Oat Milk, My Oat Milk

Never in my pushing-40 years have I desired an alternative to cow’s milk. Ever. Writing this post is the biggest surprise to my former future self. Past Zoe is questioning my life choices.

But as I’ve gotten older and have begun choosing healthier options when it comes to nutrition and self-care, I have started doing things such as consciously eating less meat. Some days are wholly vegetarian but I consider it a good day if only one of my meals out of three has meat in it. Same goes with dairy. While you’ll have to pry cheese from my cold dead hands, milk has slowly been less of a priority on my grocery list. In my household, it’s used far more for cooking than consuming as a drink or even putting on cereal. And the longer I go without drinking it, the more I notice its nefarious side effects on my digestive system. Cookies and milk, a rare treat but didn’t used to be in my younger years, is now a loaded decision. Do I risk the effects of all the refined sugar, fat, calories, and effects of the milk?

I’m unsure where the idea germinated but I know I read an article, likely from Twitter, about oat milk’s prevalence (really, a comeback). It was specifically about Oatly! (more on that in a bit) but the result was a kernel–or oat, if you will–lodged itself in my brain until I succumbed to the temptation to experiment with oat milk to see if it could be a true alternative to cow’s milk.

Being the researcher that I am, I looked up articles and reviews on the available brands of oat milk out there and which ones were getting rated as best tasting. Three brands rose to the top of most people’s lists (including general availability): Pacific Foods, Califia Farms, and Oatly!, the exclamation point of which is part of their branding.

Initially, I couldn’t find Pacific Foods or Oatly! but I did find Califia Farms. I found their unsweetened oat milk at Meijer and bought myself a bottle. It was in the regular refrigerated milk area. I’ve since learned that Pacific Foods is unrefrigerated and not sold in the milk fridges.

Thoughts on Califia Farms: the color of it looks a bit bluish gray, similar to skim milk, which I’ve always abhorred. While unsweetened, it does have a sweeter, distinctive oat flavor, similar to what you would find if you had eaten a bowl of Cheerios and you’re down to the remaining milk in the bowl. All told, I preferred using this milk in smoothies but not on its own and not in coffee. Still, if it’s the only kind I could find, it would be just fine as an alternative milk.

Eventually, I did manage to find Oatly! sold at my local Target, both the ‘regular’ kind of unsweetened milk and the Barista version. The Barista version has a couple extra grams of fat but is otherwise identical to regular Oatly. At first, I could only found a quart of the Barista version and tried that at home, and found it had a nice neutral flavor and color. It didn’t taste as nutty or oaty as Califia Farms and isn’t as gray in color. Note: the barista version of any of these oat milks foams similarly to regular milk, which is why it’s been so popular with coffee shops.

At home, I quickly went through the quart of the Barista version and when I returned to Target, I found the half gallons of the regular unsweetened milk, which has 5g of fat per serving. All of the oat milks I tried have similar grams of carbs and sugars. I believe it averages out to 16-17g of carbs per glass of oat milk, which is a bit high (compared to 11g of whole milk), so I try to reserve consumption to coffee, smoothies, etc, with the occasional exception for drinking.

The winner overall in my book is Oatly! original unsweetened milk. It mimics cow’s milk so well that I ventured to try a small glass of it to drink when we had chili a couple of weeks ago, and it tasted exactly like having an ice cold glass of cow’s milk while having something rich to eat. It was seriously delicious! The bonus was not having any G.I. distress afterwards. Oatly also claims to be the OG oat milk from the 1990s. Maybe they’ve just perfected it and that’s why it’s so dang good. There was even a shortage in 2018, which caused some brief panic, but they seem to be back on track now.

Since getting onto this bandwagon, at least two of the local coffee shops in my area have begun offering oat milk for lattes. I have had two oat milk lattes since (made with Pacific Foods oat milk, so I’ve officially tried it) and they were both excellent. What I noticed was that because oat milk is generally thinner, even when having a similar fat content, the espresso flavor from the latte punches through a bit more. That’s only a bad thing if you really can’t stand the bitterness or flavor of good coffee. I liked knowing I wasn’t filling up on bloating milk with my breakfast, nor watering down the flavor of my latte. I plan to keep trying oat milk lattes where and when I can find them. I recommend you see if your shop/s have them, as well! It’s a great place to start if you’ve been thinking of trying an alternative to cow’s milk but can’t stand soy or almond milk, which was the case for me.

Are you an oat milk convert as I am? Let me know in the comments!

*Miniature soap box moment: it should be mentioned that consuming a lot of dairy and meat not only has effects on one’s health but the meat and dairy industries contribute to the current climate crisis.  If all of us meat/dairy consumers reduced our intake, even a little, it could save areas of the planet suffering from deforestation to make room for farm animals (especially cattle). While I have not gone full vegetarian by any means, I am taking more responsibility for being mindful about my meat and dairy consumption. It does make a difference, both in health effects and our ecosystem. I know this could be considered a controversial take but…it is my blog, so that’s my full opinion on the matter.

Update for 2021: Oatly is still very good and widely available. But for my money and educated investment, Chobani Extra Creamy (plain flavor) is where it’s at.

Does Force of Nature Really Work?

About a month ago, I succumbed to a powerfully targeted Facebook “infomercial” and bought the cleaning system Force of Nature.

I was intrigued because anything that reduces waste, is completely non-toxic, and boasts powerful cleaning and deodorizing power from three ingredients will pull me in.

I bought a starter kit when Force of Nature was offering a promotion that seemed like a good deal. In my opinion, spending about $60 is about right for what you receive. Additionally, they offer a 30-day money-back guarantee.

The TL;DR version is that we are really enjoying using it. All the recommendation details are below! 

The premise behind Force of Nature is this, pulled directly from their site:

Force of Nature miniaturizes the electrolyzed water technology from the industrial space. It uses electricity to transform salt, water & vinegar into 2 non-toxic cleaning ingredients:

  • Hypochlorous acid: The active ingredient. Cleans & deodorizes as effectively as bleach yet non toxic.
  • Sodium hydroxide: a detergent but without bubbles. Contains a non toxic concentration of .0000003%, yet cleans as well as major brands.

So, what’s in the starter kit? You get the electrolyzer charger doo-dad, the bottle in which you do the electrolyzing, a spray bottle, and five “activator capsules” that contain the ratio of water, vinegar, and sodium. Concentrated cleaning magic. (I am a vinegar convert.)

Part of the appeal for me with this product, aside from the more natural cleaning product, is the reduction in plastic consumption. Our planet is choking on plastic and I am actively working to do my part to lessen its dominance in my life, especially one-use items that can’t be recycled.

The activator capsules come packaged in a semi-soft plastic but I was relieved to find out these are recyclable (#5). I like knowing my dependency on buying larger plastic cleaning bottles that have unknown and toxic chemicals in them will decrease significantly.

Before I dive into other nitty gritty details, here is the end result: this stuff WORKS. I have to admit, my expectations were pretty low. I’ve bought similar items from the interwebs before, including products from infomercials back in the day, and the excitement over the product usually wanes pretty quickly after purchase.

However, Force of Nature is proving itself to be a staple around my house. Even my husband admits to liking using it, which is a Big Deal for him.

So, what can you use this stuff on?

We haven’t discovered much it doesn’t do well with! Because it’s mostly water, there is no drying agent in the mixture. I never thought about this before with other cleaners, but that “no streak” factor that I like from some of my favorite cleaning products is somewhat due to the drying agent. Keep this in mind for surfaces like glass or countertops, as it’s not 100% streak-proof. Note: do not use on an unsealed counter top; sealed or non-porous counter tops only. We have quartz counters in our kitchen, which are non-porous, so it’s safe to use on them.

As for smell, it has a less-offensive chlorine scent, and even for a Super Smeller like I am, I don’t find it bothersome. When it dries, the area just smells clean. Force of Nature is more reminiscent of a pool than something as strong as chlorine bleach. My lungs don’t hurt if I take a breath around it the way bleach can hurt eyes and lungs. And lingers. Boy, does bleach linger. But not Force of Nature! It is safe to use around pets and babies and you don’t have to wear gloves to protect yourself from it if you don’t want to. Nor do you have to turn on every fan in your home after you’ve used it.

Effectiveness: in my opinion, Force of Nature is the best de-greaser I have found. I don’t say that lightly. It pulverizes grease, instantly dissolving it. Plus, it gets rid of odors. One of our favorite surfaces we love to use Force of Nature on is our butcher block in our kitchen. I like to spray it down, wipe it up with a paper towel, and then lightly spray on some more to let it air dry. After drying, the butcher block is completely deodorized and food-safe once again. I have always hated how chopping onions leaves a lingering odor no matter what we do, but this stuff gets it right out. Color me seriously impressed.

This stuff is a rockstar for cleaning bathrooms. I know it’s at least half psychological but I just don’t feel as “ucky” when I clean the bathroom with FON as I do with other cleaning agents.

Flooring: we have a large expanse of hardwood floor in our family room and in the natural sunlight, I can see every drip or paw print that has ever left an impression of any kind. Force of Nature gets it clean with no smudges. I wish I could make a whole bucket of it for mopping.

Because of the de-greasing power, I decided to try this on the inside of our oven door after my husband had tackled it with Barkeeper’s Friend. There was still some semi-permanent baked-on crud in there. I saturated the door and let it sit for a minute before I wiped it up. It got more up but didn’t get everything. That said, I love having something non-toxic to use on the inside of the oven. I would venture to say the majority of oven-cleaning products are overtly toxic.

We have not yet tried FON on carpets or drapes with any kind of stains. I would be interested to see how it does with pet stains. We have one of those small wet-vacuum carpet cleaners where you put the formula in one end and it sucks up the dirty water in another. At some point, I’ll test out this theory. Force of Nature does ask you to test out a small patch of carpet or other upholstery before saturating. They also have a comprehensive FAQ on their website about what you can/cannot/should do for different odors, stains, and surfaces.

The only surface I have tried this on that I won’t regularly use it on is brushed stainless, like our refrigerator. It left some obvious streaks and I prefer to use a traditional cleaner with a drying agent before hitting it with the special stainless goop we have on hand. Yet, just before writing this post, I used FON to clean the stainless steel sink drains and strainers in the kitchen. They came out sparkling clean with minimal elbow grease involved. If you’re remotely OCD when you clean, you’ll be happy with this product.

Other items of note: the electric charger base thingy has a counter on it with a very bright blue readout. My eyes are incredibly sensitive to blue light, so I do not keep the charger/base plugged in after I’ve made a bottle. If it doesn’t bother you, you can keep it plugged in and it will count down how many days remain of the 14 you get with each bottle. But if you’re like me, you’ll go through a bottle in under a week cleaning every surface and deodorizing all the things, so you won’t need to keep track of the days. You also have to keep it out of direct sunlight. We stash ours under the kitchen sink.

Refill packs are 25 for $19.99, $1 less if you are a subscriber. Pretty solid deal, if you ask me. The only other product they offer besides the starter kit and refills are travel bottles already made up for you. These would be great for road trips and/or traveling with little ones.

Last but certainly not least, each purchaser gets a referrer link. Here’s mine, if I’ve convinced you to try it. I hope I have! You’ll save $35 on your starter kit if you’re a new customer. (I will earn free refill packets.) Otherwise, there is no gimmick or sales pitch involved. It’s win-win, considering the money-back guarantee.

Force of Nature is definitely a Zoe Recommends product. If you’ve tried it yourself, I’d love to hear from you!

Update in 2021: We are still going strong using FON. They have updated their system to be less clunky and they’ve even offered rare glass bottles, which I’m trying to get my hands on, but we’re still using and appreciating this product all the time!

Thx but no thx

Internet slang and acronyms are everywhere. I can’t keep up anymore.

(I still don’t use IDK, bae, fleek snatched, fam, or any of the new-fangled words that the kids are using these days.)

One thing that sticks in my craw and I can’t get unstuck is when people use “thx,” especially in email. I kind-of-but-not-really understand when people text “thx” if they’re in that big of a hurry, but when it appears in an email (particularly a work email), all I can think is, “Really?”

Considering I still send handwritten thank-you notes, it probably isn’t a surprise to people who know me that I abhor “Thx.” Another one that makes me want to light myself on fire is “K.” I flat out don’t understand wasting a text with “K” when the O is just above it, for starters, and if you’re not 10, it seems to me that more of a response is warranted.

Go ahead, text me "K."

Go ahead, text me “K.”

While I understand we live in a hectic world where time feels of the essence 24 hours a day, can we take two extra seconds to make the recipient feel worthy of a reply, and at least spell out “Thanks” or “Okay” or insert some emojis to convey, “Message received”? In a technological universe where our phone software has automated replies AND shortcuts that you can program into your phone, e.g. type “thx” and it spells out “Thank you” or “Thanks,” the excuses seem to fall away, in my opinion. We’re not typing these replies on numbered tactile keys anymore. It doesn’t take typing 84499 to do “thx” any longer.

If you are a person who uses “thx” or “k” on the regular, I’d love to hear a case made for it. We seem to be eroding courtesy and etiquette one letter at a time with each of these abbreviated responses, and my reaction to that is,

could-you-not

The Vinegar Trick and Some Magic

Hi, folks. Been a while!

I decided to update this thing because I have discovered a really cool trick to help keep dishwashers (and your dishes) from smelling funky, and it’s too good not to share with the tens of readers who follow this blog. (And just a quick note, everything here is solely my personal opinion and I was not asked to plug any specific product.)

You know how your dishes can be “clean” right from the dishwasher but they smell disgusting? Like someone blow-dried on some nasty invisible funk smell? Well, that wet dog, “earthworm” smell indicates that your dishwasher itself needs a really thorough cleansing in the crevices you can’t reach. Think about if you dipped your toothbrush in the toilet–you wouldn’t want to put it back in your mouth, right? Well, that odor tells you that your dishes have gone in the toilet.

Okay, now that we’re all grossed out, I’m going to recommend a product called Dishwasher Magic.

dishwasher-magic

That stuff is the bees’ knees. We use it every 3-6 months in our household to clean the mechanisms in the dishwasher which do the actual cleaning of the dishes. It not only gets rid of calcium buildup but it disinfects; it claims to get rid of both salmonella and e.coli. That’s a winner right there.

But the second thing you can do, and the trick that inspired this post, is to use good old-fashioned white distilled vinegar as an in-between rinse. I do two things with this: I fill the rinse-aid container with vinegar instead of Jet Dry, which helps with spots and overall cleanliness; I also use a “vinegar rinse” every few cycles (or when I start to smell funk) and pair it with the light or delicate cycle. What that means is, I take a tall glass and fill it halfway with white distilled vinegar, place it securely on the bottom rack where it sits flat, and turn the dishwasher on the delicate cycle.

That’s it!

Seriously, that’s all it takes. I’ve even tested it by putting some “clean” dishes that smell like wet dog in the upper rack of the dishwasher with the cup of vinegar sitting on the bottom, and they come out smelling fresh (read: like clean glass and nothing else).

It saves your sanity, a little money, and you don’t have to actually scrub out the dishwasher itself.

It seriously works and, if you’re like me who has strong smell aversions, you will want to start doing this right away.

Hope this helps anyone out there who is washing everything by hand because the inside of the dishwasher smells like a garbage heap. Let me know if you try the Dishwasher Magic or the vinegar trick and what you think!

 

Pastel Mania

Pastel Swabs_zoesaysIt being Spring means my love for pastels can blossom for a month or two before it has to shrivel away again for ten months.

Most people associate pastels only with babies. I get that. Should I ever have children, I will have an incredibly difficult time narrowing down colors for the baby’s room. (Official warning to the husband here.)

But I have always been drawn to soft colors. Perhaps it’s because I was born in the Spring; perhaps 80s marketing left an indelible impression on me to the point where my passion for pastels is embedded onto my DNA.

Whatever the case may be, it is Pastel Season and it makes me happy. All the candies are pretty, wrapping paper and tissue explode from displays in my favorite colors, and the world is a gloriously soft rainbow.

To that end, I had a crochet order to fulfill this past weekend and when I was finished, I decided that nothing would complete me more than making some amigurumi Easter eggs.

I only began with three but it’s a pretty safe bet I will make a few more of these during the week. While I am not a religious person, I do love the symbolism that Easter brings: renewal, growth, birth, and of course pretty stuff.

These crochet eggs are so incredibly easy to make and take hardly any time (or yarn) at all. Mine were made with an F hook (3.75mm) and some scraps of DK yarn. I want to keep challenging myself with the different patterns and color changes and add a flower blossom or two to the next ones.

Since the order I was fulfilling happened to be some amigurumi duckies, what could make for a cuter photo session than baby ducks and eggs?

Happy Spring! Happy Easter! Happy Pastels Everywhere!

IMG_0775-Edit IMG_0782-Edit IMG_0785-Edit IMG_0793-Edit IMG_0797-Edit

 

 

Lit’rally the Best Brownies Ever

Brownies_zoesays

Hello, lovely readers!

We’ve been having gorgeous weather lately and last weekend, it was wonderful to throw open all the windows and let in fresh air, sunshine, and the sounds of birds chirping. For some reason, the pacifying gorgeous weather struck a baking chord within me. (I bet you were wondering how I would segue into brownies from pretty weather, huh?)

So, let’s get to the meat of things–or the chocolate of things, as the case may be.

I know there are a gazillion recipes out there for brownies. I mean, if you type in “brownies” on Pinterest, your Pinterest will hang for five minutes while it tries to deliver the search results.

A good friend of mine and I had a discussion about this treat not too long ago, which ended up being the catalyst for my search. I have yet to find a brownie at any bakery in my town that is what I dub a “Zoe brownie.” Frankly, it’s been a long while since I’ve consumed a brownie in a commercial or retail setting that was memorable.

Probably not a shock to those who know me but I am very picky about how brownies should look and taste.

My opinion is that they should be rich, not too sweet, very chocolatey, dense, chewy on the edges, and have nothing to distract from these qualities, e.g. nuts, peanut butter, chips, icing, etc.

When I conducted my aforementioned Pinterest search, the results returned were all brownie recipes that had a whole bunch of stuff on or in them. So I scrapped that, went back to good old Google, and narrowed my findings down to four solid looking recipes. After reading through them, I was able to narrow down the possible winners to two, both of which claimed to be the BEST brownies.

It then came down to ingredients and preparation. Based on that, I decided to go with one posted on Cravings of a Lunatic, entitled, “The Best Brownies in the WORLD!!!” I was ready and willing to prove whether this claim was, in fact, true.

Well.

There’s only one thing I have to say about that. Using the inflection of Chris Traeger’s character from Parks and Rec, I can say with no exaggeration that they were LIT’RALLY? the best brownies I’ve ever had. I have no idea how the original author came up with this outstanding recipe, but it is nothing short of divine.

Here is the ingredients list and also my very minor tweaks in parentheses. (Please note that these amounts will yield a double batch, which fits into one 9×13 pan of brownies. A single batch is meant to go in an 8×8 pan but honestly, do yourself a favor and make the double batch.)

  • Two sticks of butter (I did one stick of unsalted and one stick of salted)
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate (We happened to have Scharffen Berger 99% unsweetened dark chocolate on hand.)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, beaten (Really beat the eggs with a fork–get the stress out!)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla salt (you can use regular salt for this–I used fine sea salt)

Here are the easy peasy lemon squeezy preparation instructions:

  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Line your pan with parchment paper. (I used Kim’s tip to wet the parchment paper to get it to stick to the pan.)
  • Melt the butter and unsweetened chocolate together over medium heat in a medium saucepan; I strongly suggest using a double boiler. (Kim suggests a wooden spoon–I recommend a rubber spatula for most of this process.)
  • Remove from heat and add the sugar. Stir well.
  • Now add your eggs and vanilla, stirring until it’s smooth. (Here is where you may want to switch out your rubber spatula for a minute and use a whisk.)
  • Add chocolate chips, flour, and salt. Stir until well blended. (Back to the rubber spatula we go.)
  • Pour into pan and place in oven. (Tapping the pan on the counter to settle the batter works and pops any lingering bubbles.)
  • Bake for 35-45 minutes, toothpick inserted should come out clean (or mostly clean) when done.
  • Remove and cool on a rack.
  • Serve and consume!

These brownies taste unbelievable after cooling a bit but are still warm, with or without a scoop of ice cream. They definitely require milk or coffee to accompany them.

They also keep! Boxed brownies, while they can bake up decently, usually just taste like hardened chemicals the next day, which makes me gag.

Not these babies. Granted, they don’t last very long because you can’t believe how good they smell and taste, and so you and your family eat them pretty quickly, but they DO keep. Breakfast, snacks, dessert, just because, whatever. If you’re a gym goer or don’t indulge often, I promise it’s worth the extra gym session or having a cheat.

These brownies are super rich and chocolatey, moist, fudgey, smell like a chocolate shop and everything good in the world, and come out of the oven with a delicious glossy crust. The edges are perfectly chewy and add a lovely bit of texture.

Make some for your office mates and share if you don’t want to end up eating half a pan of these sinful things.

What’s a blog post about brownies without photos? Here are a handful. I honestly didn’t get a lot because we pounced on them like rabid hyenas.

It goes without saying but here it is anyway: this is totally a Zoe Recommends!

 

Dark ChocolateChopped Chocolate Brownie pan

 

Brownies 2_zoesays

 

Zoe Recommends: Dash and Bella Chocolate Chip Cookies

I know it’s a new year and some of us are three weeks into a new health regime. If you’re on any kind of kick where a delicious cookie would “ruin” anything, just pass this post right on by. However, if you’re like me and still try the occasional “best ever” chocolate chip cookie recipe, read on.

I skipped making Christmas cookies this year. To atone for that, coupled with several weekends of unsubtle nudging from my better half, I made this chocolate chip cookie recipe, courtesy of Dash and Bella.

What makes them different?

Less flour, a ratio of double the brown sugar to white sugar, and lots of STUFF in the cookies, namely extra chocolate chips and nuts.

I usually don’t like my cookies with nuts, but since I was trying something new, I decided to go all in. I used chopped pecans instead of walnuts, and instead of using 1.5C of them, as the recipe calls for, I only put in 3/4C. For my taste preferences, that seemed to be the right amount of crunch and texture to add to a cookie. We only had semi-sweet chips so I wasn’t able to try the large bittersweet chips, but that’s for next time.

Otherwise, I followed the recipe to a T and they really came out…..well, indescribably good.

One of the more unique tips is making larger cookies that brown on the edges and you pull them out whilst still raw in the center. The idea is you let them cook on the sheet outside of the oven for two to three more minutes, then transfer to a cooling rack.

It’s HARD not to want to eat these when they’re still gooey, but they do require a little extra time to firm up. Then you get that delicious light crunch from the browned edge and the soft, oozing-chocolate middle. I need a glass of milk just describing them.

Speaking of milk, we managed to kill half a gallon of it as we ate the cookies over the next few days day and a half. (It’s hard to keep cookies around with my fiance.)

My results yielded fewer than two dozen large cookies, courtesy of a quarter-cup measure.

The parchment paper is a must and makes cleanup a breeze.

The recipe/author encourages tweaking this to make it your own, so you, too, also, as well have the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies Evar.

Now away with thee so you can try them!

Cookies 1

cookies 2

cookies 3

I Want a Valium for Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

My job can be quite stressful. It can therefore keep me away from blogging for lengthy periods of time, especially when there are deadlines right before a long holiday weekend. Like this week!

When at last this long-but-short week came to an end, the relief was palpable. I could finally, completely, head-to-toe relax, even if all that meant was taking a breather between work and beginning to prepare for Thanksgiving and what I’d be contributing to our family meal this year.

I pride myself on my pumpkin pies. Sure, they’re like, the easiest pie to make out of All The Pies, but it’s one of the few–literally a few–things I actually take pleasure in making, and I have my little tricks to make them especially delicious. Furthermore, once I know how to perfect something to my own unique standards, it’s kind of compulsive for me to have to make it. Even if I weren’t going to bring it to a family meal, I wouldn’t be able to not make it. It’s my little Billy Bob Thornton thing.

What I love about this particular time of year is that the holiday season gets into full swing. Stores are an explosion of green and red, and homes and storefronts alike are decked out in lights, garlands, and wreaths. The dude and I have established a couple of our own holiday traditions, including getting a Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving and getting out all of the Christmas tchotchkes. (“Christmas tchotchkes” just might be an oxymoron, but I’m going with it, anyway.) There really is something special about this time of year that I cherish dearly.

To go with that special holiday feeling is the underlying stress of getting everything done in time for family gatherings, and holiday parties, and gift exchanges, and shipping presents off in time to be opened on Christmas Day, and blowing your wad on stuff you don’t need staying on budget. But we also have a particular salve for that stress: the holiday specials. Do a cursory search for “Christmas” on Netflix or your cable guide and there are no fewer than several hundred airings of all different specials and movies for an entire month. Heck, we’ve already seen Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and it’s not even December yet!

As you may know, we are huge Charlie Brown/Peanuts fans. These holiday specials in particular hold a special place in our hearts, along with millions of others’, I’m sure.

HOWEVER: although I am well aware that it is impossible to freeze children’s voices so they can produce dozens of holiday specials just for the sake of continuity, there are only a few of the Charlie Brown holiday specials I can tolerate aside from the original and sacred A Charlie Brown Christmas. The producers of that special did way too good of a job with casting and have subsequently ruined me for most of the other specials. There is one in particular I can not stomach, and it is A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

First things first: the only voices that sound genuine to the characters, in this blogger’s opinion, are Marcie’s and Peppermint Patty’s. Patty’s tomboy gruffness is dead on and Marcie’s sweet squeaks are endearing. All of the other main characters sound totally off, rendering them all L’Etranger. My suspension of disbelief just ain’t happening.

Secondly, Charlie’s extremely low self-esteem notwithstanding (and it really is quite heartbreaking, between his depression about holidays in general, being tricked by Lucy once again on kicking the football, and being steamrolled by Patty et al. as they invite themselves over for dinner), my squeamishness is a direct result of Peppermint Patty’s overbearing personality. Charlie is trying to rev himself up for a holiday at his grandmother’s, when suddenly Patty and the Gang inform him that they’re about to ascend his threshold for a full-on Thanksgiving meal, thank you very much.

We see Snoopy and Woodstock in the kitchen and Snoopy is making buttered toast and popcorn like a pro. One burned dog ear later, he’s got dinner on the (ping pong) table.

Sweet Snoopy happily serves up his homemade toast, pretzels, jelly beans, and popcorn. There are even pink parfaits on the table. A little carb-heavy, sure. But it’s the holiday season, after all. Their ten-year-old metabolisms can probably handle it.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

©1973 United Feature Syndicate Inc.

But instead of feeling happy and grateful to be with friends (heck, let’s call a spade a spade–they’re acquaintances at best), Patty goes on a belittling rampage about the food, shredding any pride Charlie may have had in providing her with a meal. Linus’s gracious speech fell on deaf ears, apparently. Thankfully Patty had brought her subordinate BFF Marcie with her, who becomes the voice of reason, talks Patty down from her rage high, and gets her to apologize. That’s a solid friend right there.

The whole scene gives me disgusted knots in my stomach, quite frankly, to the point where between it and the not-so-great voice casting, I have a high aversion to the special, so much so that it wouldn’t bother me if that particular DVD of the Peanuts Holiday Collection somehow got lost.

In short, this storyline makes me want to reach for a glass of wine or a Valium. It does not embody thankfulness or the spirit of Thanksgiving. To me, the kids’ meal that Snoopy and Charlie and Linus prepared IS what the holiday is all about: gathering with your friends/loved ones and enjoying what you have before you.

Other than watching Snoopy’s antics with Woodstock, I think the best part of the special is when all the kids are singing Over the River and Through the Woods in their off-key and inharmonious way. Also because it’s at the end of this not-so-well-done program. I’m sorry, Chuck. I love ya, but they can’t all be winners.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! I hope your feast is belittling-free and full of delicious eats, even and especially if they’re toast and popcorn.