Friday, October 18, 2013


I’m going to be really honest and tell you I’ve been relishing the time I’ve taken off from this blog the past few weeks. It’s been wonderful to head to bed early or watch a movie at night instead of researching and writing after a long workday, and I admit the further I’ve gotten away from it the less I’ve thought about this blog.

That is, until a few days ago. That was when I saw somewhere on Twitter that this week…THIS WEEK, you guys…is Chocolate Week in the United Kingdom. I think this is worth exploring. I think this is also a great week to knock out the remaining contender in the chocolate category. Cadbury UK Limited holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Cocoa and Chocolate Manufacturers.”
Cadbury dates back to 1824, when John Cadbury opened a grocery store in Birmingham where he sold cocoa powder and drinking chocolate. Seven years later, Cadbury opened a manufacturing facility that produced cocoa products for mass consumption. By 1879 it had moved its factory to Bournville and had begun creating a model factory community for its workers. The Bournville factory had so much green space it was called the “Factory in a Garden.” There were ample fields for workers to enjoy a leisurely game of cricket, and all children in Bournville were encouraged to learn to swim in company pools. Workers could participate in morning devotions and Bible readings. Dressing rooms at the factory were heated so that workers wouldn’t have to change in the cold. Cadbury also scheduled outings to the country to allow for socialization and relaxation. As the Industrial Revolution pushed many companies to exploit their workers, the Cadbury family took the opposite approach. This gem of a film from 1953 gives a closer look.

Cadbury launched its popular Dairy Milk chocolate bar in 1905 to compete with Swiss chocolate makers. The company continued to create new and popular products throughout the decades, including Flake (1920), Crunchie (1929), Fudge (1948), Skippy (1960), the Crème Egg (1971), and Twirl (1987). In 2003 Cadbury Schweppes purchased the world’s second largest gum company, Adams, making it the largest confectionary company in the world.
Here in the States, Cadbury invokes images of Easter, specifically Cadbury cream eggs and those iconic Cadbury bunny tryouts commercials.

It’s a little rarer to find a plain Cadbury chocolate bar or the Green & Black’s bars that Cadbury also sells in the UK. It’s nearly impossible to find Cadbury drinking chocolate, a powdered concoction that you stir into hot milk to make a creamy hot chocolate.

To get the full experience of this royal warrant holder, I’ve selflessly sampled Cadbury drinking chocolate (very nice, and I like that the directions tell you to use milk—not water—and to stir in as much chocolate powder as you want until you get it the way you like it). Nathan and I made an expedition to Treasure Island one afternoon for a vanilla white chocolate Green & Black’s bar, which was awesome, and a Caramello bar, which was so-so. We used our plain Cadbury milk chocolate bar to make another Jamie Oliver recipe, velvety chocolate pots (recipe below). These little individual servings are super-rich and sort of an amped-up chocolate mousse without all of the eggs.  
Cities all over the U.K. are hosting their own events for Chocolate Week, including afternoon chocolate teas in hotels across London, screenings of that great Johnny Depp movie Chocolat, chocolate tastings at department store John Lewis, and London’s hosting of the Salon du Chocolat, the world’s largest chocolate show. Until the U.S. catches up and hosts our own Chocolate Week, sampling these Cadbury treats seems like the closest we can get from across the pond.
Where to Buy: I bought my Green & Black's and Cadbury bars at Treasure Island. I found Cadbury drinking chocolate at Spencer's Jolly Posh Foods.
Velvety Chocolate Pots(adapted from Jamie Oliver's Great Britain)
8 1/2 oz. Cadbury milk chocolate
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
2 T amaretto
7 oz. cherries, raspberries, or strawberries
Chop up the chocolate and place it in a large heatproof glass bowl. Place the bowl over a pan of gently simmering water until the chocolate has melted. (Oliver warns not to let the water touch the bottom of the bowl). Remove the chocolate from the heat and set aside to cool for five minutes.
Whip the cream and sugar together with an electric mixer until very soft peaks form. Use a whisk to stir in the amaretto. Be careful not to overbeat this mixture, which will make it impossible for the chocolate to be folded into it completely. Slowly pour the cooled melted chocolate into the cream and fold it in with a whisk until just combined. Again, do not overmix it.
Pour the chocolate mixture into small glasses. Refrigerate for at least two hours before serving. To serve, top with fruit.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


If there’s anything writing this blog for the past several months has taught me, it’s that my expectations can be very misleading. Walkers Shortbread is just the perfect example. I love Walkers shortbread. I’m always amazed when I eat it how much it tastes like homemade shortbread. That’s why at first I was undeterred when I realized Walkers holds a royal warrant not for its famous shortbread but for something else. Something called an “oatcake.” Okay, sure, whatever. They’re probably good at making oatcakes too, right? Not so fast. Walkers Shortbread Limited holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Supplier of Oatcakes.”

Before I explain to you in vivid detail what I hate so much about oatcakes, we need to be clear about pronunciation. As an American, I pronounce this word giving short shrift to the “oat” prefix. That’s a huge mistake, and you shouldn’t make it too. Keep in mind that Walkers is a Scottish company, that oatcakes are a traditional Scottish food. So instead of pronouncing this “oat-cakes” you need to be saying it more like “ouwt-cakes.” Let’s give a quick listen to how it’s done in this Walkers video.

Let’s circle back now, to why they’re so bad. Oatcakes (ouwtcakes, whatever) are dry and lifeless little snacks not unlike hardtack. I’ve eaten communion wafers that had more personality and flavor. They have a kind of green-gray-yellow tint to them I find unsettling outside the realm of prenatal vitamins and cleaning products. The box recommends serving them with cheese, but I like cheese too much to marry it to one of these beasts. Though they’re nothing like the Ryvita crackers I so despised several months ago, they remind me of them to the extent that I felt like the Queen had really screwed me over by recommending them. It’s not unlike a friend setting you up on a blind date and—almost immediately—you’re thinking to yourself What did that a****** think I would see in THIS guy?
Queen Elizabeth might make the argument that awarding a royal warrant to Walkers is political. This is a longstanding, family-owned Scottish company that prides itself on the quality of its ingredients and the authenticity of its process. It has been making its shortbread, oatcakes, and other baked goods in the Scottish village of Aberlour for more than a century. There’s something incredibly heartwarming about that. This is exactly the kind of business the royal family should be recognizing and calling attention to, in my opinion. Yet, why choose oatcakes when shortbread is clearly the superior product offered by Walkers?

Even Walkers seems surprised by this choice. In the little blurb about the company that appears on the Royal Warrant Holders’ Association website, they acknowledge that a royal warrant is “a great accolade for the humble oatcake.” Yeah. They then try to turn attention to their tastier offerings, suggesting the company is “best known for the quality and tradition of its pure butter shortbreads.” Even at this summer’s Coronation Festival at Buckingham Palace, Walkers didn’t just showcase the warrant-holding oatcakes but instead brought its entire product line, including many types of shortbread. It stamped the Queen’s symbol ER (an acronym for the Latin Elizabeth Regina) into samples of its shortbread, not the humble oatcake.
I began to wonder if the Queen was an outlier in her affection for oatcakes. Or, maybe she doesn’t like them but she’s just trying to be nice, like when American politicians gobble down junk food at state fairs when they’re on the campaign trail. Or maybe she considers oatcakes healthy and eats them even if they don’t taste particularly good. My mind led me in that direction all week, but today I decided I’d just double-check reviews of this product on Amazingly enough, all of the reviewers loved oatcakes:

“…Yes, they are crisp, very dry, and rather crumbly, but that is exactly how they should be!”
“…these delicious oatcakes are a bit risky, like running about a Scottish crags with a kilt with no unders. Tiny hard bits might impede your bite. Maybe sturdy extra strong Scottish chompers can handle this. The oatcakes are delicious with wild honey or unadorned in their simple goodness. Just be careful.”

“If you have any Scottish blood in you, treat yourself to some of these fine oat cakes…”
“One time our dog was hit by a car, late on a Sunday afternoon. We had to rush her to the emergency vet, 45 minutes from our house. We put her in the car, loaded the car with oatcakes and poured some white wine. Yes, we drove while drinking the wine, but we got there, etc., etc., and weren’t starving when, hours later we got back with our poor bandaged-up but surviving dog…”

That one with the dog and the DUI that should have been is difficult for me to interpret too. In general, though, I think we can argue from this review and others that people really enjoy oatcakes. Consuming them seems almost a point of pride. These are hard to find—they might potentially break your teeth—they are dry and tasteless, but that’s how it should be. They will land like a brick in your stomach and keep you capable of driving despite having consumed way too much wine, especially when you’ve “loaded the car” with them. (Seriously, what does that mean? Did they bring more than a few boxes of oatcakes?)
If you’re ready to disregard my advice and even Walkers’ advice about which of their products you should be eating, be my guest. I just hope you have a strong set of chompers and an even stronger stomach.

Where to buy: I bought my Highland oatcakes at Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods. You can also order them from Amazon. Walkers shortbreads are available in most American grocery stores.
Photo credit: Credit for the photos of Walkers at the Coronation Festival goes to Theo Cohen.

Saturday, September 28, 2013


Ever since I opened my first tin of Twinings Earl Grey tea to begin writing this blog last summer, I’ve been hooked on it. I begin every work day—every single one—with a glass of Twining’s iced tea. For variety I’ll mix it up and try English Breakfast or Irish Breakfast or Lady Grey, but I’m very brand loyal. That’s why I felt a twinge of guilt when I made room in my desk last week for a box of Yorkshire Gold tea. Taylors of Harrogate holds a royal warrant from HRH the Prince of Wales as “Suppliers of Beverages.”

Taylor’s and Twinings don’t have much in common, as brands go. Twinings dates back to 1706 and has always been London-based, while Taylor’s was founded in the late 19th century—a youngster by comparison—and runs its business from Yorkshire, in the remote north country of England near Scotland. Taylor's is new to the royal warrant pool while Twinings has held a warrant since Queen Victoria first granted the company one in 1837. Surely this would be no competition.
It was in the Victorian era that CE Taylor’s sons opened tea tasting rooms in Yorkshire’s fashionable spa towns of Ilkley and Harrogate.  (In the 1960s Taylor’s closed its tea rooms and consolidated this business with Betty’s, which today runs a famous chain of Yorkshire tea rooms by the same name.)

I am probably in good company among Americans who have never heard of Taylor’s of Harrogate, but I have heard of Yorkshire Tea. I admit I'm totally unfamiliar with their great advertisements though. This was has to be my favorite.

Yorkshire Tea today proclaims itself “the official brew of English cricket.” I don’t know what I could tell you about cricket that Pippa Middleton hasn’t already explained to uninitiated Americans in her expertly-written Vanity Fair column (seriously, when are they going to pull the plug on this?), but I was excited to see Yorkshire Tea’s summer web series called “The Great Cricket Tea Challenge.”
As explained on the website, in the middle of a cricket match “everything stops for tea.” The cricket club hosting the match will put on a huge spread of sandwiches, salads, cakes, cookies, and of course teas for hungry players and fans to enjoy in the clubhouse. For the Challenge, these clubs competed in the categories “cakes,” “sandwiches,” and “signature recipes” in order to win an expensive kitchen remodel for their clubhouses. These entries are chalk full of yummy recipes. I’m super excited to try Great Habton’s chicken pesto sandwiches. Seriously, I bought bacon today and plan to take these in my lunch all week. You can read the blog and check out all of the recipes here.

Aside from being a brand used by the royal family for five consecutive years, Taylor’s won a royal warrant from Prince Charles for maintaining an ethical and sustainable business model. While the Queen and Prince Philip do not focus on such things in their selection of royal warrant products and services, Prince Charles has set the bar a bit higher. If his name is on the product—and so far we’ve seen it on Hunter Boots and Yardley bath soaps—you can rest assured you’re buying from a company that cares about the environment. According to the Prince's official website: "The Prince of Wales asks that companies meet a code of good environmental practice if they are to qualify for his warrant."
As I’ve researched this entry I’ve again been reminded that “tea” means something different in America than it does in England. When I use the word I’m talking about ground fragrant leaves used to make a beverage. In England they use the noun to talk not just about a beverage but about an event. Everything—from a busy workday to a heated cricket match—stops for tea. If only, you know? If only.

I’m sure I’m not getting the full Yorkshire Tea experience by simply brewing a cup, mixing in some sugar, and dumping it into a glass of ice each day before starting a busy workday. Despite that, I’ve fallen in love with this tea. The Yorkshire Gold blend is lovely, and I’ve grown to like that it runs a little bit stronger than the Twinings flavors I frequent.

If we're no longer debating which brand is better, perhaps it's time to move on to a new debate. Are you a miffie or a tiffie? Find out what I mean by watching this "How to Make a Proper Brew" video.
Where to buy: I found my box of Yorkshire Gold tea bags at Spencer’s Jolly Posh Foods. In the States you can also buy this brand at Whole Foods.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013


I wrote a couple of weeks ago that I wanted to highlight local producers who service the royal family—not only at Buckingham Palace but also at Sandringham and Balmoral and Windsor. It turns out the Queen has a host of producers in all of these places and buys from the producer closest to where she’s traveling instead of bringing food with her from London. Thus, the list of firms holding a royal warrant as fruit & vegetable suppliers tells a story about the royal family’s habits and haunts. D&F MCCARTHY LTD. is a family-owned producer located just outside of Norwich, England, that holds warrants from both the Queen and the Prince of Wales. DEESIDE DELI & GARDEN SHOP provides fruit and vegetables to the Prince of Wales when he visits Scotland, and DDP LTD, located in the New Covent Garden Market, supplies fruit and vegetables to the Queen while she is in London.
If the royal family is that interested in eating local, I thought we could give it a go here too. Why not try using local ingredients to make authentic English cuisine? I bought a fabulous cookbook—Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain (Penguin, 2011)—and decided to jump right into it. This girl is going to make some British food.
I’ve dabbled a little in that before, right? There was the Pilgrim’s Pie and bacon butties I made with HP sauce; the caramel slice I baked with Lyle’s golden syrup; the barbecue sauce I made using a Waitrose recipe. Still, I feel like I usually end up cheating a bit and making the recipe into something already familiar to me. Maybe I ought to make an effort to bend a little and try something new.
I thought Jamie Oliver might be a nice gateway into British food. Real British food. He’s such a fabulous crusader for home-cooked meals that use fresh fruits and vegetables and humanely-treated meat and animal products. I love his Food Revolution programs and his intent to practice what he preaches in his cookbooks. The recipes in this book, as in all of his cookbooks, are simple and straightforward. Though they might use red meat or butter or cream, their redeeming feature is that they don’t contain preservatives or artificial ingredients or shortcuts. This is real food. Oliver’s recipes also take vegetables I’m usually a little afraid of—kale, spinach, turnips, leeks, watercress—and makes them delicious.
I admit that at times Oliver’s book seems a little too authentic for me. The recipes for Flapjack Crumble, Velvety Chocolate Pots, and Root Vegetable Chips don’t pull me out of my comfort zone, but several of the others do.
Hearty Oxtail Stew? Yikes.

Easy Essex Haggis? Huh?
Happy Fish Pie? No. Just…no.

I’d almost talked myself out of it before I started. Shouldn’t British food seem a little more familiar? Shouldn’t American cuisine and that of the Mother Country have more in common at this point? It doesn’t, strangely. As I turned through page after page of vaguely familiar-sounding dishes with all manner of bizarre meats and cheeses, I felt the trademark Chelsey pickiness kicking in. What was I doing here? 
I set my cookbook aside but made myself return to it the next day. What about the vegetable section, right? How bad could that be? I turned the pages until I stopped dead in my tracks on page 317. There I saw the most fantastic looking mashed potatoes I’d ever laid eyes on.
Oliver dubs these potatoes “King of Mash: Irish Champ.” It’s a thick and hearty mashed potato flecked with lots of dark green from parsley, scallions, a leek, and watercress, the latter being something I’d never bought or cooked with before. I had to try these mashed potatoes.
The recipe is straightforward and gave me no trouble: while you boil the potatoes on the stovetop, you roughly chop your scallions and leek. Then you do this incredible thing where you boil milk, butter, the scallions, and the leek together. The onion flavor infuses the milk, which you later use to mash the potatoes with. Brilliant, right? I admit I usually like my potatoes non-lumpy and whipped into a light and fluffy perfection, but the great flavors from the onions and the watercress (peppery and fresh-tasting) made up for it. Adam—who never gets potatoes mashed the way he likes them—absolutely adored these. Here’s the recipe:
King of Mash: Irish Champ (adapted from Jamie Oliver’s Great Britain)
2 lbs. russet potatoes (I used a mixture of russet and red potatoes; I peeled the russet and left the skins on the red)
Sea salt and ground black pepper
2 scallions
1 leek
2/3 cup milk
1 fresh bay leaf
3 ½ T butter
A small handful of watercress
A small bunch of fresh flat-leaf parsley, leaves picked and roughly chopped
Peel the potatoes and place in a large pot of salted water. Bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until fork tender.
While the potatoes are boiling, wash and trim the scallions and the leek (leeks hold a lot of sand and sediment in their layers, so be mindful of this and wash thoroughly), then slice them finely. Place in a heatproof pot with milk, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and the butter. Bring everything to a boil, then turn the heat down and allow the milk to simmer for 5-7 minutes.
Drain the cooked potatoes and transfer to a bowl. Mash with a potato masher, ladeling in the milk as you go. Once you’ve used all of the milk, add salt, pepper, and butter to taste. Add more milk (I did) if the potatoes are not yet at the consistency you want. Roughly chop the watercress and parsley and stir the chopped leaves into the mash. 

Friday, August 30, 2013


This week we finally got to try Bronnley’s beautiful line of hand and body soaps. I had trouble finding it here in the States, so I ordered a bar of the pink bouquet soap on Amazon. Then a friend reminded me about Merz Apothecary, this fancy, old-fashioned little soap and perfumery store located inside of the Palmer House Hilton on Monroe Street in downtown Chicago. I am thrilled to tell you they carry soaps sold by Bronnley, in addition to products made by fellow royal warrant holders Yardley, Molton Brown, and Penhaligon’s. It was at Merz that I picked up the cutest little bar of lemon soap that smelled lovely and that thrilled me because it was shaped like a lemon. H. Bronnley & Co. UK Ltd. holds a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as Toilet Soap Makers.


According to publicity materials I got from the company, Bronnley was founded by a young James Bronnley in 1884. He began his business in London but soon expanded to a Northamptonshire factory, which is still in use today. The company touts itself as one of the only British-owned soap makers still in existence. It carries a full line of triple milled soaps in scents like lemon and neroli, lavender, lime and bergamot, orchid, hibiscus, and rose. This process of triple milling the soap apparently makes it last longer—it is somewhat thicker and what the company calls “luxurious” than other bars soaps I’ve used.
I like Bronnley as a hand soap but didn’t care to shower with it. It really does feel a bit filmy and hard to rinse off, much like my impression of Yardley bar soaps. While I like the smell of both the lemon and the pink bouquet soaps, I also couldn’t use them on my face without somehow getting soap in my eyes.
Once I realized the Bronnley soap could serve no routine function at our house, I plopped it down one day in the soap dish of our guest bathroom. There, no one is really using it, but at least it looks pretty for visitors.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was relegated the same kind of guest status when she married into the royal family in 1981. She was just 20 years old, blonde, tall, slender, and virginal. Next to Charles at State visits and lavish banquets, she was a stunning sidekick, but no other place was really carved out for her. Even in a televised interview announcing their engagement, Charles suggests Diana—who had never shone academically or in her career as a school teacher—would make a good housewife. He didn’t seem to expect much else from her.

Such expectations underestimated Diana, specifically it overlooked that she could (and would) ground-breakingly transform the image of the royal family. With her as its newest ambassador at the start of the 1980s, it was set to become more personable, more compassionate, more fashionable, more innovative, more cosmopolitan.
Where to buy: My contact at Bronnley assured me they'll soon be exporting Bronnley to the United States via their website. In the meantime, you can find it on Amazon or at Merz, 17 E. Monroe St. in Chicago. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


A little bit of fuss has been made in the past couple of days over the release of the first official photographs of Prince George. Rather than hire a professional photographer, William and Kate opted to have Kate’s dad take amateur photographs of the newborn in the family’s backyard...err garden. You can see them here. This  outsourcing (insourcing?) may have come as a bit of a snub to the many professional photographers who hold royal warrants and routinely take photos of events and meetings and royal family members new and old. Among this bunch, Paul Burns was the first to receive a royal warrant—from HRH The Prince of Wales as “Social Photographer.”

Burns began his photography career in 1987, first as a photojournalist in Wales and then covering events in Bristol. His career changed markedly in 1994 when he began photographing Prince Charles routinely. The prince travels frequently on behalf of the Crown, and his comings-and-goings must always be documented. After spending a continuous five years in service to the prince, Burns was granted a royal warrant as “Social Photographer” in 2000. He continues to photograph the prince as well as all of the members of the royal family.
You can view a gallery of his photographs of royal events here. Here’s a gallery of his celebrity portraits.

If you want to meet Paul and find yourself in Bristol sometime soon, he still takes studio portraits of the masses. It’s just doubtful yours will wind up on page 6.
For more snarkiness on the quality of Michael Middleton's photos, you can view a special interactive feature done by the Guardian's photo editor, Roger Tooth. (Good God, I hope he never looks at this blog!!!). If that's not mean-spirited enough, don't miss Jonathan Jones' editorial calling it “no more authentic than Marie Antoinette dressing as a shepherdess.”

Wednesday, August 14, 2013


I guess it was this past spring that I first started seeing ads on the Royal Warrant Holders Association website for the Coronation Festival held in mid-July. The festival commemorated the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
The royal family attended the event, of course, but it was special because the general public was invited too. You needed only to buy a ticket. In addition to a fashion show, dramatic arts performances, and a huge concert at the end of the evening, you could spend the day visiting tents set up by hundreds of royal warrant holders: Jaguar, Bendicks, Hunter Boots, Prestat, Clarins, GlaxoSmithKline. The list goes on and on.
I’ve had dreams about things like this, you know? But as soon as I read about the event I knew there was no way I could go. We definitely couldn’t go and take the whole family…and it felt like too much of a luxury for me to go alone.

I’ve avoided the photos and the write-up of this since it happened. Who wants to see a bunch of great pictures of something they missed, of something they really wanted to go to and couldn’t?
 Yesterday I gave in, though, and I’m so glad I did. The photos (courtesy of Theo Cohen Photography) are just amazing. I started getting excited for all of the other royal warrant products out there that we have yet to review. I also started saving my money; if anything remotely like this ever happens again, I'm not missing it.

Monday, August 12, 2013


The best thing about writing this blog is that I get to learn about British history and culture while also trying really standout British products. They can’t all get four-star reviews, but this week I’m forced to give out just that. Prestat Ltd holds a royal warrant from Her Majesty the Queen as “Purveyors of Chocolates.”

Prestat proclaims itself the inventor of the chocolate truffle, which was enough to make me first stop and take pause. The business was started by a French immigrant to Britain named Antoine Dufour—unofficially in the 1890s and officially in GB in 1902. That its current owners do not know the complete company story and have been working tirelessly to archive its past is definitely some of Prestat’s charm. You can read so much more about that search right here. One of my favorite little tidbits is that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory author Roald Dahl was a big Prestat fan. He even centered one of his more macabre novels for grown-ups, My Uncle Oswald, around the chocolates. Here’s a little excerpt:

“I opened a drawer and produced a box of chocolate truffles. Each was identical. Each was the size of a small marble. They were supplied to me by Prestat, the great chocolateers of Oxford Street, London. I took one of them and made a hole in it with a pin. I enlarged the hole a bit. I then used the head of the same pin to measure out one dose of Blister Beetle powder. I tipped this into the hole. I measured a second dose and tipped that in also…”

Prestat today makes chocolate truffles that are quite a lot bigger than a small marble, hot chocolate, chocolate bars, and wafer thins. We sampled the London gin truffles and thought they were amazing. Picture a white chocolate/lemon/gin exterior with a bit of a fizzy aftertaste (achieved by using popping candy as an ingredient) encasing a creamy milk chocolate center. 

We also tried four of the miniature chocolate bars: a milk chocolate, dark chocolate (70% cacao), dark chocolate raspberry, and milk chocolate with roasted almonds and sea salt.

These chocolates stand out not only for their taste but for the bold and brash designs of the packaging and website content. In the early 2000s, artist Kitty Arden—who is famous for her distinctive dressing gowns, pet coffins, and paintings—designed this packaging in primary and secondary colors and prints to rebrand and revive Prestat—to turn it into a show-stealer.

Not so long ago, a young woman named Diana Spencer did that for the British royal family. My copy of Vanity Fair came in the mail just the other day, and there was Diana’s famous 1997 photograph by Mario Testino on the cover. I knew that, even though I’ve avoided it for quite awhile, it was time to start writing about Diana. Diana the show-stealer. In the 1980s she took the focus off of Queen Elizabeth, Prince Philip, and Prince Charles and kept it on herself for the better part of two decades. It explains, in part, why Americans know so much about Diana, so little about the royal family she married into.

Biographers of Prince Charles mostly argue the same thing about the prince’s relationship with Diana: he had slept around Britain for all of his 20s and still had no long-term relationship to show for it; he was starting to feel like the British public and his parents expected him to get married; he was in love with Camilla Parker Bowles (who was married, who was not viewed as an appropriate mate by his parents); when he met Diana it seemed like the right thing to marry her and be done with it.

It’s not so romantic, that. Settling. It’s also somewhat hard to believe. Diana was beautiful and well-spoken and fun. She took the royal family by storm in good ways and bad, and she took the British press by storm too. They adored her. They made her the most photographed woman in all of the world. That Diana’s husband was married to her but pining for someone else for years is something most people found difficult to believe when the news first came out.

Maybe that’s why Vanity Fair can still feel confident putting a long-dead princess on its cover, why the British press can still compare Kate as a mother with Diana as a mother and know people will remember what they’re talking about. She was a show-stealer.

Among the royal warrant holders, Prestat is a show-stealer too.

Where to buy: My Prestat chocolates were hand-delivered by my in-laws, fresh off a trip to London. You can find them in the U.S. at Chelsea Market Baskets in New York City; they will also ship them to you in cool weather. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013


Summer was slow to come to Chicago this year—so slow that at times it seemed like we might jump from an extended winter into a rainy spring and then back into a cool and windy autumn. The temperatures have held pretty steadily in the 80s for the past couple of weeks, though, and I’ve put my missing summer fears right behind me. 

Nowhere is summer more evident than in all of the yummy fruits and vegetables we’ve been picking up at farmer’s markets this week. I visited the one in Hyde Park on Thursday morning and the one in Daley Plaza on Thursday midday to bring home local sweet onions, tomatoes, basil, peaches, blueberries, and poblano peppers. Tonight we feasted on chicken enchiladas filled with tomatoes, grilled onions and roasted peppers and covered with a poblano-cilantro cream sauce. All I can say is wow. As our food was cooking I cut up tomatoes for pico de gallo, and Nathan and I squeezed a bowl of lemons to make a big, beautiful pitcher of lemonade we drank out on our front balcony tonight. It’s hard to imagine feeling more connected to the land—even if you live in a large urban agglomeration like I do and “local” actually means “southern Michigan”—than by eating its food.

I’ve struggled this year with reconciling my desire to eat healthy and local with my desire to write a blog that involves me ordering British packaged foods from websites like Amazon. Reading this blog could pretty easily suggest to you that the royal family never eats anything besides cookies, crackers, and condiments, but nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Queen Elizabeth grows a 40-acre garden at Windsor Castle that contains such crops as strawberries, sweet corn, beets, and carrots.

In the coming weeks I plan to do my homework on some of these local producers patronized by the royal family. I don’t have the luxury of visiting them to buy fresh eggs, milk, beef, chicken, fruits, and vegetables, but I’ll try to figure out as much as I can. It’s interesting and very timely—this royal practice of eating fresh and local—and I want to highlight it as much as possible.

I'm headed back to the front balcony, but if you're interested, here's that amazing recipe:

Chicken Enchiladas with Poblano Cream Sauce 
(adapted, just slightly, from a Better Homes and Gardens recipe)

3 fresh poblano chile peppers
2 fresh jalapeno peppers
1 lb. shredded cooked chicken
1 cup diced seeded tomato
1 large yellow onion
12 medium flour tortillas
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup snipped fresh cilantro
1/2 tsp. sea salt
freshly ground black pepper, too taste
queso fresco, optional

1.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Cut chile peppers in half lengthwise, discarding stems and seeds, and lay flat (cut sides down) on a foil-lined cookie sheet. Cut onions into large chunks and also place on sheet. Bake for 25 minutes or until peppers are charred and tender and onions are starting to brown at edges. Let cool for 15 minutes before loosening skin away from peppers. Chop peppers and onions into small pieces and set aside.

2.) Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Spray nonstick cooking spray on a 13x9 baking dish.

3.) To make filling, mix cut up tomato, chicken, and half of the peppers and onions in a large bowl. Fill eat tortilla with 1/3 cup of the filling. Roll tightly from one end to the other, leaving the ends open.

4.) Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes, until tortillas are beginning to brown.

5.) To prepare poblano cream sauce, blend remaining peppers and onions, cilantro, sour cream, whipping cream and salt in a food processor until smooth. Pour into a saucepan and heat over medium heat for 8 minutes, until warm and bubbly. Pour over enchiladas as you pull them out of the oven. Serve with fresh cilantro and queso fresco, if desired.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013


Just a couple of weeks off of our adventures with Veuve Clicquot, another Frenchie joins the list of royal warrant holders: Clarins Ltd has held a Royal Warrant from Her Majesty the Queen since 2007 as “Manufacturers of Skin Care and Cosmetics.”

This past week my friend Jeannette and I made our way through the tangle of cosmetics counters at the State Street Macy’s in Chicago to visit the Clarins counter. We were in search of Clarins hand and nail treatment cream because I’d read that it is so popular with the Queen she sometimes sends her ladies-in-waiting out for emergency supplies of it. Under the Clarins banner, we were greeted by an insanely knowledgeable woman who was happy to talk about the company.

 Jeannette and I heard the usual sales spiel you might hear at a cosmetics/skin care counter in a department store: Our product is better than all the rest; these are the awards we’ve won recently; this product here is our bestseller—other women are buying it in droves and you should too; some of this stuff might seem expensive to you now, but in the future you’ll be glad you’ve been using it. She surprised us by adding that selling expensive cosmetics isn’t important to Clarins and that we could buy those anywhere—even at a drug store. If we're on a budget, we should focus on skin care and not cosmetics. We also liked that Clarins is plant-based and not tested on animals.

Next she gave us a miniscule sample of Clarins double serum, which (at $85 for a bottle) is expensive but excellent. Jeannette and I both bought $30 tubes of the hand and nail treatment cream.
The Clarins representative was a fountain of information about skincare, but I stopped her dead in her tracks when I mentioned that Clarins has a royal warrant from the Queen, which is essentially a royal seal of approval, and that I write a blog about such products.

She sort of took me in for a second before responding haltingly: “I didn’t know that. The royal family is, you know, definitely way up here (she held her hand above her head) when it comes to endorsements and recommendations and so on, but what we measure our products by are things like magazines.” She paused to show us a binder on the counter that contained several laminated articles from fashion magazines about Clarins’ double serum. “This is where we look for approval. Places like Allure and Elle and Vogue.”

Translation: Queen Elizabeth’s recommendation isn’t selling our products, honey.

Point taken, but the Queen is still purchasing Clarins in bulk. In addition to the hand and nail cream, every guest who stays at Buckingham Palace has Clarins toiletries and skin care products placed in their rooms.

Of course, not every guest to the palace is an invited one. In what was deemed a hugely embarrassing breach of palace security, 31-year-old Michael Fagan broke into the Queen’s bedroom at Buckingham Palace in July 1982. The Queen was asleep when a barefoot Fagan (he later admitted he’d lost his shoes on the roof after shimmying up a palace wall) opened the curtains to her bed to peak in at her. The startled Monarch talked calmly with Fagan for a full 10 minutes while she waited for her security to discover his presence. Finally, it was a footman who rescued her. Fagan was later admitted to a mental institution.

While the verdict on Fagan was pretty clear, I’m not sure I’ve reached my own about Clarins hand and nail cream. It’s so expensive that I’m rationing it and probably not using enough of it…but I don’t notice it doing much for my hands. Over time it promises to eliminate age spots, but I don’t have any now. It’s also supposed to be good for my cuticles but, as I type this, I spot a hangnail on my pinkie.

Where to Buy: Visit the store finder on Clarins’ website.

Of note: while Fagan probably never got any complimentary bath products from the palace, he claims he did get his shoes back. You can read the full version of a somewhat incredible interview he gave last year here.