REVIEW: CVS Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cough Drops

CVS Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cough Drops

A cough drop review? Don’t act like cough drop flavors don’t matter. You know you’ve felt the crushing disappointment of walking into the drug store in peak cold season with a scratchy throat to find all that’s left are the basic blue menthol Halls. Your brain runs through all the flavors you’d rather have: strawberry, cherry, citrus. Hell, I’d take honey before plain menthol.

I have to give CVS a slow clap for taking the bold (i.e. insane?) step of cashing in on the pumpkin spice trend via the cold relief aisle. Mentholated PS cough drops? My first reaction was “Whyyyyyyy?”  But I wanted to try them. I couldn’t wait to HATE them with the fire of a thousand Targaryen dragons.

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So imagine my surprise when I tasted Pumpkin Spice Cough Drops and found them – not bad at all!

It’s tough to describe the aroma inside the bag. It didn’t resemble pumpkin, spices or menthol. It was like asiago Band-Aids…but let’s not dwell on that because if you’re in the market for cough drops, your nostrils will be snot-blocked anyway and you’ll probably never actually smell them.

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When I popped one in my mouth, the first flavor to come screaming out of the gate was loud, obnoxious menthol. Yelling over everyone else and kicking chairs over. But once menthol quieted down, I started picking up on cinnamon just underneath. Not a hot fiery cinnamon, but a warm, fuzzy loved-up cinnamon. There was probably some nutmeg flavor there, too, but I’m bad at identifying nutmeg – it just ends up being in everything I describe as “autumn-y.”

I’m shocked to say this cough drop flavor works. I happen to be trying them in good health on an 80+ degree day, but I can imagine on a chilly fall or winter day when you feel like you swallowed a cheese grater, they’ll be a pretty decent option. They’re still sweet like most cough drops, but a not-unpleasant change from the usual fruit flavors. They’re not delicious, but they’re not the horror show I expected.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 drop – 10 calories.)

Purchased Price: $1.49
Size: 30-drop bag
Purchased at: CVS
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: Not the worst thing I’ve ever tasted! The cinnamon/menthol combo works better than expected. (I know! I’m shocked too.)
Cons: Strange aroma – which will likely not be experienced when you have a cold and need cough drops. Do these cough drops make me look like a basic b***h?

REVIEW: Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bites

1 Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bites

Ah, the end of summer. A magical time when sleeves appear on clothes again, Halloween candy starts popping up in store aisles and I can finally turn the oven on and bake again (without feeling like I’m living inside it). Thankfully, Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bites hit shelves in near-autumn, when I could truly enjoy them.

2 Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bites

On first look, the sparkling sugar coating promised on the package was nowhere to be found. I guess sugar crystals would likely dissolve after just a short thaw, but still – bummer. When tempted with glitter/twinkle/shine/sequins/shimmer, I take it hard when real life comes up short.

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After the suggested eight-minute oven bake, the aroma was subtle – enveloping the stove area with a “something’s baking” cinnamony scent. The bites looked exactly the same after baking – I photographed them with my oven mitt in the frame to tell the before & after shots apart.

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The cinnamon coating gave the bites a density and a flavor kick, but it was more like a crust than crunch. Flavor and texture-wise, the outer shell of the bites screamed “Pillsbury Cinnamon Rolls” with that familiar doughy feel. The tops even looked like those cinnamon shards that get half-stuck to the roll below it when you separate them from the exploding cardboard tube. I am a huge fan of the rolls, so I was happy with this development.

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Inside, the warm cinnamon filling stayed put and didn’t ooze out when cracked open. (I’ll let you decide if that’s a good thing or not.) It was slightly thicker than pudding and had a lovely cream cheese-like flavor taking second billing behind the star of the show, cinnamon.

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The biggest issue here was the lack of Cinnamon Toast Crunch in these Cinnamon Toast Crunch Bites. They didn’t have the eggy undertones of the cereal or the grit of the cinnamon sugar. We need Maury to run a DNA test!

The box has oven and microwave directions, so I nuked a batch too. This only takes 30 seconds and while the taste is the same, the texture changes. The al dente feel is instead a soft bite and moist top.

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I tried to turn that into a positive, however. With Halloween right around the corner, I deployed my collection of candy eyeballs and edible whatnots. The sticky surface was perfect for grabbing and holding decorations. They also add a crunch that the bite itself doesn’t have.

Overall, I thought these were fun, easy and delicious – a great treat to make with kids. If you want them as-is, take the time to bake them. If you want to glam them up, put ‘em in the blaster.

(Nutrition Facts – 4 bites – 180 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 3 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 5 milligrams of cholesterol, 380 milligrams of sodium, 30 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 13 grams of sugars and 3 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $3.99
Size: 8.8 oz. box (18 bites)
Purchased at: ShopRite
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: More like Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll Bites, amiright? Fun size & shape, nice cream-cheesy filling. Oven and microwave options. Begging for H’ween decorations.
Cons: Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal, you are NOT the father! Don’t ever promise a glitter girl sparkle and not deliver.

REVIEW: Limited Edition Haribo Gold-Bears Mystery Flavors

Limited Edition Haribo Gold Bears Mystery Flavors

Wait.

Gummi bears have flavors?

Despite eating Olympic swimming pools of them over the decades, that’s news to me. I thought they were all one – “fruitish.” Perhaps because I shove them in my mouth by the handful, they meld into the same taste?

Hence I walked into Haribo’s Mystery Flavor Gold-Bears thinking, “Oh, they have specific flavors now – that’s new!”

My first impression of this product was: Where’s the beef?

This is a large bag but the bears only come up to the top of the clear window. Two-thirds of the bag is empty – not even filled with air, fercryinoutloud! It’s like the CD longbox of candy!

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Second impression: Have the gummi bear species reverse-evolved into smaller versions of themselves? I love miniatures, but I like to look a bear in the eye before I bite his head off, thank you very much.

Inside the bag, that familiar plasticy sweet smell and the greasy film that leaves bear trails on every surface.

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Spoiler alert: if you want to solve the mystery flavors mystery yourself, stop reading here and come back later!

Let’s start with the ones I’m sure about.

Blue = Blueberry. This was a no-brainer.

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The orange-yellow was definitely peach. No doubt about it.

These were also my two favorite flavors. They tasted like bright, punchy candy renditions of their namesake fruits.

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The remaining three I’m a bit tentative on.

The maroon I’m 70 percent sure is raspberry. 30 percent chance it’s pomegranate. While they had a pleasant berry-ish taste, I wasn’t excited about them. Perhaps the ease of identification boosted the enjoyment in the others?

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I originally thought the pink and bright yellow were strawberry and pineapple, but then discovered these are flavors are in the usual Haribo gummi bear mix, so they wouldn’t put them in this, would they?

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I scanned the package for hints. That fruit-filled question mark probably holds the answers to this profound conundrum.

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After consulting the cartoon bear oracle, and a second round of tasting, I’m leaning toward pink = watermelon and yellow = banana. These are pure guesses, however. I’m curious to hear what you all think since I couldn’t check my work on their website. The URL advertised on the package is currently password protected. Annoying.

The yellow bears were the most confounding flavor-wise and my least favorite of the group. If they really were banana, it’s a loose interpretation. Assuming my guess on the pink bear is correct, I prefer a heavier-handed take on watermelon. These were far weaker than my watermelon touchstone – Jolly Ranchers.

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Overall, the gummi bears retained their historic chewy fruity appeal and the mystery flavors added a new twist (especially for those of us who never knew there were intentional tastes involved in the first place). If you’re a gummi bear fan, these are worth a try!

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(Nutrition Facts – 13 bears – 100 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 23 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 12 grams of sugar, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $1.89
Size: 4 oz. bag
Purchased at: Walgreens
Rating: 7 out of 10
Pros: I love a good mystery! Who killed the blue bear in the library with a rope?
Cons: 4 ounces of micro-bears in a 9 ounce bag. Least banana-y banana – if that is banana. Non-working website.

REVIEW: The Spotted Cheetah, A Restaurant By Cheetos

The Spotted Cheetah 1

I love a good gimmick. If it’s temporary or new and has a hook, I’m there. Super-long line? No problem. Thai Rolled Ice Cream. The Oreo Wonder Vault. Rainbow Bagels. The Hello Kitty Café Truck. Cronuts. I’ve done them all.

Some gimmicks turn out better than anticipated. Some fall short of the mark. Some defy your expectations altogether. That was the case with the Spotted Cheetah, a Cheetos-centric pop-up restaurant in Manhattan. I assumed it would be a garish publicity stunt with ridiculous “food.”

When I heard about this 3-night-only event, I wanted in. A menu of 4 appetizers, 4 entrees and 3 desserts, each made with Cheetos products. I like to repurpose foods into other forms, so this was right up my alley.

Any other week, The Spotted Cheetah is known as Distilled – an upscale but casual Tribeca restaurant that I’m only now realizing I’ve eaten in before. As I approached this night, I readied myself for typical NYC event line-waiting and passive-aggressive jockeying for position. Everyone here is important, after all, and we MUST get in ASAP.

To my delight, no one was corralled within the velvet ropes. Shocking considering how much media attention this place has gotten. After a quick chat with the clipboard guy, I glided into a seat at the bar.

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Crystal Pepsi – of course.

The menu was designed by Food Network chef Anne Burrell. All I know about her is: 1) her hair and 2) she hosted Worst Cooks in America – for which I once volunteered to test a challenge before shooting started, and failed miserably at everything.

I ordered the Cheetos Crusted Fried Pickles, Cheetos Mix-Ups Crusted Chicken Milanese, and the Cheetos Sweetos Crusted Cheesecake. Apparently I’m a glutton for crusting.

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While I waited for my food, I watched patrons talk to a live-animated Chester Cheetah on a TV screen near the entrance.

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The Spotted Cheetah 5b

Normally I despise things that aggressively interact with me, but I was fascinated by this technology. Chester’s mouth and body moved in real-time from a motion capture of the person speaking. I wondered where he was hiding out.

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The fried pickles arrived and I dove in, expecting a rubber-mallet-to-the-head of Cheetos flavor. What I got were lovely, tangy, crusty, greasy frickles in a slightly orangier (spellcheck tells me this isn’t a word, I disagree) than normal hue. They were delicious, but only whispered ‘Cheetos.’

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Next up – the Chicken Milanese. A beautifully-dressed salad and Cheetos piled atop a slab of extra-crunchy breaded chicken. I pushed the salad off and sliced into just the chicken. Again, it was a wonderful dish, I enjoyed every bite, but I didn’t taste the Cheetos in the breading.

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This could appear in any restaurant and no one would say “Excuse me – are there CHEETOS in this??” I started taking bits of Cheetos from on top with each mouthful and ended up with the flavor I expected.

An order of the Flamin’ Hot Limon Chicken Tacos arrived for the couple next to me and I was gripped with jealousy. They looked so tempting.

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The cheesecake came closest to capturing the product it was based on. The crust definitely had the churro-ish cinnamon flavor of the Sweetos. It was also a great dish – sweet and tangy cheese with a rich blueberry sauce.

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The Spotted Cheetah 11a

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The décor was just subtle enough that it didn’t feel cheesy (pun intended), but there were cute touches all around.

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It wasn’t a crowded circus. The food was real. It was like a Friday night out at a nice restaurant, but with a wise-cracking animated cheetah.

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I do wish the Cheetos were a bit more present in the dishes I tried, since this was the point of all of this, but I had fun and walked away with a happy belly. I was given a printed book of the menu recipes on the way out – it’s also available on their site. If you’re trying the recipes at home, go a bit heavier on the Cheetos – I’m guessing as junk food fans, you’ll want to know they’re there.

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(Nutrition Facts – Oof. I couldn’t even begin to calculate this.)

Purchased Price: $8 (Fried Pickles), $22 (Chicken Milanese, and $8 (Cheesecake)
Rating: 8 out of 10
Pros: REALLY good food. High-tech cheetah. Thrill of experiencing something that makes half my friends say “Ew. That’s disgusting.”
Cons: Expected to leave covered in Cheetos dust inside & out, didn’t, hence slightly disappointed.

REVIEW: Keebler Limited Batch Dark Chocolate Mint Fudge Stripes Cookies

Keebler Limited Batch Dark Chocolate Mint Fudge Stripes Cookies

I know what you’re thinking.

Thin Mints.

When chocolate and mint come together these days, the inevitable comparison is to those bewitching Girl Scout goodies. But my first impression of Fudge Stripes Dark Chocolate Mint cookies was something a little closer to my own ‘80s heart. Andes candies.

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I have memories of my parents putting Andes out in crystal bowls when they had company over, but I’m not sure if that was real life or an Andes commercial that I dreamed my family into. In either case, I had the distinct impression that these were sophisticated adult treats that I was lucky to get my grubby paws on. I wouldn’t taste Thin Mints until near middle-age and still have not partaken in a Shamrock Shake, so those tiny slabs are my mint touchstone.

After the disappointment of Strawberry Cheesecake Fudge Stripes, I was a little leery when I opened this package. My deep inhale was met by the cool minty aromatic embrace of Andes. “Come in,” they purred. “Remember us?” It’s summer, so the light green frosting stripes smeared on my fingers while trying to separate the cookies.

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I took a bite and YES – FUDGE STRIPES ARE BACK ON THEIR GAME!

The mint was a bright, refreshing flavor and sensation – there was a tiny kick of cool menthol there. The chocolate was a perfect companion, grounding the mint, but not competing against it. This was an Andes candies cookie and I loved it!

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My one (minuscule and easily dismissible) criticism is that while billed as dark chocolate, the cookie base didn’t read as such to me. It was like Oreos or the Fudge Stripes Cookies & Creme variation – a rich dark color, but not the bitter bite of dark chocolate. That being said, it was still delicious, so I’ll hold my thumb over the word “dark” on the package and happily chow down.

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These belong on the “should be a permanent Fudge Stripes release” shelf with Cinnamon Roll, Lemon Cream Pie, and Birthday Cake.

I had the urge to repurpose these and decided on a Stripe-S’Mallow-Mint Sandwich. Two cookies, one marshmallow, a few seconds in the microwave and I had a gooey decadent summer dessert.

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I made mine with jumbo marshmallows, but they were too big and I had a bit of a blowout. Take 2 (pictured) was half a jumbo. A regular ‘mallow would have been perfect.

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(Nutrition Facts – 2 cookies – 140 calories, 6 grams of fat, 4 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 120 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of dietary fiber, 11 grams of total sugars including 11 grams of added sugars, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: $2.69
Size: 11.5 oz. package
Purchased at: Target
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Minty fresh taste! Chocolate-y chocolate-ness. Crystal-bowl-worthy.
Cons: Not really dark chocolate. Not a deal breaker, though.