Chicken Soup-A-Thon

Sniffling my way through the cans and can'ts.

Last week, I wrote glowingly of the Florida sparkle, that lovely bit of crispness in an 80-degree winter day that has you just dying to eat outside.

All of a sudden, 80 turns to 60, and then to 40, and I'm stuck with the mother of all head colds - stuffed up with so much snot that I haven't eaten for two whole days.

Time for: The Chicken Soup-A-Thon!

Aided by our good friends Nyquil and Dimetapp, we paw through the grocery shelves. Row upon row of aluminum and bright shiny packages seem to buckle and twist, growing larger and smaller like some Hunter S. Thompson version of Alice in Wonderland. Some are cheaper, some are chunkier, some are condensed - all go piling into the shopping basket, next to the Canada Dry and the Kleenex. Back in the office, they come tumbling out of their aluminum prisons, smelling like bouillon cubes and tin.

Progresso Rich & Hearty Chicken & Homestyle Noodles pops out of its easy-open can, its arrogantly thick noodles and chunks of vegetables confident of victory. Publix Chicken Noodle, Campbell's and Kash n' Karry - all condensed - glop out, each a generic medley of winding noodles with tiny chunks of pretend-chicken.

But gasp! They need water - another confusing step for a brain struggling with a can opener. Health Valley 99% Fat Free Chicken Rice needs to be dug out of its container - it's become a dried-out solid at the bottom. A bad start for Health Valley, already handicapped by its health-food status. Healthy Choice Chicken Noodle has thick straight noodles and giant chunks of chicken meat. It's the good kid who assumes it's getting an A. And coming up last is Wolfgang Puck - an impish, smiling can offering up Chicken & Egg Noodle. It's a long shot for Puck - pouring right from the can, Puck is globby with chicken fat on its surface.

It's anybody's race.

Plastic spoons emerge, as Planet staffers wander in and take little nibbles from the bowl. At $1.59, Progresso takes an early lead - the broth is good, the noodles are tasty and the vegetables collapse in tender surrender in the mouths of tasters. But the chicken is dry - a minus for the blue can. Publix condensed looks better than the neon broth of Campbell's, but can't compare in chicken-y taste. It's a whole 12 cents more expensive than the $.55 Warhol classic. Boo!

Health Valley is tasteless, reminding one spectator of baby food, and another of a healthy soup that had been puked up, then repackaged for $2.49. Instant disqualification!

Kash n' Karry isn't a contender - the soup shows up with noodles in cloudy, starchy pasta water, not chicken broth. At a cost of 44 cents, I'd rather eat 44 pennies! Healthy Choice has all the right moves - a lovely, $1.65 thoroughbred appearance, but the soup's a dud! Those chunks of chicken are so dry they choke up the tasters - ginger ale, please!

And then comes the dark horse. Wolfgang Puck - a celebrity soup. The doof proclaims on the can that he's America's Best Chef. In a dextromethorphan daze, I imagine Wolfgang's soup and Emeril's pasta sauce battling it out in a girly slap fight, one can yelling pretentious things in an Austrian accent, the other jar bellowing "Bam!" as it body-slams the sissy little bitch.

But back in reality … Wolfgang Puck heats up nicely, forming a nicely nuanced broth. It's in competition with the Progresso blue can … neck and neck to the finish line, each a curly-noodled soup, each appropriately chunky.

One last slurp! And then another. The winner is clear - it's no competition. Wolfgang Puck is the superior soup! It's the chicken soup for the people!

Have I slurped the wrong soups? Let me know at [email protected]

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