Athena Scalzi

Universal Yums: July 2022 Review

Hello, everyone, and welcome to another Universal Yums review! Today’s review features my dad as a co-reviewer, so you get double the opinion for the same low low price of free!

July’s box full of snacks comes to us all the way from India. Here’s the assortment:

There are ten snacks total, and three of them are the candies at the bottom.

Getting right into it, we started off with the Tikka Masala Corn Chips:

As you can imagine based on the appearance and the fact that they’re made out of corn, these were very Dorito-like. They’re even called Cornitos, so it’s not surprising that they resemble them so much, both in appearance and in texture. These chips were very strongly scented, and honestly they smelled exactly like Tikka Masala. Upon eating them, my dad said “they’ve got a kick”, meanwhile I was dying from the spiciness. These bitches are HOT. I needed milk, but we didn’t have any, so the suffering lasted a while.

I can see how these would be good for someone who isn’t a huge baby about spice, so I deem it a 5/10. My dad settled on a 7/10.

Moving on to something less painful, we have these Almond & Pistachio Cookies:

Not quite as glamorous looking as on the box, but that’s okay because this cookie actually tasted super good. It was crunchy like a shortbread and subtly sweet. My dad and I both agreed that it had a bit of a floral note to it, and we suspected it was cardamom, but upon reading the ingredients, we discovered there was no cardamom in it, though we could’ve sworn that was the exact flavor we were tasting. Overall, it was a 9/10 from both of us.

Next up was this bag of Sweet & Salty Rice Flakes:

This snack was especially odd because there was so much of it in the bag that it was actually pretty hefty for a chip bag. Plus, the contents are not really something you can eat easily straight from the bag. We ended up pouring some out into a bowl. There’s just so many small pieces in the mix that it makes it hard to eat by hand, especially if you don’t put it into another container first. My dad said it felt like a “forbidden cereal”, and that it was similar to a “bar mix” type of snack.

Aside from the inconvenience of eating it, it was strangely addicting. It was crispy, but sometimes sort of softer crisp, like unexpectedly delicate. My dad also said that for being something sweet and salty, it should be saltier, and that the flavors were unbalanced, and that the flavor palette overall was incomplete. I can agree it was a bit on the bland side, certainly not that usual balanced flavor palette you get from sweet and salty mixes, but then again, I plowed through this stuff like it was nothing, so I gave it an 8/10. My dad went for a 7.5/10.

Bringing another cookie into the mix, we have this Chocolate Flavored Sandwich Cookie:

These were so mid-tier that there honestly isn’t much to say about them. Artificial chocolate is always just artificial chocolate, and if you like that taste, great. If you don’t, well, these cookies are not for you. My dad and I aren’t a huge fan of anything chocolate that isn’t actual chocolate, so these cookies didn’t really do it for us. I did think they tasted exactly like a brown Tootsie Pop, though. I decided on a 6/10 for these, while my dad went with a 6.5/10.

Back to the spicy things, we tried these Mini Lentil Samosas:

Listen, samosas are great. These are not. You can’t take something that’s crispy, fried perfection, and try to package it and send it overseas, because you will end up with something that feels very stale. The texture was deeply unpleasant. And the taste? Also unpleasant. AND SPICY. Way hotter than the chips, even. My dad said he was craving a real samosa after this utter disappointment of one, and I agreed. I gave it a 2/10, and my dad so generously gave it a 4/10.

Swinging back into sweets, we have these Coconut Flavored Sugar Biscuits:

Another very simple biscuit cookie thing, much like the chocolate ones mentioned earlier. If you like coconut, great, you’ll probably like these cookies. If not, then you would not enjoy these! These are just very normal shortbread cookies that taste like coconut. They have a pleasant crunchy texture and not much else going on. They earned a 7.5/10 from me and a solid 7/10 from my dad.

Now, for the most unique snack in the box, Soan Papdi:

Have you ever wanted to eat insulation? Based on the box and the image of the snack on the box, my dad and I were expecting something like baklava, but what we got was insanely delicate cubes of asbestos.

Here is my dad holding a carefully procured cube.

And here is how much it fell apart upon transferring the cube into my hand.

And this was after I tried to take a bite. All structural integrity has been lost, reducing it to a million little strands of whatever it’s made out of.

As you can see, my dad had the same issue. This snack was insanely messy and difficult, and honestly after one bite you gotta call it quits because it’s so strongly flavored. It tastes perfume-y and really is not that great overall. This got a 5/10 from me, and a 6/10 from my dad.

Finally done with all the regular snacks, we moved onto the candies, starting with this Caramel Choco Éclair one:

I was expecting a soft, chewy caramel, but got a rock hard caramel instead. It was much harder than I anticipated, and not all that tasty. It was very mediocre. There are certainly better caramels out there, so I wouldn’t waste your time with this one. For my dad, he said it tasted just like a candy he used to have as a kid, so the nostalgia-inducing flavor of it made him give it an 8/10, but his actual rating of it was 5/10. As was mine.

Next up was the candy I was most excited for, this Creamy Pistachio candy:

You know when you’re a kid and you see something food shaped that looks delicious, and you learn the hard way it’s actually soap? This candy tasted like that painful realization that sometimes things that look edible are not actually meant for eating. Not to mention the texture of this was like a wax melt cube, so that only contributed to the idea that this was more like soap or a candle than actual food.

Good lord this candy was so fucking bad. Probably one of the worst candies I’ve ever had in my entire life, second only to Jelly Belly’s intentionally disgusting flavors. Do not eat this candy. 1/10 from me, and a 2/10 from my dad, though I can’t understand how he’d rate it so high.

Finally, this Apricot Hard Candy:

My dad popped this bad boy in and look perplexed, and asked me what flavor the candy was. I said “apricot” and he said he would not have guessed that. I asked what would he have guessed, because it seemed quite apricot-y to me, but he said “sandalwood”. I didn’t even know you could eat sandalwood, I just know it as that scent that all my grandma’s candles seem to be. The description for this candy in the booklet said that it had a milky center, but my dad and I both agreed after cracking it open with our teeth that there was like, maybe one small drop of liquid in the center, and whatever it was certainly had no flavor or was really detectable at all. Overall, it was pretty meh, it was just a fruity hard candy, not bad or anything but not amazing. 6/10 from both of us.

In the end, we ended up having the same favorite snack: the almond and pistachio cookies.

And the same least favorite snack: the pistachio candy.

What looks good to you? If you got this box too, do you concur with our thoughts? Let me know in the comments, and have a great day!


Big Idea

The Big Idea: Jackson Bliss

Life is full of decisions, and sometimes those decisions can be tough. For author Jackson Bliss, making decisions was the driving force behind his newest novel, Dream Pop Origami. Read on to see how one’s decisions will impact the story.


Dream Pop Origami is based on a single big idea I had in grad school with lots of interesting and unexpected consequences: what if a memoir about mixed-race/AAPI/BIPOC identity was structured like a choose-your-own-adventure novel? How different would the reading experience be if readers got to choose what the next “chapter” of a memoir? How differently, if at all, would the idea of memoir change if readers had agency in their own act of reading someone else’s life? How differently, if at all, would the construction of text and mixed-race identity change if the reader, not the author, decided its structure, narrative speed, major themes, and level of emotional interiority? 

I came up with the idea of Dream Pop Origami during my MFA. I wrote the first—and horrendously disjointed—draft between 2012 and 2014 when I was working on my dissertation and from 2014 to 2019 when I was commuting from LA to Orange County to teach writing/rhetoric at UC Irvine. I revised the manuscript from 2019 to 2021 in Ann Arbor and LA. Never in a million years did I think I would publish this memoir because it’s so heterodox, multimodal, experimental, and stylistically eccentric (both literally and figuratively). What excited me was the idea of creating an interactive work of nonfiction, something I’d never seen before in any form except hypertext (I’m thinking of Shelley Jackson’s My Body, which I’ve read and taught many times, finding new layers in every new reading). Though I didn’t realize it at the time, much of the excitement I had for this book was based on two important things from my childhood.

The first was choose-your-own-adventure novels. Until these novels became available, I thought I hated reading since the shit we had to read for history, social studies, and English classes in elementary school were fucking horrendous. The reading assignments were unbelievably boring and the book reports they made us write were so formulaic. They were also low in content and historical accuracy too, written in a dry style, stripped of any and all imagination, and totally lacking in literary merit or creativity whatsoever. But when I started reading first choose-your-own-adventure books, they changed my fucking world! I saw for the first time what a strong narrative arc could do for storytelling. I learned that giving your characters (and readers) agency was a natural way of giving them their humanity by forcing them to make their own decisions and then live by the consequences of those decisions.

In other words, there’s a necessary relationship in literature, I think, between causality, ontology, and humanity. When characters get to make their own choices and live by those choses, they get to exist in the text and we get to study their existence. And as a consequence, their humanity is both tested and developed on the page. I guess it took a niche fiction market for me to see how exciting this could be!

The second thing was my reconnection to video games. Being a mixed-race kid and the son of Japanese immigrants on my mom’s side, I was an Atari 3600, IBM PC, and arcade gamer as a boy. Sometimes, video games kept my company when I came home to an empty house. Years before I became a dedicated book lover, an emerging writer, or literature scholar, I first found joy, companionship, and interactive storytelling in video games. Whether it was in Oregon Trail (where everyone got dysentery), Treasure Island (which required you to type in the exact command or die by bluebeard), and King’s Quest, there was never a time when I didn’t have access to a (narrative) video game in my childhood. Years later when I was getting my PhD, I bought an Xbox 360, which was a terrible idea for my sleep schedule, but great for my creativity.

Once I began teaching at UCI, I bought myself a PS4 as a reward. I became kinda obsessed with Detroit: Become Human, and the Fallout, Deus Ex, Dishonored, Life is Strange, Mass Effect, and Final Fantasy series. I found exhilaration in the organic multimodal storytelling of those video games, the way that music, dialogue, gameplay, backstory, side missions, character arcs, and graphics could work together to create a multidimensional text that could be so rich, so powerful, so of-the-moment, and so emotionally impactful. I also found exhilaration in the power of my own decision making as a player. Most of these video games give you agency to make your own decisions and those decisions not only affected the ending, but the plot lines and the character arcs as well.

For all these reasons, Dream Pop Origami is as much the product of a literary fiction/creative nonfiction writer, electronic musician, and literary scholar as it is the product of an avid traveler, lifetime gamer, hypertext creator, and conceptual artist. This memoir is the product of choose-your-own-adventure novels and to RPG/action video games but it is consciously and unconsciously responding to those media too in many different ways. Just to give you one example. At the end of each chapter in Dream Pop Origami, readers get to pick the next chapter like this:


  1. To see Jackson going through culture shock, go to page 62.
  2. The Tower Records in the East Village was church and the coffee table books were the hymn books of pop culture, all on page 239.
  3. To read about the first time an Argentine boy stole Jackson’s cell phone, go to page 34. 
  4. Or just turn the page gently and with understanding.

It’s not necessary to have read a choose-your-own-adventure novel, played a video game, or stayed up to date with the most critically acclaimed/experimental works of creative nonfiction in the past thirty years to appreciate this memoir. But if you have, this book will have so many more layers available to you. Ultimately, there’s no wrong way to read Dream Pop Origami and there’s no previous knowledge needed to enjoy it, but there are definitely rewards for readers who can see the other discourses that this book is part of and also responding to.

Dream Pop Origami: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Bookshop|Powell’s 

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.


Spice, the Mighty Hunter

I came downstairs this morning to Spice on the kitchen counter, which is a place she is generally never on, so I figured something was up. Sure enough, Spice was hunting prey, in this case an adult antlion, which had positioned itself just out of paw-swatting reach. The antlion was escorted outside via a small plastic container; the cat was escorted to the floor, mildly protesting all the way, by my hands. No one died, and nothing on the counter was destroyed by a fast-moving predator. And Spice was praised and petted for her diligence in keeping the house safe from invaders. So in all, a good morning for everyone.

— JS

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