Monday, May 27, 2019

Little Salad Bar Santa Fe Single Serve Salad Bowl (Aldi)

A pretty decent "on the go" salad option.
Little Salad Bar is the moniker under which Aldi releases their “fresh” salad items, ranging from actual lettuce salads, to chicken salads, macaroni—if it has “salad” anywhere in the title, apparently it’s fair game. I have gone on, at length, about their flawless Caesar salad—far and away the best bagged salad I’ve ever had—but now it’s time to check out one of their newer offerings (at least, to our Aldi): single-serve salad bowls.

The salads come complete with all the ingredients you need, in convenient packaging that doubles as a bowl. Perhaps best of all, though, is that all of the ingredients are kept in separate compartments at the top of the salad, making it very easy to leave out anything you don’t want. It even includes a welcome surprise: Your very own fork, which is wedged between the topping compartment and the lettuce itself. Actually, that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, considering it says it right on the packaging, but I didn’t notice that at all until now. Haha, oops.

Included ingredients consist of corn (a requirement in anything considered “Santa Fe”), chicken, shredded cheese, dressing, lettuce, and a small bag of corn chip pieces to sprinkle on top, both for a little added flavor, but more for some crunchy texture. The corn chips and lettuce are typical examples of each, and require no explanation.

The chicken, while it looks like it’s been seasoned with “Santa Fe” spices, or whatever, actually tastes pretty bland on its own—whether or not you eat chicken, you could easily omit this and not miss out on a single thing from a flavor perspective. The corn is sweet, but some of the pieces also have a char which seems to insinuate they were fire-roasted…and sure enough, the flavor corroborates this, with a smoky flavor that gives it more savory appeal than just sweet corn would.

The cheese, meanwhile, is a four-cheese white-and-orange blend consisting of Monterey jack, queso quesadilla, asadero, and cheddar cheeses. I have to admit that I didn’t really taste it by itself, nor did it really stand out amidst the other ingredients, so I’m thinking this is just your typical “taco” cheese combination. The dressing is a ranch salsa, which offers up a strong kick of flavor that ties everything together, with very little heat (though there is a little bit, in true “Santa Fe” style). It’s rich, creamy, in-your-face, and very delicious…Aldi could probably do well packaging it up in bottles and selling it separate, if they don’t already. It's the best part of the entire package.

Combined together, the ingredients are more than the sum of their parts: The salad isn't going to win any flavor awards, and is “Santa Fe” more in appearance than actual taste, but it's still a pretty good option for a quick, convenient snack (or meal) on the go.

The main drawback, as always seems to be the case with “convenience” items, is that they sell these single-serve bowls for $2.89, while bagged salads—capable of feeding 2-4 people—are around the same price (with the stellar Caesar the most affordable option, coming in at a mere $1.99). That's a standard pricing strategy for single serve items, but also a factor that ensures I won't be grabbing these very often at all.

Overall: 7/10. Although it looks more “Santa Fe” than it tastes, this single-serve salad is still a good option for a quick snack (or meal) on the go, with all the ingredients and utensils you need (including a fork!) packed inside. Even better: the ingredients are individually compartmentalized, allowing you to add as little or as much of each as you want, or even omitting some altogether, which is a nice touch. The biggest drawback, as is standard for items borne out of “convenience”, is the $2.89 price tag, making it retail for more than the multi-serve bagged Caesar ($1.99), and their other multi-serving bagged options (around $2.49 each). At that price, I won't be picking many up, but good to know it's there if I ever need something quick and easy.









Friday, May 17, 2019

Appetitos Ovenable Loaded Potato Bites (Aldi)

Every bit as delicious as you were hoping they would be.
The Appetitos line from Aldi has some great offerings, but they are counterbalanced by some weaker ones. For example, their cream cheese jalapenos are one of the store's best kept secrets, a titillating, restaurant-quality blending of the two titular ingredients that is pitch-perfect in texture and flavor. But then there are other ones, such as the mozzarella sticks and corn balls, that just don't quite reach their potential.

Put this one in the former category, because this is probably one of the best things they've ever served up.

As you can tell from the title, and ensuing description on the front of the box, these are bites of mashed potato, cheese, and bacon, wrapped in a breaded batter and deep-fried, that are "ovenable". There are plenty of ways that this combination can go wrong—in fact, there are always plenty of ways any frozen product can go terribly wrong—so as great as the combination sounded (and looked), I still went in with plenty of reservations. Would the texture be too soft? Would the internal mashed potatoes be too hard? Would any of the flavors be accurate?

They were answered in a matter of seconds: All of the tastes are pretty distinguishable, with potatoes, cheese, and butter all coming to the forefront. The bacon is there through the standard (and cheap) smoke flavoring, but isn't very pronounced—if you're in this for the bacon, don't even bother. The mashed potato texture stays flawless on the inside, remaining soft even though the outer layer gets nice and crispy after just fifteen minutes in the oven (on 450 degree heat). One of my pet peeves are frozen products that don't noticeably get crispier despite the time it takes to prepare in the oven (versus the quickness of the microwave), but these wouldn't be out of place being served for $8 a serving in a bar or restaurant somewhere.

This can't even be slowed down in the value department, where a box goes for a mere $1.99. As I said, these would easily go in a restaurant for four times that amount, and even in a regular supermarket for double the price, so there's no denying that this is a great bargain. Each “ball” is the perfect size, and you get about ten or twelve of them in a box, which is the perfect amount for an appetizer or side dish for two. These are unfortunately only available as a special buy, which is the biggest drawback, because that means availability is limited. Stock up on them while you can, because these are fantastic.

TIP: Dip them in some sour cream for an added blast of tastiness.



Overall: 9/10. A delicious blending of potatoes, cheese, bacon (flavoring), and butter, all encased in a golden brown batter. Oven prep yields crispy, restaurant-quality balls that are the perfect size for a side dish or appetizer for two, and that could easily be served at restaurants for $8 a serving. Appetitos products are largely hit-and-miss, but this is up there with the cream cheese jalapenos as the best this line has to offer. Biggest (and only?) drawback: These are only available occasionally as a special buy, so if you see them, be sure to grab them before they're gone.

Bremer Frozen Corn Dogs (Aldi)

Sweet batter? No thanks.
Corn dogs are a great snack that hearkens back to my childhood, yet one that I never really think about when I’m at the grocery store.  For one, I feel like they’re kind of expensive for what they are…I mean, you have a hot dog, the world’s creepiest, and often cheapest, “meat“, and a layer of corn-based batter, the least expensive and most-used thing on the face of this earth.  They should be, like, ten cents apiece.

This last shopping trip I was out randomly wandering through the frozen food aisle when they caught my eye.  Six corn dogs for $1.99 certainly isn’t bad, and it had been years since I had them, so I decided to pony up and give them a shot.

As the box declares, and something I didn’t notice until after I had purchased it, the batter is a honey-based batter.  I’m still not too sure how I feel about this.  While it’s definitely not super-sweet, or anything, I always prefer my corn dog batter to be saltier and more savory than sweet, so this was a minor turnoff for me, though I’m probably in the minority on this.  The hot dog does what it’s supposed to do, which namely, is merely to be enveloped by the batter.  There’s really not much to them, aside from a “standard” hot dog flavor (a quick search of the ingredients creepily reveals they are “chicken franks”, and are thus made out of chicken), and a rather “tough” texture that is generally found in low-grade, cheap dogs.

I don’t find the flavor “bad”, per se, it’s just not my taste.  I could imagine kids, and corn dog connoisseurs (which I guess are just kids) probably enjoying these a lot more than I did, so if you fall into that camp, I would recommend them.  But these just didn't hit the spot for me, nor did they take me back on whimsical memories of nostalgia like I was hoping they would.

Overall: 5.5/10.  I could see myself getting these intermittently, just as something different, but they’re definitely not something I would feel the need to have on hand that often.  The hot dog tastes like a standard hot dog (but is made of mechanically separated chicken), and also has the “tough”, creepy texture that’s typically found in bargain bin dogs.  The batter is also slightly on the sweet side, with a honey-based batter (which, to their credit, is something they mention on the box; I just didn’t notice it until I had gotten home), something I’m not really a huge fan of.  I got these as a little snack, and to take a trip down memory lane to when I enjoyed these as a kid, but they don’t seem to have the same appeal to me now, even though I’m still a child, only in the body of an adult.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

X-Mode Energy Shots on Tap: Jacked Apple, Tangerine Scream, Cherry Bomb (Online)

Energy drinks in a box, anyone?
As some of you are probably well aware, simply from the number of energy liquids I have reviewed on this site, I'm always looking for new ways to get energized, without breaking the bank. You see, name brand energy drinks (and even the shots, for that matter) are always incredibly overpriced, lest you manage to get them on sale or a closeout. As one who doesn't drink coffee, I have to have something to get me through the early morning work grind, and I've found that drinks and shots are the way to go, with the latter being my preferred method as of late: They have a greater concentration of energy in a smaller package, making them portable (at my job I'm almost always on my feet, so I want something that I can take with me wherever I may roam), and resealable, so you can lock in the freshness even after they've been opened.

I found a great ally in Aldi's Red Thunder Extra Strength energy shots, which are some of my favorites in terms of flavor, but those recently took a slight price hike, up to $.79 (from $.69). Kroger has also entered into the shot game recently (or at least, started pushing them more because I'd never seen them before), though they can't seem to decide where in the store to sell them or how many should come in a pack. (They used to sell two-packs across a variety of flavors for a respectable $1.49, but lately I've only seen singles for $1.19 and a six-pack for $6). Dollar Tree has a product of their own to throw into the fray, as well, offering up a 4 oz. mega-shot for a mere $1, making them the straight-up winner in terms of price, at $.50 per 2 oz. serving. Yet that comes at the expense of flavor, because they easily taste the worst of the lot (though they do provide energy, so at least they work.)

Well down the rabbit hole I went: If Dollar Tree can offer shots for $.50 a serving, then surely there had to be something out there that would be even cheaper than that, right? And obsessively researching the answer to that question is how I stumbled on X-Mode, a product that blends convenience and gimmick, smart and stupid, danger and liability, all into one large 100 oz. box.

It's basically like boxed wine, for the energy drink crowd: the box contains an inner pouch of flavored energy drink that you then dispense, via tap, into the included “Mode-2-Go” bottles, which are little 2 oz. plastic bottles that come complete with screw-on lid for maximum portability. Each package comes with two of them, allowing you and a loved one (or roommate) to share in your caffeine dependency together. The bottles are marked with serving lines, so you can tell how many ounces are remaining in the bottle; this is also useful if you're planning to ration them out, as I do.

There were initially two flavors at the time I first tried them (tangerine and cherry), but they have since branched out with a new apple flavor that I recently tried. X-Mode markets themselves as the “best tasting energy shot on the market”. Is that just a hyperbolic statement for the purposes of marketing, or is there some truth to that?

It depends on where your flavor preferences lie. I will say that, in terms of comparing them to other shots, there is really none of the medicine-y, metallic taste that you get with most of them. So if you're someone that doesn't like the taste of other ones—which all do seem to tread in line with one another—you might find this as a welcome breath of fresh air. The “might”, however, is emphasized because the trade-off is that these are almost sickeningly sweet, and artificial as all hell. I'm not going to say that, personally, drinking them got to be a chore for me—because as I've mentioned a thousand times before, my palate steers more toward the sweet anyway—but for those who have more “refined” tastes, drinking them with any regularity might start to become a burden somewhere within the first week (my wife, for example, refused to even touch it after trying it once or twice, opting for nothing even when she had no other caffeine sources in the house and was going through symptoms of caffeine withdrawal).

Use the tap to dispense the drink into the included 2 oz. bottles.
On to performance: Quite simply put, this stuff works. Say whatever you want about the overall stupidity of the product idea (valid point), or its disgusting taste (also a valid point for some), but it's powerful stuff, coming in at a strong 150mg of caffeine per ounce. That's right, per single ounce. That means if you fill the bottle up to the 2 oz. line, you're getting a full 300 mg of caffeine, which is more than even the mass-marketed extra strength energy shots, and for literally a fraction of the price. Even better: despite their sweet taste, they are sugar-free, so there's no sugar crash involved once the effect starts wearing off. This isn't much of a surprise considering, as far as I know, every energy shot is sugar free, but it's still a must for me: sugared energy drinks make me feel like shit almost immediately after drinking them.

Well now let's take a look at value: The first box I got, fell way under my expectations, as I had to reorder another one almost exactly thirty days after ordering the first one because I was running low. Now, to be fair, I did end up wringing about ten more days out of it, bringing the total to about forty days of total use (very unscientific, this method of estimation; should have taken notes). Forty days might not sound too bad, but considering drinking 2 oz. per day should have given me 50 servings, and I was drinking less than that every day, it felt like I was getting a little shorted.

The latest box I got was delivered on November 5th and, as of Christmas Day, I still had some left. Sure, it was on its last leg, and I had to fight with it to keep getting some of that precious, precious liquid (which lasted another three or so days before running out completely), but it felt more in line with what I was expecting, considering I drank even more per serving this time around (still under 2 oz. on most days, but there were a few where I downed the whole thing, something I don't think I ever did the first time). Long story short: The company claims it's “as low as $.30 per serving”, which is technically true, because they dictate a serving as 1 oz. and there are 100 servings for $30 (the “as low as” is kind of weird; whether or not people drink more, a serving is a serving). However, most people will probably need more than that, and if you go up to 2 oz. per day, that's still only $.50 per shot, which is still a very respectable number that represents a solid value.

I do have two main qualms with this product, though, and both kind of go hand-in-hand: I don't like the box design, which is very heavy on its own and conceals the amount of product left; and the idea of “tapping” your own bottles, while admittedly kind of neat at first, gets kind of cumbersome toward the end as you're running low on liquid. That's when you have to shake and tilt, and shift the box and pouch around at various angles just to wring out every last possible drop, lest you want to waste both valuable caffeine, and your hard-earned money. I understand that the box probably has to be hefty to withstand the rigors of shipping, but it could benefit the company to look into lighter packaging, which would mean less costly shipping for them (it's free to us either way), which would translate to more profits (in simple theory).

I also don't think there's quite 100 oz. in each pouch, although it could just come down to the packaging: even at the very end, there are some leftover drops that just stick to the inside of the plastic bag and can't be accessed. All that probably adds up to another serving or two. It's a rather nit-picky issue, and certainly not enough of one to call it a "gyp", but worth mentioning: Both times I had to reorder a little quicker than I thought I would, despite never exceeding 2 oz. in one day.

We'll round this one out with a flavor comparison, though again, the basic flavor profiles (saccharine-sweet) are all the same. The cherry flavor reminds me a lot of what it would probably taste like to drink cherry Icee syrup straight from the machine, though oddly not as satisfying as I thought that would be. The tangerine's taste reminds me of the intense, fakey smell of orange-scented cleaning products, captured in a drinkable liquid. Thankfully, it tastes better than that, with a hint of goofy, candy-style orange flavoring amidst the sea of chemical-induced sweetness. The apple, which is their newest flavor, is probably my favorite, with a flavor reminiscent of a melted-down apple candy, like a Jolly Rancher or Airhead, in liquid form.

Overall: 8/10. I've overthought and rambled on about a boxed energy drink for far too long already, but to recap: it's a solid product for the price, assuming you can put up with the overly sweet, candy-style flavors. The tradeoff to the sickening sweetness, though, is that there's really none of the metallic-y, medicine-style aftertaste prevalent in so many others; this could be a great option for people who tend to stay away from most shots because of the taste. “Tapping” the product is great for full control over serving sizes, but it can also get a little annoying toward the end of the pouch, when you have to tilt the box or move the pouch around just to wring out every drop of that precious liquid; the box is also too heavy on its own, making it hard to tell how much of the liquid is actually left (without taking it out and looking manually). Working in its favor, though, is that this product packs a whopping 150mg of caffeine per ounce, and it feels like it, kicking in quickly and with no noticeable “crash”, considering it's also sugar free. I also like the added convenience of not having to go to the store to buy individual energy shot bottles every week.

PRO TIP: Order these from eBay, where they are already cheaper to begin with ($27.99 instead of $29.99) and have Best Offer accepted, allowing you to knock that price down even more. (NOTE that the "Best Offer" tip only applies to the cherry and tangerine flavors; since apple is the newest flavor, it is exempt from offers, but the $27.99 price tag still applies.)




Tuesday, May 7, 2019

e-Circuit Vent Mount Auto Cell Phone Holder (Dollar Tree)

Up to you to decide if the frustrations are negated by the $1 price point.
A few Special Buy cycles back at Aldi, I grabbed an Auto XS Cell Phone Holder for my wife's Jeep (see review above). I initially wanted to buy one for myself, as well, but by the time they marked them down to a price I was willing to pay (which, ironically, was just $2 less than retail price), there were only a couple remaining. I wanted one, but was a little hesitant about the quality; after taking it home and seeing how easy it was to install (just set on the windshield, and push down on the base to lock the suction/adhesive into place), I got a little jealous and regretful that I didn't grab one for myself while I was there. A couple days later, after seeing its smooth operation, I decided to go grab it.

Of course, Aldi had sold out of their last one by the time I had made my commitment, and so I searched for one at the cheapest place I could think of: Dollar Tree. According to their website, they carried a version that attaches to car vents, rather than the front window/dashboard. I much prefer the window/dash idea, because they feel sturdier to me and hold into place better (when they work), and don't block a necessary item for comfort on very hot/cold day. However, after seeing how much window and dash mounts were at other local places—and seeing how much even the vent clips were elsewhere—I decided to give it a go. After all, my comfort was just a small sacrifice to make for added safety while driving.

As expected, installation is easy: Just clip it to your car vent. I'm no rocket scientist, but it took me all of three seconds to figure that out. From there, just stretch the spring-loaded holder open wide enough to fit your cell phone, and voila, you're ready to use your phone, hands free. It really does make such a huge difference when using the GPS, and makes it much easier to pull up a quick song on the fly.

Now, obviously this is not going to be as sturdy or as solid as a more expensive holder, and I have to admit that I still much prefer the suctioned ones to these. Dollar Tree's holds the phone in place just fine, but has the propensity to easily pop off the vent if you're quickly trying to remove the phone one-handed, and can also slide around the vent if you don't place it just right. Hearing the tension in the springs as you slide open the holder is also a sobering reminder that it's probably going to snap at some point, and that point will probably be in the near future. That being said, I have to say that the tension doesn't feel shaky or weak, and the device itself feels fairly sturdy—well, as sturdy as a $1 piece of plastic can.

The only downside is the longevity factor: As can be expected, these things wear down pretty quickly, making them a better option for temporary situations. And when they do inevitably start to fail, it can be a very anger-inducing process: First, the rubber grips will fall off, leading to many frustrating “tear apart the car to find the little piece” moments. Then, the clip will start to weaken, something that will slowly build up to that inevitable moment when it can no longer hold its grip on the vent and slides off while you're driving. I'm not going to lie: I had a love/hate relationship with this product, but the final few weeks were filled with little more than intense hatred and seething rage, as something always seemed to be going wrong. (Ironically, it never had anything to do with the springs, which is the part I was worried about the most. Those held up pretty well, though I'm sure had it lasted longer, those eventually would have joined in on the “fall-apart fun”, too.)

Finally, I got so pissed at always having to fiddle with it that I just threw it away and decided to go without a mount at all. Looking back, I definitely can't say I have fond memories, but considering it lasted around six months, and all for just a dollar, I have to say the trade-off is both expected, and somewhat worth it, at least from a financial standpoint.

Overall: 5.5/10. At a dollar, this has to be the cheapest car mount possible, so just the fact it worked at all should be cause for celebration—that it lasted about six months should make it a “must-buy”. However, that designation is reserved for things that don't make my blood boil, something this did daily toward the end of its run: First, the rubber holders responsible for holding the phone snug would constantly fall off, leading to frantic searches throughout the car so I could put them back on. Then, the clips themselves weakened, leading to the possibility (and then the reality) of the holder just falling out of the vent during sharp turns or sudden stops. When it did work—which it did for about the first four or so months—it worked well, but be forewarned that this should definitely be regarded as a temporary solution.

Auto XS Cell Phone Windshield/Dash Universal Car Mount (Aldi)

Eh...makes a decent temporary solution.
NOTE: My wife owned this product in the past, and I just bought one for myself, so this review will be a combination of both experiences.

Car mounts are, in my opinion, quickly becoming a “must-have” item these days: With everyone seemingly unable to put down their phones for more than two seconds, it’s becoming more and more commonplace to see drivers swerving across four lanes on the freeway because they’re texting while driving, putting themselves (which is fine), as well as everyone else (which is not) in danger. I have to admit I’ve been guilty of it, too: not texting, but using GPS without a mount has required me to look down at the phone to check the navigation at some points. It’s only for a fraction of a second, but sometimes that’s all it takes, and that’s why I decided I was going to pick one up.

It should go without saying that I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a car mount, and the $7 asking price for this one seemed a little high. I mean, what is it besides plastic and a suction cup, two of the cheapest things to manufacture? (Upon researching, I now know that it's actually much cheaper than most suction mounts, and I am a fool for complaining.) Once our local Aldi dropped the price down to $5 a little over a year ago, I decided to pounce on one for my wife, who had been wanting one for a while; meanwhile, I went the vent mount route, finding one at Dollar Tree for the titular price.

After that one annoyed the hell out of me and crapped out a few months later, I finally decided to revisit Aldi's mount during a recent automotive Special Buy cycle, purchasing one for the retail asking price of $7. What a deal, I suppose! But if I got the same level of performance out of it that my wife did, that would come down to about $1/month...at the very least, I figured I'd have a six-month solution.

A rare image of the product actually working.
There are no instructions in or on the box, which makes putting it together a somewhat frustrating experience at first, although since there are only three pieces, you’ll inevitably figure it out. It looks and feels like a quality device: even though it’s made of plastic, it’s a tough plastic that feels like you could run it over without damaging it (although I wouldn’t actually do that to test it).

We ran into problems instantly, though it wasn’t the fault of the product itself: My car’s windshield slants at such an angle that it was impossible to mount it onto the window itself, as I was hoping to do. I wanted it to be within my right hand's reach, but the only way that would work would be to mount it directly in the middle of the windshield, something that's probably illegal at best and incredibly stupid at worst. Instead, I was going to have to mount it to the dash, no matter how impractical I thought that was: glass is generally way more adhesive-friendly than an oddly-textured dashboard, but I had no other options. I cleaned off the dash with a couple disinfectant wipes, let it set for a bit, and gave it a go. Much to my surprise, it easily stuck to the dash, though of course the key will be to see how long it manages to stay there.*

Once set, using it is simple: slide the hinges open, put in your cell phone, and then let go. The two “arms” will close until they hit your phone, and then secure it in with the rubberized pads on the side. These pads provide excellent grip, and the phone never feels like it’s going to slip out, which goes a long way toward giving you peace-of-mind. The adhesive base feels secure, and I never notice it wobbling at all, even as I'm putting the phone in and taking it out. It definitely feels quality, though time will be the true test.

*And it was around the two week mark that it just randomly fell off. As I said before, the dash is always—at least, in my opinion—a less than ideal place to have to set one of these up, especially since mine has a rough texture. But regardless of that, I was definitely expecting to get more than TWO WEEKS out of the $7 product. Even more frustrating: It was installed during spring, so it’s not like extreme heat or cold played a factor. I think we might have had one seventy degree day around the time it fell off, but if only one warm day gave it troubles, there is no possible way it would have made it through summer. Supposedly, the suction can be restored to “like new” condition by running it under warm water and air drying—I’m pretty skeptical about that, especially if the end result is just another one-to-two weeks of use before it loses its adhesive ability again, but I might give it a shot just to say I tried. Looks like it's back to Dollar Tree vent mounts for me, at least until I can find something more reliable.

Overall: 2/10. Terrible product, which I hate to say because the actual mount itself is sturdy and seems very well-made (it is plastic, but it’s a hard plastic and it’s under $10, so that should be expected). However, it’s the suction that gives out way too easily, crapping out after being installed on my dash, in spring weather, for just two short weeks. (I would have much rather installed it on the window, but mine is at such a slant that I’d either have to put it smack dab in the middle of the window, or at the top of the window to my left, basically next to my head. Since neither of those were preferable, that left the dash as pretty much the only option.)

For what it’s worth, my wife mounted one of these on her car's window that lasted about six months before falling off from “natural causes”, which is certainly better, though in the long run, just as temporary. I guess I’ll go back to using a vent mount, at least until I can figure out a better, more permanent solution that will work with my car. Nowhere near recommended.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Great Deal on Crest 3D White Radiant Mint (2.5 oz. Tubes) at Dollar Tree!

FUN FACT: This photo was taken on a toilet seat.
This isn't a review, nor a paid advertisement, nor is it something that I'm going to start doing with any type of regularity—there are plenty of other “deals” sites with large, active networks that can spot deals far quicker and more consistently than I can—but hey, sometimes you stumble on a great deal and want to help other people find it, too!

Crest 3-D White Anticavity Toothpaste is, honestly, a fantastic toothpaste, but I usually don't use it, because it's also pretty expensive (I tend to stick with Aim, because I love the flavor, or whatever else is on sale at the supermarket). We ended up trying it once because my wife got a trial size tube as part of a dentist's “welcome package”, or whatever, and it's what I've always wanted from a toothpaste: it leaves your mouth feeling fresh and clean for hours. And that's not just one of those “legal lies” of marketing (how is it legal for companies to sprout unfounded hyperbole about their products?): it really does. In fact, it's sometimes alarming how long it seems to last.

Well, on my last trip to Dollar Tree, all I knew was that we needed toothpaste, and I selected a tube of this with little research or hesitation—I just wanted to get home. It wasn't until I did that I noticed I paid $1 for a 2.5 oz. tube, which seemed like a pretty good deal. Unaware of the size and price of a typical size tube, I went to the local supermarket to do a little price check (and a little shopping), and found that the standard size is a mere 1 oz. more (3.5 oz), yet the retail price was $2.99 (it wasn't on sale).

Moral of the story? You can buy 3 tubes at Dollar Tree for the same price as one from the supermarket, yet get over twice as much toothpaste! That's actually a really outstanding deal, especially on a name-brand necessity. I'm not sure if this is a limited time “Bonus Buy!” (which I would assume it is), but if you like this toothpaste and have a Dollar Tree near you, head on over there to take advantage of it before it's potentially too late! If not, it's also available online, so you can have it shipped directly to you, though keep in mind you have to order by the case AND pay for shipping (double whammy)...might not be as great of a deal, but even with shipping, should be way cheaper than stocking up at the supermarket!


SimplyNature Kids Apple Sweet Potato and Blueberry Squeezable Pouch

A delicious product for kids and parents alike!
For some reason, I've been drawn more and more to kids products lately (it's either because we have one, or because I've always been predisposed to think like a child). Now, it's gotten to the point where I get excited seeing a new kind yogurt tube, or kids juice in the weekly Aldi ad. This “kid fever” has also spread to my wife, as we both tend to try all of the various juices and snacks that we give our son. It's a good way to know specifically what kind of flavors he likes, but mainly I just like stealing his stuff because most of it is sweet and delicious and tastes like innocence.

Enough about our oddities: we have a review to focus on. And today it's SimplyNature Kids' Apple, Sweet Potato, and Blueberry Squeezie, a kind of pulp-like smoothie that is marketed toward kids, but would also be a great option for older babies. It has almost the exact same consistency as applesauce, and each 3.2 oz. pouch contains a good amount of fruits and veggies inside. Best of all are the ingredients: apple, sweet potato, and blueberry purees are at the top (and all of those are organic), with the only other ingredients apple and lemon juices from concentrate, and ascorbic acid (vitamin C) “to maintain color”. Just like their ever-growing line of organic pouches, those are the only ingredients, making it a pretty healthy concoction to give to youngsters.

I figured that, like a lot of the spate of beverages that have started to combine fruit and vegetable juices, the focus would be on the apple, with the sweet potato and blueberry playing backup, or maybe even barely-noticeable supporting roles. This isn't the case: the apple is the top flavor, but the sweet potato is also distinctly noticeable. I hate sweet potatoes (probably the only vegetable I go out of my way to avoid eating), so I was kind of hoping for the reduced role, but I have to say that it pairs up very well with the apple. Also thanks to the potato, it provides a good counter-punch to the sweetness of the apple and blueberry purees, adding an intriguing flavor that at once feels out of place, yet entirely welcome. It takes a little bit of getting used to, but by the second pouch, I was all-in.

These, like a lot of organic products, are a little pricey, but they come in at under $3 for four pouches, so I didn't think it was all that bad. Granted, each pouch is only 3.2 oz., but I think it's a good amount for a small child's snack, or just a quick snack for a bigger child. I'm a known penny-pincher, but I have no qualms about spending this kind of money on something like this: It's got a totally different vibe and taste from the typical fruit juices, so it's perfect for those looking for something a little left-of-center, and the ingredients consist of nothing but the titular purees and some fruit juice (and a little vitamin C).

The flavor does get a little old the farther in you go, so there's no way I could get these very often, but considering they're special buys and not constantly available, that's not really a problem. In what is perhaps the biggest drawback, and the most baffling: the individual pouches do not have any flavor info on them. Each pouch just says “made the way nature intended” (SimplyNature's tagline), features the logo and a couple other things, and that's it. Granted, there are only two flavors of this product made that I know of (the other one being apple, spinach, and pear), so at worst you have a 50-50 shot of getting the right one, but if you take a bunch out on a trip, or put them out for a children's party, there's not much of a way to tell what's in them. Even if the other kind has a different-colored cap (which I would expect to be the case), there would still be some guessing and checking involved to see which variety you have. It's kind of weird to me that they didn't add the flavor variety anywhere on the pouch. (Or maybe we just got a mislabled batch.)

Other than those minor problems, though, this is an excellent snack for a reasonable price, given its organic origins. And don't let the kids-style packaging fool you...this is great for adults, too!

Overall: 8/10. This is a tasty little treat, that's like a juice and snack all in one! It has the consistency of applesauce, all in a squeezable pouch. I was expecting the apple and blueberry flavors to be the focal points, with sweetness being the name of the game, but the sweet potato is pretty much on par with the apple flavor, providing a unique contrast between sweet, by adding something a little savory. The blueberry is basically relegated to backup duty...I didn't really notice any distinct blueberry flavor, but it's no doubt part of the sweetness. I wasn't sure after the first couple sips what I thought of this, but I was all-in by the second, and would gladly get these again. Only six ingredients, and all organic purees are extra pluses, with a price under $3 add to the value. Ignore that this was marketed to kids...these are great snacks for on-the-go parents, or even childless adults, too!

SimplyNature Green Pea Crisps (Aldi)


The perfect snack for when "vomit" is the flavor you crave.
I like trying unique things, and things don't get much more unique than SimplyNature's Green Pea Crisps. In my mind, what could go wrong with taking the deliciously-natural flavor or green peas, and then dehydrating them into a crunchy, chip-like snack? As it turns out, a lot of things.

This is the kind of snack that will probably "appeal" to the rice cake crowd...and only the rice cake crowd. And by "appeal", I mean it's something they'll learn to force down despite getting nothing satiating out of it. For starters, its taste doesn't even resemble that of a pea or pea-pod, which is kind of ironic given that it was made from dehydrated green peas—it tastes kind of like bad-breath with a crunchy outer-layer. Seriously, the taste is very hard to describe...it's not sweet whatsoever, but it's also not bitter, yet it's simultaneously not identifiable with any vegetable I've ever had. It's just a near-noteless, unpleasant mass of bizarre flavors that never gel into a single cohesive flavor, but whose aftertaste will stick in the back of your throat for hours. In short, I've never had a single thing like it.

It's obvious that they're pretty gross, so certainly there's nothing to see here, right? Well, normally that would be true, but the trade-off to the rather disgusting flavor, which gives me bad PTSD just looking at the bag, is that they are very healthy, at least compared to most other crunchy snacks. For starters, we have 4.5g of fat per 1 oz. serving, which puts it a little ways ahead of potato chips in terms of fat per serving size. But dig a little further and you'll find some pleasantries: there's just 50mg of sodium (2%) per serving, meaning that even if you accidentally (against all odds) ingest the whole bag in one sitting, you've only absorbed 150mg (6%) of your daily sodium limit. There aren't too many snacks that are that low in salt.

Furthermore, there's a whopping 4g of dietary fiber (that may not sound like much, but it makes up 16% of the average Americans' daily needs) and 5g of protein PER 1 OZ. SERVING. So per bag, you can multiply each of those by three for the totals. And would you believe, in this world where everything has to be sweet, that there is NO sugar at all in the entire bag? It definitely tastes like it, but usually even the most bitter of things have at least some sugar hidden in there somewhere. Even more amazing: They are the only baked pea snack to receive an "A" grade on community-driven health site Fooducate, even besting the name brand by an entire letter grade.

In other words, it may not be all that delicious, but there's still a market for it: healthy eaters (or those on a diet), who just want something a little crunchy to make it feel like they're "cheating". And just as rice cakes have been allowed to exist for many years, pretty much solely to serve that niche market, so too, do these. Will I ever get them again? Hell no...at least, not for me. However, our two-year-old son tends to love any kind of crunchy snack and, even better yet, is too young to have fully-formed tastebuds or advanced opinions on flavors, making him another great type of victim for these.

So even though I despise these and would never personally recommend them to anyone based on my unmotivated lifestyle, SimplyNature's Green Pea Crisps certainly fit well into the current snack spectrum: it might taste like crap, but at least it provides some crunch and some rather strong health benefits, and that's something that can't be said about a lot of pre-made, factory-bagged snacks these days.

Overall: 4/10. Personally, I'm not a fan of these and will never get them again, even gagging at the mere thought of them several months later. But you know what? While the taste is certainly lacking, these are one of the healthier snacks that I've seen in Aldi stores, making them perfect for dieters, or those that are part of active, healthy lifestyles. Also solid: There's no sugar in them whatsoever, which is a rarity in snack foods. Even though they don't appeal to me, there's certainly a market for this type of snack, and if you think you fit the bill, then by all means give them a shot. Even if you don't like the taste, your body will still thank you afterwards. And if you really hate the taste, there's always Aldi's money-back guarantee...