Official Review of the New Hostess Cupcake

Hostess Cupcake Birthday Cake

At one of those significantly numbered birthdays, the birthday cake was an oversized Hostess cupcake.

After several nervous months in withdrawal, I celebrated the return of the Hostess Cupcake. But I was wary.

If the most recent company couldn’t make a go of their business with this perennial favorite, what would the new company do to the product to drive the bottom line? I mean this little cupcake hit the market in 1919 and has been gathering steam since then.  From 1988 when 400 million Hostess cupakes were sold until 2011 when Hostess sold over 600 million cupcakes, this product has been a serious cash cupcake. And then the company tanked? Nice job bozos.

So why do I care. Well, I have a Hostess Cupcake jones. If Hostess Cupcakes were alcohol, I’d have to be in a 12 step program. I started mainlining these cupcakes when I was ten and went to work with my dad at something like 7AM. He kept me busy with a Grape pop and a package of Hostess cupcakes (yes, two).

At one of my significant birthdays at which I hosted 60 guests, the cake was a giant Hostess Cupcake.

Need I go on?

So what do I think of this snack cake version of crystal meth? It’s ok.  Happy to have them back but…

First of all, all snack food has changed.  Mostly for the worse.  Honeymaid graham crackers taste like cardboard and smell terrible. Devilsfood cookies are approaching the size of a quarter and are simply disappointing. And don’t even get me started on how badly Keebler Chips suck.  The sad stories abound in the cookie aisle. Nutritionists have hounded snack producers to reduce & remove those tasty saturated fats. Whole grain has crowded out good old white flour. The argument? It’s better for you. I don’t get it. This is snack food not my sustenance. If I otherwise balance my diet, I want to eat my share of crap. It’s not to be.

But I’m really getting away from my topic. Let’s take a look at this appealing antichrist to a good healthy breakfast, the new Hostess Cupcake. What of it?

Smaller

Well, duh, the thing is smaller. I believe this shrinkage is part of a  trend that’s been going on for years. But V.x of this Hostess cupcake is most definitely smaller than V.(x-1).

Icing

There’s something different here. And it’s different wrong. First, the frosting is  like a bad toupée. Instead of a hard almost crackable layer, the icing is a goo. Others might call it chewy. Tasty to the tongue but of inconsequential texture in the mouth.  Worse, one was always happy to discover just enough of the icing on each cupcake that had dribbled down the side. This was like bonus. The taste you took before you invested yourself in the sensuous cake-frosting-filling of your first real bite.  I counted on that icing foreplay. But it’s gone. Today the icing sits neatly on top of the cupcake with only a taunting hint of its former slovenly hang-over-the-belt abundance.

Squiggles

Sloppy Hostess cupcake assembly includes 8th squiggle

I mean, come on! This 8th squiggle doesn’t even FIT on the cupcake.

Now all this might be ok except for one unforgivable: the squiggles. I’m sure there is not a quiz contestant who couldn’t hit the buzzer quickly when asked how many squiggles there are on a Hostess Cupcake.  For non-quiz contestants, the answer is 7. Or maybe the answer is now 8. The upgraded mass production of these mass produced cupcakes rolls off the assembly line with a clear hint of 8 squiggles. If for nothing else, that alone has ruined the product.

 The Rest

About the no-expiration-date white custard filling and the permafresh devilsfood cake I have no real pique.  They were always pretty artificial and I would argue it’s just the way I like them.

I’ll probably continue to buy and eat these Hostess cupcakes for the simple reason that they are part of my DNA.  But I would argue that as those of us who were weaned on the real thing enter our diabetic comas the Hostess cupcake bubble will deflate. Those kids who go to work with dad and get the grape pop and Hostess Cupcake bribe are part of the past.

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Living Large in Munising

Between the 4th of July falling on a Wednesday, bracketed by 2 weekends, I knew it might be hard getting a room at times. That’s why I had packed prepared to camp or even sleep in my car if it came to that. Well, the campsites have been about as full as the motels but I’ve threaded the room-availability needle and haven’t had to sleep in my car. At least not yet, anyway.

By the time I got to Paradise (I just love writing that), I had some clarity of my trip.  So it seemed like a good time to make some reservations. I nailed Newberry on my first call and first choice which was good news as well as told me something about the appeal of Newberry on a Saturday night at the top of the tourist season.  But Munising was a different story.

I started calling optimistically my first choice. Traveling by myself, I prefer the independent owners who offer properties with a little personality. While sometimes that personality is mold and odor and really thin towels, more often than not it’s a comfortable room in a quirky building. The owner has trophies of his daughter’s cart racing championships.

So that’s where I started with my Munising investigation. By my 9th call I had worked my way through all the independents. Even the one called by one TripAdvisor reviewer, “full of parolees and convicts”. So now I looked at the handful of Econo-Comfort-DaysInn-Super8 motel options.  These are usually options with predictable but mediocre rooms and free waffle breakfasts with bad coffee. I reserved 2 nights at the Super 8.

My layover room would be a box inside a box. No lapping water against the shore, only the swoosh of passing cars, grind of trucks and roar of motorcycles. I checked in and was provided my card key without comment.  After all, about what should they comment? Nothing had prepared me for this room. I entered.

Only one bed. In the place where the second bed should have been was nothing less than a red heart-shaped Jacuzzi. I mean, I understand the heart-shaped Jacuzzi at that over-priced Inn in Galena. But I was at the Super 8 in the Upper Peninsula outside Munising, Michigan.

Yes, there’s traffic outside my open window. But you can’t hear it over the roar of the Jacuzzi jets.

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Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Sitting on the dock of the bay.  A great song. But Otis Redding forgot to mention the black flies.

OK, I should have been forewarned. I took a walk after dinner along the riverwalk  in Manistee and plowed my way through a couple clouds of flying insects. Silly me to not think black fly. Until the next morning when I found my throat lumpy and itchy with bug bites.  And itch they did just to keep me aware of the threat of these annoying bloodsuckers.

But there I was sitting on my private little dock in Paradise (Michigan) completely enthralled with Whitefish Bay. I could see the blinking lights of the wind turbines on the Canadian side of the bay. A Kingfisher buzzed by every couple minutes patrolling the calm water. The water lapped at the shore. And the sun setting behind me caused the undulating water to alter its hue and intensity of sky sea blue and sun tan yellow, ultimately losing color altogether. A star became visible. I sipped my PBR.

Again the flies appeared. If I hadn’t been hypnotized by this placid environment I might have paid attention. First there were a couple.  But ultimately word got out that dinner was served and I was unwittingly it.  I’d doused myself with some kind of  toxic bug spray.  I think it was called something like “Dinner Bell” or “Come and Get it”. I didn’t help myself at all by hauling out my computer for a few minutes, the screen light serving as landing lights at Restaurant de Sonny.

Black flies are insidious. Unlike mosquitoes, they land on you and then march off to some inconvenient location like your waist band, the collar of your shirt or behind your ears.  Itching began the next morning and my first effort to quell the assault was the hydrocortisone I’d brought. Ill prepared for the prevention, but totally ready for the cure.

When that didn’t work particularly well, I acquired a bottle of calamine lotion.  That wasn’t too swift either. I researched itch relief online. The remedies ran the gamut from scalding your skin with hot towels to applying onion or ammonia.

Ultimately, I found my elixir based on a couple hits I picked up online. I hit my body with ibuprofen providing me a system anti-inflammatory in combination with the hydrocordisone that soothes the inflammation topically.  I thought I had it under control. I was not prepared for 2 weeks of itchy recovery. Reflecting, the itch was a bit of a downer but it was a small price to pay for that short time sitting on the dock of the bay.

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Scene of the Crime – Schumsky Road Revisited

My goal for the evening on this second day of my Lake Michigan circle tour, as much as I had one at all, was Petoskey, Michigan. Or maybe Charelevoix. Or maybe past Petoskey to Harbor Springs. Studying my maps I noted that I would pass within a few miles of Schumsky Road south of Traverse City.

Birders on Schumsky Road looking for WarblersOn this road only 4 weeks ago, a troop of 16 of us had stood in the 49 degree rain trying to locate and then peer through the vapor for a myriad of Warblers. While we’d seen many of these birds migrating through our Chicago area, finding them in their nesting habitat would be fun. And among these handsome birds is the Golden-winged Warbler. Sure we’d found it. But now I wanted to see it again. It was warm and sunny and much more pleasant for bird watching. Of course good weather is often bad birding. I decided to give it a try.

This hot day, the road was comparatively busy with kayaks and canoes being hauled to a small river boat access, each passing car kicking up dust on the dry unpaved path.  I walked the road. I walked back. I downed some meatballs from my cooler, leftovers from my small plate and soup at TJ’s in Manistee the previous night.

Getting here, I’d passed by the fabled Interlochen Camp for Performing Arts. For a moment I toyed with the idea of stopping in. My cousins, Benjamin and Noah, sons of my cousins Michael and Arlene, were attending. I’m friendly with these two young men and I knew they’d be happy to see me. But if I stopped I knew it would be more than a wave. I’d probably get the tour. I didn’t want to be rude. And I wasn’t expected. I got gas instead and pushed on to Schumsky road about 5 miles away.

Now, having had my ersatz lunch I tried one more time to find the bird. I would cheat. I grabbed essential accessories: camera, binoculars and my Android phone loaded with Ibird Pro and including the recorded sounds of hundreds of birds.

I listened and heard a Warbler. I hoped it would be my bird. I played the recorded sound of a Golden-winged Warbler. Nothing Golden-winged Warbler - Schumsky Roadpisses a bird off more than another male encroaching on its territory. And that’s what my little recording would simulate. Playing these recordings can stress the bird. And believe it or not, birds have a lot of stress in their little lives. In the end I justified my action knowing this was a known but not overly visited area and this one stressful bird call would be only one of a few.

It was maybe only 20 seconds before my target bird showed up to investigate the intruder in its neighborhood. It hung around. I took a picture. Satisfied there was no actual threat, he disappeared again into the thicket. Hot, sweaty and choking on road dust I escaped to the relative comfort of my air conditioned car.

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How Nice is Manistee Michigan

I rolled into Manistee on the first evening of my circle tour of Lake Michigan. This had been one of my longer driving legs complete with the escape from Chicago rush hour traffic and circumnavigating Michigan coastal resort communities and their traffic as well. I was tired. But I had my sights set on staying in town at the Ramsdell Inn. Of course, I had no reservations.

I entered the converted bank building now home of the Inn and its bistro in the converted basement, er, lower level.  A room? I asked casually with anxiety that I would be banished to the Super 8 on the outskirts of town. Score! It would be martinis at TJ’s and then a walk around town and to the harbor. No Super 8 for me. At least not this time.

My room was ridiculously nice. A faux fireplace framed a handsome queen bed in a quaint room with central air (thank goodness for that). In the second floor of this three floor walk-up inn, I overlooked the main street and Manistee’s harbor. The lobby was an eclectic mix that included a canon (yes, a canon), soft seating, a banker’s teller window and the old walk-in safe – now home to a very tiny gift shop.

Manistee is a great little town. A vibrant street scene with many shops – very few of them (if any) selling fudge and candles, the staple of many tourist traps. Coffee at a small café. I tried to pump some money into their economy but there were no hiking socks in my size to be found at the camping store or the shoe store. Other shops looked interesting but I’m not much for shopping, especially when there are other things to see.

And what there was to see was a nice riverwalk that led me to the mouth of the Manistee river and the obligatory magnificent light house. The beach was adjacent. I could see myself staying for several days in Manistee enjoying the scene. But as much as I was happy with where I was, the vacation mindset had not entirely set in. I would leave tomorrow for Petoskey. I will come back to Manistee.

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Score One for the Piping Plover

Two men walked into a bar.  Well, actually we came in separately and sat at the bar at TJ’s in the lower level of the Ramsdell Inn where I was staying in Manistee, Michigan on the first leg of my circle tour around Lake Michigan. Drinking my martini and he his Mount Pleasant, Michigan microbrewed blackberry ale, we started to talk. Joe (now my good friend) was a sailor with a boat in a slip in the Manistee harbor. He knew of my interest in birds and told this story:

Apparently the closest safe harbor west of Sault St. Marie is Petoskey, Michigan according to Joe (I think this is wrong, but whatever). When weather threatens or boat problems occur the sailor may find himself quite literally adrift between two distant points. So plans were made to put a harbor in at Cross Village, a village with a 2000 census of 294 hardy souls. OK, I don’t know that they’re hardy, but there’s not many of them and I just hope they’re not all related.

Well, when word spread that a harbor was to be constructed at Cross Village a land rush of some proportion took place with property changing hands at inflated value to what this sleepy town might otherwise command.  The Army Corps began its investigation.

Then the bottom fell out of this real estate boom. Piping Plovers, an endangered bird and protected by the state of Michigan, were discovered on the Lake Michigan shores of Cross Village. There would be no harbor at Cross Village. But there would be a continuing safe and protected habitat for Piping Plover.

I’m going there today. I guess Cross Village will just have to be happy with land sailors like me. I’m looking forward to a meal at the Legs Inn, identified by The Detroit Free Press as one of fourteen Great Michigan Eats in the state of Michigan. Who knew?

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Jean Klock Park Takes One for the Golf Industry

Objective #1 was to get out of town. Although I harbored delusions of leaving at the crack of dawn and sprinting through the gantlet of city traffic before rush hour (now there’s an oxymoron) turning a 45 minute drive to the Indiana state line into a 2 hour grind, I failed. But the traffic gods smiled on me and, leaving closer to 10 AM, I threaded the needle, even catching open express lanes and made it through.

This trip is pretty aimless. Basically, keep Lake Michigan on my left until I get back to where I started.  But I did have a few things I wanted to see aside from what serendipity might deliver to me.  And that one thing today was Jean Klock Park in St. Joseph, Michigan.

I won’t retell the story of Jean Klock Park except to say that it was a conflict between a community attempting to preserve a Lake Michigan lakefront park with its adjacent dunes against the encroachment of a proposed championship golf course.  Of course, I connected to this story because of my own efforts to prevent a golf course from being built on the site of the old Fort Sheridan, now part of the Lake County Forest Preserve.  And the coincidence of two golf course conflicts on opposite sides of Lake Michigan at virtually the same latitude was compelling but the stories were completely different.

The overtones of a (“THE”) major employer and economic engine of the area, Whirlpool, against an organized but seemingly powerless poor (mostly) black community in neighboring Benton Harbor enriched the story. But in the end, this was about whether yet another golf course should be built while the sport is suffering a downward spiral in golf rounds played.

So guess what. The poor people lost and questionable decisions about land rights were decided against the Park defenders and today the championship Harbor Shores golf course   now occupies a section of land formerly part of Jean Klock Park.  I had to see this.

Parking against the sand dune at Jean Klock Park St. Joseph MichiganBegging off the $6.00 daily visitor fee to the beach (“I’m just looking”),  I drove in and encountered a remarkable expanse of breathtaking sand beach. Clearly, one bone thrown to the opposition was a landscape architected parking lot, concessions and other facilities.  I parked nose in hard up against the sand dunes, positioned as if they were a stage set like the artificial environment at the Rainforest Café instead of the constantly changing and fluid pile of sand that they are.  How long, I wondered before this parking lot were under this sand dune? Or how much money would be spent (and by whom) to keep the dune in its place.

I climbed a conveniently located viewing stand. In one direction the western horizon and Lake Michigan. In the other I was standing at the tee to one of Harbor Shore’s Jack Nicklaus inspired golf courses.

On this cloud-free and hot day in June it all looked good. I couldn’t help but be impressed. Even with the golf course.  But as I left I couldn’t help but wonder what remarkable and irreplaceable sand dune habitat had been destroyed so that neatly manicured and non-native lawn grass could grow. And about the intent of the Klock family who had donated this land to the public as open space. And about the people of Benton Harbor whose poor community stood in stark relief to this display of casual affluence. But now I’ve seen Jean Klock Park.

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