Tuesday, March 5, 2013

JunkLovin': Book Review of "Classic Snacks Made From Scratch"

-Heart stopping goodness.-

My original major in college before I switched to English and Sociology was actually Genetics, and one of the perks to this major was having access to a well-stocked chemistry lab.

One Spring we came across a website that detailed the resilience of peeps when placed in extreme conditions. When frozen in liquid nitrogen they would shatter, and when placed in a vacuum they would puff up before collapsing in on themselves and looking like a neon raisin. The most shocking was the acid test where the peeps - horrifyingly - survived.

We decided to try this out ourselves. We filled a glass beaker with sulfuric acid, which when measured at the same molarity (a measure of concentration of a substance) is about twice as acidic as hydrochloric acid (the acid found in your stomach). We dropped a Peep in and... nothing happened.

At all.

After about a half hour most of the color has waned and the soulless Ice Cream Man eyes had dissolved, but the Peep held its shape in saccharine defiance. We found this unnerving because the obvious implication was this:

One does not eat or digest a Peep, one simple passes the Peep.

We never really delved into the why about it since by looking at the ingredient list on the back of the box we could conjure up that the likely solution existed in the Peep's extensive chemical make-up, one that rivaled the contents of a Pfizer storage unit. And, so, I wrote off ever eating peeps again out of fear of damaging my most favorite digestive organs.

I never really considered that there might actually be an alternative until my friend, Casey Barber, of Good. Food. Stories. infamy, asked me to test a recipe for them for her new cookbook, Classic Snacks Made From Scratch.

An editorial note: Usually, I refer to authors by their last name for professional reasons when writing a review. Seeing as that Ms. Barber has shacked me up in her home, come to my wedding, seen me in a bathing suit, and walked me to a bathroom when another food writer *cough cough* got me wasted on tequila and a fistful of Benadryl I'm just going to sidestep the AP pleasantries and call her Casey. Good? Excellent.

It's a cookbook that details how to craft your favorite childhood and adulthood snackie foods at home. Foods like Twinkies, Goldfish crackers, Fritos, and Creamsicles; but without all the chemical colorings and preservatives that might otherwise sustain you in a freakishly Mick Jagger-esque fashion. (Though perhaps meth and Doritos is the key to longevity? He is still alive somehow, after all.)

I accepted her proposal and went to the kitchen to Peep out. I have no pictures so you'll have to excuse me as I did this in the middle of the night about ten months ago. Simply trust me when I say the recipe worked flawlessly. My peeps looked like Peeps. They tasted far better than Peeps - fresher, lighter, and fluffier. And they even adopted that strangely pleasant stale texture that more ancient Peeps grow into with age and that I adore.

I could eat these poofy little chicks without the guilt due to their composure: sugar, gelatin, and corn syrup. Simple marshmallows with a bit of food dye and chocolate eyes. Smitten, I was. Simply smitten.

Yes, marshmallows aren't healthy food per se, but I felt happier eating these than the processed Peeps.

-Deep frying is a way to say, "I love you."-

While we're at the topic of food that makes you gladly end your life a little bit quicker let's talk about jalapeño poppers for a minute. Normally, this is a food I generally don't care for because more often than not most restaurants use jalapeños that are dull. I know preschoolers who use language more offensive than the spice levels of the jalapeños used in your local TGI Friday's. There's no heat, no danger lurking around every bite, and without any of that risk of accidentally burning a hole in your tongue so wide you could drive a Hyundai through it what's the bloody point?

Casey instructs you on how to put these little bastards together on your own. Yes, the recipe is a little difficult and a bit time consuming for a treat you're likely to snort up faster than if you were Courtney Love in the bathroom of anywhere circa 1986. However, the flavor is worth it and at every party you go to for the rest of your life where your non-cook friends serve the frozen-cum-reheated poppers you can brag, "Yeah, these are fine, but I can fucking make these and, trust me, they're way better," before sauntering away from the snack table like the saucy tart you know you are.

Overall, the book is a fantastic read because it gives you the agency to make your own decisions when it comes to snacking. You may be thinking, "But I could go BUY a bag of Doritos. Why would I make my own?"

Well, yeah, you could. You could also buy that chocolate cake, roast chicken, salad dressing, or any number of things you make yourself at home, you dumb twit. You choose to make food yourself for the joy of creation, the cathartic purge or culinary experimentation, and the fun of just eating something that truly punches the taint of mass-produced food lacking any real personality.

That isn't to say that after buying this book you aren't going to go buy a box of Cheeze-its. Perish the thought. If Casey were to suggest it I would have to smother her with a cat bed, much to her cat, Lenny's, irritation. What Casey has done is offered us a chance to relive our childhood (and in many cases, adulthood) food memories in a new way and take back some of our food. It's the movement for better food taken to its logically extreme step.

I have one warning though about that step. Once you do learn how to make a Peep yourself, well, it's really hard not to be disappointed by the real thing. 


  1. As a lover of snack/junk foods, I am totally going to have to get this book.

  2. You know I'd never suggest we stop buying Cheez-Its. I ate a whole box last week. :)

  3. I make jalapeno poppers for parties by stuffing wonton wrappers with pickled (nacho style) sliced jalapenos and cream cheese, then frying until golden. I'm pretty sure they are the only reason most people come to my parties.

  4. your site is a marvel for the eyes, the stomach, and especially for the heart. we feel your love for good food. a very nice discovery for me. Thank you for sharing. sorry for my english I'm francais.c is with pleasure that I come inspire me

  5. What a great review. I'm tempted. I think I'll add it to cart on Amazon :)

  6. The book sounds great for recreating childhood favorite snacks in a healthier way. Thank you for sharing.

    Your upcoming macaroni book sounds delicious too. Congratulations!

  7. Garret, I always love reading your posts because of the wonderful -- and so often laugh-embarassingly-out-loud-at-my-desk (good thing I work alone in my office) -- descriptions of your adventures in the kitchen and out. I've been passing the link to this post along and gleefully quoting you, "One does not eat or digest a Peep, one simply passes the Peep." Peeps freak me out. Now I have a definitive reason to give people. Thanks!

  8. I'm a junk food lover as well. I just can't get myself to stop eating it. I'm definitely gonna checkout this book.

  9. Wow, who knew Peeps were so resilient? I knew Twinkies were the subject of some interesting experiments: http://www.twinkiesproject.com/


Hey, you're leaving a comment! That's pretty darn cool, so thanks. If you have any questions or have found an error on the site or with a recipe, please e-mail me and I will reply as soon as possible.