Tag Archives: Chocolate

Candy Review – Trader Joe’s Boffo! and Quasar Bars

Boffo! and Quasar, from Trader Joe's.

Boffo! and Quasar, from Trader Joe’s.

Trader Joe’s has been a long-time source of candy for candy-loving cheapskates like me, but while shopping for dark chocolate peanut butter cups spinach the other day, I spotted two new Trader Joe’s brand candy bars and I just had to have them – for science!

Denuded.

Denuded.

Boffo! to you! to!

Boffo! to you! to!

First up is the Boffo! Bar “with peanuts, caramel, and nougat enrobed in milk chocolate,” which sounded delightful and much like a Snickers bar.  Once sliced, it looked like a peanut-stingy, nougat-generous Snicker’s bar, and tasted that way, too, except the nougat was much chewier than in a Snickers.  Despite being the lead descriptor, the peanuts definitely come as an afterthought.  The chewiness of the nougat was at first overwhelming (as it was unexpected) but after eating a few more bites I began to thoroughly enjoy it.  Would I buy this candy bar again?  I don’t know that I’d get this over a Snickers Almond, M&M Almond, or Twix, for example, but it wasn’t horrible.  And while I wouldn’t be disappointed to find this in my trick-or-treat stash, at 240 calories and 28 grams of sugar, my doctor would.

Look at that thick coating!

Look at that thick coating!

The fine print...

The fine print…

I was excited by the dark chocolate covering the “whipped chocolate nougat and rich caramel” of the Quasar Bar, but immediately put off when I sliced into the bar and discovered a cross-section that looked suspiciously like the dreaded Mars Bar (don’t get me started on Mars Bars, the once-wonderful, chock-full-of-almonds candy bar that turned into the horrid English caramel and nougat-only Milky Way-esq monstrosity!!!).  However, for science, I tried a piece and then another piece and then another piece and then another.  Surprisingly delicious!  This is no Mars Bar/Milky Way!  The dark chocolate outside is fairly thick and good quality (cough cough for an American candy bar cough cough) and the caramel and nougat are a pleasing texture and sweetness.  At 220 calories and 30 whopping grams of sugar, I would have to be embracing my inner diabetic to eat this a second time, but then again my inner diabetic and I are pretty tight.

 

Overall, I’d put these two candy bars in the “buy” category if you’re looking for candy from Trader Joe’s.  (I also put the aforementioned Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups in the solid “buy” category, with instructions to store them in the freezer or fridge and eat them cold, but I’d put the Trader Joe’s dark chocolate covered almonds in the “pass” category, because for some reason, possibly the quality of the chocolate or the waxy coating, they’re unappealing in my book.)  And if you’re looking for non-chocolate sweets, the best thing to buy at Trader Joe’s right now is the Mini Ginger Pumpkin Ice Cream Mouthfuls, which are everything good about the fall season and frozen foods and life itself.

 

What Trader Joe’s items do you love?  Is there a candy that you used to love that you can’t find anymore?  Do you like pumpkin pie?  Share in the comments!

On the Road in Houston (Pre-race Hubris)

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Lots of free stuff at the giant Houston Marathon Expo!

I woke up at 4 am today and arrived in Houston by 11 am (with the 1 hour time difference, huzzah!). Since it was too early to check into my hotel I dropped off my luggage and went straight to the expo where I encountered the longest line I’ve ever gotten into in my life – no exaggeration. Even though I got there at 11:10 and they said they opened at 11:00, the line wasn’t moving. Luckily I chatted with some other lady runners and the time passed quickly (and once the line did start moving it also moved quickly enough).

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I could not capture the enormity of this line with my cell phone camera. It was about 3 city blocks long when I got in it (and of course my route started at the front so I passed everyone in line while searching for the end).

Bib pickup was also a bit of a pain (a very long & slow line for 5k pickup) but I got all my materials (5k bib and cotton tshirt, marathon bib and cotton tshirt) and then wandered the expo for fun and profit. I was not the most aggressive collector, but even still I walked away with all the free stuff you see in the photo above. It’s probably the most I’ve ever gotten at any expo, and repeat runners said it was the stingiest one yet. Everything really is bigger in Texas!

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Front and back of both the 5K and full marathon tshirts – just boring cotton tshirts. Supposedly there are finishers shirts for the half and full on Sunday (no second shirt for 5K). And of course the medals – 3 total medals if you run the both the 5k and the half/full!

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Idyllic ice skating scene just outside the convention center – slightly less crowded than Rockefeller Center.

One of the runners I met in line told me to go to the Phoenicia grocery store for lunch. I headed there (only a few blocks away) and was immediately overwhelmed by their selection. It made Whole Foods look like a crummy bodega. I kinda chickened out and got a flatbread with feta and veggies instead of the hot schwarma, which I still don’t know what is (despite it being discussed in Iron Man or Avengers or something).

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I also got all this candy. So! Much! Candy! (Large bag of chocolate covered pretzels not pictured.) I limited myself to candy bars I hadn’t tried before (and I left some on the shelf) but it’s still a bit much even for me. When in Texas!

I chatted with another runner at lunch (a 76-year-old multiple marathoner from Boston) who also encouraged me to try finishing the whole thing (but also emphasized that there’s no shame in a DNF, nor does anyone care what time you get in any race). Chatting with all these runners, walking around the expo, visiting a new city, buying lots of snacks and getting my outfits ready — all this has once again gotten me all hyped up on marathoning. I love this part!

So this evening, two nights before the marathon, while I’m full of chocolate and happily resting in my hotel room, I feel more optimistic about going for the full than I was a few days ago. It will still be a game day decision, but I’m not going to sabotage myself by going out too fast or not carrying enough Gu (I stocked up on some fun salted caramel, caramel macchiato, and espresso flavors at the expo).

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This is it – the marathon course “circled” at the half/full split. Yes, the 5k is tomorrow morning, and it’ll be a good test to see how I feel after basically not running for a month, but my mind is on Sunday. Sunday. Sunday…

What are you doing this holiday weekend? Have you ever tried any of the candy bars pictured? At which expo have you scored the most stuff? Share in the comments!

A Rocky Road That’s Not Sweet

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Snickers really satisfies, except for my running.

Hi there, stranger.  It’s been a long time since we talked about running.  Why’s that, you ask?  Because I haven’t been doing it, because I can’t do it, and that has led me to a life of chocolate.  Ok, I was already living a life of chocolate, but now chocolate fills both the chocolate void and the running void, which is too much chocolate, even for me.

 

After the New Year and the RWRunStreak ended, the polar vortex hit the East Coast and I had a perfect excuse to take a few days, then a few more, off from running.  I did some strength/interval training in the meantime, and on lucky January the 13th, one year after I successfully completed the Goofy Challenge at Disneyworld (the half marathon followed by the full marathon the next day), I ran 3 miles in Central Park.

 

Those three miles felt pretty great.  The weather was nice, and my knees barely hurt at all.  But that all changed overnight, when I woke on Tuesday to crazy knee pain in both knees.  It hurt to simply walk.  I iced, I tried to (mentally) shake it off, and by Wednesday they didn’t hurt every moment of the day, and by Thursday I could do my bodyweight interval exercises (like planks and squats) without much problem.

 

I was planning on doing my “long” run on that Saturday – aiming for 5 or 6 miles, but probably doing 4.  My marathon training program had me at 18 miles, but I was trying not to think about that.  Anyway, I went out into Central Park on the main loop and felt woefully out of shape.  I took a walk break after running up Cat Hill, but when I tried to start running again my right knee was having none of it.  For the past year I’ve been battling my left knee, but suddenly my right knee has decided to get in on the injury game.

 

My knee wasn’t warming up, and any pressure beyond walking made it hurt, so I scrapped the run and walked straight across the park back home.  And that’s when some serious running depression kicked in.  My next marathon (Little Rock, Arkansas) is in only 6 weeks.  I’m supposed to be running almost 40 miles a week right now, with long runs of 18 to 20 miles, but I can’t run one mile without pain.

 

So now I have to seriously consider a DNS (Did Not Start) and waste my nonrefundable airline ticket and race fee, or fly out there and face the pain and embarrassment of a DNF (Did Not Finish).  I say embarrassment not because a DNF is inherently embarrassing (far from it – sometimes not finishing is the smartest thing you can do), but because it’s almost embarrassing at this point for me to even try.  It’s one thing to miss a few training runs and generally run races undertrained, and another to be ridiculously unable to run and yet attempt a race anyway.  I don’t want to be irresponsible, and I know I would never do anything that might cause lasting damage, but I also hate to miss a race, and I think I could walk it without any major problems.  But I also don’t want to start being a marathon walker

 

So, there’s my rocky road choice – ice cream or a Snickers bar.  No, wait… the choice is to skip Little Rock or fly out there and maybe walk it.  I know where I’m leaning now (walk it), but I won’t have to make any decisions until later in February.  Since I’ll be travelling for the next three weeks, I’ll have a lot of time to think about it, a lot of time to do PT exercises and rest, and a lot of time to not run and eat chocolate.

 

Snickers Rockin' Nut Road candy bar cross-section.  Mmm mm.

Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road candy bar cross-section. Mmm mm.

If you’re wondering how that Rocky Road Snickers bar was, it was good.  The marshmallow wasn’t too sweet and was much lighter in texture than the traditional nougat,  the chocolate was dark instead of milk, and the nuts were almonds instead of peanuts.  I love Snickers Almond, and I’ve been obsessed with marshmallow chocolates, so this was right up my alley.  I was worried it would taste cheap or have that unpleasant artificial aftertaste some marshmallow chocolates have, but it didn’t.  Overall it came together beautifully, and I’d definitely buy it again.

 

How’s your winter running coming along?  Have you ever not used a non-refundable airline ticket?  Do you have any magic spells to make knees not hurt?  Share in the comments!

Gone Nutty! Pop Tarts

Snack Review – Gone Nutty! Pop Tarts

Gone Nutty! Pop Tarts

I’ve Gone Nutty! by buying these.

What do Pop Tarts have to do with running?  They’re just about my favorite processed food in the world, and I often treat myself to a two-pack of frosted blueberry Pop Tarts when I run a marathon (and maybe sometimes when I don’t…).

 

I also love all things chocolate and peanut butter, so you can imagine my excitement when I learned Pop Tarts released a new flavor – “Gone Nutty!” frosted Chocolate Peanut Butter “Made with Real Peanut Butter” flavored Pop Tarts.  I finally found them in stores, so I quickly snuck the box into my shopping basket and pretended I was an irresponsible mother instead of a single woman with a Pop Tart addiction.

 

I always eat my Pop Tarts cold, straight from the package.  I find toasting them makes them unpleasantly crunchy.  I also strongly dislike the s’mores flavor of Pop Tarts, finding the fake graham-cracker-flavored crust abhorrent and the marshmallow filling plain gross.  In general I stick to the frosted blueberry and frosted strawberry flavors, so it was with both excitement and as much trepidation as a Pop Tart can create that I cracked into the Gone Nutty! box.

 

Upon opening the box, I was momentarily wonderstruck by the fancy gold packaging instead of the standard silver.  But upon opening the gold foil package, I was disappointed at the splotchy smear of chocolate frosting – from fancy to messy in an instant.  The Tarts smelled strongly of that lovely artificial chocolate smell, but the peanut butter filling looked legit, although incredibly thin.

 

I’ve now finished almost an entire Tart, and the most I can say about the flavor is that it can best be described as “mild.”  It doesn’t taste strongly of chocolate, or of peanut butter, or of anything, really, other than “sweet.”  It’s not bad, but it’s not soul-affirming good (as I still find those frosted blueberry ones).  It’s definitely not inedible like the s’mores flavor, and I keep eating it because it’s sweet and it’s 2:30 PM, but I will certainly not be tempted to immediately finish the box, nor will I buy another.

 

If you love chocolate and peanut butter, go out and buy some real chocolate and actual peanut butter, or a Reece’s cup, or Trader Joe’s dark chocolate and peanut butter cups (amazing, especially frozen), but skip the Gone Nutty! Pop Tarts.  If you don’t really like chocolate or peanut butter, but love mild, soft, sweet but flavorless pastries, Pop Tarts has a great new option for you.

 

One Tart has 200 calories, 5 grams fat, 19 grams sugar, and 2 grams protein.  It’s also half of what you’ll probably eat, so just go ahead and double all those amounts.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Milkshake

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Milkshake – Snack Review

Chocolate Peanut Butter Banana Milkshake for Where's the Finish

Yes, it makes two full glasses like this, and yes, I easily drink both of them.

In my never-ending quest to find foods that taste like dessert but provide protein, I’ve pretty much perfected my protein powder smoothie into a delicious, creamy, decadent chocolate peanut butter banana milkshake.

 

First, the ingredients.

Pure protein and PB2 for milkshake

These are the amounts I use – nothing exact required unless you’re closely counting calories, which I foolishly do not.

  1. I’ve been using Pure Protein chocolate protein powders for a few years now.  The “frosty chocolate” flavor mixes okay into water using just a spoon, but any flavor tastes better if it’s blended with ice and extras in a blender.
  2. This summer I discovered PB2 powdered peanut butter.  I originally got it because it’s low-fat and I planned on mixing it with water to use as regular peanut butter, but pretty much I’ve only used it for smoothies.
  3. A banana.  Still the best deal in NYC at 5 (sometimes 8) for one dollar.  The banana is optional but it makes for a creamier milkshake.  Besides, aren’t runners supposed to eat a lot of bananas?
  4. Ice (pictured – maybe 1.5 cups?) and water (not pictured, maybe another cup or two?).  Amounts can vary a lot depending on how “icy” you want your drink – but too much ice and not enough water means it won’t blend properly.  You could also use milk but it’s not necessary.

 

Protein shake before blending

All the ingredients before blending – note the line of liquid is about even with the peanut butter jar

Put in the ice first, then dump the two powders on top, then put in the banana.  Shake the powder down through the ice cubes as much as possible (so it doesn’t all shoot to the top when you start the blender), then pour water on top of everything until the powder and ice is covered with about an inch or so of water.  Blend for about 30 seconds or until it’s all nicely mixed and frothy.  Pour into a large glass and try to stop at one… because the amounts above make two giant glasses.  I still drink both glasses and pretend it’s supposed to be one serving.  Approximate calories are 140 for the scoop of protein powder (3 g fat, 25 g protein), 45 calories for 2 tablespoons of the powdered peanut butter (1.5 g fat, 5 g protein) (but I use a little more than 2 T of the peanut powder), and 100 calories for the banana (.5 g fat, 1 g protein), so around 285 calories total (probably a little over 300 the way I make it), 5 g fat and 31 grams protein.

 

Protein shake after blending

After blending – froths up quite a bit – level is now way above the peanut butter jar

It’s my favorite recovery drink after long runs and I’ve been enjoying them even after short runs now, with only minor guilt.  They fill you up fairly well, too, but I usually need a little more to be satisfied for a meal.

 

 

What kind of protein powder or recovery food do you like?  Share in the comments!

Where's the Finish Panda

When bad knees happen to sort-of-good people

I don’t even know what to say about this morning’s run.  It was supposed to be what qualifies as speedwork for me now (6 miles starting at a 10:30 pace and working down to 9:30).  Everything started out great.  I was doing the Central Park loop clockwise, heading down the north hills at mile 2.5 when my left knee started hurting.  Considerably hurting.  I stopped to walk and shake it out a bit, then tried running again.  It still hurt.  So I walked more, cursing all the bad decisions I had made recently – skipping my core workout yesterday, eating too many cookies and chocolates, not getting enough sleep.   I tried running again – still too painful.  I started making grand promises – no more sweets, only cucumbers and air from now on.  Double up on the strength exercises.  No more procrastination.  At the steepest uphill, I tried running again – not so bad.  Actually, not bad at all.

I was careful not to overstride but tried to keep my pace up, constantly monitoring my form and checking if there was any lingering pain.  For the most part, there was no more pain.  A couple of twinges cropped up at mile 5, but I felt so good in the crisp 65 degree weather I kept going, finishing up my 6 miles with a 9:00 pace.

I’m icing my knee now, trying to remember all those promises I made to myself (and reminding myself that 1 pound of weight creates 4 to 5 pounds of force on the knee), but I don’t have any cucumbers, and some chocolate with almonds would really hit the spot right now…