Monthly Archives: November 2012

Snack Cakery

The previous post seems to have struck a nerve of comment on snack cakery, with more comments than usual.  Which brought up memories of various snack cake creations we have consumed. 

Up here in Canada we have most of the same concoctions consumed below the 49th, save some of the regional oddities like Whoopee Pies.  Our menu includes the Jos. Louis, May West, Au Caramel and the Passion Flakie.  Most are from a company with a long pedigree, Vachon Inc. from Ste Marie de Beauce, in Quebec who were purveyors of sugar bombs starting in 1923 under the steady hand of Joseph-Arcade and Rose-Anna Vachon-Giroux.  It is now owned by Saputo Inc. and is also the Canadian licensee for Twinkies.

The Jos. Louis (pronounced Joe Looey, or ‘dejuner tabernac!’ depending on your background) is technically two five-inch red-velvet cake rounds with a cream filling and the whole works coated in chocolate.  The originals of my childhood vintage actually were coated in real milk chocolate that melted gleefully on your hands. 

The current version is the impervious and inert “chocolately” coating with a cream filling that has too many syllables in the ingredient list to be considered an actual food.  The red-velvet cake is red because of the 55 gallon drum of red dye that is slopped into each batch of the cake.  This is the same dye used to make explosive dye packs for the Banking Industry, blood hits for film special effects or smoke markers for Search and Rescue.  Conceptually, there is cocoa in the cake.  Once a shift a photo of a can of cocoa is shown to the machines while a worker yells “Cocoa!” over the din of the depositors.

The May West (originally by Stuart’s) is the same deal, except it is white cake, instead of the red velvet pseudo-cake variety with the same .0004 inch ‘chocolately’ coating that leaves your mouth feeling like you’re just engaged in an act of oral intimacy with a block of Tenderflake lard which was recorded on a cell phone and is now being posted online.  Eating one makes you feel that dirty. 

Cream filling, technically should be butter, sugar, air and vanilla, perhaps shortening and some milk.  However, in commercial manufacture if you use enough horsepower, heat and pressure, you can get melted beef lips or rendered ostrich pelvis to off-gas enough lipids to whip and remain shelf-stable.  Spray enough fake vanillin at it to kill the smell, bleach it polar white with the same chemicals used in the pulp and paper industry (or add titanium dioxide powder) and you get a Universal Manufacturing Goo that you can blow-mold into anything from flotation devices for the cottage dock, or cream filling for confectionary from the Jos. Louis, to the Twinkie.  Done correctly, you can produce 1500 liters of cream filling out of the things you find in your sofa cushions plus a late-night delivery from an unlicensed, pop-up abattoir.

The cream filling gives you a lipid hit equivalent to a melted margarine colonic irrigation by a lady named Helga.  You leave feeling bloated, coated and them surprisingly emptied of your entire soul out a bodily orifice you would not expect to be that kind of pathway.

You see, commercial manufacturing of snack cakes has nothing whatsoever to do with nutrition, baking, flavours or food.  It has everything to do with the lowest possible cost per unit, with the fastest possible production of the most shelf-stable product with the widest distribution imaginable.  Costs are manipulated to the tenth of a cent and the accountants in collusion with the marketers are continually massaging the manufacturing process to get the product to the point where you’ll pay, but won’t complain enough to cause fuss or ruckus with the stock price.  This is called “adding value”.

This is not to say that snack cakes are evil, or will cause unrest in the world.  Just keep in mind that what you are eating is worthless in every measurable vector, except the few moments of childhood pleasure you get in revisiting a old friend, be they Twinkies, Jos. Louis, May West, Drakes, Ho-Ho’s or Swiss Rolls.  That moment lasts until you actually taste the treat. 

Like your aspiring-to-become-white-trash fifteenth cousins who have PVR’d all the episodes of Hillbilly Handfishin to play them back to back on Oscar night, one visit to the Snack Cake aisle every five years is about all you need.

Twinkies Out

With the impending demise of Life As We Know It, at least according to the Mayan calendar, the Hostess Company is determined to push everyone completely over the edge before the New Apocalypse.  Hostess Brands, Inc. is shutting down operations across the US, which also means the minions that make Twinkies will be out of a job. 

Twinkies, that high-sugar sponge-cake related product with a “creamy” filling is going to go away, at least under Hostess’ watch.  Ostensibly shuttering their doors because of a labour dispute, but more because of corporate debt, managerial turmoil and unions unwilling to give up half their salaries and all their benefits (funny that), Hostess Brands has decided to say to hell with another Chapter 11 bankruptcy/re-org and simply pull the handle, flushing itself into the corporate oblivion of selling itself off to the highest bidder.

One of the marquee brands is of course, Twinkies.  For those readers from off North America, or possibly from Mars, who don’t know the Twinkie, herewith a description:

A finger length white sponge snack cake unit injected with a white creamy filling.  Originally invented in Schiller Park, Illinois in 1930 by J.A. Dewar, a baker for the Continental Baking Company, it was originally injected with banana cream.  WW2 saw bananas rationed beyond reality, so the company switched it up to vanilla cream and there it sat, at least until today. 

Eyeballing the 37 ingredients in a Twinkie, you can pronounce many of them and see for yourself that consumption of one results in 13% of your daily intake of saturated fats, as well as 42% of the volume being sugars, 21% complex carbs and 11% fat by weight.  There are urban rumours that Twinkies don’t have a Sell-By date, it’s more of a Half-Life and that after a nuclear war, the only things left would be cockroaches and Twinkies.  The few times we have personally consumed these little golden torpedoes of sugar, we were left with a feeling that someone had forcibly shellacked our mouth with tallow, no doubt from the creamy filling, of which one of the ingredients is beef fat. 

We will not disparage the Twinkie, as we do recognize that the occasional sweet treat is perfectly fine.  We have been to a Hostess Factory store in Irving, Texas and seen sentient humans carrying out multiple 64-count flats of Twinkies to their cars, crammed with squalling young in the grips of the sugar-withdrawal-shakes.  We don’t judge and one could suppose that Mom and Dad were simply unable to afford the Ativan and Haloperidol prescriptions, choosing to self-medicate their flock with something less expensive but with the same disturbing side effects. No, we’re not going to judge.

Twinkies are very much a cultural touchstone and there are many suitors waiting in the Bankruptcy Court wings, waiting to buy the brand.  Twinkies will not die.  They’ll just change, soon to be manufactured in Guatemala in a government-run program to give jobs to indentured orphan children under five years of age and long-sentence federal prisoners a chance to work for enough food to keep from starving.  Or some company in China will buy the trademark and off-shore the manufacturing to that cutting-edge hotbed of high-quality food manufacturing, North Korea.

Think of your current stash as Old Twinkies.  The next batch will be New Twinkies.

Remembrance Day Connection

We understand the concept of Remembrance today, the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.  We are taught from a young age that we should take two minutes, once a year, to reflect on their sacrifice and their gift to the rest of us.  This is good of course, we should do this, it is important and our obligation as citizens.

Except it isn’t quite that simple.  As the veterans of various conflicts age and pass away, we lose the connections to the actual people involved.  True, the veterans of Korea, Viet Nam, peacekeeping missions everywhere and Afghanistan are still mostly with us and are as deserving of our thanks and respect as any veteran of WW2, but there aren’t as many of them, the lens of history often distorting how we perceive their battles and conflicts.

One veteran we’re familiar with wasn’t a front-line warrior, didn’t bomb the Ruhr from a Lancaster, or survive years of detention in a Stalag, fighting heroic battles.  He signed up in September 1941 with the Royal Canadian Air Force, learned how to fly, then learned how to instruct flying.  Serving only in Canada he was one of the thousands who taught others to do their duty, watching them graduate, then embark for Europe, to continue the fight from above. 

He rarely talked of his service, only occasionally reflecting that he never got to serve overseas, but understood his role of flight instructor, developing others to bring the fight forward.  His service was one of support, a cog in the great machine, more valuable at home, teaching others.  His contribution was as valuable as any and we still recall his quietude on November 11th every year.  What he was thinking of, we will never know for certain, as he never talked about it, keeping his feelings inside.  That was the way it was done in his generation. 

On one occasion we saw that reserve slip ever so slightly.  We were at the Canadian Air and Space Museum, at the display of the Lockheed Hudson.  You could see the memories flash behind his eyes, the long hours of training, the faces of the students, the drone of the engines and the continual static mush of the radios.  He looked the aircraft over, appreciatively, with a knowing familiarity, pointing out a few of the features of the aircraft had that he liked, or used every day, as one would appreciate the picture of an old friend, stories linking from small details, brought up from memory of how the Hudson was a bugger to trim and how the structure around the pilot’s seat would always catch the students around the kneecap the first time they climbed into the seat.

Known to the RCAF as J-50540 he left the RCAF as a Pilot Officer in 1945, transferring to the Reserve Special Section, then back to civvy street and the rest of his life.

Reading his Record of Service is but a tiny sketch of his involvement in the War.  A small part, a valuable part and a very personal part of one person who served.  He is who we think of at the hour, our personal connection. 

If you don’t have a personal connection, you can always borrow ours, with respect and thanks for his quiet contribution.

His name was Russell Scott.  He was my father-in law.

Calling the US Big E

Now that Superstorm Sandy has blown itself out, we can get down to calling the US election. 

In this corner, Willard Romney.  Republican-esque, trying to conjure the spirit of Ronnie Regan and failing miserably.  He’s saddled by a party that is in self-flagellation mode, split between Tea Party loons and those who believe that owning poor people is The American Way.  Let us not forget the short-bus candidates who insist that uteruses (uteri?) know the difference between rape, incest, wanted and unwanted pregnancies, as every egg is sacred, but don’t ever consider legislating the spilling of seed without procreation. 

In that corner is Barack Obama, who is, at best, Carter-esqe and not in a good way.  He presided over the biggest economic meltdowns of all time, not all of it his doing, but he’s still the guy in the Big Chair.  The Democrats in-fight like cats in a burlap bag over some of the most picayune minutiae of an unsustainable platform cobbled together by people educated beyond their intelligence at taxpayer expense.

So who wins on Tuesday?  Polls tell us it is a dead-heat.  Obama’s very presidential behaviour post-Sandy probably gave a good dozen pollsters what could be politely described as conniption fits, as he came across well.  Now it’s down to who can get out the vote. 

Republicans can’t or won’t do the grunt work needed on Tuesday as it might involve a Negro being in their car, or having their illegal-alien groundskeeper take time from pruning the azaleas to drive them to a polling station.  This is assuming they live in a state where they haven’t managed to pass voter ID laws that make the old, vicious, Jim Crow statutes look like “Go Back Two Spaces” from a Snakes and Ladders game.

Democrats meanwhile will argue that only electric cars should be used to ferry eligible voters to a poll, while a cadre of Young Democrats tries to get a trending-Twitter feed of planting saplings in Colorado to offset the carbon footprint of the volunteer drivers. Or, we could have human powered rickshaws take the voters to the polls, hashtag #rickshawvotertransportforObama  Ooooh, trending higher now!

It’s almost down to a coin-flip, but we’ll call it Obama by the merest red hair of a margin.  America will be better for it, in the long run.