Saturday, September 29, 2012


So many of the products with Royal Warrants selected by Queen Elizabeth are affordable and easily accessible, even for middle class Americans. While I love that the list of her favorite things is not limited to such luxury brands as Jaguar, Burberry, and Bollinger, I wonder if maybe at times she goes too far in the opposite direction. Consider soft drinks. Does a soft drink company really deserve the royal seal of approval? Britvic Soft Drinks Ltd holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Manufacturers of Fruit Juices and Soft Drinks” and has since 1955.

Britvic's product line includes what the British call “fizzy drinks,” carbonated favorites with names like J20, Fruit Shoot, drench, and Tango, in addition to American brands such as Pepsi and 7Up. Britvic also makes Robinson's barley water, a drink with a somewhat mysterious name that we'll get to in just a bit. In researching Britvic, I came across an article published by the Food Commission, which terms itself “Britain's leading, independent watchdog on food issues.” The article suggests it's irresponsible of Queen Elizabeth to award a warrant to companies that produce obviously unhealthy products: “Although foods and drinks with poor nutritional profiles are an inevitable part of our everyday diet, it is questionable whether the Queen should be granting her Warrant, and the status associated with royalty, to such products.”

Perhaps there's a bit of nostalgia involved in the Queen's selection. Once World War II had ended and the princesses Margaret and Elizabeth were back to living at Buckingham Palace with their parents, Prince Philip was able to see more of the cousin he'd kept up a correspondence with since their time together at Dartmouth in 1939. They began dating, but their relationship was kept extremely private. When they appeared together in public, they did their best not to let on how close they were becoming. The only time they could really be together and be themselves was when Philip came to the palace for dinners. Elizabeth's nanny, Crawfie, chronicled these “dates” (is it really a date if your little sister won't leave you alone for a second?) in The Little Princesses, her tell-all book about her years of service to the royal family. She said when Philip came by it wasn't for a formal dinner, but for a much more private meal taken in the nursery, the sort of juvenile name still given to the girls' shared bedroom. Odd as that setup sounds (Can you eat in a nursery? Would the room still smell like dinner when you went to bed later?) she also shares a somewhat odd menu: “Food was of the, some sort of sweet, and orangeade.”

Orangeade. The word didn't really mean anything to me. Is this essentially an orange version of lemonade, e.g. squeezed orange juice, water, and sugar? Or would Robinson's barley water qualify as orangeade? To be sure I emailed my friend Michelle, who is British, to ask her opinion. “I would normally think of orangeade as fizzy,” she responded. “We would generally think of Robinson's barley water as being in the category of orange squash.”

Okay, so Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip enjoyed their very first dates eating fish and drinking orange soda together. Think about it: this must be why Britvic has a Royal Warrant. Maybe every time the Queen tastes orange soda it makes her think of those youthful days of first being smitten with a handsome sailor returned from war. I can't fault her for that. Any time I eat cookie cake from a grocery store bakery, it reminds me of falling in love with Adam.

While we didn't try any of Britvic's orange soda offerings to experience this particular warrant, we did try Robinson's barley water, which is—as Michelle called it—a type of orange squash. This renegade use of the word “squash” is sort of confusing for Americans. By “squash” I'm not talking about yellow, zucchini, butternut, or any other type you associate with the vegetable squash grown here in America. I'm also not talking about the racket sport. In England they're using the word a little differently.

The first time we tried it, we hated it. I was running around like mad one morning trying to get ready for work when I realized we were completely out of the orange juice Nathan and I always drink for breakfast. I remembered the Robinson's barley water and thought maybe that could substitute for orange juice without Nathan actually noticing it was something different. I poured us each a big cup, but Nathan was first to try his.

Yucky!” he screamed in a tone that seemed over-the-top, even for a two year old.

Nathan, it's fine. It's just something new Mommy wanted to try,” I explained while loading the dishwasher with one hand and eating a piece of toast with the other.

The melodrama hadn't ended. “IT HURTS MY MOUTH!”

Before I could stop him, Nathan took his cup and chucked it into the kitchen sink. That's when I heard it. Fizzing. The barley water fizzed when it came into contact with the stainless steel sink. That scared me a little bit. What I had just given my child to drink? I took a sip of it myself and holy cow it was disgusting. Absolutely disgusting. It was thick and fizzy and saccharine—not at all what I'd expected from the name. I thought it would taste something like a Vitamin Water or Propel. Or maybe even like barley, since it contains barley flour. Instead it was like an extra thick and sugary version of Sunny Delight. I also had trouble accounting for the fizz—that must be caused by the barley.

When I got to work I emailed my friend Katie, an American transplant to London. (Notice how I try to spread these questions around to avoid looking like a complete idiot to any one individual). “Do you guys ever drink Robinson's barley water?” I typed. “If so, could you please talk me through the use of the word 'squash' to describe this drink? Side note, Robinson's is so gross.”

Katie wrote back with a polite response: “I think they use squash to describe anything from concentrate...” she began.

Concentrate. As in, something you have to water down before drinking. Duh. I got home and expected to find this printed clearly in huge letters on the front of the bottle: WATER IT DOWN FIRST or CONCENTRATED. I really haven't been getting much sleep lately, so maybe I missed it. I was a little relieved to see just how un-obvious it was. I had to read the incredibly fine print on the back of the bottle to find this important message: “Dilute 1 part concentrate with 4 parts water. It is important to add extra water if given to toddlers.”

Poor Nate. I mixed up a cup of it correctly this time and tasted it: much better. When Nathan came in for dinner, I poured him a cup too, but he freaked out when he caught sight of the bottle. “NO! No, I not drink that! It yucky! IT YUCKY!”

If you're stuck with a bottle of Robinson's orange barley water that your kid won't drink and that you aren't too keen on, you start to try to think of ways to get rid of it. It's advertised as an official drink of Wimbledon, but Wimbledon is over. We can't exactly throw a party. Finally I made a big pitcher of it last Saturday and moved Nathan's kids' table into his nursery for a tea party. While Nathan drank milk and ate crackers with his teddy bear, Adam and I sipped orange squash and tried not to break the kids chairs we were sitting on.

I'll be honest—my feelings didn't really trend toward the romantic as I sat across from Adam at the table in the nursery. I had fun talking to him, but I never felt butterflies in my stomach, never wondered where things would lead next. I guess everyone has their own triggers.

I'm still not exactly sure why Britvic has a Royal Warrant or why anyone would want to eat a meal of fish and orange soda in a nursery. To be completely honest, I think I've moved a few steps back this week in understanding Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip.

Where to buy: If you want to try barley water stateside, your best bet is ordering from Amazon.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


There’s a little bit of guesswork that goes into writing about Royal Warrant Holders, since Buckingham Palace doesn't always give information about the specific products enjoyed by the royals. Take, for instance, tea. I know the Queen drinks Twinings tea, but I don’t know if she prefers Lady Grey or the English Breakfast variety or neither. Think also of Unilever. I’m guessing the company holds a warrant because it sells Colman’s mustard (and not Season & Shake meals), but who am I to say for certain which of their products the Queen uses? In my recent reading about the Queen, I’ve been lucky to come across the odd mention of a product she especially likes, and then it’s rare for it to be matched with a specific brand name. To write about these companies involves deduction. So is the case with this week’s entry. Elizabeth Arden is one of two companies—along with Clarins—that holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Manufacturers of Cosmetics.” If I want to write about lipstick—and this week I do—I finally decided I’d just have to choose for myself which of these companies to highlight (and which of their respective makeup counters to visit).

This past February, the Telegraph published an article detailing a new biography of the Queen authored by Sally Bedell Smith, who took great pains to provide a glimpse of Her Majesty's everyday life. Among those rare glimpses? One inside of her purse. Bedell Smith shares that the Queen is never without a small mirror and a tube of lipstick.

I quote the article:

“‘At the end of a luncheon or a dinner, even a banquet set with silver gilt and antique porcelain, she has the somewhat outrĂ© habit of opening her bag, pulling out a compact, and reapplying her lipstick,’ she writes.

When First Lady Laura Bush made a similar cosmetic fix during a Washington ladies’ luncheon, she cheerily commented, ‘The Queen told me it was all right to do it.’”

Whoops. For years I’ve been criticizing my mom’s own outrĂ© habit of reapplying lipstick at the dinner table (or anywhere in public). She hates me complaining about her lipstick applications almost as much as she hates being mentioned in this blog. Now I learn that I’ve been wrong all this time. This piece of information made me wonder just how long the Queen has been putting on lipstick in public. Do you have to be a certain age to do it, or could, say, a 30 year-old woman also get away with it? While I can’t answer that question, I do know that she’s been wearing lipstick since she was a teenager. In his biography of her, Robert Lacey writes about Elizabeth’s joining the Auxiliary Territorial Service (ATS) to aid the war effort during World War II. She attended training in the form of a Vehicle Maintenance Course with other young English women in 1945, but she never actively served since the war ended later that year. A fellow corporal, Eileen Heron, wrote about her first encounter with the princess in her diary:

Quite striking…Short, pretty, brown, crisp, curly hair. Lovely grey-blue eyes, and an extremely charming smile, and she uses lipstick!”

From photographs of her as a teenager, it seems like Elizabeth was one of those natural beauties who didn’t need much makeup to look good. This seems to fall in line with Elizabeth Arden’s philosophy that “beauty should not be a veneer of makeup, but an intelligent cooperation between science and nature in order to develop a woman’s finest natural assets.” The company's history is one of female empowerment. Elizabeth Arden immigrated from Canada to the United States before opening her first Red Door spa in New York in 1910. She used her cosmetics to champion such causes as women's suffrage (suffragists marched wearing her red lipstick), and she designed cosmetics especially for women serving in the military during World War II. Who knows—maybe that's when the company first garnered Queen Elizabeth's admiration.

I liked the idea of Elizabeth Arden, but I still wasn't sure what I was in for when I plunged into the first-floor sea of makeup counters at the Macy’s on State Street in downtown Chicago. I'm not really that into makeup and I know very little about it, although I guess I do make an attempt to slap on five or so products before I leave the house each day. My experience at Macy's was therefore a little bit intimidating. After turning down almost a dozen vendors and sales clerks who tried to hand me coupons and perfume samples, I finally found myself face to face with a smiling Clinique sales lady. “Would you care to try our new fragrance?” she asked. I shook my head, and her smile faded. “Which one are you looking for?” she then asked more bluntly, her jet-black mascara clumped onto her eyelashes, her zebra-print skirt clinging to her thighs.

Elizabeth Arden?”

She didn’t answer so much as point languidly to one of the identical counters just across from her own. I thanked her and hurried over to where two female sales clerks stood bored-looking next to a lipstick display. My presence signaled them to go through a kind of routine that I sensed they’d been practicing for awhile. I waved off their offers to sample perfume and moisturizers and instead tried to home in on the lipstick. I just wanted to look at the lipsticks. Within two minutes one of them had me up in a chair with my eyes wide open while she applied mascara to my eyelashes.

There they are. There. I knew she had eyelashes,” chimed in the perfume lady from off to the side.

Of course I have eyelashes,” I said defensively.

But no one can see them if you don’t wear mascara.”

I was wearing mascara. When I came in I already had some on.”

She did have on a little,” the other woman admitted. “It just looked kind of…uneven. Like she got some of her lashes but not all of them.”

I pointed out that when I’d put on my mascara at 6:30 that morning it was while standing next to a two year-old in dinosaur pjs (his, not mine) who wanted me to make him breakfast.

As the two sales clerks kept thinking of more makeup they could put on me, I kept trying to talk them down. I've fallen for this a couple of times before and have always been amazed by how quickly these people can get carried away. When my friend Jeannette and I visited a Nordstrom makeup counter a couple of years ago, we left looking like transvestites. We were too embarrassed to even stop at a Starbucks before wiping half of it off.

Elizabeth Arden is different, though. These sales clerks seemed to read my cues pretty well. When the lady finished putting mascara, eye shadow, and lipstick on my face, she reached for a small hand mirror so I could see the finished product. I looked...surprisingly...really nice...and not at all like a transvestite. I looked better, and I also still looked like me.

I went back to work thrilled. I've finally had a positive makeup counter experience! I didn't think that was possible. The Queen really does know her cosmetics.

Where to buy: Macy's, of course. You can also order cosmetics from Elizabeth Arden's website.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


Without necessarily meaning to (and with the exceptions of Twinings tea and  Yardley soap) I've spent the past several weeks chronicling only those Royal Warrants appointed by HM the Queen. Prince Philip, her husband, and Prince Charles, her son, are also authorized to give warrants, but their contributions to the list are far fewer. This week I'm making a concerted effort to look at a warrant selected by Prince Philip. If we're going to talk about the Queen's teenage years, it's definitely time to introduce her husband. And her husband wears Hunter boots. Hunter Boot Ltd holds a Royal Warrant from Prince Philip (and from Queen Elizabeth) as “Suppliers of Waterproof Footwear.”

I admit I know very little about Philip, and I suspect most Americans are with me on this. Even Adam, who I've mentioned before is omniscient, could produce little information about him:

What do I know about Prince Philip? Well...he's old. I didn't know until...I don't know—maybe five years ago—that they were even married. I thought maybe the real king had died and then she just took up with this guy.”

Right. To understand Philip you have to understand a little bit about Greek history. Philip's father was Prince Andrew of Greece and Denmark, and Andrew's older brother was King Constantine of Greece. In the early 1920s, Greece was at war with Turkey and lost, and that loss prompted a military coup that ousted the entire royal family from Greece. Prince Andrew, his wife Alice, and their five children (Philip was the youngest and the only boy) were exiled and barely made it out alive. Philip thus grew up all over Europe, in a series of schools and friends' homes and borrowed family apartments. But if he lost standing because of his father's exile from Greece, it didn't matter. He was great-great grandson of England's Queen Victoria and was related to the ruling king of England. Philip didn't grow up wealthy so much as around wealth. He had access to the finer things of life, but he couldn't exactly lay claim to them as his own. His family was broke in a way that only a royal family can be, e.g. broke but still living on a yacht on the French Riviera, broke but still attending the very best schools in England. Philip's parents also had a rocky relationship that eventually led to their separation. His mother was beset by mental illness that led her to seek out treatment by Sigmund Freud for a time. His sisters married German husbands and wound up a little too close for comfort to the Nazis during World War II. All of this should have left Philip a complete mess, but surprisingly, it didn't. He grew up affable, intelligent, and good-looking. His interest in sailing took him to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth when he was 18. When his cousin, a thirteen-year-old Princess Elizabeth, came for a visit with her father the king, it was love at first sight.

At least that's what Gyles Brandreth writes in Philip and Elizabeth: Portrait of a Royal Marriage. Brandreth has a habit of speculating to the extreme, which results in passages like this in his book:

'How do you do?'

He was standing over her, looking gently amused. He was tall and slim, blond and blue-eyed, and his dark blue naval uniform suited him. He was eighteen and achingly handsome...”

Brandreth imagines a dialogue for this, one of the first meetings of the future husband and wife, which ends with Philip holding out a tentative hand to lead Elizabeth off to a game of croquet. Brandreth then interrupts this daydream with the telling statement: “Well, dear reader, it might have been like that.”

I admit I got a little pulled in by Brandreth's description of how this relationship first took shape. It's sexy stuff, as any girl who's ever had a crush on an older guy can tell you (I have to be careful here, as Adam is a year younger than me). Still, we're talking about a princess who was only 13. Thirteen. She was just a kid. So in some ways while it's very sweet to imagine this early meeting and the crush that developed from it, it's also a little bit over the top.

What's not over the top? Rainwater over the top of my Hunter rain boots. These really are the Mercedes of waterproof footwear. Or maybe Jaguar is a more apt analogy. We had quite a bit of rain pass through due to Hurricane Isaac a few weeks ago, but it hardly put a dent in my days as I clipped straight through puddles on my walks to work. Each time I did, I noticed other commuters who were wearing flip flops or heels or just inferior rain boots sort of glare at me like I was showing off, like I thought I was better than them. Let's just be clear: I'm totally showing off.

After talking with my friend Krysten today, I feel justified in doing this. She told me, somewhat abruptly, that on a recent trip to Disney World (and while pregnant with her first baby) she started to take note of the mothers and children at the park. She noted that the moms who had only girls seemed to take an active interest in their appearance while the moms who had only boys had boyish haircuts, wore no makeup, and had really plain clothes. (The moms who had one of each gender were a mixed bag). I then awkwardly pointed out that I have two sons, and Krysten nodded. “I'm trying to warn you,” she said earnestly. “If you're not careful, you're going to look like a man in five years.”

My violet Hunter rain boots weren't cheap (they cost about $200), but they make me feel so feminine and pretty. It sounds like I should be clinging to them like grim death. Purchases like this one are keeping me from slipping across that fine line into Mom jeans and too-short hair and fleece pullovers. These boots might be my only hope. And yes, I'm still talking about boots recommended by a man.


Where to buy: Hunter boots are widely available in the United States and on the company's website.

Photo credit: Credit for the last two photos in this entry goes to Theo Cohen, who photographed the 2013 Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace.

Thursday, September 6, 2012


I felt relieved the first time I spotted Heinz on the list of Royal Warrant holders. Finally— an American company. Still...ketchup? We finally get some credit, and it’s for ketchup? Must we Americans always fit so neatly into this hamburger and fry-eating stereotype everyone has of us? H.J. Heinz Company holds a warrant from Queen Elizabeth as “Purveyors of Heinz Products.”

As I researched Heinz, I realized I had several misconceptions about the company. For starters—even though it’s based in Pittsburgh—it’s not exactly accurate to think of Heinz as an American company. Instead it’s a global food-making powerhouse with several centers of production. Heinz has had a strong presence on the British food scene for nearly as long as it’s been around in the United States. In fact, the company sells a whole host of Heinz-branded food products there that would be unrecognizable to most Americans. Here Heinz-branded products are limited to ketchup, 57 Sauce and vinegar. In the UK, the product line includes not only ketchup but also baked beans (with the unfortunate name Heinz Beanz), Salad Cream (think Miracle Whip), pasta sauces, spaghetti, tomato soup, Weight Watchers entrees, and—get this—baby food. How can a brand so familiar to Americans at once become so unfamiliar? It’s kind of like finding out your husband has another wife and 12 children in, say, Tallahassee that you never knew about.

Heinz Tomato Ketchup was first sold in the US in 1876, and only 10 years later it was available in the UK at specialty foods store Fortnum and Mason. In the 1920s, Heinz moved its production facilities for British products from the US to Great Britain. The brand was so firmly entrenched in British food production by World War II that it was targeted twice by the Nazis. This pivotal role was acknowledged by a Royal Warrant in 1951.

Great Britain’s monarch was also targeted by Nazis during the Blitz. After Buckingham Palace was bombed in 1940, there were strong fears that the royal family wasn’t safe there. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth famously chose to stay in London despite the obvious danger, but they sequestered their young daughters Elizabeth and Margaret at Windsor Castle. Princesses and castles might be the stuff of fairy tales, but that wasn’t so true of this castle, which was especially bleak and un-homey during the war since its furnishings were covered, its art and antiques sent offsite for safe-keeping. The princesses joined hundreds of other British children who were evacuated out of cities to strange and unfamiliar farms and homes in the country to wait out the war away from their families. Elizabeth and Margaret spent a total of five years holed up at Windsor Castle, and this constituted almost the entirety of Elizabeth’s teenage years.

Wow. For years I’ve been complaining about my own teenaged years—holed up in a tiny town in central Illinois (eating, in hindsight, way too much ketchup)—waiting for the day I could bust out of the nest and head to college. Reading about Queen Elizabeth’s repressed teenaged years makes me feel sort of ungrateful and terrible. My life was pretty cush by comparison.

We opened our bottle of British Heinz ketchup at our house on a night we made crunchy tacos using an Old El Paso taco kit. I wasn’t sure if Nathan would like the tacos, so I tried introducing them with his favorite condiment. I put a generous squirt on his taco and treated myself to a long red ribbon of it on each of my own while Adam gagged across the table. (He’s not a ketchup fan). The sweet and salty taste of Heinz ketchup mingling with the cumin and onion in the meat, the corn shell, and the tomato and cheddar cheese on top took me back instantly to my parents’ house, circa 1990. It was Taco Night; our dog Sally was positioned strategically next to my chair to beg for scraps; and my parents, my older sister, and I were about to head to the living room to watch The Cosby Show on TV.

I might have been eating British ketchup, but the memory was distinctly American. If there is any difference in taste between the ketchup manufactured in Great Britain and the ketchup manufactured for the American market, I couldn’t detect it. While my guess is that Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Warrant is aimed solely at the British division of Heinz, I still think we Americans are allowed the tiniest bit of pride in this choice. It sort of is our ketchup Queen Elizabeth is eating. And that’s pretty cool...even if it does remind the world about our eating habits.

Where to buy: Where can’t you buy Heinz ketchup? If you’re interested in Salad Cream, Heinz Beanz, or some of the other British products, check out Amazon.

Finally, many thanks to the McVitie’s company for sending us samples of HobNobs and dark chocolate digestive biscuits when we had trouble locating them here. While I still haven’t found a store that sells them, I’ve been assured they’re available at some Jewel and Meijer locations in and around Chicago. Let’s hope so—we polished these off in about two days.