TrailMyx.com

by chubbywerewolf on 11 September 2014

trailmyx-1

With the shorter days and cooler temperatures afforded by the slow-but-inevitable onset of Autumn (my favorite season), I tend to find myself outside quite often. Though we’re only a third of the way through September, I’m on pace to walk 90 miles this month, much of it around Portland’s Back Cove Trail (which I make an effort to walk at high tide each day). Its at this time of year that I tend to be a little more health-focused, favoring light meals and healthy, portable snacks to pizza delivery and heavy winter stews.

One of the healthy’ish snacks I enjoy most is trail mix, the combination of nuts, seeds, dried fruit and sometimes candy. Once regarded as the type of food eaten only by hippies and hikers (remember gorp?), trail mix is just about everywhere these days, a reality attributed to both our constant need for “on the go” food and a global marketplace where flavors once deemed “exotic”—wasabi peas, for example—can now be found even in America’s smallest towns and villages. Trail mix—in some form—is offered at just about every grocery store, convenience store, gas station corner market and pharmacy in the country.

Of course, that’s not to say that good trail mix is easy to find. For me, buying the prepackaged stuff tends to be a mixed bag (pun intended), mostly because there are so many x-factors involved. For instance, I have a hard time spending money on a product that contains one or more ingredients that I dislike (banana chips… ugh). And having now spent a few years working in the healthcare industry—not to mention the fact that I’m on the wrong side of 40—I’m a little more aware of the levels of sugar and sodium that I’m putting into my body, which often means dumping out the pretzels, M&M’s or chocolate chips that come in those pre-packaged mixes. Plus, don’t you hate it when you buy a bag of trail mix only to get it home and find that 99% of the bag is composed of the cheapest ingredients possible (e.g. the stuff nobody wants)?

I’ve experimented with the bulk foods aisle, but can’t really say that it is much better. While it affords you a little more control over what you’re purchasing, the buying experience feels like something invented by the Marquis de Sade. Don’t believe me? Just head on over to your local grocery store and try scooping walnuts or cashews into those flimsy plastic bags using the impossibly small plastic scoops they give you without spilling two-thirds of it onto the floor. Oh, and don’t forget the 20 minutes you’ll spend searching for a pen—which are always in short supply—so that you can write down the PLU#, lest you risk facing the annoyance of the teenager working the checkout lane (who will most likely charge you whatever they want in retaliation for your carelessness). And let’s face it… the variety at most grocery stores tends to not be so great.

But in the last year or so, I became aware of a new way of obtaining trail mix that has changed—for the better—the way I buy the stuff: an online outlet called TrailMyx.com.

(In the interest of transparency, I should mention that the owners of TrailMyx—a genuinely sweet married couple who I’ll refer to here as C&B—are friends of mine. That said, they didn’t ask me to write about their company, nor were they aware of my intentions to write about their business when I placed my most recent order with them. Nor is this one of those dreaded “sponsored” reviews where I’m required to awkwardly repeat some Corporate Entity’s product mantra—”Laughing Cow Cheese really is as creamy as they say!”—a certain number of times. I’m writing about TrailMyx because I think its a genuinely neat concept that would be fun to write about, and which deserves some attention.)

trailmyx-3At the time of this writing, TrailMyx.com offers 72 different individual flavors—everything from whole almonds and wasabi peas to M&M’s and goji berries—by way of five product categories: dried fruit, nuts, sweets, seeds and crunchy items. New items are being added all the time. (The most recent addition—cinnamon roasted almonds—will definitely be a part of my next order.)

Trailmyx does offer some pre-configured combinations, but the real fun is in using the Custom Mix Builder, which allows you to build your blend exactly the way you want it.

The Custom Mix Builder is also great in that it adds a welcomed sense of transparency to the ordering process. The builder tells you right off the bat what you can expect to pay per ounce of each ingredient. As you add and remove items to your mix, a window in the middle of your screen offers a neat little facsimile of your order (an especially cool feature if you’re thinking about creating a color-themed mix for a school or company event). Small buttons below that window give you the ability to add “More” or “Less” of each ingredient, which is a lifesaver when you’re game for trying a new flavor or ingredient, but don’t necessarily want it to play a big role in your mix.

On the right side of the display, there’s the ability to choose different order sizes and containers, as well as a display showing the overall cost of your order. Your cost changes dynamically as you refine the ingredients and quantities. Since shipping is free, there are no surprises as to what you’ll be paying once you hit the “add to cart” button.

For my most recent order, I decided to try a few traditional items—pistachios, sunflowers seeds and my all-time favorite, cashews—along with some ingredients that I am less familiar with: dried strawberries and goji berries. Using the Mix Builder, I added each item to my order. There’s technically no limit on how many unique items you can add to an order, but I’ve found 4-5 to be ideal.

Since I was less sure whether or not I would like the dried strawberries and goji berries, I used the “More” and “Less “buttons to modify the quantities of each. My consumption of trail mix typically comes a handful at a time—usually on my way out the door for a walk—so I ordered the 1 lb. bag, knowing that it would keep me going for awhile. My total was $18.07, which includes free shipping.

trailmyx-2The Machiavellian D-Bag in me kind of wanted to see if I could catch C&B off their game, so I placed my order after 10pm on a Monday night, thinking that it would be at least 10 hours before I’d get some kind of order confirmation. (After all, this isn’t Amazon-sized operation we’re talking about.) To my surprise, my order confirmation arrived just after midnight. I received a separate shipping confirmation—complete with tracking number—about a day later. On Thursday of that week (just over 60 hours after I placed the order) I came home from a walk to find that my TrailMyx.com blend had been delivered by priority mail.

I tore into my mix pretty quickly and found that the proportions of each ingredient were exactly as I had ordered. And while it turned out that I enjoyed both the dried strawberries—a new favorite of mine—and goji berries tremendously, I was glad to have been able to scale back the quantity of each, since I like my trail mix more crunchy than chewy. Everything arrived nice and fresh, and the resealable tabs on the brown paper TrailMyx bag helped ensure that my blend stayed that way.

Since I created an account on TrailMyx.com (something I definitely recommend you do, should you order from them), I was able to save my mix to the site, allowing me to order it again—with or without modifications—at a future date, something which I’ll do again very soon.

As with any product in the healthy foods arena, consumers owe it to themselves to make smart, informed choices about what they are putting into their bodies. (If you fill your mix with nothing but M&M’s and chocolate chips, it probably won’t be the world’s healthiest concoction. Ditto for the sodium-heavy stuff.) But that’s the great thing about Trailmyx.com… you get to decide what’s in your mix, no one else.

Anyway, if you couldn’t tell at this point, I’m a fan of Trailmyx.com. I’ve been thrilled with the quality of the product, as well as the service involved in getting it to my door. I love it when smaller companies—owned by genuinely nice people and using a blend of creativity, technology and innovation—find ways to use the Internet to reclaim a little bit of the marketplace from the corporate mega chains and big box stores which dominate our economy. I hope that you’ll give it a try.

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While there is no shortage of Hollywood movies about food and the people who make it possible, the summer box office season tends to be more closely associated with aliens and action heroes than brisket or boeuf bourguignon. Yet, this season’s crop has produced three food-centric films of some note. Coincidentally, the productions all tackle—with varying degrees of success—the theme of food as a mechanism for bringing people together.

Having seen all three movies: “Chef,” “The Hundred-Foot Journey” and “The Lunchbox,” I wanted to share some thoughts on each. (I had hoped to include a fourth movie with this theme—”The Trip to Italy” (Michael Winterbottom’s follow-up to 2010′s “The Trip”) but it is not yet available in the United States.)

In addition to offering a quick synopsis and a few critical thoughts, I’ve also commented on each movie’s “foodgasm factor”—perhaps best described as the sense of unapologetic delight you’ll experience as a result of seeing mouth-watering meals on the silver screen. Lastly, I’ve offered some humble opinions as to which Portland-area food purveyors you might visit before or after seeing your film of choice in order to get the most impact out of your moviegoing/dining experiences.

Chef

Synopsis: Directed by and starring Jon Favreau, “Chef” is the story of Carl Casper, a prominent Los Angeles chef who—in the wake of conflict with his restaurant’s owner and a public battle with an esteemed food critic—loses his job and retreats to Miami where he is inspired to start a food truck. In the process, his passion for cooking and his relationship with his young son are both renewed.

the-cheese-iron-cubanoVerdict: Though the synopsis (parsed together from notes on the film’s official site) seems rather straightforward, the narrative of “Chef” is all over the map. At times, its a road movie. At others, its a father-and-son bonding movie. Crammed in there somewhere is a good bit of a commentary about the relationship between creative integrity and financial success. But wait, there’s more, including a sub-plot involving social media, and how it can be used as a force for both good and evil. And there’s certainly no shortage of eye candy and wish fulfillment: the film is loaded with shots of gorgeous food, iconic locations, stunning kitchens and beautiful people (the pudgy Carl’s love interests include Scarlett Johansson and Sophia Vergara).

And yet, largely by virtue of the movie’s earnest and upbeat tone, impressive cinematography and charismatic actors, it all works.

What I enjoyed most about “Chef” is in how thoughtfully it conveys the idea that its okay for people to have fun with food, whether that appreciation manifests as referring to yourself as a “foodie,” reading or writing a food blog, or posting an image of a great meal to Twitter or Instagram. In an age where it seems like there’s always some third-rate comedian lashing out at others for the awful crime of (gasp!) being enthusiastic about food—“Oh, you take pictures of your food? You write a blog? That’s cute.”—the sincerity of “Chef” is a wonderful change of pace.

Foodgasm Factor: 5 out of 5. There are countless shots of drool-worthy dishes ranging from a postcoital preparation of Pasta Aglio e Olio to a mouth-watering Cubano sandwich (which features prominently in the second half of the film).

Pair It With: Patronize any of the Portland area food trucks. Or, better yet, stop by The Cheese Iron and grab a couple of Cubanos—the best version of this sandwich I’ve encountered in Maine—and a bottle of wine. It probably can’t hurt to ask if they have any Scarlett Johansson available, too. (If not, soothe your heartache with a sea salt chocolate chip cookie.)

Find “Chef” At: I was bummed to discover that “Chef” just recently exited the Nickelodeon Theater after a months-long run. But there’s good news. The film’s distributor, Open Road films, is re-releasing “Chef” in theaters on August 29th. Whether the Nickelodeon—or other local theaters—will carry it remains to be seen. If not, it should be available on DVD and iTunes this fall.

 

The Hundred-Foot Journey

Synopsis: Adapted from Richard Morais’s novel of the same name, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” tells the story of Hasan Kadam (Manish Dayal), a self-taught chef whose family—which has been forced—frequently and sometimes violently—to relocate around India and Europe—sets up shop in rural France, directly across the road from a Michelin-decorated restaurant, Le Saule Pleureur. The Kadam family initially conflicts with the competition (Helen Mirren), but, over time, the two restaurants learn to co-exist and thrive.

petite-jacquelineVerdict: The only surprising thing about “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is that it isn’t a Walt Disney production. (Though its worth noting that Disney had its own trope-filled flick about transplanted Indians earlier this year in “Million Dollar Arm”). That said, you won’t be the least bit shocked when you learn that Oprah Winfrey and Steven Spielberg are producers here, or that the movie was directed by Lasse Hallström, whose career—with one or two exceptions—has been devoted to directing sentimental tear-jerkers that might brighten your afternoon but leave no lasting impact. (That said, I gotta give him credit for the one about the dog… it destroys me every single time.)

Anyway, if you’ve seen the trailer for “The Hundred-Foot Journey” you’ll be able to reliably predict every beat of this picture, right down to its feel-good, “everyone is happy” conclusion. Helen Mirren dons a French accent, but is otherwise playing the same stuffy-yet-loveable curmudgeon role that she’s been typecast in for over a decade now (and whenever Judi Dench isn’t available). Likewise, the Kadam family is the same quirky and unthreatening family of ethnic émigrés we’ve seen portrayed on film a dozen times over in half as many years.

This is not to say that “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is bad or offensive in any way. Its not. Odds are good that if you thought “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (the Europeans-meet-Indians-and-comedy-and-love-ensue forerunner to this film) was just fine, you’ll feel the same way about this movie with its overseas locales and interchangeable British dames. And there’s no shame in that, as long as you also realize that Hallström’s movie is also not the least bit remarkable in any way. Look, “The Hundred-Foot Journey” is like that retirement party you find yourself attending at an Applebee’s for some co-worker you barely know. You may well go and have a fine time. You’ll nibble on some mozzarella sticks, toss back a couple of drinks and get a little silly. But you won’t remember anything about it six months from now.

Foodgasm Factor: 3.5 out of 5. There’s no shortage of shots—and discussion—of food in “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” but much of it is limited to brief glimpses of ingredients being foraged, chopped, sliced or stirred. The looks at finished dishes, such as boeuf bourguignon or a perfect omelette, felt fleeting compared to those in “Chef.” Even the climactic reveal of a sea urchin dish jointly prepared by two major characters—the physical manifestation of the themes the movie has been pounding the audience’s heads for two hours—gets short shrift as the camera provides the audience with the briefest of looks before it sails right on by and out of view. (While I haven’t read Richard Morais’ novel, I’m told that the descriptions of food in the book are far more impressive than they were rendered on film.)

Pair It With: Though “The Hundred-Foot Journey” as an exercise in filmmaking, is about as substantive and memorable as the aforementioned meal at Applebee’s, do yourself a favor and treat yourself to a meal at Petite Jacqueline.

Find “The Hundred-Foot Journey” At: It is currently playing at the Nickelodeon, as well as most of the Cinemagic locations in the Portland area.

 

The Lunchbox

Synopsis: Set against the backdrop of Mumbai’s famed dabbawalla meal delivery system (which, according to the film’s trailer, has been studied by Harvard University and boasts something in the neighborhood of a 99.9999% success rate in terms of uniting meals with their intended recipients), “The Lunchbox” concerns the story of two strangers—Ila (Nimrat Kaur), a neglected middle class housewife & mother, and Saajan (Irrfan Khan, best known to American audiences for his roles in “Life of Pi” and “Slumdog Millionaire”) a lonely widower on the verge of retirement—who form a deep bond after he mistakenly receives a lunchbox, along with a note hidden inside, intended for Ila’s disinterested husband.

the-lunchboxVerdict: Though it lacks the joyous frivolity of “Chef” and “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” “The Lunchbox” (from first time Director Ritesh Batra) is by far the best of these films, and easily one of the finest movies of 2014. Though there is a bit of humor to be found in “The Lunchbox,” the comedy has a quiet, understated quality to it. And with much of a film functioning as a meditation on loneliness and our profound longing for connection, “The Lunchbox” isn’t afraid to go to some dark places. One of my favorite scenes takes place midway through the film, after Ila has confided to Saajan in one of her letters that she is despondent over husband’s neglect. The next morning, Saajan hears a news report on the radio of a woman who has leapt to her death—her child in her arms—from atop a nearby skyscraper. At work, with the lunch hour approaching, we see a look of quiet terror wearing on his face as he anxiously prays for the arrival of the dabbawalla with his lunch, which will confirm that Ila is not the woman in the radio report. (The payoff to this scene is equally wonderful.)

While the theme of people being brought together by food is most obviously represented by the friendship Ila and Saajan share, “The Lunchbox” also explores the idea in more subversive ways. For instance, it is at the moment that Saajan offers to share part of his lunch with an earnest young trainee (who can only afford to eat an apple and a banana for lunch) that we realize the older man has opened his heart up to the prospect of friendship. Meanwhile, Ila regularly converses with an upstairs neighbor, dubbed “Auntie.” Unseen for the entire film, “Auntie” regularly sends down via a tethered basket—as if from the heavens—cooking ingredients, accompanied by words of advice.

While “The Lunchbox” may not deliver a Hollywood-style ending that American audiences seem to crave, I found the film and its conclusion to be a thoroughly, deeply satisfying experience.

Foodgasm Factor: 4 out of 5. We’ll grade this one on a curve since “The Lunchbox” takes place in a world that is more about “eating to live” rather than “living to eat.” While the meals Ila cooks-up for Saajan are not on par with the culinary masterpieces seen in “Chef” and the “Hundred-Foot Journey,” (she is, after all, just trying to make lunch for the poor guy) they are quite beautiful to look at. As a foodie, much of the pleasure here for me was watching Saajan’s face as he would open his four-tiered tiffin, sniff at it carefully and admire the contents of each of the compartments before lovingly dishing small spoonfuls of each out on to his plate to enjoy.

Pair It With: While I possess a neophyte’s understanding of the regional distinctions in Indian cuisine, South Portland’s TAJ seems to be the state’s best-reviewed Indian restaurant. Or, if you’re up for a drive, I’ve also read good things about Tulsi in Kittery. Then again, maybe the spirit of “The Lunchbox” is best embodied by a small note tucked inside a lovingly-made homemade lunch for a child, spouse or loved one to enjoy. If you don’t have any curry-spiced cauliflower nearby, I’m sure a peanut butter sandwich will do.

Find It At: “The Lunchbox” is playing at only a handful of theaters around the United States, including a couple in Massachusetts (see the film’s official site for current listings). That said, it is available to rent on iTunes.

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Cheryl Lewis’ El Rayo Dog (Blue Rooster Food Co. Summer Chef Series)

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The Week 12 hot dog in the Blue Rooster Summer Chef Series is Cheryl Lewis’ (of El Rayo Taqueria) El Rayo Dog. The El Rayo Dog is topped with a colorful and refreshing prickly pear cactus salsa/relish, as well as a habañero marigold mayo. I’m told that the mayo—made with actual marigold flowers from the patio of […]

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2 Dine In: Putting Portland’s Food Delivery Service Through Its Paces

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I love dining out in Portland, I really do. Its one of the main reasons I moved here, and one of the driving forces behind this blog. But lets face it. Trudging your way downtown for a decent meal can sometimes be a daunting experience. From December through March, there’s a fair chance that you’ll be dealing with […]

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Andrew Taylor’s Eventide Dog (Blue Rooster Food Co. Summer Chef Series)

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The eleventh entry in the Blue Rooster Food Co. Summer Chef Series is Andrew Taylor’s Eventide Dog. The $8 hot dog is served on a steamed Japanese-style bun and topped with fried oysters, tartar sauce and pickled trio of daikon, jalapeño & red onions. For many, the appeal of this hot dog is the inclusion of fried oysters. […]

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Joe Ricchio’s “Happy Ending” Dog (Blue Rooster Food Co. Summer Chef Series)

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The Blue Rooster Summer Chef Series enters the home stretch this week with its week 10 entry, Joe Ricchio’s “Happy Ending” Dog. Served atop a griddled bun, the Happy Ending dog is topped with caramelized shiitake mushrooms, grilled scallions, tama miso, kewpie mayo, sriracha sauce and cilantro.  Although the Happy Ending dog’s pedigree is distinctly Asian, […]

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Humbly Submitted: Five More Blue Rooster Hot Dogs I’d Like to See

July 27, 2014

I’m in Austin, Texas this week, which means that—while there’s no end to my barbecue and burger options—I’m missing out on the Week 9 hot dog at the Blue Rooster Food Co. Fortunately, fellow Portland food blogger Kate McCarty has all of the details on Mike Wiley’s (of Hugo’s fame) contribution here. It looks amazing. […]

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Jason Loring’s “Apocalypse Nosh” Dog (Blue Rooster Food Co. Summer Chef Series)

July 20, 2014

Jason Loring’s Apocalypse Nosh Dog—a take-off on the Apocalypse Now burger featured at Nosh Kitchen Bar—is the eighth hot dog in the Blue Rooster Summer Chef Series. It features a bacon-wrapped hot dog, topped with pork belly, foie gras mayo, cherry jam and cheese sauce. At $9, the Apocalypse Nosh dog is the most expensive of the […]

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Erik Desjarlais’ Choucroute Dog (Blue Rooster Food Co. Summer Chef Series)

July 12, 2014

The week 7 entry in the Blue Rooster Food Co. Summer Chef Series is Erik Desjarlais’ (of Weft & Warp) Choucroute Dog. A play on a popular dish in Alsatian cuisine (choucroute garnie), it is easily one of the most satisfying hot dogs offered as part of the series to date. It is also one […]

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The Vinland Dog (Blue Rooster Food Co. Summer Chef Series)

July 6, 2014

Like many of you, I’m making the Sunday night transition back to full work weeks, sadly devoid of holidays and drunken, midday World Cup work stoppages*, so I’ll keep this week’s Blue Rooster update brief. The Week 6 hot dog—can you believe we’re almost at the halfway point already?— is David Levi’s Vinland Dog. Comprised of a […]

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