Friday, January 01, 2016

Girl Scout Cookies

A few days ago, someone asked me a question about my favorite Girl Scout cookies.  I went to snarkily reply, saying something along the lines of "Why don't you just check Julie's Dining Club?", and then realized that somehow I have never reviewed Girl Scout Cookies.

Girl Scout Cookies should need no introduction.  I don't think it is possible to live in the US and not have experienced Girl Scout Cookies.  They come to your house, ring your doorbell, and look all cute while asking you to purchase overpriced, low quality cookies.  You have to do it.  If, somehow, they don't come to your house, you'll find them instead on every street corner, out front of the grocery store, or even worse, at your office, when a co-worker brings his or her adorable child there to ask you to purchase them.

Ok, ok, I'm being a bit dramatic, but, I don't really think these are great cookies.  That wasn't always true though, back in the day, I used to get into them, I think perhaps because my mom always loved Thin Mints.  She'd put them in the freezer, and ration them all year long.  My dad liked the Trefoils (shortbreads).  I always thought it was funny, as my mom is a epic baker, and we nearly always had fresh cookies in the cookie jar.  But, these were her thing, and I did sorta get into them, although I was never a big cookie fan in general, much less packaged cookies.

Anyway, the Girl Scouts have been selling some form of cookies since 1917, they clearly have staying power.  Back then, they had one variety, and actually baked them themselves.  Now, they have two different suppliers (who are not the girls themselves!), producing 11 varieties.  The strange thing to me is that depending on which supplier you get, the cookies actually have different ingredients/tastes, and, in some cases, even different names, although the same concept of cookie.  I've included both names here in the review.  So, the cookies I get here in California really are different from what I grew up with in New Hampshire.

Anyway, without further ado, I present the lackluster Girl Scout Cookies.  These are only my notes from the past year or so, so, not as extensive as I normally do, since for some reason, I never bothered take notes on these before.
Do-si-dos / Peanut Butter Sandwich.
"Crunchy oatmeal sandwich cookie with creamy peanut butter filling."

This was my first time having a Do-si-dos, as my mom never bought them when I was growing up.  But I saw peanut butter, and obviously couldn't resist trying it.

The cookie was hard and crunchy, reminding me slightly of a crunchy granola bar, due to the texture and hearty oats.  The peanut butter inside wasn't creamy as promised, and seemed to be more sugar than peanuts (which I guess is true of many commercial peanut butters anyway), super sweet.

Sorry Girl Scouts, but these really aren't quality cookies ...
Tagalongs / Peanut Butter Patty.
"Crispy vanilla cookies layered with peanut butter and covered with a chocolaty coating."

For some reason, when I was growing up, we also never got Tagalongs.  I'm not sure why, as peanut butter and chocolate are a combination that I have always loved.  I had tried them though, when friends of mine had them, and I traded one of my stash of Thin Mints.   I recalled liking them.

But ... it was a dry, flavorless, crispy cookie base.  The peanut butter was nicely creamy, but didn't have much flavor.  The chocolate was equally flavorless.  Chocolate and peanut butter should be a winning combination, so it was sad that this wasn't.

Subsequent tasting notes:
Hard, kinda stale, unremarkable biscuit style cookie.  The peanut butter was creamy and plentiful, as was the chocolate.  The chocolate and peanut butter were a good combination, if only the cookie part was better!
Samoas / Caramel deLites.
"Crisp cookies coated in caramel, sprinkled with toasted coconut, and striped with dark chocolaty coating."

From my childhood memories, Samoas were always one of my favorites, and the third variety we got in addition to my mom's Thin Mints, and my dad's Trefoils.

But this ... was just a rather dried out, stale, flavorless cookie, ring shaped.  I didn't taste any caramel, but apparently the cookie is coated in it?  The coconut was just gritty, and the chocolate as flavorless as everything else.

I did not like this at all, which is sad, because I know I did used to like these.

Subsequent tasting notes: flavorless cookie ring, coated in flavorless caramel, coated in flavorless coconut, with chocolate stripes.  Not good at all.

[ No Photo ]
Savannah Smiles.

"Crisp, zesty lemon wedge cookies dusted with powdered sugar."

This was a hard cookie.  It had nice lemon flavor, but way too much powdered sugar.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

American Airlines Admiral's Club, Buffalo Airport

Buffalo, NY.  Not exactly a destination I head for normally, but I recently had friends who got married there, so, Buffalo it was.

I didn't explore much of the city, besides the reception hall (with actually really good catering by Exquisite Catering) and the Hyatt Regency hotel (also with shockingly good breakfast catering).  To conclude my quick weekend visit, it was time to head to the airport.  With my OneWorld status, even though I was flying regular domestic economy, I had lounge access to the Admiral's Club at the quaint little airport.

The lounge was ... well, it was a basic Admiral's Club.  At some point, unless you find a Flagship lounge like in  LAX, these all look the same.  Uninspired decor, sad snacks (although sometimes I do love the snack mixes), cookies, and mediocre wine.

I didn't expect to spend much time there, or in the Buffalo airport at all for that matter.  I left the lounge to get food at Queen City Kitchen (again, shockingly good, what is it with this town having decent eats?), and got on my flight.  We left the gate.  We taxied down the runway.  And then we didn't take off.  We were connecting through O'Hare, and, well, it hailed.  Ground stop issued.  I don't ever fly though O'Hare, I know better.  But it was August!!!  After spending more time on the runway, we came back to the terminal and deplaned.  Awesome.  But we were told they'd try again in an hour.  More delays meant more time in the lounge.  Eventually our flight was cancelled.  Nothing else available that night, as there aren't exactly tons of flights out of Buffalo.  So I spent another night in Buffalo, this time at the newly opened Aloft (a really great property, if you are looking for something close to the Buffalo airport for some reason, with nice cocktails, great snacks, and decent dessert).  And then went back the next day to the lounge again.

So, I spent a fair amount of time in this lounge.  It is ... adequate.  The staff however were really friendly, and took pity on us stranded travelers.

The Space

Like all Admiral's Clubs, I found the seating rather uninspired.  Not uncomfortable exactly, but certainly not inviting.  Lots of natural light though, and plentiful power ports.  And carpet stains.

The lounge was basically empty the entire time we were there.  Given that AA restricts Admiral's Club access so tightly, this isn't surprising to me in any way.
Business Center.
It had a token business center on the side, with copier, printer, etc.
And a few computer workstations.

The wifi worked fine.


Soup, Cheese, Crackers, Veggies, Ranch, Olives.
The food selection in Admiral's Clubs always makes me laugh.  It is nice that they offer something I guess, but really, does anyone eat this stuff?  (Ok, ok, Ojan and I both tried food at some point, we were in there forever over the course of two days. Boredom, not tempting looking options, lured us in).

To start, the soup of the day was Roasted Corn and Green Chile Bisque.  I mock the food, but, actually, this wasn't awful.  It was really flavorful and spicy.  I almost liked it.

Next up was assorted crackers and cheese cubes.  The Swiss cubes weren't awful either.

Next, veggies, an assortment of baby carrots, cherry tomatoes, and celery sticks.  They managed to not be too dried out, but these aren't exactly exciting veggies.  On the side were individual pots of Ken's Buttermilk Ranch.  Totally generic ranch, but sometimes, I actually like this stuff.  It was nice to have individual containers rather than a big unappealing vat of it.

The final item in here was olives, a mix of black and pimento stuffed green.  I didn't like them, but Ojan did and went back for more.
Chips and Salsa.
The next day, they added chips and salsa to the lineup.

The chips were actually higher quality than I'd expect, Food Should Taste Good brand multigrain tortilla chips.  Two types of salsa, generic Tostitos or "Salsa del Sol".

We didn't try any, since we liked Queen City Kitchen the first day, and decided to go back there for poutine before our flight instead.
Cookies, Fruit.
The cookie selection was the standard chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin, which I've reviewed before, and little chocolate brownies.  Red and green apples (wrapped in plasic wrap?) and oranges were in a bowl.

These aren't for me, but Ojan always likes them well enough.
Premium Snack Mixes.
I always have my eye on the snack mixes.  AA has a number of different mixes, and you never know which ones you are going to get at a given lounge.  They all sound like exactly the sort of things I'd love, as you know me and snacks, but often I want to like them more than I actually do (like the yogurt pretzels from the SFO lounge).

Here, we had a trio of snack mixes, labelled "Premium Snack Mixes", in "Sweet", "Savory", or "Simple".  I obviously tried them all.

The dispensers were super annoying, hard to get things out of, particularly the one with the large pretzels, that just kept getting jammed and cracking.  They can do better here ...
Sweet and Salty Mix, Savory Mix, Peanut Butter Pretzels.
I started with the one labelled "Simple".  They looked like just square pretzels.  I was thrilled to discover that they were stuffed with peanut butter.  Not amazing, but an upgrade over plain pretzels, for sure.

Next I went for "Savory".  This had pretzel twists and pretzel balls, neither of which I cared for.  But it also had cheesy twigs and cheesy little triangle chips.  And corn nuts.  The entire mix was quite zesty and flavorful.  I really liked the triangle chips.  I enjoyed this assortment, sans the pretzels, one of the best mixes I've had from AA.

And finally, and sweet and salty one, a classic GORP, with bonus almonds.  It was everything a basic GORP should be, sweet and salty, simple but addicting.  Again, good.

I ate a lot of these mixes while stranded there, and really quite enjoyed them.  Mmm, snacks.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Dunkin' Donuts - The Drinks

I've shared my thoughts on the west coast coffee chain darling, Peet's, and the nationwide Starbucks, so it seems only appropriate to post about the place I grew up with: Dunkin' Donuts.  Or Dunks, as I knew it.

Dunks is where I learned to drink coffee.  Now, granted, what I thought was coffee then and what I think is coffee now are two very different things.  But it still holds a very special place in my heart.

As a kid, no birthday party was complete without a giant box of munchkins.  Once I could drive, no road trip was complete without several stops at Dunks to get a hot coffee and a muffin.  And no summer day was complete without a refreshing Coolatta or an iced coffee.  They seemed to have a product to fit whatever stage of life I was in.

But then I moved to the west coast, where there are no Dunkin' Donuts.  And I started drinking my coffee black, and then even just drinking espressos, and started caring which single origin coffee I was drinking, and what extraction method was used to prepare it. My days of Dunks were behind me.

On my last few visits to the east coast however, I've tried it out again.  While still satisfying in the nostalgic sense, it actually isn't very good.  I claim it has changed.  For example, my coffee of choice, the french vanilla, used to be actual french vanilla coffee, and now it is just the regular coffee, with a squirt of flavored syrup in it.  They only brew basic regular and decaf now, and just use syrups for the rest.  The donuts and muffins are no longer baked fresh daily on site, but rather in big distribution centers and shipped in.  And ... they sell bagels?  And breakfast burritos?  And ... tuna salad sandwiches?  And my precious Coffee Coolatta is now called "Frozen Coffee Drink".  Whaaat?

Anyway.  I've tried out a bunch of their products again, and my notes on the drinks are below (to read about the baked goods, and donuts, visit that review).  The only thing that I used to love that I haven't tried recently is the muffins, particularly, the corn muffins.  They had a big sign on them boasting "new recipe!" so I shied away.  I'll let them stay in my memory as the amazing thing they once were.

Notes below include both standard, and seasonal special, offerings, compiled over the course of 2013 - 2015.

Hot Coffee

I found a lot of variety in the hot coffee.  I think the biggest difference was likely how fresh the coffee is, particularly the decaf.  Unlike Peet's, they don't have any policies regarding freshness.  Several times I asked how fresh the decaf was, and the worker told me it was from that morning (when it was late in the afternoon).  Yikes!

Back in the day, when you ordered a coffee at Dunks, it came with cream and sugar, by default.  If you didn't specify anything, that is what you got.  And not just a little bit of each, they'd load it up with a giant scoop of sugar and a generous glug of cream.  Not half and half, cream.  It was sweet, it was creamy, and I guess there was coffee in there somewhere.

Times have changed a little.  Now, if you just order a coffee, they ask, "cream and sugar?"  And if you say yes, you still get the massive amounts of it.  I tried some black a few times, and must say, it wasn't very good at all.  But load it up with cream and sugar, and it is still pretty much what I remember.

Standard Flavors

Other things that have changed?  How the flavor is added.  I used to always love the french vanilla and hazelnut coffees.  Back in the good old days, these were actually flavored coffees.  Now all flavors are added as syrups.  Most are just sweetened syrup with some flavors, although the "flavor swirls" also include sweetened condensed milk, so you have to be careful if you get one of those and also ask for cream and sugar ... it gets crazy sweet and creamy fast!

For the shots that are just flavor, options are blueberry, raspberry, coconut, mocha, and toasted almond, plus  caramel, hazelnut, french vanilla.  The later options are also available as the aforementioned "swirls", with sweetend condensed milk already added in.
Small Hot Coffee, Hazelnut.
Hazelnut is my current favorite.  I used to love the old brewed French Vanilla flavor, but the new syrup I do not like as much.  Hazelnut adds a nice aroma and flavor, although the standard number of pumps of syrup tends to be too sweet for me.  I prefer one fewer pump than standard.

Other Flavors:
  • Blueberry: I tried this really just out of curiosity.  Blueberry coffee?  Wat? Well, it was exactly what it said it was.  Blueberry flavored coffee.  No reason to get this again, but it was decent blueberry flavor.  
  • Caramel: The aroma on this was lovely, but the taste ... awful.  I'm not sure if it was the caramel, or the stale, rancid old coffee it was added to, but, it was undrinkable, and I haven't been brave enough to try it again since!
  • Cinnamon: Not bad, but obviously just cinnamon flavor syrup.
  • French Vanilla: A tiny bit sweet, a tiny bit vanilla-y, and a bit "fake" tasting.  I still like having the flavor, but its not what it used to be.
  • Toasted Almond: A bit burnt tasting perhaps, not good.

Seasonal Specials

Throughout the year, Dunkin' Donuts introduces seasonal specials, usually inspired by holidays, or recent partnerships (like when they merged with Baskin' Robbins, and started offering all sorts of ice cream inspired flavors).  These flavors come for a few months, and then go, although sometimes they repeat again the next year.

  • Peppermint Mocha (Seasonal, Winter 2014): Slightly pepperminty, but not very strong.  Didn't taste any chocolate or "mocha"ness.  Least sweet of all the flavor swirls.
  • Pumpkin Swirl: Very pumpkiny, spiced, and insanely sweet.  This is one of the "swirl" flavors, so it has sweetened condensed milk, very sweet, very creamy. 
  • Red Velvet Swirl: Another "swirl" flavor, very sweet and creamy, actually kinda tasty!  [ Very sweet, very creamy, enjoyable. ] [ A single pump isn't enough for a medium to really give it the richer red velvet flavor.  But standard order (2 pumps?) is a bit too much for me, the cream left a nasty mouthfeel and coated my throat. ]
  • Sugar Cookie (Seasonal, Winter 2014): This was a flavor swirl, so, again loaded with sweetened condensed milk and sugar.  I got a small, and I think the amount of syrup added would have been sufficient for a large.  Way, way too sweet. I'm not sure what I was expecting from "sugar cookie" flavor, but all this tasted like was sweetness.  Would not get again.

Other Hot Drinks

Dunkin' Donuts sells a number of other hot drinks, including tea, chai, hot chocolate, lattes, cappuccinos, and the "Dunkaccino®".  I can't imagine ordering these beverages, but, some people must.

[ No Photo ]
Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate.

"Now you can enjoy the doubly tasty sensation of sweet and salted caramel in your cup of hot chocolate."

My sister ordered a hot chocolate since she doesn't like coffee.  And ... I stole a sip.  It was crazy sweet.  Like way, way too sweet.  And not very chocolately at all.  It did have a nice froth on top, but I think it came from a machine, not a skilled barista.  Certainly not my thing.

Iced Coffee

My old standard summer drink was always iced coffee.  Like the hot coffee, the flavors now come as a flavor syrup, rather than brewed flavored coffee.  And like the hot coffee, once loaded up with Dunk's signature amounts of cream and sugar, it was pretty much exactly as I remembered.  Sweet, creamy, refreshing, exactly what I wanted on a hot summer day.

Standard Flavors

The standard flavors available for iced coffee are the same as for hot coffee.
Medium Hazelnut Decaf Iced Coffee, Splash of Milk. $2.59.

This is my classic summer drink.  Warm weather and iced coffee just go hand in hand.  My favorite flavor for iced coffee at Dunks is hazelnut.

I never like my iced coffee black, so I always sweeten it, and add milk rather than cream.  I'm not cream-adverse, but for some reason in iced coffee it always tastes cloying to me, and coats my mouth in an uncomfortable way.  So, milk it is.

I loved this, on a hot day, it was oh-so-satisfying.
Dark Roast Iced Coffee, Splash of Milk, Hazelnut (3 pumps).

For National Coffee Day, Dunkin' Donuts gave out free medium sized coffee (hot or iced) of their relatively new Dark Roast only.  I'm usually a decaf drinker, and don't actually like dark roasts, but, I can't resist a freebee.

I added milk and hazelnut as I always do.  And ... it tasted exactly like the decaf I had the day before.  It certainly didn't seem particularly dark.  And I guess that means that the decaf doesn't taste particularly funky?  I really enjoyed it, and the associated caffeine high that came from sucking it down in all of 3 minutes flat.  Whoops.

Other Flavors:
  • French Vanilla: Not much flavor, meh. Somehow "fake" tasting.
  • Coconut Caramel Swirl: Crazy sweet since it is a "swirl" flavor with sweetened condensed milk already in it, so don't get sweetener with this flavor.  Coconuty, caramely, and quite tasty!
  • French Vanilla + Coconut + 1 Cream, small: Decent, but still too much cream for me, and I wanted to add sweetener anyway.

Seasonal Specials

Just like with hot coffee, Dunkin' Donuts offers seasonal and special flavors that can be mixed into iced coffee (or really, any drink you want, if you go for lattes, cappuccinos, or even hot chocolate).
Medium Decaf Cookie Dough Iced Coffee.  $2.39.

It turns out, that in the years since I've left the east coast, the classic Dunkin' Donuts order of cream and sugar is no longer sufficient: the new flavor "swirls" available already have dairy and sweetener mixed in!  The flavor shot includes sweetened condensed milk, cream, light cream, and milk, plus high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and brown sugar.  Seriously?  ALL THE CREAMS AND SUGARS!  Were people starting to get healthy and order skim milk and splenda instead of cream and sugar, so they had to up the ante and hide the crazy?  Anyway, this was crazy sweet.  It did taste kinda like cookie dough though, and I liked it more than I expected too.

Other flavors:
  • Mint Chocolate Chip: Not nearly as creamy, nor as sweet, as the cookie dough, although it still obviously had both dairy and sweetener in it.  I wish I'd taken a photo, because it looked so different, and it makes no sense to me, given that the Dunkin' Donuts website has the same nutritional and ingredient information for the two varieties.  Given that the first one seemed way too creamy sweet, perhaps they added the correct amount to this one?  (Although, I'd expect the number of squirts they do must be standard, so I'm not sure why there is so much variance).  Like the cookie dough flavor, it did taste remarkably like mint chocolate chip.  Which, it turns out ... is not what I want from my coffee.  I wouldn't get this again.
  • Butter Pecan: Again sweet and creamy, but I didn't care for the flavor.  It tasted a bit burnt.

Frozen Beverages

Ah, Coolattas.  For the times where you want to splurge.  Or for when you are younger, and have no clue how horrible these things are.

Coolattas are frozen, slushy, iced concoctions, sorta like Starbucks Frappuccinos, except made from a mix, not freshly brewed coffee to order.  Back in the day, I'm pretty sure they were all coffee based, but now there are fruity options as well.  All are loaded up with tons of sugar and random chemicals.  They are not available with decaf coffee, since the base is "Frozen Coffee Base", which already includes "Frozen Coffee Concentrate", made with coffee extract, not even real espresso.  The Vanilla Bean flavor uses "Frozen Neutral Base", a terrifying mix of chemicals, sugars, and cream, yielding a 850 calorie treat, complete with a whopping 174 grams of sugar.  The fruit flavors are marketed more at kids, and, as you can imagine, are just sugar bombs.

They also generally come topped with whipped cream.

I did used to love these, perfect for a hot summer day, for an indulgent treat.  I've tried them again as an adult, but, alas, the magic has been lost.
Oreo Vanilla Bean Coolatta, Child Size, Whip.
Oreo was a featured flavor of the month, not one that I had before.  It looked delicious in the picture displayed all over the store.  I couldn't resist, but I opted for the off-menu child size, to keep my sugar intake in check.

It was very sweet, like a liquid Oreo.  It had tons of Oreo crumbles in it.  It was nicely icy, well blended,  and actually, quite enjoyable.  Basically a milkshake.  The whipped cream on top really helped balance it out.  This size was perfect though, anything more would have been way, way too much.

Previous notes: The first time I tried it, I just had a small sample, and it was too sweet and not well blended.  The whipped cream on top was necessary to help balance it out.
Coffee Coolatta, Coconut, Medium, Whip.
I decided to try a new flavor.  I've been on a bit of a coconut kick lately, so I went for coconut.  It was ... ok.  I did like having some coconuty goodness in it.

The base had some slight coffee flavor, but not much.  It was blended decently, although it quickly separated, leaving a watery layer at the bottom and a icy layer on top.  Overall, it was also very sweet.

Standard whipped cream on top, Garelick Farms brand, from a can.

I didn't love this; the flavor just wasn't intense, it was kinda icy and separated ... meh.

[ Not Pictured ]
Vanilla Coffee Coolatta.

This was my old standby, during the summer, when I wanted a treat.

It was very, very sweet, with a slight vanilla flavor, and a slight coffee flavor.  I remember why I liked these, but ZOMG serious sweet.

Update:  I had another, the next summer  It had that classic Dunkin' Donuts french vanilla flavor that I recalled from my youth.  It was nicely blended, with no icy chunks.  The whipped cream on top was good.  It was definitely too sweet for my general taste these days, but really was fun to try again because it really was exactly what I remember!

Update: And the next year? Way too sweet.  I didn't want more than a few sips of this.

[ Not Pictured ]
Vanilla Bean Coolatta.

This was an ordering mistake.  I thought I was getting my Vanilla Coffee Coolatta, but instead I seemed to have ordered a Vanilla Bean Coolatta.  Oops.

This was just sweet overload.  It did not have a good vanilla flavor.  It was not very slushy.  It was just sweet, sweet, sweet.  But the whipped cream was awesome.  Did I mention it was sweet?  ZOMG.  Not including the whip, this thing had ... 130 grams of sugar in it!  The perfect thing to pair with a donut, right?