Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Thank you all!

Once more, I want to tell everyone how much your support has meant to me. I have gotten more comments and emails than I may ever get to respond to, though I promise I will do my best. Some of you have even been so generous as to help with the funeral fund raising. Mere words cannot express my gratitude.

I will never be able to thank you all enough, but please know that I think about it all the time.

Your humble blogger,


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

R.I.P. Gigi's Dad

I know it has been a long time since last post. As my last few entries have stated, we were nearly at the end of my father's life -- and to be blunt, I just didn't have it in me to write about chocolaty goodness. Hell, I haven't even been up to moderating comments (which are all still waiting for me, and I promise they will be published eventually).

I am still somewhat in shock that I even have to type these words, but my father passed away on June 24th at the age of 65.

I really wish I could tell you that in the couple of months while he was in the hospital leading up to his death, that we had some major breakthrough in our relationship, or that I at least got some window of understanding into the reasons he did the things he did. But that didn't happen, so I can't. I probably don't even have the right to feel the numbness and surprise that he has actually died. After all, we've known that this day was coming since his first night in the hospital when we found out how far things had already gone.

What I can tell you is that even when you know it's coming; even if you were so mad at the person that, had they been in good health, you would have killed them yourself for what they had put you through; even when you know that death was a mercy because the suffering was far crueler than what was deserved -- it still socks you in the gut.

And in his case death was a mercy. No one, his doctors especially, have any idea how he lived with the sheer amount of cancer he had for as long as he did, and without pain medications at that. But by the last week of his life, he would have sucked morphine out of the bag with a straw if they'd have let him. And no one, regardless of their age, should have one of the last memories of their father's voice be his literal screams of pain as he begs for someone, anyone, to help him because he can't take it any more. I know he is no longer in pain and I am glad for that. I hope that I can someday say the same for my siblings and I.

In some ways it is almost easier to hold on to the anger that became the main feeling I had towards him over the last year. Anger for things he had done in the past. Anger for the way we were treated, and for the way he treated himself. Maybe even anger that there was no Hallmark-like deathbed moment. That feeling was the main one that resonated with both us and him. He was mad at us for making him go to the hospital. In denial to the very end, he swore until his final day that if he could just go back home, if we would just stop getting in his way, he'd be able to get his strength back and be fine again. That he would have been puttering around his apartment chain smoking, watching his conspiracy TV shows, and bitching about the neighbors whose cooking odors always wafted into his apartment and irritated the hell out of him. And we were angry in turn, because all we were trying to do was take care of him and he wouldn't let us. And that back in the days when he was in better shape, before the cancer went supernova and invaded his entire body, it seemed as if we weren't important enough to him to stay healthy for.

Maybe it's also because there were no last I love yous, there were no parting hugs, and because no one really knew how to say it, no goodbyes. But then again, that's how he always was. He was an emotionally remote man, mostly unapproachable, both in life...and in death.

The day he died he'd had a really bad time of it. It had gotten to where we had to decide how medicated to keep him (answer being, make sure he is not in pain even if it meant staying "asleep"), but he kept waking up. His nurses would hold his hand when my sister could not be present to do it herself. And at some point in the early evening, he went to sleep for what would be the last time. At around 11:30 PM the hospital called to tell us he had stopped breathing. By the time my sister arrived, just minutes later, he was gone.

Even though we'd all known that phone call was inevitable, and even though we knew it really was for the best, it still hurt -- and it still has altered the rest of our lives. He will never see my brother get married, he will never see his only grandson grow up, nor will he know any other grandchildren that may eventually come to be. He won't be there to make his chestnut stuffing at Thanksgiving, nor even to just drive us all insane with his wacky (but firmly believed and endlessly repeated) conspiracy theories.

He may have been a lot of things, both for good and for bad, but he will always be the one who let me watch Star Trek for the first time (for which my mother stills holds a grudge). He took my brother to his first baseball game, and he spent hours watching Disney cartoons with my sister. And no matter how old you are, or how far you think you have moved on, how do you ever really move away from those moments? You don't.

I would further like to tell you that he has at least had a nice service and has been laid to rest. Except there has been no service, and he has not been laid to rest.

Unfortunately, his three adult children were basically supporting him financially, and he hadn't put anything away for when this day would come. But the three of us live from check to check, and everything extra that we had is long gone, having been paid towards his medical care. Funeral services -- even absolute bare bones, pardon the pun -- are incredibly expensive. If you have ever seen a local family doing a car wash or other fundraising for one, I completely understand why, because that is pretty much what we are having to do now. My father died penniless and deeply in debt, with no cash, no savings, no property, and no insurance.

My sister has worked tirelessly since his death, and has singlehandedly raised roughly half the cost via various Catholic church groups and organizations. But we are still nowhere near being able to lay him to rest. I normally would not have a Paypal button on the site, as I think the cost of my vittle reviews are mine and mine alone. But I am putting pride aside now. If anyone out there would like to help and is able to donate even so much as a penny, we would all be eternally grateful. I hate to resort to begging, but anything that can be sold has been sold, and every other stone has been turned...hell, even the sofa cushions have been overturned (and have yielded only cat fuzz). You are thanked for even reading this, and I swear we WILL get back to food reviews one of these days.

Thank you again for bearing with me all this time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Thank you all! And an update...

I know it has been a really long time since my last post, and I wanted to apologize for that yet again.

But more importantly, I wanted to thank the many of you who have left comments wishing well to both me and my father. It truly means a lot and the fact that you guys took time out of your own lives to take concern for mine is important to me, and I do not want anyone to think I have taken it for granted.

It looks like we are in the home stretch of my father's illness. Cancer is not exactly known for playing fair. But in his case, it gave him more than ample warning before it decided to just take over. That may sound harsh -- but the sad truth is that what he has now started out as localized bladder cancer; which, if you must get a type of cancer at all, is one of the better ones to get. I say "better" only because in most cases it is extremely slow-growing and non-aggressive. (Please keep in mind that I am NOT a doctor; I am merely repeating what has been explained to me. So don't take my word as gospel on this. If you have any questions regarding that matter, or any health matter -- you should take them to your doctor and heed actual medical advice and not mine).

The oncologists have estimated that my father has been living with this for perhaps as long as 25 years -- which is absolutely staggering to everyone who has examined his case. The main tumor has grown so large, and is taking up so much of his abdominal cavity, that it has literally crushed his kidneys to the point they can no longer function on their own. It has also spread to multiple organs and the lymph nodes. Moreover, it didn't just "sneak up" on him without warning, as some cancers are known to do. He has had symptoms since at least 1987.

Yes, you read that correctly. 1987.

How has he lived with the pain all this time? I couldn't tell you. Don't think that the rest of us sat passively by all that time, either. He was urged to see a specialist for decades -- and not only by family, but several GP's have also told him over the years to seek out further testing and treatment. But he refused to go. Why? I have no idea. He wouldn't tell us why then, and he still won't tell us now. So sadly, the moral of the story is that an ounce of prevention -- for which he had a very, very long period of opportunity -- would have kept him from dying the way he is going to, and at the young age (by modern standards) of 65.

I would be lying if I told you there's not anger on the part of my siblings and I. It hurts that we were not enough to make him want to stay healthy back when he had the chance. The things we have had to do and the choices we have had to make on his behalf have not been easy ones. And at times during the last month, he has made a point of telling us he was mad at us, he has blamed us for his being in the bed he is lying in because we forced the issue and sent him to the hospital. We hope that these statements are mostly out of his understandable fears -- but knowing him, the answer is "who the hell knows?" We all know that sometimes it is easier to blame others than to admit you screwed up. He insists that had it not been for us, he would still be at home, same as always -- when in reality he would have died from kidney failure somewhere around the first week of May had we not physically forced him to go to the hospital. (In fact, when he was admitted, his blood was so toxic that the doctors warned us he might die within hours, even with the emergency treatment they were giving him.) And all things considered, looking at what he is having to go through now, we do sometimes lie awake at night asking ourselves if we did the right thing.

I wish I had gotten to spend the past months as I have for the past few years -- blissfully reviewing the various goodies I love and sneaking in snarky comments about how hot Ryan Reynolds' abs are. Instead, I have spent the time learning first hand how screwed up the medical system is when it comes to being the family of the patient. From plenty of personal experience I already know the ins and outs from the patient's side -- and let me tell you, I far prefer being the patient and being in control of the situation, or should it call for my advance directive determining my shots. Anyone who has also been there can tell you it is an exhausting, seemingly never-ending fight with insurance companies, hospital administration, keeping the independent hospice agents who roam the hospital corridors off your back, and yes, even the hospital staff themselves sometimes.

There are a lot of wonderful, caring Doctors, RNs, LVNs and other support staff members out there, and he has been lucky to have them taking care of him. There are also some who you have to ask yourself why they ever chose medicine in the first place (money, no doubt). I could tell you enough horror stories from the past month alone to keep us here another month -- at least.

I wish I could tell you guys that this will at least end in some sort of closure for him and for us. And I think if I could tell you that it would probably give the story more of a bad made-for-basic-cable movie feel -- but that wouldn't be true. In the end, because of the nature of my father's personality, we are going to be left with more questions than answers.

I am not going to end this post with some sappy urgings to go tell a relative or a friend how much you love them, or to go randomly hug people. There are enough other blogs out in the world you can get that from -- and that's just not me. Glurge has never been one of my strengths.

But I will tell you that I cannot stress enough how important it is for the sake of those you love, or if you just have strong beliefs on what you want done in the event of a serious medical condition. So many things, even horrible things like cancer, have so many more options the sooner they are caught. And in the event of a serious situation, one of the best tools to have on your side (besides a good doctor) is an advance directive or a living will (and heads-up, fellow Californians -- you can fill out an advance directive form for free. All you need are two witnesses who are not related to you, nor are your caregivers, to watch you sign the form) or again, depending on your personal situation, maybe granting power of attorney to someone. These documents map out whatever it is that YOU want done during a time when you may no longer be able to make those decisions. Without something in place, your family or partner or whomever, even if they know your wishes may not legally be allowed to speak for you. In those cases, it is up to whatever your state's protocol/laws dictate happens to you. From someone who is going through the end of a parent's life with no very little say in anything because he had nothing in place, I think that one of the kindest last things you can leave your loved ones with is the knowledge that your last wishes -- even if they did not agree with them -- are being fulfilled. Please don't make them go through the process of having to watch you go endure things they know you didn't want -- or worse, be asked to make the choice as to whether you live or die (unless, of course, they are the power of attorney; in which case they have agreed to take those choices on). I am probably doing a horrible job of putting this experience into words, but if this makes sense to just one person and they take my advice to heart and it helps their loved ones when the time comes, then I will feel like something good came out of this.

Once again, I thank you all from the bottom of my heart, and I vow that there will come reviews once again.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Sorry for the hiatus

Guys, I know it has been forever since my last review. And I want to say that yes, I will be back in the saddle eventually. Unfortunately my health has not been the best lately, and food has been the last thing on my mind.

But sadly, it is going to be a bit longer before anything goes up. I can't believe that I am even having to type this out...but I am not the only one in the family with health problems. My father is in the hospital. He is terminally ill and very close to the end of his life. So needless to say, I will be out of the loop for a while yet.

In the meantime, please check out the Tasty Links section for a list of blogs that will keep you drooling.

Thank you all for your patience and understanding.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jala Vanilla Pomegranate Swirl Bar

I happen to really like yogurt. I like most styles, I like it in smoothies or those yogurt drinks, and it goes without saying that I like it frozen. So, being the spoiled brat that I am, my mother -- knowing that I like both vanilla frozen yogurt and pomegranate -- got me this box of bars.

I have never seen Jala local to me at home (as I write this I am in Atlanta), but according to their website, each bar has only 110 calories, contains antioxidants and probiotics, is low fat and might make me less grouchy... OK, it doesn't claim that last part, but my mother was hoping.

Anyway, so I have this rather generously sized bar in front of me (I am kind of a size queen with my frozen goodies) and so far, so good. It's a snowy white and the pomegranate swirl in the center adds a nice esthetic touch. I let it soften a bit before trying it.

And, well...honestly, I was kinda underwhelmed. It's not that the bar tasted bad -- it's just that it really didn't taste of much at all. It was as if I tried really really hard, I could kinda maybe sorta pick up a hint of vanilla, but the main flavor was simply "cold." The pomegranate swirl was somewhat pleasant, but it tasted more like pom-flavored syrup than the actual fruit -- and looking at the ingredient list for the swirl confirmed that pom-flavored syrup is pretty much what it was.

The texture was reasonably smooth but a little grainy. But that seems to be the typical way of the yogurt bar, so I would place the Jala bar at about average on texture.

I really wanted to like the bar, and it's not that I disliked it -- I just felt like I'd eaten 110 calories of "cold air" flavored stuff. But I would love to give their Lemon Sweet Tea Swirl flavor a go, so I will defiantly be giving Jala a second chance. This one, however, was a big disappointment.

Found in my mother's freezer, where it will probably remain.

110 calories per bar

Contains milk and soy. Processed in a facility that uses tree nuts & peanuts.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Snickers: Peanut Butter Squared

This is one of those cases where I have been woefully slow on the uptake getting to my review. I've been dying to try these since Cybele got the first scoop on them on Candy Blog back in July, and once I heard they could be found "in the wild" I proceeded to drive my mother insane scouring every store we went to for weeks until they showed up at CVS.

And I don't normally do this, but I love the commercial for them so much I have to share it:

I will grant you it is completely possible that some of my glee with that ad comes from the fact that I have a close family member named Steve, and it is safe to say there have been occasions when feeding each other to sharks sounded like a good idea.

Snickers Peanut Butter Squared comes in both the "fun size" bags and the bar version. I got my hand on a bar. In a departure from the normal single bar, the Peanut Butter Squared is broken up into two generously sized squares. I like it; it's cute, and if I feel like sharing or saving the second piece, this makes it super easy. I realize I could achieve the same thing by just getting the "fun size" bag to start with -- but admittedly if it is something that I end up really liking, I find it harder to control my personal portion because it makes it so easy to tell yourself "just one more..."

The bar is enrobed in the classic Snickers milk chocolate. Let's face it -- if you have ever had a single American Mars candy bar, you have had the smooth, slightly sweet milk chocolate that's on this bar. There's nothing even remotely noteworthy about it.

What makes this bar different is everything else. It has a much thinner layer of nougat. That's my favorite part of the classic bar, but then again, they had to make room for the peanut butter somewhere.

The peanut butter takes up the bulk of the filling. It's a smooth, creamy style peanut butter. There's not much to say about it except that it's on the salty side. I couldn't tell if that was from the peanut butter itself or the actual peanuts in the bar.

Speaking of the peanuts, while they were crunchy and fresh, there didn't seem to be as many of them as there are in a comparable portion of a normal Snickers. The caramel is also nothing to write home about. It's not bad; it's just the same stuff that's found on all the other Snickers.

In the end it's tasty, and I like it enough to scarf it down, but I really missed the nougat layer. It's certainly not my favorite variation of the Snickers bar. (I think that would be the Almond Snickers, although Snickers Dark is up there too).

Rod also reviewed it, so check out his opinion here.



250 Calories per pack (2 squares)

Contains peanuts and soy. May contain almonds.


Friday, March 11, 2011

365: Cherry Vanilla Creme Soda

I admit that I tend to not go too far off the mainstream, well-beaten path for soda that I drink in my normal day to day life. This is mostly because, apart from review purposes, I just don't drink much soda to start with -- and when I do, I have two staples that I prefer not to stray from.

That said, I occasionally like a little variety tossed in. And when I can actually get to a Whole Foods, I really like this particular soda.

365 is Whole Foods' house brand, and they make pretty much everything you can think of. I first tried the Cherry Vanilla Creme because I was hoping that it would taste like the Hansen's Cherry Vanilla Creme soda. There are very few companies out there that are on my banned list and sadly, Hansen's is one of them. But I will be honest here: I really liked and still miss drinking their Cherry Vanilla Creme. I realize that Whole Foods does not actually produce the soda themselves, and that Hansen's very well could be making this product for them under contract, but really...there is only so far I can go, and dammit, I want my freaking soda!

Okay, before I start to sound too much like Charlie Sheen, how did the soda actually taste?

Really good, actually! The balance is heavy on the cherry side, with the vanilla rounding out the aftertaste. The cherry tastes sort of like a cross between maraschino cherries and a Luden's cough drop -- but the vanilla keeps it from picking up that medicinal aftertaste that cherry flavored items lean towards.

The vanilla really is more of an aftertaste then a full partner. But I think that works well in this case. I am a fan of cream (or "creme") soda in general, so it is kind of hard for vanilla to go wrong for me. I wouldn't mind if the vanilla were stronger, but it is so good that I am happy with it just as is.

The carbonation is on the low side. But we all know I prefer my soda gently bubbly (which sounds prettier than saying "flat"), so again, this is a selling point for me.

And the extra cherry on top of everything else is that the drink is sweetened with real cane sugar! Yes, this does push it into the realm of full-calorie soda (I am a diet soda drinker as a rule) but if you are going to go with full-calorie soda, real sugar is the way! It manages to be sweet but not too sweet -- and because it's real sugar, there is no cloying HFCS aftertaste.

I love this soda. I even like the spare look of the can. It's plain and clean, it's not flashy, and it doesn't need to be because the insides are so good!

One of my favorite soda treats. If there's a Whole Foods near you, do not miss this one.

Whole Foods

$2.99 a six pack

180 calories per can (12 fluid ounces)

Sodium free, caffeine free, preservative free, real cane sugar!


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

skyr.is: Vanilla

Skyr? What the hell is skyr?

Well, I first heard of skyr on an early episode of Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern where Andrew was in Iceland, and decided that should I ever find it "in the wild" here in the United States, it was something I was going to have to try. It just sounded that good.

If you've never heard of skyr -- and unless you are a seriously hardcore Björk fan, or you've watched every Travel Channel piece on Iceland where the host vomits after sampling locally made hákarl, you probably haven't -- no worries, Gigi is here to explain it to you. Skyr is a dairy product that, while it outwardly resembles a super-thick yogurt (like Turkish yogurt), is actually a form of soft cheese. My understanding, prior to actually seeing it, was that texture-wise it would be like a cross between Greek yogurt and cream cheese. It can be flavored with various fruits mixed in, as yogurt often is. In Iceland the most popular variety is unflavored, although it is traditionally served topped with fresh cream and sugar.

Also, and equally appealing, is the fact that Icelandic livestock is raised the old school way, grazed naturally on the grasslands without the use of growth hormones, chemical feeds, and other nasty stuff. Obviously the milk produced by these animals is of a quality you probably won't find anywhere in the United States (unless maybe there's an Amish dairy near you), so how could the skyr made from that milk not be good? I'm telling you, it just sounded better and better. But would I ever come across any?

Yes! As luck would have it, the branch of Whole Foods on Manhattan's Upper West Side happens to carry a commercially imported version. While I did not find the plain variety on the shelf (they do carry it, but were sold out) they did have a vanilla flavored -- which is as close as I could get.

So how was it?

Well, the contents of the little tub looked exactly like (the far more commonly available United States) Greek yogurt. The package gave no indication that I should do anything to the product other than to give it a good stir prior to eating...so that was all I did to it.

The texture reminded me of a cross between Greek yogurt and sour cream. Basically not as thick or as thin as either; sort of in the redheaded stepchild middle ground. And once I actually tried it, that was pretty much the perfect description of the mouth feel as well. It had a nice aroma -- tangy, yet clearly vanilla.

But how did it taste? I know I keep going back to Greek yogurt, but that really is the easiest comparison. It was very much like vanilla Greek yogurt, but less acidic. It's sweeter than Greek yogurt, though not as sweet as a typical American yogurt. There's also another flavor note that I can't exactly place. Sort of like a soft cheese -- perhaps mascarpone, or maybe if I was really stretching it, I could say it reminds me of the aftertaste of cream cheese. But even that doesn't exactly pin it down. It's not a bad taste at all, just a tricky one to identify.

I would have liked to try it served in the traditional way, but I didn't have any cream or sugar on hand to mix in, so I had to skip that. But I did have some sweetener (yeah, my favored Splenda), so I also tried adding a packet to see how that changed the flavor. I'm not sure that this version actually needed either addition, but it was still fun to try. I will admit I did like it a little better with the added sweetness. Yes, it was good straight from the tub, but I think my sweet tooth is taking over a little. I can also tell you that the added sweetness pushed the flavor I couldn't quite nail a lot closer to that of cream cheese.

All in all, I'd like to see skyr gain wider availability in the United States. It's tasty, and for me it's a happy medium for when I don't want something as sweet as a mass market American yogurt, yet at the same time I'm not in the mood for something as tangy as Greek. This really bridged the gap between the two perfectly.

If you're an open-minded yogurt fan and you come across this on the shelf, it should not be missed!

Whole Foods


150 calories per 6 ounce serving

Fat free


Saturday, March 5, 2011

MASH: Grapefruit Citrus Zing

Yes, I love New York. I think everyone who reads this blog knows that very well. But one of the few things that I hate about New York is that sooner or later, small neighborhood stores that I have loved going to, visit after visit, almost always end up changing from cute little independent local spots to just another national chain outlet that I can easily go to at home.

That's sort of what happened to my favorite little bodega (mini-mart to the rest of us). Honestly, the service had been bad, the prices were kind of high, and the food tended to be out of code...but what they did have going for them had been the Universe's biggest selection of Snapple (as well as many other soft drinks, both popular and obscure). I could always find something interesting there. Well, times have changed since my last visit, and the location is now a rather generic cafe/sandwich place. The sandwiches aren't bad and the staff is a heck of a lot nicer, so it's not a complete loss. But sadly gone is the amazing drink selection.

They did, however, have the MASH line, which I have never seen before.

MASH, according to the bottle blurb, is meant for everyone. It's not a soda nor is it 100% juice. And it also boasts of being a low calorie option. Yeah, we are going to get to all of that in a second...

Anyway, I happen to like grapefruit juice -- or even grapefruit soda -- so I thought I would start there.

The drink is only very lightly carbonated, which I really liked. It's pretty much a known fact to long time readers, but I will repeat myself: I am one of those people who like my carbonated beverages on the slightly flat side, so whenever something is already going easy on the bubbles that works for me.

The grapefruit flavor comes across as very natural. It's got just a slight bitter edge with no aftertaste. If you've ever eaten a really ripe, fresh pink grapefruit and sprinkled it with sugar, and then drank the juice that stays in the rind...well it tasted pretty close to that. It is a sweetened drink ,but it uses sucralose (AKA Splenda) as the sweetener rather than HFSC or even regular sugar. Personally, I can live with that, as I am one of those people that don't mind or notice the taste of Splenda/sucralose (it's my sweetener of choice for coffee, actually).

I liked the body of it. It wasn't as thick and filling as a juice, and yet it was as sweet and as bubbly as a (somewhat flat) soda. I actually went through several of these over the course of my stay. New favorite grapefruit beverage, hands down!

Remember I said we could get back to a couple things that bothered me? Well, here goes: The first thing being that the label says it's not soda, but it's not 100% juice either. Actually, the label calls it a "water drink." Well, a water drink that uses sparkling water (AKA carbonated water...gee, kinda like SODA!). Interesting choice of words there. While I certainly wouldn't exactly call it a soda, considering that it contains only one per cent actual juice, I think they were creatively dressing the proportions. After all, soda as a soft drink choice is starting to go down the same dark, scary back alley that trans-fats and other delicious but questionably beneficial items go to flash their wares while hiding from the fuzz.

This also extends to the calorie count. I understand that at the moment there is a lot of pressure on manufacturers to make everything as low-cal as possible (because we certainly can't expect people to just, ya know, be responsible for their own portion control) and the bottle boasts that the drink is a mere 40 calories a serving! Problem is, the bottle is 20 ounces, and the serving is considered to be 8 oounes...so there are 2.5 servings per bottle. Now, really -- how many people are going to actually pour out the precise 8 ounce serving? Yes, I realize a small percentage will. But let's be honest; most people are just downing the entire bottle. Would it really be that horrible a sin to list the true calorie count of 100 calories for the entire bottle? 100 calories as to compared to your average soft drink is still pretty damn good!

I'm not basing the rating on anything other than the flavor -- but clearly I am annoyed by the trend of creatively wording the blurb and manipulating the serving size to keep the food police happy. A pox upon both or however many houses they have!

94 Corner Cafe (94th & Broadway, New York City)


40 Calories per 8 oz. (or 100 for the entire bottle)

Kosher, sweetened with sucralose


Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Peanut Butter & Co: The Heat Is On Peanut Butter

One of the upsides of having a food review blog is that friends will often come up with items that they want to see me review. And one of the downsides of having a food review blog is that friends will often come up with items that they want to see me review. No, that's not a typo: that is the double-edged sword that is my life.

Seriously! Sometimes my friends come up with stuff that makes me wonder if they are trying to turn me into their own personal Andrew Zimmern (even the ones who have no idea who Andrew Zimmern is). I believe they see some outrageous items and think to themselves, "Oho, there is just no way Gigi would ever turn down the chance to review a choice delicacy like dill pickle flavored, chocolate covered, durian stuffed Madagascar hissing cockroaches!" (OK, to be fair, I made that up...and if such a product exists, I am happy in my ignorance of it and ask only that it A: Not be brought to my attention, and B: That I not be offered samples.) My whole point is that sometimes I feel like people give me things based on an elementary school gross-out dare.

My sister-from-another-mother, however, is an exception to that rule. Net and I are so physically similar that you could in fact mistake us for sisters -- well, first cousins at the very least -- and she always finds the greatest snack stuff for me to try. (She is completely to blame for my obsession with Herr's Puff'n Corn.) So when she said she had something new for me I was very excited.

And she did not disappoint!

I have been wanting to go to the Peanut Butter & Co shop since I saw them on the Food Network at least ten years ago. Really, how could a peanut butter lover not want to go to a shop that completely revolves around peanut butter? Well, despite many visits to my beloved New York City I have not made it to the shop once. Then, like magic, the company's peanut butter started turning up in stores...and I still somehow never got my hands on any. Net, however, did -- and when she saw a jar of The Heat Is On flavor she picked it up for me. (For the record, she swears by their Dark Chocolate Dream.)

The Heat Is On, as you may have guessed, is a spicy peanut butter -- and lest you doubt that it's spicy, the monkey on the label is holding a little pitchfork. Monkeys would not lie to us.

Even before opening the jar, you can tell that there is going to be a lot going on flavorwise, just by looking at the peanut butter. It's darker than your normal peanut butter; the color being more of a burnt orange than a tan. The butter is also studded with various dots and flecks of spices.

When you open the jar the scent is that of strongly roasted peanuts. You can tell there's an extra something going on, but it's hard to pin down exactly what else it is that you're smelling besides the nuts.

According to the label you don't have to stir the peanut butter, but I did notice some oily buildup on the top -- and I thought that the texture was a bit better for giving it a swirl. The texture is smooth but very thick, though not thick in the sticky manner of any of the mass market brands of choice. There is a slight graininess (though it is not chunky) that I think comes from a combination of the spices and the actual peanuts themselves. I really liked the texture.

The taste -- forgetting the spices for just a second and concentrating on the base -- reminded me of super fresh, just-roasted peanuts. Slightly salty and completely missing the sweetness that my favorite mass market brand has.

Now for the spices! It's going to be hard to go back to plain peanut butter after having spicy (and I may not, actually). The heat is just enough to give you a kick and warm your mouth up, but not enough to have people who aren't as big a fan of heat as I am searching for something to cool off with. On a scale of 1 to 10 in terms of heat for people who are not chiliheads, I would put it at about a 5 or 6 if you are really sensitive.

The spicing is a mix of chili powder, cayenne pepper, crushed red pepper and paprika. (And while it's not listed on the label, I have to wonder if there's not a pinch of garlic in there as well.) To be really lazy, the easiest way I can describe the flavor is to tell you to imagine a peanut butter made with a bag of those "hot" flavored peanuts found at gas stations and mini marts. As someone who has been known to snarf those bags down embarrassingly fast, it stands to reason that I'd love a peanut butter version.

What can I say? I just loved this peanut butter. I have been eating it straight from the jar, but I know it would make great sandwiches or sauces/dressings. Heck, I want to try to make cookies with it! No, I'm not kidding. It's really that damned good.

Thank you, Netters!


Gift from my friend

$6.00 on the company website

190 calories per 2 tbsp

Gluten free, certified vegan, HFCS free. Contains peanuts (duh)


Friday, February 25, 2011

Haagen-Dazs Five: Caramel Ice Cream

I was trolling the ice cream selection at the old mega mart on my last shopping trip and noticed that Haagen-Dazs had added a caramel flavor to the Five lineup. That said, my local store is actually really slow on getting the new Haagen-Dazs flavors -- so I'm not exactly sure how long ago Caramel was tossed into the mix.

I do love caramel ice cream though, and since the "death" of the heavenly Fleur De Sel Caramel (the only way that could have been better was if I got to lick it off Gerard Butler), Ben & Jerry's Dulce Delish (which, although I have eaten way more pints of than I care to admit, I have somehow managed to not review to this day) has picked up the title of current favorite. (Note to my friends at B&J -- if you would like to arrange for me to lick Dulce Delish off Gerard Butler I am perfectly willing to take one for the team. Just sayin'...) Anyway, for a full-fat ice cream that's still in the Haagen-Dazs lineup, they also have the now-classic Dulce de Leche, which is also pretty darned yummy.

I have to admit I always sort of eye the Five line with suspicion. It seems when a flavor is good it's really good, but when it's bad it's enough to make me seriously regret the lactose issues I'll be stuck with for the next few hours. And I am still a little bitter that the Brown Sugar flavor got discontinued (though to be fair, I think I may have been the only person on the planet who liked it).

What I like about the Five line is that in terms of ingredients, it is as simple and close to homemade as you can get, with each flavor containing only -- you guessed it -- five ingredients. It's also slighter lower in fat and calories than the rest of the Haagen-Dazs line. Admittedly, I would rather simply have less of something with higher fat because I prefer the mouth feel and texture -- and since I'll to have to deal with dairy issues anyway, I'd at least like to enjoy it to the max before the inevitable happens. But for people who are just watching the numbers, it's a great option to have.

So how did it scoop up?

Flavor-wise really, really well. It is completely on par with the classic Dulce de Leche. It's sweet of course, but not overly sickly sweet. The caramel is heavily on the milky side, but sadly there is no caramel swirl (which was one of the best parts of Dulce de Leche). It's not a complex caramel but it is still tasty. I wish that there was a little salt kick to add some zazz, but then I guess that would make it six ingredients rather than five, and that would kinda defeat the purpose. The flavor also wanes quickly -- as in under five minutes. I will grant you that eating anything cold tends to dull the tongue, but even bringing it close to room temperature gave the same results...along with melted ice cream.

Texture-wise, like all of the Five line, it's on the soft and fluffy side. It's funny how that works for some flavors and not so well for others. Fortunately, this is one of the flavors that it does work for. It has a silky smooth mouth feel, and when it melts it glides down your throat in a happy puddle. Also like the rest of its Five siblings, it doesn't have the rich, fatty mouth feel of its bigger cousins -- but for a lighter calorie, lighter fat option, it really is top notch.

Best Five flavor since my beloved Brown Sugar.

Albertsons Supermarket



240 Calories per 1/2 cup serving



Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Temptations by Jell-O: French Silk Pie

There are many three-word phrases that get me excited. Examples include:

New Droid Phone
New York City
Gerard Butler Naked


French Silk Pie.

In an ideal world I could have all of those things simultaneously. In this one, sometimes you have to settle for whatever is doled out one at a time. And somewhere along the line in the last couple years, I have started to like pie a lot more than I used to. As a rule I prefer fruit pies to cream pies, but I have always had a soft spot for French Silk Pie.

Need I thus explain how happy I was when the generous folks at Jell-O sent me a package of their French Silk Pie Temptations to review? I didn't think so!

To keep calories down -- as with their Lemon Meringue Pie entry -- there is no pie crust to be found here. But that's OK, because the pudding (or filling, if you will) is so good that you won't miss it. (Though I can't say that the addition of a chocolate cookie crust wouldn't have been worth the extra naughtiness.)

The main portion of the cup is a dense, rich chocolate. I loved the texture. In fact, I liked it more than I did any of the actual French Silk Pies I have ever had. The reason is that actual pie filling tends to be a little too runny for my liking. But the Jell-O Temptations were thicker than standard pudding, and at the same time seemed to have a slightly whipped, mousse quality to it. It just held up really well and gave you the best of both worlds.

The flavor reminded me a lot of an actual slice of French Silk Pie. The large bottom layer is a really rich chocolate. It's like classic Jell-O pudding, but with a stronger cocoa flavor.

It is also topped with a smooth creamy layer, which was terrific. The texture holds its own, and is silky smooth with a slightly sweet, chocolate/vanilla flavor.

I loved this cup! It's up there with either of the chocolate Mousse Temptations for me.

Sample from company.


MSRP is $2.89.


140 calories per 1 cup serving (3.9 oz)



Friday, February 18, 2011

Temptations by Jell-O: Lemon Meringue Pie

If you have read even a handful of my reviews, you probably know that if something is made with lemon -- in even the most remote sense -- then that is something I will line up to try. Well, Jell-O has added a new line of low-calorie treats based on different desserts, and they were nice enough to send out samples of all six of them to me!

And naturally, I had to start with Lemon Meringue pie.

Jell-O's Temptations products come in sleek packages of three individual cups (rather than the six cups that come in the various pudding packs), but they are a slightly larger serving size than the pudding cups (size varies depending on flavor). The Lemon Meringue Pie features a larger lemon base layer, and is then topped off by the meringue.

So how is this cup of wonderful?

First, I like the texture of the lemon base -- it is actually pretty close to lemon curd. Not quite as smooth, though. It reminded me almost of the whipped texture of the Jell-O Mousse line, only not quite as "moussy." The flavor is tangy but still sweet, and -- if you don't think about it for too long -- it does strongly resemble an actual lemon meringue pie. Unfortunately, it has a very chemical aftertaste. It's not a terribly strong aftertaste, and it doesn't last long, but it is undeniably there.

The meringue layer's texture is exactly like the texture of the Jell-O Mousse cups. It has the slightly sweet, vanilla-like taste of real meringue down pat. It was really good. I could have eaten an entire cup of just this layer alone.

All in all, not bad. Even with the aftertaste I would still eat more of them (though mostly to get at the meringue layer). I wish there had been at least a little bit of pie crust...but then again, crust adds calories. So I guess it's a trade-off. Oh well.

Sample from company.


MSRP is $2.89.


100 calories per 1 cup serving (3.9 oz)



Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Tree Chocolate Granola Bar

I have liked New Tree chocolate since the very first bar I found on a visit to Zabar's in New York City. The first one I tried was the Tranquility bar, which is milk chocolate and lavender (new and improved review to come soon -- but for now, my rather lame first review can be read here). I love unusual flavors and New Tree has no shortage of those. Since I started trying New Tree's chocolates, they have changed their packaging from the old heavy cardstock and rather simple drawings of the theme ingredient to a glossy, sleek photo-style envelope. And it looks like chocolate bar itself has been re-molded as well...which is yet another reason for me to redo my older reviews.

The bar I'm reviewing now is part of New Tree's expansion into healthier options that take another step into more unconventional flavor combinations. This bar, for example, boasts having antioxidants and three times the fiber (along with 30% less sugar) than its similar counterparts. And if that's not a good reason to eat chocolate, then I am just going to call it a day permanently. Other than raw fruit and veggies, that's about as close to health food as I really feel the need to get.

Anyway, New Tree's Granola bar is a 31% milk chocolate that not only features little bits of granola, but is flavored with lime and green tea as well. I love green tea with lime as a drink, but will they play well together with chocolate? I am looking forward to finding out.

I do, however, have one complaint prior to actually tasting anything. It is a minor complaint, but it irks me. While New Tree has indeed changed the exterior packaging to a more modern look -- which I really like -- the new package illustration also shows a change to the molding of the bars themselves. That's all well and good...except that the bars actually are still molded just as they were when I first tried them almost four years ago. As you can see below, the bar is broken up into smaller square tiles rather than the brand-name embossed bar portions with the jaunty little tree designs that you see on the label. I realize that's not a big deal in the grand scheme of life -- but it's not truly representative of what you're getting. It's like a chocolate version of that hot girl you meet with the seemingly titanic rack: it looks great pushing out against her shirt, until you remove said shirt and find out you got duped by a push-up bra. Yes, I know the chocolate still tastes just as good (and the girl probably does too, but that's not within the scope of this review), yet it's still a disappointment. I guess the lesson here is that, much like many other aspects of life, it is the inside and not the outside that should count. It's just that sometimes the inside has to work a little harder to win you over once the outside has let you down.

So, after all that dime-store philosophizing, how did the inside work out?

Pretty well, actually. Regardless of its molding, the little squares have a great aroma. It's zesty and floral with a nice creamy finish. And the taste is even better.

The first thing you taste is the lime. It's bright and tangy but not sour or overpowering.

I am not sure that if I didn't know this bar had green tea in it that I would have guessed exactly what I was tasting. Actually, on first taste, it reminded me of mild pepper rather than tea. Then again, it is tea extract, and I can't say I have ever tasted that before. Maybe tea extract is just peppery? (Anyone out there have information on that?) Peppery or not, though, it was quite good.

The little clumps of granola are toasty and oaty and perfectly crunchy, which adds a nice contrast to the smooth texture of the chocolate. And, speaking of the chocolate: even three-years-plus after trying it for the first time, I am still in love with it. New Tree is a Belgian company, and -- yes, I have said it before -- those people can give the Swiss a run for their money any day when it comes to making chocolate. (But neither the Belgians nor the Swiss should get too complacent, because there are plenty of other countries who want a piece of the high-end chocolate action, and some of those efforts might surprise you. For instance, I've reviewed an Icelandic chocolate that was absolutely delicious, which you can read about here. I've also reviewed a very nice assortment box from Bolivia, which you'll find here.)

The chocolate is just strong enough that the lime and the tea flavors don't run it over. There is a really rich, milky taste to it. It's definitely on the sweeter side, but I think that with the tart lime, that's for the best. I can see where the lime might be too aggressive otherwise.

It has a reasonably smooth melt -- but remember, there are the bits of granola to melt around. It's a pleasant contrast.

Bottom line: As someone who loves citrus and chocolate together, this bar was an easy winner for me. I really think lime needs to be paired with chocolate (and not white chocolate!) more often. If you should see this bar, by all means get it. You won't be sorry.


Sample from company.


170 calories per 100 grams.


Allergen info not listed.



Monday, February 14, 2011

Happy Valentines Day

Yeah, George and Stephanie are still undecided on how they feel about each other...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jelly Belly Chocolate Dips

First of all, I feel the need to apologize to the nice people at Jelly Belly. They actually sent this box out to me just prior to Christmas, and due to snowballing events (a good majority of which included the six inches of snow that pretty much shut down Atlanta), I have not actually gotten around to doing the review until now...and really I hate being so tardy. Mea culpa.

I actually was really excited to try these beans after reading Candy Blog's review in early December, when Cybele got her hands on a box.

I have long loved Jelly Belly's beans, and oddly enough, as much as I dislike coconut, that is my favorite flavor jelly bean. I was sent the five flavor gift box. The official Jelly Belly website also offers a rather impressive selection of ways to get the dipped beans besides the gift boxes. Inside the box, in little bean-shaped wells, the dipped beans sit clearly marked so you don't have to guess which kind you're getting. The five flavors are Very Cherry, Orange, Raspberry, Coconut, and Strawberry. And since that's the way they're placed in the box, I am going to review them in that order.

As far as the chocolate coating goes, each bean is completely enrobed in a layer of glossy chocolate. But as Cybele points out in her review, the size of the bean is identical to its non-dipped siblings. This is because the chocolate replaces the normal sugary shell that would cover the bean's center. Knowing that kind of disappointed me prior to tasting, because I am one of those people who like the slightly crunchy texture that you get biting into a normal jelly bean. But hey, we have chocolate! So maybe I shouldn't be preemptively whining.

The chocolate is simply identified as Dark Chocolate, but I could not tell you the cocoa percentage. When you open the box, the aroma is vaguely chocolatey and sort of fruity. The beans, of course, are sealed by the chocolate; so I was not expecting a strong fruit smell.

Very Cherry:

This was the flavor I was least looking forward to. I am not a fan of cherry candy as a rule, but I was glad it was first, because I figured it would be all uphill from here.

The chocolate is a thin layer that dissolves quickly (if you're the kind who lets your beans melt in your mouth rather than chewing it). It tastes OK. It's not the best chocolate, but it certainly is not the worst. It is a very mild dark -- enough that in the case of the cherry, it provided some nice contrast to the sweetness of the bean. I have to say my fears about the texture were wasted. I really liked how it was basically a nice soft jelly. It reminded me of the chocolate covered jelly sticks I like.

The cherry itself is strong. They have always reminded me exactly of a Luden's cough drop. It will never be my favorite flavor but I give it points for not having a bitter aftertaste.


Orange and dark chocolate are always a winning combination and this bean is no exception. It's a nice zesty orange. I really liked the fact that Jelly Belly didn't hold back on the flavor; this is a seriously strong orange. I think the chocolate helped sweeten it up a little, and that may help those of you who prefer your orange a little tame. I like the boldness and think this is one of the best orange-chocolate combos ever.


Like the orange, this is pretty much a classic chocolate and jelly flavor combination. The raspberry has a very floral quality to it. It reminded me of a raspberry liqueur (like Chambord). I really liked the fact that it was a very grown-up, realistic raspberry flavor instead of something artificial. Again, I think for a time tested chocolate/jelly candy it is on par with the best of the best.


Ok, I admit it: I was not really looking forward to this one. I love fresh strawberries, but strawberry-flavored items tend to have a nasty aftertaste for me. And unfortunately, this was no exception. Which was a bummer, because after the orange and raspberry beans being so outstanding, I'd gotten my hopes up. Sadly, this bean is just too darn sweet. It skirts the line between tasting like the actual berry, and every cheap strawberry flavored gum on the planet. I think I actually liked the Very Cherry more. And that, my friends, is saying something.

Finally, I saved the one I was most looking forward to for last. (OK, so I just messed up the order in which they're packaged. Shoot me, why doncha?) And that one would be...


Blame it on a young love of piña colada flavored items and the smell of certain sunscreens. Once again, while I hate actual coconut, the coconut bean has always been my favorite of the Jelly Bellys. I know that makes pretty much no sense, but that's the way it is. (OK, that and toasted marshmallow ones -- how great would that be chocolate coated?) I like the slight vanilla edge it has and the sweet tropical flavor. Incidentally, I have already announced I will not be sharing the remainder of these beans, so don't even ask -- y'all know who y'all are!

As a whole, I really liked the Chocolate Dips. I hope they expand the line to more flavors -- I am nominating the marshmallow and popcorn beans.

Since this is a gift box, I am going to give it an overall rating rather than rating the individual beans -- but remember that each bean is also available on its own. If I had rated them individually, I can tell you that the Orange, Raspberry, and Coconut would each be solid, orgasmic 11's...but the Very Cherry and the Strawberry dragged the average down. It's still a very nice gift box, though.

Sample from company


My box was a manufacturer's sample. It sells for $5.99 on the Jelly Belly website.


150 calories per 40 beans.


Box doesn't give any allergen information.