Beast Burger Review — Best Vegetarian Burger Ever?

I’ve been eating vegetarian burgers since the 1970s. I’ve eaten some scary stuff, buddy. Burger in a can, anybody? No thanks! Up to now, my least favorite was the Season’s Choice Veggie Burger I got from Aldi’s (I know there are people who vehemently disagree), and my favorite was Boca’s All American Flame Grilled Protein Burger.

Of course, I was curious when I first learned of Beyond Meat’s Beast Burger. My first instinct was that it would taste too much like meat and/or the texture would gross me out. In other words, I doubted it’d be something I’d enjoy. However, when I saw that the burgers were finally available in grocery stores, my curiosity got the best of me, and I bought a frozen package of two at Kroger for $5.49 (if you can’t find them, look in the natural foods freezer case).

The Beast Burger is the best vegetarian burger I’ve eaten. Ingredients include pea protein, spinach, broccoli, carrot, tomato, beet, shitake mushroom, beet juice powder, onion powder, pomegranate seed powder, paprika, garlic, mesquite powder, hickory smoke concentrate, and more. But none of those flavors are prominent. It tastes so much like a burger that if we hadn’t cooked it ourselves, we’d wonder if it wasn’t really meat. After grilling, the exterior is crispy and the interior isn’t mushy but perhaps a bit chewy like, well, ground meat…but not in a gross way.

We paid $5.49 at Kroger for two frozen burgers  We split a 1/4 quarter pound burger (they’re fucking expensive!) and grilled it in our George Foreman. We ate it on grilled rye bread (Kroger’s Olde Chicago Rye) with smoked Provolone cheese, Kraft mayonnaise, Burman’s Spicy brown mustard, and spinach. Half a burger was plenty for each of us–it’s delicious, filling, and satisfying.

If you eat the entire burger, it only has 260 calories (16 grams of fat). It packs a lot of protein in one burger–23 grams. It’s also vegan.

Vegetarians may not like it because it’s too close to ground beef, but  it’s worth your time because you may find it the best burger you’ve eaten.

 

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Mama Cozzi’s Mediterranean Style Flatbread Pizza Review

Aldi’s has a wide variety of frozen pizzas. My experience has been that they’re more successful with thin or flat pizza crusts. Their thick-crusted pizzas tend to be doughy and flavorless.

My favorite Aldi’s pizza is the Stonebaked Garlic Cheese flatbread pizza, but they’ve been out of it since winter, so I decided to give the Mediterranean style flatbread pizza a try. It’s described as “flatbread topped with tomato, spinach, red pepper, red onion, artichoke, black olives and a blend of Mozzarella, Provolone, Feta, Parmesan, Romano and Asiago cheeses.”

I put the pizza in the toaster oven at 425 degrees for about fourteen minutes, and it came out crispy and browned. I expected it would taste a bit funky because of the cheeses, especially feta, parmesan, and asiago. I also expected to taste the vegetables. Oddly, the overwhelming flavor is…lemon. Sure enough, one of the listed ingredients is dehydrated lemon juice. It’s an unusual flavor for pizza, but, surprisingly, it’s not bad.

The pizza says it has three servings, but normal eaters will likely get two satisfying servings. The entire pizza has 810 calories, and the cost is approximately $3.99. Additional nutritional information is available here.

Because of the odd flavor profile, this will never be my favorite pizza, but I can see getting in the occasional mood for ‘lemon pizza.’

Four out of five stars.

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Aldi’s Stone Baked Garlic Cheese Flatbread Review

 

We’ve been shopping at Aldi’s frequently, mostly for the low-priced, good quality produce, but also for the incredible deals on other grocery items. Recently we came upon the Stone Baked Garlic Cheese Flatbread priced well below $2 a package and picked up several.

Years ago I got in the habit of ordering carry-out pizzas without sauce because my girlfriend at the time hated tomato sauce. Believe it or not, a later girlfriend (now my wife) also didn’t care for tomato sauce, so she was thrilled when she found out you could actually order pizzas without sauce (or, at least, light sauce). The point of this TMI is that the Aldi’s flatbread tastes like a great carry-out pizza without sauce.

The product is easy to prepare. Simply preheat the oven to 400 degrees and then bake for 10-12 minutes. Be aware that the instructions suggest you place the flatbread directly on the middle rack with a tray on the shelf below to catch any butter that may drop (the italics are mine). Yep, there’s butter in this thing. And there’s so much of it that it will drip in your oven. Back to that in a minute, but we use a pizza stone and avoid the mess.

Butter…yepper…butter. I was surprised that the ingredients were limited: wheat flour, water, yeast, dextrose, canola oil, salt, sugar, mozzarella, butter, garlic, salt, pepper, oregano, parsley. That’s it. I’m trying to eat cleaner, and it made me happy not to see a bunch of chemicals and preservatives.

Back to the butter…You can definitely taste the butter as well as the mozzarella, garlic, oregano, and parsley, and it is delicious. We often eat one (they say there’s four servings, but come on) as a late night snack/meal, and it’s a real treat when we have it.

Like I said, we got the flatbread for around $1.67 or so, and it seemed to be a closeout. I hope it returns soon and continues to be reasonably priced.

If you love pizza without sauce, you’ll love this.

Five out of five stars.

UPDATE (February 1, 2017): The flatbread is back in our Aldi’s store. We paid $1.39 for a package, and the freezer case was well-stocked.

https://www.caloriecount.com/calories-specially-selected-garlic-cheese-flatbread-i430690

 

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GUILTY TRUTH TV Pilot Named Quarter-Finalist in WeTV Writing Contest

My latest script, the pilot for the TV series GUILTY TRUTH, has been named a quarter-finalist in the WeTV television writing competition. GUILTY TRUTH is a dramatic TV series set in multiple time periods that reveals the ripple effect of a legendary cult director’s life and death.

The first episode (“One-Two-Three) begins with David Taylor’s murder in Hollywood in 1934. Multiple suspects and hidden motives abound, and everyone is guilty of something.

Semi-finalists will be announced in late September.

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Androids Dream Review — VR Nightime Tour of Futuristic City

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“Androids Dream is a VR experience, a ride over a cyberpunk city largely inspired by a famous SF movie (a tribute). You are in a flying car and you have just to enjoy the ride until you land on a futuristic tower.”

Androids Dream is a cool ride and one of my favorite Google Cardboard apps. It feels like a nightime city skyline tour in the future. As the pilot guides the craft, the architecture, advertising, and other craft in the sky will keep you entertained and interested.

One of the best features is the attention to detail. From the cabin’s futuristic interior to the grimy smears on the glass (not to mention the shattered exterior mirror), the creator (Dony Tamazone) went to a lot of trouble to make this app realistic.

According to Tamazone, “My goal is to design high end virtual reality experiences in which high frame rate and great graphics come together to provide the best product.”

 

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VR Cosmic Roller Coaster Review — Relaxing, Trippy But Not Much of a Roller Coaster Experience

Cosmic Roller Coaster

“A new different type of roller coaster that will take you along a wonderful cosmos.”

I admit I like trippy, druggy VR experiences. That’s my thing. It relaxes me and makes my brain happy.

Cosmic Roller Coaster is a colorful celestial trip that provides a nice visual buzz as you wander through space. My biggest complaint is that I was expecting a roller coaster and got more of a walk in space. Or maybe a cruise. The virtual reality app provides a floating feeling, not so much a breakneck roller coaster ride.

Even though I got bored, it meets the trippy, druggy criteria. The music, standard New Age stuff, is okay, but you might want to provide your own soundtrack.

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Black-Hearted Bitch Named Semi-Finalist in WeScreenplay Writing Contest

BLACK-HEARTED BITCH, a TV pilot I wrote based on one of my Kell Digby novels, has been named a semi-finalist in the WeScreenplay Diverse Voices Writing Contest.

Diverse Voices strives to provide a contest that is purely focused on promoting and encouraging diverse voices and stories. The contest encourages stories that are told from perspectives – through the author and/or characters – that are often underrepresented in Hollywood today. The contest accepts Features, TV Pilots, Web Series, and Shorts – we’re looking for underrepresented perspectives in any format.”

Finalists will be announced in June.

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Evolution of Verse Review — A Powerful VR Experience


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Chris Milk might be virtual reality’s first auteur. In fact, the quality of Evolution of Verse is close to the best film directors, and Milk is an interesting, nuanced storyteller who seems to be developing a grammar of VR.

Evolution of Verse includes a thrilling homage to the Lumiere brothers (and other directors), swarming birds, colorful streamers, and a moving sci-fi ending. However, the uplifting, inspiring experience most succeeds in its ability to make the viewer feel. Not in a manipulative Hollywood way but in a uniquely VR way that accentuates our humanity. I’ve watched this at least a dozen times, and each time I feel connected and overwhelmed. In a good way.

If you want to show someone the potential of VR, this is the one. Milk’s work is inspiring, not only to viewers but to those in this new industry. I suspect that some day Milk’s work will be as influential to future VRmakers as Auguste and Louis Lumiere were to filmmakers. Definitely check out Evolution of Verse and keep an eye on Chris Milk.

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Gravity Train Virtual Reality App Review — Cool and Trippy VR Experience

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“Welcome to the future where distances do not matter anymore!

Gravity trains traveling at implausible speed take you anywhere in the world within minutes… Go for an enthralling flight from Moscow to New York via the global underground that [sic] piercing the entire planet through!”

Gravity Train (Fibrum) reminds me of the old Mind’s Eye videos. It’s a cool visual experience that weirdly combines train travel, robots, roller coaster loops, underwater monster fish-like creatures, and more.

I wish they’d had a lot less footage of the craft interior and more trippy, psychedelic images that teased and pleased my brain. Still, Gravity Train is a drug-like experience that strangely thrills and calms. The eerie death-like tunnel visions were some of my favorite VR experiences to date.

The soundtrack isn’t great (except for the old school jazz at the beginning and end), so you might want to switch to your favorite songs as your soundtrack on later viewings.

By the way, I’m now using a VR box viewer that a vendor asked me to review in exchange for a product sample. These things are sooooo much better than the original cardboard viewers and relatively inexpensive.

In just a short time, virtual reality content and hardware are getting better and better. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

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Google Cardboard Camera App Review Or Arguing With My Brain…And Losing

Google Cardboard Camera

One of the best ways to get involved in virtual reality is to produce your own images. The Google Cardboard Camera App is free, and although it has limitations, it’s a fun app that gives a tantalizing hint of the future.

Getting Started

Download the app from the Google store onto your smartphone. Be aware that the app won’t work with all smartphones. My phone is a Samsung S5, and it loaded fine.

Taking a shot is easy. I stood in my family room, and the app guided me to slowly rotate the camera. A few times it told me to slow down.

That’s it. My very first try worked out great. Remember the app also records sound, so keep your yapper shut or choose an appropriate soundtrack.

Next, I went to a nearby park and recorded some beautiful natural landscapes. When viewed later, the ambient sounds of birds and water made the still photo come alive. It’s an exciting experience and provides an extra oomph to vacation and travel photos. The sound of water and the movement of your body around the space actually allows you to perceive “motion” in the 360 degree environment, even though it’s a still photo.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The app is great in terms of exposure. It required no adjustments from me, and both interior and exterior scenes were beautifully lit. Colors were rich and vibrant.

One small flaw is a blind area on the top and bottom of the visual field. Next time I’ll hold the camera tighter to my body to reduce this, but this is definitely one of the technological weaknesses at this time. You want to look up and down, but the areas are blurred.

The biggest weakness frankly perplexes me. Unfortunately, there is no way to share the photo. When you see how cool this is, the first thing you want to do is share. Obviously it’d be easy for Google to add this on a future update, and I certainly hope they do. I’m also hopeful that other developers are working on innovative camera apps with more features. Compared to what the future holds, this app is basic, but it amused me for hours.

Final Thoughts

The experience of viewing the VR image of my family room was strange. The first time I looked at the completed image I was in the master bathroom because my phone was charging. I knew I was in the bathroom, but I felt like I was in the family room. It was one of those weird instances of me arguing with my brain and losing.

Think of your favorite childhood home. Imagine you could view every room of that house with a VR viewer. It’s nostalgia squared.

Also, imagine how comforting it’d be for someone living in a nursing home to experience a tour of a former home, perhaps with a favorite song or two as the soundtrack.

Or imagine you’re working on your family tree, and you learn there is VR footage of an ancestor’s home. Wouldn’t you want to walk through it?

Although we have maps, photographs, and drawings, the VR experience makes every place more real. You feel a tangible connection with the actual space. As the technology evolves, people will ultimately create millions of VR images. The end result will be a bonanza for historians, designers, educators, filmmakers, and many other industries. It will change everything.

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