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: Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios Cereal

Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios Cereal

Pumpkin spice presents an existential crisis for the creative writer.

There is only so much that can said about it. What there is to say has been said before, said again, and then said in a different way. Chances are the same trite expression about pushing autumn in August, or the long litany of pumpkin spice products now available to us, is currently being wrestled onto the page of another food blog. We, the pumpkin spice addicts of America, have long since typed our love affair with the orange gourd and its seminal flavors into a monotony of clichés.

This is a damn shame, because when done right, pumpkin spice should not be reduced to a cliché.

Take the new Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.

This is limited edition cereal to end all limited edition cereals; the kind of product that’s worth stocking up on from the beginning of August and then rationing out through the polar onslaught of December and humid days of July.

To be fair, we should have expected this much. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios were announced back in the spring when Strawberry Cheerios came out, and given the success of the spring flavor, Cheerios let us know they’re not doing this LTO thing half-ass.

Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios Cereal 2

Case in point, Pumpkin Spice Cheerios don’t taste like cinnamon. The flavor isn’t the cheap heavy note of cassia, nor is it the honey or brown sugar sweetness that often comes along for the pumpkin spice ride. Likewise, this is not the repackaged taste of Honey Nut Cheerios or Apple Cinnamon Cheerios. Pumpkin Spice Cheerios are pumpkin spice Cheerios. There’s the sweet fragrant note of nutmeg, the aromatic warmth of clove, and, yes, the flavors of cinnamon and ginger.

Lest you think this is just a pumpkin spice flavor, there is some serious sweet pumpkin flavor going on in each of those oat rings. The addition of real pumpkin in the ingredients makes a world of difference when eating the cereal in milk, where the sublime essence of pumpkin desserts comes to life.

Limited Edition Pumpkin Spice Cheerios Cereal 3

Yes, sublime essence. Think of it as that moment when crust component, pumpkin component, and dairy meet. Here the warming and exotic notes of spices co-mingle with the sweetened taste of pumpkin and the richness of milk. A hearty crunch filled with sweetened dairy and a bit of milkfat greets eats spoonful, and in that moment the eater relives everything that is right about the cool breeze of October and the multicolored leaves that drift to the ground.

I may have chomped down on my first bite on a 95-degree day in west Texas, but if I would have closed my eyes and blasted a fan in my face then I’m pretty sure I could have fooled myself into believing it was autumn. It sure tasted that way.

Based on the rapidly growing list of pumpkin spice cereals entering the market, we’ll soon have the proverbial cornucopia to choose from. I don’t doubt many of these cereals will be good, but few, I’m willing to bet, will be able to match the appeal of Pumpkin Spice Cheerios.

(Nutrition Facts – 28 grams – 110 calories, 1 gram of fat, 0 grams of saturated fat, 0 mg of cholesterol, 120 mg of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 8 grams of sugars, and 2 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.98
Size: 21 oz box
Purchased at: Walmart
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Outstanding representation of the complexity of pumpkin spices that exceeds the dull and heavy cinnamon flavor sometimes assigned to pumpkin spice. Sweet, hearty taste of oat base. Wonderful rich flavor in milk that tastes like the edge of a pumpkin pie or bar.
Cons: Could be a tad sweeter and have a “glaze” like Honey Nut Cheerios. The creative struggle to explain the appeal of pumpkin spice.

QUICK REVIEW: Glaceau Breeze-e Strawberry Watermelon VitaminWater

Glaceau Breeze-e Strawberry Watermelon VitaminWater

Glaceau’s Breeze-e Strawberry Watermelon VitaminWater is the best tasting VitaminWater I’ve ever had.

Okay, I might be exaggerating and the previous sentence could be the heat talking.

It’s frickin’ hot. I’ve gone through my second shirt of the day. I’m sweating like I’m guilty of something I don’t want to admit, like murder, fraud, or enjoying TLC’s Say Yes to the Dress. My body is at the point where it will say anything to get some fluids into it to replace whatever was in those two shirts. Garglepuss whoop whoop meow fart.




So I just finished all 32 ounces of it, which I believe now officially makes me hydrated, and I still think it’s the best tasting VitaminWater I’ve had. My taste buds get two flavor vibes from it. Although it supposed to be strawberry watermelon flavored, it reminds me of strawberry kiwi beverages I’ve consumed. Also, at times it tastes like an overripe strawberry. It’s not overly sweet and the flavor isn’t light like some other VitaminWater varieties.

Breeze-e has overtaken VitaminWater XXX as my favorite flavor. But it has not passed XXX as my favorite VitaminWater name.

Speaking of names, what does the extra E in Breeze-e mean? Does it honor rapper Eazy-E? No. Extraneous? No. Easy way to get folks to buy VitaminWater? No. Breeze-e provides electrolytes (It’s what plants crave) and a sad amount of the antioxidant vitamin E.

So if you’re frickin’ hot and you happen to be at a 7-Eleven (it’s an exclusive flavor this summer) looking for something to cool you down, might I recommend my new favorite VitaminWater flavor.

Purchased Price: $2.49*
Size: 32 fl oz bottle
Purchased at: 7-Eleven
Rating: 9 out of 10
Nutrition Facts: (12 fl oz) 70 calories, 0 grams of fat, 0 milligrams of sodium, 20 grams of carbohydrates, 19 grams of sugar, 0 grams of protein, 60% vitamin C, 60% vitamin B6, 60% pantothenic acid, 15% zinc, 15% vitamin E, and 60% vitamin B12.

*Because I live on a rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, things are a bit pricier here. You’ll probably pay less than I did.

REVIEW: Baskin-Robbins Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal Ice Cream

Baskin-Robbins Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal Ice Cream

Move your cursor away from the search box on Stop trying to scroll through the listings of international breakfast foods. Do yourself a favor and cancel your vacation plans to South Korea.

Oreo O’s are dead.

The cereal does not exist anymore. Not here in the States, not in Seoul, not even in freaking Pyongyang. Why else do you think Kim Jong-un is shooting missiles into the ocean?

The magical elixir of milk that blends the sweet chocolaty taste of cookies and the crunchy wholesomeness of breakfast cereal is but a distant memory. In its place we have a few attempts at compromise, but who are we kidding? The stale abomination known as Cookie Crisp will never suffice, nor will a new limited edition Oreo creme which tastes like sixteen bowls of Fruity Pebbles.

But perhaps we have been looking in the wrong places. Instead of trying to find the soul of Oreo O’s in cereal or even cookies, perhaps the flavor explosion of sweet milk, chocolate, and corn cereal can be resurrected in ice cream form?

As our 1990s selves would have said: Well, DUH!

I have eaten a lot of off-the-wall Baskin-Robbins ice cream flavors in my day, but the new Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal flavor is my favorite, mostly because it captures the Oreo and cereal vibe that only my beloved Oreo O’s had been able to do. But if I thought the combination of Oreo chocolate wafers embedded into a crunchy corn cereal base was good, then Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal ice cream borrows a line from Tony the Tiger and is Gr-r-reat!

Baskin-Robbins Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal Ice Cream 2

The cereal milk flavored ice cream basically tastes like a sweeter, richer, and thicker version of a really good cookies and cream ice cream; one studded with so many crunchy Oreo pieces you’d have thought an entire package of Oreos went into a single scoop. This isn’t some store-brand cookies and cream. Big chunks of rounded, ridged edged Oreo wafers are packed with a bittersweet chocolate flavor that contrasts the sweet ice cream base and the slightly salty, chewy frosted flakes ribbon.

Baskin-Robbins Oreo Milk ‘n Cereal Ice Cream 3

What’s this, you say? The description reads frosted corn flake cereal pieces and a crunchy frosted corn flake cereal ribbon. Well that it does, but the description is as big a fib as telling you that you can still buy a box of Oreo O’s on Amazon.

Truth be told, I licked every nook and cranny of this cone, and the corn flake ribbon and frosted flake pieces are one and the same. The pieces have an odd texture that’s somewhere between the discontinued Frosted Flakes Gold, a northern style corn bread, and, I swear I’m not making this up, Corn Nuts. If that wasn’t complicated enough, there’s also notes of waffle cone and Cap’n Crunch, although I suspect the latter is due to toasting the clustered ribbon in coconut oil.

Long list of ingredients aside, It’s like having a corn cakes breakfast-flavored cereal, and it’s beyond delicious (note to Kellogg’s: Get on that).

I was actually a little skeptical that Oreo cookies and corn/frosted flakes would work together, but the result is a surprisingly harmonious ménage à trois, hearkening back to Oreo O’s while introducing another layer of crunchy corn sweetness and sweet creamy flavor. So do yourself a favor and wipe those tears from your keyboard, because you’ll soon be dripping melting ice cream (and tears of joy) all over the space bar.

(Nutrition Facts – 2.5 ounce scoop (small) – 200 calories, 180 calories from fat, 12 grams of fat, 6 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 25 milligrams of cholesterol, 110 milligrams of sodium, 22 grams of carbohydrates, 0 gram of dietary fiber, 16 gram of sugar, and 3 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $2.79
Size: Small Scoop
Purchased at: Baskin-Robbins
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Tastes like a combination of Oreo O’s, Frosted Flakes, pancakes, and Cap’n Crunch all in one lick. Sweet and rich cookies and cream vibe from the cereal milk base. Excellent contrast of crunchy and creamy.
Cons: Cereal element isn’t exactly as advertised and isn’t crispy in the way cereal is. Crying over spilled (cereal) milk.

REVIEW: Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad

Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad

Why do we put fruit in our salad?

It’s always such a gamble. Either the combination of the salty dressing and sweet fruit tastes weird or the fruit itself is on its last soggy leg because it’s not fresh enough to eat on its own. If I have a choice, I usually go for the salad with the least fruit and the most bacon. Although Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad has fruit and no bacon, I’m thoroughly impressed with it.

I never jump fork first into a fruit-filled salad because I’m paranoid of: a) bad, edges-are-fraying-black lettuce b) worms in my berries. Please don’t ask me about either traumatizing experience; it’s not too far from what you’re imagining.

So, I examined the Summer Berry Chicken Salad for acceptable freshness. Per Wendy’s marketing collateral, the lettuce is chopped in-house daily and there are 11 different greens – not just iceberg lettuce. In real life, the “11 different greens” just sit on top of the iceberg lettuce. But, to Wendy’s credit, the salad does seem fresh – no pink oxidization or rotting lettuce.

Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad 3

Then, I examined each strawberry slice and blackberry very closely for worms, mold or general sogginess. Surprisingly, none of the three ew-factors were in sight. I almost believe it when Wendy’s says the berries are “fresh, hand-picked.” If you’re wondering how long it took me to examine the berries, there really weren’t that many berries – a few strawberry slices and two blackberries at MOST. I did order the half-size salad, so I half-sized my expectations accordingly. Also, I’d rather have quality over quantity.

In between the greens and berries were the feta cheese crumbles and chicken pieces. I was pleasantly surprised that the chicken was warm. The smell of chicken was a little overwhelming, but the warmth was a nice contrast to the cold salad. The feta cheese crumbles were fine on their own but magical with the Marzetti Simply Dressed Light Blackberry Vinaigrette. The feta added a creaminess to the tangy and sweet vinaigrette. Speaking of the vinaigrette, I was expecting Pepto-Bismol pink because of the white opaque packaging. However, the vinaigrette came out a nice, natural beet-like color.

Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad 2

Lastly, the apple crisps (a.k.a. healthy croutons) were served on the side. I wanted my buttery croutons, dammit! But, I tried the apple crisps individually and they were good enough that I could see myself snacking on them. The subtle apple flavor got lost in the overall mix of the salad but was crucial to the crunchy goodness of the salad.

All salad elements together made for a really well-composed salad – a little bit of sweet, a little bit of salty, a little bit of crunch, and a little bit of creaminess. It was also a very visually appetizing salad (for a fast food joint) – fresh green, vibrant pinks, and deep purple/blues. Wendy’s Summer Berry Chicken Salad is on par with salads from more premium chains like Panera, but it’s about $2 less than said premium chains.

As the Fall Equinox is rapidly approaching, I’m sad the fast food world will be a little less fresh and less delicious when the limited time Summer Berry Chicken Salad goes away.

(Nutrition Facts – half-sized salad – 210 calories, 50 calories from fat, 6 grams of fat, 2 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 50 milligrams of cholesterol, 500 milligrams of sodium, 420 milligrams of potassium, 24 grams of carbohydrates, 4 grams of fiber, 17 grams of sugar, and 18 grams of protein..)

Purchased Price: $4.99
Size: Half-size
Purchased at: Wendy’s
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Could really be fresh, hand-picked berries. Well-composed salad. Visually-appetizing.
Cons: Overwhelming smell of chicken. Not that many berries.