Monday, 27 January 2014

Campaign For Real Salad: The story so far

salad, tomato, lettuce, meal, fork, dressingThe Campaign For Real Salad has been rolling on for nearly 4 months now. The weather is cold, wet and unappealing and so salad eating is at its annual lull, but I wonder if we're making a difference. The petition only has 13 followers, but the posts about my Campaign have had nearly 1000 views in total so I hope that I have raised a little bit of awareness about the hidden fat and calorie content in pre-packaged salads.

Looking back at the examples I used, I can see that many of the products I was whinging about are no longer available. Is this a seasonal thing? Time will tell and I will keep my eye on the market. Here is a little breakdown of the products I have highlighted and their current status.

Tesco Complete egg and cress salad - No longer available, but nutritional info on residual web page still the same.
Waitrose Tuna Nicoise salad - Still available at £3.10 and with the same high levels of fat and calories.
Sainsbury's Classic salad with creamy chive dressing - Still available at £2 and with the same levels of fat and calories.
Tesco Bright salad bowl - Still available at £2 and still one of the good guys, no additional dressing = no additional fat.
Tesco Prawn Pasta - one of the confusing labelling culprits, still available at £2, but happily no longer giving the nutritional information by the tablespoon. Now they are giving you the nutritional info by 1/2 a pack. Which is still a disturbingly high 430 calories and 21g of fat per 232.5g serving, making it nearly 10% fat - but at least the consumer is more likely to know what they're getting. 

I chalk this one up as a victory, even if the Campaign For Real Salad cannot be directly attributed for the win! In fact, I decided to tweet Tesco to ask about the change and see if my campaign had helped and they said this:

We constantly put our products in front of customer panels and seek customer feedback. This can sometimes influence change :)

I take that canny smiley face to mean that we are making a difference - woo hoo!
Asda's Caesar salad - In November, we compared some of the supermarket giant's offerings for that notoriously unhealthy salad, the Caesar. In the interests of fairness, I've chosen Asda's to compare in this retrospective, as I haven't included them yet. Their salad is still available at 215g for £2 and the nutritional info for 100g is still, in my opinion, unnecessarily high in fat and calories.

I don't expect the US has quite been taken by storm by my Campaign yet, but I did look at Walmart's offering at the end of November. Their bistro chicken caesar remains the same - still healthier than its British competitors, but with a larger portion size. And the issue of having the weight of the product in ounces but the nutritional information in grams still remains.

Have you been keeping track of the Campaign? Has the way you approached the 'healthier' option of a pre-packaged salad for your lunch been influenced? I will keep my eyes on the skies and continue to report on the state of our salads. I hope you'll choose to sign the petition and share it with friends so that we can strike a blow for consumer information, our health and other such worthy aims.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

REVIEW: Crumpets & Coffee

Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while will know that I have become personally equated with tens of thousands of crumpets and coffee beans by making slightly strange giant art works. I guess this is why I have now been given the honour of becoming a Crumpetier!
Crumpets & Coffee apparently started because one colleague had a funky snack at work and the other didn't, so they found a way to share the crumpety goodness to office workers everywhere. It's a simple concept, but effective, and I was lucky enough to have a Standard box sent in my direction to try it out. It's kind of like a Graze box, but less snacky and generally more satisfying to your senses as it provides your office with the fresh brewed coffee smell as well as the snacky goodness.

I had the Standard Irish Coffee box, which costs £5.00, including delivery. The first, very important point, is that this box will fit through any letterbox. It's nice and slim, so there'll be no disappointing missed delivery note from your postie and no missing out on crumpets on the day that you want them.

The standard box includes two C&C crumpets, a pack of Beanies coffee, two Kalita Kantan coffee drippers so that you can brew your coffee without needing any special equipment in the office, and all the other gubbins you might require - butter, cutlery, sugar and milk and so forth.

It is a lovely treat for the office, and all of the ingredients I was sent were of a really high quality. You can buy a variety of box sizes so you could treat all of your colleagues, or set yourself up in a position of jealousy-creation for the week. You can also buy all of the specialist teas and coffees separately if you so require, and even better you can add a bar of Zaabar chocolate to your order, which is amazingly flavoured choccie. You can also get sweet boxes, which substitute chocolate for the crumpets if that tickles your fancy. So, unusually flavoured coffee and chocolate, organic teas, what's not to like?

Well, I have just two little niggles that need addressing before I can give Crumpets & Coffee the 10 Extreme Points they so richly deserve for making the office a more positive place. Number 1 is the biggie - their beautiful, soft in the middle, crispy on the outside (if you toast them properly) crumpets are absolutely delicious - but they do not fit in toasters! Well, I tried them on the toaster in the office and the one at home as well and they are just too damn thick. Which is fabulous when it comes to eating them. A couple of minutes under the grill, spread with the Lurpack butter (yes, one serving pot per crumpet) and I was enjoying a taste sensation. But I do not have a grill at work. 

Fresh brewed coffee in the office. Awesome.

The second issue was that there were only two crumpets! Two crumpets, but two servings of coffee and two coffee drippers so that you could make two cups of coffee. And while I would happily share this treat with a colleague, I'm not sure I could give them one of my precious crumpets. I'm a two crumpet person - two is a serving, one is not. Is my portion control all out of whack? Am I a  Greedy Jimmy Large-Pants? I don't know, tell me in the comments below if I'm being unreasonable. But I would expect one drink to have two crumpets associated with it.

The Beanies coffee and the Kalita Kantan coffee dripper worked really well and smelled divine. Sadly, the Irish Cream flavour coffee was not to my taste, so The Boy had the other cup and he absolutely loved it. With such a range of flavours though, I know that others I would have loved - the amaretto, hazelnut or vanilla for example. I'm also looking forward to trying the teas - Storm loose leaf teas are really pretty and also sound amazing - the lemongrass and vanilla sounds like a real treat.

So all in, it's currently a SEVEN Extreme Point score for me. The concept is sound, the products are of a high quality and the flavour is all there. Once the crumpets fit in a toaster, I'll be able to use the box at work and once there are two crumpets per serving I'd be a lot more content. But I'd recommend them. They're a friendly bunch. Check their Facebook.

REVIEW: Omega3 2Go, Leicester

There's a new sandwich shop in town! Just what we needed.
Edit: But it appears to be closed - has had a 'closed for refurbishment' sign up for a couple of months now... watch this space (April 2015)

I jest, of course. Good to see anyone starting a new business in the current climate. And this place seems to work on a freshness concept which I have to admit I do like for an independent sandwich shop. 

Tucked away in the lovely Silver Walk on St Martins Square, Omega3 2Go is a simple sandwich shop that makes their own bread daily and has some really good value lunch choices.

Dare I say it, they sort of follow the 'Subway' school of thought in the main - having a variety of homemade subrolls for you to choose and a salad bar full of toppings. You can have your sandwich toasted, and add a drink to it and pay £3. They fill those sandwiches pretty well too, so it's plenty filling for a lunch.

They also offer baked potatoes, my favourite, which come with a little side salad, salad boxes, pizza slices, sausage and vegetarian rolls (About £1.10) and also cajun wedges (£2) which are massive and really nicely spiced - they have a good kick to them. All of this seems to be made on site and is pretty tasty. They have a range of cakes every day, which I have not tried yet but do look tasty and weirdly, it seems to be the only place that are still making mince pies, so if you fancy a bit of nostalgia for Christmas past, this is the place for you.

The staff are universally friendly, but you can tell that some are more experienced than others - you can see that some are more experienced than others. However, I have been going to use a great value Groupon I bought and over the last 3 weeks I have seen the speed of service increase and the friendliness is improving too. Some of the staff do need to learn to make eye contact and greet customers as they come in - sometimes you can be left waiting without knowing if anyone will ever acknowledge you - but I do think that this is part of this new establishment finding its feet. Portion sizes can also be a bit variable, but generally speaking they are quite generous, which is important if you are looking for a work lunch to keep you going for the rest of the day.

They have free wifi, but no music on in the shop at the moment, which I would guess is due to the absence of a PRS licence at this time. Perhaps they are using the 'Wetherspoons' approach in this respect. The other day a busker had sprung up nearby, so this plugged the music gap for me. They have a range of seating areas, including one upstairs which I have yet to try. There are comfy sofas for chilling out with a freshly made coffee or smoothie and also tables and bar seating to allow a more comfortable meal experience.

Finally, they are also operating as a bakery - you can get fresh baked rolls, loaves and so forth, all presumably with added Omega 3 (I think from chia, although I'm not 100% on message with what they're doing here from what I can see in the store). The bread seems to hover around the £1 mark, so definitely better value, better taste and better for you than grabbing a white sliced at the supermarket.

Overall, I'd give Omega3 2Go SIX Extreme Points out of TEN. They've made a great start, and this has the potential to be a bustling little city centre cafe. It's a great location and the fresh made bread is definitely a draw. They are reasonably priced and the service speed and quality is definitely on the rise each week that I go there. I'm pretty confident that once my Groupon runs out, this place will be on my regular rotation of places to get lunch when I've got no leftovers to heat up in the office!

Give them a go. It's better than Subway (like most things in life).

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Nana Far Far Away

I just found out that my nan, who had a stroke just before the new year, is now receiving palliative care. There is nothing the doctors can do for her and now we will just wait for her to slip away. I wanted to write a blog about my memories of her while she is still here because then I can always look back on this post and know this is from the time she is still in the world.

She had a major stroke 18 years ago and has basically been recovering ever since, so most of my memories of her come from when I was 11 and younger - the 'real' her I guess, since she was severely limited in her capacity since then.

My nana is the person that I attribute the most of my main hobbies, interests and enjoyment to from my younger days, shaping who I am today. She was the only person in our direct family that was musical and I remember her playing the piano so beautifully when I was younger. I used to have to take my instruments with me whenever we visited to play her my latest tune, or even duet with her on the piano whilst I played the cornet or Eb horn. I loved that piano so much, it was a Knight and I can remember the feel of the logo, the touch of the keys, even the metal colour and shape of the pedals. Hell, I'm even pretty sure it had a certain smell that still lingers with me. She was the first person to teach me how to play the piano with both hands and how to read music on the bass stave - something I never really stuck with sadly. However, in amongst the huge piles of sheet music stored in the piano stool and stacked up on top of it was a book of Hans Christian Anderson nursery rhymes which were just about manageable for me. I can still remember my stilted attempts at playing 'There Once Was An Ugly Duckling' with both hands and trying to sing along.

The church at Missenden

We called her Nana Far Far Away because this was how we identified which relatives we were going to stay with at Christmas and so forth. We'd head down on Boxing Day, maybe we went to Nana Near in Stoke and then travelled South on alternative years, I'm not really sure now. They lived in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, a village I still love to this day and I really enjoyed revisiting two years ago. I remember the long walk up the hill to the church to attend some carol service or other, and occasional family gatherings or community events that would involve winding walks down ginnels and paths in that picturesque place, my nana with her lilac parka. 

The house in Missenden, I loved this house so much

Whenever we stayed with them, I would have a cot bed in my parents room and in the mornings my nana and I would always wake first, about 6am as I recall. We would sit and chat in her kitchen and my early rising would be rewarded by having the first pick of the multipack of tiny boxes of cereals, before my brother or sister woke up. Isn't it silly the things that you remember, or that are important when you are a kid? I also remember that nan and grandad always had heavy brown sugar, which would melt on the surface of porridge and taste delicious. Weirdly, I had that this morning, as I bought the sugar to make gingerbread over Christmas. I suppose it's the things that you didn't have at home which were the most exotic and therefore the most memorable. They also introduced me to celery salt - another flavour which I still adore.

I also remember vividly my nana telling me about their adventures in Greece. My grandparents loved Greece and used to visit every year, possibly more than once a year. They learned the language and met all kinds of colourful locals. They had beautiful things around their house which they brought back, most specifically the coffee table which was topped with Greek figurative tiles and a set of heavy Ancient Greek image coasters which were covered with green felt underneath. As I recall it now, it was nana who got me into the world of ancient mythology, leaving me captivated by stories of gods and monsters. I blame her for my love of ancient history and subsequently my career in museums. Whether it's true or not, this is the woman that I think of as my Muse, in a very literal sense.

All the grandparents! Nana Far Far Away is third from left

In more recent years, I'm glad my nana has been able to share in key events in my life, able to come to my wedding and my graduation even though it was hard for her to do so. I'm glad to have been able to share so much with her even though we never lived near to each other. And I'm glad I went to see her in the hospital the other day, where she was able to nearly say my name, telling the nurse who I was. Nearly. But I know she knew I was there and that's what counts. I love my nana, and I don't care who knows it. Now I suppose all the attention must begin to shift to my Grandad. He already seems heartbroken and I cannot begin to understanding how feeling a wife of 64 years slipping away from you can possibly feel. There is so much more to say, so much more to remember, but I think this is enough for now.

So Nana Far Far Away, before you go even further away from me I want to celebrate you, your place in my life and all the great times we shared together.

Eileen Coats
March 1926 to Present

Thursday, 2 January 2014

2013: A Year in Pictures

I've been a bad blogger towards the end of the year there. Ah well, parties, friends, life to live, you know. But I'm back now. Maybe. And since I seem to have stopped doing Silent Sunday, here's a lovely refresher of 2013, that was the year that was.


I spent all of January desperately trying to finish my exhibition on Richard III in time.

 Then, in the first week of February the identity of the remains found at Greyfriars were announced and things have never been quite the same. 

Archaeologist and all round top dude, Richard Buckley has just been awarded an OBE in the 2014 New Years Honours List. I don't think we saw that coming a year ago!

'That' press conference


After the press conference, February was filled with giving tours, doing media interviews and such shenanigans. 

The exhibition was featured on the national BBC news which was supercool.



Things started to calm down and we won tickets to the Ice Hockey in Nottingham. Super fun.

We also took a little trip to Mallorca, where we cycled.


One of my best friends got married. Congratulations to James and Alison on a successful wedding leading to appearance of Young Tobias later in the year.

Lightsabre shaped knife is used to cut the cake after wedding disrupted by Darth Vader and associated stormtroopers.



We accidentally get caught up in Zombie Apocalypse.

We got better.

So. Much. Wine.

More May

I turn 30 with some of my best friends in the world in California. 

That doesn't anywhere near sum up what a fantastic time I had.


The Boy's little sister gets married. The Boy wears top hat and tails, which receives more comment and mass surprise than anything else that year.


The 30th birthday celebrations roll on. This time we headed to Worcester for the Boy's best mate. Carnage ensues.
Windy August Bootsales
Our first rugby match at Leicester Tigers
We dress up as Kiss for yet another 30th Birthday


Our 11 year anniversary and we head for a weekend away on the bikes, staying in a little country hotel then heading home for bowling. 

First time we'd ever actually bowled together.

I gave papers at the Tower of London and at Aberdeen in the same weekend


I grow a prize winning pumpkin. He wins us a night at a nice hotel in town. 

We still haven't used it - must get on to that...


I make a mosaic out of sugar cubes for the Experimental Food Society Spectacular out of sugar cubes.

You know, as you do.


And we round the year off with a spot of baking I did for the annual Christmas II celebrations.

So, not a bad year all in all. Oh yeah, and there's the small matter of that trip to Hawaii we won in December...

How was 2013 for you?
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