Monday, December 31, 2012


I’m worried we’ve veered off course here at Middle Class Monarchs and that we’ve stayed off course for several weeks. It probably started with the dog show, but in my defense that was a fabulous dog show. Anyway, there was a time when I was using these Royal Warrant products to tell a neat, chronological story about Queen Elizabeth’s life. It wasn’t something I expected to do when I started this project, and I was pleasantly surprised by how well it was working. I really loved feeling like we were going somewhere. This week it’s time to pick up our story where we left off. The year is 1952. Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip have two small children: Charles and Anne. Elizabeth’s father has just died and she’s become the queen of England sooner than she ever expected. Plans for a formal coronation ceremony are in full force. How do we tie Samsung into the story? It could be tricky. Samsung holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Supplier of Televisions and Audio Visual Products.”

The Royal Family has a somewhat uncomfortable relationship with television. For the past 60 years they’ve attempted to keep this medium at arm’s length and to keep their members away from its harsh glare, but anyone who's seen even the recent reports about the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy or any of Prince Harry’s latest missteps knows those attempts have obviously been futile. As plans for her coronation were being made in the summer of 1952, Queen Elizabeth at first refused to have the whole thing televised as it played out in Westminster Abbey. Her husband and the Archbishop of Canterbury were in agreement, and for multiple reasons. The Queen viewed the religious ceremony as something that should largely be kept sacred and private. Portions of the coronation—such as when the Archbishop anointed the upper part of her chest—were personal. It was also thought that all of the lights needed to televise the ceremony would make the Queen uncomfortably hot. The monarchy and the church ultimately viewed television as vulgar and common; it had no place in such sacred ceremonial occasions. The Queen didn’t want her coronation televised, so it wasn’t going to be televised.

But that didn’t go over so well. In the fall of 1952 the decision not to televise was finally shared with the press, and the subsequent outcry against the decision was both strong and stunning. In his biography of the Queen, Robert Lacey shares that “the ban was front-page news in every newspaper, and the editorials condemned it with remarkable unanimity.” The Queen was forced to change her decision. While there was some compromise—BBC cameras never took close-up shots of her face, and they turned away during such private moments as her anointing and her communion—the cameras were present for live coverage of the entire event. (You can view some of the footage—some portions are in black and white, some in color—here). In the war over how close they could get to the monarchy, the public won the battle over the coronation.

Samsung is brand new to the list of Royal Warrant holders, as you can see from this press release added to the company’s website last winter. Since 2006 the company has supplied “more than 100 premium TV and AV products to the Royal residences.” If the Queen at one time thought that television was too vulgar to be part of the life of the monarchy, her decision to award a Royal Warrant to a supplier of televisions suggests her opinion has softened. I’ve read claims that her favorite television shows to watch are those like Coronation Street, the popular British soap opera. Unlike typical American soap operas—where everyone is wealthy and successful—in the UK these shows depict more common people grappling with the pressures of everyday life. However, in a 2001 visit to the set of another popular British soap, EastEnders, the Queen and Prince Philip admitted to knowing very little about the show and to rarely watching it. 

Perhaps the Queen only needs so many televisions because she wants to monitor what is being said about her and her family...but I like to think she’s just as addicted to Downton Abbey as we are.
Where to buy: Samsung televisions are available at most American electronics retailers, although the company’s website promises better deals if you buy online.

Saturday, December 22, 2012


Tis the season for work holiday parties. I found myself having a surprisingly good time at Adam’s this past Saturday night. I even won a door prize: a Bloody Mary kit, which consisted of V8 juice, a bottle of Absolut vodka, and tiny jars of condiments like horseradish, tobasco, and worcestershire sauce. When I opened it I tossed the bottle of generic worcestershire sauce into the back-shelf purgatory of our pantry and replaced it with my own bottle of Lea & Perrins. Get excited: this week at MCM* we’re focusing on this mysterious condiment in its original version. Lea & Perrins holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Purveyors of Worcestershire Sauce.”

Let’s put aside the Bloody Marys for a second to start at square one. How do you pronounce ’worcestershire’? I always make the mistake of trying to pronounce all the syllables, thereby ending up with a mouthful that sounds like WUR-shest-er-shire. So common is this problem that Lea & Perrins’ website addresses it:
“Worcestershire can be properly pronounced a few ways: WUST-ter-shire, WOOS-ter- sheer, or WOOS-ter-sher sauce. But the easiest way to say Worcestershire Sauce is Lea & Perrins®.”

Well-played. For what it’s worth, I’ve decided my favorite way to say it is probably WOOS-ter-sher.
Lea & Perrins—like many of the older Royal Warrant holders I’ve come across in the past few months—has a really inspiring company story. The sauce was invented in the early 1800s in the English county of Worcester by two chemists, John Lea and William Perrins. They were intensely secretive about their ingredients. At first it was a complete disaster; the taste was terrible. The inventors ended up storing all of the sauce they made in large barrels in a cellar and forgetting about it. When they came across it a year and a half later, they decided to try it again and found it was delicious. What they had thought of as a failure was really just a sauce so complex it needed a little more time than normal to marinate. If only all business and creative failures could be solved by something as simple as time, right?

After the 1830s, Lea & Perrins took off, becoming a worldwide phenomenon. For a time it was the only commercially bottled condiment sold in the United States. It’s so versatile that the way it’s eaten today depends on the country in which you’re eating it. In the UK it’s popular on “cheese on toast”; in Hong Kong it’s used in salads; in the US and Canada it’s used to flavor hamburgers.
We’ve been putting Lea & Perrins on everything this week. I whipped up a batch of Chex mix one day, and we added a couple of tablespoons to lemon rosemary meatballs over whole wheat pasta tonight. We even played with the somewhat questionable idea of cheese on toast by baking cheddar cheese and worcestershire sauce on whole wheat buns for turkey burgers.

It’s pretty safe to say we’re on board here. Still, I had trouble getting past my preconceived notions about Bloody Marys, the most famous alcoholic drink to use worcestershire sauce. I admit I’ve never had one. I’ve turned my nose up at them ever since I was a freshman in college and my friends were mixing them up on a dorm room desk using vodka and tomato juice they’d stashed in their mini-fridge next to leftover slices of Totino’s pizza. The whole idea just doesn’t appeal to me, and most of that has to do with the V8 juice. Do people actually drink this stuff? It literally stinks. I mixed up my cocktail the other night with three parts V8 to one part vodka. That looked and smelled so unappetizing it frightened me, so I found myself shaking in a lot of Lea & Perrins. Even with that help, I couldn’t get past the first sip of this drink. I just don’t get it. Who does this savory drink appeal to? Why don’t I just add a few shots of vodka to a pot of chili?

If the allure of a Bloody Mary remains a mystery to this cocktail snob, the contents of Lea & Perrins need not be. According to an article published a few years ago in the Daily Mail, the closely-guarded secret ingredients of Lea & Perrins were made public when a company accountant discovered an old handwritten copy of the recipe. In addition to the vinegar, tamarind, and anchovies listed on the back of each bottle, the sauce apparently also contains cloves, pickles, peppers and lemon. If you’re feeling really ambitious, I suppose it’s now possible to make this at home, barrel it, and then wait 18 months for your sauce to fully mature. Alternatively, you could just buy some.

Where to Buy: Lea & Perrins is widely available in American grocery stores.

*Full disclosure: my friend Beth once referred to this blog by its MCM acronym to me in an email, and I had no idea what she was talking about.

Sunday, December 2, 2012


Christmas is coming. Although we’ve had a sudden heatwave in Chicago with temperatures reaching up into the low 50s these last two days, that hasn’t stopped the city from exploding in red and green, in twinkling white Christmas lights, and all manner of snowmen and reindeer. I’ve been noticing Christmas decorations more this year than ever before with an almost three year-old as my sidekick. On our walk home from his daycare the other night, Nathan got so excited he stopped and yelled “CHRISTMAS!” as loud as he could on the sidewalk. Certainly Buckingham Palace explodes with joy and panache at the holidays. Queen Elizabeth has a rather long Christmas list—not only does she buy gifts for her husband, her children, and her grandchildren but also for more distant relatives and for her large household staff. In At Home with the Royal Family James and Russell share that the Queen’s go-to store for Christmas shopping, especially for fruitcakes, is Fortnum & Mason. The Piccadilly institution has a Royal Warrant from the Queen as “Grocers & Provision Merchants” and from Prince Charles as “Tea Merchants & Grocers.”

Have you ever been to Fortnum & Mason? It’s such a beautiful store. It’s easily my favorite place we visited in London. The five-floor flagship in Piccadilly Circus is a nice respite from the hustle and bustle of that area. The lower level food hall features a wine bar, fruits and vegetables, and fine cheeses. The ground floor is filled with tins of tea, tubes of biscuits, and drums of chocolates. On the other floors Fortnum does men’s and women’s toiletries, packaged gifts, glassware, and fine dishes like the tea set we bought there.
At Christmas they specialize in hampers—large wicker baskets emblazoned with the F&M logo that house tins of biscuits and truffles and bottles of champagne. Maybe the best part about perusing this selection online is reading the descriptions. Consider The First Christmas Hamper (£100):

Inside this little wicker hamper you will find a fluffy pair of slippers, a pretty rocking-horse decoration for the Christmas tree and Fortnum’s own teddy bear, Master Mason, which is handmade in Shropshire from softest mohair.”
Sold. I’m also intrigued by The Grosvenor Hamper (£100):
rich butter biscuits, a bizarre of olives, and a drum of rich chocolate truffles are included in the feast, ensuring that every inch of one’s appetite will be nicely sated.”
Isn’t that a fantastic use of the word “bizarre”?

But I don’t live in England, you might be thinking. Fortnum’s website assures me that this won’t be a problem. Worldwide shipping is available; to ship to the United States you’ll pay a £30 fee. I’ve been considering this as a gift for Adam for the past couple of weeks, but I just can’t choke down the prices. As I just pointed out to him, instead of spending £130 on one of these hampers (almost $300), you might as well scrape a little more money together and buy a plane ticket to London. Adam nodded enthusiastically. “No kidding.”
So when are we going?”

Here's a video of a special visit the Queen made to the store not so long ago.

Where to buy: To purchase online, visit Fortnum’s website. You can see the store’s Christmas window display in this movie. If you’re craving a British Christmas shopping experience stateside, consider that Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods in Chicago is also now decorated for Christmas.

Sunday, November 25, 2012


I’m trying really hard to be honest when I write this blog. If I said everything the royal family recommended is fantastic, you’d start distrusting me. It can’t all be fantastic. I’m bound to brush up against something I don’t like: the bitter taste of Tiptree orange marmalade, the knock-you-over smell of Brasso metal polish, the residue left behind by a bar of Yardley lavender soap. So far the Royal Warrant products I’ve tried seem to fall into a neat bell curve of things I hate, things I think are fine but may or may not try again, and things I love so much I don’t know how I ever lived without them. It’s time to add something to the left side of that curve. The Jordans & Ryvita Company holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Manufacturers of Crispbreads.”

Back up for a second, you’re probably thinking to yourself. What’s a crispbread? Good question. I think this is just a fancy term for a cracker, although Wikipedia gets slightly more elaborate in its definition.calling it a dry bread or cracker usually made from rye flour. In terms of texture, picture a Triscuit that’s been left out in the open air for...I don’t know...six years or so. We sampled the Limited Edition dark rye cripsbreads here at my house, and none of us could really get on board. The smell knocked me over as soon as I opened the pouch they were in. Musty basement? Mothballs? Mildewed sweater? The rectangular crispbreads laying loose inside were a grayish brown color and looked like something a colony of insects would construct for a home. The taste is something like cardboard at first, but then you get distracted from analyzing the taste as the crispbread breaks down into a million little sandy fragments inside of your mouth and sucks out every last bit of moisture in it.

I tried really hard to make this work. I don’t like writing off something the Queen has recommended. I also didn't want a repeat of the Robinson's barley water misunderstanding. I tried pairing my sandbreads, sorry crispbreads, with interesting toppings like cream cheese and later a thick slice of fresh parmesan cheese, but nothing worked. I couldn’t salvage them.

Why would the Queen want to eat these? Why would anyone want to eat them? I couldn’t figure it out from the company’s website, although I admit some of the flavors featured there – sweet onion, hint of chilli, and Mediterranean herb—did sound a little more appealing than dark rye. I also learned that the Ryvita company began making chocolate crispbreads during World War II, which allowed people to eat chocolate without using ration coupons. I found that sort of endearing. Still, each time I went back to my own package of crispbreads, I was horrified by how terrible they smelled.
Finally I turned to YouTube to search for commercials. Ad after ad mentioned Ryvita’s being low in fat and calories and being an excellent choice if you’re trying to stay slim. Oh. Of course. This is diet food, people. We need to lower our expectations accordingly.

For a couple of weeks I’ve been reading At Home with the Royal Family by Paul James and Peter Russell. The book was published in 1987 and is definitely dated. The cover, for instance, shows a picture of the royal family that features Princess Diana holding an infant Prince William in the front row. Most of the things James and Russell share about the Queen seem to have happened quite awhile ago, but it’s interesting from a historical point of view. And you can’t beat this book in terms of really intimate details about the Queen, e.g. the kind of food she eats when at home. Take this description of her lunches:
“A main course of meat or fish with perhaps a salad, followed by fresh fruit. Although the Queen loves chocolate pudding and adores chocolate mint chip ice cream, she prefers to watch her weight and saves such dishes for special treats or when her family are dining with her.”

How interesting that Queen Elizabeth has immediate access to the world’s finest foods but still finds herself with the same aging metabolism as the rest of us. There are some things you just can’t buy. Just like you and me, the Queen of England sometimes finds herself gnawing on tasteless crackers when she'd must rather be eating something wonderful like mint chocolate chip ice cream.
Where to buy: Amazon and Vitacost both have a large selection.

Sunday, November 11, 2012


In The Man Who Will Be King: H.R.H., Tim Heald and Mayo Mohs argue that Queen Elizabeth tried to raise a young Prince Charles in the most normal atmosphere possible. A big part of that involved maintaining a somewhat diverse menagerie:

“There were two Corgi puppies, Whisky and Sherry, a rabbit called Harvey, a pair of lovebirds named after Annie Oakley and Davy Crockett, and a somewhat unpopular hamster called Chi-Chi.”
Sure, I’ve known hamsters like that.

Although other types of animals seemingly came and went from the royal household, corgis have been a fixture in the Queen’s life since she was a young girl and her father kept them as pets. In her personal quarters at Buckingham Palace today, there are posted signs announcing Watch Out Corgi About! Her corgis were also memorably featured in the movie short she shot with Daniel Craig that aired at the Opening Ceremony of the London Olympics this past summer.

The Queen’s love of corgis gets reflected again and again in the list of Royal Warrants in the Animal Welfare category. So many of them relate to the feeding and care of dogs. I don’t have a dog, so I’m somewhat limited in my ability to try Purina or Good Girl or Judge’s Choice-branded dog foods. At the same time, I feel I’m really missing something if I choose to ignore this category wholesale. That’s why, to get at the spirit of this category, I decided maybe it was time to get to know some corgis.
If you live in Chicago and you want to interact with corgis, your options are somewhat limited. I found a couple of organizations that were looking for people to foster rescued dogs, but I knew that wasn’t an option since we already have a cat. Finally I stumbled upon the website of the Lakeshore Pembroke Welsh Corgi Club and learned they were about to hold a dog show at a Holiday Inn in Crystal Lake, a far north suburb of Chicago. Bingo. I convinced my friend and across-the-street-neighbor Beth to tag along with me.

Beth turns out to be exactly the kind of friend you want to take with you to a dog show. She accepted my invitation right away even though she did give me a hard time later once she read my Elizabeth Arden entry: “You needed to go to a makeup counter and a dog show, and you picked me to go to the dog show. Thanks.” Still, Beth got into the spirit of things pretty quickly. In the days leading up to the event, she took seriously my email asking, “What do you think we should wear?” by responding “I feel like a blazer should be involved, but I can’t be sure. I could also wear a wrap dress and go as Kate Middleton. Because that’s all that’s keeping me from looking like Kate Middleton, not wearing enough wrap dresses.” Interestingly enough, we both had trouble getting a straight answer on this issue from Google. Most of our searches led to information about what a dog should wear to a dog show or, on occasion, what you should wear if you’re showing your own dog at a dog show. (Apparently it’s best to wear a plain color that will contrast with the color of your dog’s fur, e.g. something dark for a light-haired dog like a corgi).

On our drive north we read the program for the dog show, which I’d printed out from the club’s website. The flyer contained quite a lot of language we couldn’t understand in the least, e.g. the scheduled times for events like “Conformation,” “Veteran Sweepstakes,” and “Altered Classes.” It also contained advertisements for dog-related businesses in the area. The largest ad had been paid for by Veterinary Village LLC, which advertised “a complete range of reproductive and pediatric services,” including “Seem
en Freezing with Storage in Wisconsin!” (emphasis theirs), as well as “Fertility evaluation & treatment of the bitch & stud dog” and “Treatment for accidental breedings.” Huh. We also read the Holiday Inn’s rules governing the show and associated lodging: “Bathing and Grooming are NOT allowed in hotel rooms” and “Hotel rules: six dog maximum per room.” (That six dogs are sometimes allowed to stay in Holiday Inn hotel rooms explains a lot about that place).

When we pulled into the parking lot of the Holiday Inn, we were starting to get a little freaked out about the dog show experience we were about to have. The parking spaces were packed with campers and vans with license plates not only from Illinois and Wisconsin but also states as far away as Ohio and Florida. Many of them had corgi-themed vanity plates, as well as stickers proudly displaying the names of their dogs.
Beth and I entered the back doors of the hotel and wandered through hallways filled with nervous owners taking their dogs out for last minute potty breaks. We also peaked into the large primping rooms where dogs stood on grooming tables while their handlers fussed over them.
Eventually we made our way into a somewhat small ballroom, where judges were in the process of deciding winners for the so-called Conformation competition. Beth and I had opposite first reactions.
This isn’t anything like I thought it would be,” Beth whispered to me, eyeing the mostly jeans and sweatshirt-wearing people surrounding us. I took in the crowd as well as the long rows of folding tables lining the exterior of the room where vendors were selling all manner of corgi-themed merchandise, including polo shirts, Christmas ornaments, and bumper stickers.
Really?” I whispered back. “Because this is exactly what I thought it would be.”
We decided early on to be good, so that meant not commenting on the woman sitting behind us who talked for 30 minutes about Kenny Rogers: “Have you seen him lately? He’s definitely had some work done...” We also looked the other way on the casual attire of the audience, but we didn’t like that it made our own clothes stick out. In my black linen dress, green cardigan sweater, and gray tweed flats, I was the mirror image of one of the judges. In her skinny brown pants and khaki blazer, Beth looked fresh out of a Gap ad and got us more than our fair share of quizzical looks.
In the center of the room the competition was going at full speed, but Beth and I had a hard time deciding what exactly was going on. Four dogs at a time would enter the ring with their owners and circle the judge, who stood in the center. Next they would take turns standing on a small platform where the judge could thoroughly examine them from snout to paws. Then they would parade around in the circle again.
Beth seemed to want to understand this process much more thoroughly than I did. It bothered her when she couldn’t figure out what was happening. While I eavesdropped on the woman dressed all in purple with a red floral hat selling dog beds at the table behind us (“Everyone in my life has drama. Drama with their kids. Drama with their grandkids. Fights, fights, fights. It’s exhausting!”) Beth scoped out the dogs and tried her hardest to make sense out of how the judge was scoring them.
Some of them have fluffier bottoms than the others. You see that? That seems to be desirable.” She also took a liking to some of the underdogs. “See that little guy over there?” she asked, nodding knowingly. “He just might be a contender...”
It’s not that I didn’t care about what was happening, I just couldn’t get past how cute the dogs were. I’ve been a dog person all my life, but I admit my feelings about them have faded since I’ve gotten older and realized just how much work it is to take care of them. That’s why, if you’d told me before the show that I would leave it wanting to adopt a corgi, I would have laughed at you. Yet, inexplicably, that’s exactly how I felt. They were the sweetest, most beautiful dogs I’d seen in a long time.
In some ways that’s strange, since the media typically describes the Queen’s dogs as being noisy and snappy, prone to fights and scuffles with other dogs and animals. I had a hard time reconciling that image of a corgi with the wonderful little dogs I was seeing in the show. The American Kennel Club, in its description of this breed, also doesn’t describe them as short-tempered, rather they are “one of the most agreeable small house dogs” and “outlook bold, but kindly...never shy or vicious.”
When I finally got my chance to meet a corgi up close, it was a dog named Adele, who was passing through the crowd with her owner before her competition started. Beth started a chat with the dog’s owner, and pretty soon I was down on the floor with Adele, petting her while she covered my face with kisses and tried her darndest to eat one of my pearl earrings. She didn’t seem short-tempered at all.
Adele’s owner told us all about how accomplished Adele was and about how she typically competed in much larger shows to a good deal of acclaim. She didn’t really seem surprised that Beth and I wanted so badly to meet her dog. Typical groupies, I guess. When I told her I write “a blog about the Queen” and asked if she knew the Queen had corgis, she smiled and nodded. “Of course I know that,” she said. “Everyone here knows that. Our dogs aren’t like her dogs, though.”
I pressed her on this. What did she mean? “Her dogs are always snapping at people and biting. They’re not very nice. The dogs over here are different. They don’t act like that here.”

Apparently if you’re a royal dog you can act any way you want to act. I find that oddly comforting (although maybe just because one of those little guys has never taken a swipe at me). Queen Elizabeth’s dogs know their place commanding the crowds at Buckingham Palace and smarting off to visiting dignitaries in the same way that the dogs of Wisconsin, Florida, and Ohio seem to know their place at the center of a dog show ring: obediently following their owners, allowing themselves to be brushed and primped without complaining, and exuding sweetness to anyone willing to simply stop and admire them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012


Now that it’s time to write about Prince Charles, I find myself facing the opposite problem I faced before writing about his father. I essentially knew nothing about Prince Philip…but part of me thinks I might already know too much about Prince Charles. I watched—just as you probably did too—as his personal life spun out of control in the 1990s, in a spiral of infidelity, telltale diaries by members of his house staff, and scathing private telephone conversations made public. For years we got too much information about this man. If you’re like me and you could really do without learning any more incredibly personal details about Prince Charles, then don’t worry; the factoid I’m about to share is a fairly innocuous one. Prince Charles brushes his teeth with Maclean’s brand toothpaste, which is made by Glaxosmithkline. Glaxosmithkline Consumer Healthcare holds a Royal Warrant from HRH the Prince of Wales as “Suppliers of Toothpaste.”

Just as I did with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, I began my research on Prince Charles at the Chicago Public Library. There’s no shortage of books written about the heir to the British throne, but nearly all of those taking up shelf space at the library told the story of his marriage to Princess Diana, of her tragic death, and of his somewhat scandalous remarriage to his longtime lover Camilla. Certainly I’ll get to this aspect of his life soon enough, but for now I just want to know more about the prince’s childhood. It doesn’t seem possible—when scanning the descriptions of more recent biographies—to understand who Prince Charles was before his train wreck of a marriage clouded the lens of public perception about him. That’s maybe why a biography published in 1979 caught my eye. For the past week I’ve been reading The Man Who Will Be King: H.R.H. by Tim Heald and Mayo Mohs. Although Heald and Mayo spend a lot of time speculating about whether Prince Charles will ever get married and who he will select as his possible bride, Diana’s name never crosses their long list of his girlfriends and potential suitors. To get this early look at Prince Charles without any mention of Diana is therefore fascinating and refreshing.

Unlike his mother, who did not become heir to the throne until unexpected circumstances prevailed, Prince Charles was born with the expectation that he would one day be king. His mother’s pregnancy was closely followed by the British public, who wondered if Princess Elizabeth would produce a male heir. She did just that on November 14, 1948, in Buckingham Palace. As news of the birth leaked out to the media, a celebratory crowd gathered outside of Buckingham Palace, and the noise grew so loud that the new family couldn’t sleep. Heald and Mohs share that it was actor David Niven—among the many people in the crowd—who finally convinced everyone to quiet down.

The intensity of the public gaze on Charles has continued throughout his entire life, has never subsided for one second. That’s probably why—when he brushes his teeth each day—he reaches for a turquoise tube of Maclean’s whitening toothpaste. He must look his best at all times. As their old commercials from the 1970s suggest, “every time you smile it shows you chose Maclean’s.”

In 2002 an embarrassing rumor surfaced that the Prince employed a valet to squeeze his toothpaste onto his toothbrush for him. The article was meant to shed light on the large number of paid employees staffing his royal residence. This was picked up in newspapers from London to Sydney, where the Morning Herald complained:

His lifestyle would seem extravagant even to France’s “Sun King” Louis XIV: a team of four valets so that one is always available to lay out and pick up his clothes; a servant to squeeze his toothpaste on to his brush, and another who once held the specimen bottle while he gave a urine sample. Step into the world of the Prince of Wales, a lifestyle so pampered that even the Queen has complained that it is grotesque.
Although the story got a lot of press in that year, more recent articles suggest it was nonsense. (Or at least the part about someone getting his toothbrush ready for him).

I’ve been squeezing Maclean’s onto my own toothbrush for about a month now, and I love this stuff. I’ve been a consistent Crest user all my life and—while I’ll certainly go back to using Crest when the Maclean’s runs out—that’s only because I don’t think you can easily buy it here in the U.S. Maclean’s has a much better taste than Crest, and it doesn’t leave the same kind of aspartame-y aftertaste in my mouth. I started to worry last week that maybe taste isn’t everything and that I’d have a mouth full of cavities when I went to my upcoming dentist appointment. When I saw my dentist, though, I got the opposite report. I didn’t have a single cavity, and the dental hygienist said my teeth look great.


Where to buy: Maclean’s is sold in the United Kingdom, the Middle East, Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. If you live in the U.S., you can still buy it from or from, a website I think I’m going to have to learn more about...

Photo credit: GlaxoSmithKline's tent at the 2013 Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace, courtesy of Theo Cohen Photography.

Friday, October 19, 2012


When you sample, ponder, and write about British consumer products as much as I have lately, you really start to miss Great Britain. I haven’t spent much time there, but when I was there I was thrilled to find it was just as special as I’d always believed it to be. I knew I couldn’t wait to get back. Yet getting back is something of an impossibility right now. We’ve been trying to experience and examine this idea of royalty right here in our own backyard, but our project has its limits. Lately I’ve been looking a little harder for ways to experience British culture in Chicago and thinking about a series of field trips.

Our first field trip? To Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods in Lakeview.

It was my friend Suzy who tipped me off about Spencer’s in an email titled “a tiny british grocery store in the city!” Spencer’s is located right near the corner of Southport Avenue and Irving Park Road, which places it conveniently up the street from Southport Grocer, Julius Meinl, and Sensational Bites. I’m pretty familiar with this dessert corridor already. Our foursome set out midday last Sunday—in the midst of a rainstorm—to check it out.

When we got to the front door we were drenched and chilly, so it was wonderful to walk into the shop’s cozy interior. Right away it reminded me of A. Gold or Verde & Company—two quaint British food stores located in London’s East End, just a stone’s throw away from Spitalfields Market. Both stores go for a kind of “village store” feel, and that’s just what we found here.

The walls at Spencer’s were lined with shelves that held little tins and jars and packets and bottles with everything from jam to tea to mustard to chocolates. Maybe you have to have tried as hard as I have lately to get your hands on some of these British foods to fully appreciate the selection, but it was all there: McVitie’s dark chocolate digestive biscuits and HobNobs, a complete selection of Twinings teas, Wilkin & Sons Tiptree preserves, Colman’s Season & Shake packets, Cadbury chocolates, Robinson’s barley water (you know you have to water it down, right?), HP Sauce in four different flavors.

We happily scooped up what we’d been craving—two tins of McVitie’s biscuits for me, HobNobs for our friend Krysten, chocolate caramel biscuits for Adam, Cadbury white chocolate drops for Nathan, HP barbeque sauce, and a box of Darville’s of Windsor tea bags.

As we shopped (and as Nicholas snoozed in an Ergo baby carrier strapped to my chest, as Nathan attempted to grab every single package of candy at his eye level), we took in our surroundings. There’s a large kitchen table placed, English-style, in the center of the store where guests can take tea and enjoy freshly baked scones. The walls are full of British posters and old advertisements and signs.

The best part of our visit was chatting with the guy behind the counter. Upon seeing us enter the store drenched, he quipped, “We had the rain brought in special for you” in a fantastic British accent. You don’t hear that much around Chicago. He answered about a trillion questions I had about the store and the business; we learned that it’s run by a Brit called Nicholas Spencer and that the store opened just three months ago but the Spencer’s brand has been in use for quite a while longer—selling British packaged meats like back bacon and bangers (think: sausages) on the Internet. Spencer’s runs British food stands at farmers markets around the city, and they’re hoping to soon sell this fresh food in their store.

We absolutely cannot wait to go back. I’m even thinking of getting really adventurous and buying some sausages to make bangers and mash.

Where to find it: If you're in Chicago, you should visit the store at 1405 W. Irving Park Rd. You can also buy Spencer’s prepared meats on the website.

Sunday, October 14, 2012


So far it’s been pretty difficult for Baby Nicholas to join our Royal Warrant testing panel. The kid doesn’t consume a lot besides breast milk, formula, diapers, and baby lotion, so we can’t be sure how he feels about tea, metal cleaner, or mustard. A couple of weeks ago, without even thinking about it, we bought a Royal Warrant product especially for him: Gerber baby rice cereal. In the U.S., Gerber has recently partnered with global food company Nestlé, which holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Manufacturers of Nestle Products.”

Baby rice cereal is the simplest food you’re ever going to make. Actually, that’s not correct. Baby rice cereal should be the simplest food you’re ever going to make. To prepare a single serving for one baby, you stir the powdered, shimmery rice flakes into breast milk or formula until they dissolve into a too-thin, watery mixture. You then start feeding it to your baby, but the whole time you’re thinking this is just a little bit too thin. So then you add another tiny shake of the rice flakes. Only, your arm always slips, and you always add about three tablespoons too much. I’m not sure how this happens, but I promise you that this always happens. And then the mixture has turned to concrete. Your baby is glaring at you: What did you do?! And pretty soon you’re mixing up more formula or heating up more breast milk to water it down further, but while you’re doing that your baby starts freaking out: Forget it! I don’t even want it now! I finally learned my lesson with Nathan, but that means that Nicholas always eats too-thin rice cereal.

I thought I’d put my rice cereal problems behind me. I’m an old pro at this now! Nicholas had been eating it pretty well for a few days when I caught a story on Today a couple of weeks ago. Essentially the news report claimed that American rice is loaded down with very high levels of arsenic, a known carcinogen. This is especially bad for infants, whose solid food diet is sometimes limited to rice cereal alone. I thought immediately of Nicholas because at that time, rice cereal was the only solid food he was eating.

We’ve now replaced our Gerber rice cereal with Gerber oatmeal. Yes, I can appreciate the irony here. It’s not unlike the English professor Adam and I had in college who announced he’d decided to boycott Coca-Cola for unnamed reasons. He entered class the next day drinking a Dasani water, so we helpfully pointed out to him that Coca-Cola owns Dasani. The next day he came into class drinking MinuteMaid lemonade. “You know that’s owned by Coca-Cola too, right?” one of our classmates asked him. He admitted he did not know. “Are you buying all of these out of the Coke machine around the corner?” Adam asked. He nodded. The next day he came to class drinking a Coke again.

But I digress. Gerber put out a statement saying that its rice cereal has been made with California rice since the beginning of 2012 because California rice has far lower levels of naturally occurring arsenic. Based upon my research, this is accurate. The highest levels of arsenic come in brown rice grown in Arkansas, where arsenic was long used as a pesticide on cotton crops. It leached into the soil and has stayed put ever since.

God only knows what’s lurking in our oatmeal, but Nicholas’s diet on paper at least looks pretty healthy: breast milk, formula, oatmeal, homemade peas, apples, and sweet potatoes. I find again with my second child that it’s scary to transition from breastmilk—the safest, most perfect food for a baby—to food that comes from the somewhat irksome and poorly-regulated American food supply.

I wonder if Queen Elizabeth also feared the transition away from breastfeeding. Biographer Robert Lacey shares in Monarch that Elizabeth breastfed Prince Charles, her first baby. I worry this little factoid is only interesting to me because I’m currently breastfeeding. If that’s true, I’m sorry. If it’s not true, let’s continue on.

Have you ever breastfed a newborn baby? Yikesy. That’s a lot of new to get used to. I live in a world of Boppy and My-Brest-Friend pillows, of supportive husbands, and nursing covers with a thin, curved wire that allow ultimate privacy but also eye contact with a breastfeeding infant. There are state and federal laws that guarantee me the right to breastfeed my baby in public, even if I’m not wearing one of those expensive nursing covers. In many ways, it’s a fantastic time to be a breastfeeding mother, but any mom will tell you it’s still not without its difficulties. There are people who go out of their way to glare at you and make you feel uncomfortable...there are the long days of maternity leave that seem to string together as one big, long nursing session...there’s the two 20-minute breaks I take at work each day to cozy up to a breast pump. It’s not very appealing stuff. Someone with royal blood should be able to get out of some of the unpleasantries of being a nursing mother...but money and bloodline really don’t buy everything. In this case, they don’t buy your breastmilk going into your baby’s mouth without you being pretty actively involved.

I like that Queen Elizabeth nursed her baby. It makes me feel close to her in a way that transcends money, social class, age, and nationality. Just like me, she has had to answer to a hungry, unreasonable child waking up for a midnight snack. That makes her seem more like a real person and less like a distant monarch.

While we’re talking about “real,” Nestlé promises to provide Nicholas and the rest of our family real nutrition for the rest of our lives. Manufacturing everything from bottled water to KitKat bars, the company has something for everyone. In all of the research I’ve done on Royal Warrant products, Nestlé's website seems to make some of the boldest claims. Consider what it says about the British food brand Herta: “Frankfurters are the ultimate family meal: tasty, inexpensive and quick.” Huh. The Nestlé logo on the back of our baby cereal comes with the advice to “start your child on a course to healthy nutrition,” as if to suggest I'm doing just that by buying Nestlé-branded baby food products. And what does Nestlé claim about the chocolate bars for which it’s so well-known? They’re good for you: “Long known for great taste and enjoyment, Nestlé chocolate and confectionary products are also full of intrinsic goodness, contributing to well-being.”

Whatever. To revisit the Britvic debate, does this manufacturer of food and nutrition products deserve a Royal Warrant? In recent years, Nestlé has arguably pushed global social justice issues into the forefront of its company mission. It also sponsors programs such as the Nestlé Social Research Programme, which is committed to improving the lives of people under 35.

Perhaps this is a company you can feel good about...even if you are at times feeding your child a food you can’t be sure about.

Where to buy: For British candy, try Amazon or World Market.