Changes at the Tidbittery

Mr. Tidbit (and his alter-ego, Uncle Al) offer their thanks to the billions of readers of this blog (possibly a slight exaggeration; the reader-counting software typically lags by several days) who have unaccountably continued to read new posts despite having read previous posts.

Such loyalty demands explanations when changes occur. So:

Until now, posts about peculiar new food products appeared each Wednesday, and they did not vary in length (a requirement for the newspapers in which Tidbits appeared).

Mr. Tidbit has grown tired of these shackles, although he himself is the one who forged them in Life — or was it Sports Illustrated?

Anyway, from now on, new Tidbits posts will appear more randomly, at unpredictable length, and will more often than the recently relentless grocery observations focus not on new food products but be instead the pointless ramblings described on the blog cover page as “allegedly humorous columns.”

Here’s the first of those, one of the many that might be merely retellings of the pointless insider stories with which old newsroom people like to regale each other. What remains to be seen is just how very pointless old (or young) newspaper outsiders will find them.


One of the less-understood (and less-appreciated) newsroom functions  is that of the copy desk, a collection of copy editors whose tasks include fact-checking, making cloudy writing less cloudy, fixing typos, trimming the length so the story will fit in its assigned space, unviolating the rules of grammar, writing the headline and so on.

Many copy editors have their own favorite stupidity, for which they scan the work of reporters and wire services with particular glee. One such excellent copy editor was an older fellow (older than Mr. Tidbit) who worked on the Minneapolis Tribune; we’ll call him Bob.

Bob’s favorite writing mistake was redundancy. If asked for an example — and sometimes even if not asked — he would produce this stunning collection: “A widow woman was out walking her big Saint Bernard dog when she met a Jewish rabbi.”

Most of the time Bob’s repair of this sin of extra-commission was indeed a welcome improvement. Once in a while it was not. The incident treasured by many staffers concerned a kidnapping that took place in Miami. The kidnappers’ instructions were to put the money in a cloth bag and drop it into the water at a specific point on the Venetian Causeway. As the wire-service story described the event, several hours later a man wearing a wetsuit climbed out of the water, holding the bag of money, and was arrested.

When the first edition of the paper came off the presses and copies were distributed around the newsroom, one of the first people to glance at that story was the wire editor who had scheduled it. “Who handled the Miami kidnapping?” he called out.

“I did,” said Bob.

“When I read the wire version, it said he was wearing a wetsuit. Now it says he was wearing a suit!”

“Well if he was climbing out of the bay,” Bob explained, “of course his suit was wet!”

* * *

In order to put that one into context, it behooves Mr. Tidbit to relate an example of Bob, an excellent editor, sensing correctly that there was something wrong in a news obit.

(A news obit is an article written by a reporter, and that appears on a news page, as opposed to a paid classified-section obit, written and paid for by survivors.)

Nowadays there might appear just one large news obit in any edition, with information and quotes from multiple sources. Back when this happened there might well be multiple news obits in one day’s paper, each much shorter, and sometimes based entirely on what relatives had told the funeral home, which would call the information in to the paper.

Like all other news stories, news obits went through the copy desk. And editing the obit of Clemmons Ah (a southern Minnesota lumber-company executive, as Mr. Tidbit recalls it) happened to fall to Bob. He immediately started subjecting other editors, and anyone else nearby, with his observation that he had never heard of the last name Ah. “Why don’t you go ask the reporter who wrote it,” the copy desk chief suggested.

Scratching his head and continuing to mutter “Ah? Ah! Ah?” Bob trudged the length of the newsroom to the desk of the summer intern who had taken the call from the funeral home and written the brief obit based solely on that call.

The intern, registering offense at the idea that he had somehow been careless in executing this fairly minor task, boomed out something like “If you’re asking whether I checked the name, I most certainly did. I said ‘That’s C-L-E-M-M-O-N-S  A-H?’ And the funeral home director said ‘Yes. C-L-E-M-M-O-N-S  A-H’.”

Bob gave up and returned to his desk, still muttering “Ah? Ah! Ah?,” did whatever else was required to clean up the obit and turned it in.

The next morning, the newspaper received an angry and anguished phone call from the widow of A. H. Clemmons.





Posting more meaningless than most


Mr. Tidbit, now resting on some pretty good used laurels he found on Amazon, has decided to extend his break to two weeks. He is thinking of taking a little time to visit some of his many fans around the world who are being held in wretched conditions by cruel authoritarian governments for the sole crime of merely appearing to enjoy his column.

    It is his understanding that almost all of these people have pleaded over and over that they, of course, do not actually enjoy the column, but that they occasionally smile weakly while reading it, to cover the pain of intestinal gas.




Mocktails and wholly crackers

Mocktails genuinely pricey 

New from Ocean Spray are three flavors of Mocktails, which the label describes as “non-alcoholic premium,” to which Mr. Tidbit would add the noun “50-percent-juice drink.” While he’s at it, he’d also add the adjective “overpriced.”

That is not to say that Mr. Tidbit didn’t enjoy the Cranberry Sangria flavor, which consists principally of filtered water, juices from concentrate (cranberry, grape, apple, pineapple and orange), sugar, natural flavor and a few miscellaneous ingredients including cardamom extract. (He really liked it.) The other two flavors are Tropical Citrus Paradise and Cranberry Peach Bellini.

As to the price, Mr. Tidbit notes that although it varies from store to store, it is usually in line with other Ocean Spray beverages that are not 100 percent juice. But those come in bottles holding 60 or 64 ounces. Mocktails are in 33.8-ounce bottles — about half as much for the same price. 

Wholey what?

Snyder’s of Hanover, until recently a brand name associated only with a large variety of pretzels and pretzel-based snacks, introduces three flavors of “Wholey Cheese!” Crispy Baked Crackers. (Mr. Tidbit assures careful readers that the quotation marks, exclamation point and misspelling of ‘wholly’ — or maybe it’s a misspelling of ‘holy’ — are all in the name as it appears on the bag.)

All three flavors — mild Cheddar, smoked gouda and Swiss & black pepper — have as their first two ingredients potato starch and Cheddar cheese powder, they are all gluten-free (and peanut-free) and the fat content in a one-ounce serving is 3 1/2 grams for the Swiss & black pepper version and 5 grams for the other two. The leading brand of cheese cracker (Cheez-It) has 7 grams of fat per one-ounce serving, a fact noted on the “Wholey Cheese!” bag.

While Mr. Tidbit wasn’t looking, The Snyder’s of Hanover brand also popped up on several varieties of tortilla chips and salsa. Mr. Tidbit hadn’t noticed (until he saw “Distributed by Snyder’s-Lance” on the “Wholey Cheese!” bag) the 2010 merger of Snyder’s of Hanover and Lance (since 1913 the maker of those little peanut-butter cracker sandwiches and subsequently much more). Whether this explains Snyder’s of Hanover salsa is left to the reader, as an exercise.



Definition fest: Loudness of corn assessed; affirming what isn’t a muffin


LOUD or just corny?

Mr. Tidbit hadn’t visited the Pringles end of the potato chip aisle in quite a long time, as all that seemed to be happening among those potato crisps was the occasional new flavor (there are now 16).

Thus he hadn’t noticed Pringles Baked Stix, whenever they first appeared. (They are wheat-based and include, among the five flavors, two sweet ones: honey butter and sugar cookie.) Had he noticed them, though, between the “Stix” in the name and the drawing on the package, he would have known they weren’t just more flavors of the regular Pringles potato crisp.

That’s not the case with new Pringles LOUD. All five kinds have flavor names suggesting either spiciness or intensity, so Mr. Tidbit assumed that’s what made them a separate line from regular Pringles. Not so. Rather than the dried potatoes that are the main ingredient in regular Pringles, the first ingredient in all five LOUD versions is degerminated yellow corn flour. So they’re Corn Crisps. And two of them (Super Cheesy Italian and Mighty Margherita Pizza) also contain a “grain and vegetable blend” consisting of dried carrots, modified rice starch, malted barley flour, oat flour, dried spinach, dried peas and wheat starch. If you read down far enough, there’s even a soupcon of dried potatoes.


Oh, do you know the cupcake man?


Mr. Tidbit would like to be remembered for two observations. The first, with which he described the unpleasant offspring of an equally unpleasant parent: “The apple doesn’t fall far from the horse.” The second, the one of interest here (but he likes the first one a lot), was in answer to a friend’s definitional question: “The difference between a muffin and a cupcake is intent.”

Hershey’s Gourmet Filled Muffins, a four-pack of chocolate cakes he encountered recently in a supermarket prepackaged-bakery section, has caused him not to rethink his muffin/cupcake remark but to aver that the item in question was misnamed. Here’s the descriptive passage on the label: “Hershey’s chocolate muffins filled with decadent Hershey’s fudge filling, topped with chocolate icing and decorated with Hershey’s chips.”

Not a word about nutrition or whole grains, no cranberries but use of the word “decadent.” Clearly that’s dessert, not the kind of abstemious comestible we call a muffin. Confirmation appears in the nutrition label: One of these objects weighs four ounces and contains 450 calories and 24 grams of fat.




Helpers, toppers and . . . bowlers?





Another helper heard from

Marie Callender’s, maker of many things in the freezer case, including pies, pot pies and meals, has entered the “just-add” shelf-stable space until now dominated by Hamburger Helper and its chicken and tuna cousins.

Mr. Tidbit is aware of five varieties of Marie Callender’s Family Recipes bagged pasta and seasoning blends: Creamy Alfredo, Homestyle Stroganoff, Zesty Tomato, Parmesan Garlic, and Smoky Cheddar Burger. You add, as specified, ground beef or chicken, and other ingredients.

The Family Recipes bags, when prepared, produce six 1-cup servings. The 10.4-ounce bag of the Stroganoff version (add 1 pound of ground beef, 2 cups milk, 1 cup water and 1/2 cup sour cream) was $2.98 at one discount supermarket.

The boxes of Hamburger Helper, when prepared, produce five 1-cup servings. At the same store, the 5.5-ounce box of the Deluxe Beef Stroganoff version (add 1 pound of ground beef, 1/2 cup hot water and 2 1/4 cups milk), was $1.78.

With its list of five varieties, Ms. Callender has a way to go to match Mr. Helper. Guess how many kinds of Hamburger Helper exist (not counting Chicken Helper or Tuna Helper). (Or Ultimate Helper, whatever that is.) Nope: There are 24. (And your store doesn’t carry the one you like.)


Top the cheesecake

phila chscake   Mr. Tidbit’s recent extensive review of the history of individual cheesecake or cheesecake-like items from Jell-O, with or without mention of Philadelphia cream cheese, inadvertently implied that new Philadelphia Cheesecake (no mention of Jell-O) is available only with strawberry topping. Nay, not so. There are three other versions: cherry, milk chocolate and (of course) salted caramel.


Bowled over


Mr. Tidbit isn’t sure when what would otherwise have been simply a frozen entree started appearing instead as a frozen entree bowl, but the phenomenon is now in full flower. Mr. Tidbit just encountered two new lines of bowls in one supermarket visit.

Stouffer’s slightly upscale, protein-centered Fit Kitchen line, itself only a year old, has now sprouted Fit Kitchen Bowls. Like the regular Fit Kitchen items, the boxes of Fit Kitchen Bowls prominently display the amount of protein in each — typically something like 25 grams. They come in bowls; other than that Mr. Tidbit can discern nothing to distinguish them from the regular Fit Kitchen items.


Healthy Choice already had some entrees in bowls, but not as a separate line. The addition of Healthy Choice Power Bowls corrects that situation.


PB HHs and more


Peanut butter takes a bow

It has long been Mr. Tidbit’s policy not to bother discussing any “new” peculiar grocery product that is merely a flavor variation of the original peculiar item. He makes a routine exception for the latest silly Oreo cookie, and for anything else that seems unusually peculiar or even significant.

Mr. Tidbit is sure that there are those who will argue that Hostess’s new Peanut Butter HoHos don’t rise to those standards, but they’re Mr. Tidbit’s standards, which he’ll edge by if he wants to, by if he wants to, by if he wants to . . . [SLAP!] [Thank you. Mr. Tidbit needed that.]

Mr. Tidbit is pretty sure that, although Hostess’s lineup of filled treats has occasionally included fillings with flavors other than “white” (the original Hostess Twinkie filling was banana-flavored), peanut butter has not before made an appearance. He finds that deeply meaningful, and he suspects that PB Twinkies, cupcakes and Ding Dongs are close at hand, and that a PB & J filling will not be far behind.



Expanding the Ranch acreage

Mr. Tidbit’s aforementioned disinclination to deal with a new product that’s just a new flavor of an existing product usually gets invoked several times on any of his trips down supermarket aisles, so when he spotted new Hidden Valley Ranch Cilantro Lime dressing, he was all set to walk past it. Then he noticed, on the shelf below that, four more kinds of Hidden Valley Ranch dressing wearing “new” tags: Buffalo, Cheddar and Bacon flavored, Sriracha and Three Herb (rosemary, oregano and basil). That’s not “just a new flavor”: It’s a naked attempt to gain shelf space.



The pile of Thins thickens

When Mr. Tidbit rounded up several new “thin” lines of cookies and crackers a month or so ago, he didn’t include THINaddictives cookies from biscotti-maker Nonni’s. That’s because somehow he hadn’t noticed them, although they would seem to be hard to miss. There are seven fairly elaborate kinds (Mango Coconut Almond is one), three of which feature a dark-chocolate drizzle.


firework oreosWhere have all the Ss gone?

As to why the Firework Oreos discussed last week aren’t Fireworks Oreos (a matter of some interest to nitpickers such as Mr. Tidbit), he can only speculate that the millions of letters-S that are being saved will turn up some day on another Nabisco product. Perhaps Chips Ahoy! Srirachas.


Pop! and feh! (Or is it meh!?)

Pop! goes the cookie

firework oreosEnough time had elapsed since Peep-flavored Oreos appeared before Easter that Mr. Tidbit began to speculate about the possible next silly Oreo flavor. Mother’s Day went by without Evening in Paris Oreos (with deep-blue filling to remind Boomers of the perfume they gave their moms way back when), and it’s already too late to sell many Old Spice Oreos for Father’s Day, but Mr. Tidbit wasn’t ready to shift his time horizon quite as far forward as would have been required to come up with a Fourth-of-July entry. It’s Firework Oreos.

At first glance, Firework Oreos seem to be regular Oreos — OK, with little dots in the otherwise regular filling. But a blaze on the front of the package explains: “WITH POPPING CANDY!” There is a slight problem: If you eat the Firework Oreo in the manner of the sophisticated adult that you imagine yourself to be — that is, in one or more bites each containing both the Oreo wafers and the filling — the very crunchy Oreo wafers almost drown out the Pop Rocks effect of small detonations in your mouth from the filling.

Mr. Tidbit is surprised to find himself giving cookie-eating advice, but if you’re going to spend an extra 33 percent (the 10.7-ounce bag is the same price as the 14.3-ounce bag of regular Oreos), somebody needs to tell you to twist them open and lick or tooth-drag the filling separately from the wafers.

You’re welcome.

Feh! go the children?

teddy soft bakes  Also new from Nabisco is a variant of Teddy Grahams: Teddy Soft Bakes. Note that it’s not Teddy Grahams Soft Bakes: Whereas the first ingredient in Teddy Grahams (which are little graham crackers shaped like Teddy Bears) is graham flour, better known as whole-grain wheat flour, the flour in Teddy Soft Bakes, which are little Teddy Bear shaped 1.06-ounce cakes (six to the box), is enriched unbleached wheat flour. Mr. Tidbit hopes your child’s nutrition plan doesn’t depend on whole grains from dessert.

Teddy xsection  More important to Mr. Tidbit is that these items are said to contain filling (chocolate or vanilla in the contrasting color bear; see illustration on box). In any degree meaningful to a small child, they do not (see cross-sectional photo). If Mr. Tidbit were a child handed this and told it was a filled cake, he would be greatly disappointed.

Adult Mr. Tidbit is just sad. Very sad.



Many were culled, few were frozen

Now that his kitchen countertop is almost clear of potential Tidbit items (because he wrote them off in the last two weeks), Mr. Tidbit realizes that he forgot to see whether there were any new items in his freezer.

There were three. He hopes you will agree that all are peculiar enough to merit immediate attention. 

Ding Dong! It’s Twinkie ice cream!


From Hostess come ice-cream versions of Twinkies, Ding Dongs, Sno Balls and Hostess Cupcakes. Mr. Tidbit was surprised to learn that, of the six offerings, only two (the Ding Dong and the Sno Ball) are what he expected: A “frozen novelty” version of the regular product filled with ice cream.

Three of the other four offerings (Twinkies, Sno Balls and Cupcakes) are flavors of ice cream (in pints and half-gallons), with inclusions of cake pieces and flavor swirls. Mr. Tidbit was unable to locate any of these, but it’s early days.

The sixth item is a second version of a frozen Twinkie: a cone “with creamy Twinkie-flavored frozen dairy deliciousness, topped with golden sponge cake crumbles.”

Yes, the cone is filled with “frozen dairy deliciousness.” Because he was careless above in his use of the term “ice cream,” in order to help visualize the products involved, Mr. Tidbit points out that Hostess refers only to the pint and half-gallon items as “ice cream.”  The Ding-Dongs, for example, are described on the box as “Vanilla frozen dairy dessert sandwiches with chocolatey coating.”


Not even pint-sized


Speaking of pints, Ben & Jerry’s now offers Pint Slices, in four popular Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavors, such as Americone Dream, transformed into “dark-chocolatey” coated ice cream bars. Fair enough. But Mr. Tidbit finds the word “pint” in connection with these items pretty misleading. The original ice cream flavors come in pints (that’s 16 ounces) selling for $5.49 at one store (34 cents an ounce). The three bars in a box of Pint Slices weigh in at a total of just 10 ounces — not a pint — and sell at that store for $5.59 (56 cents an ounce).


Bunny Snacks


The four varieties of new Bunny Snacks, from Blue Bunny, are small   (2 1/2-ounce) sandwiches or bars (six to a bag) of reduced-fat ice cream, some covered in “chocolate flavored coating.” The one that called out to Mr. Tidbit is Salted Caramel Pretzel.

Frozen food-truck fare and other follies

Five brief nods and a price check

Today Mr. Tidbit continues the thankless task of ridding his kitchen counter of more than the usual number of possible Tidbit items — by giving each of them short shrift.

Not to worry, he plans to return next week to his usual practice of giving just a couple of the more peculiar items long — or at least medium — shrift.


Hot Pockets has two new sub-lines of dubious ability to inspire extra attention in much of the country: Food Truck and Food Truck Bites. Each of the varieties carries a “co-created with” note giving credit (or maybe blame) to some food truck. Example: Spicy Asian-Style Beef credits Komodo, a Los Angeles food truck with the slogan “dangerously good food.”



Sargento adds to its line of three-pack refrigerated 1 1/2-ounce [[one and a half ounce]] Balanced Breaks snacks (example: sharp Cheddar cheese with cashews and cherry-juice-infused dried cranberries). Now we have Sweet Balanced Breaks (example: Monterey Jack cheese, dried cranberries, dark chocolate chunks and banana chips), also in packs of three 1 1/2-ounce tublets.



And new from Kraft are Snack Trios (in 1 1/2-ounce oversize plastic trays). Mr. Tidbit thought they were called Trios because each tray has three compartments (example: Colby Jack cheese, dark chocolate chunks and banana chips). Turns out the single-pack he bought is typically sold in packs of three.



There’s yet another kind of Fiber One chewy bar. It’s “layered.” In the case of the Salted Caramel & Dark Chocolate Layered bar, there’s the chewy base (first ingredient chicory root extract), apparently dipped in a chocolate flavored substance, then a layer of caramel, and a “dark chocolate flavored drizzle.”


New from the Philadelphia cream cheese folks at Kraft Heinz are small (2 1/2-ounce) [[two and a half ounce]] unnamed snack packs of multigrain bagel chips with one of four flavors of cream cheese dip. On Mr. Tidbit’s postal scale the bagel chips (14 whole chips plus bits and pieces) weigh 0.7 ounces, so there’s 1.8 ounces of cream cheese.   Where Mr. Tidbit found the Philadelphia snack pack, a six-ounce bag of bagel chips was $4.49; 0.7 ounces of it would cost 52 cents; 1.8 ounces of flavored soft cream cheese from a $3.29 8-ounce tub is 74 cents: Total $1.26. The snack pack was $2.49 — 98 percent more. Please don’t say you’re surprised.