REVIEW: Trader Joe’s Quasar Bar

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar

Each Halloween, we are given an invitation to be That Place.

You know. The one at the top of the hill with the full-sized Take 5’s and Reese’s Pumpkins that’s decked out with trap doors, creaky porch stairs, and an abandoned basement that’s haunted by Captain Windemere, the one-eyed Disc Jockey who refused to play special requests.

That Place? Is the coolest place in town.

And you and me? We could be That Place. But first, we gotta find, taste, and stock up on the best full-sized candy out there.

So it is that, in a spot of convenient timing, Trader Joe’s gives us not one, but TWO full-sized candy bars to consider for the occasion: the Quasar and the Boffo, here to compete with Milky Way Midnight and Snickers. The Milky Way-ish Quasar is the first runner up for consideration. Let’s see how it goes.

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar 2

In a shape that may or may not look like the CTA-102 qausi-stellar object, this bar sports an impressively smooth coating that tastes of fudge, coffee, and Dove semisweet chocolate while the nougat provides an earthy fluffiness that reminds me of a malted milkshake. The caramel rounds things off with a hefty dose of stretchy toasted sugar. Taken together, there’s fluff, snap, and stretch, which sounds like it came straight from Richard Simmons’ 1995 classic, “Sweatin’ to the Oldies 2: An Aerobic Concert.”

And while that’s all well and good, it’s time for the true test: Milky Way Midnight v. Quasar.


Trader Joe's Quasar Bar 3

First off, who needs carbon dioxide and stardust? If I’m reading this right, our universe is made of chocolate, caramel, and nougat, which makes me want to quit my job and hop on-board the next spaceship. Look out NASA! Here I come!

Confectionary-driven occupational transitions aside, let us put our science cap on and compare the differences.

Biting in, the Milky Way is softer and fluffier than our Trader Joe’s compatriot. The caramel is thin, but powerful in its toasted-sugar-and-vanilla way. The dark chocolate, on the other hand, serves as little more than a crispy shell that tastes of air, wood shavings, and disappointment. The center nougat works double-time in hopes to make up for the chocolate by giving us a double punch of bright vanilla, but it can’t quite edge out what’s been lost in the chocolate.

On a second chomp of the Quasar, the nuances are front and center. Alongside the malt, sugar, and chocolate, there are hints of brown sugar and toffee in the caramel while the milk chocoltiness of the nougat and the semi-sweetiness of the coating balance off each other in a way that would make Count Chocula jealous. The nougat takes a little more jaw work than its competition, but the chocolate is richer and the caramel is stretchier. Without a doubt, Quasar, you are my new Milky Way.

Trader Joe's Quasar Bar 4

Everything I know about Quasars I learned from Professor Higgins, Power Rangers, and these bars, and, while spatial distortions of gravity, magical swords, and chocolate bars seem dissimilar, they are connected by their capacity for their sheer, unlimited awesomeness. This bar reinforces that: the chocolate is just sweet enough, the caramel is stretchy, and the nougat is fluffy and light. In flavor, texture, and sheer “I want to eat that again,” the Quasar gobbles up the Milky Way Midnight, not even looking back as it cleans its teeth with a toothpick.

But are they good enough to make me That Place this year? I have hope.

Now I just need to find the ghost of a one-eyed Disc Jockey…

(Nutrition Facts – 1 bar – 220 calories, 40 calories from fat, 4 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, less than 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 140 milligrams of sodium, 44 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 30 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 1.8 oz
Purchased at: Trader Joe’s
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Balance of milk and dark chocolate flavors. Thick, stretchy caramel. My new Milky Way. Quasar CTA-102. “Sweatin’ to the Oldies 2: An Aerobic Concert.”
Cons: Nougat takes some jaw work. Making Count Chocula jealous. The ghosts of Disc Jockeys who refuse to play special requests.

REVIEW: Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes

Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes

I love festivals.

I can’t help it.

I haven’t encountered a pig race, funhouse, or merry-go-round I don’t enjoy. Bring on your strong man contests, your ring tosses, your wooden roller coasters of questionable integrity. Why, between the bells, balloon animals, and clinkity clank music, there’s enough joy here to make a circus look like a film noir.

So it should come of no surprise that I was drawn to these Hostess Caramel Apple Cupcakes. I always, always, always make a moment of having caramel apples at Fall Festivals. I once consumed five of them before going into the corn maze, where I proceeded to get lost for three hours…BUT I survived! All credit goes to caramel apples.

Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes 2

Out of the gate, these cupcakes are lookin’ fine. There are smells of cider, crackles of caramel frosting, and red squiggles, all squished in an authentic “I got shipped in a truck and thrown on a shelf” way. Everything is perfect. Resistance is futile.

And, ladies and gentlemen, this is one peculiar cupcake. It’s admirably different, in its own pudgy, small, charming way. There’s the spongy, floury cake, which has bits of woodsy, warm cinnamon and some sort of tanginess that feels like a moderate hint-and-nudge toward the apple, although it speaks more toward a blend of the formerly mentioned cider and melted Jolly Ranchers.

Next up to bat is the crackly top glaze, which tastes of honey and caramel and molasses and vanilla and the burnt top of crème brulée all smooshed together. It’s like an unpaid syrup-harvesting intern got lost in the woods and decided to mix all the sugars. It’s confusing and brilliant, much like interns themselves.

And then there’s the caramel filling. In a color that’s not nearly as terrifyingly brown as the cover portrays, it seems Hostess has repurposed the light, extremely sugary caramel fluff from the Sea Salt Caramel Cupcakes and smashed it in here. Fluffy and sugar-forward, this stuff is less discreet than a mammoth in the knitting aisle. Its strong blast of Cool-Whip-like sugariness levels out the cinnamon of the cake quite nicely. Between these fluffy insides and the caramel-frosted top, caramel becomes the star of the show.

Just one thing: what happened to the apple?? Sure, there was that Jolly Rancher cider thing, but it came without chunks. It came without dices. It came without nibbles, pieces, or slices. What a tragedy. The cake could’ve benefited from a Hulk smash of tart apples. Even real applesauce or apple juice would do. This hint of flavoring? Would make an apple-loving Hulk cry. Don’t make Hulk cry!

Hostess Limited Edition Caramel Apple Cupcakes 3

But let us not dwell on the tears of giants. As it seems to go, the simplest pattern for my enjoying something usually goes 2 moments of curiosity + 1 dose lack of self-control x 8 tons of the positive or negative feedback on tastiness, and these? Are good. The cake is soft and cinnamony, the crackly frosted top stays true to its caramel name, and the inner frosting is a delicious, crazy sweet fluff, and, if you close your eyes and make a wish, it all has a slight echo of something apple-y (although you have to wish really, really hard). Can these be a little too sweet sometimes? Are they a little unbalanced? Would I like to see more apples? Sure, but, on the whole, these cupcakes are peculiar and delightful.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to eat five of them and go find a corn maze I can get lost in.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 Cupcake – 160 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 26 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.99
Size: 1 box/8 cakes
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: Soft, cinnamony cake. Crackly caramel frosting top. Fluffy, sweet insides. Syrup-harvesting interns gone amok. Corn mazes. Roller coasters of questionable integrity.
Cons: Where be the apples, yo? Questionable presence of “Hydrogenated beef tallow.” May make Hulk cry. Getting lost in a corn maze for three hours.

REVIEW: Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut

Ah, summertime.

Nothing but pool parties and crickets and Christmas in July, and, while I know I’m supposed to celebrate the mid-summer Noel on the 25th, I am a rebel, hooligan, and all-around dastardly naysayer, so it should come as no surprise that I broke all the Christmas laws and bought my present the day after.

It involved churros. I have no regrets.

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut 2

Krispy Kreme’s interpretation of the churro starts by going geometrically rogue, translating the fried delight from the commonly seen line into a circumference more tightly braided than Wednesday’s pigtails sent through a Glam Twirl.

The doughnut’s hefty for its size, coming doused with so much cinnamon sugar, one could ball it up and use it as sculpting clay to recreate the Sagrada Familia in edible form. And that mahogany-tinted sugar thwacks into action with cinnamon roll-like warmth, dodging the common flaw in which a cinnamon product ends up tasting like an Atomic Fireball. Instead, bites dissipate into sugary, lightly cinnamon-spiced crumbles, leaving a trace of grease behind.

That isn’t to say the doughnuts are perfect. There’s definitely a “Manufactured cake doughnut” quality to them that makes me think they put them in some Dyson vacuum dehydrator that sucks the moisture out of all that is joy. As a result, the doughnuts taste dry and a little stale, missing out on the eggy, custardy texture of a churro and its crispy, freshly fried outside.

But perhaps that’s nitpicking. Heck, even the leftovers aren’t too shabby if you get creative. Put one in the toaster and witness how it becomes a brown sugar cinnamon Pop-Tart crossed with a giant piece of Cinnamon Toast Crunch, which means tonight’s dinner of doughnuts and ice cream is all sorted out.

Krispy Kreme Churro Doughnut 3

Some days, the world is unbearable. Today? Is not one of those days. Sure, this doughnut may not hold up to Statler and Waldorf’s orthodox standards of traditional churros, but what is a traditional churro? Is it eggy or airy? Custardy or crumbly? Dense or light? With cinnamon sugar? Without? Dipped in chocolate? Dipped in frosting? Dipped in nothing? Do I get them at a bar in Spain? A sidewalk vendor? Disneyland? A kazoo store?

Survey says: whichever version you love!

And while this interpretation may just be a dry-ish cake doughnut that’s been doused in cinnamon sugar, I enjoyed all 51 grams of it, especially when topped, toasted, or dunked in coffee or ice cream, so pull out the eggnog and let the Charlie Brown Christmas album play because Christmas in July comes but once a year. Let’s celebrate.

(Nutrition Facts – 190 calories, 80 calories from fat, 9 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 210 milligrams of sodium, 28 grams of carbohydrates, 1 gram of dietary fiber, 16 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: N/A
Purchased at: Krispy Kreme
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Cakey. Chunked with cinnamon sugar. Does not taste like Atomic Fireball. Even better when toasted. Christmas in July. Glam Twirl. Statler and Waldorf.
Cons: Cake doughnut masquerading as churro. Pretty dry. A little too crumbly. May encourage breaking Christmas laws. Non-July Christmas is still six months away.

REVIEW: Project 7 Birthday Cake Gourmet Gummies

Project 7 Birthday Cake Gourmet Gummies


It is long-winded!

What with its Bunsen burners, vacuum filters, and radioactive delocalized atoms, science can leave even the most educated scratching their heads about what in the world C12H22O11 is. Indeed, the mere mention of the periodic table can transform the average-and-everyday into the daunting, ruthless, and unfamiliar.

But, as I learned the time I used physics to whack open a piñata while bouncing on a trampoline, just because science can be unfamiliar doesn’t mean it’s bad. Sometimes one must use science to venture into the unknown. Must harness it to go where no one has gone. Must employ it to take up fly-fishing, win at Ping-Pong, or do the moonwalk in polka-dotted boxer shorts. As humans, we must push, pull, challenge, wring, and wrestle so that we may grow. Science can help us do this.

And sometimes this integration of science involves transforming a fluffy, frosted loaf into blushing ursidae-shaped confectionary. Such is the case with these Project 7 gummies, which dare to take on birthday cake as the inspiration for their squishy bears. But will science follow through? And, if so, will it serve us better? Or will we be consumed by gelatinous radioactive sludge? Fire up the atomizer. We’re diving in.

Project 7 Birthday Cake Gourmet Gummies 2

Well, pull out your shades and put on your blinders ‘cause these bears tumble out with a red-pink hue that’d rival Kirby eating strawberries in a Hello Kitty Store. The gummies smell quite unique, wavering between whiffs of vanilla Jell-O, pound cake, and, oddly enough, that first moment one walks into a Laser Tag room when the fog machine is at full blast. Special effect smells aside, the bears are soft, squishy, and with their massive googly eyes, likely to both inspire and scare the living daylights out of you.

You wanted your birthday cake chocolate? Strawberry? Coffee caramel with marshmallow fluff? This terrain is not for you. Soft and stretchy with a hint of Chuck E. Cheese Birthday Cake, these bears are straight up vanilla. Nothing more. Nothing less. The bears start with a sweet, saccharine sugar spike that mellows out into the mellow vanilla. It’s not too exciting, but definitely pleasant enough in a humble, uncomplicated way. There’s even a certain brightness at the end, probably from the 100 percent vitamin C they’ve crammed into ‘em. That’s right: you can prevent scurvy. Birthday Cake Gummies can help.

Project 7 Birthday Cake Gourmet Gummies 3

Science came. Science saw. Science did a bunch of chemical interactions. Maybe something exploded (because what’s good science without explosions?).

What emerged from the mist are these wacky, vanilla-forward gummies tinted in a pink so deep they could stomp on Barbie’s trademark. While the flavor doesn’t blow my mind, the vanilla is pleasantly simple and the concept of specialty gummies is kind of (definitely) spectacular. Perhaps Project 7 will Jelly-Belly-ify their gummies, expanding into the realms of pancakes and pina coladas. My appreciation of this gummy’s vanilla flavor, coupled with a hope that Project 7 will create a buttered popcorn-flavored gummy, is enough to encourage me to pick these up on occasion. If you like your pink with a shot of vanilla and vitamin C, these are worth a shot.

(Nutrition Facts – 16 pieces – 130 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 20 milligrams of sodium, 0 mg of potassium, 29 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 18 grams of sugar, and 3 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.99
Size: 2 oz package
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Squishy. Sweet. Mellow, non-chemically vanilla flavor. Prevents scurvy. Kirby at the Hello Kitty Store. Using physics to whack a piñata. Polka-dotted underwear. Science!
Cons: Has googly eyes that haunt you. Not inclusive of all Birthday Cake flavors (yet). Questionable smell of fog effects at Laser Tag. May bring back traumatic Chuck E. Cheese Birthday memories. Radioactive sludge.

REVIEW: Peeps Cotton Candy Marshmallow Chicks

Peeps Cotton Candy Marshmallow Chicks

Let the record state: you are not likely to win former middle school crushes, current middle school crushes, or Santa Claus over with Peeps. Peeps are prepackaged, factory-formed one-noters. They are not handmade. They are not farm-to-table. They are sugary, squishy, mildly impersonal marshmallow chickens poofed out in Pennsylvania.

But if you are a candy loyalist of the sort who is not deterred by waxy eyeballs or the radioactive glow of their outer sheen, Peeps has enough varieties to fill a Container Store, not to mention the 18-foot-deep hole in my heart, but before I go on branding a marshmallow chicken on my left deltoid, I guess I should try ‘em all, and today? We go for Cotton Candy.

Peeps Cotton Candy Marshmallow Chicks 2

With June stretching out over 80 days in the future, I can think of no better time than now to be reminded of a carnival, and ripping open this quintet of Peeps does just that, knocking me upside the head with sparkly wonder and a smell that blends a distinct sugary brightness with Strawberry Jolly Ranchers, Vanilla Febreze, and Bubblicious. Who needs Disneyland when you have Peeps?

(Okay, I need Disneyland. Especially Space Mountain.)

But much like the overpriced snow globe at the Miami Airport, these glitzy chicks are all flash with little substance, holding only a faint essence of its spun-sugar inspiration. While the marshmallow itself still has that special taste that can only emerge when sucrose and corn syrup combine, only faint blips of vanilla extract, strawberry, and bubblegum pop in.

Taken as a whole, the flavor is sharply sugar-forward, tasting more of a regular marshmallow that was swapped at birth and doomed to an existence with the incorrect moniker. While a trifle disappointing for those looking for a more robust flavor, I must admit that this humble sugar flavor harkens back to cotton candy’s main goal: to serve as a vehicle through which you might funnel simplified carbohydrates into your sugar-depraved body, and why should you deny yourself? Life’s tough. Sugar’s great.

Peeps Cotton Candy Marshmallow Chicks 3

So, while they may cling to cotton candy’s legacy as a sugar-laden snack, this ensemble of chickadees tastes about as bold as faded paisley curtains. Perhaps it’s the batch. Perhaps it’s the Red #40. Perhaps it’s in the alignments of stars, Jupiter, and ill-directed DirecTV satellites, but I dare say these could use a little oomph.

That said, one might also say that this inconsistency is part of the true carnival experience. Just like balloon animals, dart games, and questionably constructed wooden roller coasters, cotton candy is not necessarily meant to be treated as a work of perfection, but more as a bright, mildly risky, fun treat, and these chicks? Achieve that. No ticket required. They may not warrant a permanent tattoo, but I could see a temporary tattoo going on.

(Nutrition Facts – 5 chicks – 140 calories, 0 calories from fat, 0 grams of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 15 milligrams of sodium, 0 mg of potassium, 34 grams of carbohydrates, 0 grams of dietary fiber, 32 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein..)

Purchased Price: 99 cents
Size: 1.5 oz. package/5 chicks
Purchased at: Walgreens (a Walgreens exclusive)
Rating: 5 out of 10
Pros: Fun. Shimmery. Not unpleasant vehicle for sugar. The Container Store. Space Mountain. Future plans to tattoo marshmallow chickadee on deltoid.
Cons: Missing the strawberry/vanilla/bubblegum flavors. Sugar crust falls off easily. Red Dye #40. One-note. Will not win former middle school crushes. Will not win current middle school crushes. Overpriced snow globes at the Miami Airport.