Thursday, July 24, 2014

Fruity, Not Milky Or Nutty, Blue Diamond Strawberry Almonds (Mostly) Satisfy!


The Good: Good flavor, Fairly nutritious.
The Bad: Not really that fruity, Environmental impact of the packaging
The Basics: The Strawberry Over Roasted Almonds from Blue Diamond might not be the most realistic flavored, but they are enjoyable.


Now that I am no longer stuck at a horrible night job where I get most all of my food in bar form, I am discovering that I enjoy exploring other foods once again. In the case of some snack foods, it is exciting to me that some of them are actually enjoyable to me, as opposed to a form of simple sustenance. That has led me back to a lifelong love affair with nuts. Tonight, that finds the form of Blue Diamond Strawberry Oven Roasted Almonds.

Despite suddenly being reminded how much I love nuts of various types, as a reviewer, I found myself in a more neutral than impressed place when it came to Blue Diamond’s Strawberry Almonds. They are tasty, for sure, but they are not overly accurate for replicating the flavor of strawberries.

Basics

Blue Diamond Strawberry flavor Oven Roasted Almonds are a ready-to-eat snack that combines fruit and nut flavors and the result is a sweet snack, not a nutty one. Packaged in a 1.5 oz. plastic tube which is a single serving, the Oven Roasted Almonds are well protected. After pulling apart the top seal, consumers have access to the almonds that are dusted with a powder that gives them their Strawberry flavor. Each tube represents a single serving.

Outside their light pink frosted appearance, the Strawberry Oven Roasted Almonds look just like ordinary almonds.

Ease Of Preparation

These are roasted nuts, so preparing them is as easy as opening the bag/tube they come in and consuming them. There is no trick or work needed to eat Strawberry flavor Oven Roasted Almonds.

Taste

The Strawberry Oven Roasted Almonds smell very nutty without truly hinting at the strawberry flavoring that is powdered onto it. There is only the most vague fruit scent to some of these almonds; otherwise the buttery, nutty scent to the almonds dominates the aroma that comes out of the bags of these almonds.

On the tongue, the sweetness of the strawberry almonds overcomes the nutty, buttery, or dry flavor that many almonds have. Instead, there is a light fruity flavor that is sublimated to the sugary flavor of the almond’s coating. While the strawberry flavor might not be the most exceptional, it effectively breaks up the flavor of almonds and allows consumers to forget they are eating something healthy.

There is no dry or buttery aftertaste to these almonds. Instead, they leave the mouth with a sweet aftertaste that is nice. The aftertaste lasts only about five minutes after one has finished consuming them.

Nutrition

Blue Diamond Strawberry Oven Roasted Almonds are fairly healthy, despite the sugary coating! A serving is considered 43 grams which is an ounce and a half. With the standard recommended serving size, the nuts have 18 grams of fat! That's 28% of the RDA of fat, with 7% of the RDA coming from the one and a half grams of saturated fat! While there is 10% of the RDA of calcium and eight grams of protein, these do not have an incredible range of nutrients in them. In addition to potassium (260mg) and a surprisingly low amount of salt (only 35 mg sodium!), these nuts have iron, Vitamin E, and Magnesium, but no other vitamins and minerals.

The ingredients list for these Strawberry flavor Oven Roasted Almonds is fairly short as well. Blue Diamond Strawberry almonds are made primarily of almonds, sugar and natural strawberry flavor. There is nothing unpronounceable in these nuts.

Storage/Clean-up

Just as with the preparation, Blue Diamond Strawberry flavor Oven Roasted Almonds are low stress when it comes to storage and cleanup. Storage is simple when the nuts are kept in their tubes at room temperature or cooler. Kept sealed in their bags, these nuts would not expire until May 2015, though I doubt mine will last that long as I have been enjoying them.

Blue Diamond Oven Roasted Almonds are easy to clean up after as well. Simply wash your hands after eating to get any stray flavor dust off. There should be no other residue, but if there is, it may easily be wiped away with a damp cloth.

Overall

Blue Diamond Strawberry flavor Oven Roasted Almonds are enjoyable, but more generic in their sweetness and fruit flavor than truly embodying the flavor of strawberries. Even so, they are enjoyable and worth trying, especially for those looking for something that does not taste much like nuts and is healthier than Jordan almonds.

For other nut reviews, please visit my takes on:
Everybody’s Nuts Sweet Chili Pistachios
Planters Flavor Grove Jalapeno Pistachios
Planters Flavor Grove Vanilla And Caramel Almonds

6/10

For other food and drink reviews, please visit my Food And Drink Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Everyone Cheats, Inevitable Carnage, True Blood Makes Significant Moves Without Being A “Lost Cause!”


The Good: Decent character development, Good acting
The Bad: A-plot is very soap operatic and limited
The Basics: When the characters of True Blood are not doing somewhat ridiculous things, “Lost Cause” has a bland party offset by an awesome action sequence featuring Eric and Pam!


The seventh and final season of True Blood has been off to a rocky start, but as it reached its midpoint, the writers seemed like they might have had an inkling of how erratic the season was. The fifth episode of the season was called “Lost Cause” and, fortunately, the episodes had gotten good enough that the season did not feel like it would be a genuine lost cause. “Lost Cause” continues the action of the seventh season as a generally tight narrative; up until this point, the season’s episodes have added up to less than a week and “Lost Cause” occurs over the course of only a few hours.

As one might expect of the very serialized True Blood, “Lost Cause” follows on the heels of “Death Is Not The End” (reviewed here!) and cannot truly be evaluated without referencing significant elements from prior episodes, though (ironically) not much from the previous episode. “Lost Cause” is intriguing in that it has two very focused plots, which consolidate the sprawling cast of True Blood remarkably well. Despite the elements that might remind viewers that True Blood is essentially a high-class, supernatural soap opera, “Lost Cause” does a lot to remind viewers why they loved the show from the beginning!

After Willa reveals to Eric and Pam that Sarah Newlin has a vampire sister, Eric abandons his progeny and Ginger and heads out to kill Sarah before he meets the true death. Sookie arrives home, where LaFayette and James offer protection long enough for her to get some rest. She awakens to Jackson bringing food to help her mourn Alcide’s death. As Sookie’s friends prepare a party to celebrate Alcide’s life, Eric and Pam find Amber Mills, Sarah’s sister and the current whereabouts of Sarah Newlin. Amber is receptive to helping them kill Sarah.

Sneaking away from her boyfriend, Lettie Mae joins the celebration of Alcide’s life. After Andy forgives Jessica for the carnage she caused in his family, he gets Grandma Stackhouse’s ring from Jason and Sookie and proposes to Holly. Holly’s acceptance makes James want to leave the party, but Jessica wants to be social. James and LaFayette have a quiet conversation on the porch and make out while Pam and Eric prepare to invade the Republican event in Dallas. Pam realizes Eric has stage 2 Hep-V, but the two commit to finding Sarah. As Jessica reels from James cheating on her at the party (which pushes her into the arms of Jason),

Peppered throughout “Lost Cause,” as if to remind viewers he still matters and to make the last shot of the episode have any emotional resonance at all, are flashbacks to the personal history of Bill Compton. In those flashbacks, Compton heroically stands up against the Confederates in Louisiana as they argue to secede from the Union. Compton, who had a decent set-up in the prior season’s finale, has been a virtual non-entity in the seventh season. Seeing more of his history, where he stands up for new freemen in Confederate territory gives him more backstory character than he has in the show’s “present.”

After a Sookie-heavy episode, “Lost Cause” moves Sookie largely to the back burner, despite the funeral party happening at her house. Even though the bulk of the cast is stuck in Sookie’s house, there is remarkably little character development for Sookie. She both mourns Alcide’s death and pines for Bill over the course of the same hour-long episode and the compressed mourning period seems somewhat ridiculous. Anna Paquin is not given much to do in “Lost Cause,” but what she does, she does adequately. At the very least, Paquin’s character is written with more consistency than in the prior episode.

Chris Bauer plays Sheriff Andy Bellefleur well in “Lost Cause.” For sure, it is unclear why Andy and Holly are actually together, but in “Lost Cause,” Bauer sells the viability of their characters’ relationship. Bauer get the chance to play Bellefleur with a wonderful sense of seriousness in a scene opposite Deborah Ann Woll’s Jessica and then with pure joy as his character proposes. “Lost Cause” is one of the few episodes where Bauer is allowed to smile unabashedly and he is wonderful in his range. When Bauer smiles (in character) it is a genuine and beautiful thing and following on the heels of a serious moment with Jessica, Andy’s joy is palpable and well-delivered.

At the other end of the spectrum, Alexander Skarsgard and Kristin Bauer van Straten play their parts of Eric and Pam as classic action movie heroes. Skarsgard is serious and plays Eric as violent and powerful, Bauer van Straten uses comic relief and banter to remind viewers why they love Pam. Director Howard Deutch might not have the most compelling script to work from, but he gets decent performances and makes the episode look good.

“Lost Cause” turns the final season of True Blood around in the nick of time and is the first episode that leaves fans of the show with the desire to see the next episode.

For other works directed by Howard Deutch, please check out my reviews of:
”I Found You” - True Blood
”Don’t You Feel Me” - True Blood
”You’re No Good” - True Blood
The Whole Ten Yards

5.5/10

For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cute And Kicking Butt, The 2014 Lego Boba Fett Hallmark Ornament Rocks!


The Good: Looks like it is supposed to, Good balance, Great detailing.
The Bad: No moving parts!
The Basics:Hallmark’s 2014 Lego Star Wars Boba Fett ornament pretty much justifies the existence of the line of weird Hallmark ornaments released over the last few years!


Despite my love of Star Wars and Hallmark ornaments, there are actually remarkably few Star Wars ornaments I have in my personal collection. As one who loves the Star Wars bounty hunters, the ones that tend to tempt me the most are the various Hallmark ornaments that feature the bounty hunters. The line that I’ve never considered investing in is the new collection of Star Wars ornaments that embody Lego Star Wars ornaments. So, it says something significant that the 2014 Lego Star Wars ornament actually won me over. This year, Hallmark went with the Lego Boba Fett and it rocks the Star Wars Hallmark ornaments in an uncommon way.

The Lego Boba Fett ornament is the fourth in the series of character ornaments from Lego Star Wars. Fans of the Star Wars Legos and, perhaps as important, the Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga video game (reviewed here!), will easily recognize the Lego variation on the classic Boba Fett. Hallmark captures the bounty hunter Boba Fett, in Lego form, with his giant Lego blaster in his hand, standing on a Lego-style base! He has his trademark helmet (with the antenna!) and cape molded to look like it is flowing behind him. This is an instantly recognizable version of Boba Fett, believe it or not!

Basics

The Lego Boba Fett ornament recreates the Lego bounty hunter in solid plastic on a black and gray plastic Lego block base. The ornament, released in 2014, is the inscrutable bounty hunter Boba Fett holding his giant black blaster in his right hand, or socket, given how rounded the hands on Lego characters are. Hallmark managed to get $14.95 originally for this ornament and it is arguably the most vigorous-selling Lego Star Wars ornament I’ve seen. It is unlikely this ornament will be sold-out at clearance prices this year. This character ornament is 3 3/4" tall, 2 5/8” wide and 1 3/4” deep. That makes the ornament much larger than Lego toys, so fans of Lego building blocks might actually have more against the ornament than Star Wars fans. Then again, both fan bases might be equally keen on this ornament!

The Hallmark Lego Boba Fett ornament is made of a durable plastic and has him holding a solid black blaster in his right hand. His feet are arranged in a walking pose, though because they are attached to a Lego block base, the ornament does not have any sort of balance issues or issues with his stance. This is a simple sculpt of the Lego Boba Fett, with all of the essential parts that make the character instantly recognizable. Boba Fett has his helmet, cape, and Lego blockish feet and the Lego-style open hands. The little jet pack on the back of the Lego Boba Fett completes the character perfectly!

The Lego Boba Fett ornament is incredibly detailed with the coloring to back up the sculpt. The front panel is made to look like a classic Lego toy sticker, but it is painted on, which is a nice touch. Similarly, the Lego Boba Fett has his costume silk-screened on to match what looks like the stickers on the actual Lego Boba Fett. This character is accented on every part of the front of the ornament. As a result, the ornament has realistic (as much as a Lego character is realistic) detailing for the belt, breastplate, pockets and knee pads. In fact, it is only on the back of the ornament with the jet pack and cape that the character ornament is under-detailed on the coloring front.

Sadly, the ornament does not have any articulation to it, so fans who want to turn the head or move the arms will be disappointed.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, the Lego Boba Fett could have a function like a sound chip or light effect, but does not. This is just an ornament, an affordable option for those who might not want to shell out for the ship or diorama series' of Star Wars ornaments. This Lego Boba Fett simply hangs.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake Lego Boba Fett ornament is to be hung on a Christmas Tree. And for those creating the ultimate Star Wars Christmas Tree, the Lego Boba Fett is very much a luxury; this whole concept is more ridiculous than realistic, so this is very much a “luxury” ornament for the serious die-hard fans. The ornament has a steel hook loop embedded into the top center of the character's head. From that hook, the Lego Boba Fett ornament hangs perfectly level. Hallmark managed to prevent the ornament from being frontheavy by counterbalancing the gun in the front right with the sweep of the cape going back and to the left, which is remarkably clever.

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (click here for that review!). Since then, they have branched out into other popular franchises like Star Wars and The Wizard Of Oz. The Lego Boba Fett ornament was a common release, but the popularity of the ornament has made it a surprise sell-out at several of the Hallmark stores I have visited.

That it is selling out already means it is likely to be a good investment ornament so long as Hallmark does not re-release the ornament (as it did with the Lego Darth Vader ornament).

Overview

The Lego Boba Fett ornament is easily the highlight of the Lego Star Wars line and is worth collecting.

For other Hallmark ornaments of Lego Star Wars characters, please check out my reviews of:
2013 Lego Yoda
2012 Lego Imperial Stormtrooper
2011/2012 Lego Darth Vader

8.5/10

For other ornament reviews, please be sure to visit my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Ultimate Staple Tea: Twining’s English Breakfast Tea!


The Good: Tastes good, Nothing detrimental in the nutrition department, Caffeinated
The Bad: Nothing at all distinctive from the flavor.
The Basics: Twinings English Breakfast is a flavorful basic tea . . . if flavorful is all about tasting like tea and nothing else.


There are some teas that I am surprised that I have not yet reviewed. A few weeks ago, I was at the discount store and I was absolutely thrilled to see that they had a giant tin of Twinings English Breakfast Tea for only $1.99! Given that these tins are regularly $7.99 and started at the discount store for $4.99, the huge discount on the tin made it an irresistible buy for me.

English Breakfast is a good tea for anyone who has to define what tea tastes like. I found mine as a loose-leaf tea, though it comes in tea bags as well.

Basics

English Breakfast Tea is a black tea from Twinings of London. Black tea is made from mature tea leaves that are dried on the tea plant. Twinings has its English Breakfast tea available year round and it is one of the brand's staple teas. English Breakfast is what I call an adjective tea; the flavor is its own, the name does not hold it to any standard other than to represent what is generally accepted as that flavor. Twinings has been making this tea since the early 1700s.

English Breakfast comes in a 7.05 oz. tin that holds something like fifty or more pots worth of tea.

Ease Of Preparation

As a black tea, English Breakfast is ridiculously easy to prepare. A single tablespoon of the loose leaf tea will make a full 32 oz. teapot full of tea. I have found that I can use the same tea leaves three times with no loss of flavor as long as I don’t let the tea brew for more than three minutes the first time. Indeed, this is one of the best teas for those who like to reuse tea. The second cup often comes out about at least as strong as the first (3/4 - 7/8 as strong), provided the first steeping was not over the recommended time. I tend to make my tea using a 32 oz. steeping tea pot and that works well, though in this method, the second brewing is - at worst - about 3/4 strength and a third brewing may be done as long as one leaves the tea leaves steeping for over five minutes.

To prepare English Breakfast tea, bring a pot of water to a boil and pour it over the tea leaves (once they are in the steeping chamber. For English Breakfast, roaring boil is just fine! This tea takes only three to five minutes to steep according to the directions. In my experience, it gets no stronger after five minutes and as a rather strong tea, it does not truly need to be stronger than it naturally is.

Taste

English Breakfast tea has a strong black tea aroma to it. This tea smells very much like the tea I’ve had at virtually every Chinese restaurant ever. The scent of the tea is tea, without any embellishments or surprising flavor insinuations in the steam.

On the tongue, the English Breakfast tea tastes just like it smells. This is a tea-flavored tea. That means, it tastes like earthy water, bitter and strong. This is a tea that is not at all watery or overbeating in the flavor. Unfortunately, because this is a tea flavored tea, it is hard to describe in particularly graphic or interesting terms.

English Breakfast has no aftertaste, at least not the Twinings brand of it.

With a teaspoon of sugar, English Breakfast loses the bitterness one expects from a strong, black tea. The tea continues to have no aftertaste, but the primary taste does not get diminished by sugar. Milk overwhelms this tea’s flavor.

Nutrition

The ingredient to this tea is quite simple: Black Tea. There are no other ingredients or flavors, nothing that cannot be pronounced.

In terms of nutrition, this tea is devoid of it. One 8 oz. mug of this tea provides nothing of nutritional value to the drinker. There are no calories (save what one adds from sugar, which I recommend), no fat, sodium, or protein. There is caffeine, but how it relates to other beverages remains a mystery; Twinings does not put a scale on their boxes of tea. This tea is rather caffeinated, though and it will wake the drinker up.

Storage/Clean-up

English Breakfast tea is very easy to clean up after, provided one does not get it on fabric. The tea may be disposed of in the garbage, or composted if you have a good garden and/or compost pile. The tea itself will stain a mug a faint brown if it is left there for days on end, but otherwise may be cleaned up easily by rinsing out the vessel.

English Breakfast is a rather dark tea and as a result, it will stain any light fabrics it comes in contact with. As a result, it is highly recommended that one not let it linger on anything they wish to protect and not have stained. It may be cleaned off if the spill is caught quickly, but if it lingers, it is not at all easy to wash out of clothes, linens or other fabrics.

Overall

Twinings English Breakfast is a very good, very basic black tea that might not be exciting, but is a baseline for what tea should be.

For other Twinings tea reviews, please check out:
Spiced Apple Chai
Green Jasmine
Herbal Revive Lemon & Ginger

7.5/10

For other tea reviews, please visit my Food And Drink Index Page for a complete list!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Dismal Sequel Of The Meh: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes Bores!


The Good: Moments of concept
The Bad: Terrible editing, Mediocre direction and special effects, Boring story, Terrible character development
The Basics: Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes sucks the life and interest out of viewers, endangering the viability of the franchise.


It is a rare thing, especially during Summer Blockbuster Season, that it takes me long to write a review of a current movie I have watched. In fact, going almost twenty-four hours since watching the biggest movie in America at any given time is virtually unheard of by me as a reviewer. And yet . . . that is exactly what has happened for me with Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. Yesterday as part of a fabulous day out together, my wife and I went to see Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and perhaps the best commentary on the film was that my wife fell asleep during it, missing the last twenty minutes of the movie. For a film that tries to be an action-adventure film, that is pretty much the death knell of a film.

It is very important to note that Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is the sequel to the 2011 Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes (reviewed here!), which I loved and my wife did as well. So, if anything, we went into Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes biased in favor of it and both were disappointed. I managed to avoid all previews of the film before we saw Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and the best I can say of the film is that has an engaging-enough concept and for a sequel, it actually has everything in it needed to hold its own as a film on its own. While understanding the film’s protagonist – the ape Caesar – is aided by having seen his arc in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, all of the information needed to truly understand Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is contained within the film.

Ten years after a disease is unleashed upon the world that wipes out the majority of the world’s human population, the surviving residents of San Francisco have barricaded themselves behind walls where their power source is rapidly dwindling. In fact, human exploration outside their walls is so infrequent that the genetically-modified ape population that broke out of captivity at the lab at which they were experimented upon largely believes that the human population has been wiped out entirely. One day, two ape scouts encounter a human, Carver, who shoots one of the apes. Returning back to the barricades with the scientist, Malcolm, the exploratory team reports to the militant leader of San Francisco, Dreyfus. As the humans buckle down for a potential attack, the ape leader, Caesar, leads his population to San Francisco where he angrily declares peace by warning the humans not to leave San Francisco and enter ape territory.

Malcolm, however, knows that the fate of humanity hinges in part on getting the generator at the dam running again . . . with the wrinkle being that the dam is inside ape territory. Malcolm, Ellie, Alexander, and their team are given three days by Dreyfus to negotiate with the apes before the humans will attack the apes and take the dam by force. Malcolm talks his way into the ape camp and even explains the problem to Caesar and, despite the apes catching Carver violating the conditions of the truce by bringing a weapon into ape territory, the humans work desperately to save themselves while keeping peace with the apes. But the ape Koba tires of Caesar’s tolerant and pacifistic ways. Engineering a coup, Koba deposes Caesar and attacks the human settlement, setting off a war between the humans and apes!

What sounds like might be a fascinating story is bogged down in form and substance issues that absolutely crush Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes. The only characters who were held over from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes are ape characters and the film’s setting is engaging enough to create a compelling version of a ruined world. While the film is largely about Caesar’s character journey and the conflict between Casesar’s and Koba’s ideologies, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes devotes an excessive amount of time to putting the human characters front and center. Unfortunately, unlike the prior film in the franchise, none of the human characters in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes are interesting, much less compelling. In fact, the human characters are so generic that their fate is not at all engaging to watch.

The lack of compelling human characters or a truly compelling human struggle (one which, I am told on good authority, could not have happened as gasoline has an expiration date that would actually prevent people from living off old gasoline for more than three years after the apocalypse) forces viewers to watch the ape characters. That means that most of the movie, viewers are reading subtitles as the apes use sign language to communicate with one another. While this might not be a problem in general – though it is something of a waste to have so many subtitles in a big-budget special effects film - Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes comes across as somewhat ridiculous as most of the apes in the movie actually have the power of speech. When Caesar and Koba speak to human characters and react as if they understand oral communication, the film’s characters seem strange for devoting so much time to signing.

The ape characters follow unfortunately predictable arcs. From the first moment the ape encampment is shown with scrawl of the Ape Commandments (apes not killing apes being the first one), the character journey is – literally – set in stone. Part of the problem is that Caesar seems like a generic protagonist on a troubling hero journey that is assembled. He has a newborn baby and an impressionable son who is able to fall under Koba’s influence. His wife is a generic damsel in distress . . . who is mirrored by the human woman, Ellie, who seems in the film only to suddenly apply her medical knowledge to the wounded apes. Just as Caesar is manipulated by Koba, Malcolm and Dreyfus find themselves in conflict; Caesar and Malcolm are generic heroes with Koba and Dreyfus coming across as almost as generic antagonists. The thing is, all four main characters in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes are each working with sensible motivations that make them seem like they are working for the best interest of their people. Dreyfus and Koba have tragic flaws – fear and rage – just as the idealism of the protagonists is treated as a blind spot that limits them.

None of the actors give stellar performances in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, though the fault does not necessarily lie with the actors. The actors are given such narrow and uninspired parts that performers have little ability to show off serious range.

The writers of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes have an unfortunate problem, which is that the set-up from Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes leaves the franchise with the need to tell a story that is a building story. For sure, it is easier to make entertaining stories with war and destruction than nation-building and growth, which is probably why Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes degenerates into a war story. The thing is, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes could have been fine had it remained focused on the ape conflict as they organized their own, new society.

“Could have” is an accurate description of the possibility as the execution of Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is troubling. In addition to having computer generated apes that have less detail and realism than in Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes, the direction and editing in Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is disturbingly sloppy. Characters are framed in such a way that scenes begin with what appears to be only two individuals present and then reframed to include others, so characters appear out of nowhere in some of the scenes! Between that and the plodding plot progression, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is often agonizingly boring to watch.

Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes is a dismal sequel which reminds viewers just how unimpressive most sequels are.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
Behaving Badly
Some Velvet Morning
Transformers: Age Of Extinction
Happy Christmas
Snowpiercer
22 Jump Street
How To Train Your Dragon 2
Edge Of Tomorrow
Maleficent
X-Men: Days Of Future Past
The Double
Bad Neighbors

4/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Friday, July 18, 2014

Vodka Flavoring Without The Alcohol?! Haagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato Excites!


The Good: Good flavor, Great ingredients
The Bad: More expensive than other Gelatos and ice creams
The Basics: Haagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato is delightful, though not an essential gelato.


Last summer, my wife and I were somewhat surprised by the commercials we saw on television for Haagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato. The somewhat surreal and creepy advertisements left us with absolutely no conception of what flavor Haagen-Dazs was trying to sell us. I was surprised last month when I found the pints of Haagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato marked down 50% at my local grocery store! I was even more surprised when I checked the ingredients list and found that the gelato had vodka . . . but no alcohol warnings. Apparently, the alcohol freeze-fractures out, which I did not know before.

The Haagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato is a flavorful fruity dessert that essentially is like a diluted ice cream. Even so, it is not one of the worst Haagen-Dazs frozen products!

Basics

Haagen-Dazs Gelato comes in a 14 oz. (almost) pint container. The Limoncello Gelato is a smooth Gelato without any additives. Limoncello is entirely smooth without any chunks of fruit or rind. This Gelato is a single, solid flavor.

At (locally) $5.99 a pint, the Haagen-Dazs Gelato is an expensive frozen dairy dessert. That I found it on clearance for $2.99 was the primary reason I bought the pint of Gelato!

Ease Of Preparation

The Limoncello Gelato is a simple Gelato with no additives. As a Gelato, preparation is ridiculously simple: one need only open the top of the container, remove the safety seal from the top, scoop out a half cup and consume! There is no trick to preparing or eating the Limoncello Gelato!

Taste

Haagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato has a decently strong lemon aroma to it. The scent gets stronger as the gelato moves closer to its melting point. The scent is distinctive and recognizable.

On the taste front, the Limoncello Gelato tastes precisely like a frozen version of the lemon filling of a donut. The sweetness of this gelato entirely overwhelms the fruit flavor. Even so, the flavor is clearly lemon, as opposed to a generic citrus flavor. The sweetness finishes with the sour of lemon, though the sourness is cut some by the dairy in the gelato. This is not a particularly potent flavor, despite it being good.

This Gelato has a very slight sour aftertaste to it, which endures on the tongue for about two minutes after the gelato is consumed.

Nutrition

The Haagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato is a comparatively light Gelato on its own. The 14 oz. container represents three and a half half-cup servings. In the half-cup serving, there are 240 calories, 80 of which are from fat. The nine grams of fat represent 14% of the RDA of fat, with 25% of one’s RDA of saturated fat coming in the 5 grams of saturated fat in this Gelato. One serving has 85 mg of cholesterol (that’s 28% of the RDA!) and 40 mg of Sodium (2% RDA). The only other real nutrients are four grams of protein, 8% of the RDA of Calcium and Vitamin A in the Limoncello Gelato.

Haagen-Dazs Gelatos have decent ingredients! Made primarily of Skim milk, cream and sugar, Limoncello Gelato is entirely natural! There is nothing unpronounceable in the ingredients list, though it surprisingly includes vodka. The Limoncello Haagen-Dazs Gelato is neither Kosher, nor marked as gluten free. There are no allergy warnings on the package. It does, however, contain milk and egg ingredients, so it is not at all Vegan compliant.

Storage/Clean-Up

Haagen-Dazs Gelato is both a frozen and a dairy product, so it is pretty obvious that it must be kept frozen in order to remain viable. Kept frozen it remains fresh for months (though my pint had an expiration date of July 25, 2014, which may be why I was able to find it on clearance).

The Limoncello Gelato is fairly light and is not likely to stain. However, as a dairy product, when the Gelato melts and gets onto fabrics, it will require one to wash it right out. On nonporous surfaces, the Gelato wipes off exceptionally easily.

Overall

Haagen-Dazs Limoncello Gelato is flavorful, but not overbearing. It makes sense that the commercials for this gelato traded more on style than substance; there is a somewhat diluted or muted flavor to the gelato.

For other Haagen-Dazs products, be sure to visit my reviews of:
Peanut Butter Pie Limited Edition Ice Cream
Coconut Macaroon ice cream
Blueberry Crumble Ice Cream

6/10

For other food reviews, please visit my Food Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Too Soft To Love: Whisker Lickin’s Cheezy Craze Crunch Treats!


The Good: Gollum and Timber enjoy them, Inexpensive
The Bad: No dental benefits, Cats eat them incredibly fast
The Basics: Whisker Lickin’s Chicken & Cheese flavor treats are good for them, but they lack real dental benefits and my two boys go through them so quickly that they are a tougher sell than many other cat treats.


My cats Gollum and Timber both have amazing teeth. Part of the reason for that is that they tend to get hard cat treats that have undeniable dental benefits. Hard cat treats physically scrape tartar and plaque off their teeth and that helps keep their breath fresh and teeth and gums in good health. The treats that my cats enjoy that I tend not to endorse are the ones that are too soft to have any dental benefits. That is, alas, where the Whisker Lickin’s Chicken & Cheese flavor treats fall. Both Timber and Gollum eat these treats voraciously when I give them to them, but they are like candy for cats; they have no impressive or demonstrable dental benefits.

Basics

Whisker Lickin’s Chicken & Cheese flavor cat treats are soft little treats that come in a 3 oz. bag for $1.49 locally. The Chicken & Cheese mix includes three different piece types that are distinctive to this mix. There are small chicken legs that are ½” long by 5/16” wide, just like the cheddar cheese-shaped wedges in the mix. The heart-shaped treats are 1/2" long by 1/2” wide and approximately 1/4” thick. Opening the Whisker Lickin’s bag, which is resealable, there is a strong cheese scent. It’s funny because I did not think the scent was very strong, but both cats come running whenever the bag is opened.

Ease Of Preparation

The Whisker Lickin’s treats are a treat, so preparation is as easy as opening the resealable bag and removing a few of treats. I, occasionally, mix a few of the treats in with Gollum’s food, but otherwise, he gets five to ten of these whenever I feed him them! Timber has been known to steal them away from Gollum, but he usually gets no more than ten himself.

Gollum And Timber’s Reaction

Whisker Lickin’s Chicken & Cheese flavor treats are a treat that Timber and Gollum fight over. They eat the soft treats as fast as I can put them out. They are not supposed to have more than ten treats per day, but both cats eat them like candy. The flavor and scent must be strong enough to attract them because they go for them in a way that they don’t just from opening the bag like other cat treats found in crinkly bags.

Nutrition

The package says that servings should be one treat per pound of cat, up to ten per day. Gollum usually gets his ten per day, but Timber usually only gets five to eight because he does not need to put on any weight. I usually go through about one 3 oz. bag in about a week and a half, so for the price, this treat is not a bad one, save that it is not a great treat for my cat’s health.

Moreover, the Whisker Lickin’s Chicken & Cheese flavor treats seem pretty healthy. With a minimum of 23% crude protein and 8% crude fat, but no more than 3% crude fiber and 30% moisture, these treats have some nutritional benefits for both cats. These treats are made primarily of animal liver flavor, wheat flower, and corn gluten meal! These treats have absolutely no dental cleaning benefits, which is a severe detraction for me.

Overview

The Whisker Lickin’s Chicken & Cheese flavor cat treats are a flavorful treat that my cats love, but are not worth stocking up on, as they do not have genuine benefits for cats. As a result, these are a good once-in-a-while treat.

For other cat treats, please check out my reviews of:
Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Perfect Bites Salmon Formula cat treats
Cloud Star Buddy Biscuits Savory Turkey & Cheddar Flavor cat treats
Hartz Crunch ‘N Clean Fish & Farm cat treats

5/10

For other pet product reviews, please visit my Pet Review Index Page!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Non-Genre Cuteness: The 2014 Kisses For Kacey Is Average Unless It Appreciates!


The Good: Cute, Generally decent sculpt, Well-painted
The Bad: Noticeable seam, Poor balance
The Basics: The 2014 "Kisses For Kacey" limited edition ornament is a generally good generic holiday ornament that is a hard sell for ornament investors, though it is a cute ornament!


As a huge fan of Hallmark Keepsake ornaments, I was pretty excited to spend last Saturday out and about hunting down some of this year’s new ornaments. Because I started checking out some of the non-genre ornaments with last year’s Mint Chocolate Chipmunk ornament (reviewed here!), I thought it would be fun to start 2014’s ornament reviews with some of the generic holiday ornaments included in the mix. I decided to start the non-genre ornament reviews with the limited edition 2014 Kisses For Kacey ornament.

My wife loves the holidays and after the Mint Chocolate Chipmunk ornament I picked her up, I thought one of the limited edition cute ornaments might enhance her collection nicely. Kisses For Kacey is that type of generic, cute ornament that is fluffing out her collection nicely . . . except that the ornament has some faults that make it much more average than in any way extraordinary.

Basics

The Kisses For Kacey ornament is a gingerbread man holding a gift box, out of which a little reindeer is popping! The tiny reindeer is looking lovingly at the gingerbread man who seems excited by the gift pet. Honestly, I’m not sure if Kacey is the gingerbread man or the reindeer, but because Hallmark is housed in Kansas City, I assume Kacey is a reference to Kansas City. The ornament, released in 2014, is a limited edition ornament that was released during Ornament Preview Weekend and it did not sell out at any of the Hallmark Gold Crown stores I went to.

Hallmark made a decent effort to make a good ornament with the Kisses For Kacey ornament, but the ornament is very simple and clearly assembled; there is an unfortunate seam that goes around the base of the reindeer in the box. The seam is really the only problem with the ornament’s construction, outside the fact that the gingerbread man is walking in such a way that the legs are curved. Measuring two and one-half inches tall, one and five-eighths inches wide and one and one-sixteenth inches deep, the "Kisses For Kacey" ornament is a small-sized Hallmark ornament. This is also one of the least expensive Hallmark ornaments, especially for the limited edition ones. Originally, it retailed at $12.99, which is actually near the bottom dollar for Hallmark ornaments these days.

The Hallmark "Kisses For Kacey" ornament is made of a durable plastic, but the coloring is done entirely in monotones, which is fine. Most of the gingerbread man is a slightly pearlescent tan color. The raised portions of the gingerbread man, like the icing hair and buttons, are painted perfectly. The painted details are rendered without flaw on this, which is wonderful. This is a very cute ornament and well-colored.

Features

As a Hallmark Keepsake ornament, "Kisses For Kacey" could have a sound effect, but it does not. Instead, this is a less-expensive option that are just the cute animated characters.

Balance

As with all ornaments, the intent of the Hallmark Keepsake "Kisses For Kacey" ornament is to be hung on a Christmas tree. And the "Kisses For Kacey" ornament is a great option for anyone who wants a family tree or who loves animals. The ornament has the brass hook loop embedded into the top center of the gingerbread man’s head. Unfortunately, because the curved legs go back and the box is high in the hands of the gingerbread man, being held near eye level, it makes the ornament front-heavy. The result is that Kisses For Kacey is poorly balanced. The ornament looks like the gingerbread man is tripping and about to put the poor, helpless reindeer into mortal peril!

Collectibility

Hallmark Keepsake began delving into the collectibles market in 1991 with Star Trek when it introduced the exceptionally limited edition original U.S.S. Enterprise ornament (click here for that review!). Within a few years, every major franchise from Star Wars to A Nightmare Before Christmas to Indiana Jones started making Hallmark ornaments. "Kisses For Kacey" is a non-genre ornament that is limited edition, which leads buyers to hope it has an inherent collectible value. Honestly, it is too early to tell if that is going to pay off with this ornament. Kisses For Kacey is hardly a sell-out, so limited or not, demand might have already been met on it. With the obvious seam, it might actually fail to hold its value. Over the next two to six months, the market will determine if this becomes an overpriced peg warmer or if collectors find its charm worth clearing the shelves for. At this point, I would bet against it being a worthwhile investment piece.

Overview

Fans of cute food, reindeer, Hallmark ornaments, and generic Christmas ornaments are likely to find the Kisses For Kacey ornament worthwhile, but not one they will pull out of storage off-season.

For other Hallmark ornaments, please check out my reviews of:
2014 All Eyes On Belle Beauty And The Beast ornament
2014 Vina Star Trek ornament
2013 Mockingjay The Hunger Games ornament

5.5/10

For other ornament reviews, please visit my Ornament Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Serious Sandler: Funny People (Mostly) Succeeds.


The Good: Good performances, Interesting characters, Moments of empathy/themes
The Bad: Mood is often oppressive, Pacing issues
The Basics: Adam Sandler effectively delves into his dramatic side with Funny People, a Judd Apatow flick that reasserts the writer/director’s ability to plumb the depths of drama . . . with mixed results.


Regardless of how both films might have underwhelmed at the box office, Judd Apatow’s Funny People owes quite a debt to P.T. Anderson’s Punch-Drunk Love (reviewed here!). Punch-Drunk Love was the first major film to truly use Saturday Night Live alum Adam Sandler in a dramatic role with any real success. Funny People also explores Sandler’s ability to play a deeply serious role and had Punch-Drunk Love not softened American audiences up for such a twist from the comedian, it might have been even more off-putting than the film already was.

Unfortunately, Judd Apatow’s endeavor into getting a serious performance out of Adam Sandler feels more clogged and problematic than Anderson’s more compact, focused role for Sandler. Sandler’s ability to play rage in Punch-Drunk Love plays somewhat better than his character’s apathy in Funny People and the somewhat sprawling nature of this film. Even so, George Simmons is one of Sandler’s better performances and more memorable roles following his career in dippy comedy blockbusters. Sandler makes Simmons substantive and compelling to watch, even if he is not always interesting.

George Simmons is a highly successful comedian who came up from the stand-up circuit before he started making million-dollar blockbusters and became one of the highest grossing actors in America. Depressed and somewhat lethargic, Simmons encounters aspiring comedian Ira Wright and his roommate, Leo Koenig. Wright hates his job serving sandwiches and he leaps at the opportunity to write jokes for Simmons for a MySpace event – if for no other reason than to show up his hack roommate Mark. After the big event, Ira begins working for George and George admits to his new assistant that he is dying of leukemia. As George has Ira start selling off his stockpiles of swag, he starts pining for the woman who got away, Laura.

Ira finds working for Simmons to be a largely losing proposition. Working for George keeps him distracted, which gives Mark time to move in on his love interest, Daisy. It does, however, get him some exposure on the stand-up circuit, but he finds that hanging out with Simmons doesn’t get him laid and he gets mired in Simmons’ depression. But as Simmons wrestles with his own mortality, Ira helps him find Laura and George disrupts her unhappy marriage. The result makes Ira a witness to a life he has always dreamed of having and forces him to decide if it is the way he wants to live going forward.

Funny People departs from Judd Apatow’s other films by, despite the title, being anything but a comedy. The film reminds viewers of the more character-based, dramatic moments that made Apatow’s Freaks & Geeks (reviewed here!) a cult-smash. Unfortunately, while Seth Rogen has no trouble embodying a serious Apatow-written character (Rogen plays Ira), the role has him meandering around the much more cinematically-powerful Sandler. Even when Sandler’s Simmons is acting bored and depressed, Rogen is unable to steal the spotlight from him. The more significant character journey in Funny People is, arguably, Wright’s arc, but Rogen does not make the film feel like it is truly his.

To his credit, writer-director Judd Apatow manages to create a film where almost every significant (male, at least) stand-up comedian alive shows up. For sure, many – like Paul Reiser, Norm MacDonald, and Dave Attell – have roles that are little more than cameos, but the fact that they show up at all makes the world of Funny People feel very real and the drama within it compelling.

That said, Funny People takes far too long to get going. Apatow thoroughly develops the relationship between Simmons and Wright and by the time the viewer is bored with the two of them, the film makes the shift into the relationship between Simmons and Laura. When that transition is made, Wright becomes something of a hapless sidekick and his role as witness robs him of a character arc where he actually keeps real control over his life. Instead, he reacts to how Simmons throws a bombshell into Laura’s family and the result hardly makes Wright compelling. Apatow alum Leslie Mann plays a less-bitchy version of her prior characters and Apatow makes viewers wait for Eric Bana long past the point that he is able to carry any enthusiasm from seeing his name in the opening credits.

Bana and Mann have pretty poor on-screen chemistry, but their characters are supposed to be estranged, so it is hard to complain too much about that. Unfortunately, Sandler and Mann have no real on-screen charm together and the result is that it is hard for viewers to be convinced that they have more of a chance than the married couple that seems set in every way, but the passion department. The problem with Funny People is that none of the characters have innate chemistry with the others: Jonah Hill and Jason Schwartzman lack real chemistry with Seth Rogen in Funny People, so it is off-putting at the beginning even to make the viewers believe that they are all actually roommates!

Despite the chemistry problems and the fact that Mann plays a very familiar type of character, Funny People is well-acted. Seth Rogen plays the up and coming, very awkward comedian well and Jason Schwartzman plays the jackass roommate with complete plausibility. Jonah hill is fine as Leo, though his character does not get nearly angry enough when Ira’s big secret is finally revealed to him.

But that is the way of Funny People: the film takes a long time setting up, developing, redirecting and expositing until, like life, if just goes nowhere. That makes it a film with so many winning elements, but an ultimately underwhelming resolution and execution.

For other works with Eric Bana, please visit my reviews of:
Hanna
The Time Traveler’s Wife
Star Trek
Hulk

6.5/10

For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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Fruity, Delicious, (Mostly) Nutritious: Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost Satisfies!


The Good: Great taste, Nutritious, Wonderful ingredients
The Bad: Expensive
The Basics: Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost Fruit Juice Smoothie might be their most distinctive berry-flavored beverage from the health drink company.


One of the nice things about my mother-in-law coming to visit is that it encourages my wife and I to try new things and we usually end up sharing exciting new (to us) products with my mother-in-law. On her last trip, she actually picked something up that was new to us! As a fan of Bolthouse Farms beverages, I was pretty psyched when my mother-in-law picked up a big bottle of Berry Boost, a flavor I had yet to try, and left it behind when she left! While some of the blends that Bolthouse Farms produces fall just a little short with me for failing to have a distinctive flavor, the Berry Boost is not one of those blends! While there are a number of flavors in the drink, the net result is a pretty diversified flavor as opposed to a generic mash flavor.

Berry Boost Fruit Juice Smoothie is pretty wonderful and well worth trying for anyone who is looking for a much healthier alternative to standard fruit juice.

Basics

Bolthouse Farms is a health drink brand, which is like an energy drink except that is designed for more of a full-health solution (as opposed to being a liquid vitamin supplement) and they tend to taste better. This is a fruit beverage that uses real fruit juice to bring consumers nutrients, as opposed to the beverages that are infused with extra vitamins and minerals. Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost comes in a 15.2 fl. oz. plastic bottle that is smooth and very portable. The #1 recyclable bottle is filled with the opaque dark purple liquid, which looks much like a bunch of fruit was just blended together, that is Berry Boost. Bolthouse Farms juice products is one of the leading manufacturer of healthy prepared beverages, both of fruit juices and dairy beverages.

The 15.2 fl. oz. bottle is intended to give consumers just under two servings, which seems pretty ridiculous to me. For some strange reason, Bolthouse Farms cheaps out on a full 16 fl. oz. bottle, which would be two servings.

Ease Of Preparation

Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost is a liquid in the 15.2 fl. oz. bottle and is a ready-to-drink beverage. So, preparation is as easy as opening a plastic bottle. Berry Boost has a plastic cap that easily twists off and can be put back on in order to reseal it. It is important to note that this is supposed to be refrigerated, so quality of the beverage may degrade if it is left out at room temperature before or after the bottle is open. This has a pretty standard security seal ring around the lower half of the cap and informs the consumer as to whether the product has been opened by cracking off when the top is twisted.

Taste

The Berry Boost is exceptionally fruity in its bouquet. The smell is strongly of blueberries and strawberries. I was surprised by how much the aroma from this beverage carries the scent of banana in it as well.

In the mouth, the flavor of berries dominates the palate entirely. The fruit flavor is very much the flavor of raspberries and strawberries blended together. The fruit flavor is entirely true and as a result, it has a slightly sour finishing taste that follows the initial sweetness of the beverage. The Berry Boost has an intriguing flavor that can change with temperature or just from various sips. As a result, I had mouthfuls that bore more of an apple, blueberry or even a slight banana flavor instead of the solid raspberry and strawberry juice flavor the drink initially possessed!

This Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost has a slightly sour aftertaste, but it does not linger for more than a minute or two on the tongue.

Nutrition

As a healthy fruit beverage, Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost Fruit Smoothie is designed to fill in some of the nutritional gaps one might have in their diet, while tasting pretty awesome to boot! Nutritionally, Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost is a great option for those who are dieting or are trying to improve their health. Berry Boost is primarily composed of apple puree from concentrate, apple juice from concentrate, and blackberry puree. It contains nothing bad, but does have a few vitamins pumped into it at the end of the list. It is gluten free and does not appear to contain any meat or dairy products in it, so it IS Vegan compliant! As well, there are no preservatives, artificial flavors or colors or genetically modified ingredients!

This drink is very healthy. One serving of Berry Boost has no fat and 130 calories. While there are 24 grams of sugars, the beverage has no cholesterol and a single gram of protein! Rather nicely, there are only 15 mg (1% RDA) of sodium in each serving. A single serving is a sufficient source of Vitamin A, Vitamin E, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin B12. One serving has five times your daily needs for Vitamin C!

Storage/Clean-up

Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost comes in a plastic bottle and it keeps for only a few months, but it must be refrigerated!

This drink is a fruit product and dark purple. If this gets on clothes, it will certainly stain them. Consult a care guide for your clothes, though I suspect light clothes would need bleach to get this out. Still, the drink wipes off surfaces easily with a cloth, assuming they are impermeable.

Overall

Bolthouse Farms Berry Boost Fruit Juice Smoothie is a pleasant beverage and it is much healthier than most any berry fruit juice on the market, upholding the standards from Bolthouse Farms well! In fact, for a flavorful, berry flavored Bolthouse Farms drink, this might be their essential product!

For other Bolthouse beverages, please check out my reviews of:
Holiday Nog
Limited Edition Peppermint Mocha
Perfectly Protein Salted Caramel Latte

8/10

For other food reviews, please visit my index page for a complete listing by clicking here!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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