12 Days of Christmas

The 2013 Egg Nog Tasting

Family Holiday traditions are very weird, like how my family does an Egg Nog tasting every Thanksgiving… after dinner. You know, because we’re still hungry and it’s not like Egg Nog is filling at all. In fairness, it was a tradition born by accident. One year, literally everyone thought they were in charge of bringing egg nog, so they brought a couple and we ended up with, like, 15 of them. Since then, we’ve intentionally started doing this. Sometimes, this gets super complicated and involves blind tastings and whatnot, but the last couple years have been pretty informal. Check out some previous recaps: [2013 | 2012 | 2010 | 2008].

The past few years have represented an attempt to find different egg nogs instead of crowning the same two every year (usually local mainstays Wawa or Swiss Farms). This has been fine, but I don’t think any of those actually beats our normal champions. This year, we returned to previous champions, and went for some new things too. Not a crazy number of entries this year though:

2015 Egg Nogs

For posterity, the Egg Nogs pictured here are (from left to right):

  • Swiss Farms Premium Egg Nog
  • Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog
  • Wawa Egg Nog
  • Turkey Hill Egg Nog
  • Organic Valley Eggnog
  • International Delight Classic Nog
  • Upstate Farms Premium Egg Nog

So we’ve got three former winners (Swiss Farms, Wawa, Upstate Farms), two standard, middle of the pack entrants (Southern Comfort and Turkey Hill), one I don’t remember having before (but which I apparently have), and one that isn’t even Egg Nog. It’s always amusing how these weirdos try to trick people into drinking this stuff. The giveaway is the use of the word “Nog” without the corresponding “Egg”. That International Delight nog is described as a “Festive Dairy Beverage” whatever that means. You might think this would be a shoe-in for “Worst in Show”, but in reality, it was kinda just like milk with some cinnamon and nutmeg or something. Not bad at all, but not really anything like an egg nog either.

In an odd turn of events, Upstate Farms got under some people’s skin and ended up taking the award for worst egg nog. I didn’t think it was that bad, but it was clearly inferior to the top two, Wawa and Swiss Farms. Someone mentioned that Upstate had a sorta artificial, chemically character to it. I didn’t really get it, but whatever! Swiss Farms took first place, and at this point, remains undefeated. Personally, I still go for Wawa, but that’s just me.

It was fun, as usual, but it was a pretty low key year. Perhaps next year will be the year we finally break down and make our own egg nog. If we can get over our fear of making everyone sick, which seems likely? I feel like it should be simple enough, but we’ll see. Otherwise, I want to find something I can bring to rival Swiss Farms. It’s good, but I don’t know that it’s quite as dominant as its performance the past few years indicates. Until next year!

The 2013 Egg Nog Tasting

A tradition born by accident, my family’s Egg Nog tasting happens every Thanksgiving. One Thanksgiving many moons ago, thanks to poor coordination, everyone brought one or two Egg Nogs, and thus we ended up with, like, 14 different types. I’m not actually positive what year this really went into overdrive, but ever since that fateful year, we’ve actually planned to have that many Egg Nogs, and have even gone so far as to orchestrate a double blind tasting in order to determine the Best Egg Nog (the “worst” is usually a pretty easy and uncontroversial decision that does not require any real debate). I mean, we’re not scientists here or anything, but this is pretty rigorous for a family gathering. I could have sworn I did a better job recapping each year’s proceedings, but only a few previous tastings have been chronicled: [2012 | 2010 | 2008].

One thing we’ve noticed is that the same Egg Nogs tend to show up every year, and we’ve got a few that consistently win (notably local mainstays Wawa and Swiss Farms). Last year we made a rule that the previous year’s winner (and “winner” of worst nog) could not return. This year we made a concerted effort to seek out completely new and obscure Egg Nogs. I was actually shocked at how well we did in this mission, though of course there were a couple repeats. So let’s do this, the Egg Nogs of 2013:

2013 Egg Nogs

For posterity, the Egg Nogs pictured here are (from left to right):

  • Turkey Hill Egg Nog
  • America’s Choice Holiday Favorite Egg Nog
  • Bolthouse Farms Limited Edition Holiday Nog (Low Fat)
  • Promised Land Old Fashioned Egg Nog
  • Trader Joes Egg Nog
  • Trickling Springs Creamery Farm Friend Fresh Egg Nog
  • Califa Farms Almondmilk Holiday Nog
  • Lehigh Valley Holiday Eggnog
  • Borden Eggnog
  • Silk Seasonal Nog

The only returning contenders were the Turkey Hill, which has pretty much always shown up (but always places somewhere in the middle of the pack), and the Silk Seasonal Nog (which has won “worst” in the past). The Borden was arguably a returning contender as well, though it’s now packaged in a resealable container (Borden was always famous for being canned) and while they claim the recipe is the same, this stuff was nothing like the Borden of years past (which was also a middle of the pack performer). Indeed, the Borden was nearly toxic and came out a weirdly bright, almost glowing color. Gross.

But as bad as it was, Borden was still at least marginally identifiable as Egg Nog. One thing I’ve noticed about the competition for worst egg nog is that it is dominated by entries that aren’t actually “egg” nog. They’re always just “Holiday Nog” or “Seasonal Nog” or “Coconut Nog” or some such lie. These really aren’t Egg Nogs, but they’ve got some nutmeg and they’re trying to capitalize on the season. I guess that’s fine for big Soymilk fans, but when you have these right next to real Egg Nog, that just makes them seem all the worse. This year’s competition was between the Bolthouse Farms Low Fat Holiday Nog, which was packaged so deceptively that we didn’t realize what it was until we nearly gagged on it. Silk was its normal self, but the real revolution in bad flavor belongs to Califa Farms Almondmilk Holiday Nog. It was so bad, I think it somehow hurt my eyeballs. The decision was unanimous.

The competition for best was a little better, though I do think the champions of years past (Wawa, Swiss Farms, Upstate Farms) would have trounced all of this year’s competitors. Indeed, the normally middle of the pack Turkey Hill was a clear favorite heading into the blind tasting, which only featured three Egg Nogs this year: Turkey Hill, America’s Choice (whose box sez “fa-la-la-la-yum”, which became its unofficial name), and Promised Land (whose label proclaims “From the finest Jersey Cows”). It was close, but Promised Land came out the victor.

Egg Nogs

It was a fine year, but I think we need to have something like a Tournament of Champions next year, and bring back all the best Egg Nogs. I’m also toying with a rule that we should not accept “holiday nogs” that are not actually Egg Nog. Of course, that would limit options for the “worst” award, though I suppose “Light” egg nogs (or Borden!) could qualify. But maybe instead of worst, we bring back “flavored” egg nogs (which were banned several years ago). We’ll have to wait until next year. But me, I’m going to hit up Wawa sometime this week and get some real Egg Nog…

Holiday Link Dump

Things are getting festive around here, so here’s a few quick links for your holiday enjoyment:

  • Arnold’s Very Special Xmas Party – With very special guest… Mike Tyson!? I have no idea where it came from, but this video is astounding.
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas by Colin Nissan – A more detailed account of the infamous twelve gifts. Sample:

    On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two turtle doves. Wow, she’s really into the avian theme this year. Um, thank you? I guess I’ll just put them in the kitchen with the partridge and the pear tree, which suddenly seems a lot bigger than it did yesterday.

    Things get weirder and weirder as the 12 days continue. Heh.

  • Crazy Christmas Cards from 1955! – So this guy found a box filled with Christmas cards from his grandfather’s failed attempt at starting a greeting card company a few years after WWII. It’s an interesting story, but this card is just profoundly weird. Look at this thing:

    Weird Santa Card

    Yikes. Also kinda awesome. It’s too late to order now, but he is selling them, which is pretty funny because while the whole project bankrupted his grandfather, it’s probably selling pretty well these days.

  • Bing and Bowie: An Odd Story of Holiday Harmony – The backstory behind the improbable Bing Crosby and David Bowie duet “Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy” (which, because it’s in a newspaper, doesn’t actually have a link to the song, which you can watch on Youtube).
  • It’s Beginning to Look Alot Like Fishmen – A Lovecraftian take on Christmas music, based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Heh.

That’s all for now, hope you all have a happy holiday!

The 2012 Egg Nog Tasting

Every year, on Thanksgiving, my family has an Egg Nog tasting. It’s a tradition born by accident. One year, several of us mistakenly thought we were responsible for bringing egg nog, and thus we ended up with, like, 8 egg nogs and devised an impromptu tasting event. In subsequent years, the number of entries rose and our methodology grew stronger. Oh sure, it’s still not perfect, but even the attempt at a double blind taste test seems pretty good for such an informal event.

In general, the egg nogs are judged for two awards: best and worst. Since the number of entries can get out of hand and you can only drink so much egg nog at once, we generally limit the competition to straight nogs, not those fancy flavored things (i.e. no pumpkin spice for us). This year, we added an additional restriction that last year’s winner and loser should not be part of this competition. Since the same two brands seem to win every year, we thought this would yield some variety. So the field was a little smaller this year, but the tasting was as fun as ever:

Egg Nogs

For posterity, these are the eggnogs pictured (from left to right):

  • Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog
  • Giant Light Egg Nog
  • Freddy Hill Farms Creamy Egg Nog
  • Shop Rite Egg Nog
  • So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog
  • Upstate Farms Premium Egg Nog
  • Nice! Egg Nog

It wound up being a small list, to be sure, but a lot of “missing” brands were things we’ve had several times before. With the exception of SoCo and I believe Upstate, the others are all new. Funnily enough, the race for best egg nog did come down to Upstate Farms, Southern Comfort, and Freddy Hill Farms, with Upstate Farms narrowly edging the competition in a blind taste test for its first win.

The race for worst egg nog was also interesting. I expected the “So Delicious Coconut Milk Nog” to wipe up the competition, and there were definitely a few people who thought it was the worst thing evar. However, the Giant Light Egg Nog (70% less fat, 1/3 less calories!) won decisively in the voting. The Coconut Nog wasn’t excessively bad in my opinion, though it didn’t really taste like egg nog. It was like coconut milk with nutmeg, maybe a bit thicker. But the Giant brand Light Egg Nog was absolutely disgusting. A word of advice: if you’re trying to watch your fat intake or calories, just don’t drink egg nog. You’ll be much happier.

All in all, another successful tasting. We’ll have to coordinate better next year and get some better, high quality, more obscure options.

Holiday Horror

‘Tis the season… for cheesy horror movies! It’s something of an annual tradition here at Kaedrin, though the pickings are getting a bit slim these days. Two of the three movies below are only slightly related to actual holiday scares. That being said, I always seem to have fun with these movies, even if they aren’t so great:

  • Sheitan – So some morons go to a club on Christmas Eve, get kicked out, then decide to spend the holiday at the country house of a girl they just met. Little do they know that the caretaker, Joseph, has other plans for the crew. Satanic plans! Yeah, so the film’s big problem is that the protagonists are complete and utter douchebags. French douchebags! Sometimes this isn’t the worst failing in a horror movie, but there’s a distinct lack of horror here as well (at least, until the end, when things get a little better). Vincent Cassel actually turns in a fun, scenery chewing performance as the satanic Joseph (and apparently he also plays Joseph’s wife!) The film is shot well and there’s something interesting in the general story. Unfortunately, it’s all ruined by our douchey protagonists. **
  • Films to Keep You Awake: The Christmas Tale – Ahh, now this is more like it! Still not tremendously holiday focused, but at least there’s a Santa-suit-wearing criminal in this one! 5 kids discover a woman (the aforementioned Santa-suit-wearing criminal) trapped in a well. It turns out that she’s a bank robber on the run, so the kids attempt to blackmail her into giving them her stolen money. Things don’t go as planned. Also: Zombies (kinda).

    Santa Suit Wearing Criminal

    It’s far from perfect, but it’s fun and actually pretty tense at times. The kids all put in good performances, and the Santa-suit criminal manages to be pretty menacing after a while. There’s a weird movie-within-a-movie thing going on that I’m not sure entirely works, but the general story works well enough and the ending is sufficiently satisfying. ***

  • Demonic Toys – Yeah, so I don’t think this one has any relationship to the Holidays at all, except that a bunch of toys are attacking everyone, which is actually pretty cool. Don’t get me wrong, this is not fine cinema, but it’s fun schlock, and while there’s a silliness to the proceedings, I did like the backstory. Something about a demon who wants to be reborn and needs to possess a pregnant woman, who happens to stumble into said toy warehouse. Ok, fine, there’s not much to the story or, well, the movie, but I had fun with it. I mean, Baby Ooosy Daisy? Awesome. It’s actually a pretty bad movie, but fans of bad horror might enjoy it… **1/2

Well, there you have it. There are still a few more Holiday Horror movies in the queue, including Don’t Open Till Christmas (though this is apparently no longer available from Netflix) and Santa Claws (get it?) Well, there’s always next year!

Link Dump

Hope everyone had a great holiday, here’s a few more links for your enjoyment:

And, of course, lots of Holiday/Winter beers reviewed on the Kaedrin Beer Blog

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

Early Christian history shows a lot of attempts by Church leaders to attract followers by setting their holidays to coincide with existing festivals and celebrations. In the case of Christmas, the Church chose December 25, as it coincides with pagan winter solstice festivals that were popular in most cultures. As such, most of the folklore surrounding Christmas is an amalgam of both Christian and Pagan traditions. Examples include Christmas trees, mistletoe, and, of course, Santa Claus.

Santa Claus, as we know him, can largely be traced back to the poem A Visit From Saint Nicholas, published in 1823 and written by Clement Clarke Moore. However, Moore was pulling from a long tradition of Christmas gift givers, which were, in themselves, pulling from older pagan traditions. And while our current vision of Santa is jolly, many of the precursors are more varied. We all know about the “naughty or nice list”, but we generally shy away from graphic descriptions of what happens to the naughty. Many older traditions did not. Case in point, the Finnish “Joulupukki”, which translates to “Yule Buck” or “Yule Goat”.

One of the reasons pagan cultures chose to celebrate the Winter solstice is that the shortest days of the year are in December, and once you reach the solstice, the days start to get longer again. In Finland, these festivals would celebrate the return of the daylight and would often feature a personification of the evil spirits that were leaving as the days got longer. These spirits were often wore goat skins and horns and demanded presents. It was a loathsome creature, and it frightened children (which parents no doubt used to their advantage, getting their kids to act nice). Once the Christian traditions reached Finland though, this somehow got flipped around, with the spirits now benevolent and delivering presents instead of wreaking havoc.

Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale is a new Finnish movie that wonders what would happen if we discovered the original “Joulupukki”. According to the research of the film’s main character, young Pietari, the original Santa was not a very pleasant character, so villagers tricked him into freezing water, then covered the resulting ice cube in sawdust and so many rocks that they created a new mountain. Cut to present day, and a crazy American businessman is attempting to find the real Santa, and is excavating a nearby mountain, much to the dismay of local Reindeer ranchers. Pretty soon, their Reindeer show up dead and children start to go missing.

This is not your typical holiday movie, nor even is it your typical holiday horror film, a subgenre I’ve been exploring over the past few years. It takes a while to get going and while I enjoyed the ending, it was a bit of an anti-climax, as you never really get to see the true horrific power of Santa (on the other hand, I do wonder if that sort of explicit explanation would lose something)… That being said, the film has a dark, dry sense of humor that isn’t quite explicit, but which made me laugh out loud several times. This is the debut film of writer/director Jalmari Helander, and it’s clear that he has a good eye for interesting visuals and while he does not resort to many horror tropes, he does manage some creepifying visuals, such as the weird wooden dolls that Santa’s little helpers leave behind while they’re kidnapping naughty children or, heck, even Santa’s little helpers themselves.

The ending of the film escalates into the absurd, but in an entertaining and welcome way. My favorite part was when young Pietari suddenly turns into an 80s action hero and starts dropping one liners like “It’s either me or Santa. I suggest Santa.” (OK, fine, that was 2 lines, but still.) I’m still not entirely sure what to make of the epilogue, though it’s still a wonderfully absurd notion.

In the end, I don’t know that this is up there with the Christmas horror classics like Black Christmas, but it’s probably still an upper tier picture, and it’s well worth a watch for fans of dark holiday shenanigans. ***

Update: After the movie, I headed over to the local beer bar, Eulogy, and had a nice Austrian beer called Samichlaus. Guess what that translates to.

Holiday Link Dump

It’s that time of year, enjoy:

That’s all for now. With any luck, I’ll be seeing Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale on Wednesday, so perhaps a review…

Update: Added some links…

The 2010 Egg Nog Tasting

Well, it appears that I’ve missed the opportunity to partake in the annual 12 Days of Christmas Posting, but while I won’t be posting every day like I’ve done the past few years, I’ll still try to make some holiday posts. I’ll start with the annual family egg nog tasting. I’ve documented this for the past few years, and this year started out in similar fashion, with 13 different varieties of eggnog:

A Shitload of Egg Nog

For reference, these are the eggnogs pictured (from left to right):

  • Lehigh Valley Eggnog (not pictured)
  • Target Holiday Egg Nog
  • Silk Nog
  • Hood Pumpkin Eggnog
  • Rice Dream Rice Nog
  • Target Holiday Milk
  • Borden Eggnog
  • Swiss Farms Egg Nog
  • Wawa Egg Nog
  • Wegman’s Holiday Egg Nog
  • Upstate Farms Premium Egg Nog
  • Hood Golden Eggnog
  • Southern Comfort Traditional Egg Nog

There was some controversy this year, notably centered around the competition for “Worst Egg Nog”. You see, someone brought something from Target called “Holiday Milk”, which was essentially strawberry milk… not an eggnog. This turned out to be a moot point, as it wasn’t all that bad. As expected, the contest for worst eggnog came down to two options: Rice Dream Rice Nog and Silk Nog. I suppose neither of these are technically egg nog either, but in any case, Silk Nog came away as the “Champion”. This is not to say that Rice Dream wasn’t seriously considered, but it really just tastes like dirty, cinnamon flavored dishwater. That sounds bad (and it is!), but the watery consistency actually washes down quickly, unlike Silk Nog, which has an even worse taste coupled with the thick consistency of actual eggnog, meaning that it coats your mouth and lingers for a while. Therefore, Silk Nog reigns as the worst Eggnog (substitute) ever.

When it came to judging for “Best Overall Eggnog”, things were a little more interesting. This year’s tasting started out in our traditional, completely subjective manner, but then we narrowed the field down to 5 finalists (Wawa, Swiss Farms, Wegman’s, Upstate Farms, and Target), and prepared a blind tasting methodology where our panel of 6 judges would rate each eggnog on Taste, Appearance and Viscosity.

Blind Taste Test

The cups on the right were the “palate cleansers” and consisted of Rice Dream Rice Nog. It was surprisingly effective. Now, don’t get me wrong, this test was still far from scientific, but the methodology was much more thorough this year… and yet, we came out with similar results! Last year, there was a tie between Wawa and Swiss Farms Egg Nog. This year, Swiss Farms takes home the prize, but it only nudged out Wawa by a small margin.

The best tasting note of the day came from my sister-in-law’s sister, who claimed that Southern Comfort Traditional Eggnog (I think) tasted like suntan lotion. Once she said it, I couldn’t not taste the suntan lotion. Disgusting. Anyway, it was a good year, and I’m looking forward to next year.

12DC – Day 12: Merry Christmas

In 1897, Virginia O’Hanlon sent a letter to the New York Sun asking a simple question: is there a Santa Claus? You see, she had a bad father. He didn’t want to answer the question, so he transferred his fatherly responsibilities to the newspaper, claiming that “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” An editor at the Sun, Francis Pharcellus Church, took the opportunity to answer Virginia’s question and also addressed the deeper philosophical quandry. His now famous response can be summed up as “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”

Is there a Santa Claus?

Merry Christmas, all!