Tuesday, August 26, 2014

British Crisps... Adding a Flavourful Crunch to Life

Crisps, or chips in the American vernacular, are a product which uniquely reflects the tastes of a population. While the basic crisp or chip may be a simple thinly sliced potato, the addition of flavoring create a very unique and surprisingly varied snack.

Walkers was founded in 1948 in Leicester, Englad by Henry Walker and today holds 58% of the British crisp market.



I try to make a effort to try a variety of these flavours. Of course I could simply try the old favourites, but then I'd never expand my palate and perhaps miss something I might really enjoy.



Prawn cocktail might seem quite a odd flavour for the American palate, but in reality it simple tastes like what Americans are familiar with as shrimp cocktail sauce. Made with tomatoes from the Vale of Evesham, it is a tangy crisp for those who enjoy the taste of cocktail sauce.


Now tomato ketchup was a yummy crisp. Like the prawn cocktail crisps, these crisps also are made using tomatoes from the Vale of Evesham. A bit like an American style french fry paired with tomato ketchup, these are quite tasty and definitely a crisp I will buy again.


What more can I say about a classic like salt and vinegar. Well balanced and not overly acidic, a taste even those who have never enjoyed salt and vinegar will find pleasing.


The sensations line was added in 2002 and this Thai Sweet Chilli flavour is perhaps my favourite of all the Walkers crisps I have tried. Thai Sweet Chilli has been a part of the line since the beginning and is a wonderful slightly spicy crisp.


Monster Munch was launched in Britain in 1977 by Smith and originally called "The Prime Monster." Renamed "Monster Munch" in 1978 each pack featured a different monster on the front of the packet. This is actually a corn snack and this is the flamin' hot version which has a nice bite to its crispy corn base.

I will continue to seek out new British flavours from Walkers as they become available and as always, return to my favourites.



Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Original Polo Shirt... A Brooks Brothers Classic

We have probably all seen them and quite a few of us own them, the original polo shirt, or a copy of this classic men's shirt. And no, I'm not taking about a brand name but a style, more commonly known today as the Oxford Cloth Button Down shirt or OCBD.

Around the turn of the last century, Brooks Brothers imported some shirts from England made of white cotton cheviot, or what is more commonly known today as "Oxford" cloth. These shirts were actually worn while playing polo at that time. Brooks Brothers found the material and appearance of these shirts so favorable, that they copied them and introduced them into their line of ready-made shirts.

Photo Brooks Brothers

These shirts had two outstanding and unique features at that time. First was the ability of the cotton cheviot to absorb perspiration to a greater degree than any material except wool, while not being subject to the shrinkage of the slightly more absorbent wool of wool flannel. Second was that the points of the collar were fastened down by buttons so, that when riding rapidly, they were not blown into the eyes of the player when the shirt was left open at the neck.


Photo Brooks Brothers

When it was introduced it was called the "Polo Shirt," and even today, over 100 years later, "The Original Polo Shirt" is found on the tag of every Brooks Brothers button Down collar shirt.



Photo Brooks Brothers

The original white cheviot has become an American classic, with other solid color shirts and stripes, and has been more or less closely imitated by a host of other shirt-makers over the years. White, blue, pink and yellow seem to be the most common and classic colors, along with blue and burgundy stripes.



Photo Brooks Brothers

I still have several of these in my closet and they wear like iron, lasting nearly 15 years before they need to be retired to wear around the house only.


Photo Brooks Brothers

Today even Brooks Brothers provides a variety of shirts which while close to the original, are not the original. But if you know to look for, you can find this classic long lasting shirt.

First, this shirt is made of cotton, pure American grown Supima cotton. This is not a "non-iron" creation treated with chemicals to save you time or a trip to the cleaners. Second, this shirt is the traditional fit, easily identified by the red tag inside the shirt. The traditional fit is the only Brooks Brothers shirt to have the red tag. The traditional fit is voluminous, cut larger than any of their other shirts, a true American classic. And third, unlike the non-iron shirts, and many of the other shirts sold by Brooks Brothers, these classic shirts which require ironing are made in America.

Note: This shirt cannot be found at the Brooks Brothers Outlet Stores. The shirts there are made under the 346 label specifically for the outlet stores and should not be confused with the original.

Everyone can justify the clothes they buy in one way or another, but if I can invest in a shirt, made in America, which will last 15 years, that is an investment which I will make again and again. If you haven't tried one, treat yourself to this American classic.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Bedford Springs Spa... A Historic Spa Restored

Once you have had a positive experience at a spa, visits to other spas become something to which you begin to look forward.

The second spa I had a chance to visit was to the Omni Bedford Springs Resort. This resort hotel has a history dating back over 200 years. Closed in 1986, it was completely renovated and expanded as part of a $120 million effort beginning in 2004 and reopened in 2007. It has been ranked a top 100 resort spa in America by Conde Nast for the past two years and is currently ranked number 78.

Still a beginner to the spa experience, I decided to try the Springs Eternal Therapeutic Massage. For me, trying the "signature service" of the spa is my preference as well as looking for a relaxation massage rather than a intensive deep tissue massage.

Bedford Bath Ritual Area
Photo Courtesy Hawkins International Public Relations

My experience began with what is called the Bedford Bath Ritual. This is a self guided process which you can enjoy before your actual treatment begins in one of 15 treatment rooms.  The water used throughout the spa comes from the Eternal Spring, one of eight natural springs on the hotel property.

The Bedford Bath begins with the Spring Eternal Spas signature Black Walnut Ginger Body Polish and rise in the Eternal Springs Mineral Deluge. An aromatic steam follows with a cooling second rinse in the Mineral Deluge. Then, you alternate between a relaxing soak in the Hot Mineral Pool with massaging jets and to the invigorating Cool Mineral Pool. As a final step, you hydrate your body with the Spring Eternal Spa's very own Hydrating Aroma Mist fused with indigenous botanicals of the region.

The ritual is self guided and is posted on the wall of the Bedford Bath Ritual Area, which is single sex and where swim suits are required. Of note is this is the only top American resort hotel spa I have visited where this is required in the single sex side of the spa. In all the others it is optional. This is not of great inconvenience except for the Black Walnut Ginger Body Polish and Eternal Springs Mineral Deluge.

After the Bedford Bath Ritual, it was suggested by a guest that I leave my wet swimsuit in my locker and wear what is common spa attire, just the provided slippers and robe alone, when I moved to the relaxation lounge before enjoying my massage.


Relaxation Lounge
Photo Omni Hotels & Resorts

The relaxation lounge is well appointed, but unlike other top American resort hotel spas I have visited, it is a mixed relaxation lounge. This might not be an issue for everyone, but if that is an issue for you, you should be aware of this in advance.

Relaxation Lounge
Photo Courtesy Hawkins International Public Relations

I enjoyed the Springs Eternal Therapeutic Massage which was wonderful and relaxation and a credit to the massage therapist. This was one part of the Bedford Springs Spa which certainly was appreciated and enjoyed.

Spa Garden
Photo Courtesy Hawkins International Public Relations

While my visit was in the winter months, the spa and the hotel's 1920s indoor pool were enjoyable even in inclement weather. In the warmer months they also have a spa garden which can be enjoyed in lieu of the relaxation lounge.

For more information contact Bedford Springs Spa.


Friday, August 8, 2014

The Greenbrier Spa... Better than Europe

Growing up, I never even considered going to a spa. It wasn't until I was on my honeymoon at The Greenbrier that I decided to try what I had been missing for all these years. The spa at The Greenbrier has been ranked as a top 50 resort hotel spa in America by Conde Nast for the past four years and is currently ranked number 12. Not a bad place to begin my spa experience.



Photo Courtesy Greenbrier Archives

My wife, while perhaps not as dedicated a spa goer as some women, enjoys a professional massage on a regular basis and has visited a number of spas.

On our honeymoon, she had arranged a spa visit for herself and suggested I give the spa a try as well. We were at the resort for a week, so I decided to give it a try. 


Photo Courtesy The Greenbrier

Being a bit of a traditionalist, I selected the Greenbrier Treatment, which was developed in the 1920s and has remained virtually the same ever since. I had the option of selecting a petit massage, lasting about 20 minutes, or a 50 minute massage. Not being familiar with spa services, I decided to enjoy the treatment with the petit massage. The treatment left me feeling so relaxed, I not only went back again during that first stay, but I chose the 50 minute massage option the next visit and have enjoyed the Greenbrier Treatment with the 50 minute massage on every return visit to the resort.

Photo Courtesy The Greenbrier

This signature service begins with a sulphur soak in the natural spring water found at White Sulphur Springs, and in recent years they have removed the sulphur aroma from the water. This bath is so deep that at 6'2" tall, I can completely submerge my body, which I can't do in most baths. Following the soak you have the choice of a steam or sauna, in which case I always prefer the steam. 


Photo Courtesy The Greenbrier

The next step in the treatment is the Swiss Shower and Scotch Spray. The swiss shower sprays up to 50 gallons of water per minute and the scotch spray is run at 20-30 pounds of pressure. This is a hydrotherapy designed to break up toxins and cellular blockage in the body in preparation for the massage. A full body massage in one of their 18 treatment rooms completes the service.

This spa is a real treat for anyone who has never been to a spa before, as well as any seasoned spa goer, as the relaxation rooms are fully staffed with attendance who are there to fully explain all the amenities available while you are in the spa. 

I now make a visit to the spa a part of every visit I make to The Greenbrier and even enjoy a sulphur soak soon after my arrival, in addition to a massage the following day. A trip to The Greenbrier without a visit to their spa would be missing something as special as the resort itself.

For more information, visit The Greenbrier Spa.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Getting Started... A Beginning Runners Advice

I had thought about offering advice to a beginner runner like myself and beginning with the gear I've been using now, but it is summer, the hot part of summer, and if you are like me, you can think of 101 reasons why it would be better to not start running now. I've been there and I understand.

I think one of the biggest battles with starting an exercise program is eliminating reasons to not start exercising, so I've decided to start talking about what you will need when the weather in much nicer to start your running.

First, spend your money wisely on the most important part of your running gear, your shoes. Find a good running store. This is not the time to try and save a few dollars ordering something online or at the mall store where the person who is selling shoes is as likely to be running as I was a year ago. Find a serious and friendly running store. The should not only fit your properly for shoes, but have you run in the shoes so they can help fit you as well as you can find the best shoe for your feet. And think foot comfort before you start worrying about how they look. Spend your money well here and you will at least be taking care of your feet and body. I'm not going to talk about my shoes, because they are just that, my shoes and they work for me, but they may not work for everyone.

But I will talk about the rest of my fall running kit. I think running clothing is one area where you can not only learn from others, but also a place where you can save money of you shop smart.

Years ago when I was in school, I never thought of any special clothes for running. You had your shorts of course and sweat pants for those cold days, and a t-shirt. Everything was cotton as I recall. Well times have changed and there is an whole new line of clothing designed specifically for running. Will it make you faster? No, but it might make you a bit more comfortable during your run and if you are looking for excuses why you should not run before or after work, anything to make you more comfortable will help eliminate those excuses a bit.

For fall running I will stick with the basics, socks, shorts and a shirt. That is all you really need when the weather is nice.

For socks I can't say enough about the Balega Enduro 2 sock. With no seams to rub between your foot and shoe, combined with cushioning on the bottom and mesh construction on the top for ventilation, these are my sock of choice.



When it comes to shorts, I prefer a pair which has a built in liner. I wear boxers so it seemed silly to go buy underwear when so many pairs of shorts offer either built in liners or built in compression shorts. this summer I was recommended to try the Adidas Climacool Supernova Shorts and I was so happy that I went and bout two more pairs. These are the lightest, coolest running shorts I've tried. I can't say enough about these for comfort.



In the fall months, you tend to fall between hot days and some cooler days, so it is a good idea to be prepared for both weather conditions with both a long and a short sleeve shirt.

My short sleeve shirt is one which was recommended to me at my local running store, the same place which recommended the short. They suggested the North Face Reaxion Amp Crew. With its knitted fabric it is both soft and cool.




For a long sleeve shirt, I've adopted one which was a race premium at my first December race, the Asics Thermopolis LT Crew. Another super soft shirt which offers exceptional comfort.



With three days of running gear on hand, I have fewer excuses to not run. You can spend a fortune on running clothes, but if you shop smart you can save quite a bit of money. Even looking at the websites of the manufacturers you can find clothes at half of retail. And if you sign up for races, they usually have a "race premium" which is usually a shirt, which not only adds to your small beginning running clothes collection, but provides that training incentive to run regularly.

Remember to spend your money and invest wisely in a quality pair of shoes from a good running store, and then spend your money on your clothes.


Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Turning Over a New Leaf and Running...

When I was in school years ago, I was "drafted" into running cross-country when I really only wanted to run track. I never thought of my self as a distance runner and the experience left a very bad taste in my mouth, not to mention two decades plus of not running since.

Then two and a half years ago I made a statement at a party in October following a half-marathon, that I would run the half-marathon relay the following year. So six months later I went out and got a new pair of running shoes and some shorts and socks. With a donated shirt, I now had one full set of running clothes. Did I start running? Nope

Off to the beach near Charleston, South Carolina for two weeks in late July and early August and still no running for me. It was too hot to start running down there I commented, even though I had bold plans and packed my running gear for the trip. Back at home it was still August and still to hot to start running.

Finally in September I started running intervals, and built up a pace and distance that was so quick that I developed shin-splints and still was 3 miles shy of what I needed to run for the race the following month. I ended up taking two weeks off running before the race so my shins could heal.

I arrived in Pennsylvania for the race and needed to buy a long sleeve shirt since I only had one short sleeve shirt. Even so I felt like I would freeze before the race began. I felt good running the intervals during the race and race a healthy pace. So healthy, or unhealthy, that sometime early that afternoon, my body revolted and I was in pain for the next two days.

I ran a few times between then and December when I went out and ran in a 5 mile race in the cold of mid-December. I'd gone out and bought cold weather running gear and was prepared for the cold this time. The run felt good, but I still was in pain for a day after the race.

I didn't go running again for an entire year (even though I once again packed the running gear to try on vacation), until I ran the same 5 mile race in mid-December. I ran a slower pace and felt good afterwards. But this was not something I wanted to make a habit. On New Years Day I turned over a new leaf so to speak and went for a short run.

Running was interrupted for the next five months while we dealt with a severe winter and our dog's five month losing battle with cancer. A week after her death, I pulled out my running clothes and went for a run. I've been running 3 days a week ever since with plans to run two races this fall.

I've started out slow, running intervals and slowly building my distance. Home is full of hills so vacation in the heat of coastal South Carolina did mean a flat run where I increased my speed and distance.

Running might not be for everyone, but if you take it slow and do it for fun, not pushing yourself too hard, but also not giving up on yourself, it can mean long lasting health benefits. I don't plan to try to ever win a race, just signing up for them to give myself a goal to be prepared for a distance I want to run for fun. This is why I like the five mile and 8k races.

Over the next few days/weeks I will be posting some more about the things which I've found which have worked for me as I've decided to be more serious about running and taking care of myself while I run.