Oreo’s Wonderfilled Campaign

Oreo’s latest ad campaign, Wonderfilled, features a song by a man who literally goes by the name Owl City! That’s the most absurd thing I’ve found out all week, outside of the realization that I am going to have to obtain internet via exposure therapy. Seriously, Starbucks is my ninth level of hell. I hope that’s how he’s billed at Jiffy Lube and how the servers shout his order at Five Guys. Owl City. On the plus side, the hipster swooning that elicits must be insane. In any case, I received the press package for the campaign this week, which contained an Oreo book, and a set of three things to play, learn, and share: an iPod loaded up with the new Owl City song, an Oreo-shaped thumbdrive, and Oreos. I sense a theme!

Having already forced my latest bedfellow (henceforth known as Bedfellow) to read the book with me, which made for an entirely awkward evening, I decided to focus on the song bright and early in the morning, while my ears were at their keenest. The campaign is pretty cute and centers around aggressively tying the abstract concept of ‘wonder’ to America’s favorite cookie. “Wonder can be twisted, licked, dunked, stacked, rolled, crunched, nibbled, and savored,” which makes me wonder (see what I did there?) if I ought to change my name to Wonder. Wonder Watsky has a swell ring to it.

I’m a food critic, but I decided, then and there, that I could also be a music critic. The song is obviously called ‘Wonderfilled,’ not to be confused with ‘Wonderwall,’ or ‘Wonderful’ from Wicked, and starts off ominously, as the only file on the iPod is called ‘OREO WONDERFILLED ANTHEM’ which makes me wonder if I’ve stumbled onto a top-secret plot to take over the world with Oreo cookies. If so, it would totally work. Bitches love Oreos.
But not with this song. Oreo City lays down a thick beat that I immediately want to snort a line of cookie crumbs to, then quickly transitions into some straight-up autotuned jams. There is a story, and the ending leads to roads paved of cookies and cream and triangle-accented syllables. It’s precious. Too precious. I mean, it’s literally the most twee thing I’ve ever set eyes to, and I willingly read Kristin Chenoweth’s entire memoir. I’m not sure that Oreo should have something more saccharine than its cookies advertising them.
Owl Cookie puts a friendly flair on some dour dope fairy tales. I was definitely not aware of the fact that the three little pigs were killed in any non-Oreo related versions of the story, but now that I do, I’m damned glad I have some Oreos to eat away the post-traumatic stress with. Wonderfill my belly! Vampires turn vegetarian, sharks share things and ‘cuddle up with giant squids for a friendly meal’ that apparently consists of nothing but cookies, and I end up dying from diabetic shock from the sheer campiness of the song alone. It’s cute, catchy, and dreadfully unsubstantial.

Now that I’ve wholly established that I’m not going to be the next Ben Brantley, let’s move to an Oreo product I picked up at the grocery store, Oreo Cookies ‘n’ Cream Jell-O Pudding! Full FCC/blogger disclosure: I ate this out of a Tupperware container and I have no regrets, because it’s one of the best Oreo-flavored products on the market.

So many of these lose that iconic flavor, even, in some cases, the Oreos themselves when they’re flavored with berries or sorbet, so it was a real pleasure to dig into this and find that the flavor of the cookies was as bold as ever. The pudding is extremely thick, at least it was when I made it, and features huge chunks of cookies that vary in size, so some are soft and cake-like when you eat the pudding, and others are still crispy.
The flavor is great- the pudding itself doesn’t overshadow the salty, sweet cookies with too much sugar or flavor, despite the huge imbalance in between the ‘crème’ and the cookie component. What I liked best was that it appeared that Kraft only used the wafer part instead of crushing up Oreos with crème inside, which would have certainly upset the balanced flavor.

A great treat, and a fun one for stuffing inside Oreos and mouths.

Agape Substance, Paris, France

I am literally agape right now. Agape at the lack of substance at Agape Substance in Paris tonight. 500 Euro and an agonizing three hours later, Miss Love and I are trying to piece together the shards of a confusing evening of Beckett-esque futility. TL;DR: I have never had a worse meal in my life.

To put it succinctly, Agape Substance is best left for a clientele tired of being beaten with birch switches and paying for it, a special type of customer who wants something a little more public. To them, I recommend this tasting menu, accompanied by dim fluorescent lighting and sallow-toned smoked mirrors. A scarily accurate glimpse into the future, I now know how it will look when I go to the DMV when I’m 40. Throughout the course of an evening, we went through over 20 courses of incongruent, vapid bites with strange visual cues and a seemingly Freudian undertone in a restaurant best suited to a 1980’s swinger’s club. This is the fucking Dorsia of the Left Bank.

We started with butternut squash tuile. It tasted like dessicated Fruit Roll-Up housed in a customized slab of china, overly sweet to start a meal.

Following that were pork trotter chicharrones with minced dory fish on top. Crispy and porky, they gave us a vague sense of hope for the meal to come.

I was anxiously anticipating our next dish, a berce sponge with hogweed flower. Agape is known for its flagrant usage of berce, but the improbably bright Soylent Green coloring and kitchen sponge-like flavor were disconcerting.

A mini-pizza with pine nuts and caviar was tasty, if meager.

We ended our selection of amuse bouches with a dried salsify with white chocolate creme fraiche and olive. Wow, this dish was confusing. Texturally, it was like eating flaccid carrots with slightly stale dip, as though the inspiration for this was found rooting in the back of the chef’s refrigerator one late evening. The chocolate was dulled by the richness of the cream, a white sploogy void on the plate.
Our first savory course, king crab with grapefruit, mint, and artichoke consomme was inoffensive and tasty, with a vibrant sweet and savory component from the citrus fruit and herbs.

Parsnip with smoked sea salt, olive, and rye came shortly after. Tasted like a loaded baked potato sans Bacos. It was also at this point that we noticed that the “special truffle supplement,” an additional 50 Euro per person, merely consisted of hunks of truffles shaved over this, as well as other dishes, we received throughout the evening. A must to avoid.
Following this was a runny half-boiled egg with orgeat syrup, blanched almonds, and polenta. I do not know why this was placed where it was in the menu, or really, what purpose it served all. It was, as Camus may have said, an indicator of a wholly indifferent universe. It raised some important questions about taste and the meaning of life. For instance: Why am I eating raw cookie dough-flavored food sandwiched between the appetizer and main course? Who wants to see their date awkwardly dribble gooey, raw organic fluid down the corner of their mouth in public? As tasty as it was, reminiscent of marzipan, it was existentially confusing to a fault.
Duck liver with raspberry consomme, inoffensive and unremarkable. Fresh tasting but bland. The spongy liver could have easily been replaced with mushrooms and I wouldn’t have known.
A hollowed sea urchin with chestnut soup was visually impressive if boring. The richness of the soup cut the urchin’s naturally sweet, briny flavor and neutralized the effect of both.
Carrots and mustard, a trial in mental tenacity. Why, I ask, would any self-respecting restaurant toss hot carrots and mustard on a plate halfway through the meat courses? In a recent review of Agape, Alexander Lobrano praised a similarly simple dish as “lucid.” This, too, was lucid, though more in a Ken Kesey fashion than a Kubrickian genius as he would have us believe. Mindfuckery served with bread and butter.
Sea scallop with seaweed butter and chestnut foam had a dated elegance straight out of American Psycho. Served in a whole scallop shell on a massive slab of frosted, custom-cut Lucite with the pomp and ritual of a Patek, I wish I had worn big shoulder pads and Paloma Picasso to match. Shoddy preparation and repeated themes characterized this dish- the scallops had not been detached from the shell and were nearly impossible to remove whole. It wasn’t reassuring to already see overlapping flavors (seaweed butter and chestnut foam) so early on in the meal.
Sole with charred turnips, white chocolate sauce, and seabean. Nicely prepared, but too polite and impossible to eat together. The group therapy of dishes, everything participated minimally, but never really contributed to a congruent entirety.

Well-prepared venison, served with one stuffed shell straight out of le Stouffer’s. Unfortunately, the sauce appeared -how can I say this tactfully- “hand” made by the chef.

St. Nectaire cheese was tasty, if only for the novelty of eating a wedge of more expensive St. Nectaire than I normally purchase at home.

Raw cubes of kabocha squash, raw flour ice cream (really), and squash caramel. Easily the most puritanical dessert I’ve ever had. This literally hurt to eat. It was chalky, unsweetened, and vegetal. In retrospect, ordering the shredded Kiton atop crushed diamonds would have been more palatable. I witnessed another diner reach an emotional breaking point when he tasted this dish.

Blackberry ice cream, macadamia nuts, lychee, and meringue was bizarre and also clash-heavy; the buttery, oily nuts greasy mingling with icy sorbet and slippery fruit pieces.

100% chocolate, or as we came to know it, the “Everybody Poops” dessert. Overly sweetened mousse, chocolate bark, and sauce with shapes and textures more resembling emissions from our kitten than a decadent end to a meal. Tasted of Nutella, ganache, and sugar.

Passionfruit and mango caramels came with the bill, a tearful 500 Euro for two including the decent, if inconsistent, blind wine tasting. Shameful. Everything about eating here felt like an exercise in sexual transgression, from the backless chairs to the smoked yellow mirrors to the strange swathes of cowhide strategically placed around the table, and of course, the weird surprises and punishment food. I pity the waiters and waitresses, the only bright spot in the dinner service. Usually, in a situation of this nature, at least you get to see a killer rack for the price. We paid for it both in our wallets (thanks for taking one for the team, Miss Love) and in our palates and are now self-medicating with Lindt, Ambien, and chocolate milk. 

I’ve got to say, it felt like the central theme for this dinner was divorce on a plate, because the menu seemed hell-bent on ruining more than a few celebrations and anniversaries that night. Our meal was punctuated with sounds of shame and annoyance and more than one justification- “I swear, this never happens!”- the edible erectile dysfunction to disappointed dates. Come for the promise of phenomenal reviews and stay for the bitter end. You paid for the prix fixe, baby, so wipe that egg yolk off your chin, smile, and say “Merci.”

Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Squares Rocky Road

I think that Rocky Road is an underappreciated flavor. Although I guess it would put a damper on peoples’ impressions that it was initially used as a treat to con Australian workers out of their money with cheap ingredients, it still doesn’t deserve the harsh fate of being lumped with rum raisin and cherries jubilee. It’s not Rocky Road’s fault it had a terrible beginning. Look at vanilla- vanilla dealt underground sweeteners in Queens for ten years and it’s still the most popular flavor, but that’s good marketing for you.

Still, Kellogg’s isn’t doing Rocky Road any favors with its new Rice Krispies Squares. It’s setting it right back where it started, demarcating it as a bland, safe choice for the elderly and people who actively eat Chunky bars. While the ingredient list jumped off the package like the trailer for a summer blockbuster, the unveiling and consumption was more akin to watching a made-for-TV version on the couch in October. Such a letdown, Kellogg’s. I am disappoint. The rice krispie base is chocolate-colored, but weaksauce-flavored, with a light, sugar-heavy flavor and vague cocoa aftertaste, like drinking diluted chocolate milk or spritzing yourself with Ralph Lauren’s new fragrance, Doughnut Whisper.  It’s the opposite of beauty. This is what makes children cry.
The bars are inconsistent, some crammed with pieces of white chocolate, marshmallows, and raisins, and others basically empty. And I know that nut flavors aren’t as popular in Europe, but I was surprised to see this used as a flavor while lacking the most common component of Rocky Road itself- peanuts! Without them, this could be anything. I choose to call it Failed Expectations Boulevard, the bumpy, creeper-laden road parallel to Rocky Road that ends up in a place best described as a cross between an industrial park and abandoned trailer rest stop. It’s a pity, as the mild krispy base makes for a good neutral flavor sponge, but in this case, it just adds to the prolonged amount of lameness that you have to chew.

Mission Cantina, South Amherst, MA

Mission Cantina has one impressive set of cojones- and not in a good way. South Amherst’s latest addition to the mainly mediocre Mexican scene around town boasts a boring menu with impressive prices. For a joint set in the dingiest of strip malls, they’ve got an ego as large as the burritos they’re serving up. On a Tuesday evening, I decided to take Esportoe out to celebrate his graduation.  Only one of us would manage to survive the night without vomiting profusely. We were up against a 30-45 minute wait while being stared at by the angriest of Amherst’s notorious smug liberal adult scene. Apparently, Tuesday is Margarita and Forced Coworker Socialization night, so the tiny place was booming.

Accompanied by an abrasive mariachi soundtrack, blasting from ceiling mounted-speakers like Daft Punk, and the ever-tempting scent of pizza in the take-out joint next door, we opted to forge on. In an ideal world, we would have left after the hostess informed us that she was too busy to take our phone number so we wouldn’t have to be confined to the cramped space in order to ensure our table, and this review would show you how good our pizza slice was and how awful Mission Cantina was. Did I mention that nobody recommended we make reservations? And that I didn’t expect to for strip mall Mexican? But we’re stupid college students, so we stayed. That 30-45 minute wait turned into an hour before we were seated. Interesting cocktail flavors and Mexican coke tantalized us from the menu, but at $8.50 minimum for a medium-sized beverage, we opted for water instead.

The food is twice the price of both Mi Tierra and La Veracruzana but looked decent enough. We opted for a sampler of six tacos and chicken mole, along with an order of chips and salsa. It was worth noting that we had a wonderful multi-tasking bartender slash waitress who almost made up for the overt douchiness of the hostess. And luckily for me, I reasoned that I’d be able to eat the tacos with my hands- a boon as my fork and knife were filthy and covered with sticky bits of food. Our chips arrived quickly and came in a huge basket along with three salsas. Exactly what I expected for standard chips ‘n’ dip, but for $4.50, I wanted to see some fucking miracles. The chips were tasty- hot, crispy, and fresh, and, although this may just be something I enjoy, glistening ever so slightly with oil. Although the size was a hair unwieldy, there wasn’t a bad one in the bunch and they were wonderfully craggy, all the better to dip with.
The salsas, on the other hand, had some issues. For .75 cents apiece- more like a buck apiece if you factor in the chips at around a dollar’s worth of tortillas, they came off as kind of skimpy. They were served in an oversized container that made the portions- about an ounce’s worth of salsa per bowl, look very spartan. The flavors were tasty and I appreciated the variety. Of the three- a classic red, pineapple verde, and black bean negro, I definitely enjoyed the black bean the best. It was smoky and smooth, but not terribly thick so it still retained a spreadable texture. The pineapple was fresh and zesty but was separated as soon as it hit the table and made for a very messy eating experience. The red salsa was standard, nothing to write home about. None of them had any heat or spice.
And then our food came. When they were dropped down at our places, the bus boy neglected to mention which tacos were which. Understandable for three, but rather annoying for six, especially in the dark, cavernously lit restaurant where they all basically looked the same. Going down the line, though- we ordered carnitas, fried fish, al pastor, chorizo, chicken, and carne asada. But we’ll get back to those.

Esportoe’s chicken was pretty good. Served with rice and beans, mole dripping off of everything, it was an incredibly well-rendered rendition of the sauce. When eaten with the sides, however, it was as though we were eating a different sauce completely. It translated so differently on protein versus on a carbohydrate, the latter full of cinnamon and smoke, tempered by the meat. It was a little too intense, slightly imbalanced and overpowering almost every other flavor. His chicken was crisp and tasty. Served with four tortillas, it made tacos better than the ones I’d ordered.
I won’t mince words: three out of my six tacos were edible. Not good- that distinction goes to only one taco. Three out of six were food-like enough to put in my mouth and chew. We’ll start with the failing three. We bit into the carnitas taco first, only to find that it was incredibly dry and stringy, not to mention cold and flavorless. The chorizo was even more offensive. I mean, it’s pretty difficult to screw up chorizo, unless of course you fry little chunks of it into oblivion until they’re charred and black, add excess oil when you realize you’ve seared off all the fat and moisture, and serve it on a tortilla. The result is burnt chorizo popcorn pieces. That was the first time I’ve ever spat something from a restaurant into my napkin. Hideous. The carne asada hovered on the cusp of edible and dog food, with a flavor nowhere near steak and a heavy-handed cuminy aftertaste, so oversalted I could feel my blood pressure take a direct hit.
The chicken and fried fish tacos were stuffed full– at least a half cup of cubed, grilled chicken and a large hunk of fried fish spilling out of the tortilla, but were undistinguished in flavor. The slaw atop the fish barely registered as part of the taco and the chicken was bone-dry, improved in flavor as well as in texture with a little salsa dribbled on top. The only taco we both enjoyed was the al pastor, and here, the definition of enjoyed is more like “tolerated.” Sweet, tender, and tasty pork. Whatever. It was edible. It’s also worth mentioning that both our plates looked like they’d been through a shooting range. How were they so chipped!?

The bill came to around $50 with a tip and to our delight a few hours later, came with a free round of food poisoning for Esportoe, who texted me the one-word review of “threwup” later that evening. Absolutely horrendous. It’s double the price and double the attitude. It made me wonder whether the few bright spots in the meal were merely flukes. After reading all of this, you’re probably guessing that the restaurant is new and still wobbling on its soft opening legs. It’s been open for six months. Anywhere else and this place would have been shuttered within a month, but I’m guessing its loyal fan base will keep it festering for a little bit longer. My advice- cut off those cojones and serve them in a better taco. If you cook it correctly, maybe I’ll even come back. Mission Cantina, meet Mission Improvement. It’s a good thing. 

Gross Food Week #4: The Hungry Ghost Bakery, Northampton, MA

In planning out my selections for Gross Week, I initially thought it would be overkill to include a restaurant in an undoubtedly negatively centered theme. However, after trying the pizza at The Hungry Ghost Bakery in Northampton, Massachusetts, all bets are off. To some Northamptonites, this review will strike the wrong chord. They will place it in the same shock category as a “Nobama” bumper sticker. The Hungry Ghost, a two-time James Beard semifinalist, is a small town staple atop a small hill in the center of town, flanked by office buildings and groceries just off the main drag. When I first came here for school, it was all everyone spoke about.
“Oh, you must try the Ghost- they only bake one kind of specialty bread a day and don’t bake any more when they run out! The owner wrote a ballad about the bakery! They have a schedule for their bread.” Handwritten menus and a shabby workspace pass for status indicators in this area, I noticed. In fact, I entered the bakery twice prior to their late 2011 renovation and left before ordering as I was appalled with the putrid state of conditions there. Formerly a dusty, dank bakery, albeit one with lovely smells, the reviews of The Hungry Ghost’s bread range from passionate to pallid. But it was their recent renovation and switch to pizza that piqued my curiosity one evening, prompted by an October 2011 review by Serious Eats writer Liz Bomze, when the bakery had first branched out to pizza. I’m not one to place SE on a pedestal, but I respect their input and recognize their experience in eating many different types of pizza, so their range of comparison would be vast and hopefully serve as a good benchmark for my own experience.
What Liz described as “some of the best pizza in New England” was something I wouldn’t have the heart to feed my dog. (Who, for the record, was raised on New Haven apizza crusts slipped under the table.) Perhaps this would pass for good pizza to someone who was heretofore fed exclusively Domino’s and Digiorno, but for a Connecticut resident, this barely has the life and character of a freezer-burnt Ellio’s. Entering the bakery, we were the only patrons yet stood for a few minutes as the cashier finished a lengthy conversation about boys with a friend of hers. When we made a motion to order and ask for a recommendation, as it was our first time checking the place out, it was made painfully clear that the delicate rhythm of the discourse was disrupted by our presence. This was reflected in the service. Hideously annoyed that her soliloquy about menfolk was stopped in its tracks, the cashier was surly, exhibiting a vapid passivity nearing autistic levels, thrusting a paper menu toward us and all but telling us to go screw ourselves. Any further requests for recommendations yielded blank stares and eye rolls.
We finally agreed to try their margherita pizza, a basic set of flavors that, when done well, transport the eater back to summertime. A simple choice for a first time. Informed that the pizza would take twenty minutes to cook, a strangely long time in a brand new Llopis wood-fire oven, we were told to come back. We perused a local deli and returned only to be informed that the bakery was cash-only. No signage alerted us to this fact, nor did our server choose to capitalize on our twenty minute wait by offering up this fact. Thus, our pizza was delayed another ten minutes as we found an ATM per her vague directions and went on our way.
That ten minutes made no difference at all. In fact, I doubt ten seconds would have made a difference, because this pizza was abhorrent both hot and cold. For starters, the composition. A margherita pizza is retardedly simple: tomatoes, mozzarella, basil, and a little extra virgin olive oil. Our pizza had rivulets of grease pocking its surface and running down the sides and into the crust and was sparse in the basil department. Apparently there’s a shortage of skimpy, free-range basil leaves in the region. Fresh tomatoes were replaced with what tasted like canned tomato sauce, and the cheese was barely browned. Checking out the upskirt, we were once again dismayed by the shoddy performance of this seemingly new oven. I’m not sure if the owners got an upcycled oven or if it was left on the curb and posted on freecycle, but it yielded a flaccid, soggy crust with a gummy interior, each piece collapsing on itself, saturated and glistening with more oil than a male model and shedding dandruffy flakes of cornmeal and flour when moved from box to plate.
The first few bites of each slice were wet, thick, and slimy, the result of the copious amounts oil migrating to the center of the pie. With each bite, I was waiting for International Bird Rescue to come clean my mouth in the same way oiled seagulls are cleaned after a disaster. $13 bought an extremely bland, oversweetened twelve inch pizza that left a sheen on our lips and carried a pervasively annoying sourdough tang, more tangy and sour than their bread. I’ve suffered from heartburn with a more nuanced flavor than this.
Unfortunately, Jesus did not grace our grease-stained napkin with His presence. He must have seen our pitiful meal and appeared in the craggy crust of a McNugget across the street instead.
An undistinguished and frugally filled alfajore did not make for a delightful end to the meal.
We had structured our day around getting this pizza tonight. I’m just pleased that we didn’t go “full pizza” and snag more than one pie or even upgrade to a larger size. This was so unappetizing that we didn’t even bother to sit down at the table with it, much less open the bottle of Mondavi we’d left chilling for the occasion. From the many Bret Easton Ellis novels and old issues of the New Yorker I’ve perused, I gather that high-end restaurants of the 80’s were proud of being stingy and standoffish, cultivating the type of clientele who would know better than to question the difference between ceviche and cilantro. I don’t, however, understand why this snobby “value” is superimposed onto the more mediocre examples of fine dining I’ve seen in small towns. It seems like a certain strain of naive people equate this attitude with quality dining, and it unfortunately causes restaurants like this to thrive where they can be king of the college pizza scene. Hungry Ghost comes across as a ludicrously arrogant big fish in a small pond. The hype is not deserved.

Gross Food Week #2: Yoplait Splitz Birthday Cake

Long-time reader MrsBug was being optimistic when she commented that Gross Week could only improve from here. So, riddle me this: is there birthday cake in hell? The obvious answer is “no” as there are no birthdays, but I’ll leave that one up to the theologians. After tasting Yoplait’s birthday cake flavored yogurt, I can definitely assure you that there is some form of birthday cake in hell, as this is as abominable as they come. Yoplait’s new Splitz line, which coincidentally sounds like an incredibly flexible line of Bratz spinoff dolls, combines flavors of foods that traditionally come in or eventually turn into liquid form: rainbow sherbert, strawberry banana split, and strawberry sundae.
And then there’s birthday cake. Yes, now you can have your cake and eat your live bacteria, too. As you can see on the package, they’re not talking about some sexy Elizabeth Faulkner-commissioned dealy either. We’re talking low budget, half-off day old birthday cake with Cool Whip frosting and a misspelled name in cursive. Classic grocery store fare, misery guaranteed. Ignore the festive bunting and sprinkles: it all tastes the same after the first bite.
This is something a kid gets when his dad has a new hippie girlfriend he’s trying to impress. He can’t shake the novelty of buying dessert-flavored products but has switched to yogurt for the kids to look like he doesn’t order Taco Bell for dinner most nights a week.
The yogurt is translated into a “layered” format with a frosting-inspired layer and a cake-flavored base, all studded with sprinkles. It’s the little sister of its adult counterparts scientifically designed to make adults resent dessert. Weirdly enough, the yogurt definitely smells like vanilla cake frosting but does not taste like it at all. There’s that weird super-vanilla flavor all yogurt has, the one that tries to be dessert but simply lacks the sugar to do so. The creaminess is indulgent and thick with a solid body to it that makes it feel less like light yogurt. I feel like I’d have enjoyed this more if it was a pudding. It just seems like it’s tiptoeing the line between health food and dessert and falling off to its death.
Even sampling this frozen didn’t improve its flavor. As a child, I had a friend whose birthday fell on Passover every year. Her Orthodox mother would always make her a birthday cake that looked beautiful, but had a strangely subdued, bready flavor that put it squarely in the savory category rather than dessert. This yogurt brought back memories of those awful cakes because it had the same visual appeal with the same disappointing flavors, only this time I wasn’t encouraged to have seconds and didn’t have to play with pipe cleaners afterwards due to there being no television to entertain ourselves with.
The sprinkles, typically the most enjoyable part of a birthday cake, made this one fall apart worse than a Cake Wreck. For whatever reason, they were grossly oversized and rather waxy, giving the impression of biting into a crayon every few spoonfuls. Their two-tone neon color did no favors to the anemic yogurt and tasted bitter, much like the Funfetti sprinkles in my failed pancake experiment. If you’re feeding this to your kid on their birthday, they’re either ingesting this via IV because an actual cake was too difficult to liquify or you should have had your genitalia removed years ago. Yoplait has made birthdays sad even for the under-10 set now.

Hungry Jack Funfetti Buttermilk Pancakes

Well, it’s happened. The internet’s obsession with combining the crap out of various foodstuffs has seeped out, like a spilled red velvet cupcake fudge milkshake onto a white Maud Sienna carpet, staining the world of brands as we know it. Yes, Virginia, there are now Funfetti-flavored pancakes, Funfetti being the socially acceptable way to literally eat candy with candy. And I have eaten them and lived to tell the tale.
Hungry Jack, the company that brought you breakfast by Dad on school days when Mom was busy and the Australian Burger King now offers up an easy pack of pancakes dotted with the perennial birthday party favorite, sprinkles. Visually, these look like the calling card of a rogue, murderous IHOP employee on a quest for vengeance. I’ll call him Murray the Pancakinator. They’re upsettingly neon with a lazy heaviness to them, a density that emcompasses a mental weight far beyond sprinkles and pancake mix.
The mix, which could double for a My Little Pony recreational club drug, ballooned from a scant two cups to like, thirty cups of gloopy batter a result of sitting out on the counter for five minutes while the stove heated up. The first few pancakes were pretty and evenly speckled with sprinkles, while the remaining pancakes took on a dingy grey tinge, the result of the sprinkles melting together like a cheap watercolor set.
After cooking, the result was fairly underwhelming from an edible perspective. Funfetti is just another way to add delicious sugar and birthday colors into an already sugary edible, the cupcake. When you take the sugar out, in the case of the pancake mix, you’re basically eating the poor man’s Funfetti. And man, is it awful- the flavor is chalky with no sweetness to speak of outside of a few sharp little pockets of astringency from eating straight up sprinkles. The heaviness from the batter translated poorly to the pancakes. Each one was leathery on the outside with a burnt flavor, despite being a perfect golden brown color, and had a doughy chew to them.
But there are options. Yes, there is always a plan B, in this case, B for Birthday Massacre. Also known as, BM. In true Buddy the Elf fashion, we pimped out these pancakes with three different kinds of frosting, butter, syrup, and powdered sugar. We even garnished them with candy canes because we are literally sugar pimps. And you know what? Despite looking like clown vomit, they tasted pretty darn good. The excessive amounts of sugar definitely gave it a more cake-like flavor, which made sense being that it contained all the components of a cake but fried in a pan, and even moistened the dry little suckers up to make for a fairly manageable one bite before we and everyone in a three mile radius contracted diabetes.
So, the moral of the story is this: when you have a product that tastes like sand, copious amounts of frosting and food coloring will prevent it from being bland. Or so the saying goes. Honestly, the real moral of the story is that it’s never good to trust $1 pancake mix, even if it does seem to be a small price to pay for sugary childhood memories.
It does get a point for value- it used water and nothing else and yielded nine medium-sized pancakes, but when that value roundhouse kicks your health and dental insurance plan in the stomach, you begin to realize that your money would be better spent hiring a psychiatrist to unbox your childhood instead of pancakes. But on the plus side, #fuckyeahrainbowpancakes!
Seriously, don’t do it.

blk. water

“I just don’t understand Christmas, I guess. I like getting presents and sending Christmas cards and decorating trees and all that, but I’m still not happy. I always end up feeling depressed.” -Charlie Brown

And now, the deep, deep funk sets in. As if you put on a pair of magic glasses, what was once a merry nip in the air is now just freaking cold. The cheerful Salvation Army ringers are now just haranguing you, and the capacity you had to inhale all manner of toothpicked appetizers, cookies, and roast meats is now reflected in your time spent hovering over the treadmill. Christmas is over.
But there’s more to come. I mean, hell, today is Boxing Day, which is just perfect if you waited until the day after Christmas to get a deal on a gift for your hired help. The Treaty of Pressburg was signed today in 1805. Put down that spiked egg nog, you have a lot to look forward to. Also, I’m pretty sure that’s curdling, so don’t drink it. Why is today an awesome day? Aside from the strangely hush-hush day off for federal employees, which you can thank the Uniform Monday Act for, I’m talking about blk water, the latest and greatest libation straight from New Jersey spelled like a Bjork single. That’s right, start laughing. Intentionally black water developed in New Jersey.
This water received a great deal of hype at the Fancy Food Show, not the least of which was the hushed claim that it had powers to heal the elderly and boasted its connections with the “stars” of The Real Housewives of New Jersey, which wins the prize for the worst marketing conjunction ever. Lawsuits ensued. Oh, and something something fulvic acid. That’s what makes it black in color, and of course, by fulvic acid I clearly mean something gross in the sewage. Seriously, The Simpsons had it right when they intoned the sagacious and useful piece of advice- “if it’s brown, drink it down. If it’s black, send it back.” Send back blk, because it’s gimmicky and gross. Who really needs black water? I mean, aside from the elusive and coveted 14-year old Hot Topic clad demographic, this seems kind of silly for a rational adult to drink. It’s useless in cocktails, as nobody really puts water in them, and on its own, it has a harsh, mineral-heavy flavor with a salty aftertaste.
This just goes against most of my principles of what I should put in my mouth, and at this point in my life, I’ve practically developed a leather-bound rulebook for them. I don’t need water that touts itself as sexy and fascinating, especially when said water also calls itself a Free Radical Scavenger, which is a fancy term for an antioxidant in real life, but in my head, is a two person, one cello lo-fi band with guest singer Zooey Deschanel and a hit single called “Eminently Yours (Tom Cruise/Marilyn Monroe)” Drinking this makes me more thirsty and I just don’t see the novelty in weakly colored murky water. I’ll stick to the clear stuff and enjoy my “regular” dark side, the one that listens to the occasional Sting single and casually Facebook stalks people from summer camp.

Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino

I could never be single. Or for that matter, social in a setting free of appointments and rules. Sitting in a Starbucks, thumbing through a used copy of Carr’s “What Is History?” I am reminded of this fact again and again while watching students mill in and yak to each other over Macbooks and organic breakfast salads. But I haven’t come here to people-watch or ogle. The last Starbucks I frequented had a successful suit against me for that. (Starbucks vs. Foodette, “Please let me touch your macchiato! I want mine super creamed!” Undisclosed out-of-court settlement.) So, at this location I remain, and am sipping the dregs of a drink best forgotten.

The new Starbucks Salted Caramel Mocha Frappuccino takes a greasy, translucent page from the mystical tomes of Taco Bell, as it combines ingredients and concepts Starbucks has already introduced in a last-ditch attempt to catch on to the quicksilver salted caramel trend before it secedes to a greater force (Mocha. Frappuccino. Salted Caramel. Pretension.) and combines them into one drink. However much I love salted caramel, I really couldn’t get behind this flavor. It was the expensive equivalent of having a few odds and ends leftover in the fridge and mixing them together for a full, yet unpotable concoction.
If you’re not familiar with the grainy, wet texture of the Frap, which somehow manages to feel loose and semi-solid in the mouth all at once, nothing I can say will intrigue you enough to purchase it. It’s a Dairy Queen frozen hot chocolate in nicer packaging and an amicably flavored February slush storm, only more bitter and possibly colder. This particular flavor had 2/5ths of its namesake sitting dumbly on top of the drink, swirled on the surface and chilling into a semi-viscous caramel that tasted fairly average, lacking depth. Standard caramel topping with no burnt or buttery nuances. The kind you put on ice cream. The salt penetrated the deep waters of the drink, giving the bitter mocha an even more bitter, tangy flavor and losing all sweetness in the process.
The last tenth of the drink was different, albeit different in a hellish fashion. The caramel had finally seeped through and mixed in with the rest of the drink, the heavier, sauce-laden section separating the lighter, blended part into layers. All of a sudden, what was unpleasantly neutered in flavor was quickly radiating with sugar. The resulting texture was now slimy and gritty, and lacked any of the smoothness in flavor that I typically expect in a Frappuccino. And while I agree that any drink can be improved with a gut-busting squirt of whipped cream, any additional sugar would have made this virtually inedible. Seeing as I loved the coconut mocha, Frap, which tasted like a liquified Almond Joy, I was surprised that this flavor passed the test market. I’m not sure which candy bar this tastes like. Maybe partially masticated Bit-O-Honey marinated in a jar of lye. This flavor is awkward incarnate, in any case.

Teo’s Hot Dogs, Pittsfield, MA

I cannot stress how much I wanted to love Teo’s. With the 28 glowing Yelp reviews, the praise from Roadfood, and the promises reeking of nostalgia and meat sauce, I figured that spending $15 on gas for a three hour trip wasn’t the worst I could do. And with photos like this, how could I not check it out? The frosted glass and wood-grained paper plates only added to my building gusto.
On the surface, it looked like a greasy, offbeat dive bar with wonderful local hot dogs. Teo’s is located in a neighborhood in the middle of the Berkshires similar to the one my mother grew up in, a blue-collar industrial town largely dominated by factories and farms. Drawn to such places and their respective eateries, I was immediately entranced by the comfortable, dank atmosphere of Teo’s with its grimy stained glass windows, lingering decades-old cigarette stench, and lottery machines in the corners of each dining room. This is a restaurant with obvious regulars. They sit at the bar and watch TV while eating their hot dogs, presumably on break from the local factory.
I ordered a classic combination per the recommendations of the internet- two hot dogs with everything, everything being meat sauce, mustard, and onions, and a root beer. I paid my $4.50 and sat down at a table. Waitresses brought steaming plates of hot dogs over to other patrons, and I waited. Ten minutes later, I noticed the waitress beckoning me from the corner of my eye, shouting, “Two everything. Two everything.” I came over and received a sad, greasy paper bag with two hot dogs crammed in wax paper and thrown in. When I told her that I wanted to eat in, she merely shoved the bag at me and raised her eyebrows. She was done helping, that much was true.
The hot dogs are around four inches long, hence my ordering two, and are gently nestled in New England-style hot dog buns about an inch longer than their contents. All the better to hold you with, my dear. The buns weren’t so much steamed as they were saturated and rendered mushy and pasty with the seepage from the sauce and mustard, and the outsides were smeared with a lethal combination of the two. Now, I understand that the whole experience of a dive is swift and unglamorous service, but this was unacceptable. Raising the little sausage to my lips, I felt as though I was embarking on some terrible, 2 girls 1 cup inspired version of Fear Factor. And to be honest, I might not have been able to tell the difference had these just been given to me on a plate.
The fully erect hot dog, positively referred to as “snappy,” seemed to be more in the realm of rubbery and turgid when I got it. The texture was purely Bubblicious, if Bubblicious came in a salty hot dog flavor. The casing was tough to rip through, so chewy that in the grip of my last bite, the hot dog gave up, squirted out the bun, and landed on the floor, leaving a dirty trail of condiments in its wake. Inside the casing is a chunky, beefy meat that tastes mainly of salt and fat. This hot dog is the epitome of the choking warning that every childhood and chain letter inevitably came with.
When ordering, I noticed a wide discrepancy of cooking levels on the hot dogs, ranging from pink and fleshy to burnt and crispy. I requested well-done and received undercooked. The insides were cool and tough, reminding me of my elementary school’s reviled boiled hot dogs as a child, though even those were preferable to these little suckers. I was not only tired and hungry from the car ride, but baffled as well. The teaspoon of meat sauce slopped onto my hot dogs was also salty, and with the one-noted flavors of the entire thing, the dominant taste was the mustard, and a weak, watery one at that. I’ve had better service and quality from a Bronx-based White Castle in the middle of the night. Although my portion was small, I was glad I had not ordered more as the resulting two left a slimy feeling in my mouth and an ache in my stomach later on.

Going to Teo’s, I felt pretty burnt, as I’d spent a good chunk of my day making the trip out and had been stiffed in the process. It was unfortunate to find that my money clearly wasn’t as good as that of the regulars. In an establishment such as this, I know I’m not the top dog, but the real charm in going to a restaurant is knowing that and still being treated as though you go there every day. Unless you can receive that, why bother going? At least it beats The Suburban.
Note to Eastern CT readers: Last week, a significant part of my grandmother’s property was broken into and trashed. I spent a good part of my childhood there and am greatly distressed. While I’d rather not reveal too much here, I’d love it if any locals could email me and give me any possible information they have on it to turn over to the police. Our family is quite upset and would appreciate any help.Teos Hotdogs Restaurant on Urbanspoon