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.)