It's finally turned winter in Boston, so I had to trade my bike in for a bus pass. This was initially devastating, but then I realized it was an excuse to get one of those superphones that prevent you from ever making accidental eye contact with a fellow human being. So that was good, until it led to more bad: You know all those people staring at their phones on the bus? I'd always assumed they were looking at porn or reading Serious Eats, but it turns out they're busy beating the hell out of me at Words with Friends, the fake Scrabble game that is disproving everything I thought I knew about the English language, things such as "Will has a firm command of it" and "Quok is not a word."
I'm not a really competitive person. I think that's partly because I know what I'm good at and what I'm not, so I don't need my strengths and weaknesses reinforced by a scoreboard. There are certain things at which I excel—such as making soup and reading magazines—and then there are most of the other things, such as securing funding for my soup and magazine shop. But my self-assessment was embarrassingly off when it came to Words with Friends. Since I manage to burn through 900 words a week on the way to saying "This rum was kinda gross but also kinda OK for the price," I had assumed I'd be able to win a single frigging game of Words with Friends. Turns out not to be the case.
But this newfound source of constant failure hasn't bothered me that much yet, because I've counterbalanced it by adding a new strength: I am the world's foremost authority on talking Bottom Shelf research coordinator Emily into marriage. The reception's going to be sometime this summer or fall or maybe next summer or fall—or perhaps in 2014—probably someplace watery (I like our shower, she's angling for Cape Cod), and you're all invited. That much has been settled, but there's still one significant detail to be ironed out: the cake.
I don't care for cake. Or at least there's always something on the menu that I care for more. I don't eat much cake for the same reason I don't drink much Scotch: when they're around, I'm usually busy with pie or bourbon. Anyhow, I'm willing to compromise on the shower wedding, which makes her refusal to replace the wedding cake with a multi-tiered shepherd's pie downright unreasonable, but I will sacrifice mashed potato frosting for love.
So we've got some basic parameters to work with here. She wants a wedding cake that isn't tacky or expensive or made out of lamb; I want one that isn't really a wedding cake. Smirnoff has an idea. What about supplanting the cake with shots from their ever-weirdening line of flavored vodkas?
You can now get your Smirnoff in well over a dozen flavors, including White Grape, Pomegranate, Root Beer, and Espresso. Still no Gravy or Wedding Cake, though, so I decided to start my quest with Whipped Cream and Fluffed Marshmallow.
They're both 60 proof, which I think is a good sign. It seems to me that the 50 to 60 proof range is about as high as budget-priced flavored liquor can be trusted to go. That gives the added flavor a fighting chance to overpower the cheap booze on which the whole enterprise is based. Most of the flavorings turn out to be gross on their own, of course, but I'd rather taste crappy artificial blueberry juice than crappy vodka. Since Smirnoff's vodka-flavored vodka's supposed to be pretty good, I thought I might like their other flavors.
Research fiancé Emily was at her other job when this tasting went down, so I poured myself a shot of each and carried them into the writing and drinking room. By the time I got around to the drinking part I'd forgotten which sample was which, and I couldn't make a definitive diagnosis by nose alone. That bodes ill for A) my ability to complete simple non-soupmaking tasks without Emily and B) these flavors' justification for existence.
I repoured and resniffed, but even when I knew the answers I had a hard time telling them apart. Both Fluffed Marshmallow and Whipped Cream smell like they should be called Artificial Vanilla Sweetener. The minor distinctions are that Whipped Cream smells a bit more like alcohol, and Fluffed Marshmallow smells like the name was changed from Cotton Candy after a last minute focus group.
But that aside, I must say Whipped Cream tastes all right. It's too sweet, but not as too-sweet as it smells (do I say that every week?), has just enough kick to remind you it's 60 proof vodka, and tastes like pleasant and boring cake frosting from a can.
Fluffed Marshmallow's pretty rough stuff, though. I will concede that there's more stale marshmallow flavor than I expected, but it's not a nice flavor. The taste is heavy-handed and ultrachemical, and while it manages to mask the vodka, it's in that defeatist way that too much ketchup can mask a burned hamburger.
I think traditional cake might now be the frontrunner at our wedding reception, though it wouldn't wreck the party if we paired Smirnoff Whipped Cream with one of the lesser soup courses.