Tag: food

Food for Thought

abandoned

I was told when I went to college I’d immediately put on fifteen pounds. I was told my metabolism would fall apart and my young, thin body would slowly give rise to the misshapen horrors of adulthood. And I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I’d meet a white-haired man under a blood moon who would trade rose-tinted memories for dark, best-forgotten secrets.

In short, my friends were totally wrong about the first two. That fortune teller, however, is currently batting 1.000.

But this isn’t a story about the time I wandered into that abandoned amusement park and found an old crone who beckoned me to a cracked, murky crystal ball. I mean, I’d be lying if I said that isn’t a way better story. It’s just not the one I’m telling right now.

In hindsight, that lead-in kind of makes the eventual story about my college eating habits sound pretty underwhelming. But, well…here we are.

The problem began around the age of 13. After spending most of my adolescence as a wad of pancake batter, my growth spurt hit me like a freight train. From there on out I was seeing an annual 4-inch growth that sent me from “just above average” tall all the way to “can you get me that box on that high shelf? no, the high high shelf” tall.

If you’re having trouble picturing it, just imagine what happened to Tom Hanks in “Big.” Just, you know, without that “sex with minors” thing.

Coming into college just south of six and a half feet and 162 pounds, I was probably the last person who would worry about “the freshman fifteen.” In fact, I honestly didn’t have an alternate strategy to put on pounds if I didn’t stress-eat my way to a healthier figure freshman year. Keep in mind that I was only 17 and hadn’t officially stopped growing by that point. At the rate I was going, I worried my waistline would just blink out of existence somewhere around the age of 24.

(Making me just seven pounds too heavy to be a runway model. Hiyo!)

I won’t keep you in suspense. It didn’t go well. In fact, due to the fact that I handle stress in exactly the opposite way as most people, I left my first semester down eight pounds from where I started.

“Well,” you might ask, “why didn’t you just try eating more?”

First off, stellar question. Thank you for that deep, insightful solution to my weight issue. It’s about on par with asking people with depression why they don’t just try being happier, or people with bipolar disorder to try being happier, then less, then more, etc. I assure you, perhaps not surprisingly, that it was the very first thing I tried when I saw I was shedding pounds.

The answer to that question is fairly simple, though. I couldn’t. And when I say I couldn’t eat more, I don’t mean I had a tiny bird stomach or something. The dining halls were set up as all-you-could-eat buffets three times a day and located within a hundred steps of my door.  I literally mean I couldn’t have possibly eaten more than I already was.

And yet, like the victim of a horrible gypsy curse, I continued to waste away no matter how much I ate. I mean, in all fairness, that gypsy had cursed me in the abandoned amusement park. But that was a different curse where….well, like I said. That’s a whole other, far more interesting story.

Anyway…

Probably the strangest thing, though, was seeing so many others pack on more and more pounds as I slowly disappeared up my own digestive tract. My floormates would see me and nod appreciatively at my runner’s physique. “What’s your exercise routine, man? You’re looking good.” They’d then quickly mutter, “No homo,” because it was 2002 and that was a still a necessary addendum to complimenting a guy.

Having no exercise routine, I was never sure what to say. So I’d always come up with something like, “It’s a lot more poutine than routine.”

They’d laugh as though I was making some sort of joke. So I’d laugh with them to avoid making it awkward. And all the while my stomach would slowly slide ever deeper into the growing pocket dimension inside me.

Of course, in hindsight it all made sense. Most of my symptoms were simple enough to explain away if I’d known I had early stage Crohn’s Disease at the time. It might have come in handy for the people (and there were several throughout my years in college) who were openly hostile about my weight loss, as though I was gradually evaporating just to spite them.

“Well,” more than a few people would say, rolling their eyes, “I’m sure I’d be thin as a rail, too, if I ate like a hummingbird like you.”

It was then that I’d put down the entire rotisserie chicken I’d been eating and frown. “This seems like a bad time to explain that hummingbirds actually need to drink a huge amount of nectar compared to their own body weight just to survive each day,” I’d answer sheepishly. Their eyes would narrow, suggesting that it was indeed a bad time to explain that. “I mean, you’re already in way worse shape than me. It’s probably just salting the wound to show how much more I know about birds.”

The exchange would usually conclude with my being tackled to the ground and ferociously pummeled. I’d blurt out apologies between blows – usually saying that all my talk of “salting” was probably just making them hungry.

Then again, seeing how people treated me even after the diagnosis, I doubt it would have mattered much. “I wish I had a disease that let me eat whatever I wanted and never gain a pound,” more recent hypothetical people would say. The conversations changed, but the eye rolls stayed the same.

I bring this up as a way to explain that, in its way, the story of my college years was also the story of my tumultuous relationship with my own broken innards. Even if I wouldn’t know about it for many years until finally, under a blood red sky, I entered the burned-out remains of what had once been a hospital and met a man with hair as white as the driven snow.

But that, too, is another far more interesting story  for another day.

I mean, if there’s time. There’s a lot of other stuff to cover first before we cover my odd habit of wandering into abandoned carnivals, warehouses, mines, insane asylums and hospitals.

So…you know, we’ll see.

Story Time – Grocery Forensics

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Pictured: Good decisions.

There’s something out there I like to call “grocery forensics.” It tries to make educated guesses regarding the activities, beliefs and attitudes of those in the past based on the material evidence they left behind – limited to their messes in grocery stores. And while it isn’t a traditional science in the same way as, say, archaeology, they share many similarities. At least for the purposes of writing this article.

For example, I wouldn’t recommend wasting $100,000 on a degree in either.

The picture above is the sort of thing I run across from time to time in my shopping adventures. Shopping isn’t all that mentally stimulating when you’re just walking down aisles and following a list. It’s like the lamest scavenger hunt ever, only without an actual reward at the end.

When I first started seeing this sort of thing, it was easy not to notice. The workers at Wal-Mart seem pretty good at it, after all. Though, I’ll admit leaving stuff in the wrong place on the shelf is probably a skill honed by years of being paid at near minimum wage. In the same position I doubt I’d expend a lot of effort going above and beyond for a company that determined employee pay by taking the level at which they’d be violating federal law and adding a dollar.

(Though, I hear it’s going up, so maybe my days of grocery forensics are numbered?)

Even once I started noticing misplaced items, they were easy to ignore. A box of taco shells in the soda aisle because someone was lazy. A generic item in front of a brand name because someone was careless. It wasn’t something that bothered me much. Except when someone leaves refrigerated meat in, say, electronics because seriously, why?

As time went on, however, I realized there were much sadder stories at play.

Look at the above picture, which I now realize should have been much lower, because I’ve barely referred to it before now. Or did I misplace it on purpose? Is this whole thing getting ridiculously meta?

No, so here it is again.

0105172308
Pictured: Good decisions AND good blog layout decisions.

I’d forgive you for not seeing the issue right away. Your senses might not be as keenly honed from years of being bored out of your mind at the store. What we gather from this picture is that some individual eats canned pasta. Is that detail alone inherently sad? Yes. Yes, it is. Just because I do it doesn’t mean it isn’t.

But it’s worse than all that. As this individual was walking through the aisles, they noticed this display and realized, “Oooh. You know what’s even better than canned red slurry? Margaritas!”

Or even worse, “Oooh. You know what’s even better than canned red slurry? Margarita mix!”

“Sure,” you say, “but aren’t you being a bit hard on this theoretical shopper? I mean, don’t we all need an iced drink in the dead of a punishing Pennsylvania winter sometimes?”

No, but I see what you’re getting at.

This wasn’t just a person who wanted an off-season drink, though. This was a person who came to the store – from the discarded cans we can safely assume seeking something at least food-like – and picked up two cans of the thing ramen eaters usually buy when they want to be even more disgusted by their poor eating habits. And they left actual (almost) food behind to buy a drink. Mix.

Were they out of money? Did they realize they ate last week and were sick of it? Was someone taking the Food Stamp Challenge and wanted to fail worse than Gwyneth Paltrow when she bought a bunch of limes and herbs? I can’t think of any scenario where the context makes this any less weird.

gwyneth-paltrow-food-stamps
Pictured: More good decisions.

This isn’t a bag of pretzels left in the cracker aisle because someone changed their mind on what snack they wanted. It’s like finding a bag of bread in the paint supplies. Because neither story makes any sense to me.

Still, these are the sorts of mysteries that keep me going. And it’s what keeps me coming back to the store again and again. To put food on the table. I mean, not in the sense that my grocery forensics work is making me any money. I literally mean, I go to the store to buy food and then, after cooking it, I put it on the table.

Sometimes people even eat it, though I do have a toddler. I’m a realist about it.

Seeing things like a full shopping cart left abandoned next to the seafood really do make you wonder what people were thinking. To me, it just reinforces the idea of “sonder” – the realization that the people around you are living a life as vivid and complex as your own. It also reinforces my hypothesis of “sonderp” – the realization that the people around you are bad at living and are generally making stupid, stupid decisions.

Anyway, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to stare at my archaeology degree and shake my head for the next hour thinking about how smart I am.

Review – Eggnog Cake Rolls

eggnog-cake-rolls
Pictured: A very subtle metaphor.

I mean, honestly, why should I even care what I put in my body anymore?

Okay. Deep breaths. Focus. This isn’t about that other thing. This is about Christmas infringing so far on the rest of the calendar that I bought a box of limited edition festive Swiss Cake Rolls a week before Halloween.

Or…maybe I don’t want it to be about that, either.

Where was I? Right. As much as it might surprise people, I’m not eating horrible junk food every moment of every day. Since I fancy myself a rather good cook, I tend to be full by the time dessert rolls around. Combined with my habit of grabbing limited edition flavors the moment I see them, it often leads to a cupboard full of garbage that I ignore for weeks or months on end. One day, I assume, they’ll name the disorder, which will at least make it easier to explain.

It was because of said filled cupboard and unsaid thing that happened that I recently turned to junk food as a way to handle the stress.

Eggnog Cake Rolls are the best kind of the  worst sort of snack. Like eggnog ice cream and fried butter before it, it took two horrible things, shrugged and then mashed it together. Then, it looked at consumers and said, “I mean, nobody lives forever, right?”

So I had some. Four, actually. Because I wanted to feel something other than what I was feeling at the time, even if it was far worse.

Or, at least, that’s sort of how it happened.

In reality, common sense was putting up a good fight against eating it. “We just got your body to a good place,” it cautioned. “You don’t have to stop and rest after washing your hands. If you put this in you now, it’ll do damage that might take months or years to sort out. Don’t do this. We’ve come so far.”

Meanwhile, my self-destructive side just shook its head, interjecting a “wrong” or “not true” every so often as common sense was making its point. “Where did you hear this?” it wondered angrily at the end.

Another part of me was simply tired of things the way they were. And while it acknowledged that eating a box of snack cakes would probably destroy my body, it was tired of so much rational thinking. “Thinking out every decision just means fewer new experiences,” it argued. “Are some of them bad? Sure. Are some of them unhealthy? Absolutely. But there are so many fried foods you haven’t tried.”

Inevitably, in a move that shocked everyone, I ate Eggnog Cake Rolls until I was sick.

It wasn’t the best idea. But it was what my body decided on. Though, not entirely. Because while over half of my body decided not to make me throw up, there was some strange math involved that I still don’t fully understand. And well, next thing you know, I’m staring at a bunch of empty cellophane wrappers wondering how this all happened.

As I sat there, feeling sicker and sicker, parts of me urged to wait it out. “Sure. The nutrition information looks pretty bad, but you’re acting like you’ve already thrown up. You’re just a bit nauseous. That’s perfectly normal.”

“I don’t know,” I reasoned. “I’m pretty sure no human being is supposed to eat so much of something with so many five-syllable ingredients in it.”

“It sounds like you’ve already decided you want to be sick from eating these snack cakes.”

“I don’t know. I feel like they’ve given me good reason to expect to throw up. Stuffing snack cakes with solid eggnog is objectively bad for you.”

To which the dissenting parts replied, “Look. Are you still going on about this? It’s been almost thirty seconds since you ate them. Whatever’s going to happen, you just need to calm down and work with your body to get this all sorted out.”

I brought up that my body had yet to forgive me for eating a salad with no dressing eight years ago. There was name-calling. I’ll spare you the ugly details.

I’m writing this before I know what the outcome of stuffing my face with enough processed food to kill a mid-sized cow might be. I don’t want to throw up. Nobody does. But I fear that’s the only possible outcome from a snack cake that does everything but say exactly that on its packaging.

I fear I sacrificed my health for the promise of something that would taste good for a small moment compared to the time I’m forced to deal with the consequences. And most of all, I fear that no matter how badly things go, there will still be parts of my body that refuse to learn why I can’t eat things like this, all the while still blaming that salad I ate years ago for why I don’t feel well.

I’m not sure what to do now. Because I can’t un-eat what’s already been eaten. And while I hold the small shred of moral victory in knowing that I, on the whole, didn’t want to eat that whole box of snack cakes, I will invariably still have to deal with the results.

They were good. And it’s hard to deny that some parts of my body will revel in that taste and pleasant fullness up to the very moment before I empty my guts into the toilet. But I doubt I’ll look back on it in four years and think it was a good decision.

Well, this happened.

Writer’s Note: In fact, this is all one big Writer’s Note. There’s no column here. (Though there is a link to the actual column below.) I just wanted to have this act as a splash page for it to make a few things clear.

On Wednesday, some things happened.

I won’t go into great detail about those things aside from saying they involved a certain election in a certain country where I happen to live. Though, I will note that the results left me devastated in a way I’m unfamiliar with. And despite my not-at-all-best efforts, those feelings of devastation trickled into my writing the following day.

When I looked back on what I wrote, I immediately put it aside and vowed it would never see the light of day. It was too political. It was too bitter. And while I still think it was very funny, I avoided posting it for the same reasons I avoided posting any articles directly relating to politics – that isn’t what I want this blog to be. In the same way that I’d hate a simulator that accurately portrayed just how crappy working and paying bills can be, I feel that people read comedy writing as a way to escape hardship, not be reminded of it.

I came back to it again and again before finally deciding that I should, in fact, post the article. And not just to keep my Monday, Wednesday and Friday posting schedule. This is bigger than that.

I’ve spent most of the past three days seeing people being very upset. And some being total assbags. But mostly very upset.

As I said in my very first column here, I’m a writer. I write things. It’s how I entertain. It’s how I share my views on the world. It’s how I relate to others. It’s even how I put my own fears and insecurities into manageable perspectives. And, when I can, it’s how I try to make others feel better. Even if it’s just giving them a tiny chuckle when they didn’t think they’d ever be able to laugh again.

In that same vein, I wanted to show people that I, too, am still broken. I wanted to show that grief is a process. And I feel the best way to do that was to show everyone myself at my most raw – my most emotional. Because even if I can’t make you feel better about any of this, the least I want to do is let you know that I have these feelings. You aren’t alone. And your feelings are okay, too. At least insofar as they relate to this topic and aren’t super-weird.

So with all that out of the way, please enjoy my surprisingly political review of those Swiss Cake Rolls they filled with eggnog.

Review – Fall Flavors IV

How are your arteries? I mean, they’re good, right? Because realistically, if you have a heart condition or high cholesterol, you shouldn’t even be reading this review.

Fried Twinkies.jpg

Hostess Deep Fried Twinkies. Depending on your perspective, this review is either dated or really, really dated by now. Fried Twinkies have been part of American fair culture for at least a decade or so now. And even the boxed version is at least a few months old, meaning it isn’t technically a new flavor limited specifically to Fall. But I’m giving it a pass. First, because nothing screams “Fall” like taking something that’s already ninety percent butter and deep-frying it. In butter.

And secondly, well, I accidentally ate some brown rice the other day and I don’t want my body to feel like I’m coddling it.

These come in two flavors – regular and chocolate-filled. I opted to go for the regular because I wanted a more authentic experience. Besides, if I wanted chocolate deep-fried I would eat – and have eaten – fried Oreo’s or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.

But first, to address the elephant (or at least the very overweight guy) in the room.

Since Facebook started putting ads every other post in my news feed, I’ve been seeing a lot of advertisements for this product. And since people can comment on these ads, well, has commenting ever made anything better?

I don’t have any odd notions that my taste buds were the first – the archetype from which all human taste buds were created. People eat things all the time and hate them despite my liking them, and vice versa. And that’s fine. Different strokes for different folks. Or, in my case, probably just many more strokes because I put terrible, terrible things into my body.

What irked me, though, was that out of about thirty negative comments I read about this product, only two had actually eaten them. And sure, I get it. These obviously aren’t health food by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, if you put this into a salad, they’ll just cancel eat other out and vanish with a loud popping sound.

But c’mon. If you’re going to say that something makes you throw up, the least you can do is actually try it. It’s one thing to say that it sounds so horrible for you that you don’t think you could actually process it as food and digest it. It’s another thing entirely to say that it puts you on a toilet for three days when you’ve never been closer to the product than the distance between your computer screen and a picture of the box.

It was a weird situation where idiots forced me to actually feel bad for Wal-Mart customer service, who was fielding all these complaints by asking what was wrong and if they’d like a refund. Only to have the person reply, “Well, I’ve never had these, but aren’t Americans fat enough already?”

Surely you could see why they were confused after saying these gave you diarrhea.

All right. Enough of that, though. Rant off. Feedbag on.

I rarely gush about foods in the way that I’d like to gush about fried Twinkies in a box. Simply put, these transported me to a realm of pure ecstasy. Which is probably a good thing, since I couldn’t move after I ate two and count being transported as exercise.

This is probably in my top five desserts of all time. And when I added a little strawberry syrup for dipping, I was more than happy to bump it up to my top three. If you’ve been following my eating career (or just been watching me eat from across the room and shaking your head for the past few years), you’ll know that I’ve eaten some pretty wild desserts. This had some real competition from things like fried cheesecake.

I don’t know how they got the outside to taste and crunch like freshly-fried dough right out of the hot grease. Maybe I don’t want to know. My point is, these are good. Damn good. Damn good-er than they really have any right to be.

This isn’t just a faithful recreation of the real thing – it’s better.

Now, just for the sake of completion, though, I will add a few notes. Don’t try to cook these in the microwave. You can wait the eight minutes it’ll take to cook them in the oven, especially since you’ll be eating a flimsy moist mess otherwise. Or at least, you would, if these things didn’t explode in the microwave.

Most importantly, eat only one of these at a time. I repeat. One. At. A. Time.

I get it. You think you’re a big man. You can eat mouthfuls of the really hot peppers and not even break a sweat. Sour candy? What sour candy? This isn’t like that, okay? This is the real thing. And if you try to eat more than one at once, you’re putting your life into your own hands. I’m relatively sure that’s the reason they put seven in a box – so you didn’t try to eat them in three sittings of two apiece.

If you can follow those two rules, though, you’ll have a full belly of warm, contented goodness.

Review – Fall Flavors III

Now that we’ve thoroughly discussed the merits of spicy beverages, let’s move on to something a little more Fall-centric.

caramel-apple-pop-tarts
What is it with these foods and having no good images available?

Frosted Caramel Apple Pop Tarts. I first caught sight of these in a list of about 36 limited edition flavors for the 2016 Fall Season. I remember they immediately caught my interest – mostly by being the single entry that wasn’t flavored with some combination of pumpkin and my own hatred.

Also, I mean, c’mon – caramel apple Pop Tarts? That’s pretty baller right there.

These weren’t really a hard sell for me, though. Because Pop Tarts has had some pretty crazy ideas in the past. And maybe I right to be skeptical of Frosted A&W Root Beer Pop Tarts. Any sane man should have been wary of that one. But what can I say? With the possible exception of those tiny barrel-shaped candies that might not even be edgy enough to exist anymore, I’ve never eaten a solid food with such a convincingly authentic root beer flavor in my life.

After that, Pop Tarts has pretty much gotten a pass from me. Orange soda? Sure. Pink lemonade? Get those things out of their silver pouch and into my mouth. Summer berry? Whatever that even is, absolutely.

Now, are Pop Tarts infallible? Absolutely not. After all, a few of their core flavors – like unfrosted anything, aren’t the best. And their insistence on still pushing that brown sugar whatever flavor after twenty years or so is, at best – ill-advised.

But for the most part, most things translate quite nicely to the medium of “filled pastry dessert with frosting on top.”

So how were these ones? To be blunt, they nailed it. In fact, in a long line of things Pop Tarts has absolutely nailed, this actually stands out as one they nailed to a startlingly awesome degree.

I’m sure you’d be forgiven for dismissing these right out of the box. (Hi-yo!) The swirl designs on the pastry are never quite as nice-looking as the ones in the pictures. One I ate, in fact, had the swirl so far off center that it was partially cut off on the right side. I noticed this only because it was the very first one I ate. I don’t really know if the others looked similar, because they were in my mouth too quickly to notice.

The insides were some mixture of vaguely apple-looking mush and light brown caramel goo. I realize that doesn’t sound all that great – probably less so because I’m mostly guessing as to what each colored slurry was supposed to be. And probably less less so because I used the term “slurry.” But the truth is, anyone who was expecting to find whole strawberries in their pastry not only doesn’t “get” Pop Tarts but doesn’t understand the filled-pastry sciences as a whole.

Pop Tarts are processed food of the most wonderful sort. In short, should you be eating these for every meal? Yes. They taste amazing. But should you? Probably not. Because 400 calories something something sodium carbs.

(Though, 20% niacin isn’t bad, right? And thiamin, too. I think?)

I’m not pretending these are health food or anything. Then again, most health foods aren’t that good. Frosted Kale Pop Tarts, in fact, might be one of the few flavors I’d consider skipping in the future.

Now, on to the last review. Maybe it’ll be a bit healthier and…ha ha. No.

Fried Twinkies in a box.

Review – Fall Flavors II

Writer’s Note: I realize I’ve been doing a lot of reviews lately. And…that’s pretty much the whole note. As long as there’s weird or interesting things to try and movie trailers to check out, I’m probably going to keep doing it. I just wanted to be clear that I’m aware of it.

The three items I’m doing today were a bit tricky, because I wasn’t sure I was even going to try them in the first place. Which is a nice way of saying, “All three of these things sound sort of disgusting.”

But appearances can be deceiving. After all, I’m a tall, handsome, intelligent man who’s a caring husband and father. And on the other hand…well, sometimes looks can be not at all deceiving, too.

Now that I’ve finished with the narcissism, moving along.

Mango Heat.jpg
Sorry it’s not a good picture, but to be fair, people aren’t buying Dew for how it looks.

Mountain Dew Game Fuel: Mango Heat. I realize at first glance that this doesn’t really seem like a fall flavor at all. But Mountain Dew has a yearly promotion with two limited edition flavors to coincide with one major video game release or another. In short, it’s a rather shameless cash grab of the very best variety – the kind that gives me new flavors of Mountain Dew.

I was initially very skeptical of this flavor. In fact, when I heard “Mango Heat,” I thought it was a mango habanero flavor for Doritos. And while that doesn’t sound much better, the idea of spicy soda definitely gave me pause. Even when it’s released by Mountain Dew. To put my relationship/addiction in perspective, Mountain Dew recently sent me a t-shirt just because I drink so much and I was slightly disappointed they didn’t just send me a can of soda.

Because you can’t drink a shirt.

But enough beating around the bush. How was the spicy mango soda? Surprisingly…not too bad. And the only thing that kept it from being great was probably that I’m just not that big a fan of mango.

The heat, however, was rather pleasant.

I feel like the name “Mango Heat” was an apt one. Because rather than an overdone spicy note on the end, it’s more like the slightly cool sensation in your mouth after you have something minty. Or the slight warmth when you’re drinking bourbon. I include the second example because it’s more fitting, and the first because not everyone likes drinks that can catch on fire.

I’ll include the caveat that a number of people absolutely hate this flavor. A number even refer to it as a pleasant mango for three seconds followed by overpowering black pepper for the rest of your life. So clearly, mileages can and do vary.

On one hand, I’m not sure this was a drink anyone was asking for, but it’s something different, so I can’t be angry that Mountain Dew is trying new things. Especially when its fan base would be more than happy to buy any generic berry flavor they release and tint a slightly different color of red or purple.

Next up, Frosted Caramel Apple Pop Tarts

Writer’s After-Note: I’m going to split this article into multiple pieces so I can get the individual parts out as quickly as possible. With a little luck, you should see all three before day’s end. And with a little less luck…not that.