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.