Saturday, September 16, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Swedish Cookies

     Once again some cultural differences will be evident in the names of the products I'll be discussing today.  As I've mentioned previously (see May 13, 2017 post), some places, notably the U.K., Ireland, and other English-speaking, former British colonies, call thin, individual-serving sized dessert-type pastries "biscuits," while here in the U.S. we call these "cookies."  To Americans, a "biscuit" is a savory-type roll, often used as a side dish, covered in butter or gravy.  Well it gets even more confusing this time.  The foods I ate are named various kinds of "crisps."  Which is what folks in the U.K. call salty, crunchy potato chips, while referring to what Americans call "French fries" or just "fries" as "chips."  To add to the fun, under the brand name for the products I'll be talking about it reads, "for good cookies."
     All these cookies I tried were made by a Swedish company called Gille.  This company was started by Tord Einarsson in 1967.  By the 1980's they'd successfully expanded into Germany, Norway, and Denmark.  By the 1990's Gille became the market leader in Sweden.  After this they were absorbed by the conglomerate Continental Bakeries North Europe AB.  Continental is wonderfully ancient--it was started by Jacob Bussink in Deventer, in what is now The Netherlands, way back in 1593!  Some of Gille's other cookie offerings include ginger snaps, blueberry rings, apple oat crisps, sweet cardamom, and punschrolls, a traditional Swedish pastry covered in green marzipan with its ends dipped in chocolate.  Their website also mentions how they use very little food coloring, rarely use preservatives, don't use trans fat, and utilize only sustainably-grown palm oil.  They also avoid using peanuts and hazelnuts, evidently because of some peoples' severe allergic reactions to these substances.
    The three Gille cookie kinds I got were the orange flavored oat crisps, the sweet oat crisps, and the double chocolate crisps.  (The last is their best seller.)  Each cookie type was round and about 6 cm. (about 2.5 inches) in diameter.  The orange oat crisps also had chocolate on them, in the form of thin stripes.  I tasted the oats and chocolate up front, and an orange tinge at the end.  These were pretty good.  Respectable, but not spectacular.  I guess orange and chocolate isn't the best flavor pairing for me.  The double chocolate crisps were, of course, two thinner cookies stacked onto each each other.  One side was glazed, and the other side was coated in chocolate chunks.  The flavor pairing of chocolate and oats was better than that with both of these and orange.  This cookie could maybe have been a little sweeter (or maybe I'm used to (possibly) overly sugary sweet American cookies).  Again I'd rate these as solid, but not great.  Finally, I liked the plainer sweet oat crisps the best.  Yet again these weren't overly sweet, but for this one it seemed to work better (oddly, the first ingredient for all 3 cookies types was sugar, so I don't know why they didn't taste that sweet).  Just the simple oat taste was the most pleasing to me, and this is the one I'd buy again.  Plus, even the other two were decent, so I'd certainly give other Gille cookies (or "crisps," or whatever) a chance.
     Finally, I noticed on the Gille website that famous drag artist "Babsan" helped the company celebrate their 50th anniversary on May 24th of this year.  It would appear that Babsan is Sweden's answer to Dame Edna, or RuPaul.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sugar Palm Fruit

     Before this, I wasn't familiar with the sugar palm tree.  Since, I've learned a bit.  It's quite the amazing plant, all things considered.  As with many of the foods and drinks I discuss in this blog, the focus goes by many names.  Doub palm, toddy palm, wine palm, tala palm, palmyra palm, ice-apple (British name), taati munju (in the telugu language of India), and kaong (Filipino name).  This last one is particularly appropriate, as the sugar palm fruit examples I tried were both produced in the Philippines.  This is another gift from the Bitter Melon Asian Market in Angier, North Carolina (near Fuquay-Varina), which I referenced in the milkfish post recently (see the August 26, 2017 post).
     Like many palm trees, the sugar palm requires tropical temperatures; it's native to South Central and Southeast Asia (Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma/Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia).  It's also been successfully transplanted to parts of China and Pakistan.  The tree itself can grow up to 30 meters high (or 98 feet), and has separate male and female individuals.  I was reading up on how humans utilize it, when I quickly grew tired.  The sugar palm is basically a living embodiment of The Giving Tree, from the Shel Silverstein book of the same title.  The fruit, stems, and sap are edible.  The leaves are useful as thatching material, mats, fans, umbrellas, paper, and even hats.  The skin and trunks can be made into fibers or a stout rope.  And the wood itself is a fine building material.  It's no wonder that the folks in these areas value the plant so much.
     The two sugar palm fruit examples I bought were from Tasty Joy (through Golden Country Oriental Food Co. again) and Pinoy Fiesta (distributed by Northridge Foods).  Both contained oval fruits that were about 2 cm. by 1 cm. (about .75 inch by .375 inch) with a jellylike texture.  The natural color of the fruit is a whitish, almost translucent shade, but the folks at Tasty Joy artificially colored them red, and those at Pinoy Fiesta artificially colored theirs green.  They both had a pleasing, sweet flavor.  This, too, was enhanced by additives, in this case the addition of cane sugar, but still.  I enjoyed the jelly-like texture, too.  Overall, it was another example of a "nature's candy"--I had no trouble finishing each 12 ounce (340 gram) jar in one sitting.  The green ones (Pinoy Fiesta) were maybe a hair tastier, but this may have been a psychological effect (I like the color green more than red), which I couldn't test because I bought and ate the two jars several days apart.  I recommend both, and will buy these again when/if I can.  I would also be willing to try other sugar palm products, especially the fermented sap drink called toddy.
     Healthwise I noticed a discrepancy.  One website claimed that the sugar palm fruit was chock full of Vitamins A, B, and C, along with calcium, potassium, zinc, iron, and phosphorous.  However, the labels on the jars I got noted that they were not a significant source of these vitamins and nutrients.  Maybe the processing removed these, or else someone is wrong, or exaggerating.  Some people claim that sugar palm fruit is good for dermatitis, ulcers, liver problems, and as a laxative, but these have not as yet been substantiated by medical science.
     I didn't find out much about either the Tasty Joy or the Pinoy Fiesta companies.  The former also markets water chestnuts, fruit mixes, purple yams, and straw mushrooms, while the latter also makes jackfruit, mung beans, peppers, and various types of fish and seafood.  Both jars of sugar palm fruit were about $3, or not too expensive.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Czech Dessert Snacks

     Today I'll be discussing two Czech foods--wholegrain chocolate rice squares and wholegrain rice checkers (mini rice cakes covered in chocolate).  I wasn't really sure what to call these, as the rice part would typically indicate a snack, while the chocolate part suggests a dessert type concoction.  Hence the title.  Both of these came from the sublime Wegman's supermarket once again.
     Both of these products were made by Paskesz.  Paskesz bills itself as the "premier brand in the kosher food market," and I for one can't dispute this.  A look at their product line on their website showed cookies, crackers, pasta, snacks, cereals, chocolate, gum, canned veggies (mostly cucumbers, olives, and peppers), and, oddly, candles.  They also are licensed to distribute some other major companies' products, such as Pez candy, Orbit gum, and Haribo candy (see May 18, 2015 post for more on Haribo).  The company history was a little peculiar in that it didn't give exact dates.  So I can report that Paskesz originated in Mako, Hungary, in the early 20th century, and that it's been family owned and operated for over 60 years.  Anshel Paskesz started a store that sold hard candy and citrus fruit, and the company took off from there.  After surviving the horrors of the Holocaust Paskesz moved to the U.S. in 1954 and cornered the market on kosher cookies, and then kosher gum in the 1960's.  While the company's corporate offices are located in Brooklyn, NY, the rice products I bought were made in the Czech Republic.  (They also used authentic Belgian chocolate, to increase the whole scenario's cosmopolitanism.)
     After seeing all that Paskesz manufactures, I was disappointed that the two foods I could locate were extremely similar to each other.  But, I went with what I could.  The rice squares were about 8 cm. (about 3 inches) on a side, and about .5 cm. (about .2 inches) thick, and had a chocolate coating on top.  They tasted pretty much exactly like I expected.  The rice cakes were bland, as are all rice cakes, in my opinion, but the addition of chocolate made it okay.  Not great, but alright.  I occasionally eat regular rice cakes, but they're always flavored (usually with cheese powder), or else I put a condiment on them (mustard, taco sauce, ketchup, etc.) to make them more palatable.  These were kind of the same situation, only with chocolate instead of a savory type condiment.  They were made from 55% dark chocolate, which surprised me when I read it after eating them.  Normally I don't like dark chocolate much (see September 20, 2015 post for more detail on that) but the dark chocolate on these rice cakes was quite good.
     The mini rice cake "checkers" were essentially the same thing as their rice square sibling.  They were smaller and round--about 5 cm. in diameter (about 2 inches), but were once again a white rice cake with a chocolate coating, which this time was 50% dark chocolate.  And yet again I liked them, but didn't love them.  A rather "meh" reaction.
     Therefore, to sum up, I don't think I'll buy these particular Paskesz products again, as I wasn't very dazzled by them.  I would, though, try other Paskesz foods if/when I get the opportunity.
     I'll end with a couple of tidbits about kosher foods.  I grew up in a mostly Christian town, and the Jewish friends I've made since haven't been very strictly observant of their dietary laws.  So much of this is a new concept for me.  From what I read, there is a ban on flying animals that creep on the earth, with four exceptions--2 kinds of locust, grasshoppers, and beetles/crickets (the former is from an older translation of ancient writings, while the latter is a 19th century translation).  Also, it is forbidden to eat hyraxes.  These are the wonderfully weird and obscure Middle Eastern and African animals which appear to be rodents, but are actually most closely related to manatees and elephants.  (Like their larger cousins, they have unusually-placed teats, and males lack a scrotum.)  I don't think a lot of people, whatever their religious beliefs are, eat hyraxes much, but be that as it may.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Milkfish

     Recently I learned that the town that I'm currently staying in, Fuquay-Varina, North Carolina, has a Filipino grocery (thanks, Tracey, for the tip).  I picked up a bunch of things from there, so you'll probably be hearing more about this supermarket in the coming weeks and months.  Anyway, one of the foods I bought was a new-to-me sea creature called the milkfish.
     As if it were an Italian zombie movie, milkfish goes by many names.  It's called "awa" in Hawaii, "bangus" in the Philippines, "ibiya" in Nauru, and "bolu" or "bandeng" in Indonesia.  Also, I couldn't get an exact reason for its "milfish" moniker.  Some sources reported it was because its cooked flesh looks like milk, others because this flesh had a creamy, milk-ish flavor, and still others claimed it's because the fish is often cooked in milk.  Whatever the reason, this fish lives in tropical portions of the Pacific and Indian Oceans, often in offshore waters around coastlines and islands.  The average adult size is about 1 meter (or 3 feet, 3 inches), but some individuals have grown up to 1.8 meters (5 feet, 11 inches) long.  They can reach weights of up to 14 kilograms (about 31 pounds), and are mostly an olive green color with silver markings.  This school-attending fish lives on algae, cynobacteria, and small invertebrates.  Milkfish seem to be the anti-salmon in that their young quickly leave the ocean waters they're born in to move to mangrove swamps, estuaries, and rivers.  They later return to the ocean when they're mature, to mate.  They can live up to 15 years.
     Milkfish have a long history of being eaten by humans.  They've been farmed for at least 800 years, in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan, and many Pacific islands.  Typically this involves capturing the young (called "fry") and putting them into saline ponds (or in modern times, cement tanks and sea cages) until they're mature, and more fit for consumption.  They're known as being bonier than most fish of their size, but clearly many folks think they're worth the trouble.  They're actually the national fish of the Philippines, too.
     The milkfish I got was prepared in one of the Philippines' signature cooking styles--adobo.  (Not surprisingly, given the country's history, adobo is also a Spanish cooking style, with some variants.)  This style, usually used with meat, seafood, and some vegetables, involves marinating the base food in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic, and then browning the result in oil, and then simmering that in the marinade.  I bought the 7.8 ounce (220 gram) jar, made by Manila's Best in the Philippines, and imported by Golden Country Oriental Foods out of Chicago, IL.  I couldn't find out anything about Manila's Best online, but GCOF does have a website.  Among other things they make other flavors of bangus in corn oil, smoked, in olive oil, soy sauce, and/or hot versions of all of these, etc.  They also import foods from many foreign countries, including many Asian, and African nations.  Anyway, inside the glass jar was cut up chunks of brownish-pink fish flesh.  I found the fish itself to be good.  There was also a happy medium of spiciness to it--not so much that all I tasted was fire and heat, but enough to give it some nice "bite," and not be bland.  All in all then, a solid meal.  I'm big fan of canned/tinned fish, which are usually herring or sardines, and this stacked up well against the best of these.  I think I will pick up some more, and try any alternate flavors I can locate.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Several Goat Cheeses With Weird Things Stuck in Them

     I was wandering around the cheese section of my local Shop-Rite supermarket recently when I saw something strange:  small goat cheese "logs" which had dramatically odd colors, and, when I checked more closely, correspondingly odd flavors.  So I snapped up a selection of the weirdest ones I could find and gave them a try.  I ended up with one from Alouette Cheese, and two from Montchevre (Betin, Inc.).
    Just as a review, goat cheese has a few differences from the typical cheeses made from cow's milk.  For one thing, it doesn't melt in the same manner--instead it basically just softens when exposed to heat.  Also, due to the presence of more particular types of fatty acids, cheese made from goat's milk tends to have a more tart flavor.  Finally, while some goat cheeses are made with the usual rennet, it can also be made by adding lemon or vinegar to raw goat's milk, or by simply letting the milk naturally curdle, and then draining and pressing the resulting curds.  Goat cheese is popular around the world.  Some of the countries which particularly enjoy and produce it are Venezuela, the U.S., the U.K., Turkey, Australia, China, France, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Portugal, Spain, and of course, Greece.  For more info about goats in general, and their meat, consult my June 23, 2013 post.  And to read about a wonderfully bizarre Scandinavian goat cheese (one especially popular in Norway), gjetost, see the June 4, 2012 post.
    Alouette Cheese is an American brand of the French company Savencia Fromage & Dairy (nee Bongrain).  Jean-Noel Bongrain started Alouette in the Lancaster area of Pennsylvania in 1974, and then later expanded into Illinois as well.  The company proudly notes that almost all of their cheeses are kosher and gluten-free, and that they use no animal rennet.  They also are known for their soft spreadable cheeses, dips, brie, and crumbled cheeses.
     Montchevre (Betin) is also an American production started by French expats fairly recently.  Arnaud Solandt and Jean Rossard started it back in 1989. They make cheese only from goats, over 75 different kinds.  Alternate flavors of the 4 ounce (133 gram) "logs" I got are natural, garlic and herb, 4 peppers, honey, jalepeno, lemon zest, fig and olive, peppadew, pumpkin, truffle, and sundried tomato and basil.  The company's products are now non-GMO, too, if you care about this issue.
     Now I'll discuss the cheeses themselves.  All were the 4 ounce/133 gram "logs."

1) Alouette Chavrie mild goat cheese with sundried tomato, garlic, and parsley:  This looked whitish, with many red and green specks embedded in it, especially around the exterior.  I had it plain, sliced into pieces.  It was delicious.  Kind of tangy, and the tomatoes and garlic spice it up really well.  A superior flavor pairing.

2) Montchevre (Betin) goat cheese with blueberry and vanilla.  This one had a whitish center, with purplish/blue blueberries embedded around the edge.  It was sweet, obviously.  I easily detected the blueberries, but not the vanilla, really.  Kind of a strange taste, but still top notch.  In this case a sweet and savory taste is a winning combination.  I think this would make an excellent dessert cheese, if that's a thing.

3) Montchevre goat cheese with cranberry and cinnamon.  Once again, the center was a white color, while the outer edge was reddish from the cranberry chunks.  This time I could pick out both advertised flavors.  And again, the result was very good, and I loved it.  Some folks like to serve plates with cheese and fruit (grapes, etc.) on them, so I guess this and the blueberry kind just make this more efficient.  Another dessert cheese.

     So, yet again, I tried some new varieties of cheese and came away impressed.  Each of these logs were $3.99, meaning they weren't ridiculously expensive, or anything.  I will definitely buy these again, and wholeheartedly recommend them.  And hopefully I'll be able to locate some of the alternate flavors and products from both of these companies.  I'm particularly eager to pick up some "peppadew," because I'm not sure what flavor this is.  Peppers with honeydew melon?--I'll have to find out.


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Three Dutch Desserts, and an Aside About Monster Trucks, of All Things

     Today I'll be talking about two kinds of candy from Gustaf's, and a cookie made by Daelmans.  All of these came from Wegman's once more.
     Alas, I can't give even a brief background about Gustaf's, as I couldn't find anything online.  There were several sites which marketed their wares, but I didn't see an actual company website.  Therefore, all I can report is that aside from the Foamy Fruity Gummies and the Soft Licorice & Fruit that I ate, they also manufacture black and salted licorices, and candies in lace, sandwich, button, and filled straw shapes (I think these are probably licorice, too).
     Daelmans, fortunately, has a website and thus more info.  The company was begun in 1909 by Hermanus Daelmans, starting in the town of Vlijmen.  From this small beginning Daelmans has blossomed into a large, successful corporation which exports to at least 30 countries.  Aside from the Amsterdam short cake cookies I tried, their primary pastry categories are speculaas biscuits, coconut pastries, caramel waffles, puff pastries (turnovers and rolls), and filled pastries (with fruit, etc.).  Daelmans is quite the socially conscious company, too, as they are into various causes such as sustainable palm oil, sustainable agriculture (they're UTZ certified), and fair trade.
     On to the food itself. From Gustaf's, I had two Freeway-themed candies--the Monster Truck Foamy Fruity Gummies and the Double Decker Soft Licorice & Fruit.  The former were about 4 cm. by 2 cm. (about 1.5 inches by .75 inch) candies available in three flavors, shaped like monster trucks.  The latter were double decker bus-shaped, and about 2.5 cm. by 1 cm. (or about 1 inch by .5 inch), coming in six varieties.  I'll list each kind below.
      Monster Truck Foamy Fruit Gummies:
            1) Strawberry (pink truck body, with red tires): Okay, distinct strawberry flavor, just average.
            2) Banana and licorice (yellow body, with purple tires): Strange flavor pairing.  Didn't like, but then I'm not generally into banana flavors.
            3) Orange (orange body, with orange tires): Alright, orange-y in flavor, obviously.  Was the best of the bunch, but not great.
      For all of these the truck body parts were a taffy-like texture, and the tires were gummy-ish.

     Double Decker Duos Soft Licorice & Fruit:
           1) Raspberry (red color): Reminded me of Twizzlers in texture.  Strong raspberry flavor, very good.
           2) Orange (orange color): Also decent, but not as flavorful or good as the raspberry.
           3) Apple (green color): Green apple flavor.  Not very good, but I don't particularly enjoy this flavor usually.
           4) Lemon (yellow): Rather "meh."  Just okay, not very memorable.
           5) Pineapple (white): This one was pretty tasty.  Above average.
           6) Black Currant (purple): Tart, and again very nice.  Probably my second favorite.
     All of these had the flavor color at the first third of so of the bus, while the back two thirds were black.  In order I liked the raspberry best, then black currant, then pineapple, orange, lemon, and apple.
     The Daelmans cookies were about 3 inches by 1 inch (about 7.5 cm. by 2.5 cm.), yellowish-brown, and in the shape of little buildings.  They had a sweet odor, and were fairly crunchy.  They weren't overly sweet, but still were tasty.  I would characterize them as a solid cookie.  I learned later that they came in 8 different shapes.  The website didn't mention if these are based on 8 different real buildings (and if so, which ones), or just 8 different building styles.  All the different shapes tasted the same, though.
     I'll end with some brief info about monster trucks.  Monster trucks, for the uninitiated, are pickup trucks with modified, larger suspensions and tires.  I was curious that Gustaf's chose this shape for their candy, as I thought that these trucks were mostly an American phenomenon.  Although they evidently did start in the U.S., other countries, including The Netherlands, apparently, have interest in them as well.  Also, there's controversy over whose truck was the first to drive over and crush other cars.  Jeff Dane's "King Kong" (aka "Bigger Foot") claims to have done it in the late 1970's.  The Dykman Brothers also claim to have been first, using their "Cyclops." as did the owners (unnamed) of "High Roller" (aka "Thunder Beast").  But the earliest verified video shows that Bob Chandler's "Bigfoot" was the first, in April of 1981.  Let the argument begin, I suppose.  Finally, the longest monster truck ever was 32 feet (9.8 meters) long, owned by Brad and Jen Campbell.  And my favorite monster truck name is probably the one which is less obvious and cliche macho, and instead is more honest and mockingly self-aware: "Blown Income," owned by Jeff Champ and Jared Vogle.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--French Soft Drinks

     Normally my local grocery at home (Shop-Rite) isn't a great place to find foreign foods or drinks.  But this time it came through.  I was able to get a couple of beverages from Geyer Freres, from their Lorina line.  Specifically, their sparkling coconut lime and sparkling pomegranate flavors.
     The Lorina website notes that the company was developed by Victor Geyer, starting back in 1895.  They have a short company video, too.  The site also mentions that they're a "well kept secret."  Hopefully for their sake this refers to the products' secret recipes, and not their overall sales.  Not sure if more than two people know the recipes, as is the case with the American Coca-Cola.  Additionally, Lorina makes various modern popular claims, such as their products lack gluten, artificial colors and flavors, and high fructose corn syrup.  (Their sweetener is "pure crystal" sugar derived from sugar beets.)  There's also an unusual item about their containers.  It's "more than a bottle, a decorative item."  It's suggested that consumers use the empties as vases, or as water carafes.  I think this refers to the glass, metal flip top-equipped ones that are evidently sold in France.  The two I bought were plastic, with twist off, plastic caps.  Clearly one could reuse these plastic bottles to hold your flowers or drinking water, but I don't think they'd have the same panache.  Finally, it appears that the local French Lorina flavors are slightly different from their export ones.  They list pink lemonade, blood orange, pomegranate blueberry, Authentic French lemonade, lemon, strawberry, and coconut lime.  Plus citrus lemonade and French berry in their "prestige" sub-line.
     But on to my impressions.  Both bottles were 1.15 liters (38.3 ounces).  The coconut lime one does not contain any actual fruit juice, but does boast its water is from Vosges sandstone.  The drink's color was a cloudy whitish.  It had a weird taste.  I could pick up on the coconut tinge, as well as a citrus-y one.  It was a little off-putting at first, but it kind of grew on me.  So my eventual opinion was that it was alright, but not great.
     The sparkling pomegranate cam in the same size bottle, and had a red color, of course.  This one did have a little juice--a whole 2%.  This drink was pretty good.  Nicely tart.  I liked this one better than the coconut lime.  It was a solid soft drink.
     Therefore, neither beverage was bad or anything.  I might get the pomegranate one again. To be fair, I'm more familiar with, and enjoy the pomegranate flavor more than coconut.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Two Indonesian Treats

    We're back to more foods from a Wegman's grocery.  Specifically a ginger candy and a type of cookie, or wafer, or "biscuit" depending on what your culture calls individual sweet dessert pastries.
     Some might say that the candy I'll be discussing today is a bit of a cheat, as it's another Gin Gin product, from the Ginger People Group once more.  And that's kind of true, but technically these Gin Gins were made in Indonesia.  But, to avoid repeating myself, please check out the April 15, 2017 post on Fijian ginger candy for more info on the company that makes and distributes this product.
     The cookies were made in Indonesia by Ojo, and packed for the President Global Corporation in California.  I wasn't able to find out much about Ojo.  The President Global Corp. does have a website, but it's pretty terse.  Essentially, I learned that the company exists to import/export products from various Southeast Asian countries, such as Taiwan, China, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  These products include types of crackers, noodles, condiments, and beverages.  In addition to the Angle Wafers I tried, Ojo also makes cookies with butter coconut, raisins, and a "lucky lemon puff."
    The Gin Gins this time were individually wrapped, disc shaped, firm, and light brown in color.  About 2 cm. (.75 inch) in diameter, with 12 pieces in the small box.  They were listed as The Traveler's Candy, and Super Strength.  I found them hard to eat--they had a taffy-like consistency.  As I've mentioned several times before, I usually like ginger as a flavor, so these weren't bad or anything.  But I definitely preferred the Fijian Gin Gin crystalized pieces of ginger to this kind.  The anthropomorphized ginger person logo was notably less morbid for the Indonesian Gin Gins, though--it was wearing clothes and carrying a suitcase, unlike its Fijian counterpart (once again, see my April 15, 2017 post for more on that horror show).
     The Angel Wafers were a double lobe shape, whitish with a brown glaze, and about 7 cm (3 inches) by 5 cm. (2 inches).  I guess this shape was to represent a traditional angel wings design.  I did check, though--there are no ground up angel parts in the cookies, just wheat flour, margarine, palm and coconut oil, sugar, and salt.  According to a website these cookies are "made with alternating layers of dough and butter, rolled and folded over to create possibly hundreds of flaky layers."  I thought they had an odd flavor.  They had a typical cookie sweetness, but they also had a somehow savory taste, too.  So a bit strange, but not without their charms.  So, certainly good, and worth recommending, but different from the cookies I'm most familiar with.
     Thought I'd wrap this up by including some random facts about Indonesia.  For starters, it's the world's largest island country, consisting of over 17,500 islands.  It's also the fourth most populous country in the world, trailing only China, India, and the U.S., with over 260 million people.  It boasts the world's second highest level of biodiversity, behind only Brazil.  Over 700 different languages and dialects are spoken there.  As far as athletes go, Indonesia is probably best known for producing  boxers, such as Ellyas Pical, Chris John, Muhammad Rachman, and Nico Thomas, all who were title belt holders.  As for other kinds of entertainment, the co-director of the "Despicable Me" movie series (2010, 2013, 2017), the wonderfully named Pierre Coffin, is half Indonesian.  Alex and Eddie Van Halen, from the hard rock group Van Halen, are one quarter Indonesian.  Lil Dagover, who co-starred in the famous silent film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari" (1920), was of German heritage, but born in Indonesia.  Laura Gemser, star of the notorious sexploitation/horror "Emanuelle" series in the 1970's and 80's, was Indonesian.  Other famous, or infamous Indonesian things are the horribly destructive Krakatoa volcano, responsible for one of the world's worst volcanic eruptions in 1883 (and perhaps the world's loudest event), the Homo floriensis fossils (the so-called "hobbit" people), and the world's largest individual flower, Rafflesia arnoldii, which has blossoms that can be 3 feet in diameter (.91 meters) and up to 15 pounds (6.8 kg.) in weight, and reek like a rotting corpse.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Colombian Candies

     This one is left over from my extremely fruitful visit to Washington D.C.'s Union Market back in March of 2016.  So I have to thank my friend Keith one more time.  I misplaced these candies in a bag and kind of forgot about them.  But now they get their day in the sun, so to speak.
     Both my candy bags were Colombina products.  This company is immense, which makes sense considering how the tiny Colombian candy companies presumably don't export to the U.S.  (Or if they do, I haven't seen them.)  Not surprisingly, this juggernaut has an extensive website, so I was able to learn a few things about its history.  Hernando Caicedo founded Colombina in the 1930's.  In 1960 they adapted European manufacturing techniques, and made a move away from using artificial flavoring.  In 1965 they started exporting to the important U.S. market.  In 1970 they introduced their famous Bon Bon Bum, a gum-filled lollipop.  In 1975 they introduced their flagship product, Coffee Delight Candy.  By the 1980's, they acquired or partnered up with other companies, and expanded into the biscuit (cookie) line.  In 2001, through a company alliance, they broke into the instant coffee market.  By 2004 they got into the ice cream racket, and by 2007 they entered the soda cracker game.  Finally, in 2013 they acquired a hot sauce company, and allied with LivSmart to co-produce health drinks.  Currently, they're sold in 70 countries all over the world, including much of Europe, Africa, the Middle East, North, Central, and South America, and India, Pakistan, and New Zealand.  So essentially, they have a foothold everywhere but most of Asia, and Australia.  The online company product list has 86 pages, and aside from the foods and beverages I've already mentioned they also manufacture baby food and quinoa (see May 1, 2014 post).
     The first bag of candy I bought was Fussione, billed as "Premium Quality Candy with European Flavor," in this case the Caramel Delight hard candies, with real chocolate filling.  These were small (about 2 cm./.75 inch) diameter disc-shaped, brown colored candies.  They were, as advertised, hard candy which melted into a liquid-y chocolate center.  The caramel flavor was tasty, as was the chocolate filling.  I really liked these.  Even though, as I discovered, they were nearly 2 years past their "best by" date!
     Next up was a literal grab bag, the Colombina "Fun Mix."  The label listed 8 kinds of candy, but I could only locate 6 different types.  (As I said, I tried some of these over a year ago, and then misplaced my notes and the bags themselves, so I think this discrepancy is my fault.)  This bag was still within its "best by" freshness date.

1) Bon Bon Bum, gum-filled lollipop.  This was an oval lollipop, about 3 by 2 cm. (about 1.5 by .75 inches), with a red color.  The lollipop itself was Berry Explosion flavor, and was quite good, with a pleasing berry taste.  However, once it melted down into the gum center I lost interest.  I'm not a gum guy--I find gum kind of gross after it loses its flavor (which for me is like 30 seconds), since to me it's like chewing on plastic.  So I'm clearly not the target audience for this one.

2) Fancy Filled, Strawberry candy.  This was a red oval, about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) long.  In structure it was like the Fussione, a hard candy surrounding a liquid-y center.  It was alright, but not spectacular.  The strawberry outer flavor and the inner center were okay, but not great.

3) Striped Buttons, in cherry and lemon (or pineapple?) flavors.  These were disc-shaped, 2 cm. (.75 inch) diameter hard candies with white stripes (obviously) and were red, and yellow, respectively.  These were just okay.   Decent flavor, but rather pedestrian.

4) Watermelon Tiger Pop.  This was a lollipop that was basically a hard candy on a stick.  It was green colored and oval, about 1 inch (2.5 cm.) long.  I'm not a big fan of watermelon flavor, so I didn't like this one much, and didn't finish it.

5) Cherry/Lime Tiger Pop.  This was a bigger (about 3.5 cm./1.5 inch diameter), round, flat lollipop, with red and green stripes.  Once again, it was adequate, but nothing special.

6) Frutacidas chewy candies.  These were rod-shaped, about 3 cm. (1.25 inches) long.  3 flavors--sour pineapple (yellow colored candy), sour lemon (green), and sour strawberry (orange).  (As an aside, isn't "sour" lemon redundant?)  These all had soft, taffy-like textures. I  liked these,as all had the appropriate fruit flavor.  The sour strawberry was the best.

     Therefore, I came away thinking these Colombina candies were hit and miss.  The "Fun Mix" assortment was particularly a mixed bag, quality-wise, for me.  I would get the Caramel Fussione and the Frutacidas again, but probably not the others.  Although, to be fair, even the "worst" candies weren't terrible or anything, just kind of average or "meh."  I will try other Colombina products when/if I get the chance.  And, quite frankly, those who find themselves in Colombia would probably have quite the challenge in not buying this company's products, given how many foods and beverages they sell.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Writing News--An Anthology Update

     I recently learned that one of my stories was accepted for an upcoming horror anthology.  The (tentative) title for this anthology is "Hidden Animals:  A Collection of Cryptids."  The publisher is Dragon's Roost Press, whose website can be found at: .  This is a charity anthology, with some of the proceeds going to the Last Day Dog Rescue, out of Michigan.  Michael Cieslak is the Dragon's Roost Press's owner and editor.  This book is scheduled to be published in winter of 2017.
     "Cryptids" refers to legendary and folkloric animals, ala Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil.  This anthology is set up so that each story is about one of these animals, with no repeats.  It's also focused on some more obscure, lesser-known beasties.  Here's a list of some of the creatures featured in the book:

1) Abominable Snowman
2) Ozark Howler
3) Man Eating Tree
4) Wendigo
5) Mermaid
6) Mongolian Death Worm
7) Hellhound
8) Jorogumo
9) Kelpie
10) Kraken
11) Lake Monster
12) Mapinguari
13) Mokele-Mbembe/ Ninki-Nanka
14) Old Yellow Top
15) Thunderbird
16) Plesiosaur
17) Triceratops
18) Squonk
      (Okay, a couple of these were real dinosaurs, but those have been extinct for millions of years, so you get the idea.)
      The following is a list of the authors and titles that have been accepted, so far.  I say so far, because this anthology is open to submissions until August 31, 2017, or until it is filled.  So for any writers out there, you might want to check out the guidelines on Dragon's Roost Press's website.  They pay 3 cents per word (possibly more, depending on a crowdfunding campaign), plus copies.  I wouldn't wait, either, since it seems like there are probably only a couple of possible slots left.  Anyway, here's the list of my fellow authors and their stories, in no particular order:

1) "Night Quarry" by Paul Tanner
2) "Picnicing With Old Yellow Top" by Adam Millard
3) "Sky Demon" by Jeff Brigham
4) "A Cruelty That Cuts Both Ways" by Aimee Ogden
5) "Lifeboat" by Danielle Warnick
6) "An Unusual Pet" by Matt Hayward
7) " An Exchange of Fear" by Lynn Rushlau
8) "From a Laptop in the Jungle" by Erik Goldsmith
9) "Hellhound" by Sarah Doebereiner
10) "Iceheart" by Sarah Haus
11) "Moonlight Forest" by Soumya Sundar Mukherjee
12) "O Christmas Tree" by Gregory L. Norris
13) "Please Don't Feed the Howler" by Frances Pauli
14) "Spider" by A. Collingwood
15) "The Anna Doria" by Ellen Denton
16) "The Ghost Tree" by Sharon Diana King
17) "Two Yurts" by Dale L.Sproule
18) "Wake" by Jennie Brass
19) "You Will Be Laid Low Even at the Sight of Him" by Kevin Wetmore

     My story is "The Keystone State" about the squonk.  As usual, I'll provide more information as I receive it, such as the cover image, publication date, etc.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Sarsaparilla

     Like a lot of people, my introduction to sarsaparilla was various American Western movies and television programs.  Basically, if a character ordered this (soft) drink instead of whiskey, or at least another kind of alcoholic beverage, then they were probably (soft) cowards.  Or, to use a vulgar term, any guy who drank sarsaparilla was probably a pussy.
     As it turns out, tracing the history and details of this drink is a little confusing.  It was undeniably popular in the 19th century, especially in the U.S., or in places that would eventually become U.S. states.  It was imbibed partly as a soft drink, and partly as a type of patent medicine.  Sarsaparilla was thought to be good for treating blood and skin ailments.  And, also, perhaps ironically given its reputation, it was believed to help combat venereal infections.  (Almost all of these patent medicines were useless, the "snake oil" concoctions of the day.)
     Now we get to the issue of what sarsaparilla really is.  The traditional drink was made from birch oil and the dried bark of the sassafras tree.  (The latter was also a main flavoring agent of root beer.)  However, over the years what constituted the drink changed greatly.  In 1960 the FDA in the U.S. banned the use of sassafras, since evidence suggests that it may be a carcinogen.  (It's also used, illegally, of course, in the production of the drugs MDA and MDMA.)  So modern versions of the drink use something else.  Specifically, a relative of the lily plant, the sarsaparilla vine.  So although the name didn't change, the actual main ingredient did change, and made the drink's name more botanically accurate decades after its invention.  And although it's not as popular as in its 19th century heyday, the new version of the beverage is consumed around the world, most notably in the U.S., the U.K., Australia, Taiwan, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
    The sarsaparilla I had was made by Orca Beverage Soda Works, out of Mukilteo, Washington.  This is a company which specializes in retro soft drinks.  They've reintroduced old classics such as Goody, Hippo Size, Dragon Trail, Red Arrow, Bedford's, Dad's, et. al.  Even Lemmy, which doesn't actually have anything to do with the late, lamented Motorhead frontman.  Orca was founded in the 1980's by Mike Bourgeois, whose name makes him sound like a member of some 1980's political punk band.  The company also manufactures Krazy Kritters (a vitamin drink for kids which comes in fun animal-shaped containers), and, bizarrely, old timey, soft drink-themed thermometers.  I've already unknowingly raved about one of their products, the awesome diet ginger beer called Cock 'n Bull (see May 20, 2017 post).
     Anyway, the drink I had was called Earp's, to complete the Western theme, I suppose.  A rendition of, presumably, Wyatt Earp was on the label.  I rechecked the ingredient list, and saw no sign that they utilized the taboo sassafras bark flavoring.  So this is the modern, inauthentic-to-some version.  It was a dark brown color, and smelled like birch beer.  The taste was also like a mild birch beer, or a root beer.  These two aren't my favorite soft drink flavor, but the Earp's sarsaparilla was pretty good.  Not great like the Cock 'n Bull ginger beer, but solid.  If you enjoy birch/root beers you'll probably like this one, too.  Although I guess if you do drink it, in certain circles you'll be running the risk of having your friends mock you and call you a "wuss" or the like.  It would be interesting to compare this version of the drink with "real" sassafras bark-flavored sarsaparilla, but I guess I'll have to break the law or travel to another country to attempt this.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Finnish Licorice

     As far as I can recall, I haven't discussed a purely Finnish food or drink since my post on sahti beer way back on July 30,2012.  But, as you'll see, I had a different reaction to this licorice than I did about their distinctive kind of beer.
     The type of licorice I bought was Panda, both the original regular flavor and the raspberry flavor.  Panda was founded in 1920 by the SOK company, or Suomen Osuuskauppojen Keskuskunta if "you're not into the whole brevity thing," to quote The Dude in "The Big Lebowski."  However, in 2005 SOK was bought by Felix Abba, which in turn is part of the Orkla Group.  The Orkla Group is immense, and essentially is in the business of everything.  Aside from food products, they're involved in chemicals, aluminum, power plants, banking, and real estate, to name just a few.  I would give more info about Panda, or SOK in general, but the Panda website was extremely terse.  I can tell you that aside from the sorts that I had, they make a mint filled kind, licorice in bar and bear forms, and licorice creams.
     Both kinds I bought were the individual stick licorice--a 1.25 ounce (32 gram) serving.  Each was 4.5 inches (about 11.5 cm.) long and .75 inch (about 2 cm.) wide.  The original kind was black, and the raspberry was red.  I enjoyed both kinds quite a bit.  The original was very good--spicy and tangy.  The raspberry one was a little bit sweeter, but of the same high quality taste.  Either foreign licorice is way better than the American kinds I grew up with (Twizzlers and the like), or I'm starting to get a taste for it.  I was dazzled by the Australian licorice (see January 20, 2017 post) and the Finnish Panda kinds were also excellent.  (I'd have to have both in one sitting to judge which one is the very best.)  So I heartily recommend Panda licorice, and will definitely buy these flavors again when I can, and will seek out the other flavors, too.
     And just to thicken this post out a little, I'll close with some fun facts about Finland.  I got these from a casual internet search, so if there are any mistakes let me know, and I'll correct them.  Anyway, the Finns are reportedly the biggest coffee drinkers in the world, averaging 12 kg. per person annually.  They also drink the most milk, averaging just under a liter a day.  They were the last European region to be Christianized, in the 12th century.  A 2012 international commission named them the world's least corrupt and most democratic nation.  They have two interesting traffic rules.  Drivers must keep their headlights on at all times while in motion, even during bright sunny days.  And the fines for speeding tickets are based on the severity of the offense, and the driver's personal income, meaning a rich speeder will pay more than a poor one.
     Several sites claimed that Finland has the most lakes of any country in the world, but there's more to this.  They do have the most officially designated ones, that are over 500 meters square, with 187,888.  However, if smaller, and unofficially designated ones are counted, Canada is tops with over 2,000,000.  Finland does appear to have the most islands, though, with 179, 584.  Famous Finns in the entertainment fields include the metal band Hanoi Rocks (1979-85, 2001-2009) and film director Renny Harlin.  Harlin is known for "A Nightmare on Elm Street 4" (1988), "Die Hard 2" (1990), "Cutthroat Island" (1995), "Deep Blue Sea" (1999), "Exorcist:  The Beginning" (2004), and "The Legend of Hercules" (2014), among others.  (Some of these movies are notorious box office and critical bombs, but he has made over a dozen films in his long career, and some of these have been quite successful.)

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--An Albino-ish Fruit, and Another Grand Experiment

     While shopping for various berries recently, I saw something new.  They were called "sunrise raspberries."  Their price was about the same as their red cousins, or about $2.50 for a dry pint (about 550 grams).
     Raspberries are a very common fruit across the world.  They are grown pretty much anywhere that has a temperate climate.  Russia, Poland, the U.S., Serbia, and Mexico are the biggest producers.  Perhaps because of this ubiquitousness, the websites I checked weren't entirely sure where the first raspberries were grown.  Turkey is one theory, but evidently parts of North America may have been a birthplace, too, at least for some strains.  Raspberries come in four basic colors--red, black, purple, and yellow.  The latter, usually called golden raspberries, are a naturally occurring variant of the red and black kinds that lack pigment due to a recessive gene.  So while they're not technically "albino," as the term means in animals and humans, the effect is akin to it, at least visually.  The ones I got, "sunrise" or "sunshine" raspberries, are then a hybrid of these golden raspberries and the red ones.  Other raspberry hybrids include the boysenberry and the loganberry (see March 30, 2013 post for more information).  Also, the sunrise/sunshine raspberries were trademarked in 2009, so bear that in mind if you want to start growing and marketing them, lest you get sued.  Pick some other name, such as "champagne raspberries," or "just plain yellowish raspberries."
     I found some of the statements I read about sunrise/sunshine raspberries to be interesting.  One website claimed that these are sweeter, and less tart than red raspberries, and their taste has peach and apricot notes.  The same site claimed they had, "a stunning and unique jewel like appearance."  But another site said that, "despite appearances, they resemble red or black raspberries in flavor."
     There have been several occasions when I've wondered whether I could tell a particular food or beverage apart from other similar ones, such as vegetarian "moctopus" from actual, real octopus.  Back in my post about Mexican soft drinks (see the August 18, 2013 entry), I tested one of these.  I decided to try this again.  Basically, I had someone hand me 10 raspberries, one at a time, which I took and ate without looking at it.  I then wrote down my guess on whether it was a sunrise raspberry or a red one.  At least 2 or 3 of each kind had to be offered, but in a random order.  Then I compared my guesses to the actual list.  This is clearly not a proper clinical, double blind experiment, but I think it is sufficient for a casual observation on a fun little blog post.  Anyway, I guessed correctly 6 out of 10 times, or 60%.  Or about 50-50, for this very small sample size.  Therefore, my results suggest that I don't agree with the website's claim that the two kinds have very distinctive flavors.  Also, and this is even more subjective, but I don't find the sunrise raspberry to have a pleasing appearance.  To me they look pale and sickly, with their pinkish--yellow hue.  They remind me of the character "Gollum" from the "Hobbit/Lord of the Rings" movies, or those poor fish whose ancestors went into cave lakes or rivers and are now colorless and blind.
     Not to say that the sunrise raspberries are bad.  I find red raspberries okay--they're not my favorite kind of berry, but they're not gross or anything.  So, in conclusion, if you like red raspberries you'll probably also enjoy their paler, yellowish cousins. Maybe those with more sophisticated palates will even pick up on the alleged peach and apricot overtones in them.  I don't know if the black, purple, or pure golden raspberries have their distinctive tastes in their own right--I'll have to see if I can acquire and try them.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--An Austrian Dessert and Soft Drink

     Two more finds from Wegman's grocery for this week.  It is truly the supermarket that keeps on giving.
     After confirming it was made in Austria, I snapped Mezzo Mix right up.  But then when I investigated a little more closely, I realized it was actually a Coca-Cola product.  Mezzo Mix is only made and marketed in Europe though--mostly Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, although evidently a little bit in Spain and Sweden, too.  Mezzo Mix is a relatively recent development, dating back to 1973.  It's basically Coke with orange juice, and orange flavor.  A version with lemon used to be sold, but then it was discontinued.  A lemon/Coke hybrid was then reintroduced in 2003.  In February, around Valentine's Day, a raspberry "berry love" Mezzo Mix is produced, since 2013.  The slogan for the orange Mezzo Mix flavor is, "Cola kusst orange," or "Cola kisses orange" in German.
     Conversely, the manufacturer for the dessert I ate, Manner, is an Austrian company, and is somewhat old, dating back to 1890.  Although it's become more cosmopolitan--in 2012 Manner products were sold in over 50 countries around the world, including the U.S., Russia, the Middle East, and several countries in North Africa.  The company is known for its distinctive pink colored packaging, and founder Josef Manner's stated vision of "chocolate for everyone!".  Manner sells mostly what we Americans refer to as "cookies," (aka "biscuits" in some areas).  Flavors include the flagship hazelnut, vanilla, whole grain, hazelnut/chocolate, and bite-sized versions of the same.
     The Mezzo Mix flavor I had was the orange.  It came in an average 330 ml. (11.15 ounces) can, which was both colored orange and had a drawing of the fruit on it.  And it was disappointingly similar to regular Coke.  I didn't detect much of an orange flavor.  There's only 1.5% orange juice in it, so I guess that's the main reason.  I find Coke okay--neither great nor terrible, and I regarded the Mezzo Mix to be about the same.  But clearly I was hoping for something more distinctive.
     The Manner cookies I tried were the original hazelnut cream filled wafers.  They broke down in small (about 5 cm./2 inch by 1.5 cm./.5 inch) pieces.  Each piece consisted of four layers of the brown hazelnut cream encased by five layers of yellowish brown wafer slices.  The outer yellowish brown layers had a cross hatch design on them.  They reminded me of other wafer-type cookies I've had over the years, including the fruity Brazilian ones (see May 25, 2016 post).  But the hazelnut cream filling was new, and very pleasant.  They were quite solid, and tasty.  So of the two Austrian products I definitely prefer the Manner wafers, mostly because they had a distinct, and detectable flavor.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Hibiscus

     Recently I was in a Central New Jersey Shop Rite grocery, and beheld something a bit odd in the fruit section--dried, edible flowers.  I'd heard of hibiscus as a tea flavoring, but I wasn't aware that the flowers themselves were edible, or at least palatable.  Needless to say, I snapped them up and gave them a try.
     Hibiscus, which includes dozens of species and subspecies, is a plant that lives in warm or hot areas all around the globe.  This plant is best known for its large, showy flowers, which can be up to 18 cm. (about 7 inches) in diameter, and whose colors range from white, purple, yellow, orange, and pink.  Their original home isn't conclusively known, but probably candidates for their various ancestor species include Madagascar, Fiji, Hawaii, Mauritius, India, and China.  They're a popular choice for gardens, because of their pretty flowers, and because these flowers help attract bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.  As I mentioned earlier, they're a common flavoring for both hot and cold teas, in the Caribbean, Central and South America, Africa, Europe, and Thailand.  More rarely, in the Philippines people sometimes use them as a souring agent for soups and vegetables.  The Chinese enjoy their leaves as a cooked dish similar to spinach, and others eat their raw leaves in salads.  And, in Mexico the dried flowers are considered a delicacy.
     As far as the plant's medical benefits or detriments, there's a lot of disagreement.  Hibiscus is thought to have health benefits in traditional Chinese folk medicine.  Studies have suggested that it may lower blood pressure, and perhaps cholesterol.  On the negative side, hibiscus has been proven to have adverse effects on pregnant rats.  While a corresponding effect hasn't been proven in humans, doctors still advise pregnant or breastfeeding women  to avoid hibiscus to be on the safe side.  It also reacts badly with some drugs, such as chloroquine and acetaminophen.  So take this under advisement before consuming it.
    The hibiscus I got was made by the Nutty & Fruity company out of California.  Unlike many of the companies I discuss on this blog, their website was sparse and not very helpful.  It was basically a section on which supermarkets stock their products, a contact page, and little else.  They don't even have a good product list--it just has a series of images that flashed by very quickly.  So I can't include any interesting or funny tidbits about the company's history or anything.  Other food shopping websites included their other offered products, and not surprisingly, their output consists of dried fruits (kiwi, strawberry, tangerine, banana, golden berries (see June 13th, 2015 post), passion fruit, figs, etc.) or nuts (flavored almonds, cashews, peanuts, etc.).
     The container I bought was 5 ounces (141 grams) and cost about $5.  The dried flowers were a purplish-red color, and about 4 cm. (about 1.5 inches) in diameter.  Their dried petals were curled down, and resembled tentacles.  Each one reminded me of a baby octopus, or should I say pentapus, given that there were 5 "arms" per flower.  They tasted, and had a texture that was very much akin to raisins.  They were a little tart, and chewy. I like raisins okay, so I also thought the hibiscus was alright.  Not awesome, but a solid snack--I had no trouble finishing up the package, and would consider buying these again.  I was amused by something on on the outside label, though.  It proudly proclaimed that there's "no flavors added," but then the ingredient lists mentions "cane sugar."  So a bit of a discrepancy there!  Their claims to be gluten, GMO, and fat free are more legit, it seems.  All in all, then, unless you hate raisins, I would recommend dried hibiscus flowers to eat.  Unless you're pregnant, or are on certain medications, etc.
     Finally, in traditional Hawaiian and Tahitian culture, hibiscus flowers were reportedly used by women as a social signal.  A flower behind her left ear meant the woman was married, or in a relationship,  One behind her right ear meant she was available.  I don't know what a flower behind both ears indicated, or if a flower awkwardly jammed up one or both nostrils meant anything.


Saturday, June 3, 2017

NBA Trivia

     With the National Basketball Association (NBA) finals underway, I thought it might be appropriate to discuss some of this league's trivia.  Bear in mind that I'm an extremely casual NBA fan--I've done my best to confirm all of this, but it's possible I've overlooked some things.  As usual, if any mistakes are noticed, I'd appreciate any readers bringing these to my attention, and I'll fix them.  Most of these will be bits about the playoffs, or even the finals.

1) Since the NBA went to its 16 team playoff format for the 1983-84 season, only one #8 seed has made it to the finals--the 1998-99 New York Knicks (who lost to the San Antonio Spurs).  This was an unusual season, though, shortened significantly from a labor dispute.

2) Three teams with losing regular season records made it to the finals.  These were the 1956-57 St. Louis Hawks (regular season record of 34-38), the 1958-59 Minneapolis Lakers (33-39), and the 1980-81 Houston Rockets (40-42).  All of these teams lost in the finals, although the Hawks did take the Boston Celtics to 7 games.

3) The lowest seeded team to win the NBA title was the 1994-95 Houston Rockets, versus the Orlando Magic.  As a #6 seed, the Rockets didn't have the home court advantage in any of the playoff series that year.

4) The team with the worst record to make the playoffs was the 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets, who finished a putrid 16-54 (.229 winning percentage).  How was this possible, you might ask?  Back in those early NBA days, the top four teams in each 5 team division qualified for the playoffs, meaning only 2 of the total 10 teams didn't qualify for the postseason.  And to think people now complain that the regular season doesn't mean that much, that too many teams make the playoffs!

5) The team who has won the most NBA titles is the Boston Celtics, with 17.  The Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers are a close second with 16 titles.  These two are also the top two in total finals appearances, although it's flipped.  The Lakers are first with 31 appearances (record of 16-15), while the Celtics have 21, with a record of 17-4.

6) The Celtics were the most dominant U.S. major pro sports league team ever, winning an incredible 8 consecutive titles between 1959-66 (and 11 in 13 years!).  For comparison, the MLB record is 5 in a row, for the 1949-53 New York Yankees, and the NHL record is 5 consecutive, for the 1956-60 Montreal Canadians.  For college teams, the UCLA Bruins won 7 in a row from 1967-73 (and 10 in 12 years) in men's basketball, and the North Carolina Tar Heels women's soccer team won 9 national titles in a row from 1986-94.

7) Moving in the opposite way, 7 current teams have never even made it to the finals, much less won one.  These are the Buffalo Braves/San Diego and Los Angeles Clippers (around since 1970), the Denver Nuggets (since 1976), the Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats (since 1988), the Minnesota Timberwolves  (since 1989), the Vancouver/Memphis Grizzlies (since 1995), the Toronto Raptors (also 1995), and the New Orleans/Oklahoma Hornets/New Orleans Pelicans (since 2002).

8) Now let's list the individual players who won the most NBA titles.
     11  Bill Russell, center, with those dominant late 50's/60's Boston Celtics.
     10  Sam Jones, guard, also with those Celtics.
      8 (tie)  Tom Heinsohn, forward/center, same Celtics.
      8    K.C. Jones, guard, Celtics.
      8  John Havlicek, forward/guard, Celtics.
      7 (tie) Jim Loscutoff, forward, Celtics (played in 6 ).
      7  Frank Ramsey, forward/guard, Celtics.
      7 Robert Horry, forward, with the Houston Rockets (2), Los Angeles Lakers (3), and San Antonio
         Spurs (2).
      6  Bob Cousy, guard, with those same Celtics.
      6  Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, center with the Milwaukee Bucks (1), and Los Angeles Lakers (5).
      6 Michael Jordan, guard, all with the Chicago Bulls.
      6 Scottie Pippen, forward, with those same Bulls.

9) Since the 1968-69 season, the NBA has named a NBA finals Most Valuable Player (MVP).  Michael Jordan has won the most, with 6, or every Bulls title.  Four players are tied for second, with 3 MVP's.  These are Magic Johnson, Shaquille O'Neal, Tim Duncan, and Lebron James.  James, of course, is still active, and could add to his total.

10) Only one man has been named the finals MVP for a year in which his team lost the series, or the equivalent to the NFL's Chuck Howley.  This would be Jerry West, with the 1968-69 Los Angeles Lakers.

11) The record for finals futility is 8 appearances, no wins, for poor Elgin Baylor, with the Los Angles Lakers.  It gets worse--Baylor retired during the regular season in 1971-72.  That same team finally broke through and won it all a few months later.

12) Now let's go to the list of most titles won by a head coach.
     11 Phil Jackson, with the Chicago Bulls (6), and the Los Angeles Lakers (5).
      9 Red Auerbach, all with the Boston Celtics.
      5 (tie) John Kundla, all with the Minneapolis Lakers.
      5 Pat Riley, with the Los Angeles Lakers (4), and the Miami Heat (1).
      5 Gregg Popovich, all with the San Antonio Spurs.
            No other coach has more than 2.  Popovich is the only man still actively coaching.

13) I was unable to confirm this definitively, but allegedly, power forward/center Rasheed Wallace (1995-2010, 2012-13) had his 2003-4 Detroit Pistons title ring refitted for his middle finger.  Perhaps the (in)famously combative Wallace wanted to aggravate anyone who asked to see his ring.  To be fair, current center Andrew Bogut, who won a title with the 2014-15 Golden State Warriors, supposedly did the same thing.

Now let's switch from playoff/finals related trivia, into general NBA fun facts.

14) Obviously, basketball players are justifiably known for being significantly taller than most other athletes, or people in general.  But sometimes shorter guys managed to make the NBA.  The shortest ever was Muggsy Bogues, who played, at point guard, for 4 teams from 1987-2001, most notably with the Charlotte Hornets.  Bogues was only 5'3".  The next shortest was  guard Earl Boykins, who stands 5'5".  He played from 1999-2010 with 10 teams, most notably with the Denver Nuggets.

15) Conversely, the tallest NBA player ever was 7'7" Gheorghe Muresan, who played from 1993-97 with the Washington Bullets and New Jersey Nets.  Manute Bol is sometimes listed as also being 7'7", but other sources claim he was "only" 7'6 and three-quarters of an inch.  Bol played from 1985-95, most notably with the Washington Bullets and Philadelphia 76ers.

16) The record holder for most assists dished out in one game is not a great player, like John Stockton, Magic Johnson, Jason Kidd, etc., but the fairly mediocre Scott Skiles, who played from 1986-97 as a point guard.  On December 30, 1990 he had 30 assists while playing for the Orlando Magic, versus  the Denver Nuggets.

17) Similarly, the record for most steals in a game is held by two fairly pedestrian players.  Larry Kenon, a forward who played from 1972-83, had 11 in a game for the San Antonio Spurs versus the Kansas City Kings on December 26, 1976.  Kendall Gill, a shooting guard/small forward, had 11 in a game for the New Jersey Nets versus the Miami Heat on April 3, 1999.  Gill played from 1990-2005.

18) The youngest man to play in an NBA game was the recently retired center Andrew Bynum, who was 18 years, 6 days, when he suited up for the Los Angeles Lakers on November 2, 2005.

19) Small forward Charles "Bubba" Wells holds an unlikely NBA record.  He fouled out (was removed from the game after receiving 6 fouls called against him) in an incredible 3 minutes of playing time while with the Dallas Mavericks versus the Chicago Bulls on December 29, 1997.  There's a story behind this.  Bull player Dennis Rodman was notorious for being a very poor free throw shooter.  So, in an early version of the so-called "Hack-a-Shaq" strategy, Wells was instructed to intentionally foul Rodman, in the hopes that he wouldn't make many of the resulting free throws, and the Mavericks could get back in the game.  Alas, Rodman defeated this ruse by making 9 of the 12 free throws.  Center Travis Knight holds the playoff record for this, fouling out in 6 minutes of playing time while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers in a 1999 game.

20) The lowest scoring NBA game was played on November 22, 1950, between the Fort Wayne Pistons and the Minneapolis Lakers.  The Pistons prevailed 19-18!.  Games like this helped prompt the development of the shot clock for the 1954-55 season.

21) The Jones family was the Delahantys of the NBA.  Four brothers played in the NBA (or one less than the number of Delahantys in MLB).  They were:
     Caldwell Jones, a center/power forward for 17 years (1973-90) in the ABA and NBA, most
                               notably with the Philadelphia 76ers.  He was both a starter and a reserve, and
                               was once named an All Star in the ABA.
     Charles Jones, another center/power forward, who played from 1983-98 (15 seasons) most
                             notably with the Washington Bullets and Houston Rockets.  Charles was mostly
                             a reserve player, but he did win a title with the Rockets in 1994-95.
     Major Jones, a power forward for 6 years, 1979-85, with the Houston Rockets and Detroit
                           Pistons.  He was also mostly a bench player.
     Wilbert Jones, a power forward/small forward for 9 years (1969-78) in the ABA and NBA.  He
                            played on several teams, including the Miami Floridians and the Memphis Tams.
                            (The ABA had some odd, comical team names.)

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Singaporean Sweet

     As has happened a time or two before, while the product I'll be discussing was technically manufactured in Singapore, the overall company is actually Japanese.  Obviously I'm counting it, but I understand if purists might not agree.  The company is Meiji Seika Kaisha, Ltd., which has been around, under various titles, since 1916.  In addition to candy, this company produces milk, ice cream, infant formula, and beauty supplements.  Also what the website calls, "functional yogurt."  Which leads me to question--are there nonfunctional yogurts?  And what is the function of these yogurts?  (I'll ignore the obvious scatological answer.)  This is yet another gift from the wonderful Wegman's grocery, whose ethnic aisles never fail to reward me with things to write about.
     To me, the most interesting aspect about Singapore is that it's one of the few remaining sovereign city-states, or, a nation that essentially consists of one city and a very limited surrounding area.  Think ancient classic places like Sparta, Athens, or Carthage, or more recently, Venice and Novgorod.  The exact definition of a city-state is debatable, but most geographers list only 3 current ones.  Monaco and Vatican City are the other two.   (Qatar, Brunei, Bahrain, Malta, Kuwait, Hong Kong, Macau, and even Dubai and Abu Dabhi are considered to be almost, but not quite city-states given their slightly too large sizes, and other features.)  Singapore is also the third most densely populated nation on Earth, after Macau and Monaco, with 5.6 million people living in 719.2 square kilometers (278 square miles).  It consists of one main island and 62 islets.
     The dessert food I tried was a type of Yan Yan.  This product is quite similar to Pocky sticks, which I talked about in my September 21, 2016 post about some Thai sweets.  There's one main difference.  Pocky sticks come covered with a flavored coating, such as green tea or chocolate.  The Yan Yan container holds cracker sticks on one side, and a sweet dipping sauce on the other.  The sticks are usually plain, but occasionally they are pre-flavored, too.  The dipping sauces range from chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, mango, yogurt, and hazelnut.  I tried the strawberry kind.
     Additionally Yan Yans are noted for their "fun word" stamps on the crackers.  Most of these are associated with animals, like, "Seal loves to sun tan," "Bats only at night," Chick lucky color yellow," and, "Beetle love it."  (Rather unoriginally, they maintain that the octopus's lucky number is 8--I was hoping for something unexpected, like 12,763,003, or 5.75928.)
     The cracker sticks rods are about 10 cm. (about 4 inches) long, about the diameter of a pencil, and brownish yellow in color.  The dipping sauce was sticky and absurdly pink.  The Yan Yans were pretty good.  The rods by themselves were fairly plain and tasteless, but with the dip they were quite tasty.  Sweet, but not overly so.  I liked them a bit more than the best of the Pocky sticks.  I will try these again, and/or sample the other flavors if I can.  Finally, the label goes out of its way to mention that these Yan Yans do not contain pig fat, so these treats are appropriate for Muslim, Jewish, and vegetarian consumers to enjoy.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Couple of Bermudian Diet Ginger Beers

     Sometimes I encounter exotics, or disgustings, even when I'm not actively looking for them.  For the past month or so I'd been drinking probably gallons of a diet ginger beer I'd found up in Massachusetts, called, awkwardly enough, Cock n' Bull.  On a whim, I checked out the soft drink aisles in two Shop Rites near me, and came upon some other brands of this same soda.  It turns out that both (Barritts and Goslings) are Bermudian companies.  (It seems that both may bottle their products in plants in the U.S., too, but since it's under the authority of the parent companies, using their recipe, ingredients, etc., I'm counting them as Bermudian.)
     So I'll begin with a very brief background about Bermuda.  This island chain, consisting of 181 islands/islets, is in the Atlantic Ocean, about 1070 km. (665 miles) South/Southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.  The first sea captain to record his encounter with it was Juan de Bermudez of Spain, back in 1503.  Although the islands were named for him, he never actually set foot on them.  The first human settlement was from the English Virginia Company, in 1609.  It's still affiliated with England, being a British Overseas Territory.  The capital city of Bermuda is Hamilton,  The main industry of Bermuda is tourism--the island's pink sandy beaches are a particular draw.  One oddity of Bermuda, perhaps explaining why it was settled so late, relatively, is its lack of fresh water.  To this day Bermudian residences are required to collect and utilize rainwater that falls on their roofs.  The only indigenous mammals are five species of bat.  One famous Bermudian (she was born there, and left at age 5) is actress Lena Headey, probably best known for films like "The Remains of the Day" (1993), "300" (2006), "Dredd" (2012), and the HBO series, "Game of Thrones."
     The history of ginger beer itself isn't well known.  Humans have been using ginger in food and beverages for thousands of years, but the drink probably was invented in England in the mid 1700's or so.  The Barritts website claims ginger beer is derived from mead and metheglin, which are both honey-based beverages (Mead is thought to be the oldest alcoholic beverage, period).  Early versions of ginger beer were also flavored with honey.  And were strong--up until the mid 1800's they could be 11% alcohol, or as powerful as wines or super strong IPAs and barley wines.  However, in 1855 England limited ginger beers to 2% alcohol, and so it became more of a soft drink.  (This law was obviously relaxed at some point, since currently you can buy English ginger beers that are akin to regular beers in strength, about 5% alcohol.)  Additionally, ginger beer is clearly very similar to ginger ale, but it is different--among other things it's known for its more robust taste.  Aside from England and Bermuda, ginger beer is also popular in Canada, the U.S., Ireland, and South and East Africa.
     The Barritts company dates back to 1874.  William John Barritt arrived in Bermuda in 1839, from England, and spent several decades as the head jailer of the Hamilton jail.  However, his family expanded to 12 children, and his request for a raise was rejected.  In 1874 he opened up a dry goods store, which also included a bottling machine which he used to make ginger beer.  Alas, he died that same year, but his descendants have kept up the family beverage.  The website included many drink recipes which incorporate their ginger beer, many of which are (country/city name) Mules.  To describe a few, a Moscow Mule is vodka, lime juice, and ginger beer.  A Mexican Mule is tequila, lime juice, and ginger beer.  An Irish Mule is, you guessed it, Irish whiskey, and ginger beer.
     Goslings is an even older Bermudian company, dating back to 1806.  This company is known for making several versions of rum as well as their ginger beer.  Yet another alcoholic drink, the Dark 'N' Stormy, is a registered trademark of Goslings.  This drink is made with dark rum, ginger beer, and lime juice.
     As for my ratings, I found Barritts diet ginger beer and Goslings diet ginger beer to be very similar.  Both were cloudy and light yellowish in color, carbonated, and tasted about the same.  Both were gingery, but not that intense, and had a lemon-y, citrus-y flavor to them as well.  Both of which, sadly, I found somewhat disappointing.  They weren't terrible or anything, but they weren't great, either.  I don't plan on drinking more of them.  The (U.S. made) brand I mentioned earlier, Cock 'n Bull diet ginger beer, was vastly superior, in my opinion.  It had a very strong, spicy ginger bite to it, and was delicious.  Now, to be fair, we have to acknowledge the obvious point that diet soft drinks are pretty much always worse than their regular counterparts.  So I will try the regular versions for both Barritts and Goslings if/when I have the chance. (Update.  That chance for the Goslings came literally the day after I wrote this.  It was similar to the diet version, only with a stronger ginger taste, and odor.  I liked it better than the diet version, but it still wasn't great.)  Plus I've had, and enjoyed, the Dark 'N" Stormy I had a couple of years ago.  (Oops, for legal reasons I'll refer to it as a dark and stormy, or as a Dark 'N' Stormy--like equivalent, since it wasn't made with official Goslings dark rum and official Goslings ginger beer.)  But, at this point, trying what I've tried to date, I think England's Idris Fiery Ginger Beer (see June 9, 2013 post) is still the best regular ginger beer I've had, and the Cock 'n Bull is the best diet ginger beer.  And the England's Crabbies is the best alcoholic ginger beer.
     Finally, I was amused to see that a bad bottle of ginger beer led to a landmark legal case concerning negligence in the U.K. back in 1932.  In Donaghue vs. Stevenson, a Mrs. Donaghue was sickened by a snail found in a Stevenson's ginger beer, while in Paisley, Renfrewshire, Scotland.  There's even a documentary about it.  (And for anyone worried about/perversely intrigued by this story, I couldn't find evidence that Stevenson's is still in business.  Presumably the fine settlement, legal bills, and the notoriety severely hurt their business.)

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--A Few Baked Goods from the U.K.

     Today I'll be talking about two products from McVitie's, and one from Jacob's.  More specifically, a couple of types of "digestives," as they're known in the U.K,. and a kind of cracker.
     Even my usual cursory look at the manufacturers quickly became complicated, and more than a little confusing.  Jacob's dates back to either 1850 or 1851 (sources vary) in Ireland.  However, they were bought out by United Biscuits in 2004.  McVitie's began in Scotland in 1803.  Both companies are now owned by pledis (no capital "P", for some reason), along with famous food brands like Godiva Chocolates, Ulker, and DeMets Candy.  Pledis in turn is owned by Yildiz Holdings, which is a Turkish/Middle Eastern company, and is the food wing of CEEMEA.  Between all of these the overall business operates in at least 120 countries, and employs over 50,000 people.  So we're talking about an absolutely immense company.
     To me, the McVitie's offerings I got, the milk chocolate with caramel digestives, and the milk chocolate with orange digestives, would be called "cookies," or a dessert-like baked good.  But they're called "digestives" because they were thought to aid in digestion.  Which is true, by the way.  They contain baking soda (sodium bicarbonate), which does indeed help with indigestion.  Even learning this, I still find the name puzzling.  Referring to these by this term almost makes them sound like medicine, and not a pleasant culinary treat.  (What Americans call cookies are also sometimes called "biscuits" in the U.K.)  Clearly consumers in the U.K. don't care, though, as McVitie's are the most popular brand of this type of food.  They are often a major part of "tea time," sometimes dunked into the tea itself before being eaten.  A man name Alexander Grant developed digestives back in 1892.  Switching gears a bit, this product also allegedly sparked an argument between George Harrison and John Lennon of The Beatles.  Supposedly John's girlfriend Yoko Ono helped herself to some of George's McVitie's digestives during the recording sessions of the "Abbey Road" album in 1969, and Harrison protested, leading to a fight.
     The Jacob's crackers I tried were the cream crackers, first made in 1885.  There's no different names here--we Americans call this food type "crackers" as well.  (Although the Jacob's crackers also contain baking soda/sodium bicarbonate--don't know why they're not given credit for helping with digestion, too.)  I did read something controversial about the company, though.  Famous labor activist Rosie Hackett was once employed by Jacob's, and the company was one of the ones that she and her trade unions protested against, in 1911-13.  Hopefully the treatment of their workforce has improved significantly in the past century!
     But let's get to the food itself.  Both kinds of digestives were round, and a light brown color, with their company name stamped on one side, and with a milk chocolate coating on the other.  They had a diameter of about 6 cm. (or about 2.25 inches) and had a grid-like pattern under the chocolate.  The orange one had some orange flavor to it.  They were solid, but unspectacular.  Not as sweet as most American cookies.  They had a soft, chewy texture, layered like a candy bar.  The caramel kind was a bit better.  A little more sweet, and tastier.  I probably like caramel flavor more than orange in my cookies/digestives/biscuits, it appears.
     The Jacob's cream crackers were square, 7 cm (about 2.5 inches) to a side, whitish, with brown cooking marks on them.  They also had the brand name stamped on them.  I found these to be rather bland. With things on them (cheese, mustard, etc.) they were good, but they were rather boring by themselves, unadorned.  I like a typical saltine cracker better, as the greater salty taste has a little more pep.  To be fair, my mother quite enjoyed these crackers, more than me--she and my father remembered eating them when they lived in England for a year back in the early 1960's.
     Therefore, of the three baked goods, the cream crackers and the orange digestive were okay, but not dazzling.  Certainly not bad, but not especially memorable, either.   I would get the caramel digestives again, however.  And I would be willing to try other McVitie's/Jacob's/pledis products.  Given that there are over 300 brands under this company umbrella, that's quite an extensive choice!
     Also, maybe any U.K. readers can help me answer a question I have.  On the computer, some websites track your visits, and relay this info to your web browser.  We call these "cookies."  Do you call them "biscuits," or "digestives," or something else entirely?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Rice Candy

     We're heading back East again, back to a familiar destination on my blog--Japan.  The brand of candy I'll be discussing goes by a couple of names.  The box I picked up, the export, is called Botan rice candy.  "Botan" is Japanese for "peony," the type of flower, and a picture of this is on the box, alongside one of a traditional dog-shaped toy called a inu-hariko.  However, in Japan the brand is named Bonton ame.  "Bonton" means pomelo (see February 20, 2014 post for more info about this fruit) and the candy's flavor is thought to approximate this.  The overall company which produces Botan/Bonton ame is Seiko Foods.
     The Seiko company website was informative, at times amusing, and even a little depressing at one point.  The company has gone through several name changes over the years, but a precursor of it dates all the way back to 1903.  Once in the business of producing glutinous starch syrup, they now make various candies, desserts, and frozen meats and vegetables.  The website is very detailed, even going so far as to print which banks the company employs.  On the sad side, their Company Profile page also includes a "memories of the war" section.  To end on a lighter note, I really enjoyed some of the advertising slogans for Botan/Bonton ame over the years.  In the mid 1920's (the candy was developed in 1924) their catch phrase was "the long-nosed goblin's secret recipe."  Who can argue with that?  These hideous monsters are traditionally the best candy makers, after all!  A more recent slogan boasts that the candy is "known and tasted at least once by anyone and everyone in Japan."  The cynic in me is a little suspicious that this claim is 100% accurate.  (And if it is, that is truly amazing.)
     Anyway, the rice candy is made from glucose syrup (corn syrup, water), sugar, sweet rice, water, lemon flavor, orange flavor, and Allura Red AC food coloring.  Inside the box were six reddish-pink pieces, measuring about 2 cm. by 1 cm. (or about .75 inches by .5 inches)  And here's where I have to admit something a little embarrassing.  After taking off the outer wrapper I was confronted by an inner wrapper surrounding each piece of candy.  Or, really, stuck onto/into the candy.  I tried to peel off this inner wrapper without success.  I quickly grew frustrated, and angry.   I bit into the candy as I could.  But after only a few brief tastes I threw the lot into the trash, cursing and carrying on about the terrible packaging.  Well, it turns out I was being unobservant, and bit foolish.  On the website, later, I read that the inner wrapper is made from edible material, and is designed to dissolve in the consumer's mouth.  "Why don't they print this on the box?" I wondered.  Then I looked at the box more closely.  On the inside of the end flaps it does indeed read, "Each candy has an edible inner wrapper that melts in your mouth."  Oops.  For the record, what little of the candy I did eat wasn't that great.  Kind of average, and not very sweet.  Fruity, in a pedestrian way.  But I'd be lying if I said that the annoying-at-the-time packaging didn't influence my overall opinion, so take that into account.  The box also came with a sticker, featuring a wild haired waiter standing next to a brown dog.  Don't know if this is a character from some other entertainment medium, or original to Seika.
     Therefore, I don't know if I'll try this again, if/when I get the chance.  Part of me doesn't want to, since I wasn't blown away by the taste, and out of slight shame/spite about the weird inner wrapper.  I guess I'll go with another of their candies, or an ice pop, instead.  And, as I said, the Seika website is definitely a cut above most food company websites, with its comprehensive business details, entertaining historical anecdotes, and even a touch of pathos for balance.

    Apparently I'm not the only one who was put off by Botan's strange inner wrapper.  My friend Keith found an image, which I'm posting below.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Latest Publishing Update--"The Big Book of Bootleg Horror Vol. 1"

     I'm happy to announce that another anthology is out which features one of my horror stories.  As you can see from the cover above, this one comes from HellBound Books, whose website address is:  I'll include the "blurb" below:

Twenty tales of terror, darkness, the truly macabre and things most unpleasant from a delectably eclectic bunch of the very best independent horror authors on the scene today!

S.E. Rise, Kevin Wetmore, Paul Stansfield, Craig Stewart, Shaun Avery, Jeff Myers, Marc DeWit, Timothy Wilkie, Quinn Cunningham, Melanie Waghorne, Marc E. Fitch, Stanley B. Webb, Tim J. Finn, Ken Goldman, Ralph Greco Jr, Roger Leatherwood, Vincent Treewell, David Owain Hughes, J.J. Smith and the inimitable James H. Longmore.

In this superlative tome, HellBound Books have embraced the taboo, gone all-out to horrify and have broken the flimsy boundaries of good taste to make The Big Book of Bootleg Horror the perfect anthology for those who take their horror like we take our coffee - insidiously dark and most definitely unsweetened.

    The paperback format is $15.99, and the Kindle ebook version is $4.99.  Enjoy!

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Slovenian Mineral Water

     I have to admit, that up until very recently I wasn't entirely sure what mineral water was all about.  I can recall the use of it in the classic 1980's movie, "Heathers," but that's about it.  (For those that don't remember, in the film it's a sign of how backward and homophobic the town was, as consumption of this beverage made folks automatically question one's sexuality.)  Well, basically, mineral water is simply water that has minerals in it, such as salts and sulfur compounds.  Certain areas in the world are famous for their mineral water sources, as these were often supposed to have medicinal and healing qualities.  Spas often sprung up around them, and then people started to bottle and sell these waters.  Some are naturally carbonated.
     Obviously, Slovenia has some of these naturally occurring mineral water sources.  The brand I bought was Radenska.  In addition to marketing a few types of mineral waters, they also make flavored waters (their Oaza line), and carbonated soft drinks (their Ora line).  The former includes some exotic flavors, such as thyme, linden/honey/lime (linden is a tree sometimes used in herbal teas and tinctures), and elderflower and white tea.  I thought I was trying two types of mineral water, but alas I was careless and bought two bottles of the same kind by mistake, as the labels were slightly different.  So the only kind I was able to locate was their classic mineral water.  This beverage has high concentrations of calcium and magnesium in it.  Which is also the distinction of what constitutes "hard" water.  "Soft" water is water with low concentrations of magnesium and calcium.  (And evidently waters with a moderate amount of these substances are just "semihard, regular" water, I guess.)  If your home water supply is "hard," that can have negative effects.  Boilers' function may be affected, and household pipes may get clogged with mineral deposits.  Also soap may not lather properly in dishwashers and washing machines.  (Alternately, I've stayed in some hotels with overly "soft' water, which is unpleasant, too.  It feels greasy--like you still have soap on your hands even after rinsing thoroughly.)
     Anyway, I tried the classic Radenska, which came in a 1.5 liter plastic bottle, and a 1 liter glass bottle.  I had it chilled, but plain, and then over ice.  I could tell a difference between this and regular tap water.  Not really in a good way.  It wasn't as refreshing, somehow, as normal water.  A major factor was probably the carbonation.  Plus, to be fair, I think I've tried domestic mineral waters in my life, and came away similarly unimpressed.  So, while I didn't like it, and wouldn't recommend it, maybe avid mineral water drinkers would enjoy it.  (My father, for example, said he liked it just fine.)
     Finally, to throw out some very brief info about the country of Slovenia, it gained its independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.  In 2004 the nation joined NATO and the European Union.  And the 2012 Global Peace Index rated them as one of the world's most peaceful countries.