Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Overwhelming Onslaught of Oreos

This isn't really a Halloween post.  But, then again, maybe it is.  Well, I guess the reason it got written was initially because of Halloween, but the topic mostly isn't about Halloween.  Confused?  I'm starting to get that way too.  Why don't we get to it and see how it all unfolds?

October 2015.  I realized that Halloween was rapidly approaching and we hadn't really done much to get into the spirit of the season.  One morning after dropping The Little Monsters off at school I was doing a little grocery shopping and it occurred to me that the Halloween Oreos must be out.  I decided that I should pick up a package.  Halloween Oreos seemed to be becoming a bit of a new tradition--I remembered getting a package last year--so I felt I should carry on the tradition by getting some this year (plus, I rather like Oreos).  In our household we don't get too many chances to eat a lot of junk food.  That's a good thing from a health standpoint, but not the most popular one for a couple of elementary-school-age Monsters like ours.  Well, to demonstrate just how infrequently The Monsters get to indulge in stuff like Oreos, I tried to find the photos I took of them enjoying their Halloween Oreos while watching the "Ship of Ghouls" episode of "The Love Boat" last year (the last time we had  Oreos).  Well, wouldn't you know, I couldn't find the photos for a long time because it had actually been TWO years since they were taken!

The Little Monsters enjoying their 2013 Halloween Oreos
while watching Vincent Price in "The Love Boat"

So, anyway, even though it wasn't really a hard and fast "tradition" I still wanted to get some of those yummy Halloween edition Oreos for The Monsters (and, yes, for myself as well).  Cruising down the grocery store aisle that contains the snacks, crackers and cookies I was dumbfounded.  I must have passed this section hundreds of times since the last Oreos purchase, but I hadn't really payed much attention to it while passing by looking for healthier fare.  I frankly couldn't believe how many varieties of Oreos there were.  They must have greatly expanded the selection since even that last time I picked up a package.

Holy Oreos, Batman!

I remember regular old Oreos as a kid.  They were a pretty standard and common (and tasty) snack food.  Of course there were also the Oreo rip-offs too: the Hydrox Cookies (which actually came out BEFORE Oreos, but still feel like the knockoff), and all the various store brand "sandwich cookies".  I have no idea just how many Oreo-like cookies are currently available, but even Paul Newman's Newman's Own brand has gotten into the act.

Hydrox Cookies (image from the web)


Back to the "old days".  Despite all the different companies putting out their own versions of Oreos, I always felt that the "real ones" were the best.  But at the same time an Oreo was an Oreo.  There wasn't much variety in the brand (and didn't need to be) until they introduced the "Double Stuf" Oreos, which were the same as the regular ones, except with twice the amount of creme filling (which was the best part of the cookie anyway, right?).

The classic, standard Oreos
Even regular Oreos come in a number of different packaging options,
like these boxes of handy six-packs

I don't recall there being many other choices if you wanted to get Oreos.  But that's not the case anymore.  Not by a long shot!  Check out some of the varieties I spotted in that Oreo section (and I have no idea if they even had ALL the varieties that might be available).  Some of these seem like great ideas, some seem kind of odd and some even seem like they might be kinda gross:

In addition to the regular and Double Stuf Oreos you can now also get Mega Stuff ones.  Or you can go in the opposite direction and get Oreo Thins.  Those varieties simply change the amount of creme, or "stuf", you get inside the cookie, but the bulk of the newer varieties I saw change the flavors of the creme, the cookies or both.  Here are some of the ones I saw:

  • Golden Oreos (probably one of the earliest varieties, along with "Double Stuf", this one replaces the chocolate cookies with "vanilla" ones--probably done to compete with all the "vanilla sandwich cookies" from various companies that had been available next to the chocolate ones for years)
  • Heads or Tails Oreos (where you get one chocolate and one vanilla cookie surrounding your creme)
  • Birthday Cake Oreos (in both regular and golden cookie versions)
  • Mint Oreos
  • Lemon Oreos
  • Berry Oreos
  • Brownie Batter Oreos
  • Peanut Butter Oreos
  • Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Oreos (for a little cross-branding)
  • Pumpkin Spice Oreos (to cash in on the Halloween/Thanksgiving fall season)
  • Caramel Apple Oreos (ditto)
  • Marshmallow Crispy Creme (think Rice Krispies treats)
  • Toasted Coconut Oreos (What?!?)
  • Reduced Fat Oreos

Even though Oreos are a snack food (read, junk food) I'm actually a bit surprised that, considering the sheer numbers of varieties that they produce, they don't make more "healthy" or "healthier" versions for people who might want to experience Oreos, but who don't want to die as soon as their cookie-chomping counterparts.  True, there are the "Reduced Fat Oreos" listed above (and Oreos seem to have joined the rest of modern society by getting rid of trans fats across the line), but where are the "Whole Grain Oreos", or the "Organic Oreos" (non-GMO guaranteed of course)?  "Artisinal Oreos"?  "Ancient Grains Oreos" (with Spelt and quinoa)?  And how about allergies?  There are Peanut Butter Oreos, but what about "Nut-Free Oreos" (guaranteed not to be made on equipment which may also make products containing peanuts and/or other nuts)?  And how about "Gluten-Free Oreos"?  "Sugar-Free Oreos" for diabetics?  Or "Vegan Oreos"?  Okay, I get the fact that they're not meant to be a healthy snack food.  And I suppose that I actually appreciate the fact that, other than offering Reduced Fat, Nabisco doesn't even pretend to be offering something healthy.

These are most of the varieties of what I'll call "traditional Oreos" (same sized cookies with different flavors and/or amounts of "Stuf"), and most of them seem to be found in different versions (like regular, Double Stuf and Mega Stuf).  But there are also other variants that go even further, like Fudge Cremes and Mint Fudge Cremes (which are standard Oreos covered with fudge to make them even less healthy!), as well as Oreo Minis and Oreo Minis Reese's Peanut Butter (which can be found in boxes, bags and little plastic snack cups).

Some of the different packaging for Oreo Minis

Have you had enough Oreo varieties?  Well, the above list covers most of what I found in just the cookie aisle of the grocery store.  But the Oreo brand and taste can of course be found in other places and products too.  A quick tour of the store showed a few other examples (and I'm sure there are many more than what I found).  A little further down the aisle where the cookies are found you encounter the cracker section.  Not surprisingly, there is a bit of a gray area between what is considered a "cookie" and what is considered a "cracker".  For example, graham crackers have the word "cracker" in their name, but I think a good argument could be made that they are actually more of a cookie.  Well, you can add Oreos to the confusion between cracker and cookie classifications.  First off, the Oreo Thins portray themselves as being "Thin & Crispy", which (despite the cookie and creme factor) sounds kind of cracker-like.  And remember the classic "Handi Snacks", the little packages with crackers on one side and a separate part with cheese spread that you'd put onto the crackers with a little red plastic spreader?  Years ago they added newer versions of Handi Snacks that had cracker sticks or pretzel sticks that you could dip into the cheese instead of having to actually spread cheese on the crackers.  Well now they even have an Oreo version--where you dip your rectangular Oreo cookie into a cup of Oreo creme.  While I wouldn't really consider this to be a "cracker" product, I DID find them nestled into the cracker section among the regular Handi Snacks.

And the range of products with the name Oreo attached gets even wider.  While it's now discontinued, there used to be an Oreo-O's cereal.  And I kind of miss the Oreos Cakesters "Soft Snack Cakes" which also seem to be discontinued (they reminded me of little whoopie pies!).  In the ice cream aisle I found two different ice cream products that featured Oreos: Klondike Sandwiches (which actually look like giant Oreos) and Breyers Blasts Oreo Cookies & Creme Chocolate.  And of course this doesn't even include all the generic "Cookies and Creme" or "Cookies & Cream" products all over the grocery store that don't have the license or permission to use the Oreo name.  I was a bit surprised when I saw the Pop Tarts selection (which rivaled the Oreos for sheer number of varieties) and didn't find Oreo Pop Tarts.  Well, I think that there WOULD be an Oreo version if it weren't for competing brands.  You see, Oreos are made by Nabisco, while Pop Tarts are made by Kellogg's.  So, naturally, there is a generic Frosted Cookies & Creme Pop Tarts variety instead!

The Pop Tart selection
(nearly as overwhelming as the Oreos!)
Kellogg's (non-Oreo) Cookies & Creme Pop-Tarts

I'm sure that many more Oreos products, flavor combinations, variants and knock-offs can be found, but it's time to wrap this post up.  Remember my original reason for perusing the Oreos section of the cookie aisle?  It was to pick up a package of Halloween Oreos.  Well, even with all that stuff in the big, overwhelming Oreos section of the cookie aisle...I didn't find ANY Halloween ones!  But luckily they were in their own cardboard display box at the end of another aisle.

Now, that's what I was looking for!

I picked up my package and headed home to contemplate everything I had just witnessed.  The funny thing is that Halloween Oreos aren't a new or different flavor.  They are simply standard Oreos with the traditional white creme switched out for an orange one (making for a perfect orange and black Halloween color combination).  But they DO give you five different cookie designs to make them even more fun.  Not only that, but I noticed that the designs used in this year's package were different than the ones in the 2013 package I bought earlier.  Can't say what happened in 2014, as we missed out on our little "tradition" last year.  Oh well, now I can't wait to see what Nabisco has in store for us for NEXT year's Halloween Oreos!

2013 Halloween Oreos
2015 Halloween Oreos

A couple happy Little Monsters!

And here's the five different designs
(they all have the same Oreo back seen in the middle)

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Back to the Future: The Future is Now!

October 21, 2015.

It's hard to believe that this day has actually come to pass. There have been a lot of "future dates" in science fiction and other stories that have come and gone (see "The Future is Passe" for my thoughts on some of those), but this one seems extra special for a number of reasons. Of course, October 21, 2015 is the date that Doc Brown takes Marty McFly and his girlfriend Jennifer to at the beginning of "Back to the Future II" (1989).

I suppose the first interesting thing about this is the fact that "Back to the Future" was released in 1985, making 2015 its 30th anniversary. While Doc, Marty and Jennifer do take off for "the future" at the end of "Back to the Future", we don't actually learn exactly when they are headed (sounds strange to say that) until the beginning of the sequel, which was released in 1989. So we have a bit of a paradox in that we're celebrating the 30th anniversary of a classic movie by commemorating a date central to its sequel, which is only celebrating its 26th anniversary. Oh well...

I have to go into a little more detail about the 30th anniversary of "Back to the Future" here, because of something that bothers me about it. "Back to the Future" was a huge part of my youth. I remember seeing it as a fifteen-year-old in the summer of 1985. My older sister took me to see it, and when she dropped me off at home later I remember having my mind full of confusing thoughts about time travel. I really enjoyed the movie on all levels, but it also got me thinking too. More on that later. The big problem I have with celebrating the anniversary of the movie today (it seems to be called "Back to the Future Day" all over the internet) is that the movie was released on July 3, 1985, meaning that we really should have celebrated its anniversary over the summer. I can understand that the date October 21, 1985 plays an important role in the series, AND it happens to fall in the YEAR of the 30th anniversary of "BTTF", but it's still not really the anniversary. I guess what bothers me is a simple fact of the present that wasn't really the case as much 30 years ago (and earlier). There was a time when movie studios would actually re-release movies to theaters. That idea might strike some as odd and others as outdated. But in 1985, when "Back to the Future" was released we were still in the relatively early days of affordable VCRs (Video Cassette Recorders). Between cable TV, VCRs and video stores renting an ever increasing variety of movies it was becoming easier to watch what you wanted when you wanted. Today we take that for granted, but there was a time before DVDs, Blu-rays (both of which are becoming endangered species themselves), DVRs, digital downloads and streaming video when you didn't have as much control over what was on and when it was on. When a movie left the theaters you might get a chance to see it a couple years later when it premiered on TV (or somewhat sooner on cable). But you had to be there when it was aired. Back in those "old days" popular movies would be re-released so people could enjoy them again. A lot of Disney animated classics found new generations of fans this way. The practice was probably already dying out in the late 1970s, but "Star Wars" (which I suppose I should refer to as "Episode IV: A New Hope" to avoid confusion) was re-released in 1978--just a year after its initial release--to cash in on the fact that it had become such a monster hit. And I remember going to see it in 1987 too, when it was re-released for its 10th anniversary. But, other than isolated events like the first "Star Wars" trilogy getting limited re-releases before the second trilogy came out, you don't tend to see re-releases much anymore. That's a side effect of how everything has become available to everyone anywhere and at any time. It's nice to have that availability, but I do feel that we've lost something special that came with "event" viewing of re-releases and stuff that would only be shown on TV once a year, like "The Wizard of Oz" and all the classic animated holiday specials. You had to tune in when they were on or you would have to wait until next year.

Okay, I've digressed quite a bit here. What does all this have to do with me being annoyed that we're celebrating the 30th anniversary of "Back to the Future" on October 21, 2015? Well, I heard that there was going to be some special screenings of the movie over the summer to commemorate the actual 30th anniversary. Even though I own the "BTTF" trilogy on DVD I was excited by the prospect of seeing the original on the big screen again. But...I never heard when or where those screenings would take place. Next thing I knew the summer was over and I never saw "Back to the Future". This is because, instead of a true re-release, it was simply some company putting on a one-off (or possibly two-off) screening that was more than likely a projection from a DVD or Blu-ray disc rather than a 35mm print or true digital presentation. I still would have wanted to see it, but it was apparently very limited (movie theaters don't want to give up screens for something that's not a new release and which probably won't generate much money). Last year Fathom Events (I believe) had a couple special screenings of "Ghostbusters" (1984) to celebrate its 30th anniversary. I was able to take The Little Monster to see one of those screenings and it was great to be able to see her experience the movie on a big screen, the way it was meant to be seen, after she had seen it many times on our TV screen. The problem was that this event wasn't publicized very well and there were only about five other people in the theater with us. I know it's an old movie, but it's hard to believe that there weren't more than seven people in the greater Boston area who would have liked to see "Ghostbusters" on the big screen. A true re-release would have made a lot more people aware of it. Despite the shortcomings of such a limited screening event I still would have loved to take The Little Monster to see "Back to the Future" on the big screen this summer. But I never managed to find the information about when, where (and if) it was being shown.

Alright, enough downers. Back to October 21, 2015. The Coolidge Corner Theatre scheduled a screening of "Back to the Future" as part of its Rewind series for tonight. That was a show I just HAD to go to. Unfortunately, by the time I got around to getting a was already sold out! But fortunately, there was so much interest in it (see what can happen with good publicity?) they scheduled an "encore" screening for October 22. And I made sure to get a ticket! While the date is not as significant in the "Back to the Future" canon, I will still be VERY happy to watch it up on the big screen tomorrow!

So, as far as the "Back to the Future" trilogy itself goes, I really enjoy the movies. As with most successful films followed by sequels, my favorite is the original, followed by the second and third ones, respectively. Now that October 21, 2015 has come to pass I really don't have any problems with the faulty predictions made about "the future" that are seen in "Back to the Future II". Hoverboards have supposedly been in some form of development since the movie came out, but I don't see them replacing skateboards any time soon. "Jaws 19" seemed like a humorous, but not completely unrealistic possibility back in 1989. Little did we know then that the series had already come to an end with 1987's "Jaws: The Revenge". And how 'bout those Cubs? At the beginning of the season there did seem to be a possibility of a Chicago Cubs vs. Miami Marlins World Series, like what happened in the 2015 of the film. The Marlins tailed off very quickly, but the Cubs actually had a great season and there was a lot of excitement going into the postseason. Could this FINALLY be the year that the Cubs would win it all? The answer, of course, is no. Ironically enough October 21, 2015 was the day they were eliminated in the National League Championship Series by the Mets. It somehow makes it even more prophetic that "Back to the Future II" would predict the Cubs winning in all in 2015. Everyone knew very well in 1989 that the Cubs hadn't won the World Series for thousands of years. But who could have guessed that twenty-six years later they STILL wouldn't have done it? I guess maybe the filmmakers had an idea. After all, in 1989 it would have had the same effect if the film stated that the 2015 Boston Red Sox would have won the World Series. But in the time between 1989 and 2015 the Red Sox managed to exorcize their demons and win THREE championships. And, the Cubs are still the Cubs...

Those predictions of the future were amusing in 1989, and remain so. But there's still something about "Back to the Future" that continues to boggle my mind and has only gotten more and more acute as the years keep on rolling by. I first really became bothered by this thought around five years ago when "BTTF" was celebrating it's 25th anniversary (a quarter of a century!!!). Now that we've hit the 30th anniversary it has really come to a head. So what is it that bothers me so much about this great film? Well, in 1985 (when the original film was set and when it was released) they traveled back 30 years in the past. As a kid 1955 seemed like a distant past that was hard to relate to. I knew my parents and many other people had lived through the 50's. I knew something of the look and feel of the time from movies and TV (even if some of it was warped by the 70's version of the 50's as portrayed in "Grease" and "Happy Days"). And I enjoyed a lot of the great music that came from the period. 1985 was the present. It was NOW. I can't quite comprehend the fact that the NOW of 1985 is now THIRTY YEARS OLD!!! Looking back at 1985 from 2015 seems like a completely different concept than looking back at 1955 from 1985. But it's the same amount of time! I know a lot of it has to do with age and frame of reference, but it's hard to imagine a kid watching "Back to the Future" today and seeing the "present" world portrayed in the film as something that's as old now as the "past" world that they go back to in the film. Never mind the fact that 30 years have passed and we're now living in a very different 2015 than the one imagined in "Back to the Future II". I still can't get over my own personal time paradox between 1955/1985/2015. Heck, 1955 is now sixty years removed, but it still seems the same to me as when it was only 30 years removed. I suppose it all comes back to the fact that I'm 30 years older now too. The fifteen-year-old who watched "Back to the Future" in 1985 has somehow morphed onto a 45 year old man who still feels much the same inside, but who has changed a lot on the outside. If only I could get my hands on a Delorean time machine...

And we still have another anniversary to celebrate:
the "present" of "Back to the Future" is actually October 26, 1985!