Saturday, February 18, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Company Snacks Made in Thailand, and Brief Writing News

     I realize the title of this post is a little clunky, but that's the situation here.  I hurriedly grabbed two bags of snacks that both read, "Product of Thailand."  However, when I looked up the products online, I learned that the manufacturing companies was actually Japanese.  The two snacks I tried were Shirakiku nori make arare (or rice crackers with seaweed) and Calbee baked shrimp chips.
     Both companies had almost ridiculously detailed websites.  Shirakiku is actually a private brand of products made by Wismettac Asian Foods, Inc.  The company, which has had some name changes, was founded in 1912.  They produce a whole host of food items--frozen seafood, ramen, fruits and vegetables, and both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages.  Also some non-edible food products, like chopsticks, bento boxes, and sushi trays.  This Kobe, Japan based company boasted sales of 1.2 billion in 2015, and employs over 1200 people worldwide.  Additionally, their Frequently Asked Questions section on the website answers the query, "Is it safe to eat products from Japan after a nuclear power plant accident?"  (The short answer is apparently "yes," as government agencies from Japan, the U.S., and Canada inspect and clear their food products.)
     Calbee is a slightly newer company, dating back to 1949.  This company specializes in potato-based snacks, other veggie snacks, and granola-type cereals.  Among other things, their website mentions that they have an impressive 99.9% recycling rate.  Also that they employ 3728 employees (as of February 17, 2017 I guess--I can't believe how exact they are!)  Calbee also received awards in 2014 and 2016 for being proactive about promoting female employees and staff.  As for marketing, Calbee both sponsors a car racing team and  the Tiger and Bunny anime.  Finally, they currently are owned by 25,730 shareholders.  (Sorry, I know the average reader almost certainly doesn't care about this, but I'm amused by the precise statistics on their public website.)
     As it turns out, I had the seaweed rice crackers before, years ago, although it might have been a different company's version.  Shirakiku's crackers were small, yellowish-brown rods that were wrapped in seaweed.  Texture-wise, they were very crunchy.  The taste was very good.  Since I'm a fan of seaweed in general (see December 12, 2013 post for more information) it's not too surprising that I liked a rice cracker wrapped in it.  Quite a respectable snack.  I can heartily recommend the Shirakiku nori make arare.
    The Calbee shrimp chips were also rod shaped, with ribs on them.  Their yellow chips were about 2 inches (about 5 cm.) long.  They're made from wheat flour, palm oil, shrimp, corn and tapioca starches, sugar, salt, and leavening (which contains various chemicals, including the dreaded-by-some MSG).  Like the seaweed crackers they were crunchy.  And once again, they were quite tasty.  Their shrimp flavor was detectable, but not too overpowering.  I enjoyed these a lot, and will definitely buy them again when I get the chance (both of these snacks came from a Wegman's supermarket).
     Overall, then, it was a good week's haul--both snacks were clearly worth it.
     Switching tracks, I recently got an acceptance from a horror magazine called DeadLights.  It's for a non-fiction piece.  We should start editing very soon, and the issue is due out this April.  More details to follow.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Polish Juice Drinks

     A nearby Wegman's grocery in Southeast Pennsylvania paid off again.  Among other treasures, their foreign food aisle yielded up a couple of Polish juice (soft) drinks.  I quickly snapped them up.
     Normally this is the paragraph where I would give a brief background about the company that made the products I was trying.  Alas, I can't really do this in a very detailed way today.  I looked up the company in question, Vavel, and couldn't find much.  A few other products, but that's about it.  So, in addition to fruit drinks, Vavel makes a variety of jams, marinated vegetables, pickles, sauerkraut, and at least one kind of cream fudge.  As for the juice drinks, other than the two I tried, the carrot and black currant flavors, they also make tomato and cherry versions.
     Carrots are one of the older vegetables that people have domesticated and cultivated.  They are believed to have first been grown in Iran and Afghanistan by at least 5000 years ago.  Their original colors were red, yellow, and purple, with the now common orange kind being a relatively recent development, about 400 years old.  They're probably most renowned for being an excellent source of the nutrient beta-carotene, which actually gets part of its name from carrots.  However, one claim about carrot's health benefits is now known to be false.  During World War II, English Royal Air Force pilots and crew seemed to be doing unusually well during air fights at night.  The reason for this was said to be their diet heavy on carrots.  Which, it turns out, is a wild exaggeration.  Vitamin A (which is also present in carrots) does help a person's vision if their diet is deficient, but it won't make a normal person see almost supernaturally well at night.  The RAF's real secret was that they'd developed radar, but didn't want to admit this, for obvious reasons.  Also, if a person eats huge amounts of carrots (or other beta-carotene rich foods) their skin may turn orange.  It's called, carotenodermy, and is usually harmless, although surely off-putting to witnesses.
     Black currant is a plant, and correspondingly, an edible berry of this plant.  They are thought to have first been cultivated in the 11th century, in Russia.  Now they can be found across Northern and Central Europe and Asia.  Raising them was actually banned in the U.S. in the early 1900's, because they're a vector for a type of fungus that harmed the American logging industry.  The federal ban was lifted in 1966.  Since then, some states have legalized it again.  The berries themselves are considered to have a very strong and tart taste.  As such, they're usually not eaten raw, but are made into juice additives, jams, sauces, or dessert additives to things like cheesecake, yogurts, and ice cream.  The British sometimes use them in a couple of beer cocktails (see August 31, 2014 post for more information on these).  A lager 'n' black is black currant juice mixed into that type of beer, and a "black 'n' black" is the juice in a stout.
     Also, on a personal note, if I haven't already made it clear in past posts, I despise carrots.  Along with hot beverages, soups, and lima beans, I hate carrots with every cell of my body.  It drives me crazy when salads or entrees have carrot shavings scattered within them.  I'm sure I've embarrassed many dining companions at restaurants when I painstakingly try to remove every last carrot shred.  But, I was willing to "take one for the team," so to speak, for the purposes of this post.
     On that note, let's get to the drinks.  Each bottle was a robust 750 milliliters, or 25.36 ounces.  The carrot drink was made with 35% juice, while the other one was made up of 25% black currant juice.  Each was fairly high in calories--the carrot kind was 270 calories for the entire bottle, and the black currant one was 390.  The carrot drink was orange in color, of course, and had an unpleasant odor.  The taste was a bit sweeter than a regular carrot, presumably due to the presence of sugar and fructose/glucose syrup in it.  But I thought it was pretty bad.  I did manage to choke down 8 ounces of it, so it was barely drinkable.  In damning it with faint praise, it was not literally vomit-inducing, as I feared.  On the other hand, I won't have this one again, unless someone's life literally depends on it.  (And I'd probably still have to think long and hard about it.)  Fortunately, the black currant one was much better.  It was purple, and didn't have much of a smell either way.  It was tart, as advertised, but still pretty good.  I'm guessing the added sweeteners cut the black currant's tartness enough.  So, for this category there were no surprises.  I hated the carrot one, and enjoyed the black currant one.
     Finally, to throw out some food/beverage trivia, I learned that vodka is thought to have been invented in Poland, sometime in the 8th century.  And, more definitively, bagels also hail from Poland originally.  Jewish communities there created them in the early 1600's or so.


Saturday, February 4, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Pepino Melons

     First off, the name is a little strange.  "Pepino" is Spanish for "cucumber."  Although some claim the flavor of this fruit is cucumber-like, they're not related to cucumbers.  They are sometimes called pepino dulce ("sweet cucumber" in Spanish) to differentiate them from regular cucumbers.  Then there's the second part of the name.  While they look somewhat like small melons, kind of, and are thought to taste like some varieties, they're only very distantly related to them.  Pepinos are actually part of the nightshade family, so they're closely related to tomatoes and eggplant.  Confused yet?  So am I.
     Moving on, the pepino is native to the Andes region, in Chile, Peru, and Columbia.  As such, they're commonly eaten in these countries, along with Ecuador and Bolivia.  They're also grown a bit in other areas with hot enough environments, like California, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Israel, and Kenya.  They don't travel very well, so they're not as popular world wide.  Their domestication is a mystery, other than their birth area.  They're also not found growing in the wild.
     The pepino is sometimes classified as a "super fruit," as it has significant amounts of Vitamins C, K, A, and B, as well as protein, iron, fiber, and potassium.  It's also alleged to help battle liver disease and strokes, and aid in stamina and cardiovascular health.  But, as usual, these affects haven't been conclusively proven.  (Incidentally, I'm getting tired of writing this--for a change, I'd like to post about an exotic that has definite, scientifically proven medical benefits.)
     The most common way to eat a pepino is raw, cut open, and scooped out with a spoon.  Occasionally folks cook them up with honey, or sugar.  Although the whole thing is edible, most people don't eat the skin, as it's tough and unpalatable.  So mostly it's the pulp and seeds that are consumed.
     The one I got was about fist sized--about 4 inches (about 10 cm.) long, about 3 inches (about 7.5 cm.) wide, with a tear drop shape.  The outer rind was greenish/whitish/yellowish, with purple racing stripes running down it.  I did the normal method, and just cut it open and had at it.  The interior pulp was yellowish-orange, with a cavity for the seeds.  The texture reminded me of melons.  The taste was reminiscent of a honeydew melon.  Only weaker--the flavor was extremely bland.  I didn't detect any cucumber-like hints.  Overall, it didn't taste bad, but it didn't seem worth the $3.99 I paid for it.  I'm glad I got to try this somewhat rare fruit, but it wasn't very impressive.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Taco Bell's Affront to the Almighty

     Ha!  I'm just being dramatic, of course.  I'm referring to Taco Bell's newest creation, that was just rolled out nationwide (in the U.S.) two days ago--the Naked Chicken Chalupa.  Big deal, you may be saying, another chalupa--who cares?  Well, this one is quite different.  Instead of a flour or corn-based outer shell, this one consists of pressed fried chicken.  Or, essentially, the Taco Bell version of KFC's Double Down sandwich, which I discussed in detail in my May 8, 2014 post.
     Unlike KFC, though, I've always liked Taco Bell, albeit in a "guilty pleasure" sort of way.  It started back in my high school days, when my friends and I would drive to the nearby one during lunch period (which was kind of tight, time-wise, as our school periods were only 42.5 minutes long).  Up through the present, Taco Bell and the harder to find White Castle are my favorite fast food joints.  I realize that Taco Bell, like most fast food places, utilize cheap, low-grade food.  The 2000 GMO corn recall, and the furor over the "pink slime" beef in 2012 are just two examples of this, shall we say, relaxed attitude to using the highest quality ingredients.  I further realize that Taco Bell is a perverted, American-ized approximation of authentic Mexican food.  (The restaurant chain has opened up stores in Mexico on two occasions, but both closed down quickly, due to lack of sales.  Evidently, and reasonably, Mexicans weren't big fans of consuming a watered-down, inauthentic copy of their traditional cuisine.)  But, even with these sins admitted, I still enjoy it.  I guess it's a cultural example of me being an ugly American.  So my friends and I jokingly referred to it as "Taco Smell" and "Taco Hell," but many of us were still regular customers.
     Taco Bell was started by a man named, of all things, Glen Bell.  Bell started off with a hot dog stand, then expanded into a hamburger and hot dog stand, and finally switched to a taco stand.  As he grew more successful, he opened up restaurants, called Taco Tias, then El Taco, then Taco Bell in the early 1960's.  Bell sold the chain to PepsiCo in 1978, for over 120 million dollars.  It's become a giant chain, with franchises around the world.
     But back to the focus of this piece.  I picked up my Naked Chicken Chalupa at around lunch time on its opening day.  Structurally it looked like a taco, although it came with a cardboard stand to help keep its innards contained.  Inside the fried chicken "shell" was lettuce, onions, tomatoes, shredded cheese, and an avocado sauce.  As so frequently happens when I make fun of a food beforehand, the result was very good.  I can't say it tasted like a regular taco or chalupa, but its distinct flavor was still impressive.  I finished it eagerly, and I think I will buy this again.  Keep in mind though, this product is listed as being available for a limited time.  So, as with the Double Down, laugh at it if you want, but the weird mutant food item was a pleasing dining experience.  (I was amused, but not very surprised to learn that the authentic Mexican chalupa, named after a type of boat, is very different from what Taco Bell calls a chalupa.)
     Finally, Taco Bell had an advertising campaign that has the odd distinction of being popular, but which resulted in lower (or at least not markedly increased) sales, much like the Energizer Battery Bunny commercials.  The Taco Bell chihuahua, who appeared in many ads saying, "Yo quiero Taco Bell!" ("I want Taco Bell" in Spanish) in the late 1990's/early 2000's, received a lot of attention, and acclaim.  However, sales actually decreased afterwards.  Advertising experts postulated that people may have thought that the dog was cute, and funny, but they may have then associated Taco Bell's products with dog food, which wasn't that appetizing!  (On a sad note, that dog from the commercials, Gidget, passed away in 2009.)
     Oh, and reportedly KFC is currently selling another unholy chicken abomination in the Far East, called a Chizza.  This is a "pizza" which is sauce, cheese, and toppings on a "dough" made of fried chicken.  I can't wait to try this one.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

TPC Day!

     Today EMP Publishing is running an event for their recently released anthology, "The Prison Compendium."  Part of this is a charity drive for donating books to various prisons around the country.  Here's the address for more info about that:
      And here's another for updates about the funding:
     Moving on, one of my co-authors for "The Prison Compendium," Gregory L. Norris, has a fun post on his blog today.  In it, many of the authors for this anthology discuss the back stories for their contributions to "The Prison Compendium."  You can find that at:
     Meanwhile, our anthology is climbing the charts.  The last time I checked it was selling well, and had received four 5-star reviews on Amazon.  Let's hope there are many more sales and satisfied readers.
     You can pick up a copy for yourself at Amazon (, or over at the EMP website:
     I'll close by including the covers, and the author list once more, below.

TOC (story ordering not set)
  1.  "A Ray of Hope" by Paul Stansfield
  2.  "The Joint" (a poetry collection) by Randy D. Rubin
  3.  "Finding the Answer" by Travis Richardson
  4.  "It's a Kinda Magic" by Jeremy Mays
  5.  "Swing a Sparrow on a String" by Ken Goldman
  6.  "The Life and Multiple Deaths of Virgil Eugene" by Jennifer Word
  7.  "Jeremy Knox" by Jeffrey K. Blevins
  8.  "Responsibility" by A. R. Shannon
  9.  "The Will to Lose" by Laird Long
  10. "Parole Violator" by Laird Long
  11.  "Solitary Man" by Adrian Ludens
  12.  "End a Days" by Kristin Dearborn
​  13.  "Just a Spoonful of Horror" by Gary Ives
  14.  "Penalty for Misuse - $20" by J. J. Steinfeld
  15.  "The True Vocation of Sandy Brylirn" by J. J. Steinfeld
  16.  "A Rose is a Rose?" by Larry Lefkowitz
  17.  "Mistress of Light and Dark" by Catherine MacKenzie
  18.  "Unlife Sentence" by Eric J. Juneau
  19.  "The Flea Jar" by Layla Cummins
  20.  "The Side Job" by Joseph B. Cleary
  21.  "In the Jailhouse" by Bruce Harris
  22.  "Impala" by Timothy O'Leary
  23.  "Second Chance" by Tom Larsen
  24.  "Return to Death Row" by Fredrick Obermeyer
  25.  "Smaller" by James A. Miller
  26.  "A Farewell to Apotheosis" by Gregory L. Norris
  27.  "Brooms" by Jon Michael Kelley
  28.  "Seven Conversations in Locked Rooms" by Alex Shvartsman
  29.  "Prisoner Reincarnated" by Calvin Demmer
​  30.  "Innocence USA" by David Rachels
  31.  "Misconceptions" by Bryan Grafton
  32.  "Redemption" by Lee Duffy

  33.  "Monroe and Warner" by Morgen Knight

Friday, January 20, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Australian Liquorice

     Throughout my life, I've been rather indifferent to licorice (or liquorice, depending on what country you're from).  I didn't really dislike it, exactly, but I also didn't seek it out, or buy it much.  There were always better candies to get, such as ones which were made out of chocolate, or those composed largely of peanut butter, or caramel, etc.  So when I saw a type of licorice from Australia, from the Darrell Lea company, I wasn't dazzled.  I decided to give it a try, but mostly for this blog, rather than out of genuine interest.  (Perhaps paradoxically, I do like absinthe (see November 18, 2015 post), which is made with the licorice-like anise flavor, but this is the exception that proves the rule, I suppose.)
     The Darrell Lea company is fairly old, dating back to 1927.  Their website tells a rags to riches story:  first sold out of a pushcart, then made in a small factory located under the first arch of the iconic Sydney Harbour Bridge, and then into the large conglomerate that they are today.  The company boasts that it's 100% Australian owned, and that its liquorice is free of GMO's, trans fats, preservatives, sweeteners, and high fructose corn syrup.  Also it's low in fat and salt.  And their liquorice is kosher and vegetarian-appropriate.  Darrell Lea's main products are liquorice stix (liquorice pieces with mango or strawberry/white chocolate filling), a "traditional liquorice mix," and several kinds of "soft eating licorice"--pineapple, green apple, mango, blueberry and pomegranate, original, and strawberry.  (I was rather amused by the "soft eating liquorice" title--does that imply that there is "cleaning liquorice," or "vermin-killing liquorice," or "mathematical liquorice"?)  Currently the company's products are available in the U.K., U.S., Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Belgium, Denmark, and The Netherlands.  Here in the States many stores stock them, from the chain groceries like Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Publix, ShopRite, and Giant Eagle, to stores like Target, Rite Aid, Marshalls, and TJ Maxx.  Some of those I thought were clothing stores, so I don't know what is going on there.
    Liquorice itself has been a popular food item for thousands of years.  It was enjoyed in ancient Greece, it can be found in ancient Egyptian tombs, and has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for at least 3000 years.  The plant prefers a hot climate, so it grows in Southern Europe, Central Asia, Australia, and the Middle East.  Liquorice is billed as being 50 times sweeter than sugar.  And although its taste is very similar, it's not related to anise or fennel.  Folks in France and Spain sometimes dig up the root, clean it off, and chew on it as a natural, refreshing snack.
     Healthwise licorice appears to be a mixed bag.  Some maintain it's useful in combatting hepatitis,certain kinds of dermatitis, hyperlipidaemia, hyperpigmentation, and dental caries.  However, these claims haven't been proven scientifically.  On the other hand, some health detriments have been identified.  The U.S. FDA strongly urges consumers not to eat more than 70-150 grams (2.5- 5.3 ounces) daily, lest they develop edema, hypokalemia, weigh loss/gain, or hypertension.  So I guess licorice is something that should be an occasional treat rather than a regular part of one's diet.
     Anyway, I was able to buy the original flavor, and the strawberry kind, at Wegman's.  Both came in rod-shaped pieces, rather than the long stringy "ropes" that are traditional in U.S. licorice.  The rods were about 5 cm. long (or about 2 inches) and about 1 cm. (or about half an inch) wide.  The original flavor pieces were jet black, while the strawberry ones were bright red.  The taste for both was surprisingly impressive.  Richer and fuller than I expected.  Much better than the common U.S. Twizzlers.  (I haven't sampled the U.S. West Coast-based Red Vines, so I can't comment on them as a comparison.)  For the first time I really enjoyed a licorice candy.  I'll look for these again, and seek out their alternate flavors too.  The website and bag label boast that their liquorice secret is that they gently cook it to seal in moisture, and then they "add in a good dose of Australian magic."  So even if the latter is ground up wombats or something, the results are very good.  If you like licorice, or even if you're mostly ambivalent about it like I am normally, you might want to give the Darrell Lea's liquorice a try.
     One final odd tidbit--evidently over 60% of the liquorice harvested every year goes to flavoring cigarettes and other smoked/chewed tobacco products.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Mincemeat Pie

     I'd heard "mincemeat" used as an expression, as in, "I'll make mincemeat out of you!" as a threat.  I've also read about it in books, or heard it mentioned in movies, especially older ones, set in the U.K. or Europe.  But I'd never had a opportunity to try it until recently.  The Shady Maple Farm Market in East Earl, Pennsylvania, came through.  Also, my friend Gene nicely offered me the final piece in the 6 inch (about 15 cm.) diameter pie he'd bought.
     I was also unsure about what mincemeat pie actually consisted of.  Sure, "meat" is in the name, but I was under the impression that this was really a type of fruit pie, at least in modern times.  It turns out that there are several varieties.  The old, traditional mincemeat pie did in fact contain meat, in the form of beef or venison, which was then mixed with dried fruit, distilled spirits, and spices, all of which was then stuffed into a pie crust.  Or kind of like a chicken pot pie, meat pie, or a shepherd's pie.  Something eaten as the main course at dinner.  However, these ingredients have changed over time.  By the mid 20th century, with spices like nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon more readily available, mincemeat pie changed into more of a sweet, dessert-type of pie.  Meat was sometimes eliminated entirely, or present only as suet (fat).  And even more recently, some vegetarians make a version without even this suet.  Presumably, somewhere there's even a vegan type which doesn't even use eggs or butter.  Whatever its form, mincemeat pie continues to be fairly common in much of the world.  It's found in Northern Europe, Ireland, the U.K., the U.S., South Africa, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.
     The mincemeat pie I tried was a bit old school.  The filling did indeed contain beef, mixed in with apples, apple cider, red wine, rum, raisins, salt, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and allspice.  The crust was regular wheat, eggs, milk, butter, various vegetable oils, and artificial flavors, etc.  It was a little pricey, too, as the small pie cost $5.49.  My slice looked like a regular yellowish crust containing a brown filling.  It reminded me of pecan pie filling in appearance, minus the latter's visible nut pieces.  I peered at it carefully, but couldn't identify any separate pieces of beef, or apple chunks.  Apparently everything had been ground up very fine (or "minced," as the name also suggests).  I quite enjoyed it.  It was very dense, and sweet.  Definitely like a dessert, and not like a savory pot pie.  I couldn't detect much of a meat taste, but it was very rich, and different from a usual apple pie somehow.  Maybe it was the booze!  I was slightly disappointed that I couldn't pick out the beef flavor, but on the other hand, it was undeniably a tasty treat.  I'll try to compare it to the fruit and just suet version, or even the all vegetarian ingredients one, when and if I get the chance.  But I certainly strongly recommend the type of mincemeat pie I sampled, to anyone who likes fruit pies (which I'm guessing is a whole lot of people).