Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Kotas Reviews The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug

As I mentioned in my review of the last Hobbit movie, the Hobbit may be my favorite book of all time. I know I'm about a year late on my review of this film, but time and babies make fools of us all. That said, let's get this review over with, because the third movie is out and I need to catch up. Be warned because thar be spoilers a plenty on the horizon. Skip to the last paragraph for the FACE Rating and final thoughts.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, they had just escaped the dungeons of the Goblin King, and sliced his fat warted ass up for good measure. The last film was considerably more serioused up than the source material, but it was reasonably well done enough that I did not find it went against the spirit of the book. So how do we open? With a flashback sequence to Thorin entering Bree and meeting with Gandalf! Here Thorin's actual plan is laid out: Steal the Arkenstone from Smaug and, holding the symbol of dwarven rulership (Whaaaaaaaat?) unite the dwarves of Middle Earth once more to take back Erebor. Uhhhhhh, okay. Sure. That is at least a much more sensible plan than the one in the book, but WHY ARE YOU TELLING US THIS IN THE SECOND FILM? This should have been in the first film, and seems essentially like a retcon of the first film. Whatever, back to the story from the previous film.

The Various Dwarves, Bilbo, and Gandalf are seeking shelter from the patrols of Boss Orc the Orc Boss, when the Youngest Dwarf (by appearance, who is not Kili or Fili as it would be should they be following the damned book) spies a "great beast". Gandalf advises them that there is a house to shelter in, but that the occupant will either help them or kill them. Uh....is he talking about Beorn? Because while the dude was pretty unfriendly in the book (at first), he wasn't Chaotic Neutral. Anycrap, the film jump cuts to the party fleeing the ravening beast and managing to lock themselves into a convenient house.The goblins hold off their assault at this time, because Beorn is one scary motherfucker. Then Bilbo is woken up by a giant bee, doesn't freak the fuck out, and Gandalf introduces them to their host, Beorn. Then Beorn gives us his tragic back story info dump about how his people were tortured by the Orcs, and he's the last of his kind, and how he hates dwarves, but he hates orcs more, and here's some stuff, Mirkwood sucks, and this takes all of five minutes of the film.

What the everloving shit. In the book, the Beorn sequence is used as a respite from the previous action sequence, and to show how Gandalf is clever without having to use magic to show us his awesome, along with the dwarves securing a great ally for the troubles ahead. In the movie...it is a glossed over "and then" bit that manages to take Beorn and turn him into the fucking Last of the Really Angry Werebears. It even manages to make it seem like Beorn loses a lot of his control when in bear shape, which was never in the book! This fucking movie, people. After Beorn, they end up in Mirkwood, which has been Even More Serioused Up. Gandalf quits the party to go be in a more interesting movie, and the dwarves get overcome by the illusion of the forest (Whaaaaaat?) and are captured by the spiders. Bilbo is also captured (double whaaaaaat?) but manages, with a tiny itty bitty bit of help from his ring to fight his way free. He also becomes a bit of a show off. Anyway, while wearing the ring he can understand the spiders (not in the book, but hey, it makes sense), cuts the dwarves free, and the chase and fight is on!

The dwarves have weapons of course, so they do quite a bit better than in the book. Bilbo manages to lose his ring briefly, and fights a...worm/spider thing to get it back. I think this sequence is meant to show that the ring is starting to take hold of Bilbo, but it comes off as disjointed and kind of dumb. I mean, yeah, I get it, but it is not framed well. Then Legolas shows up with a shit ton of other elves including Female Legolas, and the dwarves are captured. Okay, why is Legolas in this film? I mean, yes, his dad is totally the King of the Wood Elves but he seems clumsily inserted into this story to show some continuity with the previous story. There is a so-called "hilarious" bit where he asks about one of the dwarves' family and is told "That's Gimli, mah wee lad!" Har dee har har.

The King of the Wood Elves actually susses out Thorin's plan at this point, and offers to assist, with the only price being some gems in the hoard. Thorin tells him to stuff it up his elf hole, we learn the King has fought and been scarred by dragons in the past (Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?) and the dwarves are retained in the elf prisons for a grand total of...maybe 24 hours, during which time Kili starts to lightly romance Female Legolas, who was just told that Regular Legolas would not be allowed to court her, but is "very fond of her". Whaaaaaaaaaat? Anyway, Bilbo finds out there is a party going on, nips the keys, shoves the dwarves into barrels, and sends the whole lot down the hole into the river. This...happens in the book, but it takes a lot longer and shows Bilbo's cleverness in sneaking the dwarves out. In the movie, this is a rip roaring action sequence that would also make a pretty fantastic amusement park ride. The problem? It goes on forever and is even MORE ridiculous than the chase sequence through the Goblin City in the previous film, and that is saying something. There's elves and chasing and orc murder and tossing weapons and Bombur turns into some sort of dervish in a barrel for a little while and...sigh. It just goes on and on forever.

To sum up, dwarves and company escape, and somewhere in all this mess we see a different movie I call "Wizards and Orcs Do Stuff". Gandalf and Radaghast investigate the prison of the Nine and find that they have all broken free and gone to Dol Guldor. Gandalf and Radaghast go there to investigate, and Gandalf decides to break the spell of concealment on the place, sending Radaghast away. Also, Boss Orc the Orc Boss has been recalled there, and sent Bolg to hunt the dwarves instead. Because reasons, I guess. Something about him being the chosen leader? Whatever. Gandalf does a lot of cool magic, fights off some orcs, and then Wizard Fights with Sauron. Gandalf ends up in a cage, again. This movie is cut to several times during the film, but that's pretty much what happens in this better film. Back to the (sigh) dwarves.

They meet Bard, and hire him to smuggle them into Lake Town. Bard is a poor, but honest man of the people, who is trying to help the commoners overcome the hardships brought on by the corrupt government of the Master of the Town, and his toady, uh, Totally Not Wormtongue. Blah blah blah smuggling, blah blah blah, downtrodden, whatever. We also learn that the Black Arrow is not only one of many, but also actually ballistae ammunition (Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?????). Bard finds out that Thorin is Thorin, who has just been captured trying to steal weapons from the armory, after Kili falls on his bum and poisoned leg that he got during the barrel chase. Thorin speaks grandly, Bard yells about how that will just bring the dragon, Thorin tells him to piss off (noticing a theme here), and the Master of the Town welcomes them with open arms. Meanwhile, back with the elves, Legolas and Femgolas find out that Kili is poisoned, and she runs out to save him, with Legolas after. The dwarves set off for the mountain, but Kili, Bofor, Fili, and, uh, Doc all stay behind because Kili is For Reals Sick, and they end up at Bard's house. GOT ALL THAT? Jesus, for a 2.5 hour movie, it sure does rush through shit.

The dwarves manage to climb a very nice set piece to where they think the door is, and then essentially give up after the most minor of setbacks, to the point of just dropping the key. Bilbo tells them to sack up, and manages to figure out that the "last light of Durin's Day" meant "the moonlight". Do I even need to say Whaaaaaaaat? again? The dwarves send Bilbo down to see Smaug, while some orcs sneak into Laketown to kill Kili and Company. There is a wacky fight scene. Back to Bilbo and the actual good part of this film. Down in the depths, he finds the giant huge treasure hoard, and then finds Smaug sleeping under it. He uses his ring for about 20 seconds before just giving up on that shit, because trying to talk to Smaug with the "RingWavy" filter on was too much effort. Smaug is actually pretty damn cool, and I'll be honest, I was kind of rooting for him at this point as one of the few characters that stayed true to the books.

Smaug basically says "I'm a dragon, I'm a Dragooooon, Suck My DIIIIIIIICK, I'M A DRAAAAAGOOOOON!" while Bilbo tries to pick up the Arkenstone. Smaug also susses out Thorin's Actual Make Sense Plan, and tells Bilbo that it's probably not the best of ideas, given the whole dragon thing. Then he tries to kill Bilbo. Bilbo sensibly runs, and meets Thorin, who starts to threaten him for the Arkenstone (shades of Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, actually), when Smaug demands all of their attention.

Ugh, this movie is super long, so I'm going to whirlwind through it. Orcs fight in Laketown, Legolas and Femgolas kill most of them, Femgolas heals Kili, who professes feverish love for her. It's...kind of dumb. The rest of the dwarves and Bilbo execute an amazing plan to use molten gold to kill Smaug. This is two things: First, it is totally the "hero" moment for all the dwarves, because in the book their plan is "show up and hope", so I don't mind it as much. Second, it is the single most contrived thing that has ever been shown on screen. Here is what has to happen. The forges need to be lit, so the gold can be melted, which is then sent through channels to a giant mold that resides in the Hall of Kings, and Smaug needs to be in front of it so that the dwarves can crack the mold and dump the gold on him. To get to the forges, the dwarves split up while being chased by Smaug, and taunt him into using his fire breath on them, which lights the forges when they hide behind the slats in a giant metal portcullis. Bombur begins using a giant bellows to fan the fires to melt the gold. Thorin sends Bilbo to pull a lever which will release water that will both put out Smaug's fire temporarily, and also start the waterwheels turning which will move the ore carts and enable some of the channel mechanisms. The dwarves use the ore carts to distract Smaug, while Balin prepares canisters of gunpowder (!!!) to distract and enrage Smaug. Thorin opens the channels to let the molten gold flow, and then throws a wheelbarrow into the gold to ride it to the Hall of Kings, leaving Bilbo to lead Smaug there as well. Smaug tries to kill Bilbo, but Thorin taunts him into approaching the cast, and the mold is broken, leaving a giant golden dwarf standing there ever so briefly before the molten gold splashes over Smaug covering him and the Hall in molten gold. Smaug walks it off, and goes to destroy Laketown. The end.

By any sane account, each of these folks should have died 30 times over executing this long, complex, nigh impossible plan. Look, I've tried on the fly complex plans in combat situations against powerful foes before during my gaming experiences, and usually they devolve into "rush 'em and pray" because even with the most intense planning, they fall apart so very easily. How in the HELL did Thorin know about the statue being "all but cast" and somehow, in the 30 seconds he must have had, spill this plan to the rest of the dwarves and Bilbo, in addition to surviving extremely close encounters with molten gold and dragon fire. It was an incredible action sequence, but it was completely and totally so far over the top as to go back under and go over the top a second time. What the everloving fuck did I just watch?

On the FACE Rating System, this movie gets 3 frowny faces. It had some really impressive visuals, and the action sequences were spectacular, but it suffers from a myriad of pacing problems, wild departures from even what the "moviefied" version of this book should be, several plot cul-de-sacs, a pointless romance set up, a completely unnecessary social commentary about corrupt politicians, and a level of cartoonishness and ridiculousness that is even more outrageous than anything in the original Lord of the Rings Trilogy could throw at us. Holy Shit This Fucking Film. I feel as though I wasted 2.5 hours of my life, and while middle films are often a bit of marking time in film trilogies, this film is the worst aspects of that ten fold. I am incredibly disappointed and you should be too.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Kotas Reviews Gingerbread Pop Tarts

I have a special fondness for convenience breakfast foods. Toaster Strudel and microwave pancakes were a staple for several years during my childhood, and who doesn't love a nice Egg McMuffin from time to time? Well, hold onto your butts folks, for today we visit something old and comforting, yet new and strange. Today we examine the Gingerbread Pop Tart.

Printed Fun may be Best Fun.

This is some seriously busy packaging. Pop Tarts are something I have enjoyed since I was a wee tot, because they are easy, quick, and most importantly jammed full of sugar. Clearly the perfect breakfast for a kid like me. As an adult, I have retained a fondness for them, though my go to flavor is "uniced strawberry" so that they aren't quite as sweet as the frosted sugar bombs of my youth. These do not have icing, but they purport to have some sort of festive imagery emblazoned on them. Let's see how they did.

Well, that certainly is some sort of...something.
I am...not very impressed by these images. Sure, I'm not expecting haute stuff from a box of Pop Tarts, but they should at least be recognizable. On the left we have a...pirate? Octopus? Pirate Octopus? Random blob? On the right, is either someone jumping or an angry sea serpent. Or a snake horse. Angry parrot? Whatever, how does it taste? 

Dear Kellogg's Pop Tart Engineers, I appreciate the fact that you have produced a number of fine confections over the  years. Your Iced Cherry Pop Tarts are particularly tasty. But seriously folks, eat some gingerbread and then eat these and go back to the drawing board. I am not sure what you were going for here, but these are NOT at all like gingerbread. More like snickerdoodles made with something vaguely gingerish. The icing is also sweetish, but does not compliment the other flavors very well. Overall, it is not bad, but it is not particularly good either. Very disappointing.

On the FACE Rating System, these suckers get 1 frowny face. I appreciate the effort, I suppose, and they weren't terrible, but they were not very good either, and the sub-par artwork did not add to their appeal. 

Kotas Reviews Mayfield Peppermint Stick Ice Cream

Ah, the holidays have passed, our gift collections have swollen, and it's time to try some new (or not so new) things before the New Year is upon us. Christmas may be over, but there's still a plethora of holiday themed things to sink our teeth into, so let's look at today's subject: Peppermint Stick Ice Cream!

Skiing. Nothing more than...skiing.
Mayfield tends to put out simple ice creams that are a flavor done very well, or complicated jumbles that throw everything but the kitchen sink in and yet still somehow stay coherent in flavor. Today's subject tries to be both of these things together, just in time for the season. I rather like the packaging, though it departs from the traditional Mayfield yellow, because how often are you going to see an image of a cow skiing with peppermint candy canes? Not very often in my experience. Let's rip the top off and see what we can see.

The phrase you are looking for is "underwhelming".
Okay, so it isn't very exciting to look at. Just white ice cream with flecks of green and red peppermint candy in it. It's somewhat festive, but I was hoping for a bolder statement. Still, something visually pedestrian can conceal a powerhouse of flavor. Unfortunately for this ice cream, that is not the case. When I have had peppermint ice cream in the past, it tends to be a pink ice cream with a very strong peppermint flavor. Sometimes that flavor would be too strong, but here? There isn't much flavor AT ALL outside of the peppermint candy bits. This might be okay if the candy was fairly evenly distributed, but it is not. The chunks tend to be pretty large and while the color of them is common, the actual bits themselves are pretty clustered together, with a whole lot of nothing in between. That ice cream is best described as sweet, cold, and flavorless. It's not even "vanilla with a hint of peppermint", it's just "nothing with the occasional peppermint bit". The candy bits aren't even very good candy bits, as a final insult.

On the FACE Rating System, this ice cream gets 2 frownys. I expect a lot from a Mayfield ice cream, and usually even flavors I don't like are at least well crafted. This? This is a lazy seasonal effort that attempts to be "different" from the normal peppermint ice cream, and falls completely flat. If you simply MUST have Mayfield peppermint ice cream, I guess you only have this as a choice, but for everyone else, avoid.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Kotas Reviews So Delicious Dairy Free Nog Coconut Milk

Welcome to Day 5 of Eggnog Week! One type of product that has always kind of weirded me out is the faux-dairy product. I know a lot of people can't drink milk and such, but soy milk, coconut milk, almond milk, and a whole host of other milks that come from "not cows" to readily seem like they are trying much too hard to be "milk" and not "milk substitute". A black bean burger can be delicious, but if it tries to be too much like a meat burger instead of its own thing, it ends up being a crushing disappointment. With all that in mind, let's look at today's subject.

Hang on folks. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.

So Delicious Dairy Free makes a wide variety of coconut and almond milk products that I'm sure you've seen in your local green grocers. This is one of their "holiday" flavors, along with Mint Chocolate and (sigh) Pumpkin Spice. I am not a huge fan of coconut flavor in general, but I do occasionally indulge in an Almond Joy or Samoa here and there. This particular incarnation claims to be "Nog" flavored. This is actually a ready concession to the fact that artificial eggnog tastes a lot like...well, nog, whatever that magical substance may be. But how well will it pair with coconut milk? 


Well, it looks a lot like eggnog to me. Smells faintly of coconut and noggishness, but how bad could it really be? Well, I'll tell you, it can be pretty freakin' terrible. This is drinking coconut milk laced with something almost but not quite entirely unlike eggnog. If you've ever entered a room where all the furniture was moved 1 inch to the left but you didn't know about it, that vague and growing sense of "wrongness" is exactly what I am talking about. It's pretty thin in consistency, but it really doesn't taste like eggnog or even just nog. It tastes like you'd expect vertigo to taste like. Off putting and strange, but not undrinkable I suppose. Coconut milk lovers will be much more inclined to like this, but the weird "faux-faux-nog" flavor is still unsettling.

Because of Science, I threw some rum into this because really, that could only improve the flavor, right? The pina colada is a classic for a reason, right? WRONG. The flavor of the coconut milk, coupled with their version of "nog" completely cancels out the rum flavoring leaving you with a glass of creamy alcoholic nothing. Seriously, it has no flavor at all other than the vagueish hint at generic sweetness. This was even MORE off putting and strange than the stuff by itself! Also, adding booze made it even more awful. How is that even a thing? 

On the FACE Rating System, this gets a well deserved 2 frowny faces. It is drinkable, but it is something I would want to do as fast as possible so I could move on to actual good drinks. If you like coconut milk you might be more inclined to enjoy this, but their particular spin on "nog" is just wrong enough compared to normal nog as to push me off my game. If you've never had eggnog before and like coconut milk, you might like this, but everyone else? No. Just, no.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Kotas Reviews Southern Comfort Eggnog

Welcome to Day 4 of Eggnog Week! There exists a concept in marketing known as cross promotion. Selling cheddar cheese? Maybe put some crackers on the same display, because crackers and cheese is a classic snack. Frozen Apple Pie? Maybe hang a plastic pie server or three near the case. There is also the concept of vertical integration. Why sell just cheese when you can break into that awesome cracker market? Do you make pasta? Might want a branded sauce to go along with it. Today's example is probably the oddest pairing of these two concepts I've encountered, Southern Comfort Eggnog.

Seriously, I would have never guessed this was a thing.
You know, when I think of Southern Comfort, I do not think "I hope they produce an eggnog!" Southern Comfort, for those of you who don't know, is an American fruit and spice liqueur that was the favorite drink of one of my old bosses. I've not actually had the stuff in a long time, but I remember it being very sweet. Still, I would not have expected a liquor company to make eggnog, but I suppose it is a classic pairing. Let's pour a glass!

Ready for action!

It looks good in the glass, maybe just a touch more off white than the Mayfield brand. The scent is a bit stronger than Mayfield as well, and it is thinner in consistency. The taste has a sharp hit of "the nog", definitely bolder than the Mayfield, but it tapers off fairly quickly with additional sips. The flavor is...sharper? More nog essence than Mayfield, but it doesn't linger as long. It's very good, actually and will definitely satisfy your noggin. 

I still had some rum, so in it went. Wow, now I see why it has the flavor profile it does. The strong flavor stands out more from the rum when the two are blended, such that the eggnog and rum are more like partners than one taking a back seat to the other. I think that this eggnog, probably by design, is better suited for mixing with booze than Mayfield, even if it isn't quite as good straight up. Of course, given the branding, this makes perfect sense. Well played, Southern Comfort. Well played.

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 2 smiley faces. Straight up it's pretty darn good, though I prefer the Mayfield. With booze though? This is the clear winner, so pick your nog accordingly. Nogheads will still find a lot to like about this, even without booze, so I recommend you pick yourself up a carton, settle back, and find some Comfort this holiday season.

Post Script!

If you are looking for the Real Deal in Eggnog, mosey on over to Experiments from the Bar. He has a nice little discussion about eggnog going on over there, and of course he includes a recipe

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Kotas Reviews Mayfield Eggnog

It'd Day 3 of Eggnog Week, and what better way to get over Hump Day than to drink some actual eggnog! I know it isn't as wacky as some of the things I've consumed in the past, but hey, it is Eggnog Week. That and I love eggnog. Let's break it down!

In convenient half serving size bottles. Everyone knows the serving size for eggnog is the "carton" or half gallon.
Ain't she a beaut? Today's eggnog comes from the fine folks at Mayfield Dairy. Many of my audience consider this to be the quintessential eggnog, but frankly I grew up on Purity eggnog so it remains to be seen. I do think this packaging is spectacularly festive though. Of course, how does it look in the glass?


It smells exactly like artificial eggnog should, vaguely nutmeggy with that unique noggishness teasing the palate. It has the customary flecks of brown to indicate that yes Virginia, there is nutmeg in here. The taste? Well kiss my grits this stuff is amazing. If you like artificial eggnog, this may be the eggnog to get. Creamy, rich, but not too thick, it goes down easy and leaves a lovely noggish aftertaste. It is hard to describe the mysterious flavor I call "Nog", actually, unless you've had artificial eggnog before. I can't get enough of the stuff, but some people find it is not their cup of tea. 

Of course, there was one other test. How does it go with booze? Well, I had some rum just lying around and I mixed in some...you know, for Science or whatever. Well, alcohol does a couple of things: first it thins out the mixture so it becomes less viscous. Second, it can (depending on the amount) mute the nog flavor by quite a bit. This does not diminish the drink however, merely changes the focal point from the nog to the booze. Adding less booze might help with that, but that would mean adding less booze!

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 3 smiley faces. This may be the one Nog of which all other Nogs are but shadows, and it's not bad with booze either. Whether your an addict looking to satisfy a nog craving, or a nog newbie taking their first steps into a broader, more fattening world, this is the nog for you!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Kotas Reviews Mayfield Eggnog Flavored Custard Ice Cream

Welcome to Day Two of Eggnog Week! Today we will be looking at a product from one of my local dairies: Mayfield. Mayfield Dairy is a Tennessee institution, and is definitely one of the premier regional purveyors of cow secretions in the Southeast. Since 1910 they've been foisting their delicious treats upon us, and in the dessert area they have a huge variety of ice cream flavors and novelties. Today's subject is one of their holiday offerings. Let's take a gander at Mayfield Eggnog Flavored Custard.

Custard? I thought it was ice cream? Is it both? WHAT BLACK SORCERY IS THIS?

So, I wondered why the packaging said "custard" on it, but also "ice cream". Turns out, there is probably a reason for it. You see, frozen custard, by law, must contain a bit under 2% egg yolk solids, while ice cream has no such requirement. I'm going to guess that this should probably be "eggnog custard flavored ice cream", rather than the mess on the label, but whatever. The carton looks pretty festive, what with the reindeer dressed in a holiday button up shirt, and the lights and all. Seriously though, how does he button it with those hooves? In fact, how the heck does he hold the cup of eggnog? You know, it's just ice cream, I should stop worrying about these things. It IS a limited edition, after all, and the nightmare world of reindeer with magical "able to hold things" hooves will only haunt me briefly. Yes, yes...only briefly. Anyway, how does it look in the bowl?

That is most definitely a bowl of ice cream.
Looks pretty good to me! No real surprises, though it lacks the small flecks of brown that most store-bought eggnog has. The faint odor is pure artificial eggnog, and that is promising. The flavor is smooth and creamy eggnog, very similar to the eggnog milkshake from yesterday, but richer somehow. Less distinct nutmeg overtones, but they are there, and that special element I can only call "nog" is present in abundance. Mayfield makes darn good ice cream and this is no exception. 

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 2 smiley faces. Definitely a holiday treat for us nog lovers, and I think it would pair well with chocolate syrup. Still, if you are not a fan of eggnog, this will not convert you, and may in fact repulse you. If you are looking for more nutmeg flavor, this will not satisfy, but you could probably sprinkle on some for the extra kick.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Kotas Reviews the McDonalds Eggnog Milkshake

It's that time of year again, when the cold wind starts blowing in, and people scurry to add meaning to their joyless existences by purchasing mass produced brickabrack that is designed to look thoughtful and non-commercial. That's right ladies and gentlemen! Winter is here! And with winter comes that most delectable of substances, Eggnog! This week we here at Kotas Reviews Everything will be taking a gander at several varieties of eggnog and eggnog-based products in celebration of the return of this magical substance. Let's begin with the McDonalds Eggnog Milkshake.

She's a beaut, ain't she?
Of course it would be a milkshake. According to my statistics, my post about this milkshake is my most popular post ever, and I am definitely one to give the readers what they want! Anycrap, onto the initial first impressions. Like all McDonalds milkshakes these days, this one comes with whipped cream and a cherry on top, though by "on top" they mean "sort of shoved off to the side and buried under the whipped cream". Hey, at least it is there. The color of the shake is exactly what you would expect, sort of an off-white eggshell kind of color. Yeah, that's pretty much what eggnog looks like. Still, it is more attractive than some shakes I've purchased.

This thing smells like artificial eggnog, and the taste is 100% true to that scent. Which is to say it tastes very little like actual eggnog. I have not indulged in such a treat very often, but real honest to goodness rummed up eggnog is seriously one of the best things I've ever put in my drink hole. So on that count this falls flat on its face. HOWEVER, if you are like me and grew up drinking the wide range of artificial non-alcoholic eggnog products produced for this season, the flavor is on par with that experience. That rich creaminess with that hint of nutmeg and something uniquely faux-noggish is reproduced here in shake format. I happen to like that flavor, but some people can't stand it and if you are looking for a more authentic nog experience, your search must continue.

On the FACE Rating System, this gets a hearty two smiley faces. Faux-Nog goodness in milkshake format is aces in my book. There is a catch, however, maybe two. First, if you don't like artificial eggnog, you will absolutely hate this shake. Second, if you are looking for an authentic nog experience, you will not find it here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Kotas Reviews the Iced Gingerbread Clif Bar

There are a number of foods that benefit from having an enormous variety of flavors. Jelly Belly jelly beans, waffles topped with things, milkshakes, and bubble gum fit the bill nicely. There are other foods where just a few really good variations are all you need, like bacon, ham, and sausage (pork is just delicious and SHUT UP I'M NOT HUNGRY). Clif Bars should probably fall into the latter category, but they are trying to make themselves into the former. Let's see how they fare today.

Here we go again.
I still like the holiday packaging and it is an example of how to do it right. The imagery calls back to, but does not exactly match, the standard packaging, and the different varieties each have distinct if small differences. So, kudos on that. Onward!

Oh look. More different stripes. How original.
Well, it smells gingerbread-y, so it's a step up from the last one of these I reviewed, if only just a tad. It has the same icing stripes, but here they actually make some sense, given this is Iced Gingerbread we're attempting to mimic. The scent also has a nice gingery element, though it is more in the range of a ginger snap than ginger bread. The taste? Much the same, really. This very much reminds me of iced gingersnaps rather than ginger bread. Spicy ginger with a crunch and a crispness. Gingerbread (good gingerbread anyway) should have a softer texture and flavor, and the other spices should be more subtle. This is more in your face, but not in an unpleasant way.

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 1 smiley face. Definitely closer to the mark than other seasonal Clif Bars, but not quite there. If you like gingersnaps or ginger flavored things in general, give this one a try. I'd eat it again, certainly, and might pick up one or two during the season, but it is not a go to flavor. They definitely tried a lot harder on this one, and it shows.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Kotas Reviews the Pecan Pie Clif Bar

Some seasonal foods for the upcoming Holiday Clusterfuck are eagerly anticipated by many, such as eggnog. Some seasonal foods are hated and reviled, such as fruitcake. Then there is another category of seasonal foods, which seem to entirely miss the point. Ladies and gentlemen, today we take a look at one of these. 

Well well well, lookee what we got here.

I've talked about my enjoyment of Clif Bars before, so I won't repeat that here, but I must say I'm pleased to see additional offerings in their distinct yet recognizable holiday packaging. It's about as inoffensive as it gets, though I'm pretty sure they ripped off the pose from a poster of Cliffhanger. Oh well, onward to the bar!

Stripes are STILL totally in this year!
Welp, I don't know why I was expecting something different, and yet I am still disappointed. We still have our usual "slab of mushy granola in vague bar shape, covered with icing stripes". Seriously, why icing stripes? No pecan pie I've ever had has ever had icing stripes, or icing PERIOD. A lot of your other bars lack such decoration, so why include it? Is it just more "festive" that way? 

The flavor is almost entirely unlike pecan pie. There's something pecan-ish about it, particularly when you eat a bit of pecan. It has some vague holiday-like spicing. But pecan pie? Not really. Real pecan pie doesn't usually have cinnamon in it, and has WAY more high fructose corn syrup. This is pretty good, but it surely isn't pecan pie. Maybe more like spice-covered pecans. Nothing very pie like though.

On the FACE Rating System, this one gets 0 faces. It's not bad, and I like some variety, but it surely isn't pecan pie. I'm pretty sure the foodgineers here were told to make some "holiday" flavors, slapped this together and then popped off to the pub for a three beer lunch. "Eh, fuck it. Slap seasonal on the label, I've got my kid's soccer game tonight." It is not the laziest seasonal food I've ever seen, but half-assed is definitely the vibe. The packaging is nice enough, but this is not a seasonal product I will seek out in particular during the holiday season. Give it a whirl if you like Clif Bars, but it's not a must taste.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Kotas Reviews Limeade Oreos

I enjoy fruit flavored confections generally. Some are terrible, but most of them manage to at least somewhat resemble the flavor they are attempting. Then there are things like today's entry, which are somewhat baffling. Let's dive into the oddity that is Limeade Oreos.

Because SOMEONE demanded it!

Well, this certainly is a package that screams "Limeade Oreo", and I think the packaging is pretty attractive. The real trick is to make it taste as good as the package looks. I've had pretty good success with fruit flavored Oreos, generally. The Berry and Lemon ones taste pretty darn good, though I absolutely hated the Watermelon ones. Still, a 66% success rate is promising, and frankly a Lime flavored cookie would be right up my alley. So why in the heck is this a Limeade cookie and not just a straight Lime cookie? Maybe the graphic for a lime was kind of lame? Eh, the Root Beer ones were pretty decent, so let's see what these puppies look like. 

Does this scream Limeade to you?

Well, it sure looks like a Lime cookie. The scent is "vanilla cookie with a hint of lime". I, for one, am simply shocked at this amazing development. These pass the twist off test without any problems, and they look pretty sharp. The flavor is pretty good, with a light lime creaminess that is quite refreshing in the mouth, though I really wish the lime came through stronger. As it stands, it's nice, but it could be better. The vanilla cookie was the right choice, evoking a lime pie-esque after taste that is pleasant if not spectacular. The creme by itself is also pretty tasty. With milk, the lime flavor is more muted and the creaminess accentuated, and that's not bad, but not great either. I just don't get where the -ade part comes in. I was hoping for a bit more effervescence or something, but as it is it's just a lightly lime flavored cookie. It's good, but a little disappointing.

On the FACE Rating System, these get 1 smiley face. I like them, but they do not seem like Limeade cookies, only like Lime cookies that aren't trying hard enough. These could really benefit from a stronger lime flavor, about on par with the Lemon ones. Try them out, if you like flavored Oreos and artificial fruit flavoring. Just don't expect anything particularly surprising.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kotas Reviews Cinnamon and Sugar Pringles

Limited Edition foods are a perplexing beast. On one hand, they are often used for things that make sense: Seasonal Treats, Test Market flavors, and so on. On the other hand, they are a crass marketing ploy designed to create a false sense of scarcity. The McRib is a prime offender here. Sometimes though, it seems like people use it as an excuse to create some of the weirdest things ever. With that, I bring you to today's specimen: Cinnamon and Sugar Pringles

The taste sensation that is sweeping an angry man in marketing's nation.
I do like Pringles. Something about those completely processed chips, each one more identical than the last one just scratches my "everything must be orderly" itch. That they taste very strongly of potato and salt does not hurt. They also tend to feel a lot less greasy than a more traditional chip such as Lay's. I like Pringles is what I'm saying, though not every flavor is a winner. I can honestly say that I never felt that Pringles would be enhanced in any way by the application of cinnamon or sugar, to say nothing of BOTH. Will this finally be the combination that brings potato chips into the dessert realm?

I'm going to go with no.

Well, they certainly look exactly as you would expect. Pringle crisps covered in a reddish brown dust. The excitement is palpable, let me tell you. The scent is...Pringles and a light cinnamon-y sweet scent. Again, be still my beating heart. The flavor is pretty much a lightly salted Pringle with some cinnamon and sweetness added. It's a little odd, but not unpleasant. Pretty munchable really, though it is certainly not something I would crave. This is by far the most Exactly What It Says On The Tin food I have reviewed up to this point. 

On the FACE Rating System, I give this zero faces. It is what it is, but what it is is not what I particularly want, though I wouldn't be upset if I had some. I simply cannot imagine a time in my life when I will say "Boy, I sure do wish I had some Cinnamon and Sugar Pringles right about now", but I certainly can imagine eating them if they suddenly appeared. I don't feel they would make a good dessert though, since they don't have enough culinary robustness to carry an entire meal, even if that meal is just dessert. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Kotas Reviews Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses and the Russell Stover Dark Chocolate Red Velvet Pumpkin

Hello everyone! I've been taking a bit of a break recently due to a variety of reasons, but now we're back with...more Halloween stuff. Yeah, I know, Halloween was weeks ago, but the plethora of leftover candy has kept me in a bit of a candy coma for a while. Still, I'm back now, and boy do we have some treats for you. First up, Hershey's Pumpkin Spice Kisses.

Ain't she a beaut?
Hershey's Kisses are one of the best ways to enjoy their rather uniquely American take on chocolate, being big enough to be satisfying, yet small enough not to feel like you are gorging yourself. This combines to let you look wistfully into the empty bag and wonder what exactly just happened. Still, I am generally dubious of anything that goes outside the usual parameter of "chocolate, and nothing else". Let's have a look see!

Very underwhelming, really.
These look less like a traditional Hershey Kiss, and more like the inferior white chocolate cousin, the Hershey Hug. Hugs are, at best, something to eat when you want some candy, but have nothing better. I do not particularly care for white chocolate, and Hugs get no love from me. Then again, maybe this one will be the flavored candy that alters my opinion.

A box without hinges, key or lid, yet inside whitish goo is hid!
Well, they certainly smell pumpkin spicey. Much more spice than pumpkin, yet there is a hint of it. Instead of being a solid candy all the way through, this one is a very soft center coated in a durable waxy shell. The Kiss doesn't lend itself well to this sort of thing usually but in this case, it seems to be fairly well done. The flavor is like eating a bit of heavily spiced gingerbread wax filled with some sort of creamy...something. It is incredibly artificial tasting, but it's not bad if you like nutmeg and gingerbread. There might be the barest hint of pumpkin flavor, but I couldn't find it.

On the FACE Rating System, these get 1 frowny face. They really aren't terrible or anything, but I would describe them as a good presentation of a terrible recipe. The flavor is not pumpkin, but it is spice...gingerbread spice. The mouth feel is waxy and unappealing. I did enjoy the foil though, and the little paper flag is of the highest quality. Not really recommended except for that rare breed of Hershey Kiss Completionist.

Next up from the bargain bin we have the Russell Stover Red Velvet Dark Chocolate Pumpkin. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? There are a large, LARGE number of different flavored candy pumpkins that Russell Stover produces each year, and this one comes from the veritable wall that my local drug store had for sale.

Look at that face! It just screams "legitimate pumpkin candy".
Russell Stover is what I call a "low tier" chocolate maker. They put out a huge variety of average quality chocolates, along with a cornucopia of themed sweets. They are at their best when you want a lot of different kinds of chocolate confections in one box, for cheap, but their theme items are only fair to middlin' in flavor. Great on price though! Let's see what mysteries await us!

That's not very pumpkin-y. It could just as easily be an ornament shape.

Now it is even less pumpkin than before!

Well, I can't say I'm excited to see this. I am not sure what I was expecting, but this is really just a candy disk with a nub at one end. It could be almost anything, so I suppose pumpkin is as likely as any other vaguely round object with a distinctive appendage. It smells of dark chocolate and...maybe devil's food cake. This is actually an encouragement, since Red Velvet cake is just Devil's Food cake with some food coloring and a good marketing department.

The flavor is, in a phrase "fucking terrible". The chocolate makes a bold attempt at being something worth eating, but it has too much of that cheap, artificial flavor to pull it off. The filling tastes like sand mixed with sugar, paste and suffering. The thing actually crunches as I chew it, as if I were consuming aquarium gravel or possibly ground glass. I managed to choke down half of the thing, and gave the other half to my long suffering wife. She boldly consumed as much as I did, and for that, I owe her. I did not gag though, so I suppose that's a plus.

On the FACE Rating System, this travesty gets 3 frowny faces. Stay the hell away from it, unless you hate yourself. Wash it down with  Bud Light Chelada for that authentic taste of misery and despair. Leftover candy is not all it is cracked up to be, that is for sure!

Friday, November 7, 2014

Kotas Reviews Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer

Now that I have recovered from Halloween shenanigans, it's time to get back to work! Then, after work, in my free time, write up reviews of things I sampled Halloween Weekend. Today's experiment comes courtesy of the lovely people who brought it to the Halloween party I attended (in costume). I do not know who brought it, but they have certainly given me something to write about! Ladies, Gentlemen, my Tens of Fans, I present to you, Crabbie's Original Alcoholic Ginger Beer.

It's Original because it says so!
This look pretty much like, well, a bottle of beer. The label looks like what you would expect from a domestic beer trying to disguise itself as an import, but I like it well enough. I mean, come on it has thistles on it! At least I think those are thistles. Let's crack it open!

Pinkie extended for proper form.

The smell is pleasantly ginger-ish, but not that overwhelming hit of GINGER that some non-alcoholic ginger beers like to bowl you over with. It smells nice and refreshing, actually. Most of the time when I sniff non-alcoholic ginger beer I get walloped in the nose with this wave of hyper gingerness, but not in this case! Now, for the sampling!

Why yes, I WILL take the Physical Challenge
This is a tasty beverage. It's nice and ginger-y, definitely a step above your mass market ginger ales, but it's not completely punch-you-in-the-mouth gingery. This will not clear our your sinuses from drinking it, but on the plus side, you can actually drink and enjoy it without too much trouble. Very refreshing, and you can hardly taste the booze. Which may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on how you feel about boozing it up with sweeter things.

On the FACE Rating System, I give this 2 smiley faces. Definitely not what I expected, but I was nicely surprised at how tasty and drinkable this beverage is. If you don't like ginger, avoid this, but for everyone else? Give it a try!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Kotas Reviews The Pumpkin Masters Jumbo Pumpkin Carving Kit

Happy Halloween everybody! I absolutely LOVE Halloween. It may in fact be the perfect holiday. You go around, threatening others with vague maliciousness until they give you candy, and you avoid retribution by putting on an elaborate disguise! In addition, you are supposed to scare the bejeezus out of people at the same time! Truly a fantastic holiday that also involves the ritual defacement of gourds. 

As a child, and even into my adulthood, I have always wanted to do Halloween "right". Elaborate decorations, a robust assortment of candy, and scaring everyone who dared approach for said candy. In one way or another I managed to accomplish all of that, except one thing. My parents and later on, myself, were always really really  bad at carving Jack-O-Lanterns. Oh, they looked alright, but they were never particularly spooky or interesting. Well friends, TODAY THAT ENDS. This year? I decided to, with the prompting of my spouse, pick up the product that will solve all my pumpkin carving related problems.

Pumpkin Masters: In Color.
You know, for $5, this is a decent package. You get a plastic scraper thing, a pumpkin saw, and a plastic poker dealy. The label promises "stronger tools", so I'm sort of concerned about what the previous level of tool strength was, but oh well. Onward!

Isn't that spectacular? Hint: No.
So this kit comes with the three tools and five sheets of patterns for various spooky carving fun. The basic idea is that you wet the pattern, slap it on the pumpkin, and then use it as a guide for your carving, the end result being a pretty awesome pumpkin carving. Seems simple enough, right? Right. 

My long suffering wife was actually the one to utilize the tools for their intended purpose. This was decided upon when I was required to put our own Little Monster to bed, in spite of the fact that said Little Monster wanted to stay up and run around. Luckily, I got to help with the clean up and did use all the tools at least once. I also took some pictures.

The lucky victim subject, a hollow shell of its former self.
The directions state that one should cut a hole in the bottom of the pumpkin, and scrape it down to one inch in thickness. The scraper actually works pretty good for this purpose and the pumpkin was mostly hollowed out by the time I arrived on the scene. I used it later for some additional clean up work, and it is a lot faster than using a spoon, simply due to the width of the blunt blade bit. You could probably also use this for light spackling, but that's not why we are here today. The next step is to slap on the pattern and throw some cling wrap around it. Then, the butchering begins.

My face! My beautiful face! Stare into my accusing eyes!
The pattern stayed on really well, surprisingly enough, though the cling wrap we had some problems with. It mostly worked as intended though, keeping the mess to a minimum. One slip up we had was that you are supposed to carve from the inside to the outside, but we ended up doing it the other way 'round. Oops. This caused a few problems with the final detail cuts, as the pumpkin did not have nearly the stability necessary for them.

Sorry nifty belly feathers, you aren't getting cut today.
Most of the cutting is done by using the awl thing to poke a starter hole, and then use the saw to slice through the pumpkin. The awl is kind of cheap as hell. It's bendy, flimsy, and we almost broke it a few times. The saw was considerably better, and cuts fairly quickly through the pumpkin's succulent flesh, but the blade has a tendency to bend a bit during the process, which is good for getting those curved portions, and bad for keeping the blade around for more than one or two full uses. 

All done! Doesn't look like much, does it?
The pattern scraps come off pretty easy, and you are left with your dazzling creation. I don't have much of an eye for such things, Unlit jack-o-lanterns always look odd to me, since you can't really see what the artist intended. But they know what they were going for, and when you add a candle?

It's got it where it counts.
On the FACE Rating System, I give this kit 2 smiley faces. Sure, the tools are kind of cheap, but at $5 for the whole shebang I wasn't expecting them to be particularly sturdy, though the scraper is pretty solid. It certainly enabled us to have a fancy dancy pumpkin this year, even if between us we have all the artistry of a 4th grade art class. True masters of the gourd carving art will want to avoid, but for the rest of us? $5 well spent. In addition, since the majority of the tools are pretty blunt (the plastic awl being the exception), these tools are a lot safer than Ye Old Kitchen Knife around the kiddos.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kotas Reviews Candy Corn M&Ms

M&Ms were always sort of a stand in for "generic" candy. They were colorful, relatively inexpensive, had the usual array of urban legends associated with them, and they have a catchy slogan. You always knew what to expect from M&Ms and that was chocolate goodness wrapped in a candy shell, sometimes with a peanut accompaniment. Holiday specials were usually limited to different color mixes for the candy shell, while keeping the same old chocolate (and maybe peanut) insides intact.

Through the miracle of modern marketing, M&Ms is making the same leap that Nabisco has with a variety of interesting flavors and textures. We've had Mint M&Ms, White Chocolate M&Ms, Pretzel M&Ms, Crispy M&Ms, Peanut Butter M&Ms, Dark Chocolate M&Ms, Raspberry M&Ms, Almond M&Ms, and even  Pineapple M&Ms. Some of these have been available for a long time, some rotate in an out, and some are only available in selected markets. Which brings us to today's experiment.

He looks about as happy about the situation as I do.
Bask in the gleaming magnificence of marketing ambition. The packaging is pretty terrific actually. Familiar character? Check. Proper logo? Check. Unusual outfit for familiar character? Check. A picture of the damn product itself? Check. Semi-clever usage of an image of candy corn to replace the A in "Candy Corn"? You bet that's a Check. Mars certainly has presentation down pat. Let's rip open the bag and gorge on the innards!

Innards! Hideous piles of Innards!
The color palette chosen for this is pretty obvious: Candy corn is usually white, orange, and yellow, so naturally these would be too. The smell is almost but not quite exactly NOTHING like candy corn though. It actually reminds me more of the most artificial egg nog you've ever smelled than anything. The candies themselves are about twice the size of an ordinary M&M, so I would advise against gobbling them down by the handful. I would advise that for other reasons as well, but this seemed like an important safety tip for adventurous snackers. 

I guess this is kind of like candy corn. Maybe.
The flavor is most definitely White Chocolate laced with what aimed for "candy corn" and ended up with "egg nog" flavoring. I happen to enjoy candy corn (Brach's being my brand of preference), and this is So Very Much Not Candy Corn in flavor. Like, at all. I've never particularly liked white chocolate either, having always considered it the bastard offshoot of cacao extracted sweets. So of course I was predisposed to not like these candies, but coupled with the utter and complete failure of the candy corn flavor I would not recommend this even to white chocolate lovers, unless you happen to really really like artificial egg nog flavoring. 

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 2 frowny faces. I ate my allotted portion, but I do not think I will be eating any more of these. Save your money and just get regular M&Ms or, if you are a white chocolate lover, white chocolate M&Ms. Even die-hard candy corn enthusiasts would be better off just eating some regular candy corn.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Kotas Reviews the Spiced Pumpkin Pie Clif Bar

We are in the depths of pumpkin spice mania and just when I think it can't get any crazier, I am proven wrong. I mean, I have nothing against pumpkin spice but I'm not sure if I want my entire range of snackables and other assorted goodies to be saturated in the nutmeg and cinnamon tide. Today we question whether the world is even ready for one such product. I present to you, the Spiced Pumpkin Pie Clif Bar.

So, why is he climbing a snowy mountain? Because it is there!
Clif Bars are my go to breakfast these days. They are fortified with various nutrients, convenient to haul around, come in durable packaging, and don't mind being crushed under the weight of 40 pounds of trail gear when you get right down to it. One thing they aren't is particularly tasty. I am rather fond of them, but it is an acquired taste. I must admit I do like the packaging here, with the change to a "winter" theme. I suppose Pumpkin Pie spans both Fall and Winter, really, but it seemed a non-traditional aesthetic choice. Let's rip this bad boy open.

Stripes are totally in this year.
Well, it looks sort of like a mashed up slab of granola paste, and that is pretty much what a Clif Bar is. This one, however, has stripes of icing. Why? No idea, some of their bars do, and some do not. The scent is very heavily spiced, full of nutmeg and cinnamon and something pumpkin related, if not full on pumpkin. It smells an awful lot like potpourri, or a very sweet incense. The flavor reflects the scent accurately, though it is much less potpourri-ish and much more gingerbread-ish. Very heavily spiced, some pumpkin notes, mostly spice. It's not the worst thing I've ever eaten, but it is certainly not the best. It does kind of grow on you as you eat it though, and it's a nice change of pace if you tend to stick to your "usual" flavors like I do.

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 0 faces. I feel neither good nor bad about it, but I enjoy trying new things. The flavors are very strong, but it leans too heavily on the "Spice" portion  of the equation rather than taking a more balanced approach by including a heavier pumpkin element. Give it a whirl if you are curious, or just can't get enough pumpkin spice in your life. Pie lovers will have to look elsewhere though.