Friday, February 13, 2015

Kotas Reviews the Hostess Cherry Chocodile Twinkie

Love is in the air dear readers, and that love is cherry flavored. At least, that is what the aisle of my local grocery story would have you believe. Love is also chocolate flavored, as Russell Stover would have you believe. So when picking out a mass market manufactured product that you will use to awkwardly express your feelings toward your significant other without actually expressing those feelings with, you know, words and other gestures, wouldn't it be marvelous to have both chocolate and cherry flavors in one handy package? Of course it would! Thankfully, Hostess is there to save the day. And it threw a Twinkie in there as well. Today's subject is the Hostess Cherry Chocodile Twinkie.

Definitely love flavored.
As an East Coaster, I have not really had the pleasure of sampling the fabled Chocodile during my "snack cake" years. This favorite of Roger Smith was a wholly West Coast phenomena for...reasons I suppose. The Chocodile is essentially a Twinkie covered in Ding Dong chocolate, though die hard Chocodilians will say that is is "so much more then that". When Hostess relaunched in 2013 the Chocodile was not among the survivors, but was rechristened the "Chocodile Twinkie" and relaunched last year. This limited edition flavor is the first I've seen of the treat though. Could a national launch be on the horizon? Who cares, let's eat!

Business on the outside...
The Cherry Chocodile Twinkie comes in a box of 9 individually wrapped cakes in the new "fun size". This of course means they are smaller than regular Chocodiles by about half an ounce. Well, I suppose times are tough everywhere. The box art is fairly eye catching, even for a Limited Edition. Those unfamiliar with the Chocodile's rich history will wonder why the word Chocolate is misspelled, but for those of us "in the business" it is fine. Once you get past the wrapper, you get a pretty underwhelming cake. It pretty much looks like you'd expect it would look, if a bit smaller than you would like.

Party on the inside! WOOOOOOO!

Again, no surprises once you crack open the cake. Hostess perfectly realizes the mind's eye vision of the Chocolate Covered Cherry Twinkie, though really, is that saying a lot? The scent is certainly on theme, with strong cherry notes, a chocolate underscent, and a hint of Twinkie. The flavor itself is surprising. I expected a strong cherry flavor, and I did get that. What I did not expect was that the actual flavor here isn't cherry, but cherry cordial. The artificial cherry flavor has that same faux alcohol flavor that a cherry cordial has, and that association is backed up by the chocolate coating. Personally I thought it wasn't bad, but it could be very off putting for some, even if they would otherwise enjoy a cherry flavored snack cake. A very interesting little cake this is.

On the FACE Rating System, I give this 1 smiley face. It's a better than average snack cake, and I applaud Hostess for trying something new, but I doubt this would become a regular in my snack cake rotation. It will certainly go on the pile as a seasonal treat, though not one I would go too far out of my way for. If you are a snack cake aficionado, this should be on your try list. Walk on the relatively safe and clinical wild side and give it a go. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Kotas Reviews the Spike Your Juice Kit

Ah, milestones. Arbitrary markers used by those who wish to make themselves feel important with regards to frivolous tasks. That said, welcome to the 100th Post of Kotas Reviews Everything! I've covered a lot of different things in the past few years of reviewing, but today deserves something special. Something strange. Something related to booze. Today we review the Spike Your Juice Kit.

This is a real thing that exists.

The Spike Your Juice kit was a Christmas Stocking Stuffer that I only recently got around to trying out, and frankly, I'm surprised it took me this long. I mean, look at this box! Doesn't that just scream quality? It even proclaims itself to be "A European Favorite". Well, how could I resist? Let's see what's inside!

Literally the whole kit and caboodle.

You get an instruction card, six packets of brewer's yeast, an airlock and carbuoy bung, and six adhesive labels. This box cost about $14, but you could find better bargains at some online retailers. You might have noticed my use of the phrase "could". Well, we ordered ours direct from the manufacturer's website, which had an online storefront with all the polish of one from 1998. We didn't even get an email confirmation of our purchase, the package just showed up randomly one day long after we'd forgotten it was ordered. If you try that link now, you get a standard Go Daddy placeholder page. I'm pretty sure this company no longer exists. Our loss, I suppose. You can still get this kit at some online retailers, but supplies are definitely limited.

The idea with this getup is that you buy a 64 ounce bottle of fruit juice, preferably 100% juice with no sugar added, dump in a packet of yeast, stick the bung and airlock on top, fill with a bit of water, and then the magic happens. Well, it seems simple enough...

It mostly is.

Well, I managed to get it set up. A couple of missteps resulted in a bit of juice going up into the airlock during the placing of the bung, but it ultimately did not affect the results. This is the stuff after a couple of days, right before the first tasting. Next up is a few days more...

It bubbled considerably more than I was expecting. I'm not sure WHY my expectations were so low.

I let it ferment for about ten full days before I called it done. There were two official tastings, one after the two days suggested by the instructions, and one after the ten days. The first tasting was not particularly enlightening really. It mostly tasted like grape juice but it had a bit of an alcohol undertone. It wasn't very strong and mostly it tasted like the juice was just a little off. Not bad, but not plain juice. The reason I stopped at ten days is mostly because it stopped fizzing, so I guessed the sugar was finally used up.

After ten days. Why yes, that is a jam jar. We're freakin' classy around here.

The flavor of this beverage could be classified as "dry". It is distinctly wine-ish in character, with a nose of "Welch's Grape Juice" and not so sturdy legs. It was not, however, terrible. At best, I would call it "table wine drinkable". Frankly, this surprised me given that my plan of attack was "dump in yeast, hope". I actually liked it after a fashion, though it is not really all that good. There is something about drinking booze that you made that eases over any complaints about quality. It is definitely in the "$5 for a gallon" wine category, but it is drinkable and I was willing to share it with non-family. 

One the FACE Rating System, the Spike Your Juice kit gets 1 smiley face. Sure, it's a jazzed up package of stuff you can get for half the price individually, but it was fun in a "kids craft project' kind of way and actually got me interested in home brewing, even if it is just in a dabbler's kind of way. Plus, the Amazon reviews of this product reveal that there is a small community of "home juice brewers" who, while not as technical as true home brewers, are dedicated to their very minor craft. Give it a whirl, if you can, if only to say that you made your own wine. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Kotas Reviews Dakrah's Familiar

Greetings, and welcome to another review. It's been a while, but now all our bowls have been supered and I've managed to overcome some pretty nasty bouts of illness, so I can finally write about something I read while I was incapacitated. First off, it's a short story, and second off, it's a FANTASY short story. I know, I know, you were all hoping for another food review but I'm trying to stretch my reviewer legs as it were. 

As you may have gathered from previous reviews, I am definitely a fan of the fantasy genre of literature. I've gobbled up many a fine fantasy novel or story in my day and I can say truly that it is probably my favorite least it is right now. During my recent incapacitation I found myself wanting to escape my current situation and lo and behold, I had recently purchased such a piece of escapism. Enter: Dakrah's Familiar.

Available in a single bookstore, everywhere.
Full Disclosure: I happen to personally know the author of this book and the person who did the cover art. So my biases might be showing in this one. Scratch that, they probably will. Still, I think it is valuable and entertaining to publish my thoughts on it, especially since I paid my money just like everyone else has to do in order to read it. Yah, I ponied up my $2.99. With that out of the way, let's continue. Be warned, thar be spoilers ahead, so if you want to avoid them, skip down to the last paragraph for the FACE Rating and final thoughts.

If you are looking for a story filled with exciting action, thrilling adventure, and non-stop excitement...well, you should probably look someplace else. I can sum up the entirety of this story in a single sentence: A wizard desires to have a familiar. He acquires one through the casting of a ritual. The End! You can pretty much encapsulate this story within the time frame of what would be something that happens between the chapters of another, more action focused story. This is a character piece that fills in the details of "so, when my wizard got a familiar in Dungeons and Dragons, just what the heck DID happen anyway? It's not like you go down to the local pet shop and buy one am I right?" 

This story opens with our hero Dakrah finally deciding, after much hemming and hawing over not completely understanding just what it is he is about to do, to just cast his "Summon Familiar" ritual already. Dakrah is what every wizard character ever claims to be, supremely confident in his ability to perform magic, loquacious in thought and explanation, and painstaking in preparation. His inner dialogue reveals that these outer traits paper over a certain pensiveness about his actual ability. There is also a pinch of impatience with the "proper way", as displayed in his choice of familiar and its animating entity. "Better the devil you do not know, rather than the stuffy angel you do" might not be the safest path, but it is certainly the more interesting choice.

The ritual casting has two points of failure, and thus the rest of the ritual is glossed over with just a few words. The first is the shaping of the familiar. It is implied that there are standard choices ("You may bring a cat, rat, toad, or owl..") and then there is the more exotic path of Shape Your Own Carnivore. In most fantasy worlds, the taking on of a familiar is often coached as a sizing up of each other, and then settling into a relationship. In this story, Dakrah decides that he literally wants to mold his familiar in the image of his mind's eye, and bargains and threatens ephemeral and dangerous spirits/entities/somethings into doing his bidding. The mental process as described is fascinating, really, especially since it requires a bit of the wizard's own essence to complete the working.

The second point of failure is finding something to provide the spark of intelligence. Modern stories attribute this as a feature of the animal that was always there (Crookshanks displayed a number of distinctly un-cat-like proclivities, if you will recall), but here Dakrah needs to convince a greater entity that this is Worth Doing. Through implication and indirect reference we learn that most wizards call down an angel and say nice things to it. Dakrah chooses to choose the path less taken, simply because he doesn't want to deal with arrogant angels, even though he has no idea what exactly this choice will result in. So much for the careful preparations beforehand eh? 

I won't completely spoil this bit, because it crams a LOT of character building elements into a dialogue with the entity that arrives as well as a number of setting tidbits (dare I say, hooks) that whetted my appetite to learn more about the world of Aurikesh. Dakrah, of course, succeeds in his task, to no one's surprise.

The work has its flaws. It's...short. Shorter than I was expecting, really, which led to a mild disappointment though it could be a feature for some. It's also very, very wordy. And by wordy, I mean there are a lot of words used I had to look up or just sort of gloss over and hope I got the gist by the context. I mean, I'm not opposed to looking up a few words here and there, but 5-6 times within a few pages? I am a simple unfrozen caveman reviewer. The modern world frightens and confuses me. As I type these words, I think "Are there small spirits in the box that draw really fast?" The one thing I do know is that if I am feeling a bit overwhelmed, others may too. 

On the FACE Rating System, Dakrah's Familiar gets a solid 2 smiley faces. I appreciate stories that crawl inside the mind of their focus in order to get a good understanding of what makes them tick, and I enjoy examinations of magic. Definitely worth the three bucks to me. Those looking for a rollicking adventure might leave a bit disappointed, but the setting appears to be rich with possibility. Some of my disappointment with the length of the story was because it left me wanting. If you like fantasy as a genre, this is a good story with some meat, though the word density can be a little intimidating. Crack open your dictionary for this one, but I think it was worth it.