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.

Drinking.

Drinking.

Ahhhh.

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 Amazon.com. 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.

REVIEW: Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero

Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero

Believe it or not, the habanero was once the world’s hottest chili pepper. But thanks to botany and hot, steamy plant-on-plant action, which produced spicier peppers, the habanero has been relegated to a lower heat status and has also dropped in rank on the Cool Chili Pepper Name List.

It’s been overtaken by the Ghost Pepper, Carolina Reaper, Infinity Chili, Komodo Dragon Chili Pepper, Super Duper Red Hot Chili Peppers, Naga Viper, and Trinidad Moruga Scorpion.

Oh, one of those isn’t a real chili pepper name, but the rest are real. Guess which one.

And those hotter peppers are not slightly ahead on the Scoville scale, a measurement of chili pepper heat, they’re like Golden State Warriors-ahead of the once mighty pepper. While the habanero can muster 100,000-350,000 SHU (Scoville Heat Units), many of the peppers I’ve listed above go beyond (raise pinky to mouth) one million SHU.

While the habanero no longer has a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, it’s found a place on many crunchy snacks. Pringles. Chex Mix. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. And now these Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero snacks.

Well, actually, it should’ve gone. Cheetos Crunchy. Pringles. Chex Mix. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. Chips. The order should’ve been different because these cheesy, spicy snacks are a rerelease, originally on shelves in 2010. But they’re back again to be the “Official Snack of the Mexican National Team,” who probably didn’t have a say in the matter.

Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero 2

The orange and red crunchy corn puffs look like what I imagine ends up on Lucifer’s finger after digging his nose. Yes, I’m saying they look like devil’s boogers. But what tasty buggers they are.

The level of heat these bring is below the nerve stinging spiciness of Cheetos Flamin’ Hot. With these Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero I can munch my way though many of them without hesitation, but I can tolerate only so much with any Flamin’ Hot snack. But I’m not giving the go ahead sign for those who don’t like the spicy.

Since the habanero seasoning isn’t tear-inducing for me, I can taste the cheesy, peppery, and smoky flavoring on each crunchy corn puff. They’re also a little tomato-y and oniony. But a kick of lime is what makes this snack’s flavor stand out. It gives these Cheetos Crunchy a taste that’s more complex than just cheesy and spicy. And I have to say I prefer the flavor of these over Flamin’ Hot.

Sadly, this flavor will go back into the Cheetos flavor vault once the Olympics are done and, maybe, pop up again years from now to promote something else. But I don’t want that to be the case. I want it to be a permanent flavor.

But just like the habanero pepper had to accept it wouldn’t always be the hottest pepper in the world, I have to accept I won’t be eating Cheetos Crunchy Wild Habanero for a while.

(Nutrition Facts – 1 oz – 160 calories, 100 calories from fat, 11 grams of fat, 1.5 grams of saturated fat, 0 grams of trans fat, 0 milligrams of cholesterol, 250 milligrams of sodium, 15 grams of carbohydrates, less than 1 gram of fiber, 0 grams of sugar, and 1 gram of protein.)

Purchased Price: Purchased on eBay for more than the price on the packaging
Size: 8.5 oz bag
Purchased at: eBay
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Really spicy, but not REALLY spicy. Complex flavor that’s cheesy, spicy, smoky, and a little limey. Better than Cheetos Crunchy Flamin’ Hot.
Cons: Difficult to find. Will eventually go back into the Cheetos flavor vault. If you do not like spicy foods, do not eat this.

REVIEW: Dairy Queen M&M’s Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard

Dairy Queen M&M's Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard

At first glance, it’s really easy to read Peanut Butter Monster Cookie as Peanut Butter Cookie Monster. That’s what I did, and the first thought that formed inside my Thunderdome of a mind was of Cookie Monster’s much less celebrated, but much more wholesome brother who Sesame Street forgets to talk about.

He’s a behind-the-scenes hero, taking care of Cookie Monster’s kids, consoling his distraught wife, just being the glue when his brother doesn’t come home at night because he’s fallen off the cookie wagon. Is he in jail? On the cookie version of Skid Row, snorting copious amounts of cookie crumbs? Nobody knows, but Peanut Butter Cookie Monster is there to pick up the pieces. What a stand up, made-up guy.

The Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard more than lives up to the imaginary character it isn’t named after. The word “monster” is appropriately used too since this Blizzard IS a monster…of peanut butter flavor.

Dairy Queen M&M's Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard 3

There are two peanut butter factors at play with P.B. cookie chunks and peanut butter being blended throughout the Blizzard. The sweet, nutty condiment is in every bite. It takes over the vanilla ice cream like some kind of edible symbiotic life form. You can try really hard to gather up the M&M’s and choco chunks but you’re still going to get a strong nutty presence.

I like how they put both the cookies and smooth peanut butter topping inside. It’s kind of like spreading some of the popular condiment on a P.B. cookie. You get the authentic peanut butter taste, and the more processed taste from the cookies, and the result is a heavenly combo, never an overkill.

Dairy Queen M&M's Peanut Butter Monster Cookie Blizzard 2

The M&M’s accent the P.B. The candy shells really jump out. Because of their surrounding, they basically turn into Peanut Butter M&M’s. But if the Blizzard scientists had tried to put actual Peanut Butter M&M’s inside, I think that would’ve been an overload. It would most likely result in an actual peanut butter monster being born, only it wouldn’t be friendly like P.B. Cookie Monster. Instead, it would be more like a boss from the Dark Souls game series.

I went to the drive-thru to get mine, and I have to say I really hate how they make it a point of handing you the Blizzard upside down now. The window guy looked so cocky when he did it, like he wanted to rub it in my face I wasn’t going to get a free Blizzard for giving it to me right side up.

Not that I would call them out on that anyways, but man, I wish the next Blizzard he handed out fell right out of the cup. Then he could go make himself a nice humble pie Blizzard.

(Nutrition Facts – small – 730 calories, 280 calories from fat, 31 grams of fat, 16 grams of saturated fat, 0.5 grams of trans fat, 60 milligrams of cholesterol, 340 milligrams of sodium, 98 grams of carbohydrates, 2 grams of dietary fiber, 79 grams of sugar, and 16 grams of protein.)

Purchased Price: $3.79
Size: Small
Purchased at: Dairy Queen
Rating: 9 out of 10
Pros: Two different peanut butter tastes. Chocolate and M&Ms accent peanut butter nicely. Peanut Butter Cookie Monster holding his brother’s home together.
Cons: Cocky Blizzard passer-outers.