Thursday, July 16, 2009


The kings of myth, legend, and cinema are typically the pinnacle of man. Handsome, noble, wise, unwavering; faultless creatures that transcend their biological form.

But then there's the occasional deviation, and one methinks probably more true to reality: the rotting, decrepit, corrupt monarch. Almost as vile in appearance as his foul essence within, this is the king who hath inspired many a violent revolution.

It is the latter of these two extremes that comes to mind when I hear durian described as the king of fruits. This is no just and noble monarch but he will certainly bring you to your knees.

durian waits

Durian is legendary, particularly among any community fascinated with strange and exotic fruits. In many south-east Asian countries it is illegal to carry them on public transport and they are banned from many hotels. It's not hard to understand why but upon first glance the reasons aren't so obvious.

I first encountered durian in the flesh at a local flea market. The giant spiky ball was far too exotic to resist. I had a sneaking suspicion as to what it might be but I wasn't certain. This giant weapon of war had a sweet, floral fragrance; definitely not what I had learned to expect. Twelve dollars later and the 15 pound monster was dangling from my arm, imparting a strange feeling of power. Well, to be honest, there was nothing too strange about it. This was nature's version of the medieval mace. I could have crushed the skull of any would-be attacker looking to steal my day's bounty.

Upon arriving home, the strange treasure was too enticing to save for later so I quickly turned to the all-knowing internet to identify my catch. And there it was: Durian, the king of fruits, the most infamous of the world's edible (and survivable) plant products that doesn't illicit some sort of pharmacological reaction (except as a possible emetic).

durian cut durian spread

Careful surgery is required to pierce the tough, thorny exterior to reach the flesh within, particularly if you don't want to damage yourself in the process. Regardless of the delicacy of the operation, this surgery is best performed outdoors, preferably with materials that are disposable or easy to wash. After the first cut, the reason for this becomes more than apparent.

From the recesses of the initial incision flows a stench reminiscent of an open sewer. Perhaps a bit more floral, but the stench of rot and sulphur dominates the surrounding air. One begins to suspect that this is no mere fruit, but the egg of some foul demonic creature.

durian open durian flesh

Removing a portion of the husk to reveal the flesh within does little to quell this suspicion. An embryo? A large maggot-like larva? Scrambled eggs? I can't be expected to put that in my mouth, can I?

Yes, that's it, the edible flesh, the king of fruits and the source of the foul stench. So what's there to do but hold your nose and dig in?

durian flesh close durian flesh closer

How can I describe the taste? While I think about it, here's a few choice quotes from other, more gifted scribes on the subject:

"The five cells are silky-white within, and are filled with a mass of firm, cream-coloured pulp, containing about three seeds each. This pulp is the edible part, and its consistence and flavour are indescribable. A rich custard highly flavoured with almonds gives the best general idea of it, but there are occasional wafts of flavour that call to mind cream-cheese, onion-sauce, sherry-wine, and other incongruous dishes. Then there is a rich glutinous smoothness in the pulp which nothing else possesses, but which adds to its delicacy. It is neither acid nor sweet nor juicy; yet it wants neither of these qualities, for it is in itself perfect. It produces no nausea or other bad effect, and the more you eat of it the less you feel inclined to stop. In fact, to eat Durians is a new sensation worth a voyage to the East to experience. ... as producing a food of the most exquisite flavour it is unsurpassed" - Alfred Russell Wallace

"... its odor is best described as pig-shit, turpentine and onions, garnished with a gym sock. It can be smelled from yards away." - Richard Sterling

"Its taste can only be described as...indescribable, something you will either love or despise. ...Your breath will smell as if you'd been French-kissing your dead grandmother." - Anthony Bourdain

And tweeted by the ever-so eloquent and charming Steven Fry:
"@stephenfry: Eating durian fruit by the roadside. A stench straight from Satan's anal ring, but a taste from an angel's sugared nipple."

[don't] eat durian

My assessment? Rotten egg and banana cream omelette with hints of year old mango cheesecake. At least that's what the sweeter, custardy parts taste like. The rubbery, egg-like flesh tastes like pure, unadulterated rot. But yes, the sweet custard; only mildly reminiscent of raw sewage does have a strange quality to it that compels one to eat more. There must be some sort of psychoactive effect to this odiferous, chemical cocktail to make a person want to keep taking bites between the retches. But even more vomit-inducing than the off taste is the overpower nature of the stench. More than anything, this foul odor permeates and saturates the experience, prompting the consumer to plug their nose when venturing to take a bite.

durian maggot

Strictly speaking in terms of nutrition, durian doesn't live up to its moniker. It's very high in sugar but does a decent amount of Vitamin C, some Potassium, and fats. I could understand all the hype if durian was some sort of nigh-incredible superfood, the maggot-like sections packed with vitamins and minerals but, strangely enough, all of the allure seems to be based on the vile flavor.

There's a wide variety of confections and sweets in southeast Asia in which durian is a primary constituent. Now, I've had those Harry Potter jelly beans that taste like vomit and other disgusting substances but they clearly a novelty. I couldn't even imagine taking a mere sip of a durian milkshake no matter how dilute the fetid, sewer flavor.

Rather than eating durian which, with its ghastly smell and odd flavor, I think nature is trying to dissuade us from doing, I think durian should instead be used as a weapon of war.

durian mace

Exhibit A: its uncanny resemblance to a mace. The sheer bulk of this fruit with its array of sharp thorns make it a deadly armament, capable of crushing skulls.

durian warrior

Exhibit B: the smell. Anyone nimble enough to escape your wild swings with soon be overcome by the stench. And really, why damage the environment with manufacturing byproducts and waste all of that metal and plastic in the creation and use of tear gas canisters when you could just lob a durian into a crowd. They're even a renewable resource.


I'm planting my tree now so I'll prepared when the economy dissolves further and bands of former-middle-class marauders begin wandering the streets. What are you going to do when you run out of bullets? I'll be there with my formidable durian arsenal, crushing skulls and, in times of great desperation, grabbing mouthfuls of rotten mango omelette.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Almond Milk

Rejoice, here I dispense with the last of the more obscure milk substitutes (at least that I know of) so you don't have to hear about how much I like Oat Milk ever again... at least until I find out someone is making barley milk or quinoa milk or something like that. But anyway, I finally got around to buying and trying some Almond Milk and now comes the hard part: coming up with something to say without repeating myself.

almond dream

I already regurgitated plenty of information on almonds in the Almond Butter entry and weighed the various qualities of milk substitutes in the Oat Milk
and Hemp Milk entries so what is there left to say apart from the specifics?

Well, almond milk may be a little different from its other milk substitute brethren as very minimal processing is required. Take some ground almonds then stick them in a blender with water and you're on your way to almond milk. Just don't do this with bitter almonds; combining them with water produces cyanide.

Nutritionally speaking, unfortified almond milk doesn't quite stack up to its cow borne counterpart but it does have fewer calories, even less than soy milk so it's a good choice for those on a diet.

almond dream

The flavor? How can I say this without stating the obvious? Watery almonds, that's what it tastes like. But this isn't as bad as it sounds. Really, the flavor is quite pleasant and it actually worked out quite well as a tasty, low-calorie addition to my post-workout protein shakes.

Oat Milk still wins for me although I did buy some recently, the only brand I've yet to find in US stores, and actually didn't enjoy it all too much. It wasn't bad, just didn't compare to my past experience with the British champion, the one and only Oatly. I hope to find some other brands that will rekindle my love for the oat milk but, baring that fortunate turn, I think Almond Milk is a close enough second to warrant a switch. But I'm not looking for a substitute, just an occasional alternative. As long as there be cows, I'll be prepared to drink them dry.

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Longan translates phonetically to "dragon eyes" in Cantonese and Vietnamese and "cat eyes" in a few other Southeast Asian languages. At first one might think this is due to the rough, mottled exterior of this little fruit but the secret to the name lies within. Rarely seen within the US, I was fortunate enough to encounter these strange little fruits on a recent visit to a local flea market where there are a few great stalls featuring some exotic Asian produce.

longan bunch

A member of the Sapindaceae family of trees, longans are relatives of lychees and rambutans. They are grown in the same Southeast Asian lands as their cousins but their origins have been traced to the southern region of China, a bit further north than the fertile tropical breeding grounds of their family members.

longan in hand

The longan doesn't appear edible at first glance. It isn't until you squeeze these tough looking orbs that you start to suspect there might be some viable fruit inside. Peeling back the skin is much like peeling a lychee or a hard-boiled egg. The rind is thick but pliable and breaks off to reveal the dragon's eye inside. The flesh is veined and translucent with a dark seed embedded in its center, giving the appearance of an eyeball, hence the name.

longan open

The taste of the translucent longan flesh is a little strange. Whereas the flavors of the lychee and rambutan are wholly sweet and floral, there's a mild tang in the longan. One could aptly describe it as being like a lychee with a hint of sweet onion. Not bad, but this odd note dampened my enthusiasm about finishing the rest of the bunch.

longan flesh

There are some bumpier varieties but mine was essentially smooth with some slight texturing. The minor pickled-onion flavor puts me off wanting to make them a regular part of my repertoire but since my beloved rambutans and lychees are far more expensive, I might be forced to pick up some more of these little snack sized fruits on my next trip to the market.

longan seed

Then again, if I can get one of these to produce a fruit-bearing tree in a reasonable amount of time, I might just have to get used to the idea of onion flavored fruit.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Red Bull Cola

"Cola? Really? Is he really at such a loss for ideas?"

No, I have plenty of ideas... and plenty of good subjects lined up for when I can scrape together enough time to write about them. So stay tuned for more excitement!

Right now I just ask that you humor me for a bit.

red bull cola

It wasn't my intention to educate you about the oddness that is cola and this still isn't my primary aim, but the fact of the matter is that cola is undeniably strange. It's like the chai of soft drinks, a sweetened infusion of exotic ingredients. Sugar and spice and everything nice. And looking at the cola consumption amongst the youth of today, I'd concur that it is indeed what little girls are made of. As for the snakes and snails and puppy dogs' tails bollocks, I for one have never eaten and will never eat a dog's tail (outside of a nuclear holocaust) so I call into question the validity of that ancient assessment of little boys.

Cola is named for the kola nut, the seed pod of a number of species of African trees that are close relatives to the godly South American cacao tree. The kola nut, like its cousin, contains caffeine and it is for this very reason (and also perhaps because it has euphoric qualities) that its bitter extract has long been used as an additive to soft drinks. However, it is reported that these days many of the major cola companies use an artificial kola flavor and crush up generic No-Doz for the caffeine.

Fun Questionable Fact: Most pure, isolated caffeine found in your favorite alertness pills and energy drinks is a byproduct of the decaffeination of coffee and tea.

red bull cola

So why write about Red Bull Cola? Go to the store, or our kitchen, and read the ingredient lists on the back of any major cola brand. You're bound to see something like this:


What the hell does all of that mean? What are natural flavors? Here's what the FDA has to say about that from their Code of Federal Regulations:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional...

Through additional rules and regulations, there is no requirement to list the foods from which these flavors are derived. But the recently released Red Bull Cola is one of the few brands of cola that proudly flaunts all flavor constituents on the label and therefore, despite my typical blanket avoidance of soft drinks, I was compelled to purchase a pack for private experimentation after a quick skim through the ingredients. So let's read through them, shall we:

Water, Sugar, Carbon Dioxide, Caramel...

So far this is pretty standard...


Ok, that's a strange one. Galangal is a root with what is described as an earthy citrus flavor with hints of pine and soap. It's used in Chinese medicine as a stimulant and aphrodisiac. Odd, but that's not what got my attention...

...Vanilla, Mustard Seed, Lime, Kola Nut, Cacao, Licorice, Cinnamon, Lemon, Ginger, Coca Leaf...

Coca leaf? Coca leaf! The scourge of the modern world, primary ingredient in Coca Tea and source of the dreaded compound cocaine (from which novocaine and many other incredibly useful painkillers were derived). No wonder Red Bull gives you wings.

red bull cola

Well, the coca leaves are, of course, decocainized but here we all thought that colas no longer used such ingredients. We've been taught to believe that the cocaine in early versions of Coca Cola was a myth. Turns out they still use coca leaves in their flavoring as well. We've also been taught that the USA has a blanket policy barring the import of this despicable vegetation. As it happens, the unprocessed leaves are imported and then the cocaine is removed in domestic factories. So, in essence, the USA is the largest importer and processor of coca leaves in the world. And like the processes used to decaffeinate coffee beans and tea leaves that result in the production of pure caffeine that is used in pills, drinks, and other stimulating foods, cocaine is undoubtedly a byproduct of the decocainization process. So what happens to it all? What indeed...

But let's finish up on these ingredients:

...Orange, Corn Mint, Pine...

As in pine tree? Isn't that crap poisonous?

...Cardamom, Mace, Clove, Lemon Juice concentrate, Caffeine from Coffee Beans

What a strange cocktail of exotic spices, the most surprising of all being the coca leaf, and it just happens to be the most popular drink in the world. But there's potentially a more sinister side to it all beyond the multinational/globalization issue that people are always up in arms about. It seems as though the cola industry might be supporting the drug trade. Them and the bakers of poppy seed muffins. Madness.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Meyer Lemon

The graphical depiction of my childhood would be sunny and surreal, filled with dry thunderstorms, fires, floods, and ferocious fauna. It would also taste like lemons. You see, I grew up with a lemon tree in the backyard and, as a consequence, I ate a lot of lemons. Yes, ate, I ate them. In fact, I don't really recall drinking much of what is called lemonade in the US although I sucked plenty of juice out of raw lemons pulled off the tree. But in these circumstances where one experiences beautiful, fresh fruit straight from the plant, one also encounters the spoiled specimens. I was forever stepping on rotten lemons, feeling their brown, leathery exterior give way to the rancid juice inside. Naturally, being lemon-scented rot, the off-lemon doesn't smell as bad as most decaying vegetation but they don't smell very nice either. Our dogs would frequently attempt to eat the fallen lemons and then, as happened every time, vomit a yellow foam in the garden which you would also inevitably find yourself stepping in.

meyer lemon

As I sit here thinking about my past I realize that my mind categorizes lemons in a strange way. Having shared an intimate connection with this fruit I hold them in a sacred, high regard but, by that very same token, I completely take them for granted. I don't think I've ever bought a lemon and I don't feel I should have to buy them. Instead I should be able to walk into my backyard and pluck one from a tree. But alas, the tree is no more... chopped down a long time ago in a land far away.

lemon addition

My non-commercial pact with the lemon was slightly broken when I encountered the Meyer lemon at a local grocery store. The smooth skin and darker tone told me that this was no ordinary lemon which left me both intrigued and slightly affronted. It turns out that the Meyer lemon is a hybrid between a regular lemon and a mandarin, from which it gets its smooth skin and darker hue.

I typically don't do much research about the strange foods in this blog before I consume them so that can approach them with as little bias as possible (fortunately, I violated this self-imposed ignorance before tackling the Cherimoya and spared myself the inconvenience of paralysis or death). So it was out of character for me to do some reading about the Meyer lemon prior to consuming it because, despite my long history of raw lemon consumption, I didn't want to eat the whole thing and figured I could find a few interesting ideas to try.

meyer lemon cut

I hit jackpot when I found an online article from the Los Angeles Times boasting 100 things to do with a Meyer lemon. With so many to choose from, I figured I'd be set so I proceeded to photograph and dissect my specimin.

I had every intention of exploring some of the articles suggestions but after my first bite I abandoned all plans.

Yes, the fragrance was sweet and so was the taste but it was strangely sour as well. Strange because I don't mean a typical lemon sour; that tart, lip puckering taste we've all , but sour in a rotten way.

meyer lemon cut close

Memories of dead lemons and yellow dog vomit came flooding back. I forced another couple bites in a vain attempt to acclimate myself to the taste and then tipped the copious remains into the trash.

Despite the bad experience, my interest has been piqued about what other hybridized lemons are out there but this one won't be entering my shopping basket again.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Butter Milk

I'm a simple [minded] man. Upon encountering a compound word I, like many of my fellow humans, naturally assume it to be a portmanteau word, where the meanings of the root words are also combined. One great example of this concept is the spork. Spoon + fork = spork. Even if you'd never encountered such an implement, it's easy to imagine what it would look like. Food is not excluded from my blind assumptions. After all there are so many examples that wholly support my bias. Take for example

the strawberry,

the watermelon,

and my favorite of all

the crab apple.

I'll admit, my natural assumption is highly illogical but is it the fault of my misguided brain or the inconsistencies of the English language that are to blame here?


I don't do the typical breakfast foods but I associate buttermilk pancakes and biscuits with creamy buttery goodness since the pictures of said items always show a steamy mound of carbs slathered in creamy, melting butter. With this association stuck in my mind and my biologically driven love for butter, I had always assumed butter milk was just as the name implied: some unsalted, half-churned stop off between whole milk and butter.

I hadn't given the stuff much serious consideration until I saw it on the menu at a local restaurant. For a week I couldn't get my fabricated idea of buttermilk out of my head and I leisurely daydreamed of drinking this frothy fat smoothie. It took some frantic searches of a few local stores to find it, but on my next shopping trip I was able to secure a liter of the mythic buttermilk. Immediately upon arriving home I dispensed with the requisite pictures and got down to business.


The slight scent of salt hit my nose and I initially thought that, like most butter, it was just salted but then the culture followed. Sour milk. Intentionally sour milk at that. We were dealing not with the formula buttermilk = butter + milk. Instead, like many of life's mysteries, the answer to the equation x = buttermilk - milk was far less obvious. In this case, solving for x would give us an approximation of yogurt + salt.

According to Wikipedia, fount of all modern knowledge:

Buttermilk is a fermented dairy product produced from cows' milk with a characteristically sour taste. The product is made in one of two ways. Originally, buttermilk was the liquid left over from churning butter from cream. In India, buttermilk, widely known as "chaas" is known to be the liquid leftover after extracting butter from churned curd (dei). Today, this is called traditional buttermilk. On the other hand artificially made buttermilk, also known as cultured buttermilk, is a product where lactic acid bacteria called Streptococcus lactis have been added to milk.

See, "originally" I wasn't as wrong. In the original meaning, the fat was mostly removed from the milk/cream leaving a leaner liquid behind, not the fatty broth I was dreaming about, and still tart due to the high lactic acid concentration. Quite possibly to increase its longevity, the beneficial bacteria were added to the mix in other cultures, giving it more of a sour, yogurt-like taste.

I drank up and I drank deep but by the end of my little glass I couldn't stomach the thought of tasting any more until the next day when I'd slightly forgotten what it was like. Rather than comparing it to yogurt, I guess it would be more apt to describe the texture and taste as being like a blended and slightly diluted batch of cottage cheese. Not bad, but not something I could drink with any regularity.

Health nuts take note, it is quite a nutritionally sound beverage. There is less fat than whole milk, high levels of potassium, vitamin B12, and calcium and the added bacteria aids in the absorption of the protein.

So there you have it, further evidence of my shocking ignorance but at least I now know to be a little more careful next time when making assumptions about foods with compound names (at least I still have the Aprium to back me up). I think I'll go knock back a few shots of pure cream to lift my spirits.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Buzz Bites

I spent my childhood in Australia jealously shaking my fist at the fortunate youth across the ocean, the kids in America. These kids had it all. Movie stars walking the streets, gadgets galore, and a holiday like none other; a holiday where all young people prowled the streets in fantastic costumes, collecting enormous amounts of FREE candy.

Australia didn't celebrate Halloween when I was young. Oh, we knew about it of course, but good luck trying to squeeze some chocolate out of your neighbors, you'd be more likely to get hit with an empty beer can.

But in my 10th year of life I was given the greatest gift any young Australian child could hope for. No, not an anti-venom variety pack; that would be the second greatest. I was given the gift of relocation to the holy land: The United States of America.

So I hit the Halloween scene late. At first I hated all of the candy. My first of many major illusions about the US to be shattered was the realization that you guys have it bad in the chocolate bar department... really bad. However, even before I became accustomed to the sweets of the land, there were a few varieties that stuck out as being the worst of the worst and the dreaded Tootsie Roll may very well be at the top of that horrid list.

What the hell are Tootsie Rolls? I know they mention something about sugar but, as far as I'm concerned, they're just brown colored taffy flavored with the same dirty mop water used to make Yoohoo.

buzz bites wrapper

ANYWAY, this isn't about Tootsie Rolls so I'll cut that rant short. However, I needed to use these vile little pieces of sugary excrement as a point of reference.

You see, or perhaps you've already seen, I'm a depraved caffeine addict. All you have to do is mention the word coffee in a product description and I'm already at the checkout, shoving it in my face and looking for my debit card. And this is how I was stung by the Buzz Bite.

Buzz Bites are little "chocolate" squares that contain as much caffeine as a cup of coffee. It even says so on the label through the use of very clever symbology. For a more in depth description, this is what the buzz bites website says about them:

Buzz Bites - Chocolate & Mint Chocolate Energy Chews contain a proprietary blend of caffeine, ginseng, taurine and B vitamins, which enhance performance, increase endurance, stimulate metabolism and sharpen that edge that lets you take on life!

Oh yeah! Sharpen that edge! What am I saying? Who am I to criticize? That's exactly what drives me to consume dangerous levels of caffeine in the first place, the desire to maximize focus and productivity. So sure, Buzz Bites definitely deliver in the caffeine department, but it's how they do it that's the problem.

buzz bite

Buzz Bites taste like Tootsie Rolls. But wait, that's not all! Buzz Bites taste like those "cream filled" Tootsie Rolls but instead of the "creme" filling they shoved a caffeine pill inside. At 50 cents or more a pop, you'd be better off doing just that yourself. The vile, bitter taffy may give you the kick you're looking for but there's no benefit in the delivery.

Drink a cup of coffee, drink a red bull, or swallow a caffeine pill with some chocolate milk. Just don't waste your money on these. But if you do decide to buy some, I definitely won't turn them down when I'm standing at your door with my pillow case in my hands and my moth-eaten bed sheets draped over my head.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Coffee Berry Juice

One day I was in the midst of consuming excessive amounts of coffee, a regular occurrence, when I started wondering about what happens to the fruit surrounding coffee beans after they are harvested. You see, coffee beans come from berries that look like cherries, little red orbs that grow on a vine. In some places civets eat these berries and poop out deliciously adulterated coffee beans which are then roasted and sold to rich Americans as Kopi Luwak. But is the flesh of coffee berries/cherries fit for human consumption?

Soon after posing this question I discovered that O.N.E. (One Natural Experience), makers of the strangely delicious Cashew Juice and refreshing Coconut Water, offer a beverage made from the flesh of coffee cherries.

coffee berry juice

Continuing in their line of intriguingly unorthodox and deliciously nutritious drinks, O.N.E. combine the nutritious coffee fruit, the benefits of which are typically destroyed and discarded during the processing of the beans, with strawberry puree and Acerola (Amazon Cherry). This mixture of fruits results in a potent nutritional cocktail high in antioxidants and Vitamin C. In fact, Acerola juice itself contain 32 times the amount of vitamin C as an equal volume of orange juice.

coffee juice breakfast

The coffee berries themselves are said to be a bit bland but I think I detect some hints of the typical astringent qualities of coffee. The flavor of the juice is dominated primarily by the strawberry puree which, along with the meaty texture, results in a drink that is akin to the expensive, exotic juice blends at high end natural food eateries. There's about as much caffeine as green tea so, while it won't give you a huge boost, there's enough stimulation to kick your brain into gear. Add to that the almost paradoxical filling and refreshing nature of the beverage and there's no reason not to fill half of your refrigerator with cartons of this stuff (the other half, of course, being reserved for chilled coffee). Unfortunately, I only have one left at the moment but I can't bring myself to drink if because I can't stand the idea of not having anymore (I'm in the same situation with the Cashew Juice as well).


Nothing will ever replace coffee as my one true love but, not wanting to have a heart attack before I'm 30, I can't very well drink it all day. With its delicious flavor, high nutrient levels, mild caffeine concentration, and pure convenience, I'd gladly make Coffee Berry Juice my beverage of choice in between shots of espresso.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Heater Meals

What happens when a company consolidates various edible items from a series of low quality food producers to create a gigantic mass of meal for people on the go? Well, you might get something like HeaterMeals©, the self-heating meal that is perfect for anyone lost in the wilderness, embedded in a war zone, or hopelessly wandering across the charred remains of a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

heater meal top down

For my birthday, many months ago, I was given a HeaterMeals Plus™ by a co-worker. This may have been because he knows about my penchant for trying strange foods. More likely is that, having just returned from training with the Army Reserves, it was "leftovers" and he thought it would be funny to pass it on. Either way, I was quite grateful to be the recipient of such an odd parcel and, noting the expiration date of nearly a year later, promptly stuck it in the cupboard to be used on some future adventure. Well, the adventure never came and one day I was hungry, curious, and looking to free up some cabinet space and decided this was the day I would put the self-heating meal to the test.

Innotech invented their Flameless Ration Heater technology, TRUETECH™, in 1990 which has been used to heat over 1 Billion Meals for the U.S. Armed Forces.

Using this self-heating technology, Innotech developed, copyrighted, and branded an array of ready-to-eat meal options including:

  • HeaterMeals© Self-Heating Meals - "a tasty, nutritious mobile, hot meal"

  • HeaterMeals Plus™, The Self-Heating Meal, Plus all The Fixings™ - a HeaterMeal with some snacks, condiments, and a drink

  • HeaterMeals3© - a HeaterMeal© with a 3 year shelf life

  • HeaterMealsEX (which, curiously, isn't listed with a copyright next to its name... I guess they reached their quota on the number of copyright symbols one can use on a web page and still be standards compliant) - a HeaterMeal© with a 5 year shelf life!

Whew, that was a lot of product. Within each of these categories are a variety of meals for carnivores, omnivores, and herbivores alike. Some of the options include:
  • Chicken Pasta Italiana

  • Green Pepper Steak with Rice

  • Homestyle Chicken & Noodles in Gravy

  • Mushroom Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, & Beef

  • Vegetarian 3 Cheese Lasagna

  • Zesty BBQ Sauce & Potatoes with Beef

  • Southwest Style Chicken with Rice and Beans

  • Pancakes, Real Blueberry Topping and Bacon Slices

  • + many, many more!

heater meal malnutrition

I had the "Pancakes, Real Apple Topping & Bacon Slices" from the HeaterMealsPlus breakfast series. Weighing in at a whopping 1240 calories, this is one burly breakfast! Included were two little pancakes, some strips of bacon-esque material, trail mix, raisins, apple juice, apple topping, a fruit cup, and the TRUTECH™ heating aparatus itself. There were more raisins and apple products than you could shake a stick at. Were these the fruits harvested towards the end of the season? Dried grapes and mushy apples rendered palatable through desiccation, liquefaction, and juice extraction? Well, it's a better fate than letting them go to waste.

heater meal steaming

To heat the food you place the appropriate items into the orange heater bag, pour in the provided pouch of water, and fold the bag in half to keep the heat in and prevent resultant chemical reaction from making a mess. At first the steam trickles out slowly but before you know it you're witnessing a violent boil. This thing really does get quite hot so one must take great care when removing the contents for consumption. I'm not a stickler for hot meals and can very well enjoy my food cold or tepid (I actually prefer to not heat up leftovers) but I could absolutely see this being indispensable in a cold environment where lighting a fire is not an option.

heater meal prepared

Now onto the food itself: basically it tasted like crap. The raisins, fruit cup, juice, and trail mix had enough sugar to kill an entire army of diabetics. The bacon was like fat jerky and, although it didn't taste too bad, it's not something I'd choose to eat again. Although most would disagree with me on this point, the pancakes were quite palatable. They were dry and rubbery but that just tricked me into thinking they were some sort of healthy, whole grain pancakes (is that an oxymoron?). But seriously, taste and enjoyability are not the point of these meals; this is not food you're supposed to choose to eat. You eat HeaterMeals because you have to. Despite my biting criticism about the quality of this product, there's no denying how incredibly essential it could be in a time of need. So while it may not win out in the taste arena (and I must admit, I only tasted one and it could very well be the poorest of the bunch) they certainly do excel in terms of:

  • Longevity: 1 - 5 years is a long shelf life for a meal and could mean the difference between life or death.

  • Nutrition: sure, not the "healthiest" food around but it provides all of the essentials and more for dire situations. The high calorie content could again mean the difference between life and death.

  • Warmth: because there's no socket for your spot heater out in the wild.

  • Portability: you can fit a lot of these in a backpack, particularly if you ditched the box and sorted everything out before packing it, and there's no need for extra cooking equipment.

If I was roughing it or surviving in a bind then these types of products would be essential. So yeah, they may not taste very nice to the comfortable and well fed but these are the best post-apocalyptic meals money can buy.

heater meal pancakes and bacon

Wow, I had planned on just making a bunch of disparaging remarks about this meal, particularly considering I couldn't even finish it (no need for the excess calories) but it appears as though I instead formulated a mini-infomercial. If only my endless drivel made any sense, then I might be able to capitalize on this aimless venture.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle Ice Cream

As a male, I've never understood the whole "curled up on the couch with a pint of Häagen-Dazs" method to cheering oneself up. If you haven't noticed by reading through these expositions on gustatory experimentation, I haven't much of a sweet tooth, in fact I can be quite sensitive to sugar, and I am prone to freak outs about nutrition. Ergo, ice cream and other desserts are not at all comfort food for me, quite the opposite. This means I can walk down the ice cream aisle with nary a fear of temptation... well, except when it comes to the coffee varieties but I've been burned too many times to fall for that again.

cocunut sesame ice cream

But a few weeks ago I was grocery shopping and found myself in a mighty struggle against the gods of girth. Breezing past the frozen sweets my eyes briefly scanned the word sesame, forcing a double take and a halt for further investigation. Toasted coconut and sesame brittle ice cream? Upon first seeing this tub of [very expensive] frozen dairy dessert amongst a small collection of other [very expensive] exotic varieties in the Häagen-Dazs Reserve Series, I was immediately enthralled. Sesame seeds have long been an ingredient in deserts throughout Asian and Middle Eastern cultures but as far as us Western folk are concerned, they're what gets sprinkled on top of hamburger buns or, if you're looking to be adventurous, fried chicken at Chinese restaurants. That's it, end of story.

cocunut sesame ice cream

Being slightly unfamiliar with the ways of the sesame, I was very eager to try this odd indulgence but slightly afraid of the horrors detailed in the nutritional information. Sugars and fats galore with 300 whopping calories per serving but in the end my curiosity won out over my health concerns and I purchased the tub of [very expensive] ice cream.

Häagen-Dazs says that their inspiration for the Toasted Coconut Sesame Brittle flavor is drawn from "the lush islands of Thailand, where coconut trees line white beaches and the local markets are filled with exotic Asian spices like ginger and sesame." However, due to the hot climate and lack of beach-side refrigeration, the Thai people were prevented from coming up with the brilliant idea of mixing this all together in a tub of ice cream.

Looking at commodity prices, sesame seeds are far less expensive than I had imagined. I mean, you never really see them for sale in Western supermarkets except in the aforementioned form of a hamburger bum adornment so I figured they were a luxury of sorts. At approximately $2.50 per pound for the consumer, it's cheaper than many other seeds and grains. But what I did have prior knowledge of was their great nutritional profile, particularly when unhulled. While incredibly high in fat, the fats are primarily of the monounsaturated variety which has been shown to lower LDL [bad] cholesterol levels. Sesame seeds are also high in copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, and iron and have significant amounts of zinc, vitamin B1, and vitamin E.

Not only are they super nutritious, sesame seeds are also super delicious. There's a lot of flavor packed into these tiny little seeds. However, I have no idea what one would compare said flavor to.

cocunut sesame ice cream

But anyway, onto the ice cream itself; this stuff is simply too good. The sesame brittle is reminiscent of the tiny, meatless artifacts found within a helping of fresh, good quality sesame chicken but with a hint of ginger to spice it up. The toasted coconut pieces themselves would have made a great singular ingredient in this creamy confection but the sesame brittle gives a welcome kick of exoticism, transforming a dessert into a delicacy.

As with any food of this kind, a few bites are enough to satisfy me, too much sweetness can put me off for a while, but I found myself visiting the tub more frequently than usual throughout the week so that by the time I got around to taking pictures it was almost all gone. Had I waited any longer, would have been forced to purchase another tub and that would have put me in a very, very bad situation. I don't want to buy new pants. Like a woman in the midst of a personal tragedy, I think I'll have to avoid the ice cream aisle from now on... I don't know if my will is strong enough to resist further temptation.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Thai Guava

The thai guava is one ugly fruit. Not ugly in the same grotesque vein of an Ugli Fruit or a Cherimoya, just an "if I found this in the wild I would not be tempted to stick this in my mouth" way; mottled green and brown with an odor that gives no indication of edibility. But given that it reminded me in that sense of a Fieoja, I was optimistic that the flesh contained some secret delight.

thai guava

Nutritionally speaking, guavas are pretty good food. Packed with vitamin C, vitamin A, antioxidants, and fiber, this is something that you should want to eat, right? Even the seeds contain a healthy dose of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. So I should definitely want to eat this... right?

Well, I think I left my Thai Guava too long before getting around to the eating business. This could partially account for the abominable appearance of the skin and a slight brown region in the flesh. Undeterred by the slight decay I prepared to consume the sparkling white regions untouched by rot. Moving my face towards the fruit, the aroma still didn't shout "eat me" but I continued my mission and took the first bite.

thai guava cut

Soap. It tasted like soap. So maybe that was just the first nibble or maybe there are some complex secondary flavors that explode forth after the enzymes in my saliva set about breaking down the chemicals left in my mouth. No, still tasted like soap. I couldn't finish and hastily threw the rest of the fruit away.

Was I missing something?

Some sites liken the taste to a pear but I wasn't experiencing anything like that. Ideally I'd sample some more in order to make my observations more scientific in a sense. But this isn't science, dammit! This is self-righteous, opinionated, babble. However, the judgment isn't final as there are some other strange varieties of guava that I will certainly try if I ever happen to find them available commercially.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Fritos Chili Cheese Wrap

What has this world come to where something like the Fritos Chili Cheese Wrap can be suffered to exist? The shock of seeing this abomination parading as food in a local circular had me journeying to Sonic in a matter of minutes. Being completely out of touch with popular culture (and reality in general), I have no idea how long this crime against nutrition has been perpetrated but the sheer indecency of it left me completely dumbfounded.

chili cheese frito wrap

Sparing myself a couple dollars and few hundred calories, I bought the junior version of this foul beat. There's no need to tell you that it bears no resemblance the depiction in the menu in terms of, shall we say, rotundness. I want to move to the alternate dimension where fast-food menu pictures are taken. Even if they serve crap like this at least it's big, warm, and inviting as opposed to the tepid, sloppy, grease cakes you always end up with. There will be no obesity-epidemic finger pointing, multinational corporation condemnations, or questions concerning food quality standards here; but having worked in fast-food during high school, I should know enough about the realities of the food to stay away. However, without any sliver of shame I can attest to the fact that it really does serve its purpose in times of great need and frugality. Regardless, even in times of desperation, I don't think I could stomach the likes of this.

chili cheese frito wrap

So, back to the meat of this post: The Fritos Chili Cheese Wrap. Wait, where the hell is the meat? Unfolding the thick layers of tortilla I am confronted with a bunch of corn chips slathered in a sloppy brown sauce with a few small flecks of something that I assume used to belong to a mammal. Okay, I know what you're thinking: diarrhea. Yeah, I was thinking that too.

chili cheese frito wrap

However, it wasn't the defecatory resemblance that prevented me from finishing it. One mere bite set my salivary glands off in pre-vomit state but I still proceeded to go back for a second taste. Now, I must admit that I really don't like Fritos at all so that did factor into my disgusted and disgusting reaction to this monstrosity but honestly, it was mostly the starch and grease overload that brought me close to bringing it all back up. One must assume that there are people out there who actually enjoy this kind of garbage and, sadly, they probably outnumber those of us who think the very idea of it is vile; how depressing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Passion Fruit

One day I was walking the dog with the wife and happened upon a strange green fruit growing on a vine. "Hmmm... what's this? I wonder if I can eat it," I remarked but was summarily warned that I would not be transported to the hospital in the event of any poisoning. The orb was about the size of a racquetball ball and had the same flexible, hollow feel. This oddity puzzled me for weeks every time I saw it. What on Earth could it be?

Here's the kicker: I had seen flowers on that same vine before. I knew was these flowers were called yet, in an extreme and prolonged case of idiocy, my feeble mind refused to make the connection. What was this flower, you ask? The passion flower:

Passiflora incarnata

And the fruit, of course, was a passion fruit. Get your iodine lest you end up a cretin like me.

passion fruit hangs

Ever present as a flavoring in fruit drinks, candies, and confections, I was slightly puzzled to find that many people I asked had never eaten a passion fruit. Strange, since they are actually grown commercially (and wildly) in Florida, where I currently reside. When I lived in Australia, another big producer, they were in all grocers. But I can't remember having seen them in any local supermarkets for years and only just recently found a few on the Island of Misfit Produce at Whole Foods.

passion fruit skin

There are two main varieties of passion fruit. The purple passion fruit is the most commonly known and has the characteristic wrinkly purple skin. It only grows to about the size of a lemon whereas its cousin, the yellow passion fruit, can grow to the size of a grapefruit. Both varieties have a tough, outer rind that contains a clutch of seeds coated with a gelatinous, yellow/orange substance. The skin of mine was actually a mottled white/purple, something I had not seen before and I can only make the logical assumption that it is a cultivar of the purple variety. Regardless, just as our mothers told us, it's what's inside that matters.

passion fruit seeds and flesh

Juices containing passion fruit really do the fresh fruit no justice. The aroma is sublimely sweet and floral with hints of mango. One whiff and you'll be incapable of resisting the temptation of the sweet flesh. The flavor is far more incredible than I had remembered; delectably rich and sweet but with a refreshing quality that can't be found in equally rich foods. Like a pomegranate, you scoop the innards out and consume both flesh and seed. Unlike a pomegranate, the seeds contribute favorably to the flavor, adding a slight dash of bitterness and sourness to counteract the intense sweetness of the flesh.

passion fruit weeps

Unfortunately, there's a meager amount of edible matter and, at a dollar or more a pop, there are economic deterrents from just grabbing another for a repeat experience. Still, this salacious fruit is one you can quite happily take your time to savor.