Monday, August 24, 2009

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Dark Side of the Vachon Cake - The Passion Flakie

I don't want to give you the impression that Vachon cakes were all good news.

I have no idea how widespread this was, or if it was only ever something that happened in Newfoundland Junior High Schools. However, when I was growing up, it was a very foolish thing to show up in school if people knew it was your birthday that day. The ever-present threat was that someone was going to 'Flakie' you -- in other words, smoosh the [questionably] popular Flakie cake into your face. If they were at all cruel, they'd separate the cake into two halves, so they could surprise you with creamy flaky goodness, and then get you with the second half once you'd recovered and wiped the gunk from your eyes.

There was very little point in trying to resist this rite of passage. If someone had gotten it into their head to Flakie you, you were going to get Flakied. If you tried to run, someone would catch you and hold your arms behind your back while justice was served. At least in our school, the teachers had realized that there was no way to stop birthday Flakie-ings from happening. The most that they could enforce was a limit of one Flakie per birthday.

And honestly, that stuff was awful! In theory, the flaky pastry was tolerable, but I spent a lot of time trying to figure out what was inside it. Some kind of creme filling, which I guess was the same stuff as in the rest of the Vachon cakes, but to me it always tasted chemically and artificial. There was white stuff in there, and there was pink stuff in there. Subsequent research tells me that the pink was apple/raspberry flavoured, but you could have fooled me. Being hit with a Flakie was not only embarrassing, it was disgusting. I think that I only ever knew three people who actually ate the things, without doing so ironically. (And that's just a guess -- I couldn't tell you who those three people were, but there couldn't have been more than that...)

And then in 2000, a protester hit the Canadian Prime Minister in the face with a pie. I guess he'd been Flakied once too often as a kid. Do you see why we should have cracked down on this sooner?

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Glory of the Vachon Cake Part 2 - The Half Moon

There are a couple of things to point out about the Half Moon.

The Vachon website says that it's intended for those who "crave the delicious taste of moist vanilla cake and creamy filling without the chocolate coating." In other words, for those who like the idea of a May West, but want to pretend they're eating something that won't go straight to their hips.

Vachon makes two kinds of Half Moons: the vanilla kind (like the aforementioned May West without chocolate) and the chocolate kind (like an uncoated Jos. Louis). Let the record show that the only one worth getting in your lunchbox is the white kind. Any further discussion of the issue serves no purpose whatsoever.

The other thing to point out is this. This is where the advantage of growing up in Canada lies. Because all our foods are labelled in both official languages, English and French, there is a certain amount of of French that every English-speaking Canadian child has learned from labels. "Candy", "Cookies", "Peanut Butter", "Bonus", and from cereal boxes "Free Prize Inside".

There is a downside to that, however. A friend of my brother's, after many trips to get candy at a local store called "Parkdale Pharmacy", decided that "Pharmacy" must be French for "Parkdale". And of course, the popular misconception that works the other way. Constantly seeing boxes advertising "1/2 Lune Moons," generations of Canadians grew up referring to the tasty treats by a hybrid French/English name: Lune Moons. O Canada.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Scary Train Rides Again

Every so often, the Scary Train comes out at our house. If you didn't see the original post, let me show you what the commercials promised this thing would sound like:

And here's what ours sounds like:

Just to see the reaction, we took out Scary Train this morning and tried it out. My daughter was not as impressed as the kids in the video. The last time, when I recorded the Scary Train video clips, she was content to sit and play in the other room. Her reaction this time? 'No! No! No! Don't like it!'

Looks like it's going back on the shelf for a while...

Thursday, June 4, 2009

The Glory of the Vachon Cake Part 1 - The Jos Louis

Back in the day, school lunches were pretty simple. In those days, no one was allergic to anything. Or, if they were, their parents told them not to trade their lunches for something they were allergic to. As far as I ever knew, no foods were banned from the school because of someone else's allergies. So most school lunches consisted of peanut butter sandwiches. There may have been other sandwich fillings on the go, but for at least the first nine years of school, I had a peanut butter sandwich for lunch for at least four out of five days. You could count on it. Most other people had the exact same sandwich. Only difference might be whether they had crusts and/or jam with theirs.

The variety came with the lunch additions. You looked to compare juice boxes. If you were lucky, you got a fancy-pants milkshake drink box. If you were really lucky, you got one of those candy bar milkshakes in a little plastic bottle. (Yogurt drinks are something for another discussion). You also had some kind of a recess snack. Various fruit snacks, fruit roll-ups and the like, or granola bars, which may or may not have ben covered in chocolate.

The real glory, though, was what you got for dessert. And the Vachon Cakes were among the best of the best. As a note for Americans and other aliens: Vachon Cakes are more or less equivalent to Twinkies or Ding Dongs or whatever those other disgusting-but-oh-so-tasty treats are. You know what I'm talking about: individually wrapped cakes with a lot of sugar and sticky sweet cream. Or perhaps it was creme.

The jewel of the Vachon crown was the Jos. Louis. At one point in university, a friend commented on how he hadn't had a Jos. Louis in years, and just the memory of it compelled me to go out and buy a box of them right then and there. Jos. Louis was two round chocoalte cakes, with creamy sweet white filling sandwiched between. Then the whole business was coated in chocolate. Very good eats.

The approved way to eat your Jos. Louis was thus: carefully work at splitting the two cake layers apart, as if you were splitting an Oreo. This took plenty more skill and patience, because unlike a hard cookie, the cake was likely to split and tear, leaving half the upper cake still stuck to your cream. In an ideal world, the two would come neatly apart, and you got to lick the cream off the bottom. If you had any sense, you'd eat the top half next. There's more chocolate on the bottom, and for some reason it tasted different. Eating the top half was a bit of an anti-climax after the bottom. I'm really not sure why.

From time to time, my parents would branch out and get us the other, very similar Vachon Cake: the May West. So far as I can tell, and as far as Wikipedia and the Vachon homepage can tell me, they were exactly the same, except that a May West has white cake instead of the chocolate cake of a Jos. Louis. I'm not sure, though. I think there was a different flavour to the filling, but I'd be hard put to tell you exactly how it tasted different. Does anyone else remember them?

And here's one last thing that I've noticed about the Jos. Louis. When I was nearing the end of my school days, they came out with a thing called the '1/2 Jos. Louis', which was half the size, but still covered in chocolate (not to be confused with the 1/2 (or Lune) Moon. Interestingly enough, today you can buy a box of six Jos. Louis for $3.39, or a box of 10 1/2 Jos. Louis for exactly the same $3.39! So you get much more snack for your buck buying the real thing, but if you go the 1/2 size, you get more of them, and you get to be a cheapskate while packing your kid's lunch. Why not make him share his juice box with his little brother while you're at it?!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Onion: Michael Bay set to ruin 'Thundercats'

I'm a fan of The Onion, even though a lot of the time, the headlines are better than the full stories. This morning, though, I enjoyed two particularly funny stories. One was about the suppressed homoerotic urges of an NRA Annual Meeting. The other one tied in with an ongoing rant of mine that occasionally surfaces on Raised in the 80s.

Michael Bay Signs $50M Deal to F**k Up 'ThunderCats'
"I couldn't be more excited to completely f**k this up," said Bay, who plans to begin production on destroying the live-action adaptation next month. "ThunderCats has a great story, endearing characters, action, adventure, space-travel, and fantasy. It will be an honor to run it into the ground."
Hollywood insiders agreed that Bay—who has reportedly been closely involved in each of the 45 progressively worse rewrites of the script—was a natural choice to take a steaming dump on the popular ThunderCats property.

"Michael Bay has this innate sense of how to ruin a great story," Variety reporter Todd Brick said. "His ability to create astonishing plot holes, pepper dialogue with groan-inducing clichés, and abandon storylines halfway through is unparalleled. He was born to destroy this movie."

I just can't see why people can't leave the 80s alone! In fairness, this is satire, although there are plans to release a CGI feature-length version of ThunderCats next year. But maybe that's it--the best satire is what hits closest to home. Every time I hear that they're going to remake something out of my childhood, this is the kind of visceral reaction of pure dread that I have. It didn't even need to be a good show or movie: what mattered is that it was mine!

Next up: The Jonas Brothers set to star in '3n Wolf' (pronounced Threen Wolf') the third instalment in a decent premise increasingly ruined in the 80s, now slated to be completely wrecked in the 21st-century remake.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Muppets on Beta!

My parents were clearing out their basement, and finally decided to get rid of their old Betamax player. Do you remember Beta? Although it lost the market to VHS, it was actually a technically superior machine, with better recording and playback. If I remember correctly, the biggest trouble was that the faster tape speed meant that you couldn't record nearly as much on a single cassette tape. So even if it was better quality, people weren't as excited about it.
But not only did my parents' antiquated Beta VCR still work (after cleaning and drying out) but there were a few tapes still kicking around, including this one, with some favourite moments from the Muppet Show. Enjoy.

You probably remember all those clips, but here's something serious. Were you one of those folks whose parents got onto the wrong bandwagon when the time came to buy a VCR? Actually, to tell the truth, I'm not really sure which VCR was the wrong choice. Yes, in the course of time, VHS really did crush the Beta opposition, but who's buying VHS now? Way back in the day, Betamaxes actually had better video and audio quality. They just got beat out commercially by a better-marketed product that was all right, but technically inferior. Kind of like the way that HD-DVD was buried by Blu-Ray. Only thing is, with a bit of digging around, you might still find an HD-DVD player, while your Beta tapes are just going to moulder away in the basement. Or are they? This would have been a great way to recover those lost 80s TV shows that you taped, if only HD-DVD had survived...

Sorry to follow up on the Betamax line of thought even further. In a particularly candid moment, US president Barack Obama drew parallels between current economic woes and the 1980s mentality that led to the VHS ascendancy. Obama pointed out that 'sometimes, the answer isn't always "Bigger is better" [referring to the larger VHS tape format]. The only way to be sure is to weigh all the alternatives.'

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Long Sought-after Sesame Street clips

These were two of my favourite Sesame Street bits when I was a kid. It's not necessarily because they were the best, or the funniest, but because I only ever got to see them two or three times when I was little. In fact, I'm sure that part of the reason I watched Sesame Street as long as I did was because of the hope of seeing these again. Of course, now with YouTube, you can see just about anything you'd ever want to see from your childhood, but in case you haven't thought to look these up yet, here they are! Do you remember them? Does this make you as excited as it does me?

Extended Pinball Routine

The pinball routine was one of my favourite bits of Sesame Street. It's got a great little song, and when I was really little, I had no idea what pinball was, only just that there were some pretty funny bits on Sesame Street with a shiny ball. And while the pinball segments were great, I always kept watching for this one. Normally, the first three bits were always the same, and there was one distinct segment for the number of the day, with a zoo theme, or American landmarks, or whatever. But sometimes you'd get the extended play, when it would just keep going. Rather than rolling off into the distance as the blimp sailed by at the bottom of the screen, the pinball would drop into another distinctive segment. This was nothing short of awesome! I know that as a kid, I remembered that the witch's cave featured in this one, but I couldn't quite figure why the action didn't continue every time the ball went into the witches cave.

Jazzy Spies #8

The first time I saw this, I was blown away! Ernie and Bert had been watching the same thing I was! Years later, I never remembered that it was the I 8 the sandbox routine that followed up on this, so every time the 'Jazzy Spies' came on, I'd sit up excitedly, hoping to catch Bert and Ernie watching at the end. Technically, the name for these segments are 'Jazz 8' (or 9 or 10 or whatever) but they're popularly known as 'Jazzy Spies' because of the secret-agent guys at the end. And yes, that is Jefferson Airplane's Grace Slick singing!