The Greatest Cereal Mascots of All Time (a psychological eval)

I was raised on sugar cereal. If you see me twitch, this is why.

My day started with the company of an amiable toucan flying over a bowl of multicolored rings. Fruit Loops looked like a child’s candy necklace had snapped. Resilient, that child gathered the scattered rings into a bowl. Then the child added milk, because children are psychotic. Bowls of diabetes are fun. Over 15 years of eating sugar cereal, I had plenty of time to psychoanalyze my friends. Here’s what I’ve concluded:

CAP’ CRUNCH: MR. HANGOVER

The Cap’n, in need of electrolytes.

What a mouth-breathing drunk. After an illustrious career at sea, the good Cap’n went the route of Kenny Rogers and used his star power to shill for consumer products. No one achieves a nose as bulbous as his without treating a bottle of whiskey like a teddy bear. His eyes were crossed, suggesting temporary seasickness or long-term mental illness. He treasured his facial hair, and wept when he lost his eyebrows trying to light a cigar with a kerosene lamp. To cope, the Cap’n glued fake ones to his amusing hat. Judging by his yellow floral epaulettes, he was no four-star general. He will always be remembered by preppies as a trailblazer in the “popped collar” movement.

SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP: BOY BAND

They resent the hell out of Justin Timberlake.

Snap, Crackle and Pop started as a boy band until their ears got in the way. Out of options, the do-gooders knocked on strangers’ doors to discuss the nutritional value of bloated rice. A good rule of thumb with these guys is: Let ‘em date your daughter, and never listen to their bullshit. Their cereal sucked so bad that its main selling point was the sound—like bacon sizzling in a pan, only without a little thing called flavor. They drank black coffee and chain-smoked. Snap was the chef, with a talent for puffing rice without losing its delicate mediocrity. Crackle was a semi-pro snowboarder with a genetic disease that only allowed his hair to grow in the form of an asterisk. Pop tried to atone for his marching band involvement by always standing just barely more front-and-center than his pals.
Tomorrow… The Toad that pitched oats; and illicit offers from an wee Irishman.

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6th Annual Beer vs. Wine Dinner @ El Bizcocho (G’night, El Biz)

Wine is wet food. It’s the private school Starsky to food’s Hutch. The refined Funkel to food’s Gar. As such, the wine industry owns mealtime. Their challenge is happy hour, boat drink status, bipolar boss de-stressor. There’s non-chewing market share to be gained.

Beer, meanwhile, is still trying to disengage the tailgate from its image. No matter how far the craft beer scene has brought suds, it’s hard to undo the centuries-long association with half-cocked monks, half-shirted river people, and bong-toting collegians.

To that end, the marketing masterminds at Stone Brewing Co. started the “Beer vs. Wine Dinner” at El Bizcocho in 2007. It’s an elaborate grudge match meant to catapult craft beer upmarket.

San Diego is the Octomom of craft beer. Every Thursday the mayor administers Pitocin into the municipal abdomen, and the city squats out a new brewery. Milwaukee is jealous of our yeasty scent. Our beards have beards.

“Beer vs. Wine” is a hell of a tradition. Scruffy beer types find a clean shirt that hasn’t been screen-printed with a softball team logo or an ironic slag on Republicans. They then pile into the formal, old-world Spanish dining room at El Biz—one of SD’s oldest temples of haute cuisine, a country club annex that only recently eased its “formal wear-only” dress code.

The concept of BvW simple. El Biz chefs (Gavin Kaysen and Patrick Ponsaty then, Nicolaus Bour now) create a feast worth more than the collected souls of all attendees. Then a wine guru (Steve Frederick of R&R Wine Marketing this year) and a beer guru (Dr. Bill Sysak of Stone) duel to the death by trying to pair the perfect beverage for each dish. Beers with floral notes pick up the sneeze of lavender in a salad. A Pinot’s thrush of black fruit makes a duck taste like a slow-cooked phoenix. Diners sniff, swirl, analyze the harmonious marriage of food and drink in their mouths. Or the awkward first-date moment between the cheeks.

After each course, they write down the winner on a scorecard.

By dessert, everyone in the room is fattened and wobbly and wondering what each other looks like naked. That’s when the winner is announced and a giant brawl breaks out, with wine lovers slapping the koozie-people with tux gloves.

Continue reading

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Eater Comes to San Diego, Discovers 1984-2008 Dining Scene

In its search for “HOT, NEW!” restaurants in San Diego, Eater turned to food blogger Bownjwing Lee. Lee lives somewhere, I’m sure. But not in San Diego. Eater is a national website with many millions of readers. Going by Bonjwing’s list, those readers are now officially onto what was hot in San Diego two-to-18 years ago. Bownjwing turned them onto:

1. George’s: Awesome chef and restaurant, obviously. They opened in 1984. Would’ve been better for a “Titans Still Pushing the Boundaries” list. It would’ve been great on a “Hot, New” list when parachute pants were big.

2. Tiger! Tiger! and Blind Lady Ale House: Two neighborhood restaurants owned by the same people. Both very cool joints. But BOTH of them make a TOP-8 HOT, NEW SPOTS! list for the entire city? Especially considering Blind Lady opened nearly four years ago? I sure hope Bonjwing got some free pizza out of this one.

3. Cucina Urbana: Another great resto. Bonjwing proves he has an operable palate. Or that he can read—like, say, the hundreds of articles about Cucina that started four years ago, when it opened.

4. Urban Solace: Winner! Matt Gordon rocks. Has since he opened the joint five years ago. He does have a new joint Bonjwing may have pointed to (see below).

5. Spicy City: A mainstay on Convoy since its 2002 opening.

6. Herringbone: Bonjwing got this one right. The only one on his list that opened in 2012.

7. Yakitori Yakyudori: Mmmm, tsukune and beef tongue on a stick. They’ve been a favorite for years, including this location which opened two years ago.

Admission. Eater actually asked me to give them this list. It was an unpaid thing, but I wanted to help out of professional courtesy. Then I got busy working on a huge cover story for San Diego Magazine. So maybe it’s my fault. But with me busy, Eater could have turned to Erin Jackson, Keli Dailey, Amy T. Granite, Mmm-yoso, Kirbie’s Cravings, Darlene Eats, or any of the other hungry people who actually live here and know what’s going on.

Having an out-of-town blogger who visits a few times a year tell them the hottest, newest restaurants—well, you end up with a list like this. Which reads like an outdated guide book withering on a Barnes & Noble shelf. It’s lazy, and a bit insulting.

I’m glad they’re taking an interest in San Diego. I’ve heard they’re eyeing an SD outpost. Hopefully they’ll get it right when they have a home here.

Other suggestions for Eater:

Carnitas Snack Shack: Hannis the pig-loving man-chef is killing it over there.

Craft & Commerce: Where cocktails meet design. At least it opened in 2011, which would have been the second-newest entry on Bonjwing’s list.

Prepkitchen Little Italy: The biggest Prepkitchen yet, with a killer cotechino-stuffed sausage.

Blue Ribbon: Wade’s killed it with his little pizza venture.

Solace & the Moonlight Lounge: Matt Gordon’s newest version of his killer comfort gourmet.

TJ Oyster Bar: Been around for years. But just opened a big, new location. Best pulpo tacos in SD.

Herringbone: Good work, Eater. Batting .125. What a killer room that is.

100 Wines: The gorgeous new spot from the collaboration between The Cohns and Philippe Beltran, which previously yielded the sexy little number in OB, Bo Beau.

Snooze: Sure, it’s a concept from Denver. But there’s a line that starts with the crack of dawn for those cakes.

Manna: Another chain. But a good one. Korean BBQ spot on Convoy has a line out the door every night. They’re slated to open another location in San Marcos in a couple months.

Delicias. Renovated, with new chef-partner Paul McCabe creating a little culinary uprising in Rancho Santa Fe.

I’m sure I forgot a few. I’m spitballing here. But it’s a start.

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Vintana: Cohn Restaurant Group’s Restaurant on Wheels

(Photo: Sam Wells/San Diego Magazine)

I’m the restaurant critic for San Diego Magazine. For August’s issue, I ate in a brochure. Or, at least, that’s what it feels like when you walk through the Lexus “super-dealership” to get to Vintana in Escondido. David and Leslie Cohn, two of the most successful restaurateurs in San Diego (Corvette Diner, Indigo Grill, Bo Beau, The Prado, Melting Pot, 333 Pacific, etc), often take a slagging. Big dogs have big heels, and all the little purse dogs of the city’s dining scene are nippy little bastards.

You can read my review of Vintana here.

The accusation against the Cohns? Middle of the road food, high price, unexciting concepts.

Until a few years ago, I agreed with that estimation. Everyone gets a little soft sometimes. It’s the professional version of sitting on your couch for a week or so, eating ice cream and beer in your boxers while the mail goes unchecked (a recurring personal daydream). That’s not to say The Cohns weren’t trying (nor Rocky Roading excessively in leisurewear). Risk-taking just didn’t seem to be their M.O. But now… Continue reading

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A Fourth of July Eating Manifesto (Plus some random stats about pants)

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“Fourth of July.”

Just hearing the words is panicking. It’s the semi-sorta midway point of summer. “Whaddyou mean it’s half gone!? How did this happen?! Did Madoff take it?!” It’s like discovering someone poked a hole in your fun bucket.

Luckily, Fourth of July was designed to replenish. It’s The Complete Works of Summer, performed in a single afternoon. It’s the world’s greatest cookout, and it is pandemonium.

Today we’ll spray bottles of sunblock as if they’re Champagne and we just won the World Series. We’ll bake old-timey pies even though Iron Chef has us “going through a salted caramel-and-cloudberry sabayon phase.” Today grandma will make blue cupcakes that look like Smurf condos, and we will not recoil at their inedible hue.

If today we see Uncle Sam rollerblading in a Speedo, we won’t hide our children. We will raise Uncle Ned’s lumpy burger in salute.

Today, our USA-sized smoke signal will penetrate deep into space. If extra terrestrials exist, they will seek out our delicious creations. Or they will go to France because they think we are on fire.

Today, we’ll eat half our national population in hot dogs. On Independence Day, dogs aren’t just a distraction from the fact that “pitchers’ duel” is baseball speak for “group nap.” Today the pig torpedo is patriotic Eucharist.

Today, our mouths all have one thing in common: Idaho. And today “salad” has mayonnaise, amen.

Today, we’ll find the few patches of America that don’t have a cappuccino machine and a barista with a tattoo on his face. It might be a beach, park, lake, river, glen, dale, or a strip of Astroturf next to a garden hose. Matters not. We’ll gather our people, grab the crowbar, pry open the grill and not flinch one bit at the sight of last year’s charred bits. (When grilling, the Five Second Rule becomes the Five Year Rule. I believe Thomas Jefferson wrote that.)

We’ll wear our humorous aprons. We will not question the nutritional content of white bread. We will Lee Greenwood (so patriotic, his name is a verb). We will not discuss how “the acidity of the lemonade really balances out the fattiness of the hot dog.” We will eat, drink, and toast the brave ones who sacrificed so that we can dress like Liberace cross-dressing as Betsy Ross.

Whether vegetarian or carnivore, carb-shoveler or gluten-freer, beer-toter or teetotaler, CIA super-chef or kitchen-phobe… Today we’re just Americans, hungry for the smoke of summer.

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STAT: 82% of US households own a grill. 4th of July is the most popular day to use them, with 71% of us assuming the grill position. It’s a day to remember our roots. Like 1776, sure. But also the simian age. Short of waking up an orangutan and ending the day as Brad Pitt, nothing says “Evolution, heck yeah!” quite like cooking over fire.

SOURCE: Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association and Business News Daily

STAT: Kids who regularly eat dinner with their families are 40% likelier to get A’s and B’s in school. Fourth of July brings family together—from distant relatives to the siblings you tried to sell on eBay. And that bonding experience will help our children get into colleges we can’t afford.

SOURCE: National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University

STAT: The US imported $232.3 million of fireworks from China in 2011. Say what? Part of being an American is making all kinds of lame laws. Seems like “the national flag must be made in America” should be one. But what a way to end a meal! Most just finish with someone asking you for money, or with dad staggering to the couch like a freshly tranquilized zoo animal.

SOURCE: US Census Bureau News

STAT: Americans eat 155 million hot dogs on Fourth of July. If placed end-to-end, the dogs would stretch from L.A. to D.C. five times. It’s the national sharing stick. It’s also pre-cooked. If anyone can figure out how to use a grill like a microwave, America can.

SOURCE: National Hot Dog & Sausage Council

STAT: 42% of Americans are country music fans. The other 58% tolerate it on Fourth of July. Are you a twangy singer who lists “petting bald eagles” as a personal interest? Today, America loves you. (Except maybe Portland.)

SOURCE: Billboard Magazine

STAT: 86 million Americans (41.9% of us) own patriotic apparel. American flag bikini? Next week it’s vaguely treasonous. But on Fourth of July it’s OK to wear stars, spangles or Bruce Springsteen’s clenched, patriotic teeth on your person.

SOURCE: National Retail Federation

STAT: Americans bought nearly $14 Billion worth of jeans last year. Most of them will be worn today. The only dress code for a park is “clothes.” Jeans are not “apparel” today. They are leg napkins.

SOURCE: Cotton Lifestyle Monitor

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Wishes for My Gardener

I hope our gardener enjoyed our grapes. I hope he sat outside on a sunny day under an ant-free tree, popping each delicate, juicy orb. I hope a gentle breeze ran through his hair, drying the matted sweat-locks and tussling it like an attractive lover.

I hope the low echo-rumble of leaf blower—the sound that’s always in his head, like a pollutive noise-tattoo from a life of blowing elms—finally turned to sweet silence with each successive juicy fruit.

I hope a pretty girl whose chest looks like a toppled sine wave stood in his field of vision, bathing with the aid of a garden hose.

I hope he enjoyed my grapes in that manner. Because that motherfucker stole ’em.

A hole in my life where delicious grapes used to be. I hope my gardener enjoys them in ecstatic, wondrous peace, in the presence of nymphs, unicorns and quality hooch. A**hole.

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Spicy Food Episode of Crave: The Ghost Pepper is a Government Conspiracy

The ghost pepper. I wouldn't eat these things with YOUR mouth.

CRAVE: “Spicy Food: Taste the Pain” airs tonight, 11:30EST/8:30PST on Food Network.

For tonight’s episode, we visited Jake Melnick’s Corner Tap in Chicago. They’re famous for their Triple X wings. Main ingredient? The ghost pepper. Known by chile heads as bhut jolokia, it’s like the mutant food spawn of Wolverine and that kid in high school who spent his free time exploding the nasal cavities of nerds.

The Triple X wings are double-dog-dare food. You could either buy a really big truck with metal testes hanging below the rear bumper. Or eat these things in front of people. Both atone for all sorts of petite manhoods. When you order them, you even get a little plastic fireman’s hat.

It’s food spectacle. It’s the bearded lady of their restaurant. The attraction. As we were cutting the peppers in Jake Melnicks’ kitchen—a big, wide-open space with quality ventilation—our entire camera crew began to cough, wheeze, sneeze. We had to stop filming for 15 minutes to regain composure.

As if the ghost pepper wasn’t scary enough. Now it’s airborn??? It’s like you’ve pissed off Charles Bronson. He’s in his Camaro coming after you with a vengeance. He wants to turn your spleen into charcuterie. Oh, and did we mention he can fly?

Jesus.

There are YouTube videos of mentally deranged dudes eating these things and nearly dying.

The chef, a sarcastic lovable badass named Bob Andrea, told us this little story.

Two years ago, he couldn’t find ghost peppers anywhere on the open market. They had simply vanished. “Turns out, the government bought them all to use as weapons,” he explained.

Sounds like a conspiracy story. Like the one about Area 51, where the CIA holds elaborate swingers parties with extra terrestrials. Bullocks, right?

But it makes sense. It’s like pepper spray on steroids. Plus, the Indian government is apparently already turning ghosties into weapons of mass irritation.

So if you show up to Jake Melnicks and they’re out of the Triple X wings, don’t be disappointed. You’re in the middle of a gigantic government conspiracy. So, at least you have that going for you.

(Note: The ghost pepper was long the hottest chile pepper in the world. That title has since been stolen by the Naga Viper, which is hot enough to strip paint. I wouldn’t eat that thing with your mouth.)

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Spicy Food: My Abusive Relationship

Security detail at Avery Island. Home of Tabasco. On scene for the “Spicy Food: Taste the Pain” episode of CRAVE. This little guy literally jumped out of the water trying to eat our boom mic. I wet myself a little.

I don’t advocate violence against children. But as a kid, I was punchable. I commend my father for not dropping me off somewhere. Like, say, deep in Mexico. And then growing a mustache and changing his name.

Forbidden by laws and morals to do harm to our kids, parents find other ways. Piano lessons. Brussels sprouts. Falcon’s Crest.

My dad, cunningly, used pizza. At a pie joint in Big Bear City, he pointed to a bottle of red and yellow flakes. He dared me to take one of them—just one—and put it on the end of my tongue.

I scoffed. They were tiny! Wussfood! Not wanting to back down and lacking the mental acuity to sense a good trap when I saw one… I did exactly that.

I sat there, tongue out, that little red dot perched on the tip. Five seconds. Nothing. Ten seconds. Nothing.

Ha! I scoffed in his general direction.

Fool! My tongue was obviously a bad-ass. A callous appendage that may have a teardrop tattoo that I’m unaware of. If I stuck a spoon in my mouth, it would come out a shank.

Then it started to creep. A little buzz at first. Then it got a little hotter. My neener-neener-neener smile started to weaken. And hotter. My lips quivered a bit. Then it started to BURN. Like I’ve heard peeing does when you’ve been indiscriminate with your affections in the wrong part of town.

Then, ohholyjesustractorpullyeeeeeowwww… it felt like the time my sister told me it was cool and fun to pour hot candlewax on my face because it would make an awesome mask.

I spit it out. I held the dainty, wet little flake in my hand. I looked at it with an expression of pain and confusion. Painfusion. I felt like I’d just had the crap kicked out of me by Tinkerbell.

Gone from my mouth, I figured the pain would stop. Nope. Got worse. How does that work?! I felt like I’d been carjacked, managed to throw the jacker out of my car, only to realize he’d cut the brakes and passed some truly offensive gas.

I grabbed water, started gulping it. Relief? No. It just spread the pain to my entire piehole. My dad was crying from the laughter. He was on the floor. Revenge was his.

Nose running, eyes watering, my tongue waving in the air like it’s having a seizure… I looked my dad straight in the eye, squinted so he could really understand the gravity of what I was about to tell him… and said,

“Dude. That. Was. Awesome.”

I’ve loved spicy food ever since. Maybe I like to hurt myself. Not a lot. I’m not gonna carve an ex-girlfriend’s name into my thigh. But spice? Yes, please.

The next episode of Crave is my journey across America to find the perfect spicy food. And my effort to comprehend why, when I was 10, I had my a** kicked by a tiny little red flake of wussfood. And liked it.

Crave airs Friday, 11:30PM EST/8:30PM PST on Food Network.

TWITTER: @T_R0Y (that’s a zero, not an ‘oh’)

FACEBOOK: facebook.com/cravetroy

FOOD NETWORK PAGE: foodnetwork.com/crave

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