June 23, 2011

Sabor de Soledad Part II - Foods From My Childhood

For the second installment of Sabor de Soledad, I thought I’d kick it old-school and reminisce about my favorite foods from childhood. The 1980’s and early 90’s were strange times for food – lots of preservative laden snacks, sugary drinks, and microwavable treats. I still remember the day we got our first microwave – it was like looking into the future and knowing you’d never go back. Hope you remember some of these classics…

Giggles – These awesome sandwich cookies were unique because they made several combinations to suit all tastes: two chocolate cookies OR two vanilla cookies both glued together with delicious chocolate AND vanilla frosting. Each was made complete by the creepy little smiley face peering out at you from the cookie you were about to consume. I felt a bit cannibalistic every time I ate Giggles, but they tasted too good to stop.

Dunkaroos – Another great in the pantheon of cookie/frosting combos! These were kangaroo shaped cookies that you dunked in the accompanying container of chocolate frosting. Add as much or as little as you like! I usually piled on the frosting to the first few cookies and was left with several unfrosted cookies at the end. Sadface. Dunkaroos and Toaster Strudel taught me the fine art of frosting conservation.

Handi Snacks – Butter crackers and spreadable cheese-like food product… could we ask for anything more? Served side-by-side in a small plastic container with that iconic red plastic “spoon”, children across America ate Handi Snacks with glee for lunch every day. The hardcore kids would throw caution to the wind and just eat the cheese part. Not enough carbs in the hardcore method for my tastes.

Shark Bites Fruit Snacks – Hands down, the BEST fruit snacks EVER. While most of the flavors were pretty standard (cherry, grape, etc.) what made Shark Bites the best was the coveted and elusive “Great White Shark” flavor. There was only ever one “Great White Shark” per pack of Shark Bites, but damn was he tasty! I’m still not even sure what flavor it was (lemon maybe?) but they somehow managed to make a fruit snack pure white and it tasted sorta… milky? Sounds gross, I know, but as a 9-year-old it was haute cuisine. Plus, the Hawaiian style packaging made me feel very exotic as I nibbled my fruit snacks by the pool.

Clearly Canadian – Probably one of the healthier products consumed in the 80’s, Clearly Canadian was popular with kids and adults alike. Sparkling water in many fruit flavors with way less sugar than soda? Sign me up! And guess what… they’re totally bringing it back! The first time I see this on the grocery store shelf, I may let out a “squeeeee”! Fair warning. Another beverage we sought out was Orbitz, a thick sugary drink with Orbs of Unknown Origin suspended in it. We thought the concept was so cool, so we walked to our nearest drugstore to buy it and were very disappointed to find that it tasted like crap.

Oh’s and Cracklin’ Oat Bran cereals – Why I was eating cereal designed for the elderly as a child is beyond me, but like my cousin, Michelle, I have always been an equal opportunity cereal enthusiast. Amidst all the Count Chocula and Fruity Pebbles, I found space in my tummy for Oh’s and Cracklin’ Oat Bran. My grandma kept her kitchen stocked with cereal for the grandkids and I’d happily consume a bowl of one of these after school almost every day. In fact, when I moved in to my very first solo apartment, my first food purchase was a box of Oh’s! Sadly, it did not hold the same magic from childhood and left a distinctly oily coating in my mouth. The “Oh!” turned into more of an “Oh….”

Sunny Delight – Another offering of my grandma’s kitchen was sugary, neon orange Sunny Delight. My brother (Logan), sister (Bree) and I guzzled this stuff like it was going out of style, often alongside grandma’s famous biscuits and gravy. Tip: If you start to feel a burning sensation in your throat after your first three glasses of the day, you gotta push through because the hallucinations don’t kick in until after the fifth glass. You’re welcome.

White Cheddar Popcorn – I don’t know if any of you have been to Tucson in the summer, but guess what? It’s freaking hot! The best place to take refuge in the 90s was the air conditioned haven of the Tucson Mall. My mom and Aunt Debbie would take us there to wander aimlessly for hours on end. Logan and our cousin Hunter took up residence in the video game store, because unlike an arcade, their display games were FREE. Bree, Michelle and I semi-stalked an employee of “The Great American Hero” sandwich shop who vaguely resembled Luke Perry. After a few hours, Mom and Aunt Debbie would wrangle us all to the flavored popcorn stand for a snack. The advent of White Cheddar Popcorn was mind blowing! An instant classic that is now frozen in time thanks to Smartfood.

Hot Pockets – My dad was responsible for packing our school lunches for awhile, which meant that a Hot Pocket wrapped in tin foil usually made its way into my lunchbox. While preparing them on my own, the hard part was having enough restraint to let them COOL after removing from the microwave… lost a few layers of mouth-skin to piping hot Barbecue Beef and Pepperoni Pizza fillings.

Bagel Bites – Another microwavable all-star and winner of my favorite commercial jingle from the 90s: “Pizza in the morning, pizza in the evening, pizza at suppertime! When pizza’s on a bagel, you can have pizza anytime!” They were apparently working on a Little House on the Prairie time schedule of “evening” and “suppertime.” Bagel Bites are still being made, but somehow the appeal of cheese shreds and cubed pepperoni on a chewy mini-bagel has lessened over the years. These couldn’t hold a candle to the English Muffin pizzas our parents let us make for dinner sometimes – still love those things!

Jello 1-2-3 – Johnny’s family lived in South Africa during most of his youth, so he missed out on a lot of American 80s culture. I casually mentioned Jello 1-2-3 in conversation one day and a look I’ve come to know too well spread across his face: “I grew up in South Africa and have no idea what you’re talking about”. After setting aside my feelings of pity, I explained the phenomena of Jello 1-2-3: you mixed it up just like regular Jello, but as it cooled it settled into three layers, the bottom-most being regular Jello, the top being frothy and creamy, and the middle being a combination of the two. Sure, it didn’t taste that good. Sure, the layers never set up properly. But it was the magic of it all, I explained to Johnny, which had us hooked. He looked at me silently for a minute and then went back to watching TV.  

Cool Ranch Doritos – If “Grease” was the word in the 70s, “Ranch” was the word in the 80s. Everything was either dipped in ranch or flavored like ranch… it was classy. My love affair with Cool Ranch Doritos was intense, but brief. It was only after I realized that CRD breath (not to mention CRD fingers) was the worst smelling breath a girl could have that I switched to the less offensive O’Boises Potato Chips. I’m not sure who still consumes this zesty cousin to regular Doritos, but every time I pass them in the convenience store, I instinctively reach for a piece of gum.  

Berry Blue Kool Aid – Kool Aid is so weird. You’d think commercials featuring a hopped-up fatty Kool Aid man bursting through perfectly good walls to hawk his wares would be enough to deter parents from buying this stuff. But Kool Aid is cheap and easy to make, so its hooks remain deeply entrenched in the back of America. Berry Blue Kool Aid was introduced in the 80s and seemed to be even more radioactive than the other flavors. I vividly remember pouring the blue powder into our Kool Aid pitcher, adding in several cups of sugar, stirring in water and marveling at the color that was about to leave a stain around my mouth. Now THAT’s what I call refreshment!

Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bellys – When I was a kid, we walked uphill both ways to school and Jelly Bellys were a boutique item. You couldn’t find them just anywhere, you spoiled brats, you had to visit a Jelly Belly store to get them. When my Aunt Debbie heard about Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bellys, her curiosity was too strong to resist. We all made the trek down to our local Jelly Belly store on University Boulevard and we each hesitantly popped one in our mouths… some were in love, some were vomiting within minutes. Jelly bean flavors are so subjective, ya know?

Big League Chew – Who in their right mind thought it would be a good idea to allow kids to decide how much bubble gum was enough? How some poor child didn’t choke to death while chomping on an entire package of Big League Chew is a mystery. I remember the cartoons of sports figures on the packaging being kinda creepy. But there was a certain satisfaction in stuffing your face with shredded bubble gum. Bree and I were also big fans of Bubblicious and Fruit Stripes gum, an obsession which only increased after a clerk who resembled Dennis Quaid in “Great Balls of Fire” started at our neighborhood 7-11. We’d beg our mom to take us to buy gum and would hide amongst the racks of beef jerky and powdered donuts to spy on him. What little pervs.

Combos – I loved Combos as a kid and I really have no idea why… These are round little snack crackers or pretzels filled with a variety of chalky paste in different flavors. “Combos” include Cheddar Cheese Pretzel, Cheddar Cheese Cracker, Nacho Cheese Pretzel, and Pepperoni Pizza Cracker, my fave. I don’t know how these snacks have managed to stay in production, they don’t taste good and they nearly made me choke every time I ate them. My guess is that the occurrence of people who eat Combos is directly correlated to perpetrators of violent crime.  

Steak-umms – I don’t think I’ve ever actually eaten a Steak-umm, but their marketing campaign was fierce. I remember Steak-umms commercials monopolizing the airwaves at MTV for years, and they always featured cool teenagers. To me, Steak-umms represented acceptance, but for some reason my parents never bought them. Is a Steak-umm just the meat part of a cheese steak sandwich? Seems like a rip-off to me. Hey Steak-umms eaters, you could be getting an entire meal wrapped in a convenient crust if you came over to the Hot Pockets side… just saying…

Squeez-its – Another sugary drink, but these were packaged in little plastic bottles that you squeeeeezed. You can also fill the empty bottles with water and use as water guns.

Chile Picante Corn Nuts – Corn Nuts were forever immortalized in the movie “Heathers”, but my Mexican friends and I had been happily munching on Chile Picante Corn Nuts covered in fresh lemon juice for years by that time. It was a bit messy to dig into the narrow Corn Nuts aluminum bag and find your hand covered in lemon juice and Chile Picante coating, but it was worth it. Oh, the joys of being a disgusting little kid!

Peanut Butter Boppers – Toeing the line between candy bar and granola bar, people in the 80s no doubt considered these “health food”. Boppers were essentially comprised of a granola and chocolate chip exterior and a thick peanut butter interior. Eating them made me feel sick, but in a good way. There is a box of Boppers stashed in the family refrigerator in “The Lost Boys”, which always confused me because we kept ours in the cabinet. Were we doing it wrong? Another tasty peanut butter treat from the 80s was the PB Maxx. Copious amounts of peanut butter = good decision making in the 80s.

I could honestly go on forever, but I’ll draw the line there. I’d like to take a moment to thank the universe for not giving me cancer despite how badly I’ve treated my tummy in the past. (True story: I once at a peanut butter blizzard with Nerds mixed in. Wow.)

Add a comment and tell everyone what your favorite 80s and 90s foods and drinks were IF YOU DARE…


  1. This was FANTASTIC! Thanks for starting my day with a stroll down culinary memory lane. The commercials really brought it all back. I forgot how crappily we ate when we were little. Grossning! I think my least favorite thing on here are the Cool Ranch Doritos. I always harbored an intense, vehement hatred for the things because they smelled like a cross between rotten cheese and stinky feet. It made me reject the 80's ranch craze whole-heartedly, and to this day, I can only eat Eegee's ranch dressing. All other ranch makes me gag! Claude, of course, loves them, and if he ever indulges, I make him shower, brush his teeth, floss, and rinse with mouthwash before coming anywhere near me. My favorite food of the past is actually not on here. Remember those Bageldogs that we used to get from Price Club? Loved those things!! They were the perfect combination of squishy, doughy bagel and greasy, nitrite oozing lips and assholes. I wonder if those are still around? Anyway, thanks for this brilliant reminiscence. Ah, the good ol' days. :J

  2. Oh man, do I ever remember Bageldogs! I think Dad would buy them in packs of 60 at Price Club, so the last few would be freezer-burned and extra tasty. Mmmm. And your food descriptions still never fail to totally disgust me... probably a big contribution to my decision to go vegan! LOL You should work for PETA.

  3. I started reading this at work and it's too funny. I will need to finish reading at home. I'm holding back tears of laughter over the ranch-laden 80s section. :)