food

Pop Culture Affidavit, Episode 31 — The 1994 Grab Bag!

man reaching into grab bagWhat do Beverly Hills, 90210, the 1994 Baseball Strike, and Zima all have in common?  They’re all covered in the latest episode of Pop Culture Affidavit!  As part of my series of posts and episodes called 1994: The Most Important Year of the Nineties, I take a look at ten completely random things from 1994.  It’s movies, television, music, and current events all in one convenient episode!

You can listen here:

iTunes:  Pop Culture Affidavit

Direct Download 

Pop Culture Affidavit podcast page

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Bowling, Burgers, and Birthdays

Sayville Bowl Interior

The interior of Sayville Bowl.  Image courtesy of MapQuest.  Year unknown.

I went to a kid’s birthday party a few weeks ago.  Normally, these are held at one of those huge playland places that have ball pits, inflatables, kiddie habitrails, and that have names like Bounce and Play or Adventure Central.  This party, however, was at the local bowling alley, and as I watched my son bowl (well, more like drop the ball in the lane and rush back to the chair so he could see the computer animation), I couldn’t help but think of the number of bowling birthday parties I attended as a kid.

My birthday parties–and most of my friends’ birthday parties–were pretty standard back in the 1980s.  We’d go to the birthday kid’s house, play a few games, eat pizza or hamburgers and hot dogs, drink way too much soda, and finish off with Carvel cake.  Then everyone would go home with goody bags that matched the decorations–cups, plates, paper tablecloths, etc–for Star Wars, He-Man, or whatever the party’s theme was.  Sometimes, the party would be a sleepover and we would put the parents through hell because hours of fun and hours of soda and candy equals no actual sleeping at the sleepover.  The parties were straightforward and always fun.

But bowling parties were a reality and we considered them some of the most memorable at the time, even if they don’t measure up to the standards of today’s epic theme parties and play apparatus.  Bowling at a birthday party in the early 1980s was some of the most fun you could have as a kid for a few hours, and Sayville Bowl was the typical AMF bowling center whose decor would remain so unchanged for years that when I was in high school and college it seemed like 1979-1983 were being preserved for posterity.  I don’t remember being a particularly good bowler–it was a lot of gutterballs and not enough Superman III–but I remember having an enormous amount of fun anyway.

Sigh … it’s never Superman III. (more…)

In Country: Marvel Comics’ “The ‘Nam” — Episode 10

Nam 10Episode 10 of “In Country” covers issue 10 of The ‘Nam, where Ed Marks copes with the death of Mike Albergo from the previous issue while on patrol in the city. Plus, we get a little more insight into the character of Ramnarain in “Guerilla Action” by Doug Murray, Michael Golden, and John Beatty. As always, in addition to the summary and review of the issue I’ll be talking about the story’s historical context as well as taking a look at the letters, ‘Nam Notes, and ads.

You can download the episode via iTunes or listen directly at the Two True Freaks website

In Country iTunes feed

In Country Episode 10 direct link

Also, here is a link to 11th Cav ‘Nam, the site I used for some of the research in this episode:  11thcavnam.com

Two Liters With a Pie

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The flat remains of a two-liter bottle of Diet Pepsi. Yes, that’s my kitchen in the background.

A couple of months ago, I was at a work function where food was being served.  We had a few tables of fried chicken and some sides as well as a table of two-liter soda bottles.   As I poured myself a cup of Diet Pepsi, I couldn’t help but think of how ubiquitous the two-liter is—it’s a party and holiday industry standard and has been ever since I was a kid.

I suppose that is  not something to get really nostalgic about, especially since it’s a plastic bottle.  It’s not the iconic 6.5-ounce contour shaped glass Coke bottle that is the “nostalgic” Coke bottle and it doesn’t have the personality of the 20-ounce bottle, which is easily accessible and personal, plus it’s shaped like an old classic glass Coke bottle so it calls back to images where people from the 1950s or so pop a top of a glass Coke bottle.  The two-liter has never had that.  When you buy one of those, you twist off the metal or a plastic cap, and don’t think twice about it.

Which is indicative of the area and time period that constitutes my youth.  Having been born in 1977,  I have this attraction to the shopping mall, the multiplex, and everything else in the suburbs.  It is an era that is by and large disposable and I think on some level, even though nostalgia has turned its eye a little more toward my formative years, that nostalgia is selective at best—it’s the music, the movies, the fashion.  Nobody is going to look at suburban life in the 1970s and 1980s with the same rose-colored glasses our culture uses for the 1950s.  Because the decades of my childhood are the rose-colored 1950s’ unfortunate afterbirth:  Levitt homes and small towns gave way to shopping malls, gated communities, and McMansions, especially where I grew up.  You cannot go anywhere on Long Island without seeing shopping malls or multiplexes.

But then, there’s the pizza parlor. (more…)

Cuckoo for CoCo Wheats

I’ve always been attracted to random stuff at stores. When I was a kid, for instance, I liked to walk down the “aisle of forgotten toys” at Toys R Us. In fact, I even had a few of the random-assed action figures found in that aisle or at places like Odd Lot. The obscurity of those things was kind of alluring – they were products that weren’t as cool or popular as the G.I. Joe figures that were selling out in droves, so they were more or less buried in the store (which, in a way, probably explains why I created this blog). As I got older, I saw the same thing with books, albums, and movies, which led to some purchases that were pretty awesome and others that wound up explaining why said item had been left for retail dead.

I never thought the same could be said for food, however. Food, in general, has an expiration date, so I would be less likely to find a three-year-old jar of peanut butter on a store shelf (although I am sure they probably have some at South of the Border) than, say, leftover Spider-Man 3 toys. Still, there are always some foods in a supermarket that never seem to exist anywhere else, as if they were brought here through an interdimensional portal or something.

Nowhere is this more apparent than with cereal. Stroll down your average cereal aisle and you’ll see a variety of products you never knew existed–bagged cereals, oddly named generic cereals, laxative cereals, King Vitaman–and while most of them won’t even garner a second glance, there is sure to be one that jumps out at you.

For my wife and I, this was the case with CoCo Wheats. A chocolate-flavored farina cereal, we first encountered it at a Kroger in Charlottesville back in 2004 or 2005. I can’t remember if we bought a box the first time we saw them or if our first time came later, but somewhere along the line in our search for a breakfast food that wasn’t the same boring box of Cheerios, we decidd that we had to have them. Thankfully, we were not disappointed upon trying them for the first time; in fact, they’ve been a welcome addition to our breakfast table ever since.

Okay, I read that last sentence and realize it sounds like every crappy commercial ever. Sorry.

Anyway, two things that I found particular about CoCo Wheats were that for a cereal that kind of seems obscure, it has a pretty rich history; and the actual process of cooking CoCo Wheats is nothing short of a chemistry experiment. (more…)

The Yearbook Myth

One commercial that stuck with me from the time I first saw it as a kid until I became a teenager was an ad for McDonald’s entitled “Great Year!”  It features the antics of Central Junior High School’s yearbook staff as they attempt to cover all of the great and crazy things that happened during the course of the school year and then meet at McDonald’s to celebrate their success.

Watch the minute-long ad and you’ll see a portrait of a junior high school that in 1983 or whenever it was originally shot had to be the coolest place on Earth.  Everyone gets along, someone walks through the hallway dressed as a strawberry, and even the high pressure moments are filled with a goofiness that only comes when you are selling hamburgers.  I don’t have to do much to convince anyone that my junior high experience was not really like this.  Had “Great Year!” been a real reflection of what I remember, there would have been footage of a gym teacher cutting gum out of someone’s hair, two guys blowing snot rockets all over the school store while the people who worked there gagged and yelled at them to stop, and one kid looking scared out of his mind while another threatened to beat the ever-loving snot out of him if he did even the slightest thing wrong.  Or maybe that’s just my take.

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XOXO

One of my favorite things about looking at old commercials, especially those from when I was a kid, is how someone thought that their idea was what kids back then thought looked cool.  Granted, in 1988 this wasn’t very hard.  I mean, this was the decade where you could put a bunch of random cartoon characters on screen for thirty seconds and tell us there was a toy involved and parents would be beating one another down in parking lots for the toys.

But those were toys.  How did you sell something that wasn’t a toy, or say a movie that looked like it would have cool toys?  How did you sell, for instance, food?

A few weeks ago, I took a glance at an old McDonald’s commercial, which was this sappy brother-sister number where the brother is obviously stalking his sister but it’s supposed to be all cute because he offers her a french fry or something.  Phone company commercials from that era are noted for this type of syrupy fun, and soft drink commercials?  Well, I’ve already talked about the epic nature of Dr. Pepper’s early 1990s ad campaign and at some point I’m going to get around to Coke.

But a lot of those commercials weren’t specifically geared towards kids, mainly because kids weren’t the only people going to drink Coke or go to McDonald’s.  However, we were the people most likely to eat Chef Boyardee.

Canned pasta has been around for what seems like eons (I think that’s its shelf-life, too) and there have been quite a number of products geared towards kids, such as Franco-American’s Spaghetti-O’s and Chef Boyardee’s Tic Tac Toe’s (yeah, I know it’s a misused apostrophe … it was their mistake, not mine).  The former is somewhat of an American institution because even those of us who have never eaten a single Spaghetti-O know the jingle “Uh oh, Spaghetti-O’s!”  Tic Tac Toe’s, however, don’t enjoy the same iconic status.  In fact, they’re not even made anymore.

But back in the late 1980s, the pasta company tried to break Spaghetti-Os monopoly on kids’ pasta consciousness and unveiled one of those commercials that I have never been able to get out of my head since:

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Can I Have Christmas Chocolate?

My English classes this week were reading Dylan Thomas’s short story “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” which is a cute story about –well, the title’s kind of self-explanatory.  But what I love about the story, besides Thomas’s use of the English language, especially in his imagery and his wit, is that it’s one of the few Christmas stories that I have read (or seen on TV) that doesn’t attempt to teach me any sort of lesson.  Instead of Scrooge, etc. learning the “meaning of Christmas,” Dylan Thomas simply talks about the Christmases of his youth as a matter of fact.  I’m not sure if my students enjoyed the story (most of them spent two days either bitching about the fact that they had to be in school when every other school district in the area had the entire week off, or attempting to sleep), but we had a great discussion about holiday traditions and why we enjoy them so much.

Over the course of this discussion, I brought up some of the things my family has done since I was a little kid.  This included such time-honored traditions as my mother forcing my sister and I to sit at the top of our stairs and take a picture, getting a toothbrush in our stockings, and the long arduous process of opening the gifts under the tree.  Furthermore, I talked about how when you get to be my age and you have a family on your own, you find yourself either starting new traditions or carrying on old traditions either by yourself or with your siblings or children.  One such tradition has been holding on to the idea that while Christmas is a day, there is a whole Christmas season.

The idea of Advent has been around for at least a few hundred years and is marked in several ways by different religious denominations.  I grew up attending the Lutheran church and the tradition there was that during the four Sunday services prior to Christmas, there would be an advent wreath, which is a wreath with five candles (four purple candles in a circle and a white one in the center), sitting near the altar.  At the beginning of the service, the acolyte (which I think is what Catholics would call an “altar boy”) would light one of the purples candles (each a different shade of purple and I believe with a meaning, which I once knew, but my rejection of most things religious in my teens and twenties and suppression of Sunday School trauma led to this information being purged from my memories), with the  white one for Christmas Eve/Day to signify the birth of Christ. 

However, this wasn’t the only way I knew how to celebrate the Christmas season.  There’s been the obvious running of the Christmas shopping gauntlet and a barrage of Christmas-themed television specials and movies (as well as short stories in my English classes), but the most important one, since I’ve been a kid, has been the PeA advent calendar. 

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Roy Rogers Rides Into the Sunset

The last Roy Rogers on Long Island.

This afternoon, my sister informed me that the last remaining Roy Rogers restaurant on Long Island, located off of Sunrise Highway and the William Floyd Parkway in Shirley, has closed its doors.  She linked to a story on Newsday but because Newsday and Cablevision have teamed up to nickel and dime everyone for everything, I wasn’t able to read the story.  But the gist is that Hardee’s (which owns the franchise) decided not to renew the restaurant’s lease.

It truly is the end of an era.  Roy Rogers was one of the only fast food restaurants in the Sayville area when I was a kid, located on Sunrise Highway near Johnson Avenue in the same shopping center as TSS.  That location closed in the early 1990s and I believe a Vitamin Shoppe stands there today.  Not that there aren’t any Roys restaurants out there anyway, especially for those of us traveling up and down I-95 through the mid-Atlantic corridor, and in the greater Alexandria, Virginia area.

In honor of the demise of Roy Rogers’ presence in my native land, I am reprinting a piece from an old website of mine.  In December 2002, I took my only trip to the Roy Rogers in Shirley, traveling out there with my sister.  I then wrote about it on “Inane Crap”, the site I had at the time.  Unfortunately, I don’t have any of the photos from that day (somehow they were lost and the Internet archive has been no help).  But you can enjoy my pretentious use of son lyrics and attempts at wit, and at the end of the piece I’ve linked an old Roy Rogers commercial.  So at least there’s something to scroll down to.

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The Devil’s in the Creme Filling

In the annals and aisles of snack cake history, Hostess seems to get all the recognition.  I am sure that’s because being a nationally distributed brand, it’s been easier to get a hold of Suzy Q’s and SnoBalls and the iconic Twinkie.  But while the lunches of my school days did sometimes involve me peeling apart the remnants of an obliterated Hostess cupcake, I have always pledged my allegiance and had a very fervent love for the Devil Dog.

Manufactured by Drake’s Cakes, the Devil Dog is a hot dog-shaped chocolate cake and creme filling sandwich that comes one to a pack and usually about a dozen or so per box.  It’s a lot like Hostess’s Suzy Q, except it’s far superior.  Sure, the Suzy Q is actually bigger and has more creme filling, but Hostess’s insistence on moist-right-out-of-the-wrapper cake often leads to those cakes being unnecessarily sticky and ultimately leads to the cake sticking to your hand.

That cake, by the way, is nearly impossible get off with a napkin.  I have lost count of the number of times I have purchased a Suzy Q or a Twinkie at a convenience store, marveled in disgust at how much grease was left behind on th white cardboard, at it anyway, and then had to find a place to wash my hands after I was done eating.  I don’t know about you, but this is quite irritating, especially because it shouldn’t happen.  Icing, I can understand.  In fact, anyone who buys a Suzy Q is well aware of the potential for icing fingers, much like sticking one’s hand into a bag of Cheetos will turn the fingers orange.  But the cake is supposed to hold the icing in and provide a barrier of protection from mess, not be the reason for it.

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