Unlikely developments: Savory bars and crisp jalapeños


A distinction to be savored

Mr. Tidbit doesn’t know about you (at least he won’t admit to knowing about you), but when he grew up, the word “savory” was used to describe a food — any food — that (as noted in the first entry in the online Merriam-Webster dictionary), has “a pleasant taste or smell.” He would have said “Is something to be savored.” While he wasn’t looking, another meaning for “savory” has overtaken the first — a  meaning that young Mr. Tidbit, bon vivant and man-about-town that he was, would not have recognized, although it is now the second Merriam-Webster entry: A food that has a “spicy or salty quality without being sweet.” Thus we have sweet tarts and savory tarts.

Until now, the many Kashi bars, generally based on a whole-grain mixture containing things like flaxseeds and millet, would be found in the “sweet” bucket, if for no other reason than the inclusion of honey or chocolate chips. Mr. Tidbit is probably overlooking several exceptions, but he ventures to say that virtually every “bar” on the supermarket shelf is a sweetie.

Not anymore. Kashi has introduced two products it labels Savory Bars: Quinoa, Corn & Roasted Pepper, and Basil, White Bean & Olive Oil.”

It goes without saying that such a bold departure comes with a price. Whereas the 17 other Kashi bars (at least all of those that Mr. Tidbit found at one discount supermarket) are in boxes weighing 7 or 7 1/4 ounces, and all sell at that store for $2.99 (41 to 43 cents an ounce), the boxes of both Kashi Savory Bars weigh just 5 1/4 ounces and sell at that store for $3.20 (61 cents an ounce).

Savor that.


Not onions

While we’re talking about breakthrough products, how’s this for innovative thinking? French’s, whose Crispy Fried Onions are the topping of choice for Thanksgiving’s ubiquitous green bean casserole, and which until now has offered only flavor variants of that product (white Cheddar, caramelized and — Mr. Tidbit thinks he recalls but can’t verify, garlic) steps smartly forward with Crispy Jalapeños. Note well: That’s not jalapeño-flavored fried onions. It’s fried actual jalapeños.

Hot stuff!

Dear friends: A week ago Saturday it was 27 years since my son Joe died in a seven-story fall from his college dorm room in Madison, Wis. He had taken LSD; he was 18.

Hug your kids.




Beans and surprising goodness


(Mr. Tidbit can’t get these first two images onto the same line. He apologizes for the waste of  . . . nothing.)


The parade of beans

Mr. Tidbit was surprised recently, while strolling down the bean aisle, to see what appeared to be many new offerings from Bush’s. First, there are now organic versions of several of Bush’s regular products, including baked beans and black beans.

At the store where he found them, 16-ounce cans of Bush’s regular black beans were 99 cents and the same size cans of Bush’s new organic black beans were $1.19 (surprisingly only 20 percent more per ounce). The 16-ounce can of Bush’s baked beans was $1.52; the new organic baked beans were $1.99 (31 percent more per ounce; that’s more like it!).

Mr. Tidbit will now admit to having been fooled: Next to the new organic beans, brightly colored labels decorated several varieties of Bush’s Cocina Latina — a line of south-of-the-border seasoned beans that he thought was new — possibly the next “limited time” offering from Bush’s (after Asian BBQ and Sriracha). Somehow he didn’t notice the lack of “new” or “limited time” flags on the cans. He just learned, by visiting Bush’s website, that the Cocina Latina beans aren’t new at all — but the brightly colored labels are. (So they worked!)

As they were new to Mr. Tidbit, they might be new to others. There are eight kinds, not all of which were at that store: Frijoles Negros Machacados (smashed black beans with poblano chiles, tomatoes and “a touch” of bacon; Frijoles a la Mexicana (pinto beans in a tomato and serrano pepper sauce with a similar “touch” of bacon); Frijoles Charros Machacados (smashed pinto beans with tomatoes, serranos, and [guess what] a touch of bacon); Pintos A La Diabla (pinto beans in a spicy sauce of chiles de Arbol, jalapeños and serranos — apparently untouched by bacon); Frijoles Cubanos (black beans in sauce seasoned with garlic and green and red peppers); traditional refried beans, fat-free refried beans, and refried black beans.


Goodness Knows: Who knew?

New Goodness Knows snack squares are sold in packs of four in a row, like a candy bar, alongside other alternative “better for you” treats. They come in three varieties: cranberry, almond, dark chocolate; apple, almond & peanut dark chocolate; and peach, cherry & almond dark chocolate. At the convenience store where he found them, the 1.2-ounce bars were $2.19; similar-size regular candy bars at that store were $1.39. Guess who makes Goodness Knows: Candy-bar giant Mars.



Lost and found with Uncle Al

Uncle Al has long been looking forward to turning 75, because that will allow him to keep his shoes on at the airport. (At 74 there aren’t a whole lot of happy milestones to anticipate, so that has been a biggie.)

Now that he’s got that important birthday under his belt, so to speak (he’s pretty sure his big metal buckle will still be a TSA problem) he has to acknowledge that it’s been a fairly unsettling year so far — but he notes that there’s still plenty of time for it to get lots worse.

For starters, early this year he made one of those awkward physical movements that, in persons of a certain age, make those persons immediately recognize that almost any other physical movement would have been a better idea.

In this case he lifted a heavy bag of groceries from the passenger’s seat of his truck – by reaching backward across the armrest with his right arm. This brought to the immediate foreground of what might be called his mind a sudden and concentrated awareness of a group of shoulder tendons and muscles known to physicians and sports fans as the rotator cuff.

The physical therapist to whom he was directed confirmed that Uncle Al’s case was a classic rotator-cuff injury. Uncle Al actually did some of the recommended exercises, and the pain lessened a lot over time. But it annoyed him that this injury brought to a sudden end his chances for a major-league pitching career.

Admittedly, even long before sustaining this injury at age 74, Uncle Al’s chances of landing such a job weren’t great — although this year he might have had a shot with the Twins.

Meanwhile, until his shoulder began to heal, every time he tried to do anything awkward with his right arm he was notified that he should think again about that. So he quickly (and surprisingly easily) changed a number of habits, including reaching for the box of his breakfast cereal from atop the refrigerator with his left arm instead of his right, holding the leash of his swell used dog, Gus, in his left hand instead of his right, and shifting wallet and checkbook from the right rear pocket of his pants to the left rear.

(Yes, Uncle Al still carries a checkbook: If the entire global electronic payment network collapses one day while he is attempting to replenish his inventory of Little Debbie Nutty Bars, while everyone else waits for the credit-card readers to cease endlessly flashing “processing,” he can, with an air of poise and dignity he seldom manages to achieve, write a check instead.)

Uncle Al’s recovery has been more-or-less complete for some months, but out of either force of habit or wisdom (the smart money would bet on habit), Uncle Al has not attempted to once again use his right arm for any of the tasks he has reassigned to his left arm. Although it was surprisingly easy to make the changes, he’s doubtful that changing back would go as well, and he doesn’t relish the prospect of constant confusion about which arm to use for what.

The other significant development in Uncle Al’s lifestyle this year has been a somewhat disturbing increase in the number of items that he has either lost or misplaced. These are always disturbing in any case, as Uncle Al lives alone, so when he can’t find something, no matter what it is, he can’t even momentarily suspect that somebody else moved it. (Well, if he gets really desperate he can try to imagine what Gus would have done with the Phillips screwdriver, but he is aware that this line of inquiry is seldom productive.)

A few months ago, for example, he lost his checkbook. He had written a check for lunch the previous day, so the number of places it might have been left behind or somehow fallen out of his pocket was not large. First he went through the house: Not in the couch cushions, the bed, the basement, the garage, or the bathroom floor.

That afternoon he made the rounds of the places he had visited the afternoon or evening before. Apparently it hadn’t been turned in at either of the two stores he tried (although the concept of a checkbook was unfamiliar enough to the customer-service person at one store that she asked Uncle Al if his name was anywhere in the checkbook).

The next day, after another round of couch, bed, basement, etc., he told his lunch companions about it and was treated to an amused chorus of “Did you look next to your funnels?”* When he got home, after checking next to his (single remaining) funnel (nope), he called and stopped payment on the unwritten checks.

*As noted, the matter of lost items is not a new phenomenon for Uncle Al. Many years ago he spent weeks on and off looking for a funnel he knew he had — because it had replaced one he had previously lost. When he finally gave up and bought a new funnel, he brought it home and put it down next to . . . a funnel. He doesn’t know whether that one was the one he lost originally or the one he replaced it with (and then lost).**

    Having made sure that the missing checks could not be used by any miscreants, Uncle Al knew that he had essentially taken care of the problem, still . . . . Where the hell was the ^$^#&* checkbook?

Several weeks later, while he helped Gus retrieve a treat that had bounced under the couch, Uncle Al’s flashlight revealed his checkbook — at least a foot and a half back. Nothing rational can explain that, and after a few days of distraction Uncle Al decided to put aside notions of extraterrestrial meddling in his personal affairs and get on with his life.

He’s pretty sure there have been several other peculiar developments since, but he failed to write them down, and things being where they are on the slope of his gradual descent into mental cottage-cheese, he no longer has any idea what they were.

Except for this one: At the supermarket recently, intending to pay with his credit card, he reached into his pocket for his wallet — and it was gone. His checkbook was there, and after an embarrassed pause he wrote a check for his groceries and hurried out into the parking lot, hoping to find his wallet in his truck. Nope. Next, he knew, would be a duplication of the lost-checkbook effort, beginning with checking and rechecking everywhere in the house.

On the way home he began to mentally assemble the list of places in the outside world that he would have to check if his wallet didn’t turn up at home. After a couple of rounds of couch-bed-basement — and a flashlight check way under the bed and the couch — he gave up for the evening, watched some TV, ate a few Little Debbie Nutty Bars, gave Gus a late-night walk and went upstairs to go to bed. Hanging up his pants, he was surprised to note that they weren’t any lighter than normal, despite the absence of his wallet.

That’s because his wallet was still there — in his right-rear pocket, where it used to belong.

Uncle Al hopes he never injures the rotator cuff in his left arm: He’d never have any idea where to find anything.


**The tale of the funnels is told at greater length (and greatly increased hilarity) in “Geezer Salad,” Uncle Al’s collection of peculiar essays previously published in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.

  If the possibility of acquiring this volume has swept you away, you can find “Geezer Salad” at Amazon, of course, at prices from $3.89 plus postage (used, very good) to $16.73 plus postage (new).

  If the possibility of acquiring this volume has made you insane, other offers at Amazon range to $54.29 plus shipping (new) to $91.76 plus shipping (used, good).

  If you’d like a brand-new copy from the author’s personal checkbookless, walletless basement for $10 plus shipping, leave a comment on this post and he’ll contact you to see whether you are able to assist in your own defense and whether you want an autograph (and for whom).

  It should be noted that, although an author autograph sometimes increases the value of a book, in Uncle Al’s case the opposite is true.   




Fruit Refreshers refreshes Mr. Tidbit’s rule


How (slightly) sweet it is

When both of the new items discussed last week — Del Monte Fruit & Veggie Fusions and Dole Mixations — cost no more than the other fruit cups from those firms, Mr. Tidbit was left with an uneasy sensation. One of his very few standing observations is that every new version of an existing grocery product costs more than the original one. To be sure, there have been a few exceptions. But to the best of Mr. Tidbit’s knowledge he had never seen two in the same year, let alone in the same week.

So it was to his great relief to encounter, just a few days later, an item that helps restore balance and predictability to his world.

New Del Monte Fruit Refreshers is yet another collection of shelf-stable plastic cups of fruit. There are four: Mandarin Oranges in Slightly Sweetened Coconut Water, Grapefruit in Guava Flavored Slightly Sweetened Fruit Water, Pineapple in Passion Fruit Flavored Slightly Sweetened Fruit Water, and Grapefruit & Oranges in Pomegranate Flavored Slightly Sweetened Fruit Water.

Before he gets to his point about pricing, Mr. Tidbit must note that because he uses only one type size, the preceding list of Fruit Refreshers makes it more obvious than would a glance at the packages themselves that in two or three cases out of four (you be the judge on one of them) there’s something not exactly straightforward about the nature of the liquid in them:

The coconut water that surrounds the Mandarin orange segments is indeed coconut water — albeit from concentrate (who cares?). However, the liquid in the Pineapple in Passion Fruit is mostly pineapple juice, followed by pineapple sugar (the “slight” sweetening), and then comes passion fruit juice. Is that disingenuous? That one’s your call.

But in both the Grapefruit in Guava and the Grapefruit & Oranges in Pomegranate, the liquid involved is white grape juice (reconstituted and sweetened with sugar), and natural flavor — no guava or pomegranate juice at all.

And, finally, although the shelf price of Fruit Refreshers is the same as that of the other Del Monte fruit cups, those are four-packs of 4-ounce cups (16 ounces total). Fruit Refreshers are two-packs of seven-ounce cups (14 ounces total), so they cost 14 percent more per ounce.


Fruit in vegetable juice or sauce




Veggies in the juice

There are some new offerings among the four-packs of shelf-stable half-cup bowls of fruit. Del Monte has introduced a line called Fruit & Veggie Fusions. In case that makes you envision something like a cuplet of apples and corn, the name is accompanied by an explanation/slogan: “The Veg is in the Juice!” After the rather unnecessary ! the explanation on the package back continues “But you’d never know it!” In all four varieties, the fruit is delivered in the same “lightly sweetened” vegetable-juice mixture: water, the concentrated juices of pumpkins, sweet potatoes and butternut squash, and sugar.

Combined with the fruit, the result is said to be a USDA serving equivalent to a half cup of fruits and vegetables: 75 percent fruit and 25 percent vegetables. The choices are Peach Strawberry (peaches, the juice combo and strawberry puree concentrate), Peach Mango (peaches, the juice combo and mango puree concentrate), Cherry Fruit Trio (peaches, pears and cherries, the juice combo and pear juice concentrate) and Apple Pear Watermelon (apple, pears, the juice combo and pear juice concentrate). Mr. Tidbit notes that, although all include natural flavor (and other things), the watermelon in the name of that last version is from nothing but natural flavor. Where Mr. Tidbit found them, Fruit & Veggie Fusions were selling for the same price as other Del Monte fruit cups.


Fruits in the sauce

The new Del Monte offering, though interesting (at least to Mr. Tidbit), falls within the outlines of previous variations in fruit cuplets: new combinations of fruits and/or differences in the liquid in which the fruit is packed. Mixations, the new line of fruit cuplets from Dole, takes things in a slightly different direction.

Instead of syrup or fruit juice, the bits of fruit in Mixations are delivered in fruit sauces (think applesauce). The Apple Strawberry version is applesauce, apples and strawberry puree; Apple Raspberry is applesauce, apples and red raspberry juice concentrate; Pineapple Peach Apple is pineapple, applesauce and peach sauce, and Pineapple Mango is pineapple puree, pineapple  and mango puree. All also contain, among other things, sugar, natural flavor and tapioca starch (that’s thickening). (Mr. Tidbit is not lithping.)

Where Mr. Tidbit found them, Mixations were selling for the same price as other Dole fruit cups.