Sunday, February 15, 2015

Freeze Frame

­­When I was a kid, my grandmother lived just up the street from my family’s house and my aunt’s house. Our veritable family compound laid claim to a rather isolated, wooded parcel of rural land and often made it feel as if we were the only ones in the world. On most days, when me and my cousins got home from school, while the parents were still off at work, we would get together at our grandparents’ house for carousing.  On the days when we weren’t taking turns at Air Zonk or Keith Courage on the Turbo Grafx 16, we were usually outside, sweating through the sticky afternoons. We played basketball, one-on-one kickball (a modified form of soccer played with an under-inflated, smaller-than-soccer ball) and ragball (it’s a baseball that is made of rags stuffed inside of a sewed rag shell, perfect for not hurting each other or the house).  The formula of life then was so elegantly simple: play ourselves into a sweaty lather, retire inside to sit in front of fan, find some drink and sugar to refuel our engines, repeat.

This thing would thump against the house's siding with great regularity.

A lot of the time, we drank huge plastic glasses full of RC Cola on ice, the lifeblood of my grandmother, who was never then without her 32-ounce Rubbermaid mug, replete with bendy straw.  To this day, I have had no other cola that has quite the fizz and bite of RC poured directly over ice.  The effervescent, almost painful first gulp of an RC crackling over ice is a vivid, cherished memory of my youth.

Fizzy elegance.

On some days, though, RC was not enough to rally us.  On such days, another go-to solution was to invade the stand-alone freezer off in the back room.  Sometimes, there were fudge sickles or ice pops, and of course, on hot summer days, those were hard to resist.  More often, though, we had only the default option to sate our need for sweet: milk chocolate holiday idols. At any time of year, no matter the date – no matter the date – there were giant milk chocolate Easter bunnies or Santas to eat.  Our family came from modest roots, and whenever there was a deal to be had, my grandmother eagerly stockpiled provisions for us in the freezer.  Seemingly endless roasts, packages of hamburger meat and chickens sat alongside bags and bags of half pound chocolates, emblazoned with bright orange “$0.25” clearance stickers.  The chocolate was so ubiquitous that we were often tired of it.  If you thawed one bunny or Santa, you had days of eating ahead, and if you put it back into the freezer to keep it from melting, it would often get freezer bite and turn into that chalky, white thing that chocolate does.

I would have sworn that sometimes these things were reproducing in the freezer.

I remember this time of life not only because I have been missing my grandmother recently, but also because today, I think she would be proud.  On this day after Valentine’s Day, I went out and hit 4 different locations, stocking up on over 10 pounds of discounted candy.  For months hence, when people visit my home, they can raid my larder, like we kids did the freezer, and find for themselves the fuel they need to go out for another round of whatever game they are playing. They will just have to deal with the fact that, for the time being, it is all heart-shaped.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Stately Pleasure Dome

There are varying opinions of globalization and its impact on cultures, governments, economies and personal identities.  Many argue that international corporate conglomerates, for instance, are the twenty-first century's Mongols, invading and pillaging other cultures, impressing their values upon those they conquer.

Pictured: Microsoft, circa 1258

While such critiques may point to disturbing trends of late Modernity, it is undeniable that the forces of globalization have also effected positive outcomes, among the greatest of which must be the proliferation of border-crossing candies, a product of global exchange of a kind that Arjun Appadurai might term the "Sugarscape."

I encountered an artifact of such exchange at a shop that I frequent often.  There, alongside the Haribo Gold-Bears I have come to know and love, were "Juicy Haribo Gold-Bears," in packaging I had not seen in American stores.  Upon closer inspection, I found that these Bears were 20% fruit juice and included these flavors: blackcurrant, pear, apple, raspberry, peach and lime.  The flavors immediately reminded me of a package of Haribos my friend had brought back from West Africa-- Bears that bespoke her dedication to our friendship and that reflected the global flows that define Euro-African life.  Indeed, a closer inspection of my find revealed that these Bears were from Turkey, likely of the same type I had eaten years earlier.  My inevitable conclusion was this: Euro-Bears, chock-full of real fruit juice and exotic (for American markets) flavors, had made their way to my little hamlet.  I was shaking with glee as I walked the package to the counter.

Fruit juice, real sugar, lime gummis?  Salivary glands overload.

My excitement was magnified when the shopkeep asked for only 1.06 for the nouveaux Bears.  After I quickly shoveled my monies across the counter, lest she reconsider the price, I hurried back to the candy aisle to confirm that these new candies were priced at a mere $0.99 (their American contemporaries cost the typically over-priced $1.99).  Needless to say, I cleared out the aisle of the Juicy Bears, and for weeks, I came back assiduously to grab at least a bag or two per trip.

You know the rest of the story: like a blackcurrant berry plucked from its shrub and inadvertently dropped into the grass, this era of unprecedented flavor and thrift soon soured, and I found the Juicy Bears priced at an outrageous $2.69.  I still occasionally buy a bag, because, well, they are Haribos; but the thrill, as they say, is gone.  Ironically, the increased demand for the Bears, fueled by my voraciousness, likely led to the shop realizing their pricing was too low.

Nevertheless, for a period of about 2 months, I was king of the world, a true beneficiary of global forces, an example of the fact that not all Mongols should be turned back at the gates to the city.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Skittles' Dark Side? Scary That They Think So.

I know I am on a Skittles rant of late, and I will move on in the next post (I promise).  However, after being disappointed by the Riddles, I was looking for some sort of reason to fall back in love with Skittles.  Therefore, when I saw the newest U.S. offering, Skittles Darkside - tagline: "the other side of the rainbow" - I immediately snatched them up and snuck (I refuse the proper conjugation "sneaked" on principle) them into my theater viewing of Argo

My opinion of them is colored (get it-- colored... rainbow... HUH?!) by many of the same concerns as I expressed in my Riddles post.  First, there are repetitive flavors: "midnight lime" is just "lime," and "blood orange" is not markedly different from "orange."  In addition, "dark berry" is simply a rehashing of one of the Mixed Berry Skittles line, and the "forbidden fruit" seems like a melon/punch type deal, again already addressed by Skittles.  The only really innovation here is the Pomegranate flavor, the "it" flavor of the decade for candies, juices and other edible items (see the surprisingly good pomegranate Tootsie Pop). 

The dark blue bag is nicely judged.  I wanted to pick up this bag.

All this said, I am live eat-blogging these Skittles even now, and I am not having the same kind of negative reaction I had with Riddles.  True, there is nothing "Dark" about these flavors, and so, there is no theme that binds these offerings; however, I find I like the candies.  I am not wild about the forbidden fruit or the berry flavors, but the pomegranate is good, and I have always liked lime and orange.  So, while there is nothing great about these Skittles, there is nothing that offensive about them, either.  Therefore, I give them a moderate endorsement.  A tip that real candy eaters probably already know: if you choose to "taste the rainbow" at once (eat a handful instead of anally separating the Skittles into colors), you will get a better Darkside experience.  A melange of flavors, where Red 40s and Yellow 5s seep together in harmony, is the way to go for sure.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Skittles Cannot Solve Riddle of Brand Extension

Once again, M&M Mars has missed the mark with one of its seemingly endless stream of brand extensions-- this time, the Skittles Riddles.  I got a package of these Skittles in my Xmas stocking (that's right: it's still happening!), and it was about the third time I had encountered the Riddles.  If you are unfamiliar with this candy, the basic premise is that the color of the Skittle does not tell you the flavor contained inside.  The flavor, therefore, is a "riddle" to be solved by the consumer.  The Sphinx's riddles these ain't, however.  Rather, these Skittles are an ineffectual assortment of odd flavors that, once identified, still do not imbue the consumer with the sense of glee that should accompany the eating of great candy.  First, the "punch" flavor is so generic as to be forgettable.  Second, the strawberry is an original flavor, which is disappointing to the Skittles purist: so few new ideas, eh Skittles?  Third, the apple flavor represents a kind of over-turning of American fans' wills, as people like me voted to keep the apple flavor from replacing the original lime Skittle in 2001 (check this old thread). Finally, the raspberry and watermelon flavors are OK, but boring, hardly enough to support a new line of Skittles. The fact that colors do not match flavors matters little when the flavors are so uninteresting.

The colors of these Skittles do not exactly make one salivate, either.  They look like the colors that toddlers get when they over-mix their finger paints.

This failure supports my general opinion that candy extensions are often sub-par.  Readers may remember, for example, my invective take on tropical candy brand extensions.  People might also simultaneously remember, though, that in the same post, I praise the Sour Skittle as one of the turn-of-the-century's greatest achievements.  So ultimately, the fact that the Riddles are on close-out at the local Kroger's and out of stock in most online candy stores (suggesting their imminent discontinuation) is only marginally pleasing to me.  I would never want to stifle the potentiality of brand extension candy.  For every travesty, like the chewy Spree, there are triumphs, like the Sour Skittle or Gummi Sweetart.  Yes, the Skittles Riddles are a big flop, but they are perhaps a stepping stone to future innovation, and we can all get behind that.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Honorable Mention: Marshawn Lynch

Today marks the beginning of a new feature here on the Candied Life: a serial tribute to those who have helped the candy cause.  These men and women are sometimes pioneers, but also sometimes just people who like candy and represent that affinity in their everyday lives.

Today's honoree just scored what should be the decisive score in an NFL playoff game for the Seattle Seahawks.  He is one of the NFL's greatest talents, a man ripped with muscle and impossible to tackle with just one defender.  One would think that this man would only pour protein shakes and probiotics into his body; however, this athlete, running back Marshawn Lynch, is a Skittles fiend.

Last year he was famously seen being fed the Rainbow of Fruit Flavors on the sideline during a game, and since, he has become a kind of icon for the candy.  After fans began to throw Skittles onto the field following Lynch TDs, the league, being the grouchy old men that they are, told Marshawn to chill out on his fruity fervor.  Undaunted, Lynch wore Skittles-themed cleats during a game and swiftly received a $10,000 fine for his enthusiasm. 

This is the kind of dedication in the face of persecution that in a perfect world we would all demonstrate, and because of his use of his high-profile career for the advancement of candy, Marshawn Lynch is here honored.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

I'm Back, Baby! And With Halloween Just Around the Corner!

If you will excuse the pun (it's been about a year since I had the chance, man), it is a sweet time of year.  Fall has brought with it cool breezes, mutli-colored foliage, and blazing backyard fire pits.  The cruel oppression of the sun is at an end, and harvested crops have left field after field of empty rows: a beautiful symbol of bounties past and deferred.  It has also ushered in October, the month that concludes most gloriously with the candy Bacchanalia we call Halloween.

Oh, would that I could go back in time and kiss the pagans that began to worship the lesser deities.  If only there were a way to impart to them the positive and lasting impact they have had on my life.

Alas, barring a surprise visit from Bill n Ted, there is no way to do so, so once again this year, I look forward to honoring the pagans the best way I know how: by hastening my inevitable descent into to Type 2 diabetes.  Therefore, I will pull the old "What's that?!" routine with young kids so that I can steal their pumpkin pails; I will hunch over beneath a sheet and squeak out my most juvenile "Twick orw tweet" to increase my confectionary tally; and I shall sit in my car on November 1 waiting for Target to open.  Faithful readers know why.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Candy Teeth

I got the candy teeth today, readers. You know, the "tenderness" in the teeth after a night of particularly involved candy consumption?

Yeah, I went Haribos, Sour Patch and SweeTarts. Those who truly eat candy know that Haribos' tough waxy exterior alone can give you the teeth-hurt; add SweeTart crunching and the sour of the Patch Kids (also a classic hurtener, in excess), and I got me the candy teeth.

Soft dishes for dinner tonight.