Wednesday, May 18, 2022

The Vegan Chicken Nugget Reviews Nobody Wanted or Asked For, pt. 1

One question people bring up when complaining about non-meat meats is, "Why don't they just eat real meat if they have to make it look and taste like meat?" as if seasoned ground beef looks and tastes like a cow. Granted, a lot of plant-based meat substitutes have binders and fillers that don't make them particularly good for you, but I'm not going to say the Beyond Famous Star from Carl's Jr. is in any way a health food item. It's more environmentally friendly, sure, but it's still junk food at the end of the day. 

That said, I like chicken nuggets. They are a meat product that is so thoroughly process and reliant on artificial flavoring that I could at least spare some birds lives and carbon emissions and get down on some equally mysterious plant-based varieties. Living in the 21st century has made finding these options pretty easy, and I have been trying a number of them over the last few months when I leave work and feel too lazy to actually cook something or go through a fast food drive-thru. All the plant-based nuggets I've tried look like a chicken nugget, but where do they stand flavor-wise?

Let me share some of what I've found with you:

Gardein Chicken Nuggets

Being a big name in the faux-meat game, I expected a lot from Gardein, but they only got it kind of right with their standard issue nug. The texture was soft, but a little too soft, even after cooking them at the manufacturer's recommended specifications. The breading was inoffensive, like a standard nugget, and the flavor was actually pretty alright, akin with mechanically separated chicken. If you're looking for an easily accessible and relatively cheap nugget to keep in your freezer this would be a good start. 7/10

    Rebellyous Plant Based Nuggets

    The company Rebellyous prides themselves in making products that look and taste like chicken, and they did well to deliver on that with their nuggets. They're soft, but not too soft, and the breading is pretty good. The thing that impressed me was how they managed to accurately recreate the flavor of actual frozen chicken nuggets-- not exactly chicken, but not exactly not chicken. They taste a lot like the kind I used to microwave when I was in high school, so I would get them again if I was looking for a not-meat meaty snack throwback. 8.5/10

    Simulate Nuggs, Spicy

    The packaging is extremely unassuming, but Simulate Nuggs are super good-- especially the spicy variety. The texture is as close to a 1-to-1 as I have found to the real deal, and the breading is crisp and dense like a spicy nugget should be. It actually tastes like chicken, and the spicy kick elevates the experience even more by leaving a little heat behind after each bite. Plus, Simulate also has Dino-shaped Nuggs, so the brand overall gets high marks. I'd easily get them again, not just because they're good as a meatless nugget but because they're a good nugget in general. 9.5/10

    The fact that this is part one of a series speaks to how many plant based options for foods there are and how much I enjoy junk food. I'm kind of surprised there aren't more plant-based nugget options in fast food restaurants besides KFC (which I haven't tried yet since the KFC nearest to me doesn't even have chicken half the time, like how are you going to have a chicken restaurant without chicken? C'mon. Get your shit together.) but I get the feeling that, with faux meat options offered at more places across the country, vegan nuggets will come to a drive-thru near you sometime in the near future. Until then, I'll keep looking at the freezer section and report back with what I discover. 

    Happy snacking! 

      Monday, April 4, 2022

      A Brief History of Lancaster, California (and My Visit to The Western Hotel Museum)

      When I was in high school I wasn't very focused, and I struggled with a lot of subjects. While I did well enough in English class my real interest was in history, so I spent a good chunk of my teen years studying local events by reading old books in the library under the court house in Independence, California, and spending a summer working at Manzanar National Historic Site. Throughout my 20s I continued to bone up on the history of the area, the town I lived in, and the nearly century-old hotel I worked at for over a decade. You could say I'm something of a history buff, but specifically for wherever I happen to be.

      In 2020 I moved to the Antelope Valley for the... fourth time, I think. It's an area notable for being the place Afroman came from and where they tested a lot of supersonic aircraft, but I feel the Lancaster-Palmdale area doesn't get a lot of notoriety otherwise. That's part of why I started looking into the origins of how the town came to be and why it exists in the first place. After reading through "Images of America: Lancaster" from Arcadia Press and visiting the Western Hotel Museum on The BLVD in Lancaster, I've been able to piece together a quick-and-dirty history of how the city came to be.

      The area was inhabited by the Kitanimuk, Serrano, and Kawaiisu people for many generations before white settlement, hunting the antelope that gave the valley its name. Though they moved a fair bit, the peoples who lived in the area did establish regular camps in the valley floor, a few of which have been found in recent decades. A great resource to utilize if you're looking to learn more about the people of this area is the Antelope Valley Indian Museum, located east of Lancaster (though be sure to check your colonizer mindset at the door if you want to get the best experience possible). 

      Nobody is entirely sure why Lancaster is even called Lancaster. The collection of shacks where workers lived along a slow spot of the Southern Pacific Railroad would eventually become a town, but nobody is certain if the name came from the workers that possibly immigrated from Pennsylvania, a guy with the last name of Lancaster, or the birthplace of the guy who founded the town, Moses Langley Wicks (though he apparently wasn't even born there). Whatever the origin of the name might be, it started as a place to pass through but soon became a site for agriculture after Wicks bought up 60 acres of land and sold off parcels to folks looking to farm. The city center, which is essentially the area around The BLVD and Sierra Highway, became a true community with a post office, general stores, and a lodging facility that would eventually be called The Western Hotel. 

      The oldest remaining building in the Antelope Valley-- and one of the oldest in Los Angeles County, from what I've heard-- The Western Hotel, originally called The Antelope Hotel, was built in 1888 as the sole hotel in Lancaster. In 1908 the hotel was sold to George Webber, a German immigrant who tried and failed to manufacture paper out of Joshua Trees (not only do Joshua Trees take 100 or more years to fully mature, the paper itself would degrade extremely fast). In 1910 he married Myrtle “Myrtie” Eveline Gibson Sullivan, a woman who moved to the area to help her lung issues with dry, desert air. During the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918, because there were few other options, the hotel acted as a makeshift hospital, and during the Depression it served as refuge for people who oftentimes couldn't pay their bill for their room or meals. When George died in 1934, Myrtie took up operations of the hotel until she was sent to a convalescent hospital when she was 103 years old in 1971 (she passed away in 1978 at 110, which is nuts to me, but apparently testament to how well dry, desert air works for a persons health). 

      Soon after Myrtie died the hotel fell into disrepair, and was condemned and set for demolition by Los Angeles County. However, the community wanted to see the building preserved, so the Western Hotel Historical Society was founded. Volunteers worked to clear overgrowth from the lawn and to restore the building, and through the 80s the Lancaster City Council worked to restore the structure to become the museum that exists today. It now showcases original pieces of furniture and antiques from when the hotel was first in operation, along with artifacts from the areas Indigenous populations and local wildlife, the mining history of the area, and prominent historical celebrities like Judy Garland and John Wayne.

      The City of Lancaster, and the Antelope Valley in general, was put on the map by the railroad, and after boom and bust years with agriculture there came Highway 6-- now Sierra Highway-- and the aerospace industry. Companies like Northrop-Grumman set up operation near Edwards Air Force Base, and people like Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time in the skies above the desert, but that's the part that most people know about. That, and Afroman, I guess. 

      It's easy to write off some places as nothing more than strip malls and neighborhoods of McMansions. The Antelope Valley has its fair share of mini marts, Walmarts, and housing tracts of homes that look to be copy-pasted from the same set of three blueprints, but there is history to the place. While there are many more hotels in the area catering to all kinds of different clientele-- including a new one on The BLVD--  the oldest one in the oldest part of town has a lot of information on this humble desert city. They're open every second and fourth Friday and Saturday of the month from 11am until 4pm, so be sure to check them out if you're curious.