For several months, I'd been toying with the idea of trying a container of Grapples, but soured on the idea after figuring out these things weren't some incredible two-headed transplant, just standard apples that had been subjected to a grape-juice bath.
A few weeks back, colleague Mark Bazer had some Grapples at work and gave me one to eat. Mark's a humor writer whose work appears in numerous publications -- including the Chicago Tribune's RedEye edition, and online at The Huffington Post -- and had just polished off a column about this most unusual addition to the produce department. In "A Grapple a Day ... Won't Do Much for You," Mark doesn't think much of this product. "I defy you to finish one," he wrote.
Actually, he said the first bite wasn't all that bad, but that "the artificial sweetness is overwhelming."
My experience was just the opposite. The first bite felt remarkably similar to my initial reaction to white chocolate mousse frozen yogurt: Your eyes and brain are all set for vanilla, but your taste buds scream chocolate. Except in this case, my first taste reminded me of the Grapette soda I enjoyed in my Colorado youth. (By the way, my most vivid memory of this product is when I got to be in the audience for a telecast of the "Fred & Faye" kid show on KLZ-TV (Channel 7). We all got treats and the kid sitting next to me freaked out when he got his tongue stuck in a bottle of Grapette -- during a commercial break, fortunately. This is probably why my favorite scene in "The Cowboy Way" is when Woody Harrelson jams his tongue in a wine bottle and gets a cello-playing gal all hot and bothered. I checked on YouTube for this scene, but couldn't find it -- although someone did post the big finale.)
Anyway, last week I bought some Grapples at the Jefferson Park Jewel (cost for a plastic blister pack of four: about $5). I brought the Grapples along when I met Leah and Dick to do a restaurant review in Chicago's Andersonville neighborhood.
And that's the subject of this podcast.
We also talk about a variety of other grape-soda related topics, including Pillsbury's Funny Face soft drink mixes. You can see a complete list of all the flavors and find links to actual packages at The Imaginary World. Even as a kid, I was astonished that a couple of the characters pushed the taste envelope. It didn't take long for Chinese Cherry and Injun Orange to go the route of the Frito Bandito. Note to General Mills: As someone of Irish extraction, I'm still waiting for you to get hip to the fact that Lucky the Leprechaun can be considered an equally offensive ethnic stereotype. Of course, we're probably fortunate that you chowderheads didn't expand the brand to include Lucky Charms Beer.
The Funny Face marketing efforts weren't limited to packaging and print media, though. That fun-lovin' crew even cut a record with Goofy Grape as the frontman. Leah's been researching off-the-wall recordings lately and managed to find a site with MP3 files of this little-remembered treasure. Goofy sounds an awful lot like Ed Wynn.
If you'd like to hear these some of these beloved childhood classics, just visit Way Out Junk for some interesting (and possibly excruciating) downloads.
Leah has fonder memories -- musical and otherwise -- of NuGrape. You can even hear a direct download of "I Got Your Ice-Cold NuGrape" recorded by the NuGrape Twins way back in the Roaring Twenties.
More recent grape-related technology comes up, too. I've never tasted any, but both Leah and Dick are familiar with carbonated fruit, specifically, carbonated grapes. These fizzy fruits have been featured at Chicago's Moto restaurant. You can even do it yourself.
I'm generally unimpressed with new-product introductions at fast-food restaurants these days. The last time I found myself overwhelmed was when Mom treated us to Big Macs after we'd been to see "2001: A Space Odyssey" -- so that was definitely a long time ago.
However, while walking past the Jefferson Park McDonald's the other day, I saw a big banner announcing the Angus Third Pounder. This burger triad is apparently being test-marketed in Southern California and the Chicago area -- or at least in Jefferson Park. I've had a chance to taste the bacon-cheese Third Pounder twice and I think it's a welcome addition to the McDonald's lineup.
I do wonder whether McDonald's is starting to have way too many items on the menu. And I also wonder why they keep the McRib on such a short leash. Everybody I know would buy this sandwich pretty regularly if it were a permanent part of the menu. Ah, well.
In the meantime, I guess I should enjoy the Third Pounder while I can.
We really enjoyed our recent dining adventure at Tandoor, an Indian restaurant in Park Ridge. My favorite item on the menu is Chicken 65. The dish is described as "hot," but I didn't find it overly so. In fact, I liked Chicken 65 so much that I regretted having to let Leah and Dick sample it, too.
Speaking of movies, the general area in which Tandoor is located shows up early on in "The Blues Brothers" during the scenes where Jake and Elwood speed past the intersection at Devon and Courtland. I believe they're stopped by the troopers who later nod when John Candy asks if they'd like an Orange Whip.
Tandoor doesn't serve Orange Whip, but anything I sampled, I liked.
During our meal, I got to watch an extended Bollywood production -- an added cinematic treat. The movie starts in India and has the hero follow his ladylove all the way to the United States, and ends with a big dance number in Central Park featuring a jazz band, rockers and rappers. What a concept!
After several days of near-tropical conditions that dovetailed nicely with the Al Gore-Captain Planet campaign, Chicago's weather took a turn for the chilly -- so, rather than hoofing it over to Daley Center and hopping on the CTA Blue Line, I decided to catch the express bus to the Ogilvie Transportation Center and ride the big Metra train home.
I miscalculated, however, and had about an hour to kill before the next train, so I decided to do a recording test of an Edirol R-09 digital recorder I acquired the other day for podcast field work. This tiny recorder is about the size of a mobile phone and records MP3 and WAV files onto an SD card.
To put the R-09 through some real-world paces, I just babbled on for about a quarter-hour about how surprised I was a few days back when I looked at my most-played tracks in iTunes. Some of the top selections are from Nora O'Connor, Sir Adrian Boult, Basil Poledouris, the Union Pacific Railoroad and Chris LeDoux.
Although the R-09 accepts external microphones, I was more concerned with how its built-in stereo mics would work when using the recorder in stealth mode. I turned off AGC, set the input level at midpoint, and held the unit to my ear as if I were talking on a cellphone.
The results could have been a whole lot worse, although, just like my experience with the Edirol R-1, I think the levels were too low. This might have been more because of my settings than any fault of the unit itself, since I suppose I could have boosted the levels by turning on the automatic gain control or manually increasing the input. I didn't want to turn on AGC, since most recorders I've used -- analog or digital -- introduce hiss or noise in this mode, and I had managed to clip the sound when setting the input levels too high manually. (Speaking of hiss, I have to admit that it wasn't until reading reviews of recorders for podcasters that I even noticed hiss unless it was really extreme. Hiss usually is just an artifact I learned to accept, sort of like the occasional pop or click in a fine vinyl LP.) Anyway, I dealt with the slightly low levels by running the file through Levelator to bring it up a little.
I suppose I also could have waited to purchase this little gadget until hearing what Phil Clark of The Brit and Yankee thinks of the R-09 in his upcoming review of the unit in Podcast User Magazine, but then I would have missed the excitement of an impulse purchase.
A number of years ago, just after I had moved to Chicago from Casper, Wyoming, a friend introduced me to the seasonal joys of what she called "Passover Pepsi." To the uninitiated, this is Pepsi that is reformulated with sugar rather than corn syrup so that the soft drink can remain kosher for Passover.
I figured Pepsi is Pepsi -- but after one taste, I was convinced.
In this episode of ChicagoScope, Leah, Dick and I conduct an informal taste test of regular kosher Coke and kosher-for-Passover Coke. Listen to hear which one wins.