Preparing a store-bought geek feast can be a challenge. It all starts with scouring the aisles of grocery stores, looking for pictures of things like Angry Birds, Iron Man, and "Star Wars" on the shelves. These are not found in the health food section; rather they come in the form of gummy candies, high-sodium soups, and snack crackers. Some tie-in foods are more successful than others. Follow along for my take on these oddball edibles.
When the idea of "Star Wars" fruit gummies was first hatched, I imagine quite a bit of thought went into assigning flavors to characters. Yoda, however, was easy. Yoda is green. Some apples are green. Therefore, Yoda should taste like apples. There's a weird artificial aftertaste to these gummies, but the shapes are entertaining, with the tiny green Yoda figure leading the way. If you're inclined to play with your food, then go ahead and reenact your favorite "Star Wars" scenes. Gummy-Yoda will kick everyone's butt.
Part of the charm of these "Star Wars" gummies is the weird collection of characters included in the box. Yoda, C-3PO, and R2-D2 are easy choices, but the rest of the lineup includes a Jedi starfighter, clone trooper, and General Grievous. It's a mashup of older and newer takes on "Star Wars." The box itself has original-trilogy images on one side and prequel images on the other. It's like eating your way through the history of the series.
Nothing says "snack time" like a spider on a cracker. If you're not grossed out by the idea, then go ahead and crack open a box of Spider-Man Cheez-Its. It's hard to miss the box on the grocery shelf since it features Spider-Man crawling toward you. The crackers are a product tie-in to the movie "The Amazing Spider-Man 2." Each cracker is pressed with the image of a spider, Spider-Man's head, Spider-Man slinging around, or a web.
The taste is pure classic Cheez-It, which is to say it has only a tangential relationship to actual cheese flavor. The Spider-Man imagery does make these more entertaining than your average cracker. If you were going to buy Cheez-Its anyway, you might as well get the ones with the superhero web-slinger.
The Angry Birds fruit gummies come in a promisingly bright package. I picked up the variation featuring Chuck, the yellow bird. The gummies inside are made with white grape juice concentrate among the ingredients and somehow manage to avoid the weird chemical-taste overtones of the "Star Wars" gummies, though there's no mistaking these for totally natural fruit flavors.
The taste isn't terrible as far as that goes, but the Angry Birds gummies fall asleep on the job when it comes to the shapes. When the molds are clean, you get pretty good approximations of the characters, but quite a few of the candies are distorted into bizarre mutated versions of the Angry Birds. I had to eat a faceless Red Bird just to put him out of his misery. He tasted like a cherry.
The Angry Birds Honey Maid graham crackers are one of the more successful snacks from my geek foods experiment. The classic sweet crackers with a hint of cinnamon come in flat versions of the popular bird and pig shapes. The impressions are strong, so you really get the sense of chowing down on the characters. There's a certain satisfaction that comes from nibbling the pig's ears off before dispatching the entire enemy.
With Easter coming upon us, geeky basket-stuffers abound. I picked up this yellow plastic egg with a raised Iron Man face on it and tried to see inside past the Marvel-slathered plastic shrinkwrap. I couldn't see what was within, so I took a chance there might be something cool inside. Cracking it open, I found a bunch of individual packages of Lemonheads, which had no direct ties to the Avengers. The saving grace here is a series of Avengers stickers featuring Iron Man, Hulk, and Captain America. Not edible, but enough to save this foodstuff from a failing grade. At least this leads me to contemplate what sort of goose would lay an Iron Man egg.
This Spider-Man chocolate caught my eye due to the splashy packaging. The shiny foil-covered hollow chocolate came in a box emblazoned with engaging Spider-Man images on each side and the words "Easter milk chocolate" on the bottom. I unwrapped my prize and found, underneath all the flash, just a plain sarcophagus of chocolate. There was no attempt to carry the theme onto the actual product. Boo. The chocolate itself is just standard-issue waxy Easter chocolate. I recommend this only for the Spider-Man food completist.
Campbell's classic canned chicken soup hasn't changed much over the years. It usually contains little strips of noodles, but you can ditch those boring bits and opt for a Super Mario take on the soup instead. The can beckons you to open it with images of a potbellied Mario standing next to Bowser. Another version features Princess Peach on the outside. The biggest draw is the six different Mario-themed noodle shapes inside.
That piece of pasta on the spoon is supposed to be Mario's head. Keep staring and, eventually, you'll kind of see it. That's the biggest issue with the Campbell's Super Mario chicken soup. The shapes just kind of morph together into weird latticed lumps. The different shapes include Mario's head, green shell, super mushroom, goomba, fire flower, and block. The block is the easiest to spot. As for the taste, well, it's exactly like you remember it, except you're eating Mario's head.
Director Michael Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is nigh, and so are the product placement attempts. One of the odder tie-ins is Kraft macaroni and cheese. Each of the turtles is represented in pasta shaped like the character; otherwise this is pretty normal mac and cheese.
I pity the poor food designer who had to figure out how to make ninja turtle shapes out of pasta, but this is not a bad try. With a little imagination, you can even distinguish the individual turtles after they're cooked. The taste is pure Kraft mac-and-cheese. My only very minor disappointment is that the shapes aren't big enough to nibble off individual body parts or weapons -- you pretty much have to down the whole turtle in one go. Word to the wise, ninja turtle leftovers don't reheat well the next day.
My geek-related food explorations came to head with an attempt at a full(-ish) meal. This spread consists of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles mac and cheese, Super Mario chicken noodle soup, Hulk fruit juice, and a "dessert" of Angry Birds graham crackers and gummies. Yes, it's weird. Was it delicious? That would be going too far. Was it entertaining? Oh, yes.