Thursday, April 25, 2013


One of the difficult things about writing about the British royal family is that the story is ongoing and actively changing. Last week I was all prepared to write about another warrant holder and then Margaret Thatcher had to go and die. We certainly cant ignore her death, especially when her relationship with the royal familyand most especially with Queen Elizabethwas such a fascinating one. At first it was something of a challenge to tie Thatcher into a blog about products that hold a Royal Warrant, but then I remembered her fathers oft-touted occupation. He was a grocer. Waitrose Ltd. holds warrants from both the Queen and the Prince of Wales as Grocers and Wine & Spirit Merchants.

Waitrose is somewhat interesting among the Royal Warrant holders. Its a place anyone in the UK has easy access to, which isn't true of some of the fancier shops and purveyors on this list. The company dates back to a small grocery shop called Waite, Rose & Taylor that opened in West London in 1904. It was acquired by the John Lewis Partnership, its current owner, in 1937 and the first Waitrose grocery store opened in 1955. Today the stores 280 branches are seen as upscale but not inaccessible.

Of all of the obituaries and editorials I read in the British press after Maggies death, the most interesting one (to me) was written by Andrew Marr in the Daily Beast. He delved into the sometimes tumultuous relationship between the Iron Lady and the Queen, centering one of his anecdotes on a barbecue. 

Marr starts right off by calling the relationship between the Queen and Thatcher difficult. They were just so different. Thatcher was the ultra-conservative daughter of a British shop owner who had worked hard to make a name for herself in British politics by the late 1970s. As she swept into office, Thatcher brought with her reform-minded supporters who were distrustful of the monarchy and tired of the way things had always been done. Queen Elizabeths life had always been marked by privilege and wealth. By being a member of the royal family she found herself the target of a political movement that detested the gluttony of the monarchy. One can only imagine the depth of Queen Elizabeths feelings toward Thatcher and her political ideals (the Queen’s job is to remain Switzerland on politics, but it’s widely believed she leans to the left). Despite this uneasiness, Thatcher was incredibly respectful of the Queeneven to a fault, argues Marr.

He describes a barbecue that took place at Balmoral, the royal familys Scottish home away from Buckingham Palace. The barbecue was offered as a solution to a somewhat bizarre problem that presented itself when Thatcher came into office. England had long been led by male prime ministers and male kings. After a fancy royal dinner, the men would adjourn to one room to talk politics, the women to another to talk about more frivolous things. With both the Queen and Thatcher holding the highest offices in England, the social setting became awkward. Who should talk to whom? Who should sit where? It was decided that an outdoor barbecue would be such a casual setting that it wouldn’t be necessary to separate into groups based on gender. Everyone could mingle.

It goes without saying that Sheryl Sandberg would have a field day with this one, but lets push past the obvious sexism here and focus on the decidedly more trite concept of an English barbecue. Is this a thing? I didn’t think this was a thing. Americans barbecue. This is our thing. The British wouldn't even know where to begin, right?

When I researched this on GoogleUK I found out that a.) I am wrong and the English are actually really into barbecuing and b.) the term “english barbecue” has a meaning of its own. Urban Dictionary defines it as such:

The English BBQ normally takes place in wet or threatening weather condition. He, the man of the house, shows his family how to light the BBQ using several pints of high octane fuel. He then cooks chicken drumsticks that are black on the outside and still bleeding in the middle. Sausages are also black on the outside while being raw in the middle.

What's funny about this stereotype is that Marr describes the exact same scenario in his story. On the typical second night of the prime ministers visit to Balmoral, Prince Philip himself would prepare a barbecue meal for everyone in attendance. The meat would be a beautifully cooked but very rare piece of beef...which didn’t suit Margaret at all, she hated rare meat. Surprisingly, the Queen would busily work alongside Philip. An anxious and ever-ready to please Thatcher couldnt stand being waited on by a monarch and would annoy the Queen by constantly offering to help. As Marr explains: 

Once, as the Queen handed around and then gathered in plates, Mrs. Thatcher, upset to see her monarch doing a menial job unaided, kept trying to stand up and help. Eventually the Queen hissed: "Will somebody tell that woman to sit down?"

The story seems emblematic of their relationship: a prime minister with a strong sense of authority and deference only trying to help, and a Queen who could neither figure out how to relate to her or how to help feeling irritated by her.

I couldnt help feeling irritated as I tried to convert a British barbecue sauce recipe I found on to one I could make in my own kitchen. I was thrilled to find this recipe used other Royal Warrant products like Colemans mustard powder, Lea & Perrins worcestershire sauce, and Tate & Lyles golden syrup. Still, there was a little bit of trial and error as I tried to substitute tomato sauce for Soffrito Passata and brown sugar for demerara sugar. At times I would have given anything to have Margaret Thatcher helping me barbecue, even if she was a Conservative. 

Where to buy: If you live in the UK, Waitrose has 280 branches for you to visit. If you live in the States, youre probably limited to cooking recipes from the website and hoping you can one day experience Waitrose in person. Hopefully we can all be so lucky to skip down those aisles soon, as Kate Middleton sometimes does.

The Waitrose photo at the top of this post was taken by John Phillips.

Barbecue Sauce/Marinade adapted from

1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. mustard powder
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 T olive oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
15 oz. can tomato sauce
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 T worcestershire sauce
2 T golden syrup
1/4 cup orange juice
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts


Over medium high heat, cook shallot in olive oil until carmelized. Add tomato sauce and garlic and cook for another five minutes before adding ginger, mustard powder, paprika, vinegar, sugar, worcestershire sauce, and golden syrup. Cook for another five minutes, then add orange juice, salt, and pepper to taste. Allow sauce to cool completely.

Pour about 2/3 of the barbecue sauce into a gallon-size freezer bag and add the chicken. Refrigerate for at least one hour and up to 24 hours.

Grill chicken breasts until cooked through, brushing every 2-3 minutes with reserved sauce.

Sunday, April 21, 2013


I just saw an update on Facebook from Queen Elizabeth's Fan Club that today is her 87th birthday. I will admit to you right now, without hesitation, that I had completely forgotten this.

I knew this was her birthday, deep down. This morning I even thought about this date (April 21st) and thought...something important happened today...but what? I'd been thinking about it for awhile even and wondering what the blog should do in honor of the day. The fact that I then forgot about it is testament busy life? How bad of a blogger I am? The fact that I should give up this project that sometimes seems like such a chore?

I just collapsed into an afternoon nap with a heavy sense of failure. I wish my life weren't so hectic. I wish I had time for all of the things I want to do and that not so much of my day was devoted to picking Cheerios up off the floor and convincing little ones to go to sleep at night, to not wake up at quarter til 5 in the morning. I also wished this past week hadn't been filled with such terrible distractions: the bombing of the Boston marathon; the industrial explosion in the small town of West, Texas; the violent manhunt in Greater Boston; and the anniversaries of American tragedies like the Oklahoma City bombing. We also celebrated Nicholas's first birthday but not without remembering how scary it was for him to be born at 34 weeks last year and to then spend three long weeks in the NICU before he could come home. This has been such a surreal week.

In 1992, after the very public collapse of Prince Charles's marriage to Princess Diana and after a fire destroyed much of her beloved Windsor Castle, Queen Elizabeth spoke candidly to the English people (or as candid as you can be when speaking in Latin):

"1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an Annus horribilis."

For Queen Elizabeth, this is about as personal as a public speech has ever gotten. She admitted not only personal sadness but also personal humilitation. She showed herself to be human. This sentiment can sum up this past week so well too. It's not one on which my country can possibly look back with undiluted pleasure. It's just been a horrible week.

On this day, her official birthday (in England her birthday will be celebrated later in June when the weather is better, and I can relate to that too!) let's hope the Queen can look back on the past year as an Annus mirabilis. Let's hope the same for the year ahead.

God save the Queen. (And God help me get through the rest of this busy day).