Sunday, July 15, 2018

Warren Harding, Prohibition and Finger Foods

Although kind and well-liked, Warren Harding is often ranked as the worst president in American history and he even admitted that the job was beyond him. Some observers say that his "claim to infamy rests on spectacular ineptitude captured in his own pathetic words: I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.'" Aware of his limitations, Harding appointed some highly intelligent and capable men to his cabinet, including Charles Evans Hughes as Secretary of State and Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce.

Unfortunately, Harding also surrounded himself with an "unpleasant group of dishonest cheats," who came to be known as the Ohio Gang. According to historians at the Miller Center:

Warren’s close friend and political manager, Harry Daugherty, whom he named attorney general, was one of the worst - and one of the slickest. He survived impeachment attempts by Congress and two indictments for defrauding the government in the disposal of alien property confiscated by his office from German nationals. Another schemer, Albert Fall, Secretary of the Interior, secretly allowed private oil companies to tap the Teapot Dome oil reserve in Wyoming and the Elk Hills oil reserve in California in return for least $300,000 paid to him in bribes.


Whether Harding was aware of his advisors' crimes beforehand is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that he played card games and drank whiskey with his advisors upstairs at the White House in private defiance of Prohibition.

Describing the scene at one of Harding's card games that she encountered, Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, wrote: "the air heavy with tobacco smoke, trays with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey, cards and poker chips ready at hand – a general atmosphere of waistcoat unbuttoned, feet on the desk, and spittoons alongside."

Meanwhile, as Harding was downing whiskey with his advisors at the White House, millions of Americans were drinking at secret taverns and bars called speakeasies, a term used to describe an establishment that sold illegal alcoholic beverages. According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink:

In order to gain entrance, you had to speak in a low voice through a small opening in the back door and tell the attendant inside who it was who sent you to the place. The term itself...may derive from the English "Speak-softly-shop," an underworld term for a smuggler's house where one might get liquor cheaply, its usage in this sense having been traced back to 1823.

But with the onset of Prohibition, speakeasies sprang up overnight, sometimes in shabby sections of town, but often in the best neighborhoods, and many of these establishments were actually fine restaurants in their own right. New York's "21" club was a speakeasy during this period and had two bars, a dance floor, an orchestra, and dining rooms on two floors...French diplomat Paul Morande, visiting New York in 1925, reported his experience at a speakeasy: "the food is almost always poor, the service deplorable."



It was during this period (referred to today as the Roaring Twenties) that the custom of throwing cocktail parties at home also became popular. The rise of cocktail parties, in turn, inspired the development of finger foods, which worked well for tipsy guests who jiggled Gin Fizzes, Whiskey Smashes, and other popular cocktails while mingling with others in loud, crowded rooms.

Some popular finger foods of the Roaring Twenties included Lobster Canapés, Crabmeat Cocktails, Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Caviar Rolls, Oyster Toast, and Savory Cheese Balls. For his part, Harding often served Bratwurst Rolls and Mini Frankfurts with Saurkrauet at his raging cocktail parties at the White House.

If you’d like to serve up some Bratwurst Rolls at your next cocktail party, here's a simple and delicious recipe from epicurious.com:

1/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, sliced into thin rings
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 to 4 (12-ounce) cans beer
8 bratwurst links
8 small, crusty hoagie rolls
whole-grain mustard
dill pickle spears

Prepare the grill for a medium-hot fire. Place the butter in a medium disposable foil roasting pan. Place the pan on the grill rack and cook until the butter melts. Add the onions and garlic (if using). Cook until softened, three to five minutes. Add the beer and bring to a simmer. Place the pan on the low heat zone and keep the onion mixture warm.

Place the bratwurst on the grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally, until evenly charred, four to five minutes. Transfer the bratwurst to the onion mixture and let stand until ready to serve. With tongs, place the bratwurst in the rolls. Serve with the onions, mustard, and pickles.

FOOD FACT: Some mass-manufactured foods introduced during the Roaring Twenties include the Baby Ruth Bar, Wonder Bread, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Welch's Grape Jelly, Hostess Snack Cakes, Kool-Aid, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, and Velveeta!

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Thomas Jefferson's Vegetable Garden

So did you know that Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at Monticello was one thousand feet long and contained more than 250 varieties of more than 75 species of plants from around the world?

Carved into a terraced, slopping hilltop, and tended by elderly slaves, called “veteran aides,” Jefferson’s garden was divided into twenty-four rectangular squares, or growing plots, arranged according to which part of the plant was to be harvested, be it roots (carrots and beets), leaves (lettuce and cabbage) or fruits (tomatoes, peas, and beans).


Among the many exotic new plants grown there were beans and salsify collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition, figs from France, peppers from Mexico, and broccoli and squash imported from Italy. As methodical as a botanist, Jefferson recorded the results of his planting experiments in his Garden Book, noting such events as the dates that seeds were planted, when leaves appeared, and when his favorite vegetables were ready to eat.

Biographers say that Jefferson’s favorite vegetables included tomatoes, turnip greens, corn, and sweet potatoes. He was also particularly fond of the English pea, and, by staggering the time of their planting, he and his many dinner guests were able to enjoy them from mid-May through mid-July.

According to historians at Monticello:

Jefferson might have taken special note of the English pea because of an annual neighborhood contest to see which farmer could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner would host the other contestants in a dinner that included the peas. Though Jefferson's mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, it seems that the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers.

As Jefferson's grandson recalled: "A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occasion had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, 'No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.'"



If you'd like to whip up a dish of delicious and nutritious sweet English Peas this week, here's a simple recipe to try from recipe doodle.com and this one from epicurious.com

1 spring onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups English peas, shelled (about 12 ounces)
6 mint leaves, torn
Salt
Water

Sauté the spring onion in two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shelled peas, a pinch of salt, and enough water to barely cover. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, then add the torn mint leaves. Continue cooking until the peas are tender, a few more minutes.

FOOD FACT: When English colonists arrived in America, "pease" were one of the first crops to be planted. This makes sense because peas are nutritious and easy to preserve and ship. They also keep for long periods of time, as reflected in the old  children's rhyming song, "Pease Porridge Hot." Maybe you remember the lyrics: Pease porridge hot/Pease porridge cold/Pease porridge in the pot/Nine days old!

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

A Small Dinner Party In Paris and a Brief History of the Statue of Liberty

Although historians don’t typically play the game of What If, it's hard to know if the United States could have won independence from the British without the aid of the French.

At critical times during the Revolutionary War, the French provided munitions, ships, money and men and some Frenchmen, including the Marquis de Lafayette, became high-ranking officers in the Continental Army. It was, as one historian proclaimed, “an alliance of respect and friendship that the French would not forget.”

According to historians at the American Park Network:

One hundred years later, in 1865, after the end of the American Civil War, several French intellectuals, who were opposed to the oppressive regime of Napoleon III, were at a small dinner party. They discussed their admiration for America's success in establishing a democratic government and abolishing slavery at the end of the civil war.

The dinner was hosted by Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye...scholar, jurist, abolitionist and a leader of the "liberals," the political group dedicated to establishing a French republican government. During the evening, talk turned to the close historic ties and love of liberty the two nations shared...

As he continued speaking, reflecting on the centennial of American independence only 11 years in the future, Laboulaye commented, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if people in France gave the United States a great monument as a lasting memorial to independence and thereby showed that the French government was also dedicated to the idea of human liberty?"


Laboulaye's proposal intrigued one of his guests, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, a successful 31-year old French sculptor. Years later, recalling the dinner, Bartholdi wrote that Laboulaye's idea 'interested me so deeply that it remained fixed in my memory.'” And so was sown the seed of inspiration that would eventually become the Statue of Liberty!

Once conceived, Bartholdi set out to design and promote the statue. Work began in Paris in the winter of 1875, and, in 1876, the right arm and torch, consisting of 21 separate copper pieces, were completed, assembled, dismantled, packed and shipped to the Philadelphia International Centennial Exhibition, where it was assembled as a feature exhibit.


In 1880, work on the iron framework for the tower began in Paris, and, during the next three years, the inner structure and "outer skin" were assembled, piece by piece, to the statute's full height of 151 feet. Finally, in June, 1884, the statue was completed and then dismantled, packed into 214 crates, and shipped to the United States in early 1885.

The official unveiling of the statue on October 28, 1886 was declared a public holiday, with leaders from both France and the United States in attendance. President Grover Cleveland, formerly the governor of New York, presided over the event. After some introductory speeches, Cleveland addressed the cheering crowd, proclaiming that the statue's "stream of light shall pierce the darkness of ignorance and man's oppression until Liberty enlightens the world."

One hundred years later, on July 4, 1986, the United States threw "a special birthday party" for the Statue of Liberty. With a golden sunset glowing in the background, President Ronald Reagan declared, "We are the keepers of the flame of liberty; we hold it high for the world to see." Later, Reagan pressed a button that sent a laser beam across the water toward the statue. Slowly, dramatically, majestically, a light show unveiled Liberty and her new torch while spectacular fireworks exploded across the sky."

Monday, June 18, 2018

William Henry Harrison, the Election of 1840, and a Brief Constitutional Crisis

William Henry Harrison took the Oath of Office on a freezing cold day. Standing in the frigid weather without a coat or hat, the 68-year-old military hero delivered the longest inaugural address in American history. At more than 8,000 words, it took nearly two hours to read (even after Daniel Webster had edited it for length!).

A few days later, Harrison caught a bad cold which quickly turned into pneumonia. Doctors tried to cure the president with opium, castor oil, Virginia snakeweed, and other remedies, but the treatments only made Harrison worse, and he died on April 4, 1841. The first American president to die in office, Harrison served only 31 days.


Only lasting a month, Harrison's presidency is too short to provide insight into his culinary habits, but one thing is certain: his death caused a constitutional crisis involving presidential succession. The question was whether Vice-President John Tyler would be “acting” as President or actually become President upon Harrison's death.

Article II of the Constitution could be read either way. The relevant text states:

In Case of the Removal of the President from Office, or of his Death, Resignation, or Inability to discharge the Powers and Duties of the said Office, the Same shall devolve on the VicePresident...

Did "the Same" mean the Office of the Presidency itself or merely the powers and duties of the office?

After consulting with Chief Justice Roger Taney (who responded with extreme caution, saying he wished to avoid raising "the suspicion of desiring to intrude into the affairs which belong to another branch of government"), Harrison’s advisors decided that if Tyler simply took the Oath of Office, he would become president. Despite his own strong reservations, Tyler obliged and was sworn in as the 10th president of the United States on April 6, 1841.

When Congress convened in May, it passed a resolution that confirmed Tyler as president. Once established, this precedent of presidential succession remained in effect until the Twenty-Fifth Amendment of the Constitution was ratified in 1967.


FOOD FACT: Used by Harrison's doctors, castor oil comes from the seed of the castor bean plant. It, along with many other plants, herbs, oils, and weeds has been used to treat human disease for thousands of years. In the food industry, castor oil is used in all kinds of additives, flavorings, and candies.

FAST FACT: Harrison’s death resulted in three presidents serving in one year (Martin Van Buren, Harrison, and Tyler). This has happened on only one other occassion in American history. In 1881, Rutherford B. Hayes was succeeded by James Garfield, who died from an assassin's bullet later that year, and Chester Arthur became president.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Lyndon Johnson's Barbecue Diplomacy and a Brief History of Father's Day


Some historians say that the origins of Father’s Day can be traced to a young woman by the name of Sonora Smart Dodd, who reportedly came up with the idea while listening to a Mother’s Day sermon in Spokane, Washington in 1909. Raised by her widowed father, a Civil War veteran who had lost his wife after the birth of their sixth child, Sonora felt that her father should be honored in the same way that mothers were on Mother’s Day.

Toward that end, a special Father’s Day observance was held on June 19, 1910. Although that celebration was a local affair, the idea of a national Father’s Day picked up steam when it was endorsed by President Calvin Coolidge in 1924, but it would take another thirty years before Father’s Day was recognized by a Joint Resolution of Congress. Then, in 1966, the first presidential proclamation honoring fathers was issued by Lyndon Johnson, who designated the third Sunday in June as Father's Day.

Although it’s hard to say what Johnson ate on that particular day, it’s likely that the Texan native requested a barbecue. Barbecuing, of course, has been used as a tool in American politics since the early nineteenth century, but no politician ever used “the conviviality and informality of cooking and eating outdoors” more than Johnson.


But the most important barbecue ever planned for the LBJ Ranch never took place. This is what happened:

It was scheduled for November 23, 1963, when President Kennedy, Johnson, and their entourages were planning to dine beneath the oaks on the Pedernales. But a few hours before they were to board the choppers from Dallas to Johnson City, on November 22, Kennedy was assassinated two cars in front of Johnson as they drove in a motorcade.

A month later, the Johnson family retreated to the ranch on Christmas Eve. West German Chancellor Ludwig Erhard was scheduled to visit the President to discuss the Soviet threat, the Berlin Wall, and other important matters. Rather than return to Washington for a formal State Dinner, Lyndon invited Erhard on down to what historians claim was the first official Presidential barbecue in history. Yes, Johnson's first state dinner was a barbecue for 300 catered by Walter Jetton on December 29, 1963.

When his staff realized it would be chilly that day, the sit-down part was moved indoors to Stonewall High School gymnasium, about two miles away. Workers did an admirable job of creating an outdoorsy feel with bales of hay, red lanterns, red-checkered table cloths, saddles, lassos, and mariachis. According to Lady Bird's diary, "there were beans (pinto beans, always), delicious barbecued spareribs, cole slaw, followed by fried apricot pies with lots of hot coffee. And plenty of beer."


Although those recipes may have been lost to posterity, some Johnson family favorites included Pedernales River Chili, Chipped Beef with Cream, Beef Stroganoff, Tapioca Pudding, and Lady Bird enjoyed handing out her recipe for Barbecue Sauce. If you’d like to add a little zip to your Father's Day celebrations this weekend, here's a great recipe to try and here's Lady Bird's original recipe:


¼ cup butter
¼ cup vinegar
¼ cup ketchup
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes to taste

Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add other ingredients and bring to a boil. Add Tabasco sauce to taste.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Andrew Jackson Benne Wafers

Andrew Jackson was so strong-willed that his enemies called him King Andrew I, portraying him as a tyrannical ruler who abused presidential powers and trampled on the constitution.

During his two terms of office, Jackson vetoed the recharter of the Second Bank of the United States, signed the “Tariff of Abominations” which led to the Nullification Crisis and ignored an important Supreme Court decision protecting Native American rights.

Jackson was also no stranger to slavery. More than 150 slaves worked day and night at his stately Tennessee mansion "The Hermitage" where cooks prepared his favorite southern foods, including Braised Duck, Chicken Hash, Old Hickory Soup and Wild Barbecued Goose.


Popular in the south throughout the nineteenth century, Benne Wafers were another Jackson family favorite. Today, these delightfully light, crisp, paper-thin cookies can still be found in bakeries and candy shops throughout the south.

If you'd like to whip up a batch of Benne Wafers today, here's a a recipe to try from CookinCanuck.com and here's another one that's simple to make and tastes simply delicious!


¾ cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
4 tablespoons (½ stick) butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
½ cup all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325º F. Cover cookie sheet with parchment paper or lightly grease it. In a heavy skillet over medium heat, toast the sesame seeds until they are golden brown, about 4 minutes.

In a medium bowl, beat the brown sugar and butter together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add to the butter, sugar and egg mixture and mix until well-combined. Stir in the sesame seeds and vanilla.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheet about 3 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned. Let cool for a few minutes and then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

Credit: Jackson in 1824, painting by Thomas Sully.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Royal State Dinner at the Reagan White House!

The wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on July 29, 1981 has been aptly described as one of the most celebrated spectacles of the Reagan era. But because of the assassination attempt on President Reagan four months earlier, he couldn't attend, but he encouraged his wife Nancy to “serve as the United States representative at the event.”

Rising to the occasion, Mrs. Reagan traveled to England and spent one week in London, which was the longest amount of time she had been away from her husband in their then-twenty-nine years of marriage. During her stay, the First Lady attended eighteen events on behalf of the nation, including "a ball at Buckingham Palace, a dinner at the American Embassy, tea with the Queen Mother, and lunch with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.”


According to the Ronald Reagan Foundation,

Mrs. Reagan was an especially appropriate delegate for the United States to send to the Royal Wedding. The Reagans had met Prince Charles many years earlier, when Ronald Reagan was Governor of California. Also, in March of 1975 Ronald and Nancy had met Margaret Thatcher, and the future president and future prime minister found they shared a special connection even then...

Over the years, the President and Mrs. Reagan expressed their immense respect for their British friends in many ways, saving the first and last state dinners to honor Margaret Thatcher. Her Royal Majesty Queen Elizabeth II attended the first dinner in February 1981, and the Queen returned the honor when she hosted a state dinner for the Reagans’ visit to London when the president addressed Parliament in 1982.



The following year, Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip visited Rancho del Cielo, the Reagans’ Santa Barbara ranch, and invited the Reagans aboard the royal yacht Brittania to celebrate an anniversary dinner. But of all the Royal visits to the Reagan White House, none were more memorable than the star-studded State Dinner held in honor of the Prince and Princess of Wales on November 9, 1985. As the BBC reported:

Prince Charles and Princess Diana have ended the first day of their much-vaunted trip to the USA at a gala dinner in Washington, hosted by President Reagan and his wife Nancy. They mixed with movie stars, such as Clint Eastwood, John Travolta, Tom Selleck and the singer Neil Diamond as well as politicians and businessmen.

A small group of anti-British IRA supporters protested outside and there were a few slip-ups during the glamorous event. For a moment President Reagan forgot the Princess of Wales' name during an after-dinner speech to guests. "Permit me to add our congratulations to Prince Charles on his birthday just five days away," he said, "and express also our great happiness that...er...Princess David...Princess Diane (sic) is here on her first trip to the United States."


According to the report, the Princess herself, still suffering from jetlag, momentarily forgot to return the toast. But all that was forgotten when she famously took to the dance floor with John Travolta in her midnight blue velvet dress and sapphire and diamond choker.

Earlier in the evening, an elegant dinner was held in the State Dining room, where ballet great Mikhail Baryshnikov was seated next to Princess Diana, while Prince Charles sat between actress Beverly Sills and the First Lady. In addition to Neal Diamond, Clint Eastwood, Tom Selleck, and Travolta, other well-known personalities who attended the affair included fasion icons Gloria Vanderbilt and Estee Lauder, Olympic figure skater Dorothy Hamill, and architect I.M. Pei.


According to White House chef Henry Haller, the dinner menu that evening "was carefully designed to suit the noble tastes of the Prince and Princess, and to appeal to the varied tastes of their table mates. Since the Prince favors fish and fowl, the meal featured fennel-flavored lobster mousse as the first course and lightly glazed chicken for the entree."

If you'd like to whip up some Lobster Mousse for your next formal gathering, here is a delicious recipe to try from the New York Times:

1/2 pound cooked lobster meat
3/4 cup clam broth
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
2 ribs celery, chopped fine
2 tablespoons finely chopped onion
1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup minced parsley
1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
Salt, white pepper to taste
Juice of one lemon
Curly kale

Cut lobster into 1/2-inch pieces. Sprinkle gelatin over broth. Place over low heat; stir until thoroughly dissolved. Cool. Whip cream. Combine celery, onion, mustard, parsley, whipped cream, 1/4 cup mayonnaise, salt and pepper, lobster and cooled broth and mix thoroughly.

Spoon into 1-quart mold and seal tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until firm, at least four hours or overnight. To serve, mix remaining mayonnaise with lemon juice. Unmold mousse and serve on curly kale, with lemon mayonnaise poured over the top. Serve with homemade Melba toast.

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Sunday, April 1, 2018

Lucy Hayes and a Brief History of the Easter Egg Roll at the White House!


Some historians claim that Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll on White House grounds while others tell stories of informal egg-rolling parties dating back to Abraham Lincoln's administration. What is clear, however, is that, beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all social levels celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol where children rolled brilliantly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the terraced lawn.

This practice ended in 1876, however, when lawmakers complained that eggs shells were destroying the grass. To resolve this problem, a group of party-poopers in Congress passed the Turf Protection Act which banned egg rolls from Capital grounds, and President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law later that year. Fortunately, the tradition was revived in 1878 when First Lady Lucy Hayes invited children of all ages to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, a tradition that has continued ever since.

According to this article in Time Magazine:

Some 53,000 people attended the egg roll in 1941...though in modern times the number is generally under 20,000. Calvin Coolidge's wife mingled through crowds while holding a pet raccoon named Rebecca, while Mrs. Warren G. Harding put on the uniform of her beloved Girl Scouts for the event.

Showcasing modern technology, Eleanor Roosevelt welcomed crowds and addressed listeners across the country via radio in 1933, while the Clinton administration proudly announced that 1998's egg roll would be the first broadcast on the Internet.


In 2016, the Obamas hosted the 138th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, March 28, when more than 35,000 people joined them on the South Lawn for games, stories, and, of course, the traditional egg roll.


And while the menu for this year's traditional White House Easter Brunch (if there is one!) hasn't been released, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that menu items in 2008 included Honey Baked Ham with Maple Mustard Sauce, Eggs Benedict, spinach salad, waffles, sauteed asparagus, biscuits and cheese grits.

If you'd like whip up some Eggs Benedict for your Easter brunch this Sunday, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from the Food Network:


1 teaspoon vinegar
4 eggs
4 thin slices Canadian bacon
2 English muffins

Hollandaise sauce:

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and hot
Salt and pepper
Paprika and chopped parsley

In large skillet, bring 2 inches of water and vinegar to a boil. Crack one egg into a glass. Reduce water to a simmer and pour egg into water. Add remaining eggs and cook for 4 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and drain. In a non-stick skillet heat the bacon until warm. Toast the English muffins until golden.

For sauce: Place yolks, water and lemon juice into blender. Blend for 1 minute. With blender running, pour butter through open hole of lid. Season with salt and pepper. To assemble: Top each muffin with bacon and a poached egg. Pour the warm sauce over and garnish with paprika and the chopped parsley.

FAST FACT: The Easter Egg Roll was held at the White House every year in the 20th century except during World War I, World War II, and the Truman Renovation of the White House, when it was moved to nearby locations or cancelled. Ronald Reagan was the first president to hide autographed eggs for children to find and Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon were the first to include the Easter Bunny in the festivities. Years earlier, First Lady Grace Coolidge made an appearance at the Easter Egg Roll in the 1920s with her pet racooon Rebecca!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

George Bush, Barack Obama, and the Politics of Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwiches

George Bush's memoir Decision Points has been described by the New York Times as "an autobiography focused around 'the most consequential decisions' of his presidency and his personal life from his decision to give up drinking in 1986 to his decision to invade Iraq in 2003 to his decisions regarding the financial crisis of 2008." According to the Product Description of the book:

President Bush brings readers inside the Texas Governor’s Mansion on the night of the hotly contested 2000 election; aboard Air Force One on 9/11, in the hours after America’s most devastating attack since Pearl Harbor; at the head of the table in the Situation Room in the moments before launching the war in Iraq; and behind the Oval Office desk for his historic and controversial decisions on the financial crisis, Hurricane Katrina, Afghanistan, Iran, and other issues that have shaped the first decade of the 21st century...

With so many momentous issues to review, it's not surprising that Mr. Bush didn't bother to mention his favorite foods, but...in an interview with Oprah Winfrey during the 2000 presidential campaign, he did say that his favorite sandwich is peanut butter and jelly on white bread.
.

Eight years later, during the 2008 presidential campaign, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches once again made national headlines. Responding to charges that his economic policies were socialistic in nature, Barack Obama ridiculed his opponent John McCain for constantly resorting to trivialities and distractions:

Now, because he knows that his economic theories don't work, he's been spending these last few days calling me every name in the book. Lately he's called me a socialist for wanting to roll-back the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans so we can finally give tax relief to the middle class. I don't know what's next. By the end of the week he'll be accusing me of being a secret communist because I shared my toys in kindergarten. I shared my peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
.

Although neither Bush nor Obama mentioned how they prefer their PB&Js to be made, we do know that John Harvey Kellogg, the cereal pioneer, was the first person to receive a patent for the process of making peanut butter in 1895. According to Andrew Smith's Peanuts: The Illustrious History of the Goober Pea, early peanut butters had several problems:

The first was that peanut oil has a melting point below room temperature. Gravity separated the oil, which then oxidized and turned rancid. Likewise, salt added to the peanut butter separated and crystallized. Grocers received peanut butter in tubs or pails and were advised to use a wooden paddle to stir it frequently...

During the early years of the twentieth century, William Norman, an English chemist, invented a method of saturating unsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids, thus preventing them from turning rancid. In 1922, Joseph L. Rosefield...applied these principles to peanut butter [and] developed a process to prevent oil separation and spoilage in peanut butter...The result was a semisolid peanut butter [that]...was thick and creamy and did not stick to the roof of the mouth as much as previous products.



Selecting the name "Skippy" for his product, Rosefield introduced creamy and chunky-style peanut butter in 1932. Three years later, the company inaugurated its first wide-mouth peanut-butter jar, which quickly became the industry standard. And in less than twenty five years, peanut butter had "evolved from a hand ground delicacy to a mass-produced commercial commodity sold in almost every grocery store in America."


FOOD FACT: Florence Cowles' 1928 cookbook Seven Hundred Sandwiches includes dozens of creative recipes for peanut butter sandwiches, including: Peanut Butter and Egg Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cabbage Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Marshmallow Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Prune Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cherry Sandwich, Peanut Butter and Cheese Sandwich, and Peanut Butter and Olive Sandwich made with Mayonnaise on Rye. Oh my!

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Dolley Madison Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream


Legend has it that in the early nineteenth century, a freed slave named Sallie Shadd went into her family’s catering business in Wilmington, Delaware. Sallie supposedly achieved fame there for a fabulous new dessert sensation she created with frozen cream, sugar, and fruit.

When Dolley Madison heard about this new dessert, she supposedly traveled to Delaware to try it - and she must have loved it because a "magnificent pink dome of ice cream" was served at President Madison’s second Inaugural Ball in 1813, and ice cream often appeared as a dessert on the White House menu during her husband's two terms of office.


If you'd like to whip up some Fresh Strawberry Ice Cream this week, here's a fabulous recipe to try from epicurious.com:

1 3/4 cups heavy cream
3 (3- by 1-inch) strips fresh lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1 lb strawberries (3 cups), trimmed and quartered
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Special equipment: an ice-cream maker and an instant-read thermometer

Combine cream, zest, and salt in a heavy saucepan and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and discard zest. Whisk eggs with 1/2 cup sugar in a bowl, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking.

Pour back into saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until slightly thickened and an instant-read thermometer registers 170°F (do not let boil).

Immediately pour custard through a fine sieve into a metal bowl, then cool to room temperature, stirring occasionally. Chill, overed, at least until cold, about 2 hours, and up to 1 day.


While custard is chilling, purée strawberries with remaining 1/4 cup sugar and lemon juice in a blender until smooth, then force through fine sieve into chilled custard. Stir purée into custard. Freeze in ice-cream maker, then transfer to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden.

Monday, February 19, 2018

George Washington Cherry Cobbler

An early nineteenth century American book peddler, itinerant preacher and author, "Parson" Mason Locke Weems is best known today as the source of some of the most beloved if apocryphal stories about George Washington. The famous story of George and the Cherry Tree is included in Weems' masterpiece, The Life and Memorable Actions of Washington, which was originally published in 1800 (the year after Washington's death) and was an immediate best-seller.

Reprinted in ever more inventive editions over the next 25 years, it contains, according to Edward Lengel, "some of the most beloved lies of American history, including the cherry tree myth" and other exaggerated or invented anecdotes that extolled Washington’s virtues and provided an entertaining and morally instructive tale for the young republic.

In telling his cherry tree story, Weems attributed it to "an aged lady,” who was reportedly a distant relative of George, and who, as a young girl, supposedly spent much time with him. This is how the fable unfolded:

"When George was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother's pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don't believe the tree ever got the better of it.


The next morning, [George’s father], finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favorite, came into the house, and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree.

Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. "George," said his father, "do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden?" This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, "I can't tell a lie, Pa; you know I can't tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet."

“Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, “run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”


Although plausible enough, historians generally agree that this quaint story is almost certainly not true. What is true, however, is that George was particularly fond of cherries, and Martha Washington's Booke of Cookery contains several family “receipts” for preserving this sweet and tangy highly versatile fruit.

Of course, then, as today, sweet and sour cherries can be used in all kinds of pies, tarts, jellies, jams, breads, muffins, and soups, as well as in a fabulously wide array of cobblers, like this recipe for cherry cobbler, which George surely would have loved had he had time to try it during his extraordinarily illustrious life:


Crust: 1 1/4 cups flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons yellow cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
1 large egg yolk
3 tablespoons cold milk, cream or water

Filling: 2 cups cherry preserves
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting

In the workbowl of a food processor, combine the flour, sugar, cornmeal and salt. Pulse to combine. Add the butter, toss carefully with your hands to coat the butter cubes in flour. Pulse in the food processor several times until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add the egg and 2 tablespoons of milk, cream or water, and pulse until the dough begins to come together in a ball. Add the additional tablespoon of liquid if needed until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and knead it briefly to shape it into a disk about 5 inches across. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a shape a ½ inch wider than the tart pan you are using. Loosely fold the dough in half and transfer it to the tart pan.

Line the pan with the dough, being. Trim any excess dough from the rim of the pan, leaving a blunt neat edge. Gather the trimmings into a ball (it should be about the size of a pingpong ball). Wrap the tart and the ball of dough in plastic and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Heat to 375 degrees. Remove tart pan from refrigerator and spread the marmalade evenly over the crust. Grate the chilled ball of pastry onto the filling, and sprinkle the almonds over the top. Bake until the pastry is golden, the filling is bubbly and the almonds are toasted, 40 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool. When the tart is completely cool, dust with confectioners' sugar. Serve at room temperature.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Abraham Lincoln Kentucky Corncakes

Abraham Lincoln and his wife Mary were great animal lovers and allowed their four young sons to keep all sorts of pets on White House grounds. Among other animals, Abe and his family had three cats, a dog named Fido, rabbits, horses, and two rambunctious billygoats named Nanny and Nunko.

Another was a wild turkey named Jack with whom Lincoln’s youngest son Tad played with daily. When it came time for Jack to be sacrificed for a Christmas dinner, Tad supposedly begged his dad to spare the turkey’s life, and, to this day, the White House maintains the tradition of “pardoning” two turkeys each holiday season!


Although it’s a "tad" early to be thinking about preparing your next holiday dinner, you can whip up a batch of Kentucky Corncakes, which are a great side dish at just about any meal and were a Lincoln family favorite. If you’d like to make some Kentucky Corncakes today, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from the Food Network:



FAST FACT: According to the Miller Center, the Lincoln family's routine in the White House reflected "the presence of their sons, the demands of war, and the highly complex and many-sided character of Abraham and Mary. [T]he day went from breakfast together as a family at 8:00 in the morning, reunion again for dinner at 8:00 in the evening, and then bedtime. Until little Willie's death in 1862, the two younger sons demanded a good deal of attention, and both parents gave them ample attention, although Lincoln grew more distant as the war progressed and occupied much of his day."

Monday, February 5, 2018

Lou Henry Hoover and the First Organized Girl Scout Cookie Drive in 1935


So did you know that Herbert Hoover’s wife "Lou" served as president of the Girl Scouts and helped coordinate one of the first Girl Scout Cookie Drives in 1935? Sixty five years later, in April of 2000, the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum held an exhibit entiitled, American Women! A Celebration of Our History. One exhibit depicted Lou Hoover’s lifelong commitment to the Girl Scouts. This is how the placard read:

A woman nicknamed "Daisy" started the Girl Scouts of the U.S.A. with 18 girls. And a tomboy called "Lou" helped the organization grow into its current membership of over 3.5 million! Lou Henry grew up enjoying the outdoor life, and was the first women to receive a degree in geology from Stanford. She traveled the world with her husband Herbert Hoover, and assisted him with his mining ventures and famine relief activities.

During World War I she met up with Juliette Low [Daisy], and was a Girl Scout for the next 25 years. As First Lady and national leader of the Girl Scouts, Hoover quietly aided people in need during the Depression, and was also the first to desegregate White House social functions.

Lou remained a Scout the rest of her life and led the first Girl Scout cookie drive in 1935. Juliette Low and Lou Henry Hoover brought together girls from the North and South, wealthy and poor, black and white, athletic and handicapped – instilling confidence that all women can develop their potential to be whatever they wish to be.


In the 1920s and 1930s, Girl Scouts all across the country baked their own simple sugar cookies with their mothers. They then packaged their coookies in wax paper bags sealed with a sticker and sold them door-to-door for 25 to 35 cents a dozen.


Today, of course, there is a wide array of commercially baked Girl Scouts cookies to choose from, including such traditional favorites as Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, and Thin Mints! If you'd like to whip up a batch of cookies with your kids today, here's the original recipe for Early Girl Scout Cookies® from The Girl Scouts of the United States of America.


1 cup butter
1 cup sugar plus additional amount for topping (optional)
2 eggs
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder

Cream butter and the cup of sugar; add well-beaten eggs, then milk, vanilla, flour, salt, and baking powder. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. Roll dough, cut into trefoil shapes, and sprinkle sugar on top, if desired. Bake in a quick oven (375°) for approximately 8 to 10 minutes or until the edges begin to brown. Makes six- to seven-dozen cookies.

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Friday, January 26, 2018

Thomas Jefferson's Vegetable Garden

So did you know that Thomas Jefferson's vegetable garden at Monticello was one thousand feet long and contained more than 250 varieties of more than 75 species of plants from around the world?

Carved into a terraced, slopping hilltop, and tended by elderly slaves, called “veteran aides,” Jefferson’s garden was divided into twenty-four rectangular squares, or growing plots, arranged according to which part of the plant was to be harvested, be it roots (carrots and beets), leaves (lettuce and cabbage) or fruits (tomatoes, peas, and beans).


Among the many exotic new plants grown there were beans and salsify collected by the Lewis and Clark expedition, figs from France, peppers from Mexico, and broccoli and squash imported from Italy. As methodical as a botanist, Jefferson recorded the results of his planting experiments in his Garden Book, noting such events as the dates that seeds were planted, when leaves appeared, and when his favorite vegetables were ready to eat.

Biographers say that Jefferson’s favorite vegetables included tomatoes, turnip greens, corn, and sweet potatoes. He was also particularly fond of the English pea, and, by staggering the time of their planting, he and his many dinner guests were able to enjoy them from mid-May through mid-July.

According to historians at Monticello:

Jefferson might have taken special note of the English pea because of an annual neighborhood contest to see which farmer could bring to table the first peas of spring. The winner would host the other contestants in a dinner that included the peas. Though Jefferson's mountaintop garden, with its southern exposure to warmth and light, should have provided an advantage for the contest, it seems that the contest was almost always won by a neighbor named George Divers.

As Jefferson's grandson recalled: "A wealthy neighbor [Divers], without children, and fond of horticulture, generally triumphed. Mr. Jefferson, on one occasion had them first, and when his family reminded him that it was his right to invite the company, he replied, 'No, say nothing about it, it will be more agreeable to our friend to think that he never fails.'"



If you'd like to whip up a dish of delicious and nutritious sweet English Peas this week, here's a simple recipe to try from recipe doodle.com and this one from epicurious.com

1 spring onion, sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups English peas, shelled (about 12 ounces)
6 mint leaves, torn
Salt
Water

Sauté the spring onion in two tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the shelled peas, a pinch of salt, and enough water to barely cover. Cook over high heat for 2 minutes, then add the torn mint leaves. Continue cooking until the peas are tender, a few more minutes.

FOOD FACT: When English colonists arrived in America, "pease" were one of the first crops to be planted. This makes sense because peas are nutritious and easy to preserve and ship. They also keep for long periods of time, as reflected in the old  children's rhyming song, "Pease Porridge Hot." Maybe you remember the lyrics: Pease porridge hot/Pease porridge cold/Pease porridge in the pot/Nine days old!

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Richard Nixon Family-Style Meatloaf


Around 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1972, five men, one of whom was a former employee of the CIA, were arrested in what authorities would later describe as "an enormous plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee" at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C.

It was an election year, and, as the investigation into the break-in unfolded, a pattern of unlawful activites within President Richard Nixon's administration was uncovered by the press. Together, these federal crimes and misdeeds would become known as "the Watergate scandal" and lead to Nixon's resignation from the Office of the Presidency on August 9, 1974.

On his final day in office, Nixon reportedly awoke at 7:00 a.m. after "a fitful night." After a light breakfast, Nixon signed a one-sentence Letter of Resignation and said an emotional goodbye to his staff. Shortly after 9:00 a.m. he entered the East Room and made a brief Farewell Address to an overflow crowd of White House staff and Cabinet members. He then joined Gerald Ford for a short walk across the South Lawn to a helicopter that would whisk him away into history.


The previous evening, Nixon had delivered a televised Resignation Address to the nation. After acknowledging that he had lost the support of Congress and saying, "I have never been a quitter," Nixon said:

To leave office before my term is completed is abhorent to every instinct in my body. But as President I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office. As I recall the high hopes for America with which we began this second term, I feel a great sadness that I will not be here in this office working on your behalf to achieve those hopes in the next 2 1/2 years.


It doesn't take too much investigative work to uncover records of what Nixon ate for breakfast on his final day in office, as it has been reported that it consisted of a small plate of cottage cheese with sliced pineapple and a glass of milk.


White House Chef Henry Haller later revealed that, at breakfast, Nixon "liked fresh fruit, wheat germ with nondairy creamer and coffee." At dinner, Nixon enjoyed Sirloin Steak, cooked medium-rare and lightly seasoned; Chicken Cordon Blue; and more simple dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs. He was also fond of his wife Patricia's Family-Style Meatloaf. According to Haller:

Meat loaf appeared about once a month on the family dinner menus. As soon as the public became aware of this fact, the White House was inundated with inquires for the recipe that so pleased the presidential palate. To ease my burden, Mrs. Nixon's meat loaf recipe was printed on White House stationery to be sent in response to the thousands of requests for it.

If you'd like to get a taste of Pat Nixon's Meatloaf at your next family dinner, here's a recipe to try here and here's the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:


2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 slices white bead
1 cup milk
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Melt butter in a saute pan, add garlic and saute until just golden. Let cool. Dice bread and soak it in milk. In a large mixing bowl, mix ground beef by hand with sauteed onions and garlic and bread pieces. Add eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme and marjoram and mix by hand in a circular motion.

Turn this mixture into the prepared baking pan and pat into a loaf shape, leaving at least one inch of space around the edges to allow fat to run off. Brush the top with the tomato puree and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to penetrate the loaf.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake meatloaf on lower shelf of oven for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat while baking and after meat is fully cooked. Let stand on wire rack for five minutes before slicing.


FAST FACT: A year and a half before Nixon resigned, an entirely different calamity reportedly unfolded in Washington. This time, it didn't involve illegal break-ins and phone taps but...pigeons! It all began the day before Nixon's second inaugural parade when attempts were made to clear pigeons from Pennsylvania Avenue.

Upon Nixon's request, the inaugural committeee spent $13,000 to smear tree branches with a chemical repellent called “Roost No More” which was supposed to drive the bothersome birds away by making their feet itch. Sadly, many of the pigeons ate the stuff and keeled over, leaving the parade route littered with "dead and dying birds which had to be hurriedly swept away.”

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Andrew Johnson Hoppin John

At the end of the Civil War, the South lay in ruins. Southern plantations and entire cities had been destroyed during the war. Without food, many southerners starved to death, and most of those who survived lost just about everything they owned. As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South.

As president, Andrew Johnson took charge of the first phase of Reconstruction. But his attempt to quickly readmit the former Confederate states into the union and his vetoes of important civil rights bills outraged Radical Republicans in Congress.

The House of Representatives impeached Johnson in 1868, but he was acquitted by a single vote in the Senate, and historians say that his victory “marked the beginning of an ambitious series of receptions, dinners and children’s parties that would turn the last nine months of his term into an ongoing celebration.”


After leaving office, Johnson returned to his native state of Tennessee where he consumed such traditional foods as Hush Puppies, Benne Wafers, Hoppin’ John and Pine Bark Stew. Still popular in the south, Hoppin' John is often the high point of New Year's Day festivities and is thought to bring good luck and prosperity throughout the coming year.

If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John for your New Year's festivities this week, you can't go wrong with this quick and delicious recipe from Emeril Lagasse.


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large ham hock
1 cup onion, chopped
1/2 cup celery, chopped
1/2 cup green pepper, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1 pound black-eyed peas, soaked overnight and rinsed
1 quart chicken stock
1 Bay leaf
1 teaspoon dry thyme leaves
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne
3 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
3 cups steamed white rice

Heat oil in a large pot, add ham hock and sear on all sides for 4 minutes. Add the onion, celery, green pepper, and garlic, and cook for 4 minutes. Add the peas, stock, bay leaves, thyme, and seasonings. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 40 minutes, or until the peas are creamy and tender. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions.