All posts by Armand

The Brexit alien insurgency theory

I’m not much of a political commentator and this post is driven by a need to make sense of what’s going on in the wider world, Brexit and beyond. Plus, y’know, jetlag ‘creativity.’ I’ll also caveat this as a #firstworldproblem; I appreciate that there are other people playing in far less pleasant democracies than I. nonetheless…

…here’s my theory.

CIA incursion agents work to drive revolutions and destabilise geopolitical environments by stirring up societal dissent, often specifically anti-governmental in focus, but in some cases between separate (militant) groups.

The behaviour of our National leaders in recent months – in the UK and the US – makes MUCH more sense if you think of some of the key personalities as enemy insurgents, looking to destabilise the Western powers ahead of an impending invasion.

BREXIT: a major act of social destabilisation

Boris Johnson - Brexit theory - Alien Insurgent?

The UK is one of the most stable, tolerant societies in the western world. That said, there has been a seething undercurrent of discontent at the disparity of wealth in our society – harnessed, ironically, by a bunch of aristocratic elitists, graduates of Dulwich College and Eton College, Oxford and beyond. This has been channeled, thanks in no small part to the hateful rhetoric of Nigel Farage, into a strong anti-European (and anti-foreigner in general) sentiment. Boris Johnson, one eigth Turkish, married to a half-Indian/Pakistani barrister specialising in – of all things – discrimination law, dials into the anti-immigrant sentiment in a savvy move to deliver himself a seat of power. Which, amazingly, he somehow gets – despite what some people saw as Cameron’s killing blow of handing the Article 50 decision to a successor. In the weeks since the Brexit vote happened, Johnson has become Foreign Secretary (perhaps a savvy move by Teresa May to sidestep responsibility for the impending and inevitable failure to deliver on the Brexit promises?) and started to dial back on the Brexit rhetoric he was bandying about only weeks before. Meanwhile, tolerant Britain has seen a 57% rise in reports of hate crime and high profile people of colour have faced up against verbal abuse that sets the country back 40 years of social development.

There is no question that Britain was in many regards broken before Brexit; the disparity between the top 0.1% and the rest of society, and the continued push by recent Governments to take money from the many and give it to the few (or at least, not take responsibility for redistributing wealth better)… well, it needed fixing. But for it to be tackled via Brexit, possibly the most socially divisive event in Britain in living memory, can only be the act of alien incursion. Indeed, perhaps Corbyn’s implosion at Labour (and the Labour party’s own ham-fisted attempts to rid themselves of him) is also the result of alien meddling.

A liberal racist at the helm of the Republican party?

Despite the insanity in Britain, perhaps things are set to get even worse in the US…  Trump – perhaps best thought of as an alien incursion agent with extreme learning disabilities – is in the process of using hateful rhetoric to try to win the US presidential race. And yet – his policy platform is liberal in many regards. If he wins, the US could find itself imploding socially as the Republican party implodes politically as Trump’s political ideology runs counter to the party line. In many ways, the ultimate strategy for softening the US against a coming alien hammer blow.

The world over, this toxic sentiment is spreading

The hateful rhetoric being used as a catch-all for National economic problems seems to be spreading. It’s not the problem, but it seems much easier to blame foreigners than it is to acknowledge the limitations of capitalism and the challenges of implementing policies designed to deliver more effective social welfare and equality across citizen demographics. Ironically, this is pushing us – globally – further to the right, to people and parties traditionally worse at evening the economic odds across their citizens… and spiralling us into a worse position.  I find it hard to believe that a conservative Prime Minister will genuinely fight “burning injustice” – especially given Mrs May’s voting history (against laws for equality and human rights; for reducing housing benefit, against disability allowances, for a reduction in spend on welfare benefits; against bankers’ bonus tax, against mansion tax, etc.). Her voting history has some positive moments too, so perhaps she’s running counter to the alien insurgency theory after all, but I’m reserving judgement until I see it happen.

Optimism?

I’m trying to be optimistic and focussing on the positive ways I can participate in our Citizen democracy in the UK. It’s proving hard to stay optimistic (my friend Chris has compiled lots of reasons to be pessimistic!). I would love to hear actual, positive steps people have seen emerge to address the crushing social and economic divide, the impending demise of universal healthcare, the social havoc caused by the Brexit vote itself, and beyond. It’s actually slightly more plausible (and more palatable) to believe that all this stuff is a consequence of alien insurgency… but sadly I suspect the reality has a significantly larger measure of political and economic self-interest at its core.

Heinz BIG SOUP: Fiery chicken and chorizo – reviewed

heinzchickenchorizo.jpgLet’s be honest. Tinned soups don’t compare to fresh ones, so my scoring system here is somewhat separate from the ones I judge the shop-bought fresh soups by. I am somewhat disorganised at home, so rather than ensure I have an interesting fresh soup ‘in date’ and ready to go if I happen to be working from home, I have a nuclear bunker of emergency soups. This is one such emergency soup, and a staple of my emergency soup store-cupboard.

Description: The marketing folk at Heinz are pulling no punches – “A delicious fiery recipe made with tender pieces of chicken and chorizo with green pepper, onion and chunky vegetables. This great tasting soup is packed full of chunky ingredients and is full on flavour. GO BIG OR GO HUNGRY!” Superlatives aside, this is fairly accurate as descriptions go, and the meat and veg proportions are as generous as any I’ve ever seen in a tinned soup.

Health: ~330 calories per can (let’s not pretend there are two portions in a can, Mr Heinz). 12.4g of fat (4g saturates), 35g carbs (10.2g sugar), 3.6g of fibre, 2.8g of salt. It’s not winning any awards for salt or fibre, but for the heartiness of the soup I think this is a respectable scorecard.

Taste: Well, it has that somewhat glutinous texture that all tinned soup has. Why is it that tinned soup has a weird surface tension, like it’s being held in place by some internal gravity, in a way few other liquids do? As to Heinz’s superlatives: delicious is strong, though it is tasty… the pleasant taste is somewhat marred by some strange property of the way they’ve dropped the paprika bomb to imbue this soup with its ‘fiery’ flavour – it has an almost gritty aftertaste which is hard to explain and not entirely pleasant. That said; big healthy chunks of chicken and chorizo in a thick flavoursome soup (mostly flavoured with salt and paprika and tomato, but there’s nothing wrong with that) makes for a satisfying lunch from a can.

Full-o-meter: Needed toast due to the lack of fibre in the can. But it is a big soup and most people with more modest appetites would probably be sated by this.

Make it yourself: Would probably be improved, and probably not too hard to do – make a tasty, paprika spiced veg and tomato soup around some pan-seared chicken and chorizo and you’re away. And you’d deal with the weird surface tension and gritty spice issues, no doubt.

Verdict: 4/5 – pretty much as good as tinned soups get, IMO.

Eat Big Bold ‘Fully Loaded’ Potato & Bacon soup

Deeatpotatobaconscription: Eat says:Creamy potato soup with chunks of potatoes and applewood smoked bacon. Garnished with a cheddar, chopped jalapenos and chives mix.” Mostly accurate.

Health: 336 calories, 16.2g of fat (and 7.5g of sat fats), 17g of protein, 7.9g of sugar and a full 2.1g of salt – again around 1/3 your daily intake. This is OK, but it’s not exactly winning prizes for Pret’s healthiest soup.

Taste: I never thought I would utter the phrase “too much bacon” but that’s sadly how I feel about this soup. What might have once been modestly crisp pieces of back bacon have taken on the texture of soggy toilet paper. The potatoes, rather than being blended through to create a thick, luxuriant soup, sit as sad, tiny spherical lumps (admittedly tasty, for potato), but just insufficient. It’s like drinking bacon stock with potato lumps, with a slight (welcome) chilli heat from the Jalapeno. The smell was overwhelming; the soup wasn’t off but caging ‘souped’ bacon in a pot delivers an overwhelming and somewhat unpleasant aroma. Wet meat smell.

Full-o-meter: The incredible salty flavour at least meant it was eaten quite slowly. But it doesn’t have the nutrional content to keep you going. More potatoes, or some source of fibre, might have helped.

Make it yourself?:  There’s a reason we have ‘ham’ and pea soup when bacon, generically, is clearly a better meat. It just doesn’t work in soup. A ham, leek and potato variant – I’d try that at home!

Verdict: 1.5/5.

Pret Coconut Chicken Curry Soup review

Now that I have a burger blog, it’s even more important that I get the soup reviews/lunches going again. I also spent, like 2 hours sorting out a PHP issue on this site and updating the theme, so I figured I better make good on it again! So, luchtime soup reviews, here we go again…

pretcoconutchickencurryDescription: Pret says: “Ground curry spices gently stewed in coconut milk with generous chunks of roughly chopped vegetables, rice and diced chicken make this a genuinely moreish and luxuriously creamy soup.

 

Health: 248 calories, 12.9g of fat (and 2.9g of sat fats, thanks to that coconut milk), 12.2g of protein, 7g of shugar and a full 2.1g of salt – around 1/3 your daily intake in a relatively small pot of soup. This is OK, but it’s not exactly winning prizes for Pret’s healthiest soup.

Taste: Pretty good, actually. I wasn’t a fan of Pret’s Malaysian chicken curry so it’s pleasing to see how they’ve addressed the problems here; a thicker texture, a good amount of chicken, peas (or beans of some kind) and potatoes. The soup is mildly spicy, and the heavy dose of salt ensures it is moreish. It will be familiar to fans of other coconut based curries but is neither a laksa or a green curry in flavour – probably closer to the former than the latter, but it’s clearly a European take on an Eastern tradition.

Full-o-meter: I’m not in practice here but I’m going to say it’s not great on this score. Other than the pea-bean things, there doesn’t seem to be a great deal of fibre, and whilst the soup is thick and full of veg, I can’t see it seeing a full sized person through the day.

Make it yourself?: I guess this could be doable; I’d probably do a part blended version with some potatoes first to thicken the soup further, then add the beans and chicken after to provide chunkiness.

Verdict: 4/5.

What should I review next?  Are there some new soup eateries in London that I can get to from my office in Victoria? Hit me up in the comments.

Soulfood Food Co OnePot British Free Range British Pulled Pork Stew review – @soulfoodfoodco

Whilst technically this isn’t in keeping with the ‘soup’ reviews, it’s not that far off and so – judge rules, in it goes.

soulfulpulledporkDescription: The full name of this soup is “Free Range British Pulled Pork Stew with Chorizo, Beans & Spelt.” The official description reads: “Hearty and rustic, with smoky British chorizo & nutty grains of finest Somerset spelt.” All of these things are true; suspended in a light, tomato-based stew/soup, with chunks of red pepper adding extra depth and a faint hit of spice coming through the sweet tomato and pork soup.

Health: 319 calories would be a lot for a soup this size, but isn’t that much for a super-hearty stew that really doesn’t need any bread to go with it to keep you full up. Despite the ‘Flagelot’ beans (small, tic-tac shaped, green and surprisingly crisp beans despite stewing, but without a particularly strong beany taste), the stew is low in fibre (1.9g),  but high in protein (30g), carbs (26.1g), fat (9.9g) and ridiculously high on the salt front (2.96g). Healthy-ish at best, I suspect, but the taste…

Taste: …absolutely makes up for it. A heady aroma of meat from the pulled pork and generous amounts of chorizo, coupled with the sweetness of the tomato-based stew and veg, the chewy, salty moreishness of the meat itself, the a faint Cayenne & paprika-induced heat makes this an easy pot to devour. Not much sign of the ‘nutty spelt’ but, y’know, who cares? Yum.

Full-o-meter: Pretty good. Lots of meat and beans in every mouthful makes for a pleasantly full tummy.

Make it yourself?: No, not for me. The ingredients list over at the Soulfoul Food Co’s website makes clear that this is one for IMMENSE batch cooking only as it’s clearly a complicated dish

Verdict: 4.5/5. Loses minor 1/2 point for high salt, low fibre.

Pret Sag Aloo soup review – @pret

1509316_10155428493145224_7912898807842365845_nDescription: “Red chilli, ginger and garlic, gently sautéed with finely diced onions and curry spice. Simmered with potato, tomato, leaf spinach and thick creamy labneh yoghurt.” Hrm, ‘curry spice’, eh? No sign of thickness or creaminess to this somewhat watery, generically curry-y (how do you adverb curry?) soup. But it’s not all bad.

Health: I’ve no idea how this soup gets up to 244 calories a pot, thin as it seems on substance. It’s low on salt, low on fibre, does OK on the protein front (5.9g) and surprisingly high on fat (11.4g… perhaps from the labneh?). Pretty low in fibre. So a mixed bag, leaning towards healthy, if insubstantial.

Taste: A pungent aroma and a decent heat on first tasting was promising… but it degenerated a bit as the grittiness of chilli powder came through, I suspect a sign of overzealous spicing in the initial fry-off. The soup was watery, though the potato was done perfectly and the spinach somehow retained structural integrity despite being ‘souped’ – this gave substance to what was otherwise little more than a brothy stew. I tend to think these sorts of soup do better if they are at least partially blended; this would have helped the watery texture and probably contended with some of the spices’ grittiness. Perhaps the labneh was meant to serve to thicken and smooth over the taste… but in this it failed like a thing that fails unspectacularly and unobtrusively (like so many culinary mishaps).

Full-o-meter: Poor. Even with the (typically indulgent) artisan bread I can feel myself getting hungry again and I’ve only just eaten lunch.

Verdict: 3/5. Despite my somewhat damning criticism above, it’s not all bad. It has a certain salty moreishness that is not unpleasant, it feels quite healthy and the gentle heat makes it at least slightly interesting. But It’s not the best soup I’ve had in recent days, and it bears very little resemblance to its North Indian vegetable side-dish namesake.

Eat Malaysian Beef Rendang soup review – Big Bold @eat_news

RendangDescription: “A rich coconut curry with slow cooked beef and potato, flavoured with ginger, lemongrass and cinnamon. Garnished with coriander. Less than 5% fat.” OMG this is on the money. So much meat. So little potato. I’m not complaining.

Health: 350 calories comprising 16.9g of fat (<5%… really? 12.1g saturated), relatively modest 4.4g of fibre and 16.9g of protein. Although I reckon there must have been more in my portion. A relatively modest (for Eat) 2g of salt.I’m not entirely clear how the “coriander garnish” takes the calorie count of this soup from 261 to 350 (according to the information on Eat’s website) so am guessing that’s a mistake.

Taste: Nom nom nom… Snarf, gobble… chomp chomp… erm, maybe I should have another pot just to be sure? This is a new favourite – the soup is thick and well spiced (it doesn’t compare to a real beef rendang for chilli-hotness but that’s just as well, as that would be inedibly spicy). There were only a few bizarrely uniform cubes of potato in my helping; a good chunk of beef in every mouthful surrounded by tasty vegetables in a thick, creamy soup. A taste-explosion in every mouthful.

Full-o-meter: Eaten with that delicious bread roll (ode to that to follow at some point – a world improved from the dry, crusty pan-bread pieces Eat used to serve with its bread), there’s been no need for further snacking this afternoon. It’s a hefty one.

Make it yourself?: Sure, but it probably won’t be as good. Eat does coconut based soups well.

Verdict: 5/5. Saturated fats be damned.

Eat Jerk chicken soup review – Big Bold/Hero @eat_news

So – confession. I had no idea what “jerking a chicken” involves, and whilst it has always sounded HILARIOUS, growing up in the cultural hotpot that is Malaysia, Caribbean cooking unfortunately didn’t feature (unlike most other cuisines).

I had a piece of Jerk Chicken at the Notting Hill Carnival one year, and wasn’t impressed – it was dry and bitter. I’m told this is the risk of buying food at Carnival – you have to know where the good places are.

In any event, my colleague V is a massive Jerk Chicken fan, so I decided to give it another go, EAT style. And, well, you’ll see the result. For those, like me, who need a starting point, this is how you jerk a chicken:

The jerk sauce is actually traditionally a dry rub that is famous for being extremely spicy. At a minimum, the spicing includes scotch bonnet peppers, among the hottest in the world, and allspice. Most cooks also include shallots, cloves, cinnamon, thyme, nutmeg, pepper, and a variety of other ingredients to taste.

Deatjerkchickensoupescription: “Our homage to the fantastic Jerk chicken. A coconut soup with shredded chicken and black eyed beans flavoured with all spice, cinnamon, nutmeg, fennel and plenty of chilli. Garnished with rice.” This is a fair description of what was in the dish. Read on for taste.

Health: 436 calories including a phenomenal 18g of fat (the Coconut’s fault?), this thing is high on everything – carbs (nearly 50g), protein (21g), sugars (10g), and thanks to the beans does OK on the fibre front too (4g). As with all Eat soups, salt is applied liberally – 2.2g.

Taste: Well, it tastes good and helped me recover from my experience at Carnival. BUT… it’s not particularly spicy (“plenty of chilli” my shiny metal ass…), the creamy saltiness dominates and – in a blind taste test you’d be excused for confusing it with the other Bold soup on sale today, Chicken pot pie. But that’s being excessively critical – the end result is very eatable, chock full of big chunks of perfectly stewed chicken, potatoes and beans, the mild heat is pleasant and the texture and consistency is moreish and filling.

Full-o-meter: Oh y eah, with rice as a garnish and my (unnnecessary but still delicious) accompanying roll, I should be full up for the afternoon.

Make it yourself?: I gather making jerk chicken is messy and time consuming, but maybe if V brings in leftovers one day…

Verdict: 4/5.

Heinz big chicken & veg soup review – @HeinzUK

heinzchickenvegDescription: From website: “A deliciously hearty Chicken & Vegetable soup made with tender pieces of chicken, chunky potatoes, carrots and garden peas. This great tasting soup is packed full of chunky ingredients creating the perfect meal or snack.” My take? It’s definitely chunky, with generous pieces of meat in and amongst the copious veg. But the meat has that slightly preserved taste you get from all tinned meat, including dog food (or so I imagine, it certainly smells a bit like it). And my wife was less than generous about what chunky-ness it resembled…

Health: 200 kCal for the tin, lots more protein and fibre than the other Heinz soups I’ve had, so good for it. Again, 2g of salt though.

Taste: I think I’m reaching my limits with tinned soup. The chicken is reminiscent of Fray Bentos pies and pet food, neither of which are things I tend to eat with any regularity. Like the other Heinz tinned soups, the vegetables are boiled/stewed to a point of generic, salty blandness. Needed pepping up with something; toast/croutons were necessary on the side.

Full-o-meter: As with all these 200kCal soups, you need some toast to make it a meal.

Make it yourself?: To be fair to Heinz, chicken soup is just *boring* unless you take a deliberately different take on it. I’m sure if I was feeling ill and needed something bland and comforting, this would fit the bill nicely. As it was… I may need to have a go at eating fresh soups for a while or I’ll struggle to maintain my soup diet mission.

Verdict: 3/5 on the tinned soup scale.

Eat Italian Meatball ‘big hero’ soup review – big bold @eat_news

Eat soups fuelled my wedding diet back in 2009, so this is a true return to form…

Description: “A rustic Soup of meatballs and cannellini beans in a chunky tomato sauce with chilli, basil and oregano. Garnished with melting mozzarella.” AKA a salt-megabomb, tomato-based soup laden with meatballs (must have had 14 of the little beggars in there), topped with generic melty dollop of mozzarella it didn’t need. Is ‘rustic’ a euphemism for ‘chunky’ in this context?10963823_942520259112978_465652430_n

Health: That dollop of mozzarella adds a ridiculous 103 kCal! Otherwise it’s a moderately healthy soup; 18.9g of protein, 8g of fibre (counterbalanced with 10.3g of fat) and 328 calories of what felt like a wholesome culinary experience. That said, the salt levels (2g) are high, though comparable to its tinned soup cousins I’ve been eating lately.

Taste: Whilst heavily salty (I could probably have done without the garnish, and will do next time), the meatballs are tasty (if a bit over-tender), and the veg well-flavoured in the thick tomato stew/soup surrounding them. The chilli adds a relatively gentle, but very welcome background heat. I’d have it again; no wonder it’s not just a ‘Bold’ soup but also this week’s ‘Hero’ (available all week!)

Full-o-meter: Pretty good with one of the much improved Eat seeded rolls.

Make it yourself?: I’m sure you could, if you could be bothered to make up a lot of meatballs; alongside an easy mix of soup veg, chopped tomatoes, stock, herbs / spices & meat. Also salt. It may be worth a home try spoon!

Verdict: 4/5.