Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Millville Frosted S'mores Toaster Tarts (Aldi)

How did I ever like these?
 

I mentioned in a previous “toaster tart” review (from a store brand competitor) that, as a kid, I never got into the chocolate flavors of the popular breakfast “pastry”; the only kind I ever remember trying is the standard strawberry, though I might have switched up fruits every now and again. They just never really appealed to me to begin with, which works out well because my mom also never bought them for me.

So it was as an adult several years that I first tried s’mores pop tarts, and fell in love with their addictingly sweet flavor. Here, as seems to be the norm, I got them more in an attempt to get our three-year-old son to eat more food (and, in my defense, he did specifically choose these out of all the other flavor options we presented him), but I also figured I could take a trip down short-term memory lane by helping myself to a package or two. Or the whole box if he didn’t like them.

I really don’t know what it was that lead me to exclaim this as my favorite toaster tart flavor just a few short years ago, but much of that luster seems to have died down now upon this revisiting, the first time in at least two years that I believe I’ve had them. This isn’t at all even close to the taste of actual s’mores, which somehow manage to be one of my favorite things in life; it also isn’t even close to how I remember them tasting. Holy shit I think I’m going to be sick.

The whole thing is a mess from the outset, but I think the most egregious offense is that the pastry itself tastes nothing like a graham cracker. That alone makes everything that comes after it just feel like a scam. I think maybe it’s trying to, as it does appear to be a darker shade of brown than other flavors, and maybe slightly sweeter, but it just does a terrible job of “carrying” the filling, which is so sickeningly sweet that I can barely finish the damn thing. Honestly, how did I go crazy for these just a few short years ago? I honestly expected this to be a glowing review, and instead I’m throwing the last couple bites in the trash and my stomach hurts from getting berated with an indecipherable, sugary mess for the last few minutes. It’s disgusting.

The chocolate is okay, but honestly doesn’t even taste close to any of the chocolate bars it’s supposedly trying to emulate. I mean, it doesn’t even taste like a poor, dollar store imitation…it’s just a rather non-descript, uninteresting chocolate that would taste like garbage in anything. It’s sad, but I’d have to say the best thing in here is the marshmallow, which is easily my least favorite part of a s’more. And when you make something where marshmallow is the best thing in it, you know you’ve completely failed.

Overall: 2.5/10. I used to really like these? And not even as a kid, but about five years ago?! Oh my, how things change. This is pretty awful, with a sickeningly sweet center and a pastry exterior that doesn’t even come close to emulating the simple brilliance of a graham cracker. The chocolate is non-descript and tastes nothing like any kind of chocolate bar I’ve ever had—really, this is so far away from what I expect out of a s’more that we’re headed into “defamation” territory here. It all adds up to a sickeningly sweet mess of a failure that’s completely the opposite of what I was planning to say when sitting down to write this review. What a curveball you’ve thrown at me, Life!

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Nature's Nectar Organic Blackberry Blend Cold Pressed Juice (Aldi)

Perfect for people who like chewing on their juice.
 

Well, I just got done taking a look at the “green blend” version of this cold pressed juice and, while I wasn’t completely won over (although most of that might be because I’m not really sold on the idea of cold pressed juice in general), I did mention that I liked it enough to try the other flavors in the line. And voila! Here we go with another one!

As it turns out, the “green blend” is the only one named by color; this one and the remaining one (raspberry) are both named after specific fruits. I haven’t perused the ingredients of the raspberry one yet, but if this one is any indication, it would seem that the “green blend” is also the only one that contains vegetables of any kind, which might help to explain the weird naming convention.

It smells pretty inviting, as it should considering the meager ingredients list: cranberry juice, blackberry puree, and blueberry puree. Diving in, and…wow, this is not really what I was expecting, although the “no added sugar” probably should have been my first clue: this is tart. I mean, like almost pucker-inducingly tart. I suppose given the three berries included, it makes sense, but I could definitely use some sweetness to counterbalance that a little bit. Others that like their juices on the strong side should enjoy this one a lot more than I am.

Actually, I could probably get used to the flavor on its own, but there’s also a secondary surprise that also takes things down a notch for me: unnecessary graininess. I mean, the green blend had fruits and vegetables in it, for goodness sakes, and ended up being more of a juice than this one: it’s like they also add sand to the concoction, just so you know you’re drinking something that’s so much more healthy than regular juice. Honestly, it’s off-putting to me, and in a much more dire way than just some strong tartness. It’s not so bad that it’s a dealbreaker—I’ll finish the bottle with little problem—but it’s definitely an issue that makes me second guess getting this variety ever again.

I get that it’s the puree of the fruits, but come on, you don’t have to go that far to give the illusion of “farm to bottle” freshness—everyone knows this was processed in a factory, and probably the same factory that manufactures their regular juices. It just feels like a tacky illusion to me, but I’m sure others will applaud their dedication to hitting a similar texture to freshly pressed juice. To each their own.

On the side of positives, each 11.2 oz bottle is $1.99, which is affordable for what it is, and something I also gave good marks for in the green blend. I additionally like how the bottles are shelf stable (until opened) and thus, need no refrigeration. It’s something that kind of defeats the whole purpose of cold pressed juice, at least to me, but it is nice not having to rush home and gulp it down before it expires three hours later.

In the end, though, this is a product that proves taste isn't necessarily everything.

Overall: 5.5/10. Technically, the flavor is better than the green, but the texture—a strong graininess (presumably from the blueberry and blackberry puree)—sinks what could have otherwise been a pretty fantastic beverage. Personally, I also find it to be a little too tart, thanks to the no added sugar thing, but it’s at least not bitter, and is something I could get used to, if it weren’t for that pesky, off-putting sandiness that accompanies every swig. On the plus sides, it’s only $1.99 per 11.2 oz. bottle (very good for cold pressed juice) and is shelf stable for over a year when unopened, defeating the purpose of cold pressed juice but trading it off for added convenience. That’s enough to take it slightly above the average mark, but despite the better flavor of this one, I’d get the green again before I ever picked this one up. I'm in the camp that believes you shouldn't have to chew your juice.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

FINAL UPDATE: Vostey Leather Men's Fashion Sneakers (Amazon.com)

This review updated with final information. Original review below; added comments have been italicized.
Pretty sleek-looking shoes, especially for the price.

UPDATE (9/26/20): I actually put this update off for a little while, but back in August, these things completely exploded while I was moving a heavy item at work. That means I got about five months of use out of these as my main shoe, using them in virtually all situations, from work to play. 

Shoe explosion.


NOTE: I purchased these back in January, 2020, when they were $19.99. They have since almost doubled in price, going up to $32.99. This review is relative to a $20 price tag; it's up to you to decide if you think the added cost is worth it. Also, it's worth noting that they do come with a box, too; I just already threw mine out.

In a recent previous review, I took a look at a canvas pair of Vostey shoes that I purchased at the same time, which ripped about the tenth time I put them on. In other words, they sucked. Here, we have a pair of leather shoes, which cost me just $4 more—at $20. For a pair of leather shoes. So clearly they're just going to fall apart after the third or fourth time and be a complete waste of money...right?

WRONG! Surprisingly, these shoes are completely the opposite of the canvas ones. They've also been subjected to far more “abuse”--unlike the canvas ones that I just wore a handful of times, I wore the leather Vostey's every workday (five days a week) from January 6th, 2020 (the day after they arrived), up through March 24th, when we were furloughed from work. I won't say that my job is a really “fast-paced” environment, but I do get a ton of steps in, averaging over 400,000 steps per month, with well over half of those on a typical month coming from my workday. So while it may not be a super-frantic workplace, it's certainly way more active than, say, a cubicle job.

These things have held up admirably during that time, with nary a speck out of place, save for the material in the inner back part of the shoe. You'd think $20 shoes would have no support, and while they probably aren't the most comfortable shoe out there, they're more than adequate for my needs. Even after taking all the abuse of constantly being on my feet a good chunk of the day, there's nary a thread out of place, on the outside. And while two months isn't really enough of a sample time to declare them the value of the year, or anything, it's a pretty solid foundation, considering they've already lasted two months longer (of wear time) than my canvas shoes from the same company, and show very little evidence of use.



There is some slight wear to the inner webbing at the back of the shoe, but no discomfort yet.
The lone area is in the inner back of each shoe, where there is a bit of wear stemming from my heels constantly rubbing up against them; we'll see how long that actually takes to break down enough to the extent that they are uncomfortable or unwearable. As as of now though, there's no discomfort or noticeable issues in performance stemming from that.

Even better, the smooth leather finish also seems to be pretty easy to clean. I'm not one of those guys that cares about shoes at all, beyond providing me a legally-required foot covering so that I can go out in public. Needless to say, I never wash them or polish them, or even wipe them down if they get dirty. Well, we took our son to a friend's house, which lead to an unexpected backyard play session in mud. My shoes weren't caked in the stuff (I tried to avoid stepping in it as much as possible), but there was enough mud on them that I thought I'd need a backup pair to wear to work for the next day or two, until I could get around to cleaning them off. Lo and behold, a couple walking sessions in the rain later, and they've pretty much cleaned themselves—there's no hint of the mud war that they were involved in.

Can you even tell these have been in mud?

Which also brings me to the matter of the elements: I've worn them through moderate amounts of snow and rain, and they've held up like a champ through both. I was initially hesitant to even try it, given the price and potential for wet feet (which I can't stand), but so far, they've kept my feet dry in all instances.

My initial impressions - and after two months, I'd still consider myself to be in that phase - are that these are some pretty well-crafted shoes, period. So far, I'd be just as happy if I paid $50 for them; the fact they were $20 really just sweetens the deal.

I'll continue to post the occasional updates on their performance, especially after I return to work from an extended furlough. As of now, though, these look to be money very well spent.

Overall: 6/10 (no change). After about five months of use as my main shoe, wearing them to work and home, the right shoe completely exploded while moving a heavy item at work. This means I got about five months of constant use out of them, for a meager $20 price tag. That's not bad at all. Since they've gone up to $32.99, I wouldn't get them again to use as my main shoe, but I am kicking around the idea (haha, get it?) of grabbing another pair for use in gentler conditions, like wearing them around the house, or for quick trips out running errands. With minor use, there's no reason to believe they wouldn't last at least a year; maybe even longer.

Again, take this one with a grain of salt if you want to, because this review is only two months in (and subject to change as they get more use), but the initial look at these shoes is incredibly positive. I've worn them in rain, mud, and to work, where I routinely get about 10,000 steps per day, and outside of minor wear on the inner heel, they're every bit as comfortable as the first day I put them on. While I bought them at the ridiculous price of $19.99, making them an absolute steal, assuming this quality continues for even a few more months, I wouldn't hesitate to replace them at the current retail price of $32.99.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Nature's Nectar Green Blend Organic Cold Pressed Juice (Aldi)

Wow, the walls at work are gross.
 

As I've mentioned before, it’s always a great thing when corporations latch onto current health trends and run the original ideas into the ground—here’s Aldi’s stab at making shelf stable cold pressed juices, which takes away the point of cold pressed juice to begin with. As near as I can tell, cold pressed juices are typically preservative-free, and often squeezed right in front of the customer to ensure that it’s as fresh as possible. (Actually, this one technically has no preservatives, either, which makes me wonder how it’s good for over a year past the purchase date if unopened…)

The "juice" is comprised of just five ingredients: kale juice, apple puree, green apple puree, celery juice, and lemon juice...and it definitely tastes like an aimless combination of all of them, which is true to cold-pressed juice form. There is a semi-faint tartness that hits the back of the throat, which I’m sure is mostly the lemon juice (with an assist from the green apple puree, perhaps), but it’s nothing that will turn off most people (at least, not those who aren’t turned off by the rest).

The remaining flavor consists of a "nice" “healthy” earthy flavor, that tastes like you’re drinking an otherwise palatable drink that has then been blended with grass. While, like many cold pressed juices, it doesn’t taste like anything specific (besides the combination of its parts), Aldi does at least manage to prevent the entire concoction from being too bitter, or hard to drink. Some of these types of drinks can get so grotesque that forcing it down becomes an endurance test, but Nature's Nectar's version goes down smooth, despite not really being all that sweet, either. It might be problematic, though, for those unaccustomed to cold pressed juices, and I probably wouldn’t even dare giving this to a child, lest they be turned off by fruits and vegetables for the rest of their lives. Even our son, who has a pretty “adventurous” palate compared to most three-year-olds, would probably wrinkle his face and swear off anything green ever again—it’s a chance that I’m, quite frankly, not willing to take.

It’s a pretty good juice for what it is, and coming in at $1.99 per 11.2 oz. bottle, it’s even more affordable than most other (though no doubt "better") examples of pressed juice. The biggest problem I see facing it is that I feel like it has an uphill battle to climb: can it win over the snobby true cold pressed juice connoisseurs who expect theirs to taste af it's been freshly squeezed while they wait? And at the same time, does it have a "good" enough flavor to win over newbies unaccustomed to such straightforward flavors? I’m not sure, but it's a pretty solid attempt that does manage to get extra points for its longevity.

Overall: 7/10. I’m still kind of debating on what I think about this juice overall. On the one hand, it takes a current health trend, and corporatizes it, thus eliminating the whole point (freshness) of the product to begin with. Yet, on the other hand, it also takes a problem of the “original” (namely, its quick perishability) and improves upon it, by giving it a shelf live of over a year (until it’s opened; then it becomes a “normal” cold pressed juice and expires after 3 days) - and without any preservatives whatsoever. It's a mass-market compromise that just might have what it takes to please old fans, while acclimating newbies to the benefits; the relatively affordable $1.99 price tag (per 11.2 oz. bottle) might also help to entice people into giving it a shot. It's a solid enough shot that I'll gladly try the other flavor varieties they have available.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Meijer Frosted Brown Sugar and Cinnamon Pastry Treats (Meijer)

 

Just when I was getting so good about remembering to take pictures...

Is there any one pastry that sums up the childhood of most children quite like a toaster tart? Obviously, that’s not the trademarked name (which I will avoid mentioning even though I’m sure it’s covered under fair use, but I’m not a lawyer and we’ll just err on the side of caution), but pretty much every kid has had at least a few dozen of these through the years, in some form or another. It might just be the “perfect” pastry, at least in terms of mass-produced breakfast foods are concerned.

Anyway, the first thing we notice after cracking open the box: that trademarked silver foil, complete with image and text describing the flavor variety. I can’t be for certain if these are on the national brand toaster pastry, but they are on every store brand one that I’ve had, which gives me good reason to believe that they are all from the same factory—and it’s probably the same one that makes the name brand toaster tarts.

And as such, this one looks, feels, and tastes a lot like every other brown sugar and cinnamon toaster tart that I’ve had - and that's not a bad thing. I do feel like the pastry itself is a little softer than some other brands, but that’s just going off relatively distant memory (of, like, two months, which feels “distant” when you hit your thirties), so maybe I’m remembering incorrectly. Either way, the “tart” part itself is, like I just said, very soft, and carries the hard-crust icing very well. The filling is exactly what you’d expect: very sweet, but slightly counterbalanced by the dryness of the pastry, especially in the pointless area that I call the “crust”: the four edges of the pastry, where there not only isn’t even the slightest hint of icing, but not the slightest hint of filling, either. (I always remember dreading coming up to those bites as a kid, a feeling that I still get today, although to a much smaller degree.)

This might be too much sweetness for some, and I might be biased with my sweet-leaning tastebuds, but I honestly think the vast majority will have no issues with it. Besides, you’ve probably had many of these before, so you already know what to expect.

Really, I think the main difference between private label versions of these sweet pastry treats all come down to price: at Meijer, an 8-pack of these cost $1.59 when not on sale. That’s not quite as good as Kroger’s $1.25 for the same count box, nor Aldi, who offer up 12 for $1.65. However, all those options are better than paying $2.49 for the 8-count box of the national brand (when not on sale).

Overall: 7.5/10. These are some tasty toaster treats that more or less taste like every other major store brand toaster tart; methinks it’s because they’re all from the same factory (the wrappers all have the same design on them), but that’s just a hunch so don’t go parading it around as fact. Anyway, the pastry itself is soft, while the rest is what you’d expect: a hard, crunchy icing gives way to just the right amount of brown sugar and cinnamon goodness in the middle.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Kroger Frosted Chocolate Fudge Toaster Treats (Kroger)

 


In looking back to my childhood, I can kinda see why everyone called me "weird". Exhibit #259: Whereas most kids would eat chocolate of any kind, I never liked chocolate toaster tarts, of any variety. So while most kids would jump at the chance to eat chocolate for breakfast, I was always more than content with the "standard" strawberry variety, never really wandering outside of that flavor until my later years.

And, on kind of a random side note, isn’t it a little bit crazy how things we do as a kid can shape the routines we make as an adult? There are so many things I refused to eat as a child that I still harbor the same resentment towards, some thirty years later. And my current perception of these products are often shaped entirely by the random, sporadic memories I have of trying them as a child. For example, I used to love raisins, until I ate them with a cheddar-filled hot dog…trying to force both down at the same time so that I wouldn’t disappoint my babysitter turned me off both of those products ever since. And while it was the first time I'd ever tried a cheddar-filled dog, I actually liked raisins up until that point.

Alright, enough trips down memory lane for now: let’s focus on these rectangular pastries sitting here before us, shall we?

First off, there’s that trademarked packaging again! I think I've said before that all the major store brands (at least around me) have the same packaging design and font across the board no matter which store you purchase them from, and here’s the proof: this one looks just like Meijer’s wrapper. Again, this leads me to believe that all the stores have the same manufacturer, and that very well could be the national brand!

What’s this white shit all over the top? I’m not really sure, but it’s completely unnecessary, considering all it does is fall all over the place. It’s like getting those greeting cards made of glitter, where the only purpose it serves is to make a mess once you open it. Come on guys, we don't need sprinkles on everything.

The chocolate tastes way better than I remember it. Really, this whole toaster pastry does. The outside of the pastry is soft and inviting, while the two types of chocolate—the hard icing and the soft filling—both compliment each other pretty well. The brown pastry does well to give the illusion of chocolate, and maybe there’s a slight hint in there, but overall it’s just a straightforward pastry that acts as a carrier for the toppings and filling. And that’s really all you should expect of it, so no hard feelings there.

The main downsides are the aforementioned random white crusties that fall all over the place, as well as the main complaint I have about all toaster pastries in general: that pesky outer edge, which I always dreaded reaching as a kid and still have un-fond memories of as an adult. Anyone who’s had one knows what I’m talking about: the entire edge has absolutely no icing and no filling whatsoever, making it a dry wasteland of boring pastry that can be roughly equivocated to “church communion wafer”. There’s a strategy to eating these, and it entails ensuring that you don’t get stuck with a corner…a double-helping of dryness that derives no possible enjoyment for the consumer.

Other than that, this is a solid duplicate of the national brand, and for a pretty solid price, too: an 8 ct. package retails for just $1.25, making it a pretty solid deal, especially as far as Kroger is concerned, and putting it about on par with Aldi’s 12-ct. boxes, which retail for $1.65.

Overall: 6.5/10. These are way better than I remember them being as a kid. The chocolate filling isn’t nearly as bitter as I thought I remembered them being, and the soft pastry has some inviting texture. There are some random white crusties on the top that serve no purpose besides making a mess, as well as the standard sides that have neither filling nor icing—a problematic staple of toaster pastries for years—but the value is solid at $1.25 per 8 ct. There are still a few other flavors I’d strongly prefer over this one, but this is a pretty good deal for fans of this particular flavor. It didn't win me over enough to make a spot in my normal rotation, but it broke away my preconceived notions about chocolate toaster tarts being gross, so that has to count for something!

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Baker's Corner Confetti Cake Mini Muffins (Aldi)

 

Better than I was expecting, and a "fun" treat for most young'uns.

I already reviewed the blueberry version of these, so I won't get into a huge introduction here. Actually, I never would have bought these at all if it weren't for our three-year-old son, who is going through a phase where he doesn't want to eat anything except sweets all the time. He wasn't a fan of the blueberry muffins, so when we saw Aldi carried these, we figured we could ply him with a snack that combines two of his favorite things: colors and cake! In short, it didn't work, so we were left with a whole box of uneaten muffins that he wouldn't even look at, let alone touch. (Why are kids so annoying?)

I couldn't just let them go to waste, so I grabbed a bag for myself to see how these would compare to the other small muffins that I've had, even though this wasn't something I'd normally care to try.

I dug into the bag around 6:30 a.m. At work one morning, before I had time to eat anything else. Well, that was a bad idea: they tasted so sweet that they made my stomach churn. The flavor wasn't at all bad, I just sometimes have an issue with eating a lot of sugar on an empty tummy—in retrospect, it probably wasn't the best time to give them a fair shake (although, in my defense, muffins are breakfast food, so I didn't really do anything outside the norm here).

With that in mind, I decided to wait a little while later before polishing off the final two muffins, in order to give a more accurate report.

The final serving came much later, somewhere around the noon hour, and I have to say that it was a much more enjoyable experience. The sweetness didn't seem as off-putting once I had some other items in my stomach, and they actually do taste a lot like cake, which actually kind of shocked me, while still maintaining the same texture of a muffin. There's also a generous amount of the “confetti” in each one, which gives them that cool multi-color look that most kids will no doubt love. (Except our son, apparently, even though he usually goes ape-shit for anything with “sprinkles”.) They don't seem to add much to the texture or taste, but they're fun to look at.

I will say these small muffins are never super moist to begin with, and having what appears to be a layer of sugar on top (at least, that's what I'm assuming those small reflective crystals are) made them feel even dryer on the inside. It's not a big deal when eaten with a liquid (as most people tend to do), but sometimes I don't have anything else handy, and these just end up sucking out the remaining saliva I have in my mouth, which makes me feel like I'm chewing on them for days before I can swallow (that goes for any brand and flavor of mini muffins, not just this one).

This isn't something I would normally try, as I go out of my way to avoid other types of “sweet” muffins chocolate chips belong in a variety of places; muffins are not one of them), but I have to say they were better than I was expecting. I still won't get them very often, and when I do I'll know to eat them more as a mid-day snack than a breakfast item, but if nothing else, this is welcome proof that muffins and cake are not all that far off from one another. Who knew?

Overall: 6/10. I very much dislike when dessert items are combined into non-dessert breakfast breads (I'm sorry, but chocolate chips don't belong anywhere near muffins), and that's why these never appealed to me. However, I have to say that they are a lot better than I was expecting, delivering up a flavor that really does taste similar to cake, and with a generous amount of soft “confetti” sprinkles for added color and fun. I couldn't eat them for breakfast (too sweet to eat first thing in the morning for me), but as a mid-day snack or quick dessert, these are actually pretty good. The $1.99 price tag also makes them cheaper than the national brands by a pretty convincing margin. Not something I'll get with regularity, or maybe ever again, but also not something I regret trying.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Elevation Protein & Probiotic Mini Cookies (Aldi)

Extra protein in standard mini-cookie form? I'm in!
I like cookies, and I don't think I'm alone in that sentiment. So it makes sense that a good way for me to eat “healthy” is to pack some necessary nutrients in cookie form, which is exactly what those good folks at Elevation (as they are now known; they've dropped the “by Millville” from their moniker) have gone and done.

So what is the point of these mythical, magical cookies, and what exactly makes them “health”-oriented? Well it says so right on the front, in the name of the product: they contain protein and probiotics. What are probiotics, a question I myself had to look up despite hearing the word dozens of times before? Really, they seem to be more of a modern marketing “keyword”: according to the U.S. government website I visited, the benefits of them are still being studied, with very little actual benefits proven. And yet, they're on products everywhere in the supermarket these days, generally touting their improvements to digestive health, or similar statements.

I can't really pretend to care about the benefits of probiotics, but if I can get some protein in cookie, why not? I need all the vitamins and nutrients I can get. Especially since I've noticed that my health and activity has significantly dropped when compared to last year, thanks to reduced work hours, where I did a majority of my daily steps and the occasional heavy lifting.

These are actually pretty good. And by “pretty good” I mean that they taste like any other hard mini-cookie that I've ever had. The cookie itself is pretty bland, with a slightly sweet flavor that doesn't really do much, but the chocolate really shines through, giving you that sweet, familiar taste that we all know and love. Since there are a generous helping of chocolate in each one, it helps to make these go down easy.

The one thing I do tend to get concerned about is sugar content: if I get a ton of sugar, I feel drowsy and sluggish and my brain just gets in a fog. It's why I can't drink sugared energy drinks anymore, and tend to stay away from sodas altogether. I'm not sure about the typical sugar content in cookies, but these pack about 1g per cookie, which doesn't seem like that much to me (a nine-cookie serving has 8g), especially when there's 7g of protein in that same serving. Granted, I don't generally eat nine cookies at once, so I'm getting less protein, but also less sugar. Sodium is relatively high at 190mg, which sucks, and there's a rather alarming amount of saturated fat (7g) which kind of lessens the impact, especially since I already have borderline high cholesterol.

The only big remaining question is how's the value? I was particularly concerned with that here, since most items in the Elevation brand are pretty expensive, seeing as how they are usually knock-offs of “premium” protein bars. Honestly, I think the $2.99 price tag is actually fairly reasonable, considering each bag contains roughly 32 cookies. That's 3.5 servings of increased protein for $3. Granted, you can get five or six-packs of protein bars from the same line for around $5, but if you don't like the taste of those, these provide a good alternative at a similar per-serving price.

Overall: 6.5/10. The taste is nothing spectacular, as they taste like every other hard mini-cookie on the market, but considering there's a good amount of protein in there, that makes it a slightly better accomplishment. The $2.99 asking price (for 3.5 servings) is also pretty decent, putting it on par with other bars in the Elevation line. However, the biggest drawbacks are what you have to put up with to get the probiotics and protein: namely 7g of saturated fat and 190mg of sodium, which seems fairly high for a serving of cookies. Either way, these are a pretty good entry into the overall excellent Elevation line.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Baker's Corner Blueberry Mini Muffins (Aldi)

If you like the national brand, you'll like these.
I’ve always liked the national brand version of these, but curiously, my favorite flavor (banana nut) doesn’t seem to ever be available at Aldi. (I’m thinking it's a manufacturer thing: there are two major companies that make small muffins and only one makes a banana nut variety, leading me to believe it's the other company that makes Aldi's private label brand.) However, I was in the mood for some small muffins, and also figured our son might like them as something different, so I grabbed me a box.

One thing that I've always hated about these things, even as a kid, are the product counts: in each box, you get twenty total muffins. Okay, that's a bigger deal when it's the name brand and costs over $3, but not so bad at Aldi, where a box retails for $1.99 (effectively making $.10 the cost-per-muffin). However, it's the way they're broken down: five packs of four muffins each. What the shit is that? That has always irked me for two reasons: 1.) Four muffins is a ridiculously small amount; they're gone by the time I even realize I'm eating them, and 2.) This leads to an uneven number of packages. Sure, you could argue that five packs cover a whole school or work week, for those packing them in their lunches, but I've always thought it would make much more sense to do four packs of five each. Maybe that's just me.

Anyway, once you crack a package open, you pretty much know instantly what you're in for, with the candied scent of artificial blueberry overwhelming the senses. This isn't really a drawback for me; in fact, it's entirely what I was expecting, since I ate them as a kid. The muffins themselves are fairly moist, and as the smell would indicate, pack in quite a lot of sweetness and fake fruit flavor. To heighten the illusion of reality, there are also some actual blueberry pieces inside, although I can't say for sure if they add much to the flavor—the muffin itself seems to be saturated with a strong amount of the taste already, and the blueberry I ate on its own didn't seem to have much substance. It's fairly sweet, and will certainly be too much for some, but I think it's a pretty good balance overall.

One thing that I will say—and maybe it was just my mind playing tricks on me—but there were a couple muffins in the box that kind of tasted different than the rest. They weren't very sweet, and tasted almost salty, for lack of a better term. Not overly so, but enough that I noticed it occasionally. Maybe it was just a weird batch, or maybe it was just a glitch in my tastebuds, but considering how sweet most of them are, it definitely stood out to me. Thankfully, this only happened a couple of times (and across a couple different packs), so I'll just chalk it up as an anomaly, but it was still a rather bizarre occurrence worth noting.

Even dismissing the weird flavor changes, these still aren't my favorite blueberry muffins in the world, but they're a nice change of pace every once in a while when I get sick of everything else in Aldi's breakfast aisle. And an item that most people accustomed to the name brand will enjoy, especially considering the lower price.

Overall: 6/10. These aren't the greatest blueberry muffins in the world, but they're good enough to satisfy those craving the artificial blueberry taste of mini muffins, especially when the $1.99 price tag is taken into consideration. The muffins are acceptably moist, and pack in a good amount of artificial blueberry flavor without being too sweet or overly fakey. I did notice a couple muffins tasted less sweet than other ones, which might have merely been a weird batch flaw, or a random glitch in my own tastebuds, but it was oddly noticeable the couple of times it happened. Even dismissing the bizarre inconsistency of flavor, at the end of the day, these are decent muffins that I would get again, but not with any regularity or consistency.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Elevation by Millville Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan Nut & Spice Bar (Aldi)

Pretty tasty - and different - for what it is.

Let’s just continue our Elevation kick with an impulse buy, shall we? I was in the checkout line at Aldi, when all of a sudden the first growls of a hungry stomach rang out. As tempted as I was to run back into the store, I also didn’t want to leave my spot in line; just because no one was behind me right then didn’t mean even a quick run to grab something else wouldn't lead to me ending up in the back of a three- or four-person line. And I had a family to get home to.

So I frantically looked around the checkout area for something within my reach that would function as a snack—and that’s when I saw Elevation’s Dark Chocolate Cinnamon Pecan Nut & Spice Bar, an old friend, peering back at me. I'd tried this once before a while back, when Aldi first started carrying them, but never reviewed it, and had completely forgotten what it tasted like; why not give it another shot?

Man, this is a weird combination of flavors here, but “weird” is definitely a welcome change over, say, the disgusting wretchedness of their Apple Pie Bars, which just might be one of the worst things I’ve ever eaten. I do not like dark chocolate much, something I’ve said in a million posts before, but it’s a good choice to lead with here: the “bitter” of the dark chocolate combines well with the semi-sweetness of the cinnamon to create a rather interesting combination of tastes that isn’t mind-blowingly good, but is different enough to keep the tastebuds interested, if not outright excited. This is rounded out by a good helping of pecans, which just add the typical nutty taste and texture.

Where this bar really shines—especially as far as checkout counter impulse buys are concerned—is on the nutrition label: this is an innocuously healthy little bar with a lot to offer. For starters, there’s just 25mg of sodium per bar, good for a meager 1% of the recommended daily sodium content, which is incredibly low. There’s also 7g of fiber (25%), 5g of protein, 6% iron, and 4% potassium; perhaps not incredible numbers, but great for those looking for a fairly healthy snack on the go.

But how’s the value? I mean, usually these kinds of bars often go for about a dollar a bar (or more) when in multi-packs, which means single bars could be as much as double that cost. I was actually a little nervous about this myself, since the price sign underneath was for an incorrect product. Sure, it’s Aldi, but they still upcharge for “impulse” items like every other retailer…it just might not be to the same degree (I still do remember when they were briefly selling individual bottles of water for $.99, if I’m not mistaken…the same kind you could get a 24-pack of for about a dollar more).
As it turns out, these are $1.19 each, which isn't bad for a "convenience purchase" in the checkout counter of a supermarket. I’d definitely get these again, or maybe even try some of their other varieties, of which none really sound all that appealing, but who knows? Maybe I’ll find another diamond in the rough.

Overall: 7/10. I’m sure people often wonder: “Why does this guy even get things that he doesn’t like?” Well, products like these are the reason why: it’s not something I would have normally gotten, but it’s way more interesting than I thought it would be, delivers up a decent amount of vitamins—along with a mere 25mg of sodium—and does it all for $1.19, which is a pretty decent price for a single health bar at the checkout counter of a chain supermarket. The combination of cinnamon and dark chocolate – not one I really would have thought would work all that well, especially considering my aversion to dark chocolate – is somewhat hard to explain: it’s not sweet at all, yet also isn’t really bitter, hitting up a taste that hits squarely in the middle of “bitter” and “sweet” flavor profiles. It's that interesting blend of tastes that elevate this above the average "health" bar.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Kroger Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars (Kroger)

A plain, standard chocolate chip granola bar...which can be a good thing if that's all you want.
Aaaah, the granola bar: arguably the most boring and “standard” of all breakfast foods. It’s that one food item that are only popular because everyone has them, but no one actually really looks forward to eating them; thus, they become the “fallback option”, only getting eaten when everything else in the pantry is gone, yet you’re desperate for a snack.

That was more or less the situation here when I grabbed one of the first things I saw on my hurried way out the door for work...and that happened to be one of these granola bars, which was sitting front and center, as if it pushed itself to the front of the shelf and dared me to find something better. I easily could have, but I didn’t have time to think, so I grabbed one of the little guys from the box, sighed a little sigh of sadness to myself, and headed out the door.

Once there, I un-eagerly cracked the granola bar open and once again let out a sad whimper. True to form, these are pretty boring, but no worse than other granola bars, with a soft and chewy texture that gives way to a decent helping of semi-sweet chocolate chips. It goes down dry, but fairly easy; it's just a textbook example of boredom in food form; nothing at all to write home about, and nothing really worth getting unless you just want the boring plainness of granola. Which no one really ever does.

At $1.33 per 8-count box, value isn’t bad, but also isn't the best compared to similar products: At Aldi, a ten-pack is $1.29, giving you two more bars essentially for free, while Walmart's Great Value line offers up a multi-flavor 24-pack for just $2.84 (for the sake of comparison, at Kroger's going rate it would cost $5.32 for 24 of them). It’s just a matter of how much you’re willing to pay for one of the dullest, most over-purchased items on any store shelf. Seriously, it’s 2020 and people still buy these just to get pushed to the back of the pantry and forgotten about, where they will sit collecting dust until they’re expired, then eventually tossed in the trash without so much as a second thought?

Overall: 5.5/10. Just your standard granola bar, through and through, with nothing at all to even remotely differentiate itself from the rest of the pack. This is fine assuming you’re a person that enjoys the boring taste of granola mixed with semi-sweet chocolate chips, which I even happen to myself every once in a great while. So while flavor is pretty much on point with every other line, it's just that, with so many varieties of granola bars out there, and with all of them pretty much tasting exactly the same, it all comes down to price. And while the $1.33 retail for eight
bars isn't terrible, it's still bested by the likes of Aldi's ($1.29 for 10 bars) and Walmart's ($2.84 for a multi-flavor 24-pack) store brands, making it a less appealing value overall.  

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Vremi 13-Pc. Mixing Bowl Set (Online)

As functional and affordable as they are colorful.
After being impressed with Vremi's solid (but small) cookware set, we kept our attention on them when it was time to upgrade our mixing bowls. Similar to the multi-colored pots and pans set we purchased, their mixing bowl set comes in a variety of eye-popping colors, which certainly stand out in a sea of boring, neutrally-colored kitchenware. Beyond that, reviews were even better for this than they were for the pots and pans, while the value—under $20 for two mixing bowls (one large and one small), one strainer, one colander, four measuring cups, and five measuring spoons—was pretty well off the charts.

These have also performed admirably throughout the years, although without the requirement of being heated up and beaten around like pots and pans can be, that probably should be the case. As with most mixing sets, these are made of plastic, but you can tell just from holding them that they're built to last a while; they're pretty lightweight, but not so much so that they feel fragile. Sure enough, we've dropped these many a-time throughout the years without so much as a scratch to show for it—if anyone has cracked one, I can't even imagine what kind of blunt force trauma that poor thing must have gone through.

Even the measuring cups feel very well-made, with what appear to be several layers of plastic forming a rigid shell that suggests it can survive almost anything short of a house fire. I'll admit that, based on appearance, I was a little worried by the design of the handles at first, which curve around in a “U” shape, and are fairly thin, but those fears were allayed once I handled them. They don't feel flimsy at all, even now, three years after the initial purchase.

About the only sign of “damage” is a common one, at least in the sets we've bought before: the size markers on both the measuring cups and spoons, have pretty much worn off, probably due to multiple trips in the dishwasher. (On a side note, why don't manufacturers find ways to imprint them, or coat them so they don't wear off so easily? This has happened to virtually every set we've had, and can get a little frustrating when you're looking for a specific size and can't tell one apart from the rest.) Other than that, though, both sets have held up admirably well. Some have even ended up in our three-year-old's kitchen, where they are subjected to the whims of a small child—and not even that is enough to break them (he's actually generally pretty gentle with his kitchen toys, but is always prone to sudden, nap-avoiding breakdowns).

While I was impressed with the Vremi cookware, as I hinted at in that review, I would probably never buy that same set again, simply because the pots and pans are very small. This set, however, I wouldn't hesitate to replace as-is—especially since they've somehow managed to keep their price under $20 in the three years since we originally purchased it. It might not be quite enough for baking professionals, but for home use, the pieces have delivered well, and show no signs of letting up anytime soon. And that's why these are highly recommended.

Overall: 10/10. This is a fantastic set that, three years after we bought it, is still being offered for the same fantastic price. This thirteen-piece set offers pretty much all the measuring-related basics that a first-time homeowner (or dorm inhabitant, or small family, etc.) could ever need, including both large and small mixing bowls, measuring cups, and measuring spoons—and all for under $20. My wife has used each of these pieces dozens of times throughout the years (with some even ending up in our son's “kitchen” for long periods), and have held up impressively well—not just “for the price”, but for any price. There are some slight scuffs to the inside of the large mixing bowl, but there are no cracks to the bowls or cups, and no warping to the spoons, despite several trips into the dishwasher. While we do have more than just this one set in the house (my wife does occasionally go through intense spells of baking), these have held up way better than we ever expected, and we wouldn't hesitate to purchase this set again should the need ever arise. This isn't just a fantastic set "for the price", it's a fantastic set at any price.