11 December 2012

Häagen-Dazs Salted Caramel ice cream

Last week, while in London, I made my usual pilgrimage to the Häagen-Dazs shop on Leicester Square to see what limited-release delights they had in store. I'm rather glad I did.

Just the one "special" this time: Salted caramel flavour. Yes, Salted. Caramel. My auxiliary taster, who up till this point had maintained that it would be stupid to eat ice cream when it was so bitterly cold outside, changed her mind when given a taste.

The flavour, as you would imagine, is just about the best caramel you've ever tasted, and every now and again you encounter a little crunchy nodule of caramelly fantasticness.

It really is epically good. Words fail.

12 November 2012

Cheeseburgers, llamas and so on (as you do)

Such is the notoriety of this blog, people are now giving me crisps and snacks to review. Well, sort of.

A valued friend recently returned from a trip to France with these for me to try:

For the uninitiated, Lay’s is something of a worldwide brand but is affiliated with the UK crisp brand Walkers. If you are a Brit abroad requiring something comfortingly familiar, a bag of Lay’s “Nature” is the closest thing you will find to Walkers Ready Salted. These ridged Max Craquantes jobbies, however, are Cheeseburger flavour, which is rather odd. There are all the usual savoury notes, but smashing right through them all is the jarring sour tang of gherkins, which I found insurmountable. The back of the packet screams, “Des chips terriblement craquantes aux saveurs intenses.” Quite.

Another very Tolerant Friend has donated these ruminants to the cause:

As you can see from the photo, these are actually startlingly small savoury biscuits in the shape of llamas, and they have a subtle sweet chilli flavour… perhaps too subtle. But they are rather pleasant, and they provide a good nibble with drinks. Actually, apart from the shape, they are remarkably reminiscent of Fish ’n’ Chips, those superbly addictive salt-and-vinegar-flavoured, tiny fish-and-chip-shaped biscuits that were sold back in the 80s and 90s.

Tip: If you are on a diet, eat them singly, savouring every particle, and their minusculeness will ensure you put on weight  m-u-c-h  m-o-r-e  s-l-o-w-l-y.

30 October 2012

Black is the colour of my true love’s crisps*

It's about time I reviewed this new remarkable offering from Burts: Guinness crisps.

They do have a rather curious, grey-brown colour. (I suppose black would have been a step too far.) Yeast extract, as you might expect, is a prominent flavour note, so these are ideal for Marmite fans, but there is a very definite otherness about these crisps. They taste dark and stouty. Sort of. Very tasty, with a touch of bitterness. I've had a couple of packs, and if I see them again I will definitely be tempted to purchase. Consider that a recommendation, but your taste buds may vary.

Remember, kids: eat crisps responsibly.

[ * The title is a homage to my current earworm, the Jaffa remix of Nina Simone's Black Is the Color of My True Love's Hair, which features some rather superb Fender Rhodes handiwork. I first came across this track a couple of weeks ago on Nigella Lawson's current series Nigellissima, and thanks to Shazam was able to track it down. Plus, Nigella herself has recently blogged her love of these Guinness crisps. The circle is complete.]

24 October 2012

Bleaurgh. And once more, bleaurgh

I propose that chocolate flavouring be added to all eye ointment, so that when it has found its way through one's various ducts and tubes to the back of one's throat, the reaction is no longer

Urgh, eye ointment!ˇ


Óh, eye ointment!ˆ

22 October 2012

Corsican: the struggle continues

As you may have gathered from the mention in the sidebar, I’m currently attempting to read a guide to Corsican, entitled La langue corse en 23 lettres: Précis alphabétique de grammaire, d’usage et de vocabulaire du corse. Yes, it’s written in French, which is an interesting challenge. I keep my French dictionary at my elbow and look up odd terms from time to time, but generally I can get most of the gist. It’s proving fascinating on the whole; there are longeurs – a multi-page list of adverbs ending in -mente springs to mind – but there’s plenty to fascinate the serial linguavore.

A particular feature is consonant mutation, which is far too complex and confusing to discuss here. Sadly, the Wikipedia article on Corsican is pretty silent on the matter, so maybe once I’ve got my head round it I can contribute a couple of paragraphs to the greater good of the hive mind.

Meanwhile, I'm going back to reading about words that begin with ghj-.

03 October 2012

Tyrrell’s “Rather Hot English Chillies” Tortillas

It’s been a while since my last chilli crisps update, so here goes with a sort-of-crisps update.

First impressions of these “TorTyrrells” aren’t great. If anything, they look overdone, with dark green-black streaks (chives?) and scorch marks. Then the flavour is immediately disappointing. Bland, even – 1, if that, on the insertcrisps.com heat scale. (The auxiliary taster describes them as “horrible”.) But wait... what’s that happening on the back of my tongue?

And so the flavour and heat build, subtly reeling you in. On closer inspection, the darkness of the chips is at least partly attributable to the generous coating of spicy, herby flavourings. And they prove surprisingly moreish, the taste growing in appeal as the heat accumulates to a pleasing 3 or so. Maybe even the “Rather Hot” of the billing. Yum, I think.

Need to buy another packet to confirm my findings.

01 October 2012

Wild boar been useful

It's not nice to laugh at foreigners' mistakes when they are trying to communicate in English. So I'm not laughing here. Rather, I am utterly bewildered at this menu I saw outside a restaurant in Corsica.

There is a certain charm and delight in the mistranslation of ou (or) as "where" (French: ). The starter's chips of Corsican volume sound interesting too. But the wild boar stew "been useful with warp ends" is something to be treasured. They meant "served with penne pasta" ... I think.

21 August 2012

Shreddies: the curse of smart quotes

The new TV advert for Shreddies breakfast cereal is plagued by incorrect punctuation.

As is increasingly happening these days, thanks to so-called smart quotes, an open quote (looks like 6) has been used here instead of an apostrophe (looks like 9). Apostrophes mark omission, people; quote marks surround quotations. Grrrr.

(I've long since given up whinging about the grocer's apostrophe and other such errors. But this is bad typography and is unforgivable on a national TV ad. I may have to switch brands.)

10 August 2012

The past, and wallowing in it

In these days of chip-and-PIN – or, if you're really down with the kids, contactless payment – the recent past seems a quaint place.

While having a clearout in my office this afternoon, I stumbled across some old credit-card payment slips from over 20 years ago in a box in the corner. (Yeah, I know, hoarder. They're heading for the shredder now.) Most were stapled to the relevant statement, but half a dozen or so had come loose and were wafting around aimlessly. It made me smile to see these artifacts, handwritten and hand-kerchunk-kerchunked in imprint machines back in the day. Five years before I got online. Nine years before I got a mobile. Only the year after I bought my first CD player.

And then I saw this one.

A long-defunct record shop in Dorset. And the date. I immediately realised what the CD was. Hats by the Blue Nile. Back in 89, I'd read gushing reviews of this in the music papers, although I hadn't heard any of their work. So I asked the shop owner to play a bit. Two minutes into track one, "Over the Hillside", I was sold.

It's still one of my top 3 albums.

02 August 2012

Yet more chilli crisps: Mackie’s scotch bonnet flavour

Yet another update in our ongoing group test of chilli-flavoured crisps. This time it's the turn of Mackie's of Scotland and their scotch bonnet chilli pepper flavour (currently available in your local Lidl).

These crisps are a little old-fashioned in texture: they are quite thick and hard, rather like the way KP and Murphy's crisps used to be back in the 80s. Not immediately appealing. They are also quite dark in appearance as they are "well done"; the seasoning also makes them look quite dark, and there are red and green flecks.

The flavour is quite pleasant, heavy on the sweet chilli/capsicum, with a dollop of tomato and herbs. Reminiscent, if anything, of chilli ketchup. However, the dark fry also pushes through – not exactly burnt, but it makes its presence felt in the flavour.

In terms of heat, they don't really live up to the "fiery hot" billing on the packet. There is a slow build of heat on the tongue and in the throat, but only to about 2 or so (2.5 if we're generous) on the insertcrisps.com heat scale.

Overall, fairly pleasant but not one of our favourites.

01 July 2012

Latin cash machines? Absurdus.

I'm sure by now you all know how much I love languages, especially obscure ones. Furthermore, if you're looking for obscure languages, dead languages or invented languages come pretty high up the list. Furthermost, the deader and inventeder the better. So you can imagine how my ears perked up when I encountered all the online noise that's recently been transmitted about how the cash machines in the Vatican City issue their instructions in Latin.

Photo: Seth Schoen via Wikipedia

There is an important point here, though, that's been missed in all the brouhaha:

Comic Sans!!?!?

11 June 2012

Formula One: The remarkable season continues

Photo: Morio via Wikipedia

25 November 2012: Narain Karthikeyan leads home an unlikely HRT one-two in the snow at the Brazilian Grand Prix, the last race of the season, in a year that has seen each of the 20 races won by a different driver. Michael Schumacher fails to finish for the 18th time, after a collision with a penguin.

09 June 2012

Maxi and Allegro: a symphony in brown

For the past few months, these two have often been in evidence near where we live:

Two Austins from the 1970s (OK, the Maxi is a late one, a 1981 2L model, but the Allegro 1500 Super has a 1977/8 S plate), both in authentic, period "chocolate" brown. And they seem to be such good friends, which is quite touching. Honestly, I don't think I've seen a Maxi or an Allegro for years, and now this.

I realise this is a peculiarly British thing, and my readers in Norway and the US will probably not recognise these extraordinary vehicles. Indeed, even now loyal readers in Eastern Europe (and I know you exist – web stats cannot lie (much)) may be howling, "Can such majesty be borne, when we had to put up with Wartburgs and ZiLs?"

Be still and fear not, gentle reader. These cars are legendary, but not necessarily for the right reasons.


I took this photo last week, and I've been meaning to blog it ever since. And then last night some halfwit smashed the window of the Maxi. Sigh.

04 June 2012

Chilli crisps update (June 2012)

Following last November's group test of hot chilli crisps here at insertcrisps.com, it is incumbent upon me to alert you to the availability of a new contender: Crusty Croc Inferno flavour (available from Lidl).

These crisps have a nice orangey-gold appearance and a very pleasant flavour overall – spicy, yes, but definitely concentrating on the chilli/capsicum side of things. Rather like a hot version of the paprika-flavoured crisps that are so popular on the continent. As for the heat, well, if you put flames on the packet you'd better live up to the promise, and specifically if you're going to put a warning on the back of the packet that the product is not suitable for children then you've got to deliver the goods, otherwise you end up looking like Ned Flanders and his Five-alarm chili:
Homer: Five-alarm chili, eh? (Tries some) One... two... Hey, what's the big idea?
Ned: Oh, I admit it. It's only two alarm, two-and-a-half, tops. I just wanted to be a big man in front of the kids.
Todd: Daddy, are you going to jail?
Ned: We'll see, son. We'll see.
After the total disappointment of the Jalapeño Fire Doritos in the group test, I'm surprised and delighted to be able to report that these Inferno jobs actually live up to the billing rather well. The heat builds up on the tongue and in the throat, especially if you eat plenty of them – and you will, as they are highly addictive – causing my nose to run and earning an Insert Crisps heat rating of 5. The closest so far to my favourite level of heat, which we'll call 6, defined as a typical Thai green curry as served in Thai restaurants in the UK.

The only downside is that the crisps themselves are thin, weedy, continental-style things that are likely to have shattered into smaller pieces in the large and rather flimsy packet. So if you like a good old proper crunch to your crisp, you may be disappointed. But the flavour and the heat make them well worth it.

These crisps are currently on sale as one of those special "this week" deals in Lidl, so their availability may be short-lived. I'm going into town now. I just have to, ah, do some shopping. Crisps may be involved.

24 May 2012

Wasabi wasabad move

These green-coloured horrors, currently available from your local branch of Lidl, are by far the nastiest crisps I've ever tasted. Ostensibly wasabi flavoured, they are spectacularly unpleasant, with a taste that's a cross between Biro ink, burning plastic and what I imagine spiders taste like.

I ate four and threw the rest away. Recommendation is mandatory, but not for the usual reasons.

16 April 2012

Extreme prevarication

While doing some research for work, I just came across this gem:

Welcome to perhaps one of the most interesting web pages on the Internet. Why you ask? Well, perhaps after going through it you will understand why. This web page is devoted to "The Russian Stove". You may not have the slightest idea what the "Russian Stove" is. It is our goal that after you have visited this web sight and have understood its content, you will not only know exactly what a "Russian Stove" is but you might desperately wish you had one.

Get on with it! "Welcome" would have done....

09 April 2012

UK International keyboard – new version

New version of the UK International keyboard is now available from zolid.com, now with support for all European languages written in the Latin alphabet (hopefully). New letters! New accents! Combining accents option! Daggers!!! [That's enough exclamation marks – Ed]

I have an editing job coming up next week where I'll be typing Polish and Turkish placenames, so this will come in very handy. Bring on the ogoneks.

06 April 2012

Ice cream and mushy peas (not a recommended combination)

I had occasion to visit that London this week, so I called in at the Leicester Square Haägen-Dasz emporium, as you do, on the off-chance that they might have come up with something new and exciting. Well, they had something new and exceptionally pleasant: a new Crème Brûlée variant (complete with crunchy caramelised bits) plus a limited-edition Coconut Truffle flavour. I stood at the window while I savoured said creamy concoctions, and looked out at the drizzle and the square being comprehensibly dug up for some reason or other. Probably something to do with the Olympics: everything in London is currently "re-opening in May 2012".

Then yesterday I got chatting with a friend who's a synaesthete. For him, voices have tastes: when his old Maths teacher was speaking, he could taste orange chocolate; now, the voice of Prime Minister David Cameron fills his mouth with the flavour of marrowfat mushy peas, and he has to turn the TV off in disgust. The human mind is a remarkable thing.

31 March 2012

Rancheros: bamf! and it's 1979

Maybe you don't remember Rancheros. Maybe you're under the age of 30. Or Norwegian. Or you don't like crisps. (Hi there! This is a blog [occasionally] about crisps.)

Or maybe you do remember. A distinctive bacon-flavoured snack of the 70s and 80s, the Ranchero has long since gone the way of Smiths Salt 'n' Vinegar Bones and Football Crazy. And yet, for the last couple of decades, I have been subject to random moments every year or two when I could swear I could smell Rancheros. Nothing smells quite the same. Not even Frazzles. Call it a recurrent olfactory mirage.

So imagine my astonishment when, on a recent brief trip to Ireland, I saw these.

Yes, crisp fans, they really are Rancheros. They seem to be the same product, as far as I can tell. But most importantly, they smell exactly the same as they always did. Never mind the texture, or the crunch, or even the flavour (still with the faint after-tang of MSG) – just open the bag, close your eyes, and inhale.

Right, that's enough italics for one day.

07 March 2012

Pork scratchings? Nope, Baconsvor!

Tired of molar-shatteringly hard, multiple-additive, over-seasoned pork scratchings that look like an ogre's toenails? Look no further than our Scandinavian friends. These are seasoned with salt and nothing else, and they rock.

04 March 2012

The Badgermin

There is something terribly, horribly, wrong about this. And yet...

Only in Dorset could this happen.

03 March 2012

The ubiquity of paprika

Just returned from a couple of weeks in Arctic Norway. There was lots of snow, of course. And ice. And I have hundreds of photos of snow, but I won't bore you with those, cos you know what snow looks like. (It's white.)

What I do have for you is a photo of some packets of crisps.

There you go, Paprika flavour crisps, the ultimate expression of the Nordic potato-based snack. This brand, Potetgull ("Potato Gold") is pretty good. Nice crunch. Slightly old-fashioned, too: none of this artisan stuff, just a big family-sized bag of thin crisps. Great if, like us, you face a seven-hour drive with uncertain dining prospects en route.

The photo was actually taken in a little grocery shop on the small island of Bjarkøya, which is reached by means of two ferries from the mainland (not actually the mainland, but a large island joined to the mainland by a bridge... such is Norwegian geography): the first to another island called Grytøya, followed by (in our case) a frenzied half-hour drive on and through heavy snow to just catch the second ferry with a couple of minutes to spare. It was exceptionally well worth it, as the clouds parted and we were blessed with beautiful sunshine when we got to Bjarkøya. We celebrated by ordering chips ("pommes frites", as they are known in Norway, remarkably) and various accompaniments in the cosy café next door to the aforementioned island shop. Said chips were served with a generous shake of grillkrydder, a reddy-pink granulated national-trademark condiment composed of salt, paprika and various other spices. Fab. Here's the café (on the right), and the shop. (Click on the photo to enlarge, as always. )

Sorry, a bit of snow crept into shot. My apologies.

02 March 2012

Chocolate: an opinion

These new chunky KitKat variants, then. For me it's got to be Orange. Delicious. White is just wrong (we had them before, remember?), ditto Peanut Butter (ditto, and BTW blech), and I can't see the point of Double Choc – it was just disappointing... unlike the Triple Choc Mars that have been doing the rounds recently, which are a stroke of genius.

Just my opinion, right or wrong, but confidently stated <g>. Message ends.

09 February 2012

Pepperoni crisps: rather quite good, sort of

Starbucks sell these pepperoni flavoured crisps, which are unusual but kind of rather good in a "hmmm, interesting" way. The packet describes them as meaty, but I would tend to dispute that. They taste nice, albeit with a bit of a citric acid tang (as is so often the case: see my previous post on Marmite crisps).

Give 'em a go, but not with your half-fat cinnamon latté frappaccino. A cold beer would be my option.

21 January 2012

Marmite-related issues

Dear reader, there is plenty crisponaut activity to report: pepperoni-flavoured crisps, for instance, which I'll post shortly. But first, Marmite. (There will be crisp content too, trust me.)

Much to my wife's disgust, I am a confirmed Marmiteoholic – to such an extent, in fact, that I have moved on from the standard product to the hard stuff: the black-and-gold-labelled Marmite XO (Extra Old). On toast, it rocks utterly. I'm on my second or third jar now.

An aside: you may have heard me bleating before about this, so forgive me:

A few years ago, a couple of Norwegian friends were visiting me, and one – an adventurous chap with curiously anglophile tastes – decided to try Marmite on toast. To no particular surprise, he didn't like it much, but the following day I was amused to find him trying again "to see if it was any better the second time". It wasn't, apparently. To my enquiry, he replied, "It tastes bad."

"How so?" I probed.

"Well... it's just a general kind of badness."

I still think that would be a top advertising slogan for Marmite. I can see the posters now. Unilever, if you're reading this...

Anyway, back to my core topic: crisps.

Readers with a long memory may recall that Golden Wonder – for that matter, you need a long memory to remember the once-ubiquitous Golden Wonder crisps – ... start again... Back in the late 80s, Golden Wonder produced Marmite-flavoured crisps, and they were forceful to say the least. It was a stunning flavour, but one pack at a time was definitely enough. (But you wanted another pack the next day.)

Then a few years ago Walkers did a Marmite flavour, briefly, which I seem to recall were pretty good. So when I saw these actual Marmite-branded items, I grabbed a pack. Sadly, they were rather a disappointment. The flavour is suitably pungent, but not accurately so. It's too acid for Marmite, and not Marmitey enough. YMMV, but as for me I shan't bother again. There are other, more enjoyable snacks. Of which more soon...

14 January 2012

Hey pesto

Crisp purveyors of choice Burts recently produced an unusual and
interesting flavour: pesto. Made available as only a short-run
"seasonal" flavour, so by the time you see this probably sold out,
they are tasty but not spectacularly pestoey, more herby. Sorry about
the abysmally weak pun in the headline.