Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Pirate Cookies vs. Nutter Butters

image from www.canadaonly.ca
Christie brand Pirate cookies are an oatmeal sandwich cookie with a peanut butter filling. They are available only in Canada, and not every retailer of Christie cookies seems to stock them. In fact, they are so obscure that I was unable to find any information on Pirate cookies on the Kraft Canada website - they weren't even included in the alphabetical product listings!

In the interest of full disclosure, I must confess a certain bias. I can not evaluate the Pirate cookie without comparing it to the apex of peanut butter sandwich cookies, Nabisco's Nutter Butter*. Interestingly, it too is a regional delicacy, and is not available outside of the U. S. A.

The individual components of the Pirate cookie are perfectly sound. If separated from the filling, each oatmeal cookie is crisp and faintly textured, with a taste not unsimilar to Dad's packaged oatmeal cookies. The filling is Kraft peanut butter, an iconic Canadian product and my personal favourite peanut butter for spreading purposes.

image from www.nabiscoworld.com
Sadly, the result is just a bit too sugary, and while the second (and third) Pirate cookies taste just fine, the first one is a bit jarring in its sweetness. This is where the Nutter Butter most clearly surpasses the Pirate cookie. The Nutter Butter's exterior is so mild I am uncertain what flavour it actually is - PB? Vanilla? - and the filling is less sweet and more peanutty than the average peanut butter spread. Not only is the Nutter Butter less sweet on the whole, but the filling has a faint saltiness that plays so well off the peanut butter flavour.

The Nutter Butter is also the winner as far as mouth feel is concerned. The cookies are thin and pleasantly crisp, and the amount of filling, while likely too scant for you Double Stuf types, feels appropriate. The Pirate's filling is much more generous, but when I eat the Pirate cookie I experience a greater feeling of having a lot of it jammed into my molars when I'm done chewing, and I suspect the filling-to-cookie ratio may be to blame. I also feel the Pirate cookie is just too thick, taller than a Girl Scout sandwich cookie if I am not mistaken, and not as pleasant to eat as the thin and crispy Nutter Butter. I only ever want to eat 1 or 2 Pirates at a time, whereas I have been known to whiff through an entire pack of Nutter Butters in well under a week.

 In my opinion, the Nutter Butter is not only the best peanut butter sandwich cookie on the market, but the best non-chocolate grocery store brand cookie around. That said, the Pirate is a perfectly adequate substitute for Canadians craving a peanut butter sandwich cookie.

*I have elected not to discuss the calorie counts of these products because, frankly, I don't want to know. Be warned however that, should you click on the Nabisco link, you will be confronted with some numbers you might rather not see.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Koyo Rice Cakes

I eat a lot of rice cakes. In addition to being sugar and fat-free, rice cakes also give me the kind of crunchy carb feeling I would otherwise get from a wheat-based snack. I have become something of a rice cake connoisseur, and Koyo rice cakes are by far my preferred brand.

Quaker has had a monopoly on rice-cake sales since the 90's and, as such, is my only basis for comparison when discussing the finer points of rice cakery. Koyo rice cakes come in these different varieties, but these consist mostly of textural variations. If you need wacky flavours or packaging designed to simulate the experience of eating potato chips then the Quaker cakes are for you. I have only tried the plain, salted versions of both.

Compared to the Quaker rice cakes, which are almost completely uniform, the Koyo cakes have a more textured surface with greater variation between cakes. They also have a crunchier, less "styrofoamy" chew and a stronger rice taste. Koyo cakes are irregular, however, and some packages may contain one or two very thin cakes. This may be disappointing to shoppers who demand a certain amount of rice cake per-dollar.

The Koyo cakes retail for about $1.99 a bag. I can't remember the price of the Quaker rice cakes but I seem to recall that they are only marginally cheaper, though they do often go on sale. Koyo rice cakes are available in health stores as well as stores selling bulk ingredients. The Koyo website has a "where to buy" section as well as an online store.

As a bonus, here are 5 more great things to love about rice cakes:
  1. Rice cakes are not unlike pop corn if you break them apart and eat them in little chunks.
  2. Rice cakes weigh virtually nothing, so it is not unreasonable to stuff an entire package into your purse or bookbag and walk around with them for happy snacking all day long. I am not ashamed to admit that I love doing this.
  3. Rice cakes are a crunchy, sturdy vehicle for peanut butter and jelly or your favourite melty cheese concoction.
  4. Rice cakes are loved by the animal population! If you run into a friendly sparrow, squirrel or duck you can feel free to share a snack. (Maybe not those freaky flavour-types though.)
  5. Rice cakes are only 40 calories a cake. Eat the whole damn bag!
Happy new year, and happy snacking!

Image from www.koyonaturalfoods.com

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Finn Crisp Thin Crisps

I have been enjoying Finn Crisps for a long time but recently it occurred to me that people are probably largely unaware of these crackers, which are unavailable at some large grocery chains. Those that do carry them have just one or two varieties - I have yet to see a store that carries the entire Finn Crisp line - so looking for a row of red boxes won't be much help. Those of you interested in these might have to do a little extra looking around in the cracker isle, or ask a clerk.

Finn Crisp Thin Crisps are sort of a thinner version of Scandinavian (and presumably Finnish) crispbreads. They're similarly textured with a kind of rough coating and discernible chunks of grain. The Original are made with whole grain rye flour, ideal for those avoiding white flour, and have a faintly "rye-ish" taste not unlike a rye bread. I really enjoy the depth of flavour but it may not be for everyone, and I highly recommend the Multigrain variety to those looking for a milder taste.

The Thin Crisps are harder than the average cracker which makes them particularly crunchy and a good match for any gloppy dip or spread. At 20 calories each you can coat them in your favourite toppings, or just mow through a whole box in a carbohydrate-starved frenzy, without too much eater's remorse.

I like these so much I've taken to packing some in my lunch nearly every day to have along with a salad or with cheese. If you are looking for a more complicated way to eat crackers there are a number of "recipes" on the Finn Crisp website.

Image from www.finncrisp.com

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Second Cup Brewed Iced Tea

It was never my intention to talk so much about tea, but I recently tried a beverage that might be a cost-and-calorie-friendly alternative to the Passion Tea Lemonade from Starbucks.

Second Cup's iced tea is brewed Earl Grey tea served over cubed ice, and if ordered on its own I believe it may be served unsweetened. However, a Second Cup employee let me know that they have a lemon sweetener in the form of a syrup that can be added, which tasted really lemony and lent some much needed sweetness to the tea. One squirt of syrup, enough for a small but perhaps a little skimpy for a medium, is only 70 calories and 17g of sugar compared to the Passion Tea Lemonade's 100 calories and 25 grams of sugar in a small beverage. The Brewed Iced Tea also cost around two bucks, if I am not mistaken, whereas the Passion Tea Lemonade is just over three.

I can't find any real faults in the Brewed Iced Tea, but because it's made from actual tea some drinkers may be surprised by the deep, faintly bitter flavour in place of the syrupy Nestea flavour they may have come to expect. Similarly, some may find one squirt of syrup isn't sweet enough and may want to opt for two, or perhaps try a different flavour altogether (I'd imagine raspberry would be good.) I have also heard that many of the Torani syrups used to make these kinds of drinks come in sugar-free varieties, though I can't confirm that your local Second Cup will have these, nor do I know what they use in place of sugar. I should also point out that the drink is not caffeine-free but I haven't noticed any changes in my energy level after drinking it. In a vaguely related matter, I do tend to prefer the more sterile ambiance of Starbuckses to the sometimes cluttered and almost totally brown interiors of Second Cup locations, and I have found myself wishing on at least one occasion that I could get this beverage at a Starbucks.

For those who, like me, are watching their sugar intake and their budgets I think the Brewed Iced Tea is a wonderful alternative. If any of you have tried the sugar-free Torani syrups, or if you have conducted your own comparison of the Brewed Iced Tea and the Passion Tea Lemonade, please do let me know in the comments!

Image from www.secondcup.com

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Feeling Calm Camomile Citrus Herbal Tea

I drink a lot of herbal tea and while I appreciate the soothing effects of a chamomile I've never really cared for the flavour. I've tried other varieties of calming teas but those often have a medicinal or licorice-y taste that I find even more unappealing. President's Choice has recently come out with Feeling Calm Camomile Citrus Herbal Tea - a chamomile based tea with citrus added for flavour.

I tend not to sweeten my tea and I noticed right away that Feeling Calm is subtly sweet on its own. It has an orangey flavour as well as some flowery tasting undertones, and overall the taste is a welcome improvement on the basic chamomile tea. The ingredient list includes spearmint which I have come to associate with more unpleasant or strong tasting varieties of tea, but in this case I found any spearmint flavour was totally imperceptible.

I'm uncertain to what degree these soothing teas work at all - when I do feel any effects they seem to be rather short-lived. Though I would be hard-pressed to prove it, the President's Choice tea doesn't seem to make me quite as sleepy as my usual Twinings chamomile, presumably due to a smaller amount of the key ingredient. Despite its failure to induce notable drowsiness I have continued to drink Feeling Calm for its pleasant flavour. I have also noticed some psychological benefits associated with the belief that a beverage can magically induce relaxation, namely that I am somewhat less concerned with how to magically relax.

In a slightly related matter, the product refers to itself as "camomile", but I have always spelled it "chamomile" and my spellcheck agrees. Is "camomile" the accepted Canadian spelling? Is "chamomile" perhaps an American variant? That might explain why it passes muster with my spellcheck, which puts a red zigzag under every "colour", "flavour" and "neighbour."

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Starbucks Passion Tea Lemonade

I'm not much of a coffee drinker. I stopped drinking caffeinated coffee a few years ago when I found the rapid cycle of giddiness and irritability I was experiencing was hindering my performance at school and work instead of helping it. Last year when I discovered I was lactose intolerant I stopped drinking commercial coffees altogether due to the imperfect (and strangely gritty) nature of the soy-latte. Somewhere along the way I discovered the Tazo Shaken Iced Passion Tea Lemonade, a cold, caffeine free beverage available at starbucks.

The passion tea lemonade - which is what I call it when I order it, I had no idea it was "shaken" at all until I consulted the Starbucks literature - is possibly the closest thing I have ever had to a perfect beverage. It's sweet but also tart due to the lemonade, it has ice cubes instead of crushed ice which is my preferred mode of drink delivery, it is refreshing despite its strong flavour and it has a bright pink colour that says "Hey, I am enjoying a very special drink!"

What keeps the passion tea lemonade out of perfect drink territory is its sugar content. Though a small (or Mezzo in Starbucks terminology) is only 100 calories, it contains a whopping 25 grams of sugar. That is the recommended dose of sugar for your entire day, ladies and gentlemen! Needless to say, this is neither a diet beverage nor one that is free of hyper-making side effects. The 3$ price tag is also a source of minor discomfort but I suppose that is a bargain by Starbucks standards, whereby anything containing milk seems to automatically jump over the 4$ mark. Nonetheless, I would still highly recommend the passion tea lemonade to thirsty people looking for something different.

Image from http://www.myc.com.my/supplies/starbucks/starbucks.html

Monday, July 19, 2010

American Apparel Summer T

I really like a white t-shirt but I have a hard time finding a good one. Many are too big in the shoulders or the neck, and those that pass the fitting-room test often twist in the wash or ride up my hips during wear. American Apparel's "Summer T" is 100% cotton and comes in a fairly classic, unisex shape. This shirt has stood up to multiple washings and long, sweaty wearings and always snaps back to its original shape in the laundry. More importantly, the absence of any stretchy materials in the fabric means it won't creep up my sides or leave me at risk for accidental muffin-top display.

A drawback is the large, ribbed band at the neck which is a little less feminine than I would like. The sleeve is also a bit longer than most t-shirts styled for women, but could easily be rolled if that's your thing. In fact, the whole shirt is a bit bigger than I expected as there was almost no shrinkage whatsoever after the first wash! If I were to buy it again I would seriously consider an extra small, which might have a sleeve more in proportion with my tiny upper body.  Sadly at 23$ a pop they are a bit pricy to buy in multiples, but worth every penny for their general resiliency and failure to warp.

Image from American Apparel