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.