Tag: Taco Bell

Review – Fall Flavors

Well, here we are again. The mornings are cool and crisp. The trees are turning lovely shades of yellow, orange and red. And once again, some madman with a syringe is injecting pumpkin flavoring into anything he can get his hands on.

That’s right. It’s “Pumpkin Spice Everything” season again.

Pumpkin Spice.jpg
Image from everydaynodaysoff.com…or one of the other six people who claimed credit.

Just as a small preview of how this is all going to go, I should start by saying I don’t much care for pumpkin. Or rather, I don’t like “pumpkin flavor” or “pumpkin spice.” Pumpkin seeds are among the tastiest baked treats to enjoy on a cool day. How someone got it in their head to scoop out the garbage part of the pumpkin, throw away the seeds and then vomit nutmeg into it until it in no way resembles the taste of pumpkin, I’ll never know.

I don’t even really like pumpkin pie. Why? Because they baked it into a weird tofu-like slab that’s so far removed from real pumpkin I don’t why they even kept the name. It’s like someone did a cover version of pumpkin and really just phoned the whole thing in.

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck. If it tastes like nutmeg, feels like tofu and is randomly brown, I don’t know what it is. But pumpkin it ain’t.

Luckily, caramel apple is kind of a Fall staple, too, so at least failure won’t be a foregone conclusion for everything I tried.

Caramel Apple Twizzlers. So basically, you’ve got an apple-flavored Twizzler filled with caramel. Take good thing and stuff with other good thing to get good-er thing. Eat. Enjoy. Rinse. Repeat.

For the first three, anyway. After that, the flavor goes kind of off the rails and starts to taste really artificial. So if you’re the sort that’s capable of enjoying candy in moderation, then these should be right up your alley. If you’re the sort who tends to see a pile of candy as a personal challenge, you might want to skip these altogether.

Pumpkin Life Cereal. I picture this as being pretty much what would happen if you accidentally spilled a pumpkin latte into your bowl of Life Cereal and just decided to go with it. I don’t consider that a ringing endorsement, but if that description doesn’t scare you off, you’d probably like these.

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios. I picture this as being pretty much what would happen if you accidentally spilled a pumpkin latte into your bowl of Cheerios. Then you threw it out. And then you spilled a second latte into an empty bowl. And then you spilled a lye latte. And amidst all this crazy spilling, you got sort of distracted and actually started eating what was in the bowl.

I realize that when people are buying pumpkin-spiced anything there are probably certain expectations. First and foremost among these is that you’d actually be able to taste the pumpkin. And that’s fine, but this kind of ran in the opposite direction. The spice is overpowering – closer to a chemical burn than a flavoring.

But again, if that description doesn’t scare you off…sure.

Little Debbie Caramel Apple Oatmeal Creme Pies. These were probably my favorite food of the bunch I tried. And I think it had something to do with the organic nature of the limited edition. It’s not a drink with a tacked-on flavor shot. It’s not a cereal dusted with random spices. This was exactly like a tiny oatmeal cookie sandwich cosplaying as a caramel apple pie.

The point of limited editions is that they make sense in the context of a specific food. Caramel Apple Wther’s Originals make sense because it’s just adding some apple to your caramel. And Pop-Tarts, frankly, can get away with almost anything. But the more you’re aware that they just took an existing product (like, say, Oreos) and added pumpkin spice just to make some random girl in Portland squeal, the less it holds up.

That being said, the “creme” aspect of this was a little weird. It’s sort of like if you took the regular oatmeal pie creme and put it in a blender with caramel and apple. As long as I don’t have to clean the blender in question I’m okay with it, I guess.

Lindor Pumpkin Spice Milk Chocolate Truffles. And…the counterpoint. This is the textbook example of abandoning organic flavor use and just filling your candy with whatever. Or it would be a textbook example, but I refuse to believe a textbook on such a sad, sad topic could possibly exist.

I’m going to write this very slowly so everyone can understand it. I’d also advise candy makers to read it slowly. Otherwise, my typing speed is largely irrelevant. My point is, I need you to understand this – chocolate and pumpkin do not go together.

I understand the difficulty in making tasty confections when the well of ideas for stuff to stick in chocolate are pretty much tapped out. Lord knows there were enough warning signs when people tried selling me chocolate with air bubbles in it. But Lindor isn’t doing itself any favors by putting pumpkin in chocolate. Chocolate goes about as well with pumpkin as it does with cinnamon. Or hair clippings. In short, not at all.

Does that mean chocolate candy makers have to miss out on the fall fun? No. But maybe do that salted caramel thing people say is in any way different than plain caramel. You want Fall foods? Then do some county fair favorites. The fact that so many years have passed without a Fried Twinkie Milk Chocolate Truffle is nothing short of a travesty.

Taco Bell Pumpkin Spice Nachos. Okay. I made this up. These don’t exist. And the fact that they don’t is probably one of the more compelling forms of evidence that there’s a God out there who loves us.

Though, given the rate of things getting pumpkin spice versions, I’d say God will probably keep loving us for another year or two, tops.


A Bunch of Hacks


The original title of this article was “Life Hacks are a Load of Garbage and if You Like Them, So are You.” But brevity is the soul of wit, I suppose.

Even if that title was a remarkably straightforward explanation of my true feelings on the subject.

It isn’t entirely clear who coined the term “life hacks,” or when. Many facts about the Internet era are muddied by multiple people claiming credit for the same meme or tiny scrap of Internet fame. It doesn’t help that I didn’t bother looking it up either.

If it wasn’t obvious by now, I’m not a fan. The exact reasons why vary based on the specific hack. A lot of them simply don’t work. Others were pranks intended to make your life worse somehow. Others still offer no appreciably different results one way or another. And a few will just straight-up give you second-degree burns even when you do them right. But you don’t know which are which until you try, so…good luck with that.

And ideally, keep a fire extinguisher handy. Yes, even for the one about amplifying your iPod headphones with a roll of toilet paper. You never know…

What people don’t realize is that we’ve had something very much like life hacks for more than a thousand years now. They’re called “old wives’ tales.” And their aim is to offer you secret techniques to make your life better. You know, unless they do nothing.

The only difference now is that the Internet has allowed every idiot who could paw at a keyboard to offer their own two cents. So I feel like life hacks skew a lot more towards just not working. Add to that the people outright hoping people will drink bleach to make their toilet fresher in just two weeks, and it’s sort of a nightmare scenario. I’d go as far as saying that maybe one out of every ten life hacks actually works as intended, with another one of ten leaving you rolling your eyes at a shattered pickle jar and saying, “I guess?”

I could probably go into a whole article as to what’s wrong with each kind of life hack – and I eventually might – but for now, here are some of the key problems:

Not everyone knows about the secret menus – even people working at the restaurants. Secret menus are a thing, but only kind of. They are in that they exist and some people might even know what you’re talking about if you order a “McGangbang” (and yes, that’s a real fake item). But if you have to explain what it is to 95% of cashiers anyway, how is this making things easier for anyone involved?

The food service industry is made of mostly underpaid and angry people who have no time for your nonsense. Ordering an item off a secret menu is only one degree better than ordering spaghetti at McDonalds or a hamburger at Taco Bell. There’s really only one surefire restaurant hack, and it’s how to make people spit in your food by being annoying.

Also, stop talking about the one about ordering two kinds of meat at Chipotle to get 10% more meat than usual like it’s the second coming of Jesus Christ and Ecto Cooler combined.

Food hacks are often harder and cost more than the original. I have a little rule in cooking. If I can’t make something either much better or much cheaper by buying the individual ingredients and making it myself, I’ll buy the store version. Why wouldn’t I? It’s exactly the reason I make my own sandwiches instead of paying $7 at Subway, and why I buy jar tomato sauce because it costs $1.

The best example of this is that one about making your own ice cream sandwiches by baking your own cookies and then cutting a slice out of a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. The minimum cost of that is maybe $7, and while it’s true that you could make more than one, is it really worth all that extra time, energy and money? Not to mention that many ice cream cookie sandwiches are less than a buck fifty in the freezer case. That’s not a life hack. That’s a moral victory. At best.

You want a real “food hack?” Make a pound of a spaghetti at once. You’ll want more later anyway, and that way you don’t have to keep boiling water. You’re welcome.

A lot of the kitchen hacks seem like they were made my people who’ve never been in a kitchen before. That little hole in the pot handle isn’t for holding a wooden spoon. It’s for hanging it up. And pouring Capri Sun into a glass doesn’t make you a visionary. It makes you history’s greatest monster.

Oh. And that one about turning a Chinese takeout box into a plate? Good idea. Let’s turn our container that holds noodles and liquid perfectly fine into a flat sheet that does none of those things for no reason.

But fear not. I’m sure there’s some life hack about getting out soy sauce stains by rubbing aloe on it or something. Which leads me to…

Some life hacks seem like they were something that worked for someone one time and they lost their mind over it. I don’t even think the majority of life hacks are meant to be malicious or cruel. I honestly think there was a guy who once microwaved his pizza with a glass of water and it came out crispy. Of course, this makes about as much logical sense as drying out a wet shirt by peeing on it. But one guy got lucky and decided to share his secret with the world.

About the pizza and water, I mean – not the pee shirt.

And lastly, people need to stop claiming credit for common knowledge. Fold the end of a roll of tape to make the next piece easier to get. Put a sponge below a leaky faucet to stop the noise. Freeze wine into cubes to cool your wine because you have a problem.

We’re about one day from people telling us to reuse old water bottles by filling them with tap water for a tasty summertime treat.

Anyway, I’ve said my piece. And I’m still pretty irritated. So there’s a good chance you’ll be hearing about this topic again.


The Game-Changing World of Fast Food Hyperbole


Did you hear about the new item at Taco Bell?

The answer to that question is probably “no.” Or rather, “yes, but there’s an even newer one than the one you’re thinking of….so, no.”

New items are big business now. They were always a thing, but now we’re hearing about these things years in advance, with all the hype and lead-up of a new hit comedy on a major network. And while the outcome (in both cases) is generally disappointment, it’s definitely starting to take up a larger and larger part of my online news feed as something people legitimately think is actual news.

And frankly, it’s wearing a bit thin.

I like new items. In fact, my wife would probably (correctly) say I have an unhealthy interest in them. What I don’t like, however, is the way they’re portrayed in the media – as good or bad in the way that cures for diseases and wars are, respectively.

In short, it’s a list article of the things I’m tired of hearing about new items.

1) I’m tired of hearing that (insert restaurant) has “gone too far.” No one’s denying the world might not have been ready for a bacon-filled sandwich with chicken instead of bread. But it’s fast food. It has the same ability to go too far as a snack-food company, a hardware wholesaler or a roadside sweetcorn seller.

2) I’m tired of hearing that a new item fundamentally changes things. It’s food. As long as it still goes in and out of the same holes, it’s pretty much business as usual.

The guys at Taco Bell didn’t have some eureka moment about putting Cheetos in a burrito after decades of research. They sat twelve guys together in a meeting and asked, “What else can we throw inside a tortilla?” And after three separate people were shouted down for suggesting Fritos, because they’ve already done that, this is what we got.

3) I’m specifically tired of hearing that something is a “game-changer.” What game? This is a matter of personal taste, but this expression gets tacked onto everything from a new taco with a flavored shell all the way to…well, that, but a third kind of flavored shell.

4) I’m tired of hearing about “new” items. Burger joints are especially disadvantaged here, because there are only so many ways to put things between two buns. It’s a similar story for putting things in, on top of and beside tortillas. In most cases, “new” is being pretty generous.

5) And I can’t stand hearing about old “new” items. Just because the reviewer wasn’t alive the first time cheese and bacon stuffed crust pizzas came around doesn’t mean it’s a new item. Is it still delicious? Sure. It was also delicious in 1978, 1982, 1983, 1988, 1994, 1996, 1999, 2004, 2006 and 2011.

6) I’m skeptical when I hear a new item will make me a loyal customer. Specifically because “customer loyalty” is a joke. More specifically because I hear it most about new items at Burger King and Pizza Hut, which are, frankly, jokes in their own right.

Your mileage may vary on this one. But I’ve gotten food poisoning the last three times I’ve eaten at Burger King. At this point, I’m not sure if there’s anything they could put between two buns to even make me chase a rolling quarter inside, let alone actually eat there.

7) Most of all, I’m tired of the wait. I used to be able to see a commercial for a burger with twelve strips of bacon, get in my car and then eat one. The time between learning about it and putting it into my face was often less than forty minutes. And it was a good system.

Nowadays, companies announce items on social media. They open to limited markets in the worst places to live in America. And then, after a year of reviewers talking about it like the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, you might actually get to eat one. I’m not sure I’ll stay excited from one season of Game of Thrones to the next. I don’t know how they expect me to stay excited about the newest combination of two Spanish words at Taco Bell.

And just think of how disappointed I am, after ten months, when it once again fails to change the game.