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.)