Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Rocky-ish Road (An Ice Cream Review)

So by now you probably know that I regard Ben & Jerry as the gods of ice cream. I finally got myself over the price ($4.99 per pint!) after I dug up a container left over from last spring’s can’t-let-your-meal-points-go-to-waste splurge on campus. It made me realize that, while less premium brands may be good, you really can’t beat the masters. Unless their Froyo has been subjected to harsh conditions for many, many months.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand. So far, I’ve really only written about flavors I’ve had before. (The exceptions being Chocolate Therapy and Phish Food Froyo, but that doesn’t really count because I’d eaten the full-fat version on more than one occasion.) Since that’s cheating (and also because--gasp--I’ve never actually had Rocky Road ice cream before), I decided to break out the pint of Rocky Road-ish in the basement freezer.

“Toasted Marshmallow Ice Cream with a Toasted Marshmallow Swirl & Fudge Covered Almonds”
Not only is it NEW!, but it’s also a Limited Batch! I’ve read about people already being unable to find it anymore. With Hurricane Sandy bearing down on us and the pretty much guaranteed power outages lasting several days, I was terrified of never getting to try this flavor again. I couldn’t let that happen!

I was on the fence about buying this, because while the “toasted marshmallow” parts screamed “buy me!” the almonds warned me away. See, I’m a no-almonds-in-my-chocolate kind of person (and nuts in my world have no place in ice cream). But just looking at that toasted marshmallow swirl, I think I can deal with the almonds. It almost looks like a graham cracker swirl...oh, now I want to try B&J’s S’mores!

You could see a fair amount of almonds in the last picture, but once I started scooping they were everywhere! Hmm, I always applaud Ben & Jerry on their mix-in abundance, but in this case I’m not sure whether to be excited...on the plus side, the marshmallow swirl is also very plentiful!

I dug in. The base ice cream is pretty sweet, not overwhelming but definitely distinguishable from vanilla. I’m not sure I’d immediately think “toasted marshmallow” if I hadn’t read the description, but I still liked it. The almonds...well, I’m still not a huge fan, but their saltiness was a nice contrast to the sweetness of the rest of the pint.

And the swirl? Easily the best part of the pint for me, but it could definitely be too sweet for someone without such a love of marshmallow. It’s definitely different from the marshmallow swirl in Phish Food, so we know they’re not just making up the “toasted” part. If you look at the pictures above, it almost looks gritty, and it does have a bit of grit to it--until it melts into gooey puddles. I actually dug out the almonds and ate them first, and then saved the swirl for last. It was a huge sugar rush, and it was great!

I’m not sure if I’d buy this again, but I think the base is a keeper (the swirl, too). The only trouble is deciding what other mix-in to use so that marshmallow and marshmallow doesn’t get too...marshmallowy. I definitely enjoyed it, and it was a great(-ish) initiation into the world of Rocky Road. But I think maybe next time I’ll hunt for S’mores.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Weathering the Storm

Breaking news: Penn State University Park actually cancelled classes!

Not the whole day of classes, of course--that would be too much like giving in to Mother Nature. But as Tropical Storm Sandy closed in yesterday, I got a text message alert. After the 1:10 class, everything was off.

My last class of the day ends, of course, at 1:10. But I imagine that for people with later classes this was a pretty exciting event. Actually, I was pretty excited about it even though it didn’t really affect me. There’s something about nature showing our administrators who’s boss, especially when our administrators believe they can conquer the forces of nature.

The last hurricane I really remember even reaching here was Isabel. I was in seventh grade, and I was in “Social Studies” (that year, basically Middle East history) when the PA system announced that school was cancelled the next day. I think our power went out, but it wasn’t really a big deal. Just a big rainstorm. I went outside the next morning and stood in the drizzle, didn’t blow away or get knocked unconscious by a flying tree or anything.

Sandy, however, was different. She was huge. She was ugly. And she was mean. She screamed throughout the night and into the morning, dumping buckets of water everywhere. The porta-potties at Way’s Fruit Farm and at the barn tipped over (lovely, I know). My bike rides across campus, both to work and to class, were pretty...well, un-fun. I went through three pairs of underwear, two pairs of pants, and two pairs of socks yesterday, and that’s just from going to class (and sitting on a wet bicycle seat).

But I also feel incredibly lucky. We never lost power, despite the wind gusts at 60+ mph. That in itself is a miracle, and one my whole family is extremely grateful for given the amount of ice cream currently in our freezer. So many people have it so much worse. My cousin, staying in a hotel in D.C., reported that the strong winds broke their window! And other places have feet of snow.

By the way State College was hyping this hurricane up, you’d think the apocalypse was on the way. So imagine what a real disaster would be like. How can we be prepared for every little thing life decides to chuck our way?

I guess the short answer is, we can’t. This is the kind of stuff that happens to the other guy, not you. Until it lands right in your backyard. The best you can do is look on the bright side. And here, in State College right now, there’s a lot to see.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Review: Luna Bar S'mores

Some products make you say, “Wow!” That’s part of the fun of writing these reviews: I get to experiment and occasionally find new things that I absolutely love.

On the other hand, some products aren’t worth writing about...except, of course, to warn you  about their boringness.

Take the Luna S’mores bar, for example. Supposedly, it’s

“Marshmallow nuggets swirled with graham crackers, topped with dark chocolate.”

It really doesn’t get any more boring than that for a granola bar, does it? I’d like to see at least some indication of marshmallow--maybe those teeny freeze-dried ones that come in hot chocolate packets? Nothing about this bar indicates s’mores to me. It even smells like just a chocolate-coated granola bar. Not even dark chocolate at that.

So I already wasn’t expecting much. My very first bite I got a hint of...pretzel? I’m not sure, but at no point did this bar have me thinking of roasting marshmallows around a campfire. It tastes just as boring as it looks. It’s like your average chocolate chip granola bar, sans chocolate chips.

In texture it’s your basic granola bar as well. Crispy, a little chewy, sort of dense (but nothing like a real Clif bar!) other words, same song, second verse.

I’m not saying this is a bad bar, because it tastes fine. It just lacks anything to set it fact it lacks anything to back up the claim that it’s flavored like your classic campfire treat. That said, it was a pleasant enough experience.

Taste: 6--pleasant enough, but minus points for false advertising and boringness.
Texture: 9--satisfying, crispy, chewy.
Health: 9--Luna bars are 70% organic and designed to give women the nutrition they need. GoodGuide gives it an 8.9.
Eat Again? Yes, but would I buy it again? Probably not.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Review: MET-Rx Big 100 Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough

Occasionally when I’m picking things to review, I come across something I’ve already had but never really bothered to think about. Or something I tried but never really gave a chance.

The MET-Rx Big 100 Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough bar falls into the latter category. I bought one more than a year ago, before I started caring about protein and stuff like that. I found it at the convenience store near my dorm, liked the look of the cookie dough on the wrapper, and thought, “Why not?” Then I took one bite of it and gave the rest to my dad (what are dads for?).

Well, when I picked up a bunch of other huge MET-Rx protein bars at Weis the other week, I saw this old friend again and decided to give it a second chance. After all, my tastes have evolved a little since then and I now respect protein bars for what they are, rather than holding them to impossible standards. So I bought on of these big guys.

Like all other MET-Rx bars, it’s huge! But it also has 28 grams of protein, which is impressive.

There’s no coating on this one, which really does make it look like a tube of cookie dough. That said, it also makes it pretty sticky. I always put these things on napkins for the pictures, and I often pay the advice: keep this in the wrapper, and if you get it on your hands don’t touch anything too valuable.

The inside is just the same (duh, no coating!) as the outside. This bar is very pliable, with a texture like a very soft Tootsie Roll that really isn’t that far off from real cookie dough (although definitely gummier). The chocolate chips a real and solid, giving a nice contrasting thud. Those little white blobs you can see in the mix aren’t rice crispies; they’re a harder crunch than that. As near as I can figure out, they’re little cookie pieces. Either way, they supplement the chocolate chips nicely.

As for taste, it really is very sweet. That said, there’s also a funny protein aftertaste, and it leaves your teeth feeling a little chalky. But when you are actively chewing, this bar is a very good approximation of cookie dough.

This bar doesn’t go for the candy-bar-like feel of the Peanut Butter Pretzel or Chocolate Roasted Peanut varieties; in fact, it kind of reminded me of a giant, less-healthy Quest bar. I was tempted to try it out in the microwave, but I wasn’t sure if it was meant for that  and thought better of it.

In closing: I’ve revised my biased opinion of this bar (to another biased opinion). Of course it doesn’t taste just like cookie dough. But it’s a passable replacement (not that I frequently eat whole tubes of cookie dough), and the components work really well together. I’m willing to put up with a little funny aftertaste for that--plus protein.

Taste: 8--almost cookie dough, with a bit of protein aftertaste.
Texture: 8--soft like cookie dough, but a little gummier and a lot stickier.
Health: 6--not the best in terms of saturated fat, sugar, or sodium. See GoodGuide’s summary, which gives this bar a 5.
Eat Again? Yeah, why not? It’s a good “dessert” replacement.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Review: thinkThin White Chocolate High Protein Bar

I love chocolate--all kinds. I have chocolate moods. Good old solid milk chocolate is a failsafe. Dark chocolate is for when I’m not feeling quite so in need of sugar. And white chocolate is a rare treat because (1) we hardly ever have it in the house, and (2) its unique flavor is best enjoyed in small, infrequent quantities because yes, it can be a little “funny.”

So I was intrigued by how it would go with thinkThin’s protein bars. Based in my previous experiences, milk chocolate isn’t the best pair for their protein base, but dark chocolate certainly succeeded. So how will our third variety fare? Here we go with the thinkThin White Chocolate protein bar:

It looks very unassuming. It reminds me of a yogurt coating...oh how I love yogurt coatings....

I really like the contrasting colors here--white outside, light brown inside. If you look closely you can see darker spots, which I believe may be chocolate chips. So maybe the whole thing isn’t white chocolate, but we all know that with protein bars the coating is likely to be the star of the show.

That’s mostly the case here. Basically this bar is a sort-of-chocolate flavored base covered in white chocolate. It’s certainly no worse than  any other chocolate protein base, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s better either. I still get a bit of sour aftertaste, but it’s not as prevalent as with the milk chocolate and peanut butter flavors. I did find that the bigger the bite you take, the less aftertaste you get and the more it tastes like white chocolate. Which, by the way, earns my approval. The coating here is excellent! Overall, not bad for being gluten- and sugar-free!

This bar also has a really nice, soft, cookie-like texture that sort of crumbles in your mouth. I could see where someone picky might call it a little dry, but I think it’s fine just the way it is. The thing about white chocolate is that it’s often softer (especially in comparison to dark chocolate), which is the case with the coating here. It has a very, very subtle shell-like texture; you can tell it’s there but it doesn’t crunch or otherwise interfere with the overall soft-cookie vibe.

Despite the aftertaste, I actually really enjoyed this bar. It was satisfying--both to my macros and my belly!--and in a pinch I think it would satisfy my chocolate craving, at least for a while. ;) thinkThin, along with Quest and Life Choice, is definitely one of my go-to protein bars.

Taste: 8--still a bit of protein taste, but very subtle; mostly like a brownie.
Texture: 10--thick and fudgy, with minimal “chalk.”
Health: 9--as always, thinkThin is gluten- and sugar-free, but beware of sugar alcohols. GoodGuide rates it at a 7.2, with mild warnings about sodium and saturated fat.
Eat Again? Yes.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Review: MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal Peanut Butter Pretzel

If you’ve been keeping up recently, you know I’ve been on a jumbo-protein-bar kick. You know, the ones that are closer to enhanced candy bars than clean protein bars. Normally I wouldn’t eat them, but...well, I have to admit they’re fun. They actually make a great dessert, and that way I can still eat my beloved Quest bars for breakfast (and get some good clean protein!).

Well anyway, the latest and greatest is the MET-Rx Big 100 Colossal Peanut Butter Pretzel bar. (Talk about a mouthful!) It comes in at 420 calories and 30 grams of protein--so again, this isn’t a light snack. But like I said, these things work great for dessert.

I’ll spare you the size comparison shot because I think you get the idea after three of four of these babies--er, sorry, monsters.

Wow! Now there is an artistic masterpiece! Here I was, expecting a plain old, chocolate-covered bar with pretzels and peanut butter inside. But no, every component is visible from the outside, and those pretzels on top are just way  too cool. Plus the whole thing smells salty and peanut buttery. Could this be the elusive peanut butter protein bar that actually tastes like peanut butter?

This looks promising, there are also pretzels and peanuts within the base. The pretzels on top are anchored by some sort of sweet goop, and while I can’t isolate its exact taste, I know it’s good. I wish I knew what it was, because it really enhances the texture.

That said, this isn’t a bar to rush. It is a bit of work to chew, but it is so satisfyingly crunchy and crispy that it’s well worth it. It’s so big it’s almost too tall to bite! I didn’t even try to break this bar in half for the really is colossal. It’s slightly gooey, with rice crisps and crunchy, it’s good.

As for taste--A+! I can definitely taste the peanut butter, which is enhanced by the saltiness from the pretzels. The pretzel-glue goop, whatever it is, is sweet--wait, I’m starting to repeat myself. I guess I just can’t get over how good this was. When I first started, I wasn’t sure I was in the mood for either peanut butter or pretzels. Boy, was I wrong! This bar really hit the spot.

Taste: 10--finally, a legit peanut buttery protein bar! The sweet goop and salty pretzels make a perfect combination.
Texture: 8--it takes some work--but it is really, really satisfying. If you have the crunchies, go for this one.
Health: 6--it tastes like candy, and maybe there’s a reason. GoodGuide gives this bar a mere 4.1 for health, calling it out on saturated fat, sugar, and sodium content. But keep in mind those 30 grams of protein.
Eat Again? Yes, these really do make good treats.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Review: MET-Rx ProteinPlus Chocolate Roasted Peanut (with Caramel)

Remember my trip to Weis, in which I bought several varieties of enormous protein bars? Well, I already ate one of them, and I was looking around for a nighttime snack the other night when I remembered them again. This time, I pulled out the MET-RX ProteinPlus Chocolate Roasted Peanut bar.

As always with these monsters, the comparison shot. Maybe “snack” is the wrong word to use here...

There are some crack beginning in the chocolate coating, but it smells like legit quality milk chocolate so I’ll be forgiving here.

Wait, what? Caramel? Who said anything about caramel? Oh wait, it does say “with caramel” in small letters on the wrapper, right underneath “Chocolate Roasted Peanut.”Apparently I need to read my labels better. ;) But caramel is a bonus, and totally makes up for the Herculean task of breaking this bar in half (notice how mashed it is now, oops...).

The first two things I noticed about this bar are: 1) it’s really hard to chew, and 2) caramel! Let’s go with the good news first. This isn’t crappy caramel, it’s candy-bar quality caramel, and it really enhances the flavor. In fact at first it pretty much is the flavor. The chocolate coating belongs on a candy bar, too. But after the chocolate and caramel fade away, the protein base comes through, and it’s really just kind of...blah. There isn’t a bad aftertaste or anything, it just really does nothing for the overall experience. Plus, I despite consuming that entire enormous bar, I still can’t figure out where the peanuts came in. Unless the base was supposed to be peanut flavored.

Now, the texture...don’t eat this when you’re in a hurry! The coating does make a bit of a mess, and the base is really tough. I took my time, and my jaws still hurt from chewing it. I think they were going for a sort of gummy nougat thing, but it’s more of a tough brick of taffy. OK, not exactly, but it’s definitely a workout. If you want to feel justified about eating a “snack” this big, just think of all the calories you burn before you even swallow a bite!

Overall, I’d say this is another one leaning more toward candy than protein bar, but it’s nowhere near the Detour Cookie Dough Caramel Crisp or Supreme Protein Caramel Nut Chocolate in candy-ness. That said, it’s a little lighter on the calories, but I’m thinking that if you’re eating something this size in the first place you don’t really care about that.

Taste: 7.5--really caramelly at first, but the base is boring and the peanuts nonexistent. For 32 grams of protein though, not bad at all.
Texture: 6--good if you want to slow yourself down or muscle up your jaw.
Health: 7--I’m a bit biased in the area of protein bar nutritional profiles, but this one isn’t all the bad. GoodGuide notes saturated fats and sodium to watch, with a final score of 7.7 (among, of all things, “snacks”! ;)).
Eat Again? I doubt it.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Karamel Sutra: The Return of Ben & Jerry

Guess what...after a hiatus, Ben & Jerry are back! They return with one of my old favorites--Karamel Sutra (and they had to rename Clusterfluff!). I used to buy this from the little convenience store near my dorm when I lived on campus and needed to use up extra meal points. I haven’t had it since last winter, so needless to say I was pretty excited!

“A core of soft caramel encircled by chocolate & caramel ice creams & fudge chips.”
This flavor has been around for a while, but recently I’ve seen it emerging in reference to a new line of “Core” ice creams, about which there seems to be frustratingly little information. I’m not even sure if they’re all available in the United States--for sure I’ve never seen the other two, “Dough-ble Whammy” and “Berry White.” I can only find them on the UK page. Shame on you, Ben & Jerry. They sound delicious (well, maybe not the berry one).

Anyway, we still have their lovely cousin, so let’s dig in!

It’s hard to see, but there is some core already oozing out the top there. (It’s on the left, right along the divide between chocolate and caramel ice creams.) It’s a lot more obvious once you start scooping what you’re in for:

Oooh, I just love caramel! And this isn’t just any caramel. It’s thick, gooey, chewy in its own right. Not just caramel sauce but real substantial stuff. It has a life of its own.

You can see lots of little chocolate chips, too. They’re only in the chocolate ice cream, which isn’t explicitly mentioned in the description, but in this case I think it works. They are really crunchy, which is a good contrast to the goopy caramel, but I still like the size of the fudge fish in Phish Food better.

I’ve seen complaints about the caramel ice cream tasting little different from boring old vanilla, but I found it to have a very discernible and pleasant caramel flavor, even absent glops of swirl. It’s waay creamy and super easy to scoop, which isn’t the case for the chocolate. One thing I’ve noticed about Ben & Jerry’s chocolate ice cream (absent mix-ins like the gooey Phish Food marshmallow) is it’s always harder than other flavors. Actually, I’ve found that to be the case with most chocolate ice cream, like the Penn State Creamery and even Edy’s as well. So it’s not purely a B&J’s phenomenon, but it’s really noticeable since their premium ice cream is already super-dense. Just to be clear, I am sooo not complaining here!

The bottom line is, I wish there were more mix-ins and yes, this is one of Ben & Jerry’s less exciting flavors--BUT it is still freaking amazing. Especially the caramel core. So yeah, definitely a success and repeat freezer resident here!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

You Get What You Pay For

** First off, thank you to everyone who commented to me about my last post (both online and/or in person). You’ve all been really supportive throughout this tough week and I’m so lucky to know each and every one of you. Thank you thank you thank you! In light of everything I’m going to try to keep up the spirit of the blog, goes. **

I should know better by now than to unleash myself in a grocery store without a very specific shopping list. My last trip to Weis yielded numerous enormous protein bars (including Monday’s Supreme Protein adventure), blueberries, yogurt...and a spur-of-the-moment ice cream pick.

You know how much I  love Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food Froyo. It’s the marshmallow swirl that does it for me: so gooey and extra-sweet, thick and rich...I could go on and on, but that would accomplish little other than boring you and making me drool all over my keyboard.

So anyway, chocolate marshmallow ice cream sounded like a good flavor to try. Especially light ice cream. If this could be a Phish Food stand-in, I would be a much healthier person. ;) Plus, being Weis quality (which is not always a bad thing!), it’s MUCH cheaper.

So I eagerly dug in to my chocolate chocolate...

...marshmallow? Where?

OK, so expecting it to have the thick marshmallow glops of Ben & Jerry’s might have been overkill. And upon very close inspection, you can sort of find some white streaks spattered about your scoops. But come on, it doesn’t even look close to the picture on the carton. Where are those sugary sweet ribbons?

The ice cream itself is, as they say, what you pay for. It’s very airy--so definitely not as filling as premium ice cream, but that’s to be expected. It’s not very smooth, either; more of an icy texture. Basically, it’s what it claims to be (sans marshmallow): reduced-calorie chocolate “ice cream.”

So yeah, I set the bar way too high on this one. Of course I’ll still eat it, but it’s going to need some spicing up with various toppings. Lesson learned: less is not always more.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Sweatshirt That's Older Than Me

My favorite fall/springtime running sweatshirt has seen better days. It’s gray turning brownish, with an old Penn State decal that doesn’t even depict the iconic Nittany Lion. Actually, I think the sweatshirt might be too old for that. It’s threadbare, only a slight step up from a long-sleeved t-shirt. There are holes in the seams where the cuffs meet the sleeves. It’s older than I am, without a doubt. It used to belong to my grandfather.

I think he had a dozen other sweatshirts like it, with varying designs, but all thin, slightly baggy, and comfortable. I can still see him in a big gray sweatshirt, khaki trousers, big black shoes with cushy soles, and rose-tinted glasses that took up most of his face. I can see him so clearly that I can’t believe that I will never wear those clothes again, never reach up to turn on his hearing aid, asking “What’s this?”

When I learned two days ago that he had died, I was stunned. He underwent open-heart surgery a week ago, but that was supposed to fix him. He was doing better. He was obeying the doctors, but he was getting restless. They monitored every little thing on a microscopic level. I couldn’t understand how this could happen so suddenly, so seemingly unexpectedly.

But then, I think I never really appreciated the seriousness of my grandfather’s condition. When he revealed it in an email (pretty impressive for an 82-year-old, right?), it was just a little blurb tacked on to a much longer, detailed account of other people he’d seen, plans he was making, and important dates for us all to remember. He was much more concerned with us--his family--than his own problems.

It’s always been like that. In the twenty-one years I’ve known him, he was always volunteering his time at charities, getting involved at church, engaging in community dinners, and keeping the rest of us up-to-date on his extensive family. We may not have seen eye-to-eye on everything (you try explaining to a full-blooded Italian immigrant why you don’t like pasta), but throughout my childhood and into college he and my grandmother were always coming to school plays, dance recitals, horse shows, and graduations. Nothing that any of us grandchildren did was too trivial. He was so proud of us all; nothing delighted him more than to hear about our work. Even if he didn’t understand all of it--I mean, who could, with two medical professionals, a nuclear and an aerospace engineer, a psychology major, a computer scientist, and a crazy triple-major physicist/astrobiologist/biochemist, on top of some impressive athletes who have yet to graduate from high school. It’s a daunting task to keep up with all of us. But he never gave up, because we were his, and he loved every bit of it. He was living the quintessential American dream--overcoming hardship as a young immigrant in Chicago to watch his family enjoy and perpetuate the success he had passed on.

But it was never about him, ever. Which is why I never realized, this is serious. As always, he minimized his own problems, put others first, and took on life with a deceptive vigor that made me think he’d be around forever. He knew the risks when he underwent surgery, and he opted for a chance at a better life rather than to live out his last few years getting progressively weaker, dependent on others. He chose, as always, to fight for what he believed in, until the very end.

Yes, we were his, but he was also ours, and now that he’s gone there is a void that cannot be filled.

I can’t remember exactly how I ended up with that old sweatshirt. It’s always been my get-ready-to-get-gross sweatshirt, something I didn’t mind trashing because it’s seen better days. But now it’s one of my treasured possessions. Perhaps, if I’m lucky, sixty years from now I’ll be wearing it around the house, shuffling about in my therapeutic shoes and squinting through thick glasses, flipping on a hearing aid as my family tells me all about their lives. But if not...I already know I’m lucky anyway, for having such an amazing man in my life for twenty-one years.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Review: Supreme Protein Bar Caramel Nut Chocolate

Recently I’ve been getting bored of looking at the same old choices of bars at my local Wegmans, many of which I’ve already tried and not overly excited about buying again (unless of course I have a coupon!). But it turns out I’ve been totally missing out on a great selection of protein bars I have never tried, and in the most unlikely of places: the tiny Weis next to the high school, which is a convenient stop for me since it’s also right by the YMCA.

I was rushing down the ice cream aisle for the checkout, and I happened to take a different route...which led me past an entire wall full of protein and nutrition bars. I just couldn’t resist adding a few (OK, like six) to my already precarious load (silly me, not picking up a basket on the way in). One of the coolest parts was, they had some jumbo protein bars! Case in point: this Supreme Protein Caramel Nut Chocolate bar.

Again, I love the size! (Although that Quest bar is pretty darn filling, too.) The inside wasn’t quite the pristine, smooth chocolatey coating I was expecting, though.

Some of the caramel appears to have exploded out of the bar and, consequently, all over the wrapper. The chocolate coating was also a little cracked. Oh well, at least now I know there really is caramel in there.

As you can see, this bar is composed of a protein base, a layer of gooey caramel, and a nice thick chocolate coating. The protein base is almost like nougat in texture, only a little gummier. What you can’t see--but an important component in the mix--is the nuts also hiding out in the caramel layer.

As you might expect from one of these monster protein bars, it’s more of a candy bar than a true, healthy protein bar. I’ll admit that at first taste I thought it was a little off or weird, but I ended up really getting into it. The caramel is a strong influence, with the nougat base complementing its gooiness. The nuts add a pleasant crunch, although their taste is surprisingly subtle; I usually find that nuts overpower other flavors, but not here. They could have been slightly more solid rice crispies, for all I could tell.

My only other concern was that this bar was slightly messy. The chocolate coating has a bad habit of crumbling off weirdly at times. Other than that, though, I enjoyed the texture. It was sort of like a gummier Snickers bar--nougat, caramel, nuts, chocolate.

Overall? While I liked the giant Detour bar I tried better, this one still had a great taste...but, iffy nutrition. Sure, it had 30 grams of protein (wow!), but there are still a lot of unpronounceable ingredients. And, even though it’s labeled as “carb conscious,” there are a fair amount of those, too (more than protein). No wonder it tastes like candy. It practically is! But, I get that some people need all the extra “junk” to stomach the protein.

At 400 calories, this is a bit hefty for a snack. But they do come in smaller sizes, with about half the calories and protein content. Kudos to Supreme Protein for marketing not just to huge bodybuilder dudes (and Computer Science majors with bottomless stomachs), but also normal people.

Taste: 9--very, very sweet and caramelly, with the chocolate also playing a dominant role. More reminiscent of a candy bar than a protein bar.
Texture: 9--gummy/gooey in a caramel way, although I wish the chocolate coating wasn’t so messy.
Health: 6--I wish it had less sugar and a waay shorter list of ingredients. But 30 grams of protein isn’t bad. Although, some of it is soy.
Eat Again? Yeah, but not often and probably a smaller size--this was just for kicks.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Review: Clif Bar Spiced Pumpkin Pie

It’s almost Halloween, and you know what that means--the appearance of seasonal food items in every major grocery store. Mainly I’m talking pumpkin Peeps, orange-filled Oreos, candy corn...but I’ve also seen Halloween-themed Cap’n Crunch and, yesterday at Wegmans, seasonal Spiced Pumpkin Pie Clif bars.

Now, I’m not totally sure why these are packaged in white, because that makes me think of snow. Which makes sense for the Peppermint Stick-flavored bars that were next to them (and yes, one of which I also bought), but as far as pumpkins and snow, I don’t really think the two go together. At least, I hope they don’t because that would mean an early snowfall this year, and I really hate snow.

OK, before we proceed I should probably disclose that I have never actually eaten pumpkin pie. #-o In fact I think the only kinds of pie I’ve ever had are chocolate, apple, and wild blueberry. That said, my friend’s mom makes these mushy pumpkin bars (I’m not sure exactly what’s in them, but definitely pumpkin), and I like them well enough. I also ate a pumpkin chocolate chip cookie once.

It looks like your standard Clif bar, very dense and molasses-y. This one didn’t stick too badly (although I still don’t recommend doing the napkin thing), and it smelled vaguely like pumpkin with a hint of cinnamon. Again, Clif seems to have decided to pretty up this bar. I really want to know how they get those squiggles so evenly placed.

Not being a huge pumpkin fan, I was pleasantly surprised by this bar. It was very fresh and easy to chew, with an oaty-crispy texture that was pretty consistent. Minus the monster almond that I found right smack in the middle, but that’s OK since I like almonds. There is a hint of cinnamon, which unfortunately doesn’t come through in every bite. Since I am a cinnamon fanatic, I would have liked more, but there were bites that were sufficiently spiced. Overall, it’s sweet with a sort of fresh-veggie taste that I’m going to attribute to the pumpkin (are pumpkins vegetables??).

Taste: 8--definitely fresh and pumpkin-y, although I wish there was more spice.
Texture: 10--not too terribly sticky, with a nice oat-and-crisp consistency.
Health: 8--if you’re watching carbs, you might want to be careful--as with most energy bars. GoodGuide gives it an 8.
Eat Again? Yeah, but I won’t go out of my way to buy them and I’m not going to stock up while they’re still available.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Ups and Downs and Ice Cream

I just ate over a pound of ice cream.

Well, actually it was frozen yogurt...but does that really make it much better? Better not to think about it, I suppose. It’s been a long, crazy day and I think my need for ice cream just totally overwhelmed me at Kiwi tonight. It’s one of the only downsides of having a self-serve yogurt bar--it can get scary.

It was a half celebratory/half commiseration trip. My geometry exam is over now, and it was probably one of the easiest tests I’ve ever taken, which is awesome. Now I don’t have to worry about memorizing proofs for a while, and on top of that no homework (what teacher gives exams and homework at the same time?). So I can focus on other work (thesis and other homework, of course) this weekend.

But, just as I was starting to feel cheerful about my day, with my exam over and no more classes and the weekend staring me in the face...I decided to go swimming. And what should happen as I was waiting, stationary, to pull into a parking space at the YMCA, but that my freshman calculus professor backs his huge Chrysler Town & Country right into the front of my driver’s-side door.

And I don’t mean he just lightly dinged it. I mean like, he didn’t know he was hitting me at first and he kept going. Like, when I finally parked and tried to get out I couldn’t open the door.

Well, the door does open now, but it takes a fair amount of force and you have to be careful about closing it or else the latch doesn’t catch. It’s all bent back just behind the wheel. I can actually see some of the parts under there that I’m pretty sure you’re not meant to see.

But in the whole scheme of things, at least it’s driveable. And I can look forward to being interviewed by his insurance agency as a part of the “process”...which hopefully ends in them paying for my body work. Still, it was my first accident in four years, and it was minor. I know I’m lucky. Plus, this new look makes me seem a whole lot tougher. ;)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review: thinkThin Dark Chocolate High Protein Bar

All right, amid all my studying, work, school, and horses I managed time for a quick review! The problem isn’t finding time to eat new things, it’s finding time to write about them...and trying to be coherent about it while my mind is crammed with angles and lines and deprived of sleep.

Nevertheless, here goes with a new experiment: How well can I describe the thinkThin Dark Chocolate protein bar in this state?

This bar, unlike the others I’ve tried from thinkThin, is covered in dark rather than milk chocolate. Seems fairly obvious given the name, but with some companies you never know, so it’s nice to have visual consistency.

You might see some whitish tinges to the coating...that would be my fault. I let this bar sit in the basement far too long--I actually bought it in Virginia Beach months ago.

So I wasn’t all that surprised when it put up a fight about being broken. But on the plus side, it does look pretty rich and dark on the inside. I think I see some dark chocolate chips, but I’m not sure.

Well, what did surprise me was that even though this bar wasn’t, by most standards, “fresh,” I loved the texture. Despite being hard to break, it was really thick and fudgy, if just a little chalky once you got past the initial bites. Very dense, very satisfying--I applaud thinkThin’s shelf life! Of course it’s not just like fudge, but it’s really close.

I also think the dark chocolate worked better with the protein base. There was much less bitter/sour aftertaste with this bar than with the other flavors, which was another unexpected twist because usually the ones based on chocolate are the worst offenders. I believe it has to do with the use of dark chocolate, which naturally has a little more bitterness anyway. So yes, there was a bit of underlying protein-ness, but it was very subtle. Again, thumbs up.

Overall, this was my favorite thinkThin bar so far, although I haven’t come close to trying their whole lineup. It was almost like eating a store-bought fudge brownie. Of course you’re not going to forget that you’re eating something protein-based, but for me, I’m willing to make the exchange. Now, if only they sold this flavor in State College!

Taste: 8--still a bit of protein taste, but very subtle; mostly like a brownie.
Texture: 10--thick and fudgy, with minimal “chalk.”
Health: 9--no sugar, high protein. GoodGuide gives it a green light on everything except saturated fat, for a total health score of 6.2.
Eat Again? Yeah, if I could get them locally.