Saturday, August 29, 2020

Vremi 15-Pc. Saucy Pots Multi-Color Nonstick Cookware Set (Various)

A pretty, surprisingly long-lasting set...just be forewarned these are small.
After being incredibly disappointed by a multi-piece cooking set we bought at Aldi around Christmastime several years back, we quickly found ourselves in the market for yet another one. We looked at Calphalon, Rachael Ray, and all the big name brands, but having just had our first (and only...knock on wood) baby in November of that year, we didn't have a lot of money to be throwing around for cookware that we probably wouldn't have a lot of time to use. And sure, those brands usually offer “entry level” sets, but judging from the reviews, they also use entry-level materials. Certainly there was an under-the-radar company offering up quality sets for a price suggesting a lack thereof, right?

Well after endlessly researching pots and pans for what felt like years, one set caught my eye. Amidst the sea of "boring" black or solid-colored pans stood a 15-piece set by a brand I had never heard of: Vremi. Kind of a cool name, probably a Chinese manufacturer, but reviews on the set were pretty solid, especially considering the price point: under $50*. For fifteen pieces. Sure, half of that number was made up of plastic utensils, but still, for that kind of price, I figured as long as the pans lasted a year, we would have time to save up for an even better set.

We ordered ours right before the New Year in 2017, and are just now starting to shop around for something to replace them—not because it's really all that necessary (although the non-stick coating is starting to wear away on a couple pieces), but just because we want to upgrade our set to something a little more...”roomy”.

Right off the bat, that's the biggest complaint I have about these: they are small. Like they were made for kids, or midgets, or something. If you're interested in this set and will be cooking for large groups of people, just stop reading right now and keep on looking: This is definitely more suited to a dorm room (or bachelor/bachelorette pad) than any sort of functioning family setting. In fact, the smallest pan is so small that it can barely handle boxed macaroni and cheese. I think the only reason we've made it this far before deciding to get something bigger is because she still has a few larger pans from a previous set, which she can turn to for more demanding recipes: otherwise, we admittedly would have been searching a long time ago.

However, as far as performance is concerned, these have exceeded expectations: Aside from the unavoidable “burn marks” on the bottom, most of these pans look pretty much like they did when we first bought them. A couple, like our most-used saucepan, do have some chips on the inside, presumably to the non-stick coating, but it still works like a charm, with no excessive smoke or other functional problems that can be a sign of worn-out pans. Perhaps rather surprisingly, none of the paint on the outside has been noticeably affected at all, either. I really thought that they would start to chip or ding after a few months, or even discolor after a few washes, but they are every bit as brightly-colored as the day we received them, and with nary a cosmetic flaw. Even the handles have held up well; a couple might have gotten a little looser than they initially were over the past 42 or so months, but none are so noticeably bad that we have to exercise extra caution when using them. This has been an issue we've faced with other sets.

One thing I will stress is that we mostly washed these by hand for the first couple years, especially after seeing how the dishwasher almost immediately eroded our last Aldi set (which, for the record, were clearly marked as “dishwasher safe”); that's probably the best advice you can follow when caring for non-stick cookware. The more expensive sets might be better equipped to handle the scalding heat a lot better, but many cheaper sets—even the ones marked as “dishwasher safe”, just to reiterate—will noticeably deteriorate over time, if not much sooner than that.

Thankfully, maintaining these without the use of the dishwasher is incredibly easy: all you need to do is gently wipe with a sponge and warm soap and water. For stuck-on messes, just soak the contents of the pan in hot water and soap until the mess loosens up, and then just give it a good wipe. And I'll even admit that we've gone through bouts of neglecting our dishes more than a couple times throughout the years, leading to disgusting messes that would probably make even an experienced police detective heave, and yet these things wipe off with a minimum amount of effort each time. It's really quite impressive, and yet another unsung benefit of non-stick coating—the “non-stick” part doesn't just apply to cooking!

Another thing worth mentioning is that my wife doesn't cook as much as she used to, so these pans certainly aren't getting daily use. That being said, she still fires up the stove at least a couple times a week, so they also aren't just sitting in a cupboard collecting dust; I'd say this review pertains to “moderate” use, over the span of three-and-a-half years, with results that could vary in either direction based on how often you plan to use the set. In fact, as impressed as I have been with how well they've held up, I still don't think I'd be all that comfortable using them in a “heavy duty” environment, where they're in constant use...if you know you'd be using them a lot, it's probably best to splurge on a more expensive, more durable set.

But for under $50*, I definitely can't complain with how well they've held up. And while it's definitely not the most “gourmet” set around, there's certainly a lot of solid bang for the buck here...assuming you won't be cooking for large groups of friends or family anytime soon, that is.

Overall: 7.5/10. We bought these at the tail end of 2016, looking to replace an Aldi set that crapped out almost immediately, and were hoping to get at least a year's worth of use out of them; by those requirements, this set has performed above and beyond, lasting three-and-a-half years of moderate use. In fact, the reason we're looking to replace them isn't due to performance, but rather size: these things are so dang small. Were it not for us having bigger pans from a previous set on hand for the larger or more rigorous recipes, we probably would have been shopping for a replacement a whole lot sooner. That being said, if you're single, don't cook much, live in a dorm, or just want an inexpensive backup set, (or hell, a realistic play set for a cooking-obsessed child), this should fit the bill, and at a great price. PRO TIP: Even though it's dishwasher safe, handwashing is the way to go and will elongate its lifespan even more: it helps to prevent breakdown of the non-stick coating, which the intense heat of the dishwasher can wear down over time.

*PRICING NOTE: When we bought this set in December, 2016, they were just under $50. Three-and-a-half years later, the price has only jumped up about $10, which is still a great deal. The multi-color set we purchased seems to be in dwindling supply, but a more standard black set is still widely available for under $60.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Supcase Beetle Phone Case for Huawei P30 Pro (Amazon.com)

The familiar two-piece design protects the phone from virtually all angles.
I gave an above-average-but-less-than-glowing review of my P20 Pro's Beetle Case. So why did I go ahead and get the same case for my upgraded phone? Two reasons: familiarity, and nervousness. For starters, I hate haggling with phone cases, and considering I had already installed (and uninstalled, for cleaning reasons) my P20 Pro case numerous times, I was certain I could install the P30 Pro's in record time. As for nervousness, I really wanted a clear case that would show off my cool “Breathing Crystal” finish (just as I had wanted to show off the P20 Pro's “Twilight”), but after reading several users having issues with tempered glass installations—thanks to the phone's curved-edge screens, and in-display fingerprint scanner, and especially in tandem with certain, unnamed phone cases—I just said forget it and stuck with what I knew. After all, protection comes first when you spend $600 on a new phone, with no warranty.

Just so that I could stand out a little bit more than with the boring “black” color case I got for my P20 Pro, I opted to suck up the extra $2 charge and get the blue version for this one. That decision was money well spent, because it certainly stands out; the medium-blue shade isn't one that I'd normally favor, but it strikes a good balance between light and dark while giving the phone a slightly more “modern” edge. I like it a lot.

Installation was easy once my dumb ass realized the reason my phone wasn't fitting into the Beetle Case at first was because I was trying to put it in with my Huawei-provided phone case already on it...duh. Once I took that off, it was so much easier to snap into the screen protecting portion (imagine that!). The rest went exactly as it did with my P20 Pro case, snapping into the back section with little fuss, and sealing up along the sides for a perfect fit.

Built like a tank, but also adds a lot
of bulk and weight.
The end result is a sleek, yet functional case, that would be an improvement on the looks of just about any standard, solid-colored phone finish. All of the functions (and complaints) are pretty much the same ones I had with my P20: namely, that the case does add quite a bit of bulk to what is a lightweight, smooth phone. The positive side to that, beyond the obviousness of added protection, is that the glass phone is really quite slippery right out of the box; the textured, rubber grips along the side of the phone make carrying it around much, much easier. Ditto that for car mounts: while I'm sure the rubber grips of any car mount would be able to handle the phone even with the standard case provided by Huawei, the rubber-on-rubber combination here just makes it feel all the more secure. It never slips even a fraction of an inch while I'm driving—and this is with one of those cheap Dollar Tree vent clips that I thought I'd sworn off years ago.

Just like all of the other Beetle cases, there is also a little "button" on the bottom that you can use to close off the charging port when it's not in use. This is a useful little tool, because you would be surprised at all the dust that can accumulate within a relatively short amount of time; these can lead to charging and connection issues, something I learned from personal experience with a previous phone. I was a little worried that the little rubber "nub" would bend the charger after a little while - especially since bundled chargers are already cheap and prone to wear-and-tear after a short while -  but that was never an issue on the P20 Pro, and so far hasn't been an issue here.

It's only been about three months since I've installed it, so I can't vouch for its long-term usefulness quite yet (this review will be periodically updated to cover the lifetime of the product), but considering it's the exact same model of case I had for over a year with my last phone, I am fairly confident that it will last however long I need it to. However, I must confess I'm a little more nervous about how this one will handle drops compared to the last one. Especially since—once again thanks to the curved screen—the sides don't jut out as far to block the fall as they do on my P20 Pro, which had raised sides all the way around. Here, it's only the top and the bottom that “stick out” to block the impact of a fall from shattering the screen, while the sides pretty much just sit flush against it.

I know, I know, these cases have months and months of testing behind them before they are released, and considering I bought this phone a year even farther out from that, that means there's been enough time for anyone to find any sort of terrible flaw in its design. Considering I read no reviews that mention any glaring flaws beforehand, I don't expect there to be any sort of issues; with my luck, I'll probably be the "lucky loser" that just happens to drop it at just the right angle to shatter it. Needless to say, I'm still a little more overprotective of this one than my P20 Pro, and will be nervous for a little while until it has a chance to "prove" itself.

Another long-term concern is seeing just how "gross" this one gets: After a year with the P20 Pro case, it seemed that fingerprints and grime accumulated on the screen protector ten times quicker than they did initially, and it seemed I was taking apart the dang thing every other week to clean off dead skin, or to dry off the inside from water seepage, or for some other cleanliness-related reason. Thankfully, the lack of a home button on the P30 Pro means that's one fewer cutout to the screen protector on the bottom of the phone, which is where I tended to have issues. There is a single, weird, seemingly random square cutout to the top of the phone screen, which I learned is curiously a "pull-down" location to access the options menu (which can also be accessed by pulling down in front of the camera). Water has gotten in here a couple times from me changing songs while in the shower, or standing out in a light rain, or taking it in the pool, but having one small square to deal with definitely cuts back on the amount of water that can get in, and so it's less of an issue when it does happen.

In the end, only time will tell how long it lasts and how well it protects, but it has certainly matched my expectations here in the early going.

Overall: 7/10. So far, so good, although it's only been about three months, and I haven't had any scary concrete drops to really “test” it out. This one looks a lot sleeker than my previous all-black case, making a slightly cooler statement (while, unfortunately, still hiding the even cooler finish on my actual phone) that still promises to deliver in the protection department. The included screen protector is just a thin film of plastic, and doesn't serve anywhere near the level of protection that tempered glass does, but still wards off light scratches and other minor screen damage, and is therefore better than nothing. Meanwhile, the $22 price tag is pretty reasonable, but note that all this comes at the cost of added thickness and weight. If you want a no-hassle way to guard your phone, this is a good product to start with.

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Meijer Honey Nut Toasted Oats (Meijer)

Ignore the dollar store packaging...this stuff is good.
My wife used Meijer's curbside pickup for the first time ever, to help cut some time off of her usual grocery trips—and that's how I ended up with a box of Meijer's Honey Nut Toasted Oats, which I probably wouldn't have even looked at twice had I seen it for myself: this is some of the worst “mainstream” private label packaging I've ever seen. It looks like something you would get at Dollar Tree, instead of a reputable supermarket chain. (Maybe it's just me, but that red, cursive-style font is just atrocious, and takes the otherwise decent design down a few pegs.)

Well, if nothing else, this cautionary tale serves as a perfect example of “never judge a book by its cover”, because this is probably the best store brand “O's” knockoff I've ever had. The “honey” and “nut” balance of flavors is well-defined here, with a solid dose of both that really make the flavors sing. Honestly, I've never had a bad version of this cereal (outside of Dollar Tree, anyway), but this one tastes the closest to how I remember the national brand tasting; others seem to shy away from the honey, but this one is proud to present it front and center, the way it should be. It doesn't come anywhere close to being overbearing, but it's stronger than some other ones I've tried, and that's definitely a good thing.

The “O's” themselves are, as expected, round and uniform, featuring what appears to be a light glaze on the outside. We've seen this before, and near as I can tell, it serves two functions: as a carrier for the flavor, as well as a “milk-resistant” layer, which prevents the cereal from becoming a sloppy pile of nothing within seconds of coming into contact with the milk. Of course, it does get weaker and weaker by the minute - again, as is expected - but most bites have at least a bit of “crunch” to them until you get to the bottom of the bowl, which matches the texture of other private labels we've tried.

About the only thing left to look at is value: the $1.79 asking price for a 12.25 oz. box (or $2.79 for a “family size” 21.6 oz box) aren't the greatest offers in the world, but there are still enough savings over the name brand price to justify the cost. That gives it some solid marks in the budget department, and means that it checks all the major boxes on the "budget food review" checklist, offering up a great product at a reasonable value.

Now if only they could do something about that heinous packaging...

Overall: 8/10. Dollar store style packaging notwithstanding, this might be the best “honey nut O's” cereal knockoff I've ever had: The cereal is nice and crispy out of the box, with a strong resistance to milk that prevents the “O's” from collapsing into a pile of mush for a few minutes after coming into contact with the cereal. Meanwhile, the honey flavor is stronger than most private label brands, and comes closest to my (admittedly old) memories of the national brand. The value isn't Earth-shattering, but it provides enough savings over buying “the real thing” to make it a strongly recommended alternative. Get it...you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

SNACK CRATE: M Gourmet Collection 100% Maple Syrup Leaf-Shaped Lollipop

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.


It tastes like it should, but...I just don't get the appeal.
Well this thing’s a little weird, mainly because the packaging doesn’t seem to be very forthcoming with information. So, wait, it’s just a 100% pure maple syrup sucker? Is that all this is? So it’s just going to taste like pancake syrup, but be in sucker form? Okay, whatever. Leave it to those adorable Canadians to come up with such a pointless idea!

Yep, just as I suspected, that is syrup, and this is a lollipop. And that’s pretty much it: there are no added flavors, or hidden secrets inside…just the taste of a(n admittedly good) maple syrup, attached to the top of a white stick. I mean, I get what it is, considering maple syrup is one of Canada’s biggest exports and popular items, but is there really that much of a demand for it to be in lollipop form? I guess so, considering this is something that’s apparently actually sold in a wide variety of places.

Whether or not you’re going to like this depends entirely on your fondness for maple syrup. Casual fan? Probably not. Someone who sneaks into the cupboard several times a day and eats it straight from the source? Then yeah, this will probably be worth it for you, with the added benefit of being in sucker form, so you can eliminate the potential mess that could arise from squirting it into your mouth.

For me, it just comes down to this: does this product better the world by existing? Actually, I guess that’s pretty strong criteria, considering just about any single product could be eliminated off store shelves and not leave a dent in the psyche of the world. But, at least to this selfish, narrow-minded American man, a lollipop consisting entirely of maple syrup just seems excessively pointless, and is something I would never be interested in getting again. I mean come on, I love me some honey, but I wouldn’t eat just a ball of honey on a stick. It's made to be drizzled on things or, if I really want it in raw form, eaten out of the little bear-shaped bottle.

At the very least, liven it up a little! Add some sprinkles or some nuts on it, or some shit…I think that’s its biggest offense: it’s just too unimaginative and plain for me to really take seriously.

ALTERNATE TAKE: My three-year-old son, much to my surprise, loves this thing. He ate almost the rest of the entire sucker (though it took three days for him to get that far). Now, granted, kids are attracted to anything on a stick, which is part of it, but he also has a really weird palate that is very similar to his mother’s, so it somehow also makes complete sense.

Overall: 5/10. I get it: maple syrup is one of Canada’s biggest products, but I’m still unable to see the full appeal of a sucker molded in the shape of a maple leaf, and tasting like maple syrup. Is it good? I mean, yeah, I suppose it’s pretty good maple syrup, but is that really something people eat on its own, without pancakes or something else to drizzle it on? I guess if you tend to eat a lot of syrup straight from the container, and wish there was an easier, more convenient, and less messy way to get your daily fill, then this will fit the bill. For everyone else, it’s just a weird curiosity without much merit.

UNLESS you’re my three-year-old son, who absolutely loved this thing. Granted, maple syrup is a relatively new flavor to him, and it’s on a stick, which alone can almost guarantee any child will love it, but I guess that still proves that there's someone out there for every product.

Monday, August 24, 2020

SNACK CRATE CANADA: Old Dutch Ketchup Potato Chips

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.


These aren't for me, but I can kind of see the appeal.
I feel like ketchup chips are one of those sought-after items that people clamor for, yet I am out of the loop on. I like ketchup, and I like chips, but the thought of blending the both of them is just absolutely disgusting to me. My wife, on the other hand, is firmly on the ketchup chip bandwagon: she loves ketchup, and doesn't typically like chips. Hmm...it will be interesting to see what she thinks of these.

Anyway, after cracking open the bag, you're met with the scent of...ketchup mixed with chips. I have to say that it's quite disgusting, and further reason that I can't see the appeal in such a combination. However, I guess now that I think about it I'm not really a fan of ketchup smells in general, so I guess that's not really too much of a knock against it, at this point.

The chips themselves are uniformly flat and ultra-thin potato chips, with a generous helping of red seasoning that recalls many barbecue chips. They actually look pretty good; it's the first evidence I've seen hinting at the idea that these might not be half as bad as every other trait seems to insinuate they will be.

With a slight bit of hesitation, I dig in and...mmm, they aren't half-bad. I still don't quite get the full appeal of them, but they are definitely edible, which is a good thing. Wait...actually I feel like the flavor profile has changed somewhat. The first two or so chips I tried, I got a pretty strong tomato flavor, but as someone not sold on the idea of putting ketchup on a chip, it more reminded me of a barbecue chip without the added smoky taste. It's like something was missing. However, digging a little deeper into the bag, I get a strong hint of vinegar combining with the tomato to create something that also doesn't appeal to me whatsoever; it's like salt and vinegar chips, but with tomato flavor added. They are edible, though, and they're definitely different—I would have no problems eating a few if I were in some weird situation where I had to, or where they were the only chip available.

As “undecided” as I am on the flavor, one area that does impress me is the texture: I usually prefer wavy chips, but these super-thin and extra-crunchy chips are uniformly excellent, offering up a nice crunch that approaches kettle cooked. Put almost any other flavor on them, and I'd probably be chomping at the bit to finish them off; I'll definitely have to keep my eyes out for other Old Dutch varieties here in the U.S.

RATING: 5/10. These aren't my cup of tea, but after a few bites I can kind of see why other people are crazy about them: a tomato powder base combines with vinegar to create a kind of tomato-y salt and vinegar style chip. As much as the flavor failed to impress me, however, there's one area where these are phenomenal: texture. The ultra-thin chips provide a crunch reminiscent of kettle chips, but without the excessive teeth-breaking pressure of those; I'd gladly seek out other varieties of Old Dutch chips because of this, only you know, in better flavors.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Supcase Beetle Case for Huawei P20 Pro (Amazon.com)

One of the few "all-in-one" two-piece sets for 360-degree phone coverage.
I had my Huawei P20 Pro phone for only about a week before I ended up putting it away in my pocket, forgetting I also had a set of keys in there...and that's how I ended up figuring out that my phone did not come with a pre-installed screen protector. Needless to say, I was panicking, and wanted to figure out an ideal, all-in-one way to protect my screen without blocking the cool “twilight” color scheme on the phone's back.

Long story short, I discovered that was pretty much impossible. How in the hell hasn't a company come up with a way to blend a clear back with a built-in screen protector? I mean, when you pay half-a-thousand dollars for a brand new phone, you kind of want to show it off. But after trying in vein for what felt like hours (because it probably was) to find a practical solution, I finally realized that—since it came down to it—I would much rather sacrifice beauty for protection. And that's why I settled on the Beetle Case from Supcase, which retailed for around $20.

This feels like a hard plastic shell
and is built like a tank. Unfortunately,
it also blocks the beauty of the phone.
As its weird title alludes to, this is essentially a 360-degree protective shell, consisting of a back piece made of rugged thermoplastic polyurethane, and a front with raised edges to protect against spills, along with a thin layer of clear film that functions as a screen protector, guarding against nicks and slight cuts. It seems to be a pretty practical solution, right? Well I've had this setup for over a year, and now it's time to spill the beans on what kind of long-term support you can expect from this case.

Installation was actually kind of difficult the first time for me, but between the instructions, and taking it apart and putting it back together at least a dozen times since then, I've got it down pat. Basically, you put the screen part of the phone on first, which is as simple as snapping it into place, and then you slide the whole thing, bottom first, into the back part of the case. Just be sure to push the sides in to form a solid seal. Once it's on, everything should work as it normally does: since this is a “custom made” case for this particular phone model, there are cutouts in the screen for the selfie camera, as well as the “home” button. There are also perfectly-placed rubber “buttons” that fit directly over the volume and power buttons off to the side of the phone, which allow for typical functionality. The charger can be accessed by pulling down on a “tab” that fits snug inside when not in use, to prevent dirt and other debris from getting in. It's a pretty well-designed case overall...well, for the most part.

I'm about 6'1” and have dropped my phone more times than I can count, on a variety of different surfaces, and it's gotten to the point where I don't even break a sweat anymore; this thing is built like a tank. If it can take repeated five foot drops onto concrete, chances are it will take anything your clumsy ass can throw at it. Of course, it's not completely destruction proof: a drop at the wrong angle that connects with only the screen could make short work of the weak plastic “film” protecting the screen, and will more than likely shatter the screen underneath. Deeper cuts can also work their way through the protector, and end up in the actual phone glass. But these are pretty fluky scenarios...as long as you're not putting knives in the same pocket as your phone, this will have you covered in almost all instances.

While I consider the size and weight of the case to ultimately be a downside (see below), the rubberized grips make handling the phone much easier than it is to hold out of the box. And while the polyurethane backing blocks the phone's beautiful aesthetic (something I will continue to harp on because it makes me bitter), it does prevent any fingerprints from accumulating on the phone's (gorgeous) glass back, which has the unfortunate downside of drawing fingerprints like they're going out of style.

I always forget about the "kickstand" in the back, but it's great for selfie artists, or family photos.
One other “hidden” benefit that I always forget about is the little “kickstand” located on the back of the case, which can be pulled out with a fingernail (or a coin); it gives you the ability to stand the phone up no matter how it's oriented, making setting up shots on the fly without a tripod (or taking selfies with the rear camera) a breeze. There are certainly a world of pluses to having a case like this on hand.

Aaaah, but there are downsides. There are always downsides.

My biggest pet peeve concerns that all-important screen protector: if your screen gets wet around the “home” key or selfie-cam cutout, water seeps underneath the protective film and gets on the actual glass. Now, this isn't an urgent matter that's going to completely destroy your phone—after all, the P20 Pro's IP rating of IP67 allows for submersion up to 3 metres for up to 30 minutes—but it does lead to performance issues, as anywhere that the water spreads to potentially renders the touchscreen useless. Maybe “useless” is an exaggeration in most cases, but it certainly requires you to press harder to get any sort of reaction, and, depending on the severity of the water seepage, might not even work properly at all.

The fix is pretty simple, and is one of the reasons I've gotten adept at taking it apart and re-building it over and over: you have to take apart the case, dry off the protective film and screen, and then put it back on. Again, it's not hard, but it's also not practical, especially if you're at a party or somewhere else in public where you spill a beverage all over yourself and your phone.

The screen protector attracts dust
and fingerprints like a magnet.
The protective film also attracts fingerprints and grime like nobody's business; it seems like every day my vision is somewhat clouded from some sort of gunk that has somehow accumulated on the screen. Maybe that one's just me, but I seem to have to spend a few minutes every week wiping it off just to be able to see things clearly. There are also sections along the sides and corners, where the adhesive connects the protective screen to the plastic protection frame, where dead skin just collects, with no way to get to it because it's stuck in the adhesive. Now, keep in mind this is on the underside of the phone, so no one is going to see it during your normal usage of the phone, but I have to say it's kind of gross just to know it's there. Or maybe I'm just gross and don't wipe enough dead skin off.

Speaking of the film: there are small dots all throughout it, which you can clearly see when you're applying it. Thankfully, 90% of the time, those go unnoticed in real-world situations, but especially in super-bright days and at the wrong angle, that's about all you can see. It's even more annoying considering the P20 Pro already sucks in direct sun glare—I'd imagine this film makes that problem even worse.

As can probably be expected, the thick case also adds quite a bit of weight and depth to the package, which goes counterpoint to the way these phones are often manufactured to be as thin and lightweight as possible. It doesn't become unwieldy, or anything, but the added weight is definitely noticeable, and doesn't feel nearly as expensive, or exciting to hold, as the phone on its own.

But the most egregious disadvantage this case has, which I've already alluded to numerous times, is that it blocks the gorgeous design of the phone which is meant to stand out in a sea of lame-colored competitors (actually, now many other manufacturers are taking to the “glossy”, “gradient” style designs kickstarted by this series in particular). It's unfortunate that I either have to choose to “show off” my phone, or protect it, when there should be a variety of ways to do both (that don't involve re-applying tempered glass every couple of months), but there aren't and that's just the way it is.

Overall: 6.5/10. It's really not an ideal case overall, but as one of the few all-in-one front-and-back phone protection solutions, it does its job, though with a few minor headaches along the way. Its defense against falls is excellent—I've dropped this thing probably a hundred times on a variety of surfaces, and it's gotten to the point where I no longer even bat an eye when it happens, because I know the case will take the brunt of the impact. The included screen protector—while nowhere near as resilient as tempered glass—still does a good job of preventing light nicks and cuts from damaging the actual screen part of your phone. However, there are also pesky annoyances, like the cutouts around the “home” button and camera, which allow water to seep through to the screen when the front gets wet. While these won't damage the phone itself (it has an IP67 rating, meaning it can be submerged under 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes), it does cause sensitivity and performance issues to any location where the water has spread, and requires you to either wait for it to dry, work around it, or take it apart to dry it off in order to quickly resume normal operation. It adds bulk and completely covers up the phone's gorgeous looks, too, which has prevented the phone from getting the attention it so desperately craves. Despite these flaws, though, it has no doubt prevented at least a couple hundred dollars worth of potential damage - a crucial statistic considering Huawei phones are not covered under any sort of warranty in the U.S. - and that more than makes up for at least some of its shortcomings. And for just $20? Well, that's a pretty solid value any way you look at it.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

SNACK CRATE CANADA: Maynards Fuzzy Peach Candy

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.


Expecting the taste of peach rings? Think again!

Just taking a quick glance at this package, I thought I had this one all figured out. I mean, how could it be that substantially different than “peach rings”, that American candy that you see all the time in bulk wholesale candy vats, but never actually see anyone ever eat or hear anyone talk about. It shouldn’t come as a shock that I like the intensely fake peach flavor of those, and, despite the different appearance of these, buckled myself in for a similar experience.

The main difference comes at you right off the bat: these certainly ain’t rings. Instead, they look like malformed peaches…actually, the more I look at them, they look like lemons. A peach candy that looks like a lemon. Even the peaches on the front packaging look terribly disfigured…I don’t understand why they couldn’t just make it look more peachlike. Even the candy itself looks lemony, with a kind of yellow-orange exterior, and a pretty neat reddish-orange interior. The pieces appear soft, and it’s all covered in sugar, one of the major similarities it does share with its American cousin. Would the tastes be similar?

Whoa, not quite! This is a pleasant surprise. It still packs in an intensely artificial peach flavor that’s somewhat similar to the ringed version, but there’s also an almost…delayed release of peach that comes out all at once. It’s almost like the juicy bursts…and now the coloring is making more sense: that reddish-orange interior that I liked is the liquid center, which carries most of the flavoring. Maynard’s seems to like utilizing the liquid center flavor delivery system because both candies I’ve tried from them have done this.

I wasn’t sure how I felt at first, but the more I eat these the more I think I prefer them to the “American” peach rings. The flavor here is just a tad bit more believable, and also comes rushing into your mouth all at once, thanks to a burst of flavor located in the center. The texture is also a little bit softer, making them a more pleasurable experience than peach rings, which can be a little hard and overly aggressive (especially when they’re a little old, but not quite stale). I'd compare them to gummy worms, in terms of consistency, with a nice soft initial bite leading to a relatively pleasant chewing experience.

They're nothing mind-blowing, or all that different, but these are a tasty alternative to peach rings that I would definitely try again.

Overall: 7/10. I like the “American” peach rings, and expected Maynard’s to deliver something similar, but I’ll be damned if those Canadians didn’t have a few tricks up their sleeves! This one utilizes a liquid center to deliver a nice rush of (artificial) peach flavor that hits your tastebuds all at once, delivering a tasty burst of flavor. They also have a softer texture than the rings, and are smaller, making them much easier to chew and swallow, which makes them more “enjoyable” overall.

Friday, August 21, 2020

SNACK CRATE CANADA: Humpty Dumpty BBQ Ringolos

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.


These are weird, but different enough to be intriguing.
What in the hell are these? A lot of the products in the box have been least similar to things that we have in the U.S., but Humpty Dumpty's BBQ Ringolos are slightly more weird and different: they're just barbecue-flavored, circular-shaped potato snacks. The rings are much smaller than, say, the "fun onion rings" line of snacks here in the U.S., in that they can fit on the fingers of a smaller child (although they were even too small to fit on my pinkie). Even though they're also pretty thin, they are much “tougher” than the onion-shaped snacks which, to my knowledge at least, are about the only major brand of ring-shaped “chips” that us Americans have, leading to crunchy bites rather than the “crumble-in-your-mouth” texture of the onion rings.

This might just get my pick for the “diamond in the rough” treat of the entire box, because these are pretty darn good. The barbecue flavor is fairly standard, with a rather heavy dose of saltiness that will be familiar to American tastebuds, while the weird, novelty shape is different enough to inject a little bit of “fun” (in marketing-speak) into snacktime. But adding to the experience is the “chew texture”, which reminds me a little bit of the grainy “lightness” of something like Munchos—again, an either “love it or hate it” trait that all comes down to personal preference, and that I happen to like. It's not as light as that weird greasy chip is, but it's also not as crunchy (or greasy) as a potato chip, striking an odd, but welcome, balance between the two.

Another neat thing: since the snacks are so small, each 50g bag (which translates to about 1 ¾ oz.) packs in quite a large quantity; I don't know how much they retail for, but if it's about the same as a typical potato chip bag in this size, I feel like you get more for your money here. I went on two decent-sized snack binges of these, and still have about a quarter-of-the-bag left.

Really, at the end of the day, it's more or less a novelty, but this is something that I'm kind of surprised hasn't made its way to our borders yet. Its appearance is unique enough to potentially stand out from the ever-growing number of options in the snack aisle, and packs in a taste that wouldn't even have to be adapted to “fit” American tastebuds. (Although, in all honesty, even if it did, I'm still not sure I'd buy them all that often, if at all; I guess we do kind of have too many options already).

Flavorwise, they're very familiar, but good, which are usually the two main traits most people are looking for in a snack.

RATING: 7/10. These are pretty good. The barbecue flavor is standard, and will be familiar to American tastebuds, while the ring shape is different from most American ring-shaped snacks; they are much smaller and crunchier, with a semi-grainy potato texture that somewhat reminds me of Muncho's. They're nothing outstanding, but their shape is unique (translation: "fun" in marketing speak) enough to help them stand out somewhat in a crowded salty-snack market.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Benton's Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies (Aldi)

Okay cookies, but the cute packaging gets high marks.
Well, it looks like it’s time to raid our three-year-old’s snack stash again! I’m usually pretty fair, waiting at least a couple weeks and targeting snacks that he has clearly forgotten about before stooping this low; this time, I targeted these right after grocery day. Hey, that's one of the perks of being a parent!

I don’t usually care about packaging all that much, but I have to give some solid props to whoever designed the artwork on the box for these (along with the “alphabet cookies”, which are part of the same "line"): they stand out. The sea green-ish base color is eye-catching, and really pulls our eyes toward the product; I’m so used to certain styles of packaging and branding that it’s just gotten to the point that I’ve become accustomed to tuning almost everything out. This, though, almost forces me to look at it every time I walk by it, whether or not I want or need it.

Anyway, pleasantries aside, let’s crack open the package, shall we?

I was hoping these were going to be more on the chewy side…instead, they’re like the name brand pirate-themed cookies (“Ahoy, mateys!”) that are crunchy instead. I guess I should have known this based on the appearance of the cookies on the front of the packaging, which look very much like the name brand in question; admittedly, I just kind of saw what they were and grabbed a pack without much premeditation. One question though: who in the world likes crunchy cookies? Apparently the answer is millions, because these kinds of things seem to sell well, but I personally know not one single person who prefers crunchy cookies over soft ones, which is kind of disappointing right off the bat.

Anyhow, these look just like a typical cookie, with chocolate chips jutting out from the basic cookie base. Just like the national brand that I’m assuming these are a knockoff of, these are very messy, with little cookie crumbs falling all over the place the moment you open the package, clinging to full-sized pieces, and a little pile of them lying in wait in the bottom of the bag, sprinkling the table and floor at the slightest tip. These are issues that virtually fix themselves in soft cookies, giving you one less thing to worry about, but what do I know?

The taste, once again, is just like the national brand, with a pretty good cookie foundation that reminds me of shortbread, but definitely doesn’t taste like it. Instead, it’s a sweet flavor all its own that you’ll immediately be familiar with if you’ve had the “Ahoy!” cookies in the past. Meanwhile, the chocolate chips peek through, offering up an additional dose of sugary sweetness on top of the cookie itself. Also, even though they are crunchy cookies, they are at least pretty “soft” in that the pieces crumble away easily when you’re chewing; they aren’t hard like burnt cookies that threaten to break your teeth every time you take a bite.

Thankfully, the flavor is there to make up (somewhat) for the crunchy texture of the cookie. Now we’ve got just one thing left to look at: value. How does this stack up against the competition? The answer: fairly well. A 12-count box of these cookies goes for $3.15 in my area; a similar product at Walmart goes for $2.98. So while it might not be the cost leader overall, we’re talking a difference of less than a quarter here, which is forgivable. (The national brand, meanwhile, is pushing close to $5 for the same thing, so either one is still a good deal versus that.)

Overall: 5.5/10. I know it’s part of the national brand’s “image”, or whatever, but these would be loads better if they were chewy, instead of crunchy. Still, the shortbread-style foundation blends well with the chocolate chip cookies to form a pretty decent combination that should be familiar to many who grew up with the “Ahoy!” brand of cookie. Value is also pretty good, with a 12-count box (each individual pack is 1 oz.) going for $3.15, which is about $1.50 less than the national brand. They’re nothing special and, like the brand they're emulating, they aren't a great cookie, but they can fill a small craving for sweets, and are perfectly packaged to take with you on the go (or, as their packaging suggests, for kids). If we end up getting them for our son again, I’d steal another pack or two, but they aren’t so good that I’d never need to buy a box for myself for any reason.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

SNACK CRATE CANADA: Mackintosh's Creamy Toffee (Guest Review!)

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.

I swear I took my own picture of this, but alas, here's a stock photo because I apparently didn't.
Here's a little something that's not really at all in my wheelhouse, but let's have a go of it anyway, shall we? After all, it's there.

When I think of toffee, I always think of a “Heath” or “Skor” bar, with the hardened toffee providing ample crunch. I've also seen it offered in markets, usually done up with nuts or other “toppings”. I don't know if it's just a cultural variant or what, but McKenzie's is just a thin, plain “slab” of the stuff, with no other flavors or toppings whatsoever.

My wife would probably actually be a better person to review this, as she likes toffee more than I do, and she's the one that ate virtually the entire thing, leaving me just one small piece just to sample. The texture of this “bar” is more akin to taffy, with the package containing a thin, rectangular, caramel-colored rectangle of the stuff. For starters, this shit is hard as a rock right out of the packaging—she actually found that sitting on it for a few minutes helped soften it up to improve the experience. It was still pretty hard, but not so bad that every bite threatened to snap her teeth into small pieces.

Also similar to taffy, the pieces are incredibly chewy; I would imagine it would be much more preferable to suck on it for a while to loosen it up a bit more before you go crazy chomping it down. That's what I did, which allowed the flavor to seep out; even the small piece I was allotted lasted for a good two or three minutes before I even felt like it was okay to start chewing. Again, this isn't a texture I'm particularly fond of, and I certainly wasn't crazy about it here, either, although my taffy-loving wife enjoyed it a lot, likening the flavor to “what caramel should be”, instead of the soft, stringy kind found in most candy bars.

Personally, I found it to be pretty standard for this type of thing, with a taste that's strongly reminiscent of Werther's Original, or a similar candy you might find in a nursing home lobby (indeed, the creation process for butterscotch, caramel, and toffee are all pretty similar, which would explain the similar taste between all three). My wife, on the other hand, loved its creaminess, rich flavor, and chewy texture, downing almost the entire bar before I even knew she had opened it (which, in the interest of full disclosure, took me about three days to notice). So in other words, if you prefer this kind of “toffee” (which my wife considers to be closer to a “caramel” than the typical definition of “toffee”) to the crunchier English or American versions, you'll more than likely find as much here to like as my wife did.

Note that I'm omitting my own score due to my complete indifference to the overall product itself.

WIFE'S RATING: 7.5/10. It's not something I care for, but my wife loved the creamy richness of the plain toffee slab. She noted it was too hard right out of the packaging, leading her to sit on it for a few minutes, which she found "loosened" it up enough to make it a tad bit softer and easier to chew. I thought the flavor was similar to butterscotch candies that you'd find in a nursing home lobby, but she liked it, and thought it was a good example of what she considers to be "real caramel" (indeed, the creation process for butterscotch, caramel, and toffee are all so similar that they seem to be almost interchangeable). I'm sitting this one out due to indifference, so you'll just have to take my wife's word for it...and she's usually right, especially when it comes to sweets.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

SNACK CRATE CANADA: Vachon Apple-Raspberry Super Passion Flakie

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.


Well doesn't this look like a dry, uninteresting "treat"?
One quick note: I love how bi-lingual Canadians are: having both English and French on every packaged good from there is actually pretty cool; I wonder how many people learned French (or vice-versa) just from reading labels, and basically having the translation right underneath it. (I know an increasing number of products in America have Spanish translations, but French is much cooler, no offense to the Spanish.)

Anyway, I gotta be honest here that this product kind of terrifies me. I do not have high hopes for it at all…if it’s anything like mass-produced American pastries, I have a feeling this is going to be too dry for its own good. But let's crack it open anyway to get a better idea of what we're dealing with.

Hmm…okay. The one thing that stands out to me based on appearance is how “sparkly” the exterior of the pastry is, thanks to a light dusting of sugar. This does give me a little bit of hope, though, because on top of being dry, I always equate these kind of “flaky” pastries with “dull” and “boring” in the flavor department. It might still be, but at least it should have a little bit of sweetness to it, instead of being the bland pastry I was expecting going into it.
Well shit, maybe this isn't as boring as it initially appeared...
Wow, this isn’t at all what I was expecting…in fact, it’s better in almost every way. One kind of downside is that most of the pastry is hollow…I kind of imagined the middle of these to be like a toaster pastry, you know, the ones that you drizzle icing on when they’re fresh out of the toaster. But it’s not at all like that: instead, there’s a pretty thin layer of the apple-raspberry combination, and then above that, a layer of white cream which is just extraordinary, and rather unexpected. If you’re a huge fan of apple-raspberry, I’m actually not sure how much you’ll enjoy this; I feel like the pastry and cream spend more time in the spotlight than the thin layer of apple-raspberry jam. You do get some of that flavor in every bite, and it's good, but there's a lot less here than I thought there would be.

The “flakie” in its name isn’t just hyperbole: this bitch likes to shed itself all over the place. One bite alone dropped what seemed to be half of the damn pastry all over the damn desk I was eating on. But outside of that little issue, the texture is incredible for a mass-produced pastry…I honestly can’t recall an American one that blends everything together so well. It's ultra-flaky without being dry, and also ultra-flaky without being utterly boring...somehow this avoids the two main issues that typically plague mass-produced flaky pastries.

If I had to pick one thing out of that box to get again, this would easily be it; not only is it the biggest surprise out of the entire box, but it's just flat-out the best item in the box, period. 

Overall: 7.5/10. This gets my vote for “most surprising item” within Canada's Snack Crate, bar none. The pastry somehow isn’t overly dry—something almost all mass-produced pastries suffer from—and, true to title, is incredibly fragile: one bite in the wrong place will send pastry shrapnel in every direction. But where it really nails it—at least for me—is in the filling: the apple-raspberry is confined to just a small layer; the real star of the show is the white cream above it, which is kind of reminiscent of the white filling in American donuts. It adds an extra layer of unexpected richness to a product that I was expecting to be nothing but dry and boring. Can we get something like this in the U.S., please?


Monday, August 17, 2020

Elevation by Millville Pure & Simple Apple Pie Bar (Aldi)

Ingredients: apples, wood chips, dirt.
I’m going to go ahead and warn people now: take this review with a grain of salt. I always like to do that at the beginning of reviews for products that I’m not typically into, whether I enjoy it or not, just to warn people that it’s not something I would typically eat. In the case of Elevation’s Apple Pie bar, I don't think I ever would have tried it if my wife didn't pick it up to have on hand as a healthy snack...and then promptly forgot about them. It was during one of my frequent early morning scrambles—where I was desperately looking for a snack to get me through the work day—that I laid eyes on it, and decided to give it a try.

Well, I certainly don't have any doubts that these are vegan, like the packaging states: it looks like little bits of apple crushed up into a rectangle made of dirt. I'll admit that I don’t typically like these kinds of bars, and appearances like this don’t help: I'm already hesitant to want to eat the thing, so the least these companies could do is trick me into wanting to eat it. And dirt apple bars just ain't doing it for me.

Taking it a step further, even the aroma is off-putting: it smells kinda like a car tire made of apples. There are some notes of a rubbery material, mixed in with a dash of apple sweetness…let’s just say it’s about as appealing as it sounds. Between that and the appearance, I wanted to eat it less than I initially did, and I already didn’t want to eat it at all. But hey, only one thing matters, right? The taste, and I'm sure that...

...oh God, how do people even eat these? This is going to be a slow slog, and I’m literally only one bite in. It’s like my body is rejecting it…it's just sitting in my mouth, while my brain is firing off the same signals you'd get if you put, say, a penny in your mouth. It’s very grainy, for one, and while I can taste the apples, they are just a very small consolation for everything that surrounds it. The “rubbery” parts in the scent have a taste resembling prunes, while the oats chime in by adding a texture akin to chewing on wood chips.

The second bite doesn't get any easier: I feel like I'm a guinea pig in a twisted science experiment to test the limits of what constitutes “eating healthy”. And that second bite turns out to be my limit, as I throw in the towel, pitching the rest of the bar in the trash—something that I think is actually a first for me. No matter how disgusted I am by something, I can usually at least force it down, but it's like this combination of ingredients is just a perfect storm for my brain, which is desperately urging me to spit it out and throw it away. No way I can eat this thing in its entirety; if you can, congratulations: you’re probably healthy!

You gotta draw the line somewhere, and this represents something that's solidly on the other side of that line; that line constituting how far I would go to eat something “healthy”. This just tastes like garbage, with a flavor that doesn’t even resemble real food. It's like the ingredients were sourced from the dumpster of a vegan grocery store and recycled into bars.

Next time I want something "pure and simple", I’ll just cut up some apples, mix it in with some tree bark, and then “glue” it all together with some mud; maybe I'll add some leaves or some shit for a change in texture to offset the bark. I mean, why not? That would be even more all natural, easy to source, taste pretty much the same, and really save me some money! Money to the tune of $4.19 (for five 1.6 oz. bars), which is probably a good deal compared to the national brand, but not a good deal in the way that it’s revolting and virtually inedible.

Now, in this political climate, I feel the sudden need to remind everyone that this is obviously just my opinion: I'm not slagging on anyone that personally enjoys these; in fact, part of me is a little bit jealous. I wish I had the stomach for things like this to help me pull away from my largely unhealthy diet and lifestyle (although I don't think it's as bad as my reviews might make it seem; I'm at least active thanks to my work and our son). So if you enjoy these bars, feel free to provide a counterpoint in the comments, but don't take this as any sort of personal attack on your lifestyle or eating habits. 

Overall: 1/10. I know there’s a market for these, and I’m sure the price is great compared to the national brands, but come on: you have to draw the line somewhere in life, and I think this is where I personally draw the line for “healthy” bars. These are gross. Like, so gross that I can’t even force myself to finish one, and I can finish almost anything. Dip a turd in white chocolate and I'd have a better chance of making it through that than another one of these. The texture is grainy, with the oats giving off a “wood chip” vibe, and while the apple flavor does pop through, it’s feels as though every other ingredient was counter-engineered to eliminate any trace of deliciousness possible; like they're trying to punish you for wanting to eat right and become a better person. If this is your thing, great, but personally, I think I'll just stick to Elevation's protein bars and meal replacement shakes.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

SNACK CRATE CANADA: Maynards Berry Juicy Squirts

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.

The name "Juicy Squirts" brings a lot of things to mind, with candy being exactly none of them.
Is this what I think it is? Despite having a name that reminds one of diarrhea, it looks to me like this might be the Canadian equivalent of Gushers, everyone’s favorite “liquid center” candy.
Oh man, that’s got a pretty intense scent, like the cartoon candy factory exploded, leaving a lingering cloud of artificial berry goodness lingering in the air. I’d say it’s inviting, but those against fake fruit smells will be immediately turned off; then again, what were you expecting from a candy with a liquid center?

Ewww, the candy inside is intensely sticky…I don’t know if the heat outside has something to do with it (although it’s been stored for the past two weeks inside our well air-conditioned house, and was only in a hot car for the twenty minute car ride into my work), but it seems like maybe one of the candy centers exploded all over the inside of the package, spreading its stickiness to everything else surrounding it. Yuck. I don’t mind a lot of messes, but sticky messes aren’t my favorites.

Well, this package "juicy squirted" all over the goddamned place.
The flavors here don’t seem too far removed from American flavors, at least at first glance of the candy, which is shaped to look like the fruit it’s “based” off of: there’s cherry, grape, peach, and strawberry, which would be a pretty standard fruit line-up even down here in the states. However, a quick glance at the packaging reveals that all is not what it seems to be: the inner “juice” is its own separate flavor, instead of just a “juicier” version of the candy it’s in. So strawberry becomes “strawberry key lime”; cherry is “cherry berry”; peach is “peach raspberry”; and grape is “grape kiwi”.

It’s semi-interesting, I guess, at least on paper; the execution is rather lackluster. For starters—and again, it might have something to do with the sticky mess covering the entire inside of the package—but the juicy centers vary pretty wildly with each piece: some had a nice amount of “squirt” inside, while some didn’t seem to have anything inside them at all. But even the ones that did seem manufactured to Maynard’s ideal expectations weren’t all that memorable: in most cases, the inner feeling just takes a sweet candy flavor, and adds even more sweetness to it, which isn’t really all that interesting.

There was one combo that I don’t even recall (it might have been the grape-kiwi) that did have an interesting, kind of “contradictory” mix of flavors, but hell, with this package it might have been the sticky filling from another candy that spilled all over another one…really, it’s kind of hard to judge the candy based on such a messy package. But it’s all I have to go off of, so it is what it is, I guess.

Overall: 5.5/10. I like “Gushers”-type candy and this one delivers a combination of four different flavors, with four different juicy centers. The candy itself looks pretty straightforward, and even the combination of flavors would all seem right at home here in America, making it all too…familiar. It’s not a bad candy, but it’s also nothing great; it’s something that would just blend in with everything else in a candy shop, and nothing at all worth going out of your way for. I'd be fine to never get these again, which works out well because I probably never will. 


Saturday, August 15, 2020

SNACK CRATE CANADA: Smarties (Canadian Version)

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.

Well, these certainly aren't the "Smarties" we Americans are familiar with, is it?
Here, Snack Crate has provided us with our first instance of “candy culture shock”: assuming you grew up in the U.S., these are not what you think they are. Just ask my wife, who took me up on my offer for a “Smartie” and was immediately disappointed when she ate the result of that generous offer. (Apparently she didn't look at the candy before eating it...)

As a note for those that may not know, Smarties here in the U.S. are that sugary, powdery, circular, vaguely “fruit flavored” (for lack of a more correct term) candies that are a mainstay of Halloween and children's parties everywhere. Well, if that's what you want, don't ask for them by that name in Canada: there, they are also circular candies, but covered in a crispy coating with a chocolate center, a la the chocolate candy that also shares the name of a famous white rapper (“G-Eazy's”?). Furthermore, they are manufactured by a little, family-owned chocolate company that goes by the name of Nestle.

These are okay as a curiosity, but not one of my favorite findings of the bunch. For starters, the exterior coating is much thicker and crunchier than the “white rapper” candy here; personally, I like being able to suck on the American candies, which slowly releases the flavor of the chocolate center as the crunchy shell disintegrates. You could probably do the same with these, but it takes a little longer for the shell to disintegrate, and just isn't the same "enjoyable" experience. The chocolate on the inside tastes a little different, too—maybe it's a little sweeter—but is still every bit as unimpressive as its American doppelganger, tasting like a mass-produced, C-grade chocolate.

They aren't bad, nor really all that good; the type of candy you'd get as an impulse buy at the checkout counter, but that you wouldn't normally seek out on your own.

RANDOM NOTE: After seeing that Smarties are produced by the Smarties Candy Company (family-owned; I was expecting them to be a part of a huge candy conglomerate) in the U.S., with an additional factory in Canada, I was interested to see how they're marketed in Canada to prevent confusion with this candy. And thanks to good ol' Wikipedia, I now have the answer: they're called “Rockets”. So now you know: if you want the American Smarties in Canada, ask for “Rockets”. You learn something new every day, eh?

RATING: 5/10. These aren't your American Smarties! Instead, these are small, circular discs of chocolate with a crunchy outer shell, similar to the ones imprinted with an "M" on each one here in the States. They're also every bit as uninspiring, although the candy exterior is thicker and stronger here, while the chocolate in the middle is every bit as ho-hum as its American counterpart.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Southern Grove Tuscan Trail Mix (Aldi)

Very one-dimensional for a "mix".
One thing I've learned here lately is that trail mix can be a pretty fickle thing: throw in too much of something, or one wrong ingredient, and the entire mix can be dragged down a few pegs, if not altogether ruined. (Who knew that creating a solid trail mix was so...scientific?)

Enter Aldi, which has some of my favorite trail mixes in the biz: their Indulgent blend combines all sorts of unhealthy, sugary sweets together in an impossibly rich concoction that's more dessert than snack; while their “spicy and sweet” deliciously blends both of those flavor profiles together, the sweet helping to counterattack the potent sodium-overloaded spicy seasoning. Even better, their “path blends” (they need more damn synonyms for “trail mix”) are one area where most competitors can't match them in price, with their 25 oz. bags retailing for only a buck or so more than other store brands' 12 oz. bags.

With this in mind, Aldi’s Tuscan trail mix isn’t an outright failure, but it’s probably closer to that metric than an outright success; it's one of the more disappointing offerings down the condiment/dried fruit aisle. Most of Aldi's trail mixes have at least an interesting combination of flavors to keep things interesting, such as the aforementioned “spicy and sweet”: unfortunately, the lack of such a combination here forces this into a very “one-dimensional” taste that, quite frankly, gets real old, real quick.

Adding to the disappointment is that it’s also very “dry”; while that might technically be true of virtually all trail mixes—after all, there really aren’t many “moist” ingredients that fit well into a “portable”, bagged snack—its complete lack of versatility makes it all the more noticeable. Most bites feel like you’re sucking on the machine at a dentists’ office that vacuums all the liquid out of your mouth; after a couple handfuls, you feel like you've been wandering around a desert for a few hours. (I guess on the upside, it helps me to remember to drink water more frequently.)

I do have to give some credit where credit is due: unlike Meijer’s spicy trail mix, which failed to resonate with me for similar reasons, this one at least knows to cut back on the seasoning. Sure, it has a lot of sodium content, just like almost every other “savory” trail mix out there, but it at least doesn’t taste like it, nor does it threaten to give you sodium burn if you eat too many handfuls.

All of this is a shame, because the price tag is right on par with Aldi’s other trail mixes, and because I like all of the individual ingredients. Sesame sticks might just be one of my favorite snack foods ever, as are rye chips, and there’s even a complete lack of pretzels, which have to be everyone’s least favorite addition to any mix (I’d venture to guess for every bag of trail mix or Chex mix thrown in the trash, there are still pretzels left in at least 75% of them).

But even despite the pluses, I find this one to be a very underwhelming trail mix, and one that I won't be getting again in the near future.

Overall: 5/10. Value is very good (a 25 oz. bag is under $5), and the seasoning is kept in check so that it doesn’t taste overly salty—unfortunately, it’s all downhill from there: the taste is incredibly one-note and quickly gets repetitive, while the overabundance of mouth-drying ingredients (“breads”, peanuts and salt) make you feel as if you've been wandering through the Sahara for eight hours after just a couple of handfuls. It's okay, but not something I'd be interested in buying again anytime soon.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

SNACK CRATE CANADA: Thrills Chewing Gum

This is the first review in a one-off bonus series covering the items in a Snack Crate subscription box, which found its way to my parent's mailbox. For more details on this, check out the introductory post.


"It still tastes like soap!" is the slogan?! Count me in!
This is a Canadian chiclet gum that, at quick glance, looks like any other pack of chiclet gum (although it's in some very thin packaging compared to most American brands). What really got me excited, though, was the gum's insane tagline which, as you can clearly see, is “It still tastes like soap!” Wait...what? Why would a company actually proudly tout that their product tastes like complete shit? My wife had to dig in first, but tapped out before she could even put the piece in her mouth, her face contorted in a frozen state of disgust after literally just biting down on it. “Oh my God, it's awful!” she declared, before continuing: “It tastes like old lady perfume that's been soaking on a cotton pad!”

After her rotten experience, she looked up the gum online, and discovered that the company that manufactures this (previously O-Pee-Chee, but now none other than the Tootsie Roll Company of Canada thanks to Nestle's acquisition of them in the late 1980's) originally intended this to taste like rosewater. However, when consumers immediately starting comparing the flavor of this to soap, they didn't decide to drop it, or go back to the drawing board to reformulate it; rather, they rolled with the negative publicity, slapping the “It still tastes like soap!” slogan on the packaging, while apparently continuing to manufacture it using the same exact recipe. There's just something about that decision that's both refreshingly brilliant, and completely stupid; still, they must sell enough of it to keep it going after all these years, even if it is almost entirely derived from curiosity seekers looking to see what chewing on a soap bar might taste like. (NOTE: I've had enough experience chewing on soap bars as a kid to know that this gum is highly preferred; maybe that's why I didn't find it so gross, haha.)

These are the kind of moments that most people would shy away from, but I gotta be honest: I was only more excited to see what it was about. Without hesitation, I shoved the whole mangled, tooth-marked piece of gum in my mouth, and was immediately met with a very perfumey taste, not unlike my wife's succinct, all-too-accurate description. However, I didn't find it revolting so much as...fascinating. While the taste does hit strong notes of perfume, it thankfully omits the disgusting “straight alcohol” taste of actual sprayables (we've all ingested some at some point or another, I'm sure), which just leaves a flowery, sweet taste. Again, it's not something I would consider “good”, but it's not as bad as chugging a bottle of actual perfume, or even as bad as taking a bite of soap, as the packaging would have you believe.

It starts off pretty strong, but by the three-minute mark, either my tastebuds had gotten more acclimated to the weirdness, or the flavor strength had completely dipped down to more manageable levels, as it just became a lightly-sweetened, though still bizarre, mess. Around the ten-minute mark, the flavor was gone entirely, which was a rather succinct, disappointing end to the experience. I would never seek this out to buy online (thanks to shipping costs), but I'd probably pick up a pack if I ever saw one in person, if for no other reason than to share it with everyone I know. Hell, whether you actually like the taste, or see it as a complete failure, I gotta give it points for at least being completely different in a sea of cringe-inducing familiarity.

And that deserves at least some kind of credit...right?

RATING: 5.5/10. The flavor isn't as gross as the packaging would have you believe (at least, to me; my wife had a totally different opinion), but it's also not very good; regardless, the gum's most egregious offense is the rather weak 10-minute chew time, before the flavor essentially disappears. Still, worth trying as a curiosity.