Category Archives: Eat Your Pop Culture

For me the 80s didn’t end with a whimper or a bang, but with a fake puking noise…

5741481453_25e5050515_oI spend a lot of time writing and creating stuff for Branded to celebrate all the things that I loved about growing up in the eighties.  Part of why I do this is to share my collection of junk that I’ve amassed over the years, and part of it is trying to capture and share that intense feeling of “holy crap, I had that” that one feels when they encounter something that had been completely forgotten up until that point.  That rush of memory and familiarity is like a drug to me, and it’s as rare as it is fleeting.  It’s basically chasing the dragon of nostalgia.  I can only hope that there are folks who visit this site and are reminded of something lost from their childhoods.  Something small and relatively inconsequential that they’ve completely forgotten about and that by stumbling across a post or picture they stop whatever they’re doing and get that wave of sweet nostalgia that starts in the pit of your stomach and quickly spreads like adrenaline through the rest of your body.

This past week I had one of those magical moments where I was just scrolling through facebook and then all of the sudden I felt like a Mack truck slammed into me as my eyes landed on something that I hadn’t seen or thought about since 1989…

Barfo Candy Ad

Facebook friend and all around awesome vintage candy collector R. Vandiver shared the above Topps sales sheet to the Novelty Candy Marketplace FB group and I just froze for a few minutes in disbelief.  I couldn’t believe that I had forgotten about these Barfo Family Candy containers!

Barfo Candy Box 1Not only had I forgotten about these, but on a personal level, this amazingly gross novelty candy is one of the last official pop culture experiences I had during that golden decade as a kid.  I spend the entirety of the 80s living in central Florida (in the both the Tampa and Orlando areas) and it was on the last day of December of 1989 when my family packed up, picked up stakes, and moved north to the Massachusetts/New  Hampshire area.  My father had recently been transferred to a new office and he’d already taken a trip up by himself to drive one of our two cars up to the small apartment we were going to stay in for a couple of months while our new house was being built.  I distinctly remember we kicked off a two-day road trip on New Years eve as there was a live band playing Auld Lang Syne in the motel restaurant/bar we stayed at that night in Virginia.

That morning, after we’d been on the road for a couple hours, my dad stopped at a Stuckey’s somewhere in north FL to fuel up.  I think I’d begged for some money so that I could go inside and load up on Yes & No Invisible Ink Question & Answer books, Slim Jims and candy for the trip.  The particular Stuckey’s we stopped at was a weird combination of gas station and diner, with two separate buildings.  I poked my head in the diner area first where there was an area towards the back that a had a spinner rack full of comics and the Yes & No books as well as coolers full of soda and a rack full of beef jerky.  I couldn’t find any Slim Jims, so I settled on a small bag of jerky, a glass bottle of blue Fanta, and a Battleship heavy edition of the Yes & No books.  Strangely, there was no candy in this section, so after I paid for my junk I headed over to the gas station building next door to see if there was any in there.  I’d already spent the majority of the money my dad gave me (beef jerky is always so damn expensive) and I think I had about a dollar and a half left when I stumbled unto candy nirvana.  I definitely considered myself a sort of candy connoisseur at this point in my life having spent endless hours in our local 7-Elevens and Walgreens trying every possible thing that I could get a sugar high off of, but this Stuckey’s had some stuff that I’d never even dreamed existed.  I was hoping I’d find some of those little cartons full of orange and fruit punch-flavored bubble gum, or maybe a Mr. Bones Coffin full of the chalky Sweettarts-like candy, but there was a whole shelf full of novelty plastic heads full of candy as well as a full box of Barfo Family candy that just about made my head explode.

Barfo Candy Box Art

I was still a huge fan of Garbage Pail Kids at the time and was all into the super gross art in MAD and Cracked magazines, so when I saw the Barfo candy I was in love.  Sitting right next to these were a box full of plastic Batman heads full of candy, and I was also a super fan of that film, so I was torn trying to decide how to spend the rest of my loot.  In the end I had just enough for one Batman head and one Barfo head, but I vowed that I’d find a place to pick up the rest of the Barfo heads as soon as I had more money…

Barfo Candy Box 2

The Barfo head that I chose was Ralph, the kid, and if I’m recalling correctly it was filled with a grape flavored goo that came oozing out of his mouth when you pushed down on the accordion plunger.  This terrified and sickened my parents, but I loved it.  It didn’t even bother me that I was basically making out with a tiny candy dispenser.  I spent the next hour in the backseat making fake puking noises in between squirting the liquid candy into my mouth.  I’m sure my parents thought long and hard about leaving me on the side of the road all throughout that trip…


In doing some research it turns out there were four members in the Barfo family, the kid, Ralph as I mentioned above, his two parents What’s Up Chuck and Oozie Suzie, and the family dog Arf-Barf.  The concept of these little disgusting novelties was the brainchild of Abe Morgenstern who, according to Topps alum Drew Friedman, came into the office with a turkey baster one day after Thanksgiving and demanded to know how they could turn the baster into a candy dispenser.  From there it was passed on to a few folks at Topps including Art Speigelman & Mark Newgarden who came up with the idea to model the dispensers after a 50′s era nuclear family, and eventually Drew Friedman and Patrick Pigott who designed and illustrated the box art.  Stan Hart, a MAD magazine writer, coined the Barfo name.

Barfo Candy Family

Whats Up Chuck                   Oozie Suize                   Arf-Barf

After we got up to New England I recall searching for stores that had the Barfo candy on sale, but sadly I never found any.  Not only were these amazing designs in terms of gross-out candy dispensers, but as far as I can remember these were also years ahead of of the whole liquid lollipop phenomenon of the mid 90s.

Man, I can’t thank R. Vandiver enough for reminding me about these, and Drew Friedman for detailing the history of the development of the product over on his blog.  He even posted pictures of the super rare prototype dispenser that is perhaps even more nightmare inducing than the final candy heads!  All in all, as far as the 80s go, literally, one of the last pop culture memories I have before ringing in 1990 with the house band at some less than memorable motel bar is of making my own personal Sofie’s choice as to which member of the Barfo family I took home with me on the morning of December 31st 1989.  That and all the fake puking sounds I made in the car while eating the candy…


Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli is in my DNA…

5741481453_25e5050515_oChef Boyardee is what being six years-old tastes like. Of all my senses the sheer power of the one-two punch of taste and smell as a means of time travel is unrivaled. Sure, the immediacy of sight, seeing imagery of our favorite toys, clothes, TV shows and movies is transportive, and audio, hearing favorite songs, dialogue from movies, or something as incidental as the specific ring my childhood telephone made is enveloping. As far as touch is concerned, for me this is the sense that is overshadowed the most by the others as it’s the one that is next to impossible to turn off and thus it just becomes a part of being. I’m hardly totally discounting it, I mean I have very distinct memories of what it felt like to play with Lego for instance, the sharp edges, the pain under my fingernails from hours of trying to pry apart two flat 1×2 pieces, or the way it felt to chew on one of the bulbous rubber Space set tires. But of all my senses the almost inseparable combination of taste and smell has the unique ability to overwhelm me, almost drowning me in a flood of memory, almost literally enabling me to travel back in time when I reconnect with certain stalwart flavors.

admin-ajax.phpeThis past December I decided to relocate, packing up all my collectible junk and moving from Atlanta to Baltimore. Though I’d hardly say that I’ve been homesick these past three months (I had no problem trading in the Falcons for the Ravens, peaches for crabs, or the really shitty traffic on I-85 for the really shitty traffic on I-95), I have been feeling the pull for homey comfort food. I’m sure part of this is dealing with my first real snowy winter in the last 25 years, as well as wanting to lean on some small part of my past, something that feels like it’s a part of my down to the level of my DNA. While doing some grocery shopping and browsing the aisles of my new local supermarkets I was on the hunt for something that would make me feel like a kid again, something easy, cheap, and undeniable; something that hasn’t changed over the last three decades. For me this pretty much meant picking up a can of Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli.


Of all the branded food products I grew up with none had quite the impact on my life as Chef Boyardee, positive and negative. I’ll be the first person to admit that it’s not good food. Hell, even as a kid I know that, and now that I’m a “responsible” adult doing my best to watch what I cram in my body, these heavily processed cans of pasta are probably right under the 1lb block of Velvetta on the list of things that humans should never consume. Even though I know for a fact that my consumption of way too much Chef Boyardee as a kid let to my issues with weight as a kid, the nutritional value isn’t really what I’m getting at. Without these cans of faux Italian goodness I sometimes wonder if I’d be as comfortable in the kitchen as I am today.


In the eighties I had two distinctly different experiences with Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli that changed my life for decades. I was six at the time of my first life changing event. My family lived in a quaint slice of suburbia in Tampa, Florida and my best friend was a kid from down the street named Anthony. I remember that his parents were a little on the eccentric side, in fact my dad always used to joke about the fact that Anthony’s father caught and caged a peacock he found on the golf course that butted up to the back of his property. They kept the bird in their garage and always had the door rolled up so they could display it to the neighborhood as a sort of status symbol. I actually thought it was pretty cool and totally identified with how his dad must have felt when he caught it. I myself spent an inordinate amount of time as a kid searching that golf course for wildlife and was always coming home with a mini travel cooler filled with creek shrimp, crawfish, turtles and frogs. At some point during that summer of ’83, Anthony, his little sister and I ventured out onto the green that was beside his house. There was a short bridge that connected a path leading around the green over a small creek that ran alongside it, and underneath where the earth had eroded away there was a decent amount of natural red clay soil exposed. We dug up a couple buckets full of clay with the idea of making some small pottery that we could sell to the neighborhood. We spent the afternoon shaping crude clay ashtrays and a couple sad little clay ducks before leaving them in his driveway to bake under the scorching Florida sun.

Anthony’s mom came out and saw us completely filthy; arms and clothes caked in orange clay mud, and immediately pulled us into the house to get washed up. I remember being very concerned about leaving my handiwork outside and unsupervised where anyone could swipe it and told her as much. Though I don’t remember her exact reaction, I’m pretty sure she had a laugh at that and she ended up buying my duck and ashtray for $15 to put my mind at ease. By the time we were mostly free of mud, and she’d sent the two kids to their rooms to change into fresh clothes it was starting to get dark out. I remember feeling a little strange in their house because I hadn’t really spent much time inside it before and it smelled completely different than my own home. Anthony’s parents didn’t smoke like mine did, and there was a very flowery scent that wafted up from the carpet from the powdered deodorizer I saw his mom using while I waited for Anthony to get done changing.

The family invited me to stay for dinner, so I called home and asked if I could stay out past the time when the street lights came on (the international sign for when to call it quits) to have dinner with Anthony’s family. I must have gotten the okay because the next thing I recall is sitting up on a stool at their kitchen counter with a view of Anthony’s mom breaking out a few cans of Chef Boyardee. I can still see the yellow cans when I close my eyes and remember being excited. Well, that was until I saw his mom bring out a frying pan and crack a couple of eggs into it. My mom was never one to cook breakfast for dinner, so I had no idea why she was frying up eggs when there was also some ravioli simmering on the stove next to it. What happened next changed the way I would view food for the next 30 years. Anthony’s mom dished out two bowls of ravioli for us and topped each one with a sunny side up fried egg. I can’t quite explain why, but the sight of Anthony breaking into the super runny yolk and mixing it with a heaping spoonful of Chef Boyardee made me so disgusted that I freaked out a little. It’s not that I had an issue with either the pasta or runny eggs, I loved both, but the combination of the two had me so nauseous that I had to abruptly excuse myself and I ended up running home, crying and feeling really weird and embarrassed.


I’m not sure exactly what it was about that mix of food, carpet cleaner, and the strange (to me) odors in the house, but from that day forward it because nearly impossible for me to eat food prepared by anyone besides my parents or stuff I’d get out at fast food or restaurants. Whenever I attempted to eat outside my comfort zone I would have a physical reaction to the food, usually gaging or dry heaving. School lunches, eating at friend’s houses, visiting family, pot lucks at work, or dinner with the in-laws became my own private hell over the next three decades. I spent the first two years of middle school only eating Hostess Dunkin’ Sticks out of the vending machine instead of ever attempting getting a real plate of food. I’ve made so many excuses for why I wasn’t hungry or didn’t feel well as an excuse not to eat that people started to think I had serious health issues.

Over the past few years I’ve loosened up quite a bit, and I think I’ve finally managed to shake my food phobias. Though I’ve always been able to eat stuff that I’ve prepared myself (even weird stuff), the idea of mixing eggs and canned pasta has sort of haunted me. The other morning I was making breakfast for my girlfriend and she requested fried eggs sunny side up so she could dip some toast in them. I’d actually gotten up a bit earlier than her and wanting something comforting I already had a bowl of mini ravioli prepared for myself. While frying my girlfriend’s eggs I screwed up and broke the yolk on one, so I set it aside and made another. Not wanting to waste any food I unconsciously plopped the egg on top of my bowl of ravioli and proceeded to eat. It wasn’t until I was finished that I realized what I had done and the memories of that night in Anthony’s house came flooding back. Sometimes it’s strange the way we change as we age. I’m not sure what triggered inside that let the phobia subside, but I’m glad that I’m more or less free of the fear of eating.

admin-ajax.phpGetting back to the positive way the Chef has changed my life, I’d have to go back to sometime during the fall of 1985. I had just turned eight and was just starting the third grade. That was an interesting time for me because we’d just moved from Tampa to Orlando into another super quaint suburb of Florida and all of a sudden the scope of my world had grown exponentially. For the first time I was allowed to leave the neighborhood so that I could ride my bike the mile and change to my elementary school. I started earning an allowance and found myself “flush” with five bucks a week at a time when most of the stuff I wanted cost between $0.25 and $1.99. And it was around this time that my parents decided to trust me to use the stove top burners to “cook” my own lunches when I got home from school and on the weekends. Now I use the term cook lightly here because all I was really doing was heating up junk that I dumped out of a can into a saucepot (almost exclusively Chef Boyardee Mini Ravioli), but this was an important step for me at an age when I was being seduced by the siren call of fast food. Granted, I was still eating a form of fast food, but it was a form that I had to “cook”. It took a modicum of effort and got me comfortable with using a stove and making stuff for myself.


This is most likely what urged my mother to buy me a copy of the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls that same year, which seriously upped my game in the kitchen (well, if making hot dog pizza and eggs baked in bologna cups game changers.) By the time I was in my late teens I was regularly cooking for myself at a time when none of my friends were willing to do much more than nuking their lukewarm chicken McNuggets in the microwave. It seems like such a trivial thing, but when I think back on it, having the freedom to cook my own mini raviolis was the catalyst that has led me to being as competent as I am in the kitchen today.


In a lot of ways, for good or for ill, Chef Boyardee really is part of my DNA. When I’m in the mood for comfort, when I seriously want to time travel back to the eighties, all I have to do is crack open a can, heat it up and with the first spoonful I’m instantly 30 years younger in a way that watching cartoons, reading old kid’s books, or playing around with my vintage toys can never unlock.

Bonkers will be bonking you out again soon!

5741481453_25e5050515_oSo, the scuttlebutt in the independent candy world is that Bonkers are set to make a triumphant return to the market sometime this year.  On the heels of their relaunch of the Astro Pop, the reformed Leaf candy company has been hard at work to follow up that re-issue with the long lusted-after chewy fruit candy with the patented “Extra Flavor Boosted Center”.


There’s been rumors of the confections return for the past three or so years, but after launching a Bonkers Facebook page this past January it seemed like the this time it might be for real.  After teasing with some rough shots of Photoshopped packaging, they finally revealed a first look at the candy this morning…


It’s been roughly seven years since I last waxed nostalgic for my all time favorite extinct candy here at Branded, and it’s probably been about 25 years since i last had the opportunity to enjoy them.  At some point, no matter how alluring the memories are, no matter how fond one was for some treasure lost, you have to move on and let what’s past lay in the rear view mirror growing fainter with ever year.  I should know, being a self confessed nostalgia junkie, the tighter you try to hold onto things long gone the harder they are to get a true grasp on.  The past is like a wisp of smoke, pretty, out of focus and lingering, but as soon as you reach out for it, it breaks ups.  Dissipates.  In my mind there is a pantry of lost edibles, branded, packaged, preprocessed food stuffs that no longer exist and haunt my taste buds.  Sour Cream & Onion Quackers crackers, Thunder Jets Fruit Snacks, Hi-C Ecto-Cooler, and Bonkers candy.  I’ve tried to find replacements (Annie’s Sour Cream & Onion Bunny crackers don’t hold a candle to Quackers for the record), but it’s the closest thing to “chasing the dragon” I’ve experienced nostalgia-wise.  I will say that I had a lot of fun trying to recreate Hi-C Ecto-Cooler that one time though.


But wait a second, didn’t I kick this article off by announcing to the return of Bonkers candy?  Yes, yes I did, and I’m certainly not trying to put a damper on that news.  Trust me, when it comes to this news I’m probably one of the most excited folks I know.  But as intensely curious as I am to get my hands on this fruity Lazarus, I can’t help but realize that as hard as I might try, I can’t really remember what these tasted like.  Sure, the general idea is there.  I remember they were softer than Starburst, and even more so than Now and Laters.  They weren’t as sour as L&L’s, and taste much more natural than Laffy Taffy.  But at the end of the day I have to be honest, I just don’t remember.  So no matter how excited I am, I kind of have to temper it with the thought that I won’t be reliving my Bonkers eating past much as buying the brand.


The main thing that sparked this thought is that Leaf is having a contest to send some pre-release samples out to fans to taste-test.  I’d love to be picked, but it made me think about the fact that when all is said and done I wouldn’t be able to give a particularly objective opinion on how authentic the new recipe is.


That aside, I’m curious about the pictures above because there’s a mystery flavor mixed in that bunch.  I see the Strawberry, Orange, Grape and Watermelon varieties, but I’m not sure what the yellow and green fruit chew is.  Is it a lemon/lime?  Banana/Kiwi?  It’s certainly not chocolate, the other announced flavor…


So, anyone out there with a photographic memory or an intensely detailed journal of their tastes experiences from the 80s that has a confident idea of what these used to taste like?

I’m obsessed with the LoEB’s return!

6883501769_16f5716f51_oThe League of Extraordinary Bloggers has been on hiatus for a while as Brian over at Cool & Collected has been “extraordinarily” busy with his C&C print magazine project, but it’s finally back this week with a new topic. To kick things off again Brian asks what our current obsessions are, and this just happens to coincide with a slight shift in my personal 80s collecting habits of late. Outside of a few sets of Garbage Pail Kids, I really didn’t start buying up stuff from my in and around childhood until I started work on this site. Then for the first 7 years or so of running Branded I focused most of my efforts on acquiring all sorts of ephemera, be it stickers, old magazines, or trading card wax pack wrappers that spanned all sorts of pop culture subjects from cartoons to food. I love talking about the 80s, specifically the marketing and “branding”, and I wanted to touch on all sorts of stuff from Sizzlean to amazing Return of the Jedi Jungle Gyms. Needless to say, digging up all of this stuff wasn’t cheap, so finding content to talk about on the site sort of dominated my collecting. The majority of the stuff I was hoarding storing in my flat-file, while awesome, didn’t necessarily always reflect the stuff I personally had as a kid.

Over the last year though I’ve decided to concentrate on rebuilding a small collection of things that I actually had as a kid.  Whether it’s the reproduction Masters of the Universe figures Mattel put out just after the millennium…


…or picking up the occasional mint on card vintage toy like the super cool Transformers Afterburner I recently found.

Afterburner 1

I think this all started just over a year ago when I managed to get a hold of my original childhood Atari 2600 system.  Reconnecting with that faux wood-paneled beauty really got me thinking about where I really wanted to spend my money when it came to my collecting habits.


Lately this turn towards reacquiring treasures from when I was a kid has morphed into some more obscure purchases.  Instead of trying to get all the actual toys I had I’ve been cherry-picking specific pieces I owned from various toy lines, stuff that when put out on a shelf illustrates my childhood experience.  This has led to some more obscure toy hunting leading up to snagging stuff like a Demon from Blackstarr, Warduke from the D&D line, and Tonto from the Gabriel Legend of the Lone Ranger line


I’ve also started following this urge to round out my collection with more offbeat stuff by picking up some weirder childhood reading material.  For instance, I was just recently reminded by my mom during one of our weekly phone calls about a cookbook she gave me when I was eight, the Betty Crocker Cookbook for Boys and Girls (a version published in 1985 by Golden.)  I immediately flashed upon the iconic cover and felt an insane desire to pick it up and hold it again.  So I logged on to eBay immediately after the call an proceeded to track down and buy a copy…

BCCookbookForBoysAndGirls 1

I must have stared at those disturbing cheeseburger people a million times as a kid.  Even though this isn’t my original copy (which is probably no longer in existence or mostly disintegrated in a landfill in Florida somewhere), mine was as beat-up and well read as this copy I now have on my shelf.  Clocking in at just under 100 pages, this cookbook was my go-to tome when learning the basics of recipe-reading and trying my hand at some culinary concoctions that were always just this side of edible.  Though I learned a lot from watching my mom in the kitchen, I always took pride in exploring on my own and trying to make lunches or breakfasts on the weekends, and a lot of that inspiration came form the dishes in this book.  Speaking of, the recipes range from the ridiculous yet fun arrangement of canned fruit on a lettuce leaf like this Friendly Dog Salad below…

BCCookbookForBoysAndGirls 3

…to the surprisingly difficult to master (as a kid) Eggs in Bologna Cups.  Mine never tasted right.  In fact they were pretty noxious if I remember (probably due to over-use of the paprika which I practically caked on top of each cup…)

BCCookbookForBoysAndGirls 4

The book is filled with glorious 70s/80s era design, from the style and color of the cookware depicted in the recipes to the bodacious font choices.  I actually kind of love it to death and am curious about seeking out some other more standard 80s era cookbooks for my kitchen…

BCCookbookForBoysAndGirls 2

Reading back through it I was surprised at the level of complexity in some of the recipes (like a giant baked ham loaf that required grinding up smoked ham steaks), and some of it actually looks like stuff I’d love to try today as a way more accomplished home cook.  In fact I’m toying with the idea of trying to replicate all 120 or so dishes in the book at some point.  I mean a lot of this stuff is pretty simple, but I remember it being sort of like comfort food.  It might be easy to turn one’s nose up at it as an adult, but stuff like this Polka Dot Pizza (aka Hot Dog Pizza) looks like the perfect comfort food for a lazy Saturday afternoon…

BCCookbookForBoysAndGirls 5

BCCookbookForBoysAndGirls 6

If you enjoyed reading about my currently 80s collecting obsession, why not take a moment to check out some of the other League participants to see what they’re focusing on like…

Brian at Cool & Collected who is currently binge watching Band of Brothers and True Detective

Lee & Linz at Pop Rewind who are obsession over McDonald’s Orange Drink

Derek at Really Rather Random Guy who is having a an existential obsession crisis

Victoria at Vikki Verka who is glad she found the sci-fi series Charlie Jade

Tim at Flashlights Are Something to Eat is listening to the Scorchers, watching Breaking Bad, and buying some Atari games!


Shaking the Pillars of Heaven…

So, the start of a new week, and it’s already been a rather crazy roller coaster of ups and downs here at Branded HQ.  Live in or around Jacksonville, FL area?  Did you feel the ground quake around noon on Saturday?  Did it rain frogs for a bit and mess up your outdoor lunch festivities?  Did your rose bushes suddenly burst into very fragrant flames?  Well that was probably partly my fault as I made a day trip down to the area to meet some folks in person that I’ve been talking with online for years.  That’s right, I finally got a chance to meet Paxton Holley of the amazing Cavalcade of Awesome, and in the process uniting 2/3rds of the Cult Film Club in person for the first time (no worries, I brought Jaime along in spirit, or rather with a bit of her soul that was captured on film and then printed out at Kinko’s.)  I’m pretty sure there’s some old testament prophecy about some pretty crazy stuff happening if all three of us were to gather in person in the same location at the same time…

Cult Film Club Polaroid small

So what was I doing in that neck of the woods?  Well, when not talking about rad cult films, Pax’s main podcasting gig is as a co-host of the Nerd Lunch show (which I’ve been on a time or two, or ten actually), and they’ve been planning an IRL meet-up for awhile.  Carlin, Paxton, Robert (from the cool To the Escape Hatch site) and myself all converged on Jacksonville for some great food (at 4 Rivers Smokehouse), some great conversation (there should be a podcast released soon), and just some good times in general.

Nerd Lunch Live small

In addition to the above conversation and merriment I was also introduced to the concept of a Doritos encrusted Mountain Dew flavored cupcake.  Yeah, read that last bit slowly and mull on that idea as you take a look at this monstrosity…

Mtn Dew Cupcake

It was pretty insane.  Not as Dew-y as I’d hoped, but still pretty darn tasty and crazy.

In other news, my beloved DVD player of the last 10 years has passed on to that electronic junk pile in the sky (which I imagine is actually the planet Junkion from Transformers the Movie.)  I’ve watched a metric ton of films and TV on that player and was pretty sad to see it go.  I mean, I wore thumb and finger grooves in the remote.  Sigh.  Well, the last movie to play on it was an 80s flick I’d neglected to watch until last night, the John Hughes written/produced romantic comedy Some Kind of Wonderful.  So if it was going to die, at least it, A, let me watch this flick, and B, picked a pretty rad movie to spin as it’s last screening. I’m glad it didn’t sputter out any sooner as I was able to see a very young and super precocious Candace Cameron playing with her collection of Garbage Pail Kids!  Harkening back to The Monster Squad post, it looks like Eugene wasn’t the only collector on the silver screen…

SKoW 2 small

SKoW 4 small

SKoW 1 small

In a move that was almost too cute to bear, Hughes, director Howard Deutch, or maybe even Cameron herself decided to have the GPKs fighting against each other.  My head almost exploded by the sheer amount of adorable nostalgia on the screen.

SKoW 3 small

I also love that she had both a collection on the backing in a cigar box as well as a bunch of stickers that were applied in a photo album.  Too cool.  I don’t remember ever seeing sticker collection in a flick like this before (though I’m sure I’m forgetting a movie or two…)

So, now I have to decide.  Do I finally get a Blu-Ray player and an HD TV?


My name is Walter Kellogg, Cereal Detective…

From time to time I find myself flipping through 30 year-old issues of various Mom magazines looking for inspiration and cool ads to scan for the site.  Over the past couple years I kept running across a series of ads for Kellogg’s Honey & Nut Corn Flakes that tugged at my mind, but I wasn’t quite sure why.  There’s nothing all that special about the ads except for a cartoon crow mascot (aptly named the Honey Nut Crow), but even he seemed more like the hillbilly cousin of Sonny the Cocoa Puffs bird and nothing that would really make for an interesting article on Branded.  Then out of the blue this past week I encountered the perfect storm of coincidences that finally led me back to those ads and a weird realization about how insanely complex and difficult the marketing of branded products must really be.


Let me back up a bit to 2010 and a free box of the newly launched Kellogg’s Crunchy Nut cereal that I received through Amazon Vine.  For those that don’t know, Amazon Vine is a goofy program where you can get early access to select products in exchange for reviewing them.  It’s mainly ARCs (advanced reading copies) of books, but from time to time there are DVDs, toys, and the occasional newly launched food item.  Basically the companies that publish or produce these products offer them to Amazon customers for free so that they can get product reviews (positive or negative.)  When I see food pop up I tend to grab it because I’m all for saving money on the grocery tab (and it’s hard to pass up free eats.)  I thought it was a little weird when the Crunchy Nut cereal popped up because I couldn’t imagine that cereal reviews on Amazon really make any sort of difference in the grand scheme of things.  Books and DVDs are one thing, but who stops while browsing the cereal aisle to look up reviews on the web, let alone Amazon?  Anyway, it was free, so I ordered it and ended up really loving the Crunchy Nut (it basically tastes like Cracker Jacks in cereal form.)

Though I really dug that cereal, it was way sweeter than the stuff I typically buy so I haven’t actually bought any more in the past two years.  This past week though, I was suckered into picking up another box as there was both an amazing sale on Kellogg’s ($2 a box), and if you bought two boxes of cereal you could get a free branded cereal bowl (from an in-store display), and I really wanted the entire set of four bowls.  Eight boxes of cereal and one embarrassing trip through the checkout line later I was the proud owner of four cheap character bowls and a couple boxes of Crunchy Nut flakes.  Later in the week I found myself inexplicably humming the commercial jingle to the extinct Nut & Honey Crunch cereal (I say inexplicably, but let’s be honest, this is the type of crap that is constantly floating around in my brain.)  Anyway, this all leads up to yesterday when I was flipping through some 1982 issues of McCall’s looking for something (I can’t even remember right now), and I came full circle back to one of those Kellogg’s Honey & Nut Corn Flakes ads featuring the Honey Nut Crow, and then all of a sudden it dawned on me that all three of these incidents were connected.  It was like that moment at the end of the Usual suspects, only I was flipping through a 30 year-old woman’s magazine while stuffing my face full of cereal…

I grabbed my copy of The Great American Cereal Book to confirm it, but was slightly devastated that there was no entry for Kellogg’s Honey & Nut Cornflakes.  There was an entry for Nut & Honey Crunch though, and listed as a bit of trivia was that the Honey Nut Crow was a former mascot associated with the cereal (though I don’t remember the Nut & Honey boxes ever featuring that character.)  I did a little digging on the internet this morning and sure enough, all of these cereals (Honey & Nut Corn Flakes, Nut & Honey Crunch, and Crunchy Nut cereal) are one and the same.  I’m pretty sure it was also marketed under the name Honey Crunch Corn Flakes (marketed with the Kellogg’s green rooster mascot.)  How could this one cereal keep popping up in my life under so many different circumstances?  And why did I never make the connection before?

It’s kind of hilarious when you look back over the cereal’s sordid merchandising timeline between its introduction in 1979 to today.  Whereas most cereals have stayed pretty consistent for decades, this one seems to be one hell of a hard sell to the public, even though it had a semi-successful ad campaign at one point (the “Nuttin’ Honey” commercials of the late 80s, early 90s for Nut & Honey Crunch.)  Why has the product been in need of re-branding no less than four times?  I mean, it’s nut and honey covered corn flakes?  How much simpler can you get?  I can see how the Honey Nut Crow was a misfire as he resembles Sonny the Cocoa Puffs bird a bit too much perhaps, but outside of that issue the tone of the marketing has been all over the map.  Initially the campaign focused on a “see it, hear it, taste it” motif (as seen in these two commercials from 1980.)  Then there are a series of commercials that tried to sell the cereal as “so good it needs to be stolen” (as seen in these two commercials from 1986 and 1989, as well as this British ad starring Hugh Laurie from 1985.)  In 1987 there seemed to be a pretty major fracturing of the ad campaign as it’s rebranded as both Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes (aimed at adults and placed in a black box, a food packaging no-no if there ever was one), and as the afore mentioned Nut & Honey Crunch (here are a couple more commercials from 1987.)  Then by the mid to late 90s it had been re-branded again, this time as Honey Crunch Corn Flakes (I guessing that nuts weren’t cool in the 90s after grunge rock hit.)  Now we’re back to the Crunchy Nut branding, though they’re dropped the Corn Flakes from the name.  Honestly, judging by their all-over-the-board advertising for the current branding I’m not convinced they know how to handle it even today (I mean, Inception and She-Males?!?)  Also, thank goodness for the archive of cereal commercials on youtube…

All of this leads me to the weird realization that in a way I’ve been able to taste the past.  When I first came across the old ads in the McCall’s magazine I was curious about what that cereal tasted like and was bummed that so many cereals have been retired by companies like Kellogg’s.  This was compounded by reading a tome like The Great American Cereal Book (filled with exciting extinct brands), and all the recent hoopla surrounding the bankruptcy of the Hostess company and thinking about the possibility of a product like the Twinkie disappearing from store shelves.  The idea that I wouldn’t be able to taste these things was sort of sad, but in realizing that some of these cereals still exist, just under different branding is sort of cool.  It’s like having a time machine for my mouth.  Anyway, I’m glad to have finally closed the book (the proverbial cereal book) on this flaky caper.  I’m going to call this one, The Case of the Honey Crow that Couldn’t Sell His Damn Cereal for Nuts…

The most powerful cake pans in the universe!

While cleaning up and organizing Branded HQ I found a handful of loose catalog pages that my good buddy HooveR sent me awhile back.  They were from the 1987 Wilton Yearbook of Cake Decorating, and featured their line of pop culture cartoon figural cake pans.  Since I’ve sort of been on a food-centric nostalgic kick of late I thought this would be the perfect thing to share.

Though I have plenty of memories seeing this style of cake pans in grocery stores back in the day, I was never treated to a cake baked in one during my childhood.  It’s not for lack of asking mind you, just that my mom wasn’t keen on that level of preparation and patience when it came to birthday cakes.  She always bought something at the store and put some special candles or action figures on my cakes.  There’s still a part of me that kind of wants to track one of these down and do it myself one of these days…

I’m not sure if it’s the date when the catalog was printed, or if Wilton didn’t have a huge licensing department, but I was kind of sad not to see any Transformers or Star Wars cake pans in the pages.  That being said, there are still some pretty cool franchises represented in sugar and flour, not the least of which are He-Man, General Hawk from G.I. Joe, Superman and Batman.  I love how these came with plastic faceplates so that some sort of recognizable figure would emerge from even the sloppiest cake decorator’s piping tip.  I also love that apparently Superman and Batman were more or less interchangeable when it comes to their cake-y bodies…


By far, the majority of the pans in this catalog were geared towards girls with Rainbow Brite, The Poppels, Cabbage Patch Kids, Care Bears, Barbie, and the Wuzzles represented.  Makes me feel like there should at least be a Thundercats cake pan in the mix, but again I’m not sure if it was licensing or when this was released.  Can you imagine the fun that would come from piping out Lion-O’s red frosting hair!


For all those curious about getting some pointers on just how to go about frosting one of these beauties, here’s a spotlight on the Snoopy and He-Man cakes…

The weirdest thing about these cakes for me is the extremely sharp and spiky nature inherent in this style of frosting a cake.  Granted, it makes it much easier to keep the colors from mixing, but it always seemed weirdly antagonistic to me.  Is it just me?

Is that Kraft Mac and Cheese under that pepperoni, or do you just want to die for dinner?

It’s been awhile since I dipped into my collection of old advertisements I clipped from my collection of 80s era Woman’s Day magazines, so I thought it would be fun to take a look at one of the crazier ads from 1983.  Alright, raise your hand if you’ve been to a Ci-Ci’s or Stevie-B’s pizza buffet.  C’mon, I know we’ve all tried it at least once, I mean quality aside, it’s the best damn pizza value in town.  Seriously though, for anyone who has eaten at one of these pizza buffets in the last 20 years you’ve probably noticed that they have all sorts of weird pizzas to please kids and parents alike.  Whether it’s the taco pizza (replacing the sauce with salsa and adding lettuce and sour cream as toppings) or the baked potato (sour cream sauce, topped with cheddar cheese and slices of baked potato), there’s usually some funky stuff to keep it interesting and as unhealthy as possible.  The craziest buffet pizza in my opinion is the Mac ‘n Cheese pizza which has a cheese-based sauce, pasta, and loads of extra cheese to boot.  Not only is it a little slice of heart-attack, but there’s enough carbohydrates in one slice to make the pickiest vegan into a diabetic.

Well, while flipping through a 1983 issue of Woman’s Day I found an ad that puts the Stevie-B’s pasta pizza to shame. How about a pizza where the crust is entirely made out of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese!?!

That’s right, who needs working arteries when you can taste the awe-inspiring scrumptiousness that must be a slice of pizza made entirely out of Mac ‘n Cheese!  I’m so tempted to make this monstrosity, but I’m not sure my mouth can withstand the insanity.  What were the ad reps at Kraft thinking when they came up with this idea?  I can only assume these are the same geniuses that convinced KFC that fried chicken would made an awesome substitute for bread in a sandwich.

So has anyone out there ever experienced this gastronomical indulgence?

Easy Cheese Part Deux, I love the smell of cheese in the morning…

A couple weeks ago I wrote a piece taking a look at the general history of that crazy canned, pasteurized, spray cheese known as Easy Cheese (or Snack Mate circa 1966-1984 or so.)  Though I don’t remember when I first came into contact with this wonderfully odd product, I do know that there always seemed to be a can in our pantry.  Actually, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t remember my mom ever really using it for snacks and meals, so I’m wondering why she always bought them?  Regardless, I have a lot of fond memories of artistically playing with Easy Cheese in the attempt at creating some sort of impressionist cheese masterpiece on top of a Ritz cracker canvas.  Years before Ritz Bits hit the shelves I was drawing happy faces on crackers, marveling at my work for a second, and then smashing down a second cracker to make a creamy cheese and cracker sandwich.  I also seem to remember also having contests with friends to see who could squirt the most cheese into our mouths without suffocating to death.

Looking back, even though Easy Cheese’s frilly decorative snazzy origins didn’t really stick around very long, it’s interesting to note that Nabisco was still trying to push the canned product as an important addition to any home cook’s pantry as late as 1981 with the release of the Quick’n Easy Ideas with Snack Mate cookbook…

Again, I learned about this cookbook from an old ad I found in Woman’s Day, and I couldn’t imagine writing an article on Easy Cheese without tracking down a copy of this tome to share on the site.  Luckily, I managed to find a copy being sold by an mom and pop cookbook website, and I quickly snatched it up hoping that there were a bounty of mind blowing canned cheese recipes between those 30 year-old covers.  After receiving it and cracking it open I was a little disappointed.  I should have seen it coming, but of the 62 “recipes” contained in this 18 page leaflet, almost every one can be condensed to the following phrase, “…and top with Snack Mate cheese.”  Hey, grab a Triscuit and top with Snack Mate cheese.  Hollow out a cherry tomato and top with Snack Mate cheese.  Boil 4 ears of corn and top with Snack Mate cheese.  The list goes on and on of the various stuff you can top with Snack Mate cheese.  I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, maybe a bunch of cheese sauce recipes or some actually cooking, but again, I should have seen it coming.  Actually, one of the most disappointing aspects is that there was no mention of anything like the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich (which I’ll get to below)…

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some crazy stand-out ideas in this guide book.  In fact one of the weirder revelations was how often the Nabisco test kitchen urged the reader to mix the canned cheese with unlikely products like fresh fruit or desert items.  One reoccurring theme was mixing Snack Mate with canned pineapple, which is about as unappetizing a thought as I can muster, and I’ve eaten a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich (seriously, I’ll get to it in a minute…)  There are also a couple of recipes that call for squirting Easy Cheese on raisin bread, which is just wrong!


Well, even if Easy Cheese never really caught on as the home chef’s answer to amazing dinner party preparation, it has achieved a sort of cult status as a weird, truly American product.  I’m sure there are a ton of people who have dreamed about pulling out the little black stopper on the bottom of the can, but have held back because they feared that it would explode like a cheesy hand grenade.  I’d also bet that somewhere out there someone has coined a hilarious term for the hardened nub of excess cheese that forms on the nozzle between uses.  More importantly, Easy Cheese has popped up on the silver screen in a few classic films including the Blues Brothers…


Actually, the appearance in the Blues Brothers has kind of stirred up some weird controversy in the pasteurized cheese fan community (and if you through Trekies were nuts.)  Basically, there’s a scene with Jake and Elwood coming home to their apartment and there’s an old guy who stops them and says, “Where’s my Cheez Whiz, boy?”, after which Elwood (Dan Aykroyd) reaches into his pocket, pulls out a can of Snack Mate and tosses it to the geezer.  This one silly miscommunication has led to a belief that the king of pasteurized cheese products, Cheez Whiz, once came in a pressurized spray can.  I can’t disprove the rumor 100%, but I can say for a fact that the can in the movie is indeed a can of Nabisco Snack Mate and not Cheez Whiz.

Here’s the thing, in the zeitgeist of the year 1980 (when the film was released), the Cheez Whiz brand name was, and probably still is, the most recognized term for a pasteurized cheese product known to mankind.  It’s also 3,000% more funny than the phrase Snack Mate, and thus I’d guess that it won out in the wording of that joke (whether it was thought-out and scripted or if it was a spur of the moment ad-lib on set.)  Vice versa, the appearance and packaging of Snack Mate is 3,000% more iconic and side-splittingly hilarious than the Cheez Whiz bottle, not to mention more handy for keeping in one’s pocket and much easier to throw without hurting anyone.  So just by breaking down the logic, I’d have to say that it was an unfortunate amalgamation that gave birth to a rumor that honestly no one really cares about.  Except me.  And this guy.

Another notable appearance of Easy Cheese on the silver screen was in an animated form in a couple of scenes in the Goofy Movie…


One of the side characters, Bobby Zimmeruski (voiced by Pauley Shore), was a bona fide cheese-a-holic who can be seen making his own Easy Cheese art and eating the product by the can-full.  A special thanks goes out to Devin who helped me find this scene…

Personally, the most classic and famous appearance of Easy Cheese on the big screen was during one of my favorite all time flicks, Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF!  It’s in this wondrous film that I was introduced to the majesty that is the Twinkie Weiner Sandwich.  After losing yet another menial job, George Newman (Weird Al) tries to cheer up his best friend Bob by making him one of these legendary sandwiches.

Step one, cut a slit down the center of an upside-down Twinkie, taking care not to cut all the way though the cake.  Step two, place a standard hot dog wiener, fresh from the package, inside the slit…


Step three, apply a liberal amount of Easy Cheese on top of the hot dog.  Step four, dunk the sandwich in a mug of milk, and enjoy!


Actually, there should be a step five, which would consist of making a second sandwich and giving it to a friend…


Weird Al mentioned on the commentary track that he probably ended up eating 7-8 of these sandwiches to get the iconic sequence on film.  He even enjoys one of these amazing wonders of culinary delight from time to time, though he’s a vegetarian these days and substitutes the hot dog for a tofu dog.

No article on Easy Cheese would be complete without making my own Twinkie Weiner Sandwich, which is what I did this past weekend with the wife.  I decided to change mine up a bit as I’m not a big fan of eating cold, unprepared hot dogs, so we broiled ours first.  We also went with a more New York deli style hot dog as we generally prefer them to the standard Oscar Meyer wieners.  The resulting TWS was no where near as pretty as Al’s was in the film, but they were still a sight to behold…

So how did it taste you might be asking?  Well, it was both unlike anything I’ve ever eaten, and not nearly as bad as the description makes them out to be.  Actually, it reminded me a lot of eating sweet northern cornbread with barbeque.  The Twinkie was an adequate replacement for a bun, though there was an unfortunate side effect of broiling the hot dogs that we weren’t prepared for which resulted in the Twinkie basically melting and falling apart halfway through the sandwich.  On the upside though, the heat from the dog made the filling inside the Twinkie taste like toasted marshmallow.  The final verdict?  Eating a Twinkie Weiner Sandwich is a lot like what I expect eating one of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man’s fingers might taste like.  Meaty, sweet, and full of unholy rage!  But more important, the Easy Cheese tied the whole thing together…

Before this cheese was Easy it was the perfect Snack Mate!

A couple weeks ago I was in a rush during the morning routine.  For some reason it seemed like I had two hundred things to do before running out the door to go to work, and right when I thought I’d finished everything, I remembered that I’d intended on updating Branded with a quick post during lunch.  What was I going to write about though?  There was nothing on the hopper and I didn’t have time to sit down and get a bunch of screen caps from a cartoon, so I quickly ran into out home office and grabbed a magazine advertisement blindly from a stack on my desk and stuffed it into my bag.  Problem solved, or so I thought.  When I got to work and got a second to catch my breath I pulled out the ad to see what I’d ended up with.  It was an ad for Nabisco Snack Mate, the spray cheese we know as Kraft Easy Cheese these days, from a 1981 issue of Woman’s Day.  I’d originally torn it out because I thought the artwork on all the little cheesy hors d’oeuvres was fun and it made for a striking image overall.

So I scanned the ad on my lunch break and got ready to fire off a few short thoughts about Easy Cheese when I noticed the small section at the bottom that featured a mail-away Snack Mate cookbook.  How weird I thought, that a culinary product this mocked and reviled had an entire cookbook dedicated to it.  I took a second to try and postulate what sort of interesting concoctions one would come up with that included spray cheese.  Then a scene from Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF popped into my head, the one where his character George and his friend Bob both get fired from their umpteenth lackluster job and in trying to cheer Bob up, George makes him the heartburn-inducing delight known as a Twinkie Wiener Sandwich!  I figured there was no way something that crazy was in the mail-away cookbook, but I couldn’t help but wonder what was in that book.

Before I knew it my lunch was over, I hadn’t eaten a thing, and I suddenly realized that this quick post for the site wasn’t going to happen without some more research.  I felt I needed to get some screenshots of Weird Al building a Twinkie Wiener Dog for starters, but if I was going to mention that, it seemed only natural to mention some other theatrical appearances of Easy Cheese.  Since I was digging that deep I figured I might as well go a bit farther and track down some other Snack Mate ads, as well as trying to figure out where this amazing cheese innovation got its start.  Most importantly I needed to get my hands on a copy of that cookbook!  By the end of the day I’d put the wheels in motion to do just that.

Today I’m just going to concentrate on the history. In addition to the ad I found (at the top of the article), I managed to locate a few more that date back to the introduction of this pressurized pseudo-dairy treat which was introduced sometime in 1966.  The oldest ad I was able to track down is from a 1967 issue of Life magazine and features three of the four original flavors, American, Cheddar, and Pimento (Nabisco also offered the cheese in a Swiss variety.)  From what I gather the canned spray cheese phenomenon began as an affordable and easy way for families to prepare nicely plated and pretty hors d’oeuvres for dinner parties.  Burgeoning household gourmands were popping up everywhere in the 60s, and Nabisco wanted a piece of that action, as well as creating a product that would require purchasing their mainstay line of snack crackers.  Design-wise, I actually think the decision to include the frosting-esque applicator tip was a stroke of genius and it beats the hell out of melting your own cheese and trying to scoop it into and dispense it from a piping bag.

It’s also interesting to note the difference between what was considered pretty and chic (in food presentation) back in 1966 versus what we typically think of today.  Plating was a lot more architectural or sculptural in nature 55 years ago, and the idea of building up a cracker with mounds of immaculately sliced olives (pimento included), lump crab meat, and a heaping yet frilly helping of creamy processed cheese so that it looked like a work of modern art was the goal.  If watching 7 billion food-centric shows on TV has taught me nothing else, today’s presentation is more about simplicity and sparseness.  I’m betting the Easy Cheese (which, let’s face it, would never make it to the plate unless we’re watching an episode of Chopped) would be applied in a single dollop only to be smeared in a pleasing arc along side a crisscrossed stack of two grilled baguette croutons over a bead of lightly blanched asparagus.  Or something like that.

I think by 1969 the idea of using pasteurized, processed cheese in a can for froufrou parties wasn’t catching on and as you can see in the next advertisement Nabisco was having a little more fun with dressing up their crackers.  Now the user was encouraged to make cheesy smiley faces, more along the lines of pleasing one’s family instead of guests.  We also get to see a new option of cheese, French Onion.  Also notice that in the line-up of cracker options there is still a Nabisco bacon variety.  I remember eating these, or something similar, as a kid and marveling at the baked-in bacon bits.  In today’s salty-pork belly obsessed world, I’m surprised these haven’t made a comeback.  I mean Chicken in a Biskit crackers are still around, why not Bacon in a Biskit.  I wonder if that rings too much with a dog treat sort of feel?

The only Snack Mate ad I could locate from the 70s was this next one featuring a much more robust line of spray cheese varieties.  Unfortunately I can’t make out the new varieties, though it looks like one might be a Swiss/American blend.

By the 2000′s I know there were at least seven more varieties introduced including Nacho Cheese, Pizza, Shrimp Cocktail, Bacon, Sharp Cheddar, Roasted Garlic and Philly Cream Cheese.  The product was also known as Snack Mate up until the 80s when Kraft Foods bought Nabisco and rebranded the product as Kraft Easy Cheese.  Today there are only four varieties offered, Sharp and regular Cheddar, American and Bacon flavored.  I’m also kind of bummed out in that the Bacon option has changed over time.  From what I remember in the 80s, there were actual bacon bits mixed in with the cheese as opposed to today where there is just a smoky bacon flavor added to the cheese.  I’m sure it’s cheaper to produce, but it’s kind of a letdown.

Next week I’m hopefully going to have part two of this crazy article up featuring some of my own memories of the product, the various cinematic appearances of Snack Mate/Easy Cheese, as well as a the 1981 cookbook, and a bit of fun with the Twinkie Wiener Sandwich!