Category Archives: Personal

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.

Public commitment – soup reviews. Today’s edition: Pret Italian Meatballs, revisited

I was in a session led by a workplace psychologist this morning and did a self-assessment on how ‘stressed’ I am in different aspects of my life. Thanks to my compulsive running I scored pretty well on the exercise front, but I’ve been eating chips and biscuits lately so, y’know, not so well on the healthy eating front. So, in front of all my colleagues, when asked what I was doing to do about it, I said I’d start doing soup reviews again. It means (obvs) switching to soups for lunch which was a core part of my diet regimen way back when.

11081136_10155359190275224_1636800473120125993_nSo you have that to look forward to! Today’s soup, bought as a late lunch after a morning of meetings, was Pret’s Italian Metball soup. I gave it a fairly paltry 2/5 when I first reviewed it five years ago (!!), but whether it’s age, or the recipe has changed, I actually quite enjoyed today’s. Compared to the ‘watery ragu’ I experienced in 2010, today’s soup felt richer and more flavoursome, and certainly more filling. Though the primary flavouring is salt, there’s a hint of sage and thyme (I think) in there and the meatballs are a bit more sturdy than they were then. At least a 3.5/5 by my ranking system of old.

Anyway, as it’s a ‘repeat’ I won’t do a full review, but you have my commitment: more will follow.

Tomorrow: I will eat a can of Heinz soup for lunch. Watch this space.

One year of country life

Dawn over Basingstoke Common

A year ago today, we packed up our bags and left the Big Smoke. I won’t deny that I had some anxiety about it; leaving friends and (my) family, introducing a 2.5 hour a day commute, having to drive everywhere and more, and with Emily (then merely "Hippo") on the way, it was a fairly hectic experience.

Looking back on the first year of this new life, I have absolutely no regrets. I’ve had barbecues from Spring through Autumn, played with my daughter on our big lawn, grown and eaten veg straight off the plants and fruit off the trees, run and cycled through village after village, made local friends via the NCT, discovered the joy of jumble, DIY and more, and am enormously enjoying the lifestyle. We’ve even found good local Indian and Chinese takeaway restaurants and discovered Papa Johns.

It’s been a fantastic first year. I still miss my friends but many of them are being good enough to visit with some regularity and I’m getting better at heading up for London nights out here and there.

Here’s to what comes next.

Considering Android and the Samsung Galaxy S2

Actualizar Samsung Galaxy S2 a Android 2.3.4 GingerbreadTom’s last shopping recommendation saw me acquire my now much loved Macbook Air. Now he’s sporting a Samsung Galaxy S2 and I’m – for the first time since I went over to the iPhone platform – considering Android once again. The screen is beautiful, the camera remarkable, the replaceable battery convenient, I think there’s pretty much parity on the Apps that I use over on Apple’s platform. Of course, I’ll have to buy some of them again, which is a pain, but the migration process would be painful for anyone for a while…

That said, the Galaxy S2 is a new phone, and my iPhone 4 is coming up to 15 months old, so I’m going to wait and see what happens when Apple makes its announcement on the new phone at the end of the month. Some of the new rumours are promising (although very unconfirmed) – nice ‘retro’ curved design, larger screen… we’ll have to see.

It’d have bad knock-on implications on my status as a iPhone blogger, so that’s obviously going to be a consideration! :-)

Terry the legendary driving instructor

GL57 PLO Terry’s our chicken-eating, RAC registered driving instructor. He’s in the running for ‘most laid back man in the world’, an award he has a serious chance of getting on account of having passed me, Damian, James, Lisa and countless others. My sister is going through the Terry Training Regime ™ now and gaining some insight into his full brilliance.

If anyone in North/West London has need of Terry’s services ping me and I’ll pass you details. I really should be on some kind of referral scheme…

Regrets, I’ve had a few…

I didn’t desperately enjoy boarding school. By the time I left, I’d made a few friends and found a localised kind of happiness and certainly gained a great deal from it – exposure to public speaking, journalism, intellectual discourse, guitar skills, philosophical debate, various sporting activities and the like helped net me a place at Cambridge.

However, a significant part of the time spent there was dotted with pained phone calls back to home, agonised discussions as to whether I should transfer back to a school in Malaysia, spates of bullying and a persistent sense of being marginalised by a community in which I did not really fit. And this resulted in a general sense of misery for myself and my parents for the duration.

Having become a parent, discussing my childhood with my parents, the question was asked: should I have been sent to boarding school at all? Should it be a regret for all involved?

Now, oddly, despite the relative unhappiness whilst I was there, I have absolutely no regrets about taking the decision both to go – and to stay – there. In both cases my parents applied very little pressure – first I wanted to follow in my brother’s footsteps, and then a combination of pride and obsessiveness had me wanting to finish what I’d started. And eventually friendships formed and it became less of a trial, and I grew to love elements of the experience.

It’s funny how any experience, once you’re sufficiently clear of it, can be seen for the ‘character-building’ goodness that it was. The person I am today was not entirely defined by my experience at school but certainly aspects of me were forged there – 15 years ago in the rolling fields of Buckinghamshire. And now I’m an extremely happy adult, it’s difficult to regret anything that got me to where I am today.

I miss some aspects of being at Stowe, and the friends and teachers I had there. I hope to reconnect with some of those people in the months ahead and see how perspectives have shifted in the decade and a bit since we all left… and just rekindle the memories of discussing fantasy novels with Will, cars and Transformers with Mac, Squash and alt-rock with Al and, of course, Radiohead, religion and Tintin with Roy…

Embracing change – the impact of innovation

The essence of the Lifehacker blog that I’m so fond of is that – for any given action or process, there must be a better way. One of my emerging passions as I watch one service, process or product of the other emerge that has an impact on the way I do things is to evangelise it to others.

After all, if we do five things that save a minute of our day each, in a week we’ve got the best part of half an hour back to other things. And a lot of the productivity-enhancing things I’ve seen emerge in products, services and OS tweaks – purely from a technological point of view – have the potential to save much more time than that.

A non-techie example – the Fiskars weed puller I bought a few weeks back. A simple technological innovation saving me hours of tedious weeding, easily worth the £30 it cost in time and effort saved.

So I’m pushing on with my mission of discovery. I want to learn, try, experiment with and potentially buy products, services and training that will help me and my teams at work save time, work ‘smarter’ (horrible, but precise), and dig our way out from under the growing mound of pointless information and legacy process endemic to the knowledge worker. I speak of email, non-collaborative workflows and the like.

And my personal mission – to do the same thing for life more generally – endures, as ever. If you know about it, I want to hear about it!

From city dweller to country gent

Many of my friends (and family, no doubt) are probably still somewhat mystified as to how I’ve taken to country life so well. My mother keeps saying "you were such an urban boy…" and smiling when I show off our veg patch.

Whilst I do miss the proximity of friends and family, the transition from city dweller to country gent really hasn’t been a hardship in any way. Apart from the extra space, there are lots of other things that have made it easy on me.

  1. Everything is more convenient. Admittedly its more convenient thanks to having a car, but the truth of the matter is that getting anywhere in London takes a disproportionate amount of time. I had a rule of thumb – if I had to get a tube or bus somewhere in London, it would take at least 30 minutes. And crossing London can take a considerable amount more time, never mind when there’s a disruption, fall of leaves on the track or a light shower of rain. In the countryside? Most things I need to get to are a maximum of 10 minutes drive away.
  2. The pace of life is wonderful. When I get home, it feels like a dramatic gearshift. I’m sure a lot of that is due to being a family man, but even if it wasn’t – walking around in the late evening sunshine in my back garden, bouncing Emily around or looking at the veg… is pretty amazing.
  3. The commute is better. I know, I know, I moan about it… and the SWT guys aren’t great, but, except, for when I was in cycling range of my office, the public transport from other places in London – like my sister’s house – can take longer than the train does to get home. That’s the 5 miles from our offices in Victoria needing an hour and a quarter to traverse (admittedly on a bad day, in rush hour).
  4. I like the structure the trains put around my day – I’m in the office every day at 7.40am and have to be out at 6. Still a long day, but at least without the uncertainty of when I’m getting home (again, except for delays). And obviously I’m able to be productive on the train in and out of Basingstoke in a way that I could never be on any London transport vehicle.
  5. I was never really a ‘true’ urban dweller. I grew up in the suburbs in a country where you had to drive everywhere, spent five years in the deepest countryside, 3 years in a small University town and then 7 years in London. I’m beginning to think that living in London as the unusual part of my life…

All that said, I do still very much enjoy being in London for work. Some of the things that happen here, only happen here, and I’ll never stop thinking of it as one of the greatest cities in the world. It’s wonderful to visit friends and family there, when they’ll have us, but I have to admit, I’m resoundingly and categorically glad I don’t live there any more.

@Lactofree cheeselicious

I recently discovered that Lactofree, those nice people that remove the lactose from milk so intolerant people like me can enjoy cereal etc., make cheese – both soft cheese (like Philadelphia) and “hard cheese” – which is meant to resemble cheddar but really tastes more like Swiss cheese.

This is absolutely wonderful news. Amanda made Nigella’s London Cheesecake and it was possibly one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Ever. And this is on top of the celebratory lasagna I made for her using Lactofree milk and semi-hard cheese (for the white sauce and lasagna topping) after she had her mid-maternity leave back-to-work day.

I’ve also tried the soft cheese on a bagel and its really indistinguishable from traditional soft cheeses. The semi-hard cheese is a bit thin on flavour, hopefully they’ll keep working on it.

So, kudos, you nice people at Lactofree. I’ll try your yoghurts if they ever get stocked by one of my local supermarkets, will look forward to you experimenting with lactose free creams, and getting a proper hard-cheese recipe right. I’ve love to know more about the process by which you get rid of the lactose – it sounds too simple from your website:


Lactofree semi hard cheese is made from cows’ milk. As part of cheesemaking, bacterial cultures are added to the milk to create acidity, aroma and flavour. These cultures need a source of food and this food is lactose. The bacteria uses up the lactose naturally found in the milk to give Lactofree cheese its distinct flavour. The bacteria will stop working only once all the lactose has been used up, leaving cheese that is lactose free.

Lactofree soft white cheese is also made from cows’ milk. The lactase enzyme is added during the cheese making process to break down the milk sugars into simpler forms that your body can absorb. So what you get is Lactofree soft white cheese, with the taste and nutritional goodness of regular soft white cheese, just without the lactose!

Clever stuff.