Iced VoVo

March 24, 2010 at 21:10 | Posted in biscuits | 8 Comments
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A little while ago, I looked at the Scotch Finger, an Aussie classic. The Iced VoVo is perhaps even more of a classic than that, and I was prompted to take a look at it by @gascrank.

It was introduced in 1906; whether there ever was a non-iced version (called, one would imagine, the  ‘VoVo’, is unclear. It still crops up in unexpected places; for example Australian Prime  Minister Kevin Rudd mentioned them in his 2007 election victory speech. There is also a large pointillist picture of an Iced VoVo on the wall of Mrs Chillikebab’s gynaecologist; this took on an even more peculiar aspect when I read a story of someone who refused to eat them as ‘they look like female genitalia’.

So what is this at once most staid yet racy biscuit? It consists of a relatively soft biscuit base that is topped with fairly thick fondant icing, with a strip of raspberry jam down the middle. It is then liberally dusted with dessicated coconut. The raspberry jam does actually contain raspberries, too. The back of the biscuit is decorated with a swirly design with ‘ARNOTT-‘ in the middle written in a circle; the position of the hyphen makes it look (to me at least) like ‘ARNOTTI’, which confused me for a while.

There are 12 of them in a packet, arranged in a tray with four little stacks of three biscuits each. This means there are actually not many in a pack; indeed the whole pack only weighs 210g. Also, unlike most other Arnott’s varieties, the pack contains no strapline. No pithy description of the biscuit is offered; presumably because everyone knows what an Iced VoVo is.

However, it seems that actually very few people know what an iced VoVo is, because Iced VoVos seem to induce amnesia. For some reason, no-one can remember what they are like, and every time they have one they are surprised anew that they do not have a marshmallow topping. I must say, I don’t quite know why this is; they are after all called ‘Iced VoVos’, not ‘Mallow VoVos’, so the clue is there in the name – it’s icing, folks. Yet when you offer one to people, you usually get this reaction:

‘Oooh! An Iced VoVo! I haven’t had one of these for ages!’. [bites into it] ‘Oh no! That’s not right. They’ve changed it; the topping is all hard – it should be soft’.

I even got that reaction from an ex-Arnott’s employee, so it’s very prevalent. Perhaps this is why Arnott’s don’t put a strapline on the pack; the line ‘not a marshmallow biscuit’, whilst helpful information for most people (it would seem), would perhaps be a bit strange, and might even cost then sales.

To me, they are a rather fussy biscuit. There’s just too much going on there; the coconut,  jam and icing all fight for supremacy on the palate, whilst the rather soft base lacks any backbone to give texture. Still, they are an Australian classic, so I should be careful about criticising them whilst my application for Australian citizenship is still pending. I believe people have been deported for less.

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The Road – Cormac McCarthy

March 22, 2010 at 19:02 | Posted in books | Leave a comment
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A man travels through a ravaged country with his son, engaged in a daily battle for survival against a backdrop of horrific events. This is a powerful book set in a post-apocalyptic America. It is about the worst of humanity and the best; about what men will do when driven to extremes.

It does not have chapters; rather the story unfolds through small episodes, each individually described but adding to an overall picture. Gradually we piece together the story of this family’s life as they travel along the road. Ultimately it is a book about hope, although it deals with dark despair and fear.

In one sense it’s a book where nothing much happens, but it is still compelling. And disturbing. Very powerful writing that will haunt you for days after you finish it.

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2007, and certainly sees Cormac McCarthy established as one of the great modern American writers. Technically this book is science fiction, although it’s not billed as such; that genre seems to be somewhat associated with lightweight fiction and frothy fantasy, which is a pity – it would be nice to see a ‘science fiction’ book win a major literary award.

Dark Chocolate Royals

March 21, 2010 at 17:36 | Posted in biscuits | Leave a comment
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The Royal is Arnott’s version of a teacake; soft mallow on a biscuit base covered in chocolate. They come in two varieties; milk and dark. As is usually the case, the dark version is much better, and it is those we will consider here.

The first thing to say about the Royal is that it must be kept in the fridge. A Royal at room temperature is most unsatisfying; it becomes a soft, sticky, over-sweet mess that is really not very enjoyable. If someone offers you a non-chilled Royal, do yourself a favour and refuse. However, from the fridge they are a different beast.

As you bite into it, the chocolate dome cracks in an extremely satisfying manner; your teeth then sink into sensuous soft mallow before reaching the soft biscuit base which yields to the bite without cracking. The different components reach a kind of harmony as you chew; the sweet mallow coupled with the rich dark chocolate, with the base providing a contrasting texture. It really is very good. For something so sweet they are extremely moreish; it’s not out of the question to polish off a whole packet in one sitting. (Unfortunately this is what happened to the review pack before I had got around to measuring their size or counting the number in the pack, which is why this review is rather light on the hard data).

Great stuff. highly recommended – a 9 out of 10. Just remember – go for the dark variety, not the milk, and put them in the fridge.

Prodigal Summer – Barbara Kingsolver

March 6, 2010 at 16:54 | Posted in books | 1 Comment
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This strangely compelling book charts the courses of several lives over one summer in a small corner of the Appalachians. Deanna, a wildlife ranger living a remote existence in the mountains, Lusa, heir to a family farm when she is widowed, and the love-hate relationship between two elderly farming neighbours form the human narratives, which are woven together over the course of the book.

Kingsolver richly captures the essence of the place with vivid descriptions of the various natural environments as well as the tension that exists between nature and the farming community. It rejoices in the fecundity of nature; of renewal and growth, a theme that is reflected in the human characters as they come to terms with their lives and find develop in different ways – although the book is as much about the place, as it is the people.

It is a love story and a nature book; a treatise on ecology and a farming manual. The stories themselves gradually weave together over the course of the book in a satisfying way.

Despite the far-fetched nature of some of the story, and the slightly preachy tone that comes through when Kingsolver pushes home her ecological and environmental messages, the beauty of the writing for the most part masks these flaws, making the book a delight to read.

Delta Creams

March 1, 2010 at 16:21 | Posted in biscuits | 4 Comments
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The Delta Cream. A biscuit that we are all familiar with, and yet would rarely go out and buy a packet of. Indeed, I was a bit taken aback when I was given this pack; Delta Creams are, after all, those not-very-popular biscuits that get left at the end of the Cream Selection pack (usually along with the Orange Creams). Seeing a whole packet of them just seems, well, a bit odd somehow. Evidently enough people buy them to make it worthwhile to Arnott’s to package them up, and seeing as one of those packs arrived in my possession I thought it was worth looking at properly.

The first thing that struck me about the pack was the strap line for the biscuit. ‘Delicious Rich Vanilla Cream Filled Biscuits‘, it proclaims. Arnott’s are evidently pretty confident about these; they are going to be delicious. It says so on the pack.

The biscuits themselves consist of a pair of cocoa-flavoured biscuits sandwiched together with cream. The top of the biscuit is decorated with a fancy floral design, and has the word ‘DELTA’ emblazoned in the middle. The pack image suggests that the cream extends right to the very edge of the biscuit; this is not the case in the actual biscuit. The biscuit is 46mm across, whilst the blob of cream only has a diameter of 37mm. Today’s question (which, as usual, wins a pack of these biscuits): what is the average width of the cream-free border on the edge of the biscuit?

So – the final question. Are they delicious? Well, the biscuit part has only the merest hint of cocoa about it, but is very sweet tasting. The vanilla cream filling (and I note that the use of actual vanilla is not noted on the pack, although it could be the ingredient simply marked ‘flavour’) really does not taste of vanilla at all. It actually tastes of sugar. Perhaps there is the tiniest hint of some candy-like flavour in there; however it is very faint and has an artificial tang. Taken together, this really makes these biscuits extremely sweet, but without much flavour to balance out the sugaryness.

In terms of looks, these biscuits are rather similar to American Oreo cookies; unfortunately they also seem to be aiming to be in a similar style too – loaded with sugar, but light on any real depth or complexity. Definitely not one of the stars of Arnott’s range, these probably only merit about three out of ten.

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