Saturday, December 16, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Some Traditional Southern U.S. Cuisine

     I've been working in the South a bit this year, so I thought I'd explore some of their traditional dishes.  In some cases I'd tried these before, but I went back and sampled them again, both to give disappointing kinds another chance, and to revisit ones that I found palatable.  Specifically, I'm reviewing hoppin' Johns, butter beans, boiled peanuts, sweet tea, Coca-Cola with peanuts in it, and Moon Pies.  And, as usual, I chose items that I didn't have to prepare, both because I hate cooking, and since I'm currently staying in a hotel I don't have access to a full kitchen.
     Hoppin' Johns are traditionally made with blackeye peas, rice, onions, bacon, and salt.  Other common ingredients include green peppers, sausage, ham hocks, spices, and red cowpeas instead of the blackeye ones.  The derivation of the name isn't conclusively known.  One explanation is that it's a corruption of the Haitian Creole word for blackeye peas.  It also possibly has a unfortunate connection with the West African slave trade, as it was sometimes fed to the poor kidnapped souls traveling to the endless Hell of bondage in the U.S.  Moving to non-depressing things, there are a couple of whimsical traditions incorporating hoppin Johns on New Years Day.  In one it's served on that day to bring good luck for the year.  A coin may be placed in the pot.  Greens on the side represent American currency.  Corn bread on the side represents gold.  In another practice a diner leaves 3 blackye peas on their plate after finishing a serving of hoppin' Johns, to ensure good luck, fortune, and romance in the coming year.  And a Cuban variant of this dish which substitutes Cuban black beans for the blackeye peas is evidently known as "hoppin' Juans."  Finally, a website I consulted postulates that the hoppin Johns served in the past were superior to the modern kind because they used red cowpeas instead of blackeye peas, prepared the rice differently, and used better bacon flavoring.
     I was surprised to learn that butter beans are a type of lima bean.  Namely, a yellow, flat version of them.  This family of beans is also called a Madagascar bean, for reasons I couldn't discover--I mean, I'm guessing that some kinds are grown on that island, but I couldn't find out the specific details.  Lima beans were first grown in the Andean region of South America, in 2000 B.C.  And these beans are toxic if they're not boiled for at least 10 minutes.
     Boiled peanuts are simply, peanuts boiled in a salt water solution.  Sometime, Old Bay seasoning, ham hocks, hot sauce, or even beer are added for flavoring.  The peanuts used are either "green" (uncooked, undehydrated peanuts) or "raw" (uncooked, but dehydrated and then rehydrated peanuts). It's thought to have started as a way to use surplus and unsold peanuts after harvest time. This concoction is especially popular in Southeastern Virginia to Florida, Mississippi, and even Ohio.  But then boiled peanuts are popular in many places around the world, including South America, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa.  Some research suggests that boiling may denature some of the proteins that cause the extreme reaction in peanut allergy sufferers.  Although this hasn't been conclusively proven, so don't throw out your EpiPens and chow down on boiled peanuts if you have that particular condition.  Boiled peanuts are also the official snack food of South Carolina since 2006.
     Sweet tea is produced by adding sugar (or sometimes syrup) to a bag of black tea brewing in hot water.  The resulting beverage is then chilled and served as a sweeter version of iced tea.  Many kinds have twice the sugar of a serving of Coca-Cola.  The recipe formerly used green tea, but switched to black tea during World War II, when the American sources for green tea were controlled by the Japanese, and the only viable substitute was the tea grown in British-controlled India.
    The Coke with peanuts in it I only learned about recently.  Apparently a former boss of mine liked to do this, too.  After reading up on it online, it seems to be a Southern tradition, especially in rural farming areas.  It's apparently  almost a type of sports drink or Gatorade, a way to get salt back into you while enjoying a cold beverage on a hot day.  Or a way to get a snack and a drink all in one convenient package.  Various accounts included several kinds of soft drink bases, but RC Cola and particularly Coke were the most popular.  Since Coke was the easiest soda to get, too, I went with that.
     Moon Pies are the one item in this post whose history is definitively known, and which comes from one business.  They're made by Chattanooga Bakery, out of the town of the same name in Tennessee.  In fact, they're celebrating their centennial this year, as they were "born" on April 29, 1917.  Moon Pies are two disc-shaped graham crackers, dipped in chocolate, vanilla, banana, strawberry, or salted caramel coatings, with marshmallow filling in between.  Or orange and coconut cracker dips during Mardi Gras.  There's also a double decker version using three graham crackers, and two layers of filling.  Earl Mitchell, Jr., says that his father got the idea for this dessert by asking a Kentucky miner what his ideal snack would be, and being told it would involve graham crackers and marshmallow "as big as the moon."  Hence the main ingredients, and the name.  A Moon Pie and a RC Cola was also known as the "working man's lunch" in parts of the South.  The town of Mobile, Alabama drops a giant metal Moon Pie to signify the start of the New Year, a Southern version of the famous Ball dropping in New York's Times Square.  There's an annual Moon Pie festival in Belt Buckle, Tennessee, and an annual Moon Pie eating contest in Bessemer, Alabama.  The current record for consuming these treats is held by Matt Stonie, who downed 73 single Moon Pies in 8 minutes on October, 14, 2017 in Memphis Tennessee.  Similar desserts, or more unkindly, ripoffs of Moon Pies include Scooter Pies, Marshmallow Pies, and Mallomars in the U.S., Wagon Wheels in the U.K., Canada, and Australia, Choco Pies in South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan, Mamut and Rocko in Mexico, Halley in Turkey, Bimbo in Egypt, and Alfajor in Argentina.
     But let's move on to my impression of all these items.
1) Hoppin' Johns.  I had the 14.5 ounce (411 gram) can from Margaret Holmes, distributed by McCall Farms out of South Carolina.  This was yet another variant on the tradition, as there was no rice in them.  Also, there were peppers, tomatoes, garlic powder, and several other flavorings and preservatives.  I didn't like this.  I'm evidently not a huge fan of blackeye peas, and overall I thought the hoppin Johns were very dry, and not tasty.  I didn't finish the can.

2) Butter beans.  These came from Glory Foods, out of Columbus, Ohio, and once again came from a 14.5 ounce (411 gram) can.  They were largish (about an inch by .5 inch, or 2.5 cm. by about 1.25 cm.) yellowish beans.  I had some cold, and some warmed up in the microwave.  They were alright, maybe a tad bland.  With Taco Bell sauce they were quite good, and that's how I finished them.  When I learned they were a type of Lima bean I was very shocked, as Lima beans are one of my least favorite foods.  Either the slight variance with that bean makes a lot of difference, or else my tastes are changing in my middle age.

3) Boiled peanuts.  I bought a 13.5 ounce/ 378 gram can from Peanut Patch, which was once again distributed by McCall Farms out of SC.  The can claims they are, "Delicious chilled, heated, or right out of the can."  Also, it notes that these peanuts are non-GMO, gluten-free, protein rich, and contain no artificial colors or flavors.  I had boiled peanuts years ago, and absolutely hated them.  These were somewhat better, but still pretty bad.  They were peanuts, some still in their shells, floating in brine.  They were way too overly salty.  I love peanuts plain, and peanut butter, and in desserts and entrees, etc., so it's very difficult to mess this food up for me.  But boiled peanuts managed.  I could only stomach a few, and didn't even come close to finishing the can.

4) Sweet tea.  I had several options, so I chose the one made in the South, specifically the Gold Peak line of the Coco-Cola company, from Atlanta Georgia.  This was a 16.9 ounce/500 ml. bottle, and was made with real sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.  As with the boiled peanuts, I'd had this before, years ago in a restaurant.  I found it much too sweet, and didn't enjoy it.  The Gold Peak was okay, but not great.  It was sweet, but not ridiculously so like the other example.  Maybe because it was a Coke product it's not considered "authentic."  I'm not a big iced tea guy, and when I do indulge I'll probably stick with a flavored Snapple or something, instead of sweet tea.

5) Coke and peanuts.  As per online recommendations, I opted for a Coca-Cola made in Mexico, so it was made with sugar and not corn syrup.  Also, happily the local supermarket sold these in glass bottles, rather than plastic ones.  Finally, I was able to get a sleeve of peanuts from the Lance company (Snyders-Lance, actually, but still pretty traditional) out of Charlotte, North Carolina.  I followed the serving instructions and drank a little off the top, and then poured in the peanuts.  They sparked a little fizzing.  I then consumed the result fairly rapidly so the peanuts didn't get soggy.  The result was alright--the salt of the peanuts contrasted nicely with the sweetness of the soda.  I like honey-roasted peanuts, for example, as another sweet and salty peanut snack.  So this was not a bad combo, even if it seems and looks a little weird.

6) Moon Pies.  I found this in a vending machine in a laundromat.  It was a chocolate double decker kind, 2.75 ounces/78 grams.  The chocolate-coated graham cracker discs were about 4 inches in diameter (about 10 cm.)  This dessert was also decent, but unspectacular.  I'm rather "meh" about marshmallow in general, so there's that.  Also, the sweetness was fairly overpowering.  I don't think I could have eaten another--it would have been too cloying.

     Therefore, to sum up, of these 6 consumables I liked 1, thought 3 were okay, and disliked 2.  And, amazing to me, my favorite of the bunch was the cousin of the Lima bean!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Turkish Canned Fried Eggplant

     Granted, this entry stretches the "exotic" part of the title a bit--eggplant isn't that rare a food, obviously.  But, the combination of it being fried, canned, and Turkish puts it over the boundary line, I think.  To at least "slightly unusual."
     The importing company of this food was Galil, out of New York, U.S.A., while the eggplant itself was grown and prepared in Turkey.  Galil has existed since 1985, and, "Specializes in the importation and distribution of gourmet and specialty foods from around the world."  It has many lines in its fold, including Bright Morning, Shams, Nature's Envy, Lior, and Zweet.  The products it makes include breads and cheeses, cookies/biscuits/wafers, canned fruit and vegetables, candy, couscous and pasta, cereals and breakfast foods, desserts, soups, nuts and seeds, fish, preserves, Passover products, sauces and spreads, coffees and teas, and salt and spices.  Or, to put it more succinctly, basically everything that humans eat and drink.  In addition, they distribute other companies' products, including Joyva (see June 8, 2016 post), Mentos, and many others.
    Switching to the food I consumed, eggplant is in the nightshade family, meaning it's a relative of potatoes and tomatoes, among others.  Botanically speaking, it's a berry, and its edible seeds, like others in the nightshade family, contain nicotine.  (In case you're wondering, as I was, the amount of nicotine in eggplant is tiny, so people who eat it won't become addicted, as they do with tobacco products.)  From the evidence, eggplant is thought to have been first domesticated in two separate areas, in South Asia, and East Asia.  The earliest reference to it in writing is from 544 A.D., in China.  It wasn't introduced to the Mediterranean area until the Middle Ages.  As with the tomato, there have been periods when people thought its fruit was poisonous, even though it clearly isn't (see my November 21, 2012 post for more info).  However, if eaten in large quantities the leaves and flowers of the eggplant can be toxic, due to the solanine in them.  Another health theory about eggplant, courtesy of 13th century Italian folklore, is that eating it causes insanity.  (Spoiler alert--it doesn't.)  Myths like these are presumably why one of the alternate names for this food is the "mad apple."  The eggplant fruit itself has many variations.  Some subspecies' fruits are smaller, rounder, and yellow or white colored, meaning they actually do closely resemble goose or chicken eggs.  Others are green, reddish purple, or the common dark purple, and some are shaped like a classic cucumber.  The top five producers of eggplant are China, India, Iran, Egypt, and Turkey.  Finally, I was surprised to learn that eggplant isn't that great, nutritionally speaking.  It only provides more than 10% of the Recommended Daily Allowance for one vitamin or nutrient--11% for manganese.
     I wasn't taking much of a chance buying this food, as I'm quite the fan of eggplant.  More specifically, I've eaten many pounds of it, both in eggplant parm sandwiches, or the same without the roll, as an entree.  Although I also have been disappointed sometimes--it seems to be a little tricky to make, or else maybe eggplant that isn't fresh is notably deficient in taste.  Anyway, the Galil eggplant came in a 14 ounce (400 gram) can, and besides the eggplant it contained tomato, tomato paste, onion, sunflower oil, salt, garlic, and spices.  It had a wet and soft texture, and was brownish in color.  It wasn't breaded, as it usually is in eggplant parm dishes.  It was good.  I had mine cold, right out of the can, but it was still quite appetizing.  Spicewise it had enough to make it more interesting, but not so much that it was overpoweringly hot.  I'd definitely recommend this, and will buy it again the next time I see it.  I'd also consider purchasing other Galil products.  And any insane or neurotic behaviors on my part are almost certainly from other, non-food related causes.   

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Underrated Horror Movie Gems--"Trollhunter"

     Today I'll be discussing a movie that came out in 2010, the Norwegian film "Trollhunter."  Regular readers may notice that this one is by far the most recent movie I've talked about--most of the others were from the 1970's and 1980's.  Also, any Norwegian readers may question the "underrated" part of the title, since this movie was fairly popular there.  (Although, surprisingly, not as much at the box office, since it earned 4.1 million on a 3.5 million budget.)  "Trollhunter" was generally well reviewed there, as it was here in the U.S., where it was released in 2011.  However, as usual, I don't think it received the due it deserves.  I'll follow my usual practice, by beginning with a brief, general, synopsis, followed by a marked, longer, spoiler-rich recap, and then by some discussion about the movie's themes, and some info about the filmmakers themselves.
     A film studio receives an anonymous package, containing over 4 hours of footage.  After extensive analysis, it appears to be genuine.  The revealed film is a rough cut, showing a weird, harrowing tale.  Three college students investigate a suspected bear poacher.  After following and filming him for a while they discover something bizarre--trolls are real living creatures, and this man, Hans, is tasked with tracking and eliminating any that threaten people.  The film crew accompanies Hans on his expeditions and learn about trolls both from him, and from actual experiences with these animals.  They also find out about various government conspiracies surrounding these fantastic creatures.  All of which leads to a shattering climax in the Norwegian wilderness.
     (SPOILERS AHEAD UNTIL MARKED AT BEGINNING OF PARAGRAPH)  After the opening crawl explaining how the film was acquired, the opening scenes of "Trollhunter" show our (initial) three protagonists, who are students at Volda College.  Thomas is the on air reporter.  Kalle is the camera operator.  Johanna is the sound technician.  The students are investigating a suspected bear poacher in the area.  Local hunters think the culprit is a strange man who drives a Land Rover.  After a lucky tip the team tracks this man to a campsite.  They observe his vehicle and camper are surrounding by bright lights, have a weird, foul odor, and that his Land Rover is scored with deep scratches.  An attempt to interview the man is rudely rebuffed.  When a bear carcass is found, local hunters are suspicious.  The crime scene seems contrived, and the bear tracks around the body don't seem right.  The Wildlife Board official on the scene, Finn Haugan, dismisses these suspicions  The team continues to try to follow the strange man (named Hans) on his nightly excursions, and one night they catch up to him deep in the woods.  After hearing odd grunting noises and seeing bright lights in the distance, they observe a fleeing Hans nearing them, yelling out "Troll!"  In the confusion, Thomas is bit by some unknown creature.  Hans helps treat the wound, and begins to act friendlier.  Soon after, the students discover that their car has been destroyed.  Hans then agrees to talk to them, and be filmed, as long as the crew agrees to do whatever he says.  He also asks if any of them are believers in God or Jesus, which they all deny.
     The following night the four go back to the same area.  Hans has the students prepare by stripping naked and rubbing themselves with "troll stench," a disgusting combination of troll excretions and body parts, to mask their human smell so as to not interest or frighten off any trolls.  To the crew's shock, Hans is telling the truth--they do indeed see a troll, in all its huge, ugly, 3-headed glory.  Hans shines a high intensity ultraviolet light on it, which causes it to turn to stone.  Then the cover up begins.  Hans uses a jackhammer to break up the troll into unrecognizable pieces, and a group of Poles arrive with a bear corpse.  Finn Haugan shows up too, and is most displeased to see the film crew.
     As the crew continues to accompany Hans, they learn much more about trolls, and their hunter.  These beasts are  classified into two main groups--woodland trolls, and mountain trolls.  Sub groups include Ringlefinches, Tosserlads, Rimetossers, Mountain Kings, The Harding, and Jotnars.  Some grow multiple false heads next to their original one, believed to have evolved to attract mates or frighten off competitors.  They are mammals, and can live up to 1200 years.  They eat almost anything--rocks, trees, concrete, charcoal, rubber tires, and flesh.  They are also extremely stupid.  An inability to convert Vitamin D to calcium causes them to either explode or calcify into stone when exposed to sunlight or UV light.  They can smell the blood of a Christian man (and presumably woman).  Hans, meanwhile, is rather bitter and burnt out by his job.  He's employed by the secret Troll Security Service (or TSS) to track down and kill any trolls that have left their remote territories and are moving into areas where people live.  He feels he's overworked, since he's the only trollhunter, and underpaid.  His bitterness is why he ultimately decided to let the students film him.  During a subsequent troll encounter, Hans is able to get a blood sample from a troll before he explodes it.  He takes this to a veterinarian, who will test it to try to find out why the trolls are roaming more lately.  Thomas is also showing signs of being ill, perhaps related to his bite.
     After reading about probable troll activity in another part of the country, the team investigates.  Alas, they are trapped in an abandoned mine that a group of Mountain Kings have been using as a lair.  Kalle panics, and reveals that he is in fact a Christian.  The trolls eventually smell them, and during the team's running escape from the mine Kalle is killed by the animals.  The students find a replacement camera operator, a woman named Malica.  Her Muslim beliefs pose a puzzle to Hans, who's not sure how trolls will react to this.  He decided to let her stay with them and see what happens.
     Finally, the group travels to an even more remote, mountainous part of Norway, to check out a Jotnar report.  These are the largest trolls, sometimes growing to over 200 feet (about 61 meters) tall.  This Jotnar has even broken through the giant electric power lines which are secretly keeping it in its own territory.  After they encounter this giant, Hilde the vet calls with news about the blood test--the troll was suffering from rabies, and they think this Jotnar was the original source.  After a heated battle with the Jotnar, during which his Land Rover is damaged, Hans is able to kill it.  As the team is walking back to the nearest busy road Finn and some other TSS people arrive, obviously trying to confiscate the film.  Thomas flees with the film, and makes it to the edge of the road just before collapsing from his rabies-infected bite.  A passing truck driver appears to be the source of the mysterious package sent to the film station.
     The end title cards tell that the students have disappeared, and Kalle's body was never found.  Followed by a snippet of a speech from the Norwegian Prime Minister that shows him slipping up and admitting the existence of trolls, only to have the media ignore this.
      One of my favorite aspects of "Trollhunter" is the way it approaches its fantastical subject in a scientific way.  I find it neat that trolls are presented as living, breathing, animals--huge, monstrous ones, but animals all the same.  They came up with scientifically plausible reasons (or at least plausible enough for me to suspend my disbelief while watching a movie) to some of the troll's most outlandish tributes--the multiple heads, and their extreme aversion to sunlight, or UV light.  (I'll get into the one exception to this, the ability to apparently detect religious belief, in a later paragraph.)  It was a pleasant twist in viewing a movie about a type of supernatural creature that it was rendered in a realistic-ish manner.
     The main character of Hans I find compelling, too.  From what I've read, he's basically a character staple of Norwegian culture in that he's a regular, blue collar, modest guy.  Whenever the students refer to him as a hero, he denies this, and maintains he's just doing a dirty, but necessary job.  He obviously complains about the work, and his lack of salary, etc., but he still does it, and does it well.  And his bearing is so unassuming and played down.  He doesn't hesitate to extract blood from a troll using a syringe, or to go after a troll which is Godzilla-sized, even.  And although at times he appears stoic, like after Kalle is killed, little touches of humanity remain.  He seems to be very friendly with Hilde, the vet.  (Is she a sweetheart?  A relative?)  Plus he seems to get emotional when retelling about how he had to slaughter many trolls for a unnecessary construction project, even those that were pregnant females or newborns too young to stand.
     It's pretty easy to see an anti-government, anti-bureaucracy stance from the film, too.  The TSS comes across poorly.  This organization treats its sole trollhunter, the man who risks his life on almost a daily basis, in a very bad and disrespectful way.  It's also implied that something terrible happened to the students (and Malica).  Either the TSS murdered them, or somehow managed to lock them up in some secret prison, or something.  But, at the same time, the TSS, and their government superiors' ruthlessness is undercut by their occasional ineptness.  Their cover up stories about mystery tornadoes and, especially, the "poached" bears, are often inept and flimsy.  And their use of electric towers as troll fences is suspicious, too, even to a casual observer.  Finally, their own Prime Minister accidentally blurts out the truth about this monster's existence in a televised speech!  How sloppy is that?
     While "Trollhunter" is clearly mostly a horror/dark fantasy movie, it does have some moments of humor.  I liked the scene where Hans is filling out the official troll hunting paperwork.  Even someone who battles monstrous beings, which can be hundreds of feet tall, has to fill out the proper forms.  And presumably he has to dot all the i's and cross all the t's (and do all the other Norwegian diacritical marks) while doing his expense reports, and tax forms.  And the second bear cover up was darkly comical, too.  How the Polish providers screwed up and brought the wrong kind of bear, and how they faked the footprints by using a bear paw stuck on a stick!  Also Hans' reaction to Malica's Muslim faith was funny, and interesting, too.  He basically just shrugs and suggests they see what will happen.
     I realize many potential viewers of this film may be put off immediately when they learn that it's another "found footage" movie.  Which I can understand--since "The Blair Witch Project" it has become overused.  I'm sure any horror fan can list many that use this concept in a ham-fisted way.  But, I clearly didn't mind it in this case.  I found "Trollhunter's" excuse of the film station getting the footage anonymously, and airing it, to be an interesting spin.  One major problem with found footage movies is, who cut the film?  Who scaled down hours of footage, eliminating the boring moments and only keeping in like 80-100 minutes of action?  The (fictional, presumably) film station admits that they did this, although they claim they didn't manipulate any images.  Otherwise, I think the filming is done pretty well.  There are some shaky cam moments, and times when you wonder why any sane person would keep filming rather than just running for their lives, but not like the worst examples within this subgenre.  You can believe that Johanna, Kalle, and Thomas are invested enough in this whistle blowing effort, enough to complete the project.  And the replacement, Malica, is shown as being dedicated, and brave, since she mentions a previous job involved filming lions in the wild.
     The movie's "Norwegian-ness" also works in its favor, to an American like me.  Even if you include Swedish movies, I've only seen a handful of Scandinavian films, like a few Bergman movies,  "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" series, "My Life as a Dog," and a few others.  The foreign setting helped set the tone, helped make this admittedly unbelievable premise seem more plausible and fun. I'm sure Norwegian viewers are surely picking up specifically Norwegian in-jokes and references that I didn't, so they might be enjoying it on more levels, but I still obviously really liked it.  Plus, it was, to me, a novel movie monster--I've seen tons of films about vampires, werewolves, zombies, ghosts, etc., but this is the first one I can recall about trolls.  Finally, the Norwegian countryside footage is undeniably beautiful, and once again mostly new to me, and thus intriguing.
     As I mentioned, there was one issue in the movie which seemed to stick out, namely that trolls could smell people who were Christians.  Their other attributes have plausible scientific explanations, but this one doesn't.  How can spiritual belief, or the lack thereof, cause a person's odor to be different?  It doesn't make sense.  From what I read, this might be a sly comment about the culture of Norway--most of its citizens belong to the official church, but few express an actual belief in God, or Christianity.  Along with many of the troll's characteristics in the movie, this tidbit is based in the folk tales and myths about them.  Other viewers suggest alternate explanations, too.  Some interpret it as Hans' reliance on old myths, even though he admits that the details in old stories often aren't true.  Also, the one time we see that trolls apparently can smell religious belief is during Kalle's final minutes in the mine.  But there is another plausible explanation.  He's clearly afraid, panicked even, and sweating more, as he feverishly uses up the last of the "troll stench" on himself.  Perhaps it wasn't his spiritual beliefs that the trolls smelled, but his increased human body odor, from his sweat, and from his fear.  Surely the rest of the team was also scared, of course, but they didn't appear as terrified as Kalle.  Furthermore, near the end, Hans apparently goads the Jotnar with a religious based song, that even mentions Jesus.  But, this rabid troll may have been simply lashing out at anything that caught its attention.  So even if Hans was blasting, say, Norwegian black metal like Mayhem, the troll probably would have heard it, and attacked.  Even if none of these scientific reasons are correct, and the trolls could somehow magically gauge religious belief, it doesn't ruin the movie for me, obviously.  We also don't conclusively find out if Malica's non-Christian, but religious beliefs also attract trolls, since we only see her during the final Jotnar incident, where it's unknown whether the troll can detect her or not.  Finally, there might be some Christian arrogance here--that Christianity is the only "true" religion, since the (evil?) trolls traditionally are angered by that, and not, say, Judiasm, or Islam, or Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.  Or, alternately, in a place where all the people were Christian, at least officially, maybe this was shorthand for signifying any man, or any person in the region.
     In a movie which is concerned with large, sometimes ridiculously so creatures, an obvious question is, "How do the special effects hold up?"  I often bitch about computer generated images (CGI), because I sometimes find these unconvincing, both directly and indirectly.  Directly because they often resemble video games, and look fake.  Indirectly because sometimes even when the CGI monster looks sufficiently real, the human actors' reactions to it aren't convincing, understandably since they might be reacting to a tennis ball on a stick, or nothing at all in front of a green screen.  However, the effects in "Trollhunter," which I think were mostly/largely CGI for the trolls, were pretty good.  Not perfect, clearly--some moments looked a bit hokey, but overall they were pretty impressive.  The immense Jotnar troll at the end was especially real looking, and thus more terrifying.  So score one for Norwegian studios working on a fairly low budget.
     (END SPOILERS--SAFE FOR EVERYONE)  The cast and crew for the Norwegian "Trollhunter" film were, not surprisingly, comprised almost totally of Norwegians.  As I mentioned previously, I'm not up on Norwegian movies much at all, so I'd never heard of anyone involved with the movie, and haven't seen any of their other projects.  Writer/director Andre Ovredal had worked on several movies prior to this one, and several since.  A recent (2016) movie, "The Autopsy of Jane Doe," was even done with an American studio, and starred Brian Cox and Emile Hersch.  The actors who played the three film students, and Malica, were evidently mostly unknowns.  Some of them had appeared in movies before or since, but they don't seem to have become very famous  Hans, though, was played by a famous Norwegian entertainer named Otto Jespersen.  He's hosted radio and television shows, and is known as a comedian.  One with a bite, though, as some of his material is controversial and political.  Some of his other projects include the movies "Odd Little Man" (2000), "Borning" (2014), and "Borning 2" (2016).  The character of Finn Haugan was played by Hans Morten Hansen.  He's best known as a comedian, especially in the stand up format.  He even holds the record for the longest stand up performance--38 hours and 14 minutes, set in 2010.  He was allowed brief breaks every hour, but couldn't repeat material more than once every four hours.  The small part of the Power Company manager was played by Knut Naerum, yet another Norwegian comedian.  He's also been a comedy writer and comic book creator.  He's probably best known for the show Nytt pa Nytt (News Anew), a television program.  Finally, Robert Stoltenberg portrayed the Polish bear provider.  He's also a Norwegian radio personality, comedian, and television show performer.
     Therefore, if you like monster movies, especially those with a more scientific bent to them, I think you'll probably enjoy "Trollhunter."  It's got quite a creative idea, has some good scares, a few funny moments, all in its own unique way.  An English language remake had been planned, but was ultimately cancelled late in 2016.  Which I'm glad to hear.  Remakes of foreign movies are often unnecessary at best, and awful at worst.  When watching a film about a Norwegian mythic figure, I think you should see the Norwegian version of it.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Taco Bell's Naked Egg Taco, Plus a List of NFL Players Who Also Acted

     Taco Bell is at it again.  Their newest unholy abomination is the naked egg taco, which is a breakfast taco which uses a fried egg as the taco "shell."  I'm a little late on this one, since it's been out nation wide since August 31st of this year.  On Taco Bell's website, the taglines for this product are "What the shell?" and "The breakfast of your dreams."
     The naked egg taco consists of the customer's choice of either bacon or sausage, along with seasoned potatoes, cheddar cheese, and nacho cheese sauce stuffed in the fried egg "shell."  A cardboard stand helped keep this all together.  I went with the bacon kind.  It was rather greasy, not surprisingly.  And, of course, despite my mocking of it, I really enjoyed it.  I like all the ingredients separately, and combined into one worked just fine.  It was a little awkward to eat, and looked strange, but the taste was very good.  See my post on January 28, 2017 for more about Taco Bell's other weird creation, the naked chicken chalupa, as well as more information about the chain as a whole.

     Since this post was a bit short I decided to also include a list of NFL players who went on to act, in television shows and/or movies.  This is not a complete list, obviously.  I left out players who just did cameos playing themselves, or who just acted in football-themed movies.  I've included representative statistics for them as I could.  Bear in mind that stats weren't kept as carefully in the past, even for something as obvious as tackles made.  (Sacks, for example, weren't kept officially until 1982.)

1) Ernie "Fats" Holmes.  Holmes played as a defensive tackle/nose tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots from 1972-78.  He played in 84 games, with 58 starts.  He also started for the Steelers in their winning teams in Super Bowls 9 and 10 (1974 and 1975 seasons).  As an actor, he was in a 1986 episode of TV's "The A-Team," as well as a memorable turn as a bouncer fighting a vampire in the original version of "Fright Night" (1985).

2) Charles "Bubba" Smith.  Smith played from 1967-76 with the Baltimore Colts, Oakland Raiders, and Houston Oilers as a defensive end/defensive tackle, playing in 111 games, with at least 55 starts (stats are incomplete).  He recovered 4 fumbles, and was named to 1 All Pro team and 2 Pro Bowls.  He also started for the Colts winning team in Super Bowl 5.  He's best known for acting in 6 "Police Academy" movies (1984-89) as well as in "Gremlins 2: The New Batch" (1990), and episodes of "Wonder Woman" (1978) and "Good Times" (1978).

3) John Matuszak.  Matuszak was the first overall pick of the 1973 NFL Draft, and went on to play with the Houston Oilers, Kansas City Chiefs, and Oakland Raiders from 1973-81 at defensive end/defensive tackle.  He started 106 games, played in 123, and recovered 7 fumbles, including one for a touchdown.  He also won a Super Bowl as a starter, with the Raiders in Super Bowl 15.  As an actor, he was in such films as  "Caveman" (1981), "One Crazy Summer" (1986), and most memorably, as "Sloth" in "The Goonies" (1985).

4) Lawrence Taylor.  Taylor played linebacker with the New York Giants from 1981-93, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He played in 184 games (starting 180), and intercepted 9 passes for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He also recovered 11 fumbles and accumulated 132.5 sacks, good for 13th all time.  He was also named to 8 All Pro teams and 10 Pro Bowls, and started and won 2 Super Bowls--22 and 25.  On the big screen he acted in "The Waterboy" (1998) and the "Shaft" remake (2000), among others,  and will be in the upcoming "Storm Cell", for which he both acted and co-wrote the screenplay.

5) Dick Butkus.  Butkus was another Hall of Fame linebacker, who played with the Chicago Bears from 1965-73.  He played in 119 games, and recorded 22 interceptions for 166 yards as well as recovering 27 fumbles, one for a touchdown.  He was named to 8 Pro Bowls and 5 All Pro teams.  In his second career, he was in "Brian's Song" (1971), "Mother, Jugs, and Speed" (1976), "Johnny Dangerously" (1984), "Gremlins 2" (1990), and "Any Given Sunday" (1999), among others.

6) Terry Bradshaw.  Bradshaw quarterbacked the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1970-83, starting 158 games out of 168.  He completed 51.9% of his passes for 27,989 yards, with 212 touchdown passes and 210 interceptions, for 7.2 yards per attempt and a total passer rating of 70.9.  He also rushed for a further 2257 yards and 32 touchdowns.  Most notably, he started and won 4 Super Bowls--9, 10 13, and 14.  Highlights of his acting career include "The Cannonball Run" (1981), "Married with Children" (1995-96), and "Failure to Launch" (2006), for which he did a nude scene.

7) Matthew Willig.  Willig was an offensive tackle for the New York Jets, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, Carolina Panthers, and St. Louis Rams from 1993-2005, starting 43 of 153 total games.  He recovered 3 fumbles, and played in Super Bowl 38 with the Panthers.  As an actor, he appeared in such shows as "The West Wing" (2006), "Dexter" (2007), "NCIS" (2015), and films such as "Year One" (2009) and "We're the Millers" (2013).

8) Bob Sapp.  Sapp is best known as a kickboxer, mixed martial artist, and pro wrestler, but he did manage 1 game as a offensive guard with the Minnesota Vikings in 1997.  Among the movies he acted in were "Elektra" (2005), "The Longest Yard" (2005), and "Conan the Barbarian" (2011).

9) Carl Weathers.  Weathers is another person better known for his acting.  But he did play in 8 games with the Oakland Raiders in 1970-71 as a linebacker.  Highlights of his acting career include turns in "Magnum Force" (1973), "Predator" (1987), "Action Jackson" (1988), "Happy Gilmore" (1996), and TV's "Arrested Development" (2004-5, 2013).  However, he's best known for playing boxer Apollo Creed in the first four "Rocky" movies (1976, 1979, 1983, 1985).

10) Terry Crews.  Crews saw action as a linebacker for the St. Louis Rams, San Diego Chargers, and Washington Redskins in 1991, 1993, and 1995, playing a total of 32 games.  He accumulated 2 tackles and 1 assist.  Some of his acting roles include "Training Day" (2001), "Starsky and Hutch" (2004), "Get Smart" (2008), "Bridesmaids" (2011), the 3 "Expendables" movies (2010-14) and TV's "Arrested Development."

11) Ben Davidson.  Davidson played with the Green Bay Packers, Washington Redskins, and Oakland Raiders from 1961-71 as a defensive end/defensive tackle.  He was named to 3 Pro Bowls and 1 All Pro team, and won an NFL title with Packers in 1961.  Among his acting roles were characters in "Behind the Green Door" (1972), "Conan the Barbarian" (1982), and "Necessary Roughness" (1991)

12) Bill Goldberg.  Goldberg is clearly best known for being a pro wrestler, but he did have a brief NFLcareer with the Atlanta Falcons from 1992-94 as a defensive tackle/nose tackle.  He started 1 out of 14 games, and accumulated 11 tackles.  Highlights of his acting career include "Universal Soldier: The Return" (1999), "The Longest Yard" (2005), "Santa's Slay" (2005), and "American Satan" (2017).

13) Alex Karras.  Karras played from 1958-62, 1964-70 with the Detroit Lions as a defensive tackle.  In 161 games he intercepted 4 passes, and recovered 16 fumbles.  He was named to 3 All Pro teams, and 4 Pro Bowls.  Among his acting projects were roles in "Blazing Saddles" (1974), "Porky's" (1981), "Buffalo '66" (1998), and TV's 'Webster," for which he and his wife were co-creators as well.

14) Merlin Olsen.  Olsen was a Hall of Fame defensive tackle with the Los Angeles Rams, playing in 208 games from 1962-76.  He recorded 1 interception (for a touchdown), and 9 fumble recoveries.  Incredibly, in his 15 years he was named to 14 Pro Bowls.  Among his roles were turns in "The Undefeated" (1969) and on TV's "Little House on the Prairie" (1977-81) and "Father Murphy" (1981-83).

15) Fred "The Hammer" Williamson.  Williamson played from 1960-67, with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, and Kansas City Chiefs as a defensive back.  He was named to 2 All Pro teams and 3 Pro Bowls, and accumulated 36 interceptions for 479 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He also was a member of the Chiefs in Super Bowl 1, after infamously talking a lot of trash before the game (and getting knocked out of the game, late).  Among his acting roles were in TV's "Star Trek" (1969), and in films like "MASH" (1970), "Hell Up in Harlem" (1973), "From Dusk Till Dawn" (1996) and "Vegas Vampires" (2007).  I also learned he's written 12 movies, and directed 23!  (I think that many/most of these were direct-to-video films.)

16) Fred Dryer.  Dryer played with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams from 1969-81 as a defensive end.  He intercepted 1 pass (for a touchdown), and recovered 20 fumbles, and played in 1 Pro Bowl.  He also started in Super Bowl 14 with the Rams.  Finally, he's the holder of the record for most safeties scored in a game, with 2, versus the Green Bay Packer in 1973.  Acting highlights include roles in "Cannonball Run 2" (1984) and on television shows like "CHiPs" (1982), "Cheers" (1982-87), "Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D." (2015), and being the star of "Hunter" (1984-91)

17) Ed Marinaro.  Marinaro played for the Minnesota Vikings, New York Jets, and Seattle Seahawks from 1972-77 at running back.  He rushed for 1319 yards and 6 touchdowns, and accumulated 1176 receiving yards and 7 more touchdowns.  He started 30 out of 58 games.  He played for the Vikings in Super Bowl 8 (and possibly 9, the records are incomplete).  Acting highlights were roles in "Queens Logic" (1991), and on TV's "Laverne and Shirley" (1980-81), and a starring role in "Hill Street Blues" (1981-86).
18) Lyle Alzado.  Alzado played defensive end/defensive tackle from 1971-85 with the Denver Broncos, Cleveland Browns, and Oakland/Los Angeles Raiders.  He started 195 out of 196 total games, and was named to 2 All Pro teams and 2 Pro Bowls.  He recovered 20 fumbles (with 1 touchdown), and started in 2 Super Bowls--12 with the Broncos (loss), and 18 with the Raiders (win).  On the screen, he appeared in such films as "Ernest Goes to Camp" (1987), "Tapeheads" (1988), and "Destroyer" (1988).

19) Rosey Grier.  Grier's NFL career lasted from 1955-66, with the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams, as a defensive end/defensive tackle.  He played in 141 games and recovered 13 fumbles, and was named to 1 All Pro team and 2 Pro Bowls.  He acted in such films as "In Cold Blood" (1967) "The Thing With Two Heads" (1972), "Rabbit Test" (1978) and TV's "The Simpsons" (1999).  ("The Things With Two Heads" is about a bigot (Ray Milland) who's surgically grafted onto the same body with Rosey Grier's character.  See Google Images, (or the film itself) for amusing photos.)

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Blossom Water

     A couple of months ago I was wandering around Wegman's when I beheld something called Blossom Water.  To quote the bottle, this product is, "Water inspired by Nature.  Pure water infused with natural fruit & flower essences, lightly sweetened and finished with natural colors.  Blossom Water is a healthy beverage that is uniquely flavorful and aromatic.  We think you'll find it refreshingly sophisticated."  So how could I resist a pitch like that?  They had three kinds for sale, so I snatched them all up.  Specifically, I got the plum jasmine, the grapefruit lilac, and pomegranate geranium.
     The company website ( contained quite a bit of info.  Many testimonials about how people loved them.  Even an excellent review from the Today Show's Food Trends Editor (yes, that's a real title, and job) Phil Lempert.  Evidently, business is booming.  Blossom Water is listed as being available in 35 U.S. States, including the Northeast, Mid Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountains, Southwest, and the Pacific Northwest.  So about everywhere except parts of the Great Plains and Alaska and Hawaii, apparently.  It's also sold in Ontario, Canada.  Aside from Wegman's, other huge supermarket chains which carry it are Whole Foods and Kroger.
     Founder/CEO Steve Fortuna was (and presumably still is) an avid gardener, and while doing this at his home in the Berkshires, Massachusetts, he came up with the idea of adding flower and fruit essences to water.  He took further inspiration from historic examples, such as rose water (which dates back to the 9th Century) and adding jasmine to green tea (as they've been doing in China for at least 1000 years).  Together with his wife, Trish, he began experimenting with various flowers and fruits, until he came up with several combos he found winning.  (Currently, along with the three I tried, there's also a lemon rose flavor.)  As the site explains, the key is using steam distillation to get the flower and fruit essences, rather than using "natural flavors," or other commonly occurring flavor sources that mimic flower and fruit flavors.  The company is also staunchly anti-sugar (a recent post on its blog around Halloween was about sugar's alleged link to depression).  Instead they use erythritol as a sweetener.  This is a naturally occurring sweetener found in fruits like grapes, watermelon, and pears.  The folks at Blossom Water claim that erythritol is superior to stevia (with its alleged bitter aftertaste), and other sugar substitutes, although it is costly to derive.  They also use agave  (more on that in my September 13, 2015 post).  Furthermore, this product is Non-GMO verified, gluten-free, kosher, and vegan.  Surprisingly, it's not organic, however.  The Fortunas began marketing their drinks in 2013.
     After all this buildup, the natural question is, how were they?  Here's what I thought.  All of these came in 16 ounce (474 ml.) glass bottles, and cost between 1-2 dollars each.

1) Blossom Water, grapefruit and lilac flavor.  Purple in color.  Weird flavor--not that strong, and not that tasty.  (Although it's true I don't like grapefruit at all.)  Also has blue agave in it.  Disappointing overall.

2) Blossom Water, pomegranate geranium flavor.  Red color.  As with the first, not a strong taste.  Maybe a hint of pomegranate.  Not very good or refreshing.  Almost made me thirstier.  Not a fan.

3) Blossom Water, plum jasmine flavor.  Purple color again.  Also has blue agave.  Once again kind of weak, bland taste.  Not bad, but not very flavorful.  Wouldn't buy again.  Not worth it.

     Therefore, I feel a little like a jerk for saying so, but I really didn't like these Blossom Waters, and won't buy them again (or try the one I didn't have, the lemon rose one).  The Blossom Water people seem like nice folks, with good intentions, but the end result I found disappointing, to say the least.  Maybe my palate is provincial.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Mexican Chips

     We're heading back to the Western Hemisphere for this week's post, to Mexico. I managed to procure three types of tortilla chips--guacamole, crunchy fajita, and nitro flavors.  Each came in a 280 gram (9.9 ounce) bag, and cost about $3 each.
     These chips were all from the Takis line, made by Barcel.  Barcel has been around since 1978, and is an American exporting brand of the overall Grupo Bimbo company.  Bimbo is monstrously huge.  It had 129,000 employees, 165 manufacturing plants, recent annual revenues of 14.1 billion dollars, and exports to 32 countries, including most of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Africa.  This company was started back in 1945, by Lorenzo Servitje, Jaime Sendra, Jaime Jorbal, Alfonso Velasco, and Jose Mata. The exact derivation of the name is a bit mysterious.  The most prevalent explanation is that it is a combination of the words "bingo" and "Bambi" (the Disney movie was very popular at the time).  The website notes that by a happy coincidence bimbo is also a common Italian  term for children, is similar to the Hungarian word for "bud," and that's its Chinese phoneme is close to the Chinese world for "bread."  (Left unsaid was that here in the U.S. "bimbo" has negative connotations, being a slang term for a woman of, shall we say, low moral character.)  Bimbo's corporate mascot is a polar bear wearing an apron and a chef's hat, carrying a loaf of bread.  I don't find this choice weird--lots of companies and sports teams, etc., use a bear as a logo, but I do find their stated reasons for this odd.  It's said that the polar bear was chosen for its "tenderness" and "neatness," among other things.  When I see footage of a real life polar bear bloodily tearing up a seal these descriptive words aren't what springs to mind.  Moving on, Grupo Bimbo is billed as the world's largest bakery company.  Other flavors of Takis include Fuego, Salsa Brava, Original, Cobra, and Explosion.
     Now on to my reactions to each.

1) Takis guacamole flavor.  These are thin rod shapes, about 7 cm (about 2.75 inches) long by .5 cm (about .25 inch) wide.  They were yellow in color, covered in green powder.  They tasted like corn, unsurprisingly, with a slight guacamole flavor.  Pretty good.  These had a "mild" one bar out of four, spiciness rating.  They were a solid chip-like snack.

2) Takis crunchy fajita flavor.  Same size and shape as guacamole kind.  Yellow color, this time with a reddish-orange powder covering.  They looked like rolled up nacho cheese Doritos.  Had a heavy corn taste.  Some bite, but not as much as I expected, given their two bar "hot" rating.  Alright, but a little tame.  Not as good as the guacamole ones.

3) Takis nitro flavor.  Again, same size and shape as the others.  Their spiciness rating was 3 out of four bars, or "very hot."  These were a deep red color, with a red powder.  These were noticeably spicier than the others, but not blazing.  I could definitely taste the lime and habanero  flavors.  I preferred these to the crunchy fajita kind, but not as much as the guacamole ones.  So solid overall.  The spice did build up as I kept eating (I was a pig and scarfed down the entire bag in one sitting).

     All in all, then, I came away fairly impressed by Takis.  They ranged from decent  to good, and I think I will buy them again if/when I get the chance.  I'm especially eager to try the Cobra flavored ones, if for no other reason than to find out what flavor the world's largest venomous snake has.  Also, similar to Cheese Doodles, et. al., all of these Takis were a bit messy to eat--your fingers will be coated in powder afterwards.  Finally, if anyone is interested, you can watch multiple challenge videos on YouTube wherein consumers eat the spicier flavors of Takis while avoiding drinking water, or milk, or other things to relieve the burn in their mouths.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Exotic/Disgusting Foods and Beverages Forum--Japanese Gummy Candies

     This time Wegman's supermarket provided 3 flavors of Japanese gummy candy--cola, Ramune soda, and melon.  They were all from the Puchao brand, manufactured by UHA Mikakuto Co., Ltd.
     Trying to learn more about the Mikakuto company was a little difficult at first, and simultaneously entertaining.  That's because the first company website I came across was, unsurprisingly, in Japanese.  There was a "translate page" option, but I soon found out this translation was limited. Only some passages were translated into English, and even these often used comical grammar and phrasing.  I don't want to come across as being ethnocentric--no doubt American websites translated into other languages also sometimes have stilted, awkward sentences and funny errors, too.  But I did notice this about the website, all the same.  Some of the product descriptions were a bit amusing too, possibly due to more cultural differences, or poor translations.  The ninja meat candy flavor was actually cola-flavored, and the tagline was, "You shall satisfy your hunger with hard garbage which chews up."  And one flavor was "bastard gummy yogurt."  Eventually I was able to locate another version of the company website which was a much better, and complete English language translation.  One of Mikakuto's slogans is "Deliciousness is gentleness."  With the notable exception of the "violent shigekicker extreme stimulant lemon candy," apparently.  The UHA in the company name stands for "Unique Human Adventure," and Mikakuto started back in 1949.
     But on to the ratings.  Each pack contained 10 individually-wrapped pieces, which were about 2.5 cm (about 1 inch) by 1.5 cm (about .65 inches).

1) Puchao gummy soft candy, melon flavor.  White on the outside, with a yellowish-orange center.  Very chewy gummy.  Reminded me a bit of Hi-Chew (see November 2, 2016 post), but better than that. Not that great, though, less than average.  But to be fair I'm not a bit fan of melons, or their flavors, in general.

2) Puchao gummy soft candy, Ramune soda flavor.  Continuing the soda theme, this one contained embedded "fizzy tablets" to mimic the carbonation of a soft drink.  This candy was also white on the outside, with blue stripes. The only textural difference I noted was it was even more chewy and taffy-like than the melon variety.  I didn't notice any carbonation-like effects.  It was fruity, and pretty good.

3) Puchao gummy soft candy, cola flavor.  As with the Ramune one, this kind also had the fizzy feature.  Which once again went unnoticed by me.  The candies were brown and white.  Rather like the ramune one, the cola flavor was solid, and decent.  I like cola sodas okay, so that probably helped my impression.

     Overall, then, these Puchao gummies ranged from less than average to slightly above average.  Better, certainly than their Hi-Chew neighbors, but not exceptional.  I might try other flavors of Puchao gummies, or other Mikakuto candies, but I don't think I'll buy these particular kinds again.