Solving the Starbucks holiday cup conundrum

It’s been a couple of weeks since people appeared outraged about Starbucks eschewing a definitive holiday/Christmas message on its seasonal red cups in favor of a minimalist design. Instead of viewing the situation as an absolutist, I think it’s possible to find some common ground (or grounds, since we’re talking about coffee).

While I was walking through the office, I spied some of the smaller cups that Starbucks provides for people getting coffee to-go for large groups. They were the right size for my proposed solution to this seemingly intractable controversy (that people may have already forgotten after two weeks).

I “liberated” the cups and I used straightened paper clips to fashion handles so they could be affixed to another object. I then made my way to the nearest hardware store to take advantage of their Christmas tree displays.

After a few minutes of prepping, my solution was ready…

Hopefully everyone will be happy with this solution for the Starbucks holiday cup controversy.

Hopefully everyone will be happy with this solution for the Starbucks holiday cup controversy.

To paraphrase “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” I never thought it was such a bad little cup. Maybe it just needed a little love.

Much ado about Miley and MTV

Luna Rossa Challenge heads close toward the bridge during the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, in San Francisco.

Instead of watching Miley at the MTV Video Music Awards, I watched yacht racing on TV. In this photo, Luna Rossa Challenge heads close toward the bridge during the first race of the Louis Vuitton Cup Finals on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2013, in San Francisco.

The response about Miley Cyrus’ performance at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards was surprising. The Los Angeles Times has a decent recap. Since I haven’t cared about the VMAs since … well, I’ve never cared about the VMAs or watched them live … I spent my evening watching yacht racing on San Francisco Bay and a travel show about trains and national parks.

Since the response varied from outrage! to mocking to parodying the response, I thought I would give MTV a video/page view and check it out.

The performance was a medley of three songs, in which Cyrus sang in two of them. The first part featuring Cyrus’ song, “We Can’t Stop,” included performers in teddy bear costumes or wearing teddy bears won at the county fair. Cyrus herself wore something that looked like a teddy bear jumper with the bear’s ears forming much of her top.

The first part — which lasted about half of the total performance — was a bit bizarre and off-beat, but perhaps an interesting way to present an underwhelming song from a so-so singer. Or maybe not so interesting — there were some stone faces in some of the audience reaction shots. Some of Cyrus’ dance moves and gestures foreshadow the second part of the medley — where things go a bit bonkers.

The second part featured Robin Thicke and his summer hit, “Blurred Lines.” Before Cyrus continues singing, she tears off the already skimpy bear outfit and reveals a flesh-tone top and bottom similar to what the female dancers wore in Thicke’s video. If you’ve seen the video, it’s OK to accept the costume for what it is, but Cyrus’ performance goes over the top at this point.

There are risque dance moves and extremely awkward poses where Cyrus sticks her tongue out and gestures with her arms in a bratty fashion. Cyrus somehow obtains a foam finger and uses it in sexually suggestive ways. It was more lewd than provocative.

The third part of the song featured Thicke’s new song “We Can’t Stop,” with performances  from Kendrick Lamar and 2 Chainz. The song seemed energetic, but I didn’t discern a hook that I would enjoy listening to again. Cyrus is absent for most of this part until the end where she and that darned foam finger appear again.

I’ve already tipped my hand when I said Cyrus’ performance wasn’t very provocative. As the performance progressed, I felt her routine was other things — tawdry, annoying, superficial and overdone — but it didn’t seem provocative enough to deserve even a scintilla of the commentary that it has sparked.

Much has been written about how Cyrus has been working to transform from her “Hanna Montana” image and how Sunday’s performance is one more calculated move in that process. Perhaps it was, but all the calculated moves in the world don’t always add up to a winning number. Arguably, Cyrus has been trying to change her image since 2009 when her performance of “Party in the U.S.A.” at the Teen Choice Awards sparked a similar outburst of chattering.

“Party in the U.S.A.” was a hit four years ago. Based on Sunday’s performance, it seems like Cyrus is playing the same schtick and hoping to strike gold again. We’ll see how that goes.

Speaking of the same schtick, several of the commentaries noted that pundits often vent about the VMAs, even if the controversies seem contrived. MTV may fashion these moments to help create buzz and keep eyeballs on their channel, but I have to wonder why at this point. MTV has long since moved past music television in its programming and an event like the VMAs seems as vestigial as an appendix compared to the network’s current offerings of pregnant teen mothers, teen werewolves and more pregnant teen mothers.

That said, MTV’s strategy seems to still work — the performance has gotten eyeballs to the brand. The old folks have done their part by either waggling their fingers at Cyrus or just shaking their heads.

As for me — after dipping my toes in this folderol, I’m just waiting for the next yacht race to start.

‘Balls’-y Ben and Jerry’s ice cream lacks punchline

Schweddy Balls ice cream from Ben & Jerry's
Schweddy Balls ice cream from Ben & Jerry’s

Sometimes a joke that works on a late night Saturday sketch comedy show doesn’t always work in the grocer’s freezer. My heart had been set on trying the new limited batch of “Schweddy Balls” from Ben and Jerry’s the moment I read about it being released. Sadly, after an epic search for the confection, I found it to be ultimately underwhelming. Skip down to the review.

“Schweddy Balls” is named after a “Saturday Night Live” sketch from 1998. In the original sketch, two hosts of a public radio program called “Delicious Dish” interview a man named Pete Schweddy, who makes and sells confectionary balls for the holidays. He presents his creations to the hosts, who make a series of comments that would sound like raunchy double entendres to the fictitious radio audience.

Over the past few months, I have searched high and low for the product in Chico, but had no luck. I tried the Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop off of East Avenue, but I apparently missed it there (and the store sadly closed a few days later).

Later, I was outraged to read of a nationwide movement of mothers who threatened to boycott stores who placed such a product in their expensive ice cream sections and potentially expose presumably innocent children to a 13-year-old joke that would probably need to be explained to them in exacting detail because those young minds would have never — never! — been exposed to such crude humor in the first place.

Also — These children would also need to be at least four feet tall to even reach the expensive ice cream section of most fine stores. And what sort of irresponsible mother would let their child roam without supervision, randomly opening freezer doors or trying to peer through frost-glazed windows?

I was all set to declare that Chico had no “Balls” because of the mothers and the fact that the product isn’t being widely distributed. However, some friends have pointed out that they were able to find it at some Chico locations, so I may have either been looking in the wrong places or missed the boat.

Ultimately, I found my “Schweddy Balls” in San Francisco (which, because I’m 12, prompted a slightly immature tweet from me). I had actually struck gold twice. I had first found a pint in a liquor store near the Marina district. Although they wanted $5.99 for it, I was tempted but I had to say no because I had no place to keep it cold as I continued my day trip.

Heading back to the Embarcadero for the bus and train ride home, I stopped by a nearby 7-Eleven for one last check and I found it again.

This time, the price was $4.99, but there was some confusion at the counter because the barcode wouldn’t scan. The clerk grabbed some Dreyer’s MAXX and said they were the same and the same price — $2.99. I repeatedly insisted that it wasn’t, but ultimately relented to resolve the issue.

I headed to the Emeryville train station and started sampling the product. I knew most of it was going to melt, but I wanted to get enough of a feel for “Schweddy Balls” to write an adequate review.

Opening the carton of Schweddy Balls ice cream.

Opening the carton of Schweddy Balls ice cream at Emeryville train station.

Schweddy Balls is described as “Vanilla ice cream with a hint of rum, with fudge-covered rum and malt balls.”

The vanilla had good visual texture, with flakes, etc, and there was a discernable, slight taste of rum in the vanilla. However, that hint of flavor was often overpowered by the numerous mini rum balls although I could still detect it toward the end of the serving.

The balls in “Schweddy Balls” were about the size of chocolate-covered raisins and were scattered throughout the pint, although mostly down the middle of the container (in other words, it really didn’t look like the photo). The rum taste from the rum balls was fairly pleasant, with no discernable chemical aftertaste. The flavor was similar to what one might find in cherries liqueur.

The texture of the rum balls varied — some felt like fairly solid, chewy chocolate bites, while a few had a bit of a liquid burst to them.

The malt balls were like Whoppers, but smaller and perhaps had a firmer crunch. They had a stronger balance of chocolate to malt, possibly because of the size difference.

Ultimately, “Schweddy Balls” is a pretty straightforward and simple offering — exactly what was on the label and little more. As I continued to sample the dessert, I found myself having more fun trying to guess which flavor the next ball would be. It was a pretty even mix of both types.

“Schweddy Balls” is merely an OK entry into the novelty confectionary world. Sure, there are a few slightly guilty chuckles (or stern outrage) over the name, but it’s probably not worth the 270 calories per serving (or the 15 grams of fat, 60 mg of cholesterol, etc.).