and hits per inning pitched, with 1.000 being excellent, about 1.250 to 1.300 average, etc.  And adjusted ERA is like OPS adjusted, only for pitchers, with 100 being average, and less than that below average.

     Hitting multiple home runs in a game is obviously special.  Even more special is doing so in a playoff game.  The record is 3, held by 10 players, and accomplished 11 times (1 guy did it twice, clearly).  Oddly, it's been done twice so far this year, with at least 2 more World Series games to go.

1) 1926 Babe Ruth, New York Yankees, Game 4 of the World Series versus the St. Louis Cardinals.
2) 1928 Babe Ruth, New York Yankees, Game 4 of the World Series, again versus the Cardinals.
3) 1971 Bob Robertson, Pittsburgh Pirates, Game 2 of the NLCS, versus the San Francisco Giants.
4) 1977 Reggie Jackson, New York Yankees, Game 6 of the World Series versus the Los Angeles Dodgers.
5) 1978 George Brett, Kansas City Royals, Game 3 of the ALCS, against the New York Yankees.
6) 2002 Adam Kennedy, Anaheim Angels, Game 5 of the ALCS, versus the Minnesota Twins.
7) 2011 Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers, Game 4 of the ALDS, against the Tampa Bay Rays.
8) 2011 Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardianals, Game 3 of the World Series, versus the Texas Rangers.
9) 2012 Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants, Game 1 of the World Series, versus the Detroit Tigers.
10) 2017 Jose Altuve, Houston Astros, Game 1 of the ALDS, against the Boston Red Sox.
11) 2017 Enrique (Kike) Hernandez, Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 5 of the NLCS, versus the Chicago Cubs.

     Only one guy has ever hit 6 home runs in a single playoff series--Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers in the 2011 ALCS.  He had a record 13 rbi as well.

     The youngest player in World Series history was Fred Lindstrom of the New York Giants in 1924--he was only 18 years, 10 months, and 13 days old.  Conversely, the oldest World Series participant was Jack Quinn of the Philadelphia Athletics.  He was 46 years, 2 months, and 29 days old.

     Only one pitcher has appeared in all 7 games his team played in a World Series--Darold Knowles of the 1973 Oakland Athletics. (Update--5 days after I wrote this Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Brandon Morrow tied Knowles by pitching in all 7 games of the 2017 Series.) (There were times in the Series' early days when teams played best out of 9 game Series, but no one pitched in 7 or more games during these occasions.)

     Robby Thompson holds the dubious record of being caught stealing the most times in a game, with 4, while a member of the San Francisco Giants vs. the Cincinnati Reds in a game on June 27, 1986. The game did go 12 innings.

     Juan Alverez and Ed Olwine hold the record for most games pitched while never getting credit for a win, with 80.  Alvarez was 0-5, with a 5.22 ERA in 60.1 innings, a 1.624 WHIP, and a ERA adjusted of 91 in his 4 year career from 1999-2003.  Olwine was 0-1, with a 4.52 ERA, a 1.238 WHIP, in 89.2 innings, with a 89 adjusted ERA in his career from 1986-88.

     Catcher Russ Nixon holds the record for most at bats without a single stolen base.  He finished with a .268/.310/.361 "slash," a 84 OPS adjusted, while playing in 906 games, with 2715 plate appearances, from 1957-68.  He was thrown out 7 times attempting to steal.

     Richie Ashburn "accomplished" an incredible feat while playing with the Philadelphia Phillies on August 17, 1957, against the New York Giants in Philadelphia.  He hit a foul ball into the stands, which unfortunately hit spectator Alice Roth in the face, breaking her nose.  The game was paused while Roth was tended to, and was put on a stretcher to be removed to a hospital.  However, by this time the game was resumed.  On the first pitch, Ashburn again fouled off the ball, and hit Roth while she was lying on the stretcher, breaking a bone in her knee this time.  Ashburn visited Roth in the hospital, and they became friends (her husband was a newspaper editor with the local Philadelphia Bulletin).  Roth's grandchildren, who also were in attendance, got to visit the Phillies clubhouse, meet the players, and received some autographs.  They apparently enjoyed themselves so much that they asked their Grandmother if she'd mind going to a Philadelphia Eagles game and getting hit in the face with a football next!

     George Medich's nickname, "Doc," was literal--he was training to be a doctor, and became one in addition to his Major League career.  While at a game in Baltimore on July 17th, 1978. the Texas Ranger pitcher treated a fan (Germain Languth) who was having a heart attack, and was credited with saving the man's life.  (Sadly, according to the online sources I read, in 2002 Medich plead guilty to 12 counts of intentionally possessing controlled substances using prescriptions written out to nonexistent patients, and had his medical licence suspended by the state of Pennsylvania was expelled from the American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons.)

     Pitcher Jerry Garvin had a rather mediocre 6 year career with the Toronto Blue Jays from 1977-82, finishing with a 20-41 won-loss record,  a 4.34 ERA, a 1.431 WHIP, and an adjusted ERA of 94.  However, he may have been the best ever at picking runners off.  He picked off 4 in one game, and either 23 or 26 in a season (1977), which are believed to be all time records.  Why all the hedging, you may ask?  Because alas, throughout much of MLB history a distinction was not made between pitchers picking off a runner, and runners caught stealing by other means.

   Sticking with obscure, not comprehensively-recorded statistics, consider the hidden ball trick.  This is when a fielder fools a base runner by confusing them about who's holding the ball.  For example, a first baseman may receive an attempted pick off throw, which is unsuccessful, and then fake a throw back to the pitcher.  Then when the base runner takes their lead, the first baseman tags them out with the hidden baseball.  Anyway, third baseman Bill Coughlin of the Detroit Tigers was considered the master of this, allegedly pulling it off 7 times in his 9 year career, from 1899-1908.  He's also the only person to pull this off in a World Series game, against the Chicago Cubs Jimmy Slagle in Game 2 of the 1907 series.  (Otherwise Coughlin was less than mediocre, finishing with a slash of .252/.299/.319, with an adjusted OPS of 87.)  As with Garvin's supposed record, though, this lifetime record isn't absolute, as lists of successful hidden ball tricks haven't been kept. 

     The record for most rbi in a World Series game is 6, held by 4 players:
1) 1960 Bobby Richardson, New York Yankees, vs. the Pittsburgh Pirates.
2) 2009 Hideki Matsui, New York Yankees, against the Philadelphia Phillies.
3) 2011 Albert Pujols, St. Louis Cardinals, vs. the Texas Rangers (the same game when he hit 3 home runs).
4) 2016 Addison Russell, Chicago Cubs, vs. the Cleveland Indians.

     Surprisingly, the record for hitting into the most double plays in one World Series game is held by Hall of Famer Willie Mays.  In Game 4 of the 1951 Series he hit into 3.

     The record for most earned runs given up in a World Series game is 8, held by 2 players.  St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander gave up his in 2.1 innings in Game 2 of the 1928 Series against the New York Yankees, yielding 6 hits and 4 walks.  New York Yankee hurler Jay Witasick pitched even worse, giving up his 8 in only 1.1 innings, giving up 10 hits in the process.  This was in Game 6 of the 2001 Series vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks.

     Which World Series winning team was the best ever is obviously a subjective argument.  However, based on having the most Hall of Famers on the roster, the winner is the 1932 New York Yankees, who boasted 9 members.  These were Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Red Ruffing, Bill Dickey, Herb Pennock, Tony Lazzeri, Earle Combs, Joe Sewell, and Lefty Gomez.  (Some of these players were voted in by the Veteran's Committee, and not the regular voters, if you're a Hall of Fame purist.)

     Staying on the Hall, every World Series winning team has had at least 1 Hall of Famer on their roster up until 1996, with 2 exceptions.  (I'm using 1996 as a kind of arbitrary cutoff, since many players are voted in years or decades after their playing career has finished.  Also, some teams, like the 1988 Los Angeles Dodgers, didn't play their sole Hall of Famer (Don Sutton) in the Series that year.)  These two are the 1981 Los Angeles Dodgers and the 1984 Detroit Tigers (manager Sparky Anderson is in the Hall, though).  The 1981 Dodger team had two players who may one day be voted in--Steve Garvey and Ron Cey, in my opinion.  On the 1984 team you can make cases for Jack Morris, Alan Trammell, Lou Whitaker, and maybe even the underrated Darrell Evans.

     I'll end by discussing some records set in the 2017 Series, which is still on going as I type this.  The Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers set a record by hitting 8 home runs in Game 2, 4 by each team.  In that same game, the Astros set a record by hitting 3 home runs in extra innings, which hasn't ever been done in any playoff series.  Finally, in that exciting Game 2 Astro Marwin Gonzalez was only the 10th guy to hit a game tying home run in the 9th inning of a World Series game.  Here's the list.  6 times the team they hit it for went on to win the game, marked with a (W).
1) 1911 Frank (Home Run) Baker, Philadelphia Athletics, vs. the New York Giants, Game 3. (W)
2) 1929 Mule Haas, Philadelphia Athletics, vs. the Chicago Cubs. Game 5. (W)
3) 1953 Carl Furillo, Brooklyn Dodgers, vs. the New York Yankees, Game 6.
4) 1957 Elston Howard, New York Yankees, vs. the Milwaukee Braves, Game 4.
5) 1964 Tom Tresh, New York Yankees, vs. the St. Louis Cardinals, Game 5.
6) 1975 Dwight Evans, Boston Red Sox, vs. the Cincinnati Reds Game 3,.
7) 2001 Tino Martinez, New York Yankees, vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks, Game 4. (W)
8) 2001 Scott Brosius, New York Yankees, vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks, Game 5. (W) (Yes, the Yankees did this in consecutive games, against the same pitcher, no less--Byung-Hyun Kim!)
9) 2015 Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals, vs. the New York Mets, Game 1. (W)
10 2017 Marwin Gonzalez, Houston Astros, vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, Game 2. (W)

     (Update--some more big Series records were tied or broken in the 2017 games.  Most notably, Houston Astro George Springer tied the all time record held by Reggie Jackson (1977 Series, vs. the Los Angeles Dodgers, while playing with the New York Yankees) and Chase Utley (2009 Series, playing with the Philadelphia Phillies vs. the New York Yankees) by hitting 5 home runs in a single series.  Springer also set the record for most total bases in a single series, with 29. The old record was  25, held by Jackson for the 1977 Series, and by Willie Stargell, playing with the Pittsburgh Pirates vs. the Baltimore Orioles in the 1979 World Series.)

     Finally, one last bit of trivia, this time of the horror variety.  While a teenager, legendary horror movie director George Romero (RIP), worked as a "gofer" (assistant crew member, usually uncredited) on the set of Alfred Hitchcock's classic "North by Northwest" (1959).  He reportedly found it a negative experience, as he didn't like Hitchcock's chilly and distant manner, and thought Hitchcock's shooting style was too technical and mechanical.


Saturday, October 21, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Brazilian Drink, and a "Brazilian" One

     These are two more beverages bought from a Wegman's grocery.  The first, a cashew concentrate from the dafruta brand (apparently they are modest, or are capitalization contrarians, like poet/author e e cummings), was made in Brazil. For the second, although the label reads, "The Best From Brazil", it's named "Guarana Brazilia," and shows that country on a map, is actually manufactured in New Jersey.  Evidently some of its flavoring is from Brazil, and it's a Brazilian-style, inspired, soft drink.  So that's why I put in quotation marks in the post title.
     Alas, the maker of the Guarana Brazilia, the Crystal Beverage Corporation, does not have a website, so I wasn't able to find out much about them.  Some business-related sites claimed that they employ 16 people, have an annual revenue of $3,000,000 dollars, and have been around for about 34 years.  Otherwise, guarana is a fruit that's common in the Amazon rain forest, and is very popular, especially in Brazil and Paraguay.  The seeds contain twice the caffeine as does coffee.  This helps deter herbivores from eating them.  As such, this plant's fruit and seeds are utilized in energy drinks, usually listed as guaranine.  The seeds and fruit resemble eyeballs, which is why one of the plant's origin myths involves deities creating them using human eyes.  Also, I was amused to see that this drink covers both bases on its sweeteners, as its ingredient list says, "sugar and/or corn sweetener."
     In contrast, dafruta does have a website, although it is rather bare bones.  The brand's parent company is Liberty Imports, out of Allentown, Pennsylvania in the U.S.  It was founded in 1983 by Gloria Negrao.  The company's stated purpose is bringing Brazilian products to the U.S., and presumably the world.  In addition to the one I got, the brand makes various other fruit concentrates,as well as other fruit-based drinks, dried fruit, and crystalized ginger.  The beverage I tried is not made from cashew nuts--rather it's made from the fruit that's attached to the nut, the so called "cashew apple."  This is what botanists refer to as an "accessory fruit."  (Briefly, these are ones whose flesh come from adjacent tissue, and not from the plant's ovary.  Apples and pears are two examples.  Older terms for this phenomenon were "pseudocarp" and "spurious fruit.")  The sources I read stated that the cashew fruit is unsuitable for transport due to its fragile skin.  This explains why it's often seen as a bottled concentrate rather than a fresh fruit.
     But, on to the reviews.  The Guarana Brazilia came in a 2 liter plastic bottle (67.6 ounces). The drink itself was a light brown or honey shade.  It had a unique taste--like a fruit juice, but not a flavor I'm familiar with.  Evidently that's the natural flavor of the guarana.  I thought it was okay--not particularly dazzling, but a respectable drink.
     As for the dafruta cashew concentrate, because it's a concentrate, the label recommends that consumers don't drink the liquid straight. Instead, they advise cutting it with water, at a 1 part cashew concentrate to 7 part water ratio, along with a dose of sugar or other sweetener, to the individuals' taste.  I tried this product in several combinations.  The 1:7 ratio resulted in a rather weak tasting drink.  I preferred 1:2 or even 1:1, for a stronger flavor, and used truvia (stevia, itself a Brazilian/Paraguayan plant) to sweeten it. This brownish-yellow soft drink had a citrus-y flavor, similar to lemonade, I thought.  (Which surprised me--I thought it would taste like cashew nuts, until I read about the whole accessory fruit information.)  As with the Guarana Brazilia, I wasn't blown away by it, but it was alright.  Drinkable, certainly, and solid, but not great.  I give both drinks credit for being at least different from the usual crop of soft drinks, but I don't think I'll be purchasing them again.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Underrated Science Fiction/Horror Gems--"The Hidden"

     "The Hidden" is a 1987 film that did alright at the box office, and got okay to good reviews (currently Rotten Tomatoes has it at a 7.0 rating).  But, obviously since I'm writing about it using the title that I did, I don't think it has received the acclaim it deserves.  As is my usual practice, I'll open with a general summary, followed by a longer, spoiler-rich synopsis.  And then I'll close with some discussion about some of the movie's themes and some info about the filmmakers and cast.
     The people of Los Angeles seem to be going mad.  One by one, regular, law-abiding citizens are committing violent armed robberies, and murdering anyone who gets in their way.  Detective Thomas Beck is unable to piece together the mystery, and the connection between all the perpetrators.  An FBI agent, Lloyd Gallagher, partners up with Beck, as he's been investigating these murderers for some time.  Alas, the odd Gallagher isn't very helpful, and seems to be holding back vital information about the crimes.  The bodies keep piling up.  Finally, a speech by a Senator running for President leads to a stunning, unbelievable climax.
     (SPOILERS AHEAD UNTIL NOTED!)  "The Hidden" opens at a bank robbery in progress.  We see a trench coated man murder several people, grab a bag of money, and then go on a long car chase, which only ends after he's been shot several times and severely burned in an explosion.  The police learn that this man is Jack DeVries, described by neighbors as a normal, quiet, decent man.  DeVries has killed 12 people (including 2 children), and wounded 23 others, and robbed multiple banks and stores.  At the police station a young looking FBI agent, Lloyd Gallagher, announces he's looking for DeVries.  Back at the hospital, the mortally wounded DeVries approaches another patient.  A disgusting 2-3 foot long slug-like creature emerges from DeVries and enters the other man's body through his mouth.  This man, Miller, then abruptly leaves, just ahead of Gallagher.  We next see Miller in a music store, shoplifting cassette tapes.  When confronted by a clerk Miller brutally murders him, steals a gun from the cash register, and leaves.  Gallagher and Beck quickly establish that Miller is indeed the perpetrator.  Next, Miller discovers a local Ferrari dealership, and takes a shine to one of their cars.  To get it Miller murders 3 more people, including a shady customer who just bought the car that Miller steals.  Miller goes to the customer's business, an import company, and there discovers a huge stash of guns and other weapons.
     Beck invites Gallagher to his home for dinner.  Lloyd acts strangely in the presence of Beck's wife, Barbara, and their young daughter Juliet.  He then passes out after drinking some alcohol.  Meanwhile, Miller goes to a strip club.  We see his adopted body is in bad shape, as he's bleeding heavily, and clearly the alien possessing him needs to switch hosts soon.  He does so, possessing Brenda, one of the strippers.  The police arrive at the strip club and find Miller's corpse, and are on the lookout for the missing Brenda.  She's down the block, having violent sex with a local man in his car.  She kills him, and steals the car.  Beck and Gallagher chase her, and a crash traps her at a mannequin factory.  They appear to kill her, although it takes about 15 bullets and a fall off the roof to do so.  The alien quickly possesses Lt. Masterson's dog, and thus escapes, before Gallagher can get to Brenda's body.  Later that night, it leaves the dog and jumps into Masterson's body.  By this point Beck is frustrated by Gallagher, and has him arrested.  A check with the Seattle FBI reveals that Agent Gallagher is dead, and that a man named Stone has stolen Gallagher's identity.  During an interrogation, Stone tells Beck that he's an alien, and that they're chasing another, evil alien that can take over people's bodies.  Beck doesn't believe this story, and has Stone returned to a jail cell.
    The next morning a police lab worker activates Stone's weird alien weapon, which causes an explosion.  Masterson hears the commotion, and forces Beck at gunpoint to take him to Stone.  Along the way he confirms Stone's story about their alien natures.  After a gunfight, Masterson is mortally wounded, but manages to flee and possess Detective Willis before Stone and Beck can catch up with him.  Willis then goes to the building where Senator Holt is giving a speech.  After another gun battle Beck is shot and severely wounded, and Willis is shot up, but manages to possess Holt's body before Stone can stop him.  During Holt's speech, when Holt announces his intention to run for President, Stone is able to destroy the Senator's body with a flamethrower, although he's shot several times.  Then, Stone kills the alien as everybody sees it emerge from Holt's mouth.  In a hospital, Stone goes to Beck, and witnesses him die.  He then possesses Beck's body, and greets Barbara and Juliet.
     One of the first things that struck me about "The Hidden" is how it was another take on the cliche about the two opposite cops forced to partner up, that eventually become friends.  To be fair to the movie, in 1987 it wasn't as hoary a cliche, but it had been done before, obviously.  But this film's version is, I think, still satisfying.  I enjoyed the back and forth between the frustrated human Beck and the alien Gallagher (aka Stone, and Alhague).  Gallagher has an endearing child-like quality to him, as he happily admits to stealing his Porsche, and doesn't know how to take Alka Seltzer or aspirin.  And Beck is appropriately sympathetic--from his point of view this case makes no sense, and it's clear that Gallagher isn't being straight with him.  And then when Gallagher finally is honest with him, he answer is even more seemingly crazy.
     I found the concept of an alien that can jump from body to body, hiding itself, an intriguing one.  How do you fight a killer that can do this?  I found it reminiscent of another movie I discussed on this blog, "Fallen" (see September 6, 2012 post).  (Technically "The Hidden" predates "Fallen," so maybe the latter was influenced by the former.)  Although the movie geek in me is curious--Gallagher says his gun is the only thing that can kill the evil alien, but is this true?  It appears to have a soft, fleshy, tangible body.  Wouldn't bullets, or blades, or fire wound and even kill it, if you were quick enough to attack while it was in the middle of switching bodies?  Or even when it's inside a host, wouldn't enough bullets eventually hit the alien body within the host body?  Surely it has vital areas--a brain (or the equivalent), circulatory system, digestive system, etc.  I know, I know, it's a movie, and they wanted to set up that only the good alien's laser gun could kill it, but I question that.
     Another aspect of "The Hidden" reminded me of "Alien," and its sequels.  And that is, simply, oral rape.  Both the evil alien, and Alhague/Gallagher/Stone enter their host via the mouth.  The former's is a revolting, tentacled slug forcing its way into the victim's body, while the latter's is a yellow light, but the avenue is the same.  (Also, perhaps importantly, the evil alien enters people who are still alive, while we only see Alhague possess Beck after Beck dies.)  Plus it leads to questions about the invaded person.  Once this happens, are they then permanently dead?  Gallagher says that "the real" Masterson is dead, but is this so?  The evil alien uses its host's bodies harshly, going along until it's too shot up and mortally damaged before switching to a new one.  But if, say, Masterson was caught, and securely bound, could you induce the alien to leave his healthy body, and thus have the real Masterson then revive in his own body?  Also, were the hosts conscious, at any level, about what the evil alien possessor was making their bodies do?  If so, that's a terrifying concept.  To be trapped, helpless, while your body commits terrible crimes and atrocities--how unsettling.  It's like another movie stereotype, the violent split personality.  Your body is robbing and murdering people, but the real you is innocent.  But no one will ever believe the truth....
     Then there's the ending.  I find this extremely disturbing.  Because, as presented, it appears that Alhague/Gallagher/Stone is going to appropriate Beck's identity.  We hear him admit that the evil alien killed his partner, wife, and daughter.  So it appears that he's simply going to adopt Beck's family as a replacement.  Which is, obviously, a terrible idea.  He's an alien--he knows the basics of human society, but certain mundane things elude him.  Plus a huge one--Beck's memories.  There's no evidence that the possessing alien gains the host's knowledge.  Some examples are that the evil alien doesn't know where Gallagher is, and where the Senator's speech is being held, even though his host, Masterson, knew these things.  We've already seen how shaky Gallagher is at convincingly playing a human--how will he ever portray Beck to Beck's wife, or his daughter, or his friends and colleagues?  He won't be able to.  Even if he tries to secretly learn about Beck's life and opinions, etc., he'll be tripping up and making mistakes constantly.  So his wife (and colleagues, etc.) will naturally believe the only rational explanation--his coma from the bullet wound damaged his brain, and changed his personality.  (This all assumes that Alhague doesn't come clean about the details of the alien, even after many people saw it emerge from Holt--but I think it's safe to assume Alhague will keep this secret, given his personality and history.)  So they'll tolerate it, because they have to--"In sickness and in health" after all, but secretly, they'll know something is wrong, and not completely accept it.  And then the guilt hits, from apparently rejecting your spouse because he suffered a wound while doing his job.  Barbara Beck will be unhappy, and frustrated, and guilty, so how can this marriage be a healthy one?  Her subconscious will know that this "Thomas Beck" isn't the "real" Thomas Beck, but she can't really admit this.  (Again, assuming the real details of the evil alien, and then Alhague, weren't made clear to the police, etc.)  Beck's colleagues and friends will go through this too, to a lesser degree, and also his daughter.  In short, if Alhague tries to recreate his family, using humans, he's being incredibly selfish, and is deluding himself if he thinks this will work on any level.  The only decent thing thing to do is possess Beck's body long enough to say a nice goodbye to Barbara and Juliet, and then let Beck's body die, and switch into another person's body, and/or leave Earth.  (Furthermore, if Barbara does learn that aliens can possess people's bodies, she's going to suspect Alhague is inhabiting Beck's body really quickly, and will quite naturally be furious about this.  The lying, deception, rape by trickery, etc. would clearly be monstrously unacceptable to anyone.)  After I wrote this, I checked the plot description of the movie's sequel, "The Hidden II," which was released direct-to-video in 1993.  (It's also very poorly regarded, with a 2.7 score on Rotten Tomatoes, and judging by most of the reviews I read on IMDB.)  In it Alhague has indeed continued to inhabit Beck's body, and his relationship with his family is limited and dysfunctional.  It's been at least 15 years, and Juliet is now a cop, investigating the evil alien's children, grown from eggs that the original one hid long ago.
     (END SPOILERS--SAFE FOR ALL READERS)  As for the filmmakers and cast, most of them had limited careers, or continued to work as character actors, often in smaller films and television.  Director Jack Sholder is probably best known for "Alone in the Dark" (1982, not to be confused with the Uwe Boll video game adaptation disaster), "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2:  Freddy's Revenge" (1985), "Wishmaster 2: Evil Never Dies" (1999), and "Beeper" (2002).  He's currently a stage and screen teacher at Western Carolina University.  Writer Jim Kouf (he used the alias Bob Hunt for "The Hidden"), wrote "Class" (1983), "Up the Creek" (1984), "Stakeout" (1987) "Rush Hour" (1998), and "National Treasure" (2004), among others.  Surely the best known of the people involved with "The Hidden" was star actor Kyle McLachlan, who played Gallagher/Stone/Alhague.  He's known for roles in "Dune" (1984), "Blue Velvet" (1986), "The Doors" (1991), "Showgirls" (1995), "The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants Part 2" (2008), and in television shows like "Twin Peaks," "Sex and the City," and "Desperate Housewives."  Michael Nouri, who played Thomas Beck, appeared in "Flashdance" (1983), "Finding Forrester" (2000), "The Terminal" (2004), "The Proposal" (2009), and "The Squeeze" (2015), among others.  The actress who played Barbara Beck, Katherine Cannon, is best known for roles in "Private Duty Nurses" (1971), "Women in Chains" (1972) and on television's "Beverly Hills 90210" in the 1990's.  Claudia Christian, who played the stripper Brenda, was also in "Clean and Sober" (1988), "Hexed" (1993), and on TV's "Babylon 5" in the 1990's.  Chris Mulkey ("Jack DeVries") was in films such as "First Blood" (1982), "48 Hrs" (1982), "Dreamscape" (1984), "Behind Enemy Lines" (1997). "Cloverfield" (2008), and "The Purge" (2013).  Richard Brooks ("Detective Sanchez") was also in "Teen Wolf" (1985), "Shocker" (1989), and the television show "Law & Order" in the late 1990's/early 2000's.  Clarence Felder, who played Lt. Masterson, is probably best known for roles in "After Hours" (1985), "Ruthless People" (1987), and "A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child" (1989).  The actor who played Lt. Flynn, Clu Gulager, is known for films such as "The Killers" (1964), "Shaft" (1974), "The Return of the Living Dead" (1985), "A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge" (1985), and "Piranha 3DD" (2012).  Finally, Danny Trejo has a tiny, blink-and-you'll-miss-it, role as a prisoner.  Trejo has been in dozens (hundreds?) of movies, including "Desperado" (1995), "From Dusk til Dawn" (1996), the "Spy Kids" series (started in 2001), and as the title character in "Machete" (2010) and "Machete Kills" (2013).
     All in all then, "The Hidden" is an entertaining sci-fi/horror/action romp.  It has an engaging plot, numerous fun car chases, and lots of exciting gun fights.  There are moments of levity, but the movie doesn't make the mistake of going too campy and self-aware.  I think fans of these genres will enjoy it.


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Raw and Sprouted Foods

     The topic of this week's post can be termed as another "food with a philosophy."  In this case, the raw food movement.  Briefly, proponents of this diet claim that raw foods are healthier than processed and cooked ones, since some nutrients are destroyed, or at least minimized, during these actions.  Some folks, of course, take this to extremes, and think that humans shouldn't eat any cooked foods, and that avoiding these can protect consumers against most diseases, even serious ones such as cancers.  Later in this piece I'll cover the opposing views.
     I purchased three raw and sprouted foods, all from the Go Raw line  of the Freeland Foods company, out of California in the U.S.  I had the sweet spirulina and the pumpkin seed kinds from their "sprouted bites" line, and the lemon pie flavor from their "sprouted cookie" line.  Other categories in their catalog include sprouted bars, coconut crisps, raw chocolate, grow protein bars, sprouted flax seed, sprouted granola, salad snacks, and sprouted seeds.  Freeland Foods are billed as junk-free, sprouted, raw, all organic, GMO-free, and (for most kinds) vegan and kosher.  The company also endorses responsible farming.  Each of the bags I got were 3 ounces (85 grams) and were fairly pricey, being between $4 and $5.
     The sweet spirulina bites were made from sesame seeds, banana, unsulphured coconut, dates, and spirulina (a kind of cyanobacteria (nee blue-green algae)).  They were square in shape, about 1.25 inches (about 3 cm.) to a side, with a dark green color, with visible sesame seeds at the surface.  I tasted the banana sweetness, and not much else.  They were fairly bland.  Although as I continued to eat the bag they grew on me slightly.  But still, mediocre at best.  The pumpkin seed kind was made from sprouted pumpkin seeds (of course), sprouted flax seeds, dates, agave nectar (see September 13, 2015 post), and Celtic sea salt.  These bites were square, about 2.5 cm. (about 1 inch) to a side, with a greenish/yellowish/brownish hue, with visible seeds pressed into them.  This kind had a granola-like taste, with a hint of sweetness.  Solid, but not great.  The best of the bunch, but not awesome.  Finally, the lemon pie cookies were brownish-yellow in color, and round, with a diameter of about 1.25 inches (about 3 cm.), yet again with seeds apparent on the surface.  These contained unsulphured coconut, sprouted sesame seeds, dates, and lemon oil.  These cookies had a slight lemon tang, but were blandish once more.  The label claimed they were "decadent and sweet," which I think is an overstatement.  However, as with the spirulina one, they did kind of grow on me as I finished the bag.  Overall though, I don't think I'll buy any of these again.  They were average to kind of alright, but not special enough to become a regular snack for me.
     As for the claim that raw and sprouted foods are much healthier than cooked ones, there are certainly detractors.  For example, while some foods' nutrient load is lessened by cooking, for others, such as spinach, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, and sweet potatoes, their nutrients are actually improved by cooking.  Also, the act of eating, and digestion, starting with the saliva in chewing, and ending with a bath in stomach acid, destroys many of the healthy enzymes anyway, whether the foods were raw or cooked.  So, all in all, some nutritionists contend that the health benefits of raw/sprouted foods are exaggerated in many cases.  Furthermore, there are some health risks with eating a raw/sprouted diet.  Consumers can suffer from Vitamin B12, Vitamin D, and calcium deficiencies, cholesterol problems, and poor bone density, which can be magnified in children.  Also sprouted foods have the danger of becoming contaminated with very serious bacteria, such as e. coli, listeria, and salmonella.  This is especially risky if one is drying and sprouting their raw foods at home.  I think the general consensus of nutritionists is that raw and sprouted foods can be beneficial, but avoiding all cooked foods may be too extreme.  So, as with all alternative diets, it's probably best to get all the available information first, and check with your doctor, etc., before making drastic changes.  (For a discussion about another alternative diet, the Paleo Diet, see the December 13, 2015 post.)