Sunday, December 26, 2010

Andrew Jackson Benne (Sesame) Wafers

Andrew Jackson was so strong-willed that his political enemies dubbed 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 important Supreme Court decisions 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, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from simplyrecipes.com.

1 cup sesame seeds, toasted
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. fresh-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F. Cover cookie sheets in parchment paper, silpat sheets, or lightly oil them. Toast the sesame seeds in a heavy skillet over medium heat until they are golden brown.

Beat brown sugar and butter together in a medium-sized bowl for several minutes until fluffy. Beat in the egg. Whisk together the flour, salt, and baking powder, then add dry ingredients to the butter, sugar, egg mixture, mix well. Stir in the toasted sesame seeds, vanilla extract, and lemon juice.

Drop by teaspoonful onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving space for the cookies to spread. Bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until the edges are slightly brown. Cool for a minute or two on the cookie sheets, then transfer to a rack to continue cooling.

FAST FACT: As a soldier and general, Jackson was said to be as tough as "Old Hickory," a very tough wood. Sadly, his father died before he was born and his mother and two brothers died before he reached the age of 15. Orphaned and alone, Andrew had to take care of himself from a very young age, which may explain why he became such a “tough” young man.

FOOD FACT: Benne (an African word for sesame) might have been brought from East Africa and planted throughout the South during the colonial era. Other foods brought from Africa in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries include peanuts, sweet potatoes, okra, black-eyed peas and collard greens!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

James Monroe, Valley Forge, and Spoon Bread

So did you know that while serving in the Continental Army, James Monroe crossed the Delaware with George Washington, fought at the Battle of Trenton, and endured the harsh winter at Valley Forge? Among the patriots encamped at Valley Forge were Benedict Arnold, Alexander Hamilton, the Marquis de Lafayette, and the future Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall.

Another soldier there was Dr. Albigence Waldo, a surgeon from Connecticut, whose diary provides perhaps the best account we have of conditions that winter at Valley Forge:

Dec. 21st., Preparations made for hutts. Provision Scarce...sent a Letter to my Wife. Heartily wish myself at home, my Skin & eyes are almost spoiled with continual smoke. A general cry thro' the Camp this Evening among the Soldiers, "No Meat!, No Meat!", the Distant vales Echo'd back the melancholly sound, "No Meat! No Meat! "What have you for our Dinners Boys?" Nothing but Fire Cake & Water, Sir." At night, "Gentlemen the Supper is ready." What is your Supper, Lads? " Fire Cake & Water, Sir..."

Dec. 22nd., Lay excessive Cold & uncomfortable last Night, my eyes are started out from their Orbits like a Rabbit's eyes, occation'd by a great Cold, and Smoke. What have you got for Breakfast, Lads ? " Fire Cake & Water, Sir." I am ashamed to say it, but I am tempted to steal Fowls if I could find them, or even a whole Hog, for I feel as if I could eat one...But why do I talk of hunger & hard usage, when so many in the World have not even fire Cake & Water to eat...


Before the end of the war, Monroe returned to Virginia and studied law under Thomas Jefferson. He then served as governor of Virginia and was appointed as U.S. Minister to France. Like Jefferson, Monroe developed a taste for fancy French cuisine while serving overseas, but biographers say that he retained a fondness for Chicken Pudding, Spoon Bread, and other simple foods of his Virginia youth.

Because it has a consistency similar to pudding, Spoon Bread is usually served straight from the baking pan with a spoon. If you'd like to whip up a batch this winter, here is a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from epicurious.com:

1 cup sweet potato, mashed
1 cup corn meal
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
3 tablespoons butter
1 cup evaporated milk
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Directions: Preheat oven to 375. In a heat proof bowl, mix cornmeal and salt. Add boiling water and mix well. Add mashed sweet potato, sugar, baking powder, and milk mix well. Add eggs and mix well. Set aside for a few minutes. Grease cast iron skillet or metal baking pan with oil, allow extra oil to stay in pan. Heat pan with oil in it over medium heat until oil is hot but not smoking. Pour batter into hot skillet and place in hot oven. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Spoon bread should rise like a souffle, pull away from sides, and brown on top.

FAST FACT: So did you know that in Emmanuel Luetz’s painting “Washington Crossing the Delaware” James Monroe is depicted directly behind Washington, holding an American flag up against the storm? If you would like to see this painting some day (it measures 12 feet high and 21 feet long!), it is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

Thanks for stopping by THE HISTORY CHEF! For a free excerpt of my new book from Simon and Schuster please click here!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Regal Splendor of the Presidential Palace

Having witnessed the chaos of Andrew Jackson’s "levees" first hand, Martin Van Buren prohibited all food and drink from public receptions. Privately, however, he hosted many extravagant dinner parties at the White House. Using gold plated spoons that James Monroe had purchased years earlier in France, Van Buren added the finest quality cut wine glasses, water bottles, and goblets. He also purchased expensive European finger bowls in which he daintily rinsed his fingers after a night of fine dining.

Before the Election of 1840, Charles Ogle, a Whig Congressman from Pennsylvania, rose to speak in the House of Representatives and launched into a three-hour attack on Van Buren’s luxurious lifestyle. After describing the “Regal Splendor of the Presidential Palace,” Ogle turned his attention to Van Buren’s “kingly” dinner table. Setting the scene for a packed gallery, Ogle dramatically proclaimed:

Mr. Chairman...Let us enter [the] palace, and survey its spacious courts, its gorgeous banqueting halls, its sumptuous drawing rooms, its glittering and dazzling saloons, with all their magnificent and sumptuous array of gold and silver...I cannot forbear…to read you a description of the Great Banqueting Hall...who can deny that this room, intended for the comfort of our democratic Chief Magistrate, is adorned with regal splendor far above any of the grand saloons at Buckingham Palace...or Windsor Castle...

In my opinion, it is time the people of the United States should know that their money goes to buy for their plain hard-handed democratic President, knives, forks, and spoons of gold, that he may dine in the style of the monarchs of Europe...What sir, will the honest locofoco say to Mr. Van Buren for spending the People’s cash [on] GREEN FINGER CUPS in which to wash his pretty tapering, soft, white, lily fingers, after dining on Fricandeau de Veau and Omelette Soufflé?


Outraged, Democrats condemned Ogle’s speech and tried to show that William Henry Harrison was the true aristocrat in the campaign. But the damage was done, and Harrison, at the age of sixty-seven, became the oldest person elected to the American presidency, a distinction he held until the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

FAST FACT: Ironically, it was Van Buren who was born into a working class family while Harrison was from a very wealthy political family and his father was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Charles Dickens at the White House

One of the most famous guests to dine at the White House during John Tyler’s presidency was the great English writer, Charles Dickens. Upon his arrival to the United States, Dickens was honored at an extravagant ball in New York City, where he was greeted by such famous American writers as Washington Irving, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Edgar Allan Poe.

A few days later, Dickens met John Tyler in the White House and later penned this about the president: He looked somewhat worn and anxious, and well he might; being at war with everybody - but the expression of his face was mild and pleasant, and his manner was remarkably unaffected, gentlemanly, and agreeable.

Although Dickens seemed to like Tyler, he strongly disliked the American institution of slavery. Describing a particular dinner in Baltimore, Dickens wrote:

We stopped to dine at Baltimore, and...were waited on, for the first time, by slaves. The sensation of exacting any service from human creatures who are bought and sold...is not an enviable one. The institution exists, perhaps, in its least repulsive and most mitigated form in such a town as this; but it IS slavery; and though I was, with respect to it, an innocent man, its presence filled me with a sense of shame and self-reproach.

After returning to England, Dickens wrote his first travel book entitled American Notes in which he criticized Americans for their poor table manners and disgusting habit of spitting tobacco. In it, he also devoted an entire chapter to slavery in the United States.

While that book was very well-received, Oliver Twist is perhaps Dickens’ most famous novel. Set in mid-ninteenth century England, the main character is a nine-year-old orphan in a London workhouse where the boys are given only three meals of thin gruel each day. When Oliver courageously asks for more (“Please, sir, I want some more”) he is dubbed a troublemaker and treated even more cruelly.

So what, exactly, is gruel? Well, it's usually defined as a thin porridge or soup. Most forms of gruel include rice gruel, flour gruel, and millet gruel. If you'd like to get a taste of it for yourself, here's a quick and simple recipe to try:

2 teaspoons of flour
1 teaspoon of salt

Boil one cup water. Drip water on flour and salt until it turns into a thin paste. Add the paste to the boiling water. Stir to a semi-fluid consistency. Strain to eliminate film. Serve warm and say, "Please, sir, I want some more!"

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Theodore Roosevelt, a Brooklyn Candy Shop Owner, and the Invention of the Teddy Bear

So did you know that the Teddy Bear was invented in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt? According to historians, it all began when Roosevelt went on a four-day bear hunting trip in Mississippi in November of 1902. Although Roosevelt was known as an experienced big game hunter, he had not come across a single bear on that particular trip.

According to historians at the National Park Service:

Roosevelt’s assistants, led by Holt Collier, a born slave and former Confederate cavalryman, cornered and tied a black bear to a willow tree. They summoned Roosevelt and suggested that he shoot it. Viewing this as extremely unsportsmanlike, Roosevelt refused to shoot the bear. The news of this event spread quickly through newspaper articles across the country. The articles recounted the story of the president who refused to shoot a bear. However, it was not just any president, it was Theodore Roosevelt the big game hunter!

When a political cartoonist named Clifford Berryman read the reports he decided to “lightheartedly lampoon” the incident. Then, when a Brooklyn candy shop owner by the name of Morris Michton saw Berryman’s cartoon in the Washington Post on November 16, 1902, he came up with a brilliant marketing idea. You see, Michtom's wife Rose was a seamstress and made stuffed animals at their shop, and so he asked her to make a stuffed toy bear that resembled Berryman's drawing. He then showcased his wife's creation in the front window of their shop along with a sign that read "Teddy's Bear."

After receiving Roosevelt’s permission to use his name, Michtom began mass producing the toy bears which became so popular that he launched the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, and, by 1907, more than a million of the cuddly bears had been sold in the United States. And so NOW you know how one of Theodore Roosevelt’s hunting trips led to the "invention" of the Teddy Bear!

Now...I'm guessing that most of you probably don't want to feast on a juicy bear steak like those that Roosevelt and his fellow hunters surely enjoyed, but you might like to make these cute Teddy Bear Cupcakes which are great to serve at children's birthday parties and play dates.

1 box Betty Crocker® SuperMoist® yellow cake mix
1 cup water
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
3 eggs
1 container Betty Crocker® Whipped chocolate frosting
1/3 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
48 teddy bear-shaped graham snacks

In large bowl, beat cake mix, water, peanut butter and eggs with electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Beat on medium speed 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Divide batter evenly among muffin cups. Bake 13 to 18 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and tops spring back when touched lightly in center. Cool 10 minutes. Remove from pan to cooling rack. Cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Reserve 1/4 cup of the frosting. Spread remaining frosting over tops of cupcakes. Sprinkle each cupcake with 1/2 teaspoon of chocolate chips; press gently into frosting. Spread about 1/2 teaspoon reserved frosting on flat sides of 2 graham snacks. Place on cupcakes, pressing candles slightly into cupcakes to hold in place.

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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

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 some of those who survived lost everything they owned.

As a result, the government had to figure out how to rebuild the South. As president, 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. Historians say that Johnson’s 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 probably consumed such traditional southern foods as 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 throughout the coming year. If you'd like to whip up some Hoppin' John, 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 soup pot, add the 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 black-eyed 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, stir occasionally. If the liquid evaporates, add more water or stock. Adjust seasonings, and garnish with green onions. Serve over rice and enjoy!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Abraham Lincoln Gingerbread Men Cookies

In The Prairie Years, the great American poet and biographer Carl Sandburg told a story about Abraham Lincoln and gingerbread, a story that Abe had told in his famed debates with Stephen A. Douglas in 1858. According to Sandburg, this is how Lincoln’s “Gingerbread Story” unfolded:

“When we lived in Indiana,” Lincoln said, “once in a while my mother used to get some sorghum and ginger and make some gingerbread. It wasn’t often and it was our biggest treat. One day I smelled the gingerbread and came into the house to get my share while it was still hot. My mother had baked me three gingerbread men. I took them out under a hickory tree to eat them. There was a family near us poorer than we were and their boy came along as I sat down. ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘gimme a man.’ I gave him one. He crammed it into his mouth in two bites and looked at me while I was biting the legs off my first one. ‘Abe, gimme that other’n.’ I wanted it myself, but I gave it to him and as it followed the first, I said to him, ‘You seem to like gingerbread.’ ‘Abe,’ he said, ‘I don’t s’pose anybody on earth likes gingerbread better’n I do — and gets less’n I do...’”

Lincoln’s childhood recollection charmed the audience – and readers of widely published newspaper accounts. Years later, Lincoln reportedly repeated the story in the White House, mentioning details of the recipe his mother had used. Although her recipe has been lost to posterity, this one from the Food Network is relatively easy to prepare and fun to share with family and friends during the holidays.

4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
3/4 cup molasses
Directions
Sift the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and baking soda in a bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, blend the butter and brown sugar until combined. Add the eggs, 1 at a time, and then the molasses. Slowly add the flour mixture. Mix well after each addition of flour. The dough will be stiff.

Divide dough in half, flatten into 2 thick circles and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until firm enough to roll out. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll out, cut into desired shapes and bake until golden brown.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pardoning the White House Thanksgiving Turkey

As it typically is with political history, there are many competing claims as to when the presidential tradition of "pardoning" a Thanksgiving turkey began. Some say the tradition dates back to the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln's son Tad begged his dad to spare the life of a wild turkey named "Jack" that had been sent to the Lincolns to be part of their Christmas dinner.

Others claim that the tradition began during Harry Truman's administration. Although it's true that the National Turkey Federation has been providing holiday turkeys to the White House since 1947, when Truman was in office, there's no evidence to prove that this story is true. This is what the Truman Library says on the issue:

The Truman Library has received many requests over the years for information confirming the story that President Truman "pardoned" a Thanksgiving turkey in 1947, thus initiating a Presidential tradition that continues to this day.

The Library's staff has found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency. Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table. In any event, the Library has been unable to determine when the tradition of pardoning the turkey actually began.


While President John F. Kennedy spared a turkey's life on November 19, 1963, just days before his assassination, he didn't use the word "pardon." Instead, the bird had a sign hanging around its neck that read, "GOOD EATING, MR. PRESIDENT!", which prompted Kennedy to quip, "Let's just keep him."

The first president to actually use the word "pardon" in reference to a holiday turkey was reportedly Ronald Reagan, who deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking that he would also pardon a turkey named "Charlie," who was already heading to a local petting zoo.

Which brings us to President George H.W. Bush, who was apparently the first president to intentionally "pardon" a turkey. At the National Turkey Presentation Ceremony in 1989, Bush light-heartedly remarked to those assembled: "Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy - he's granted a Presidential pardon as of right now - and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here."

Although it's difficult to say with certainty exactly when this White House tradition began, we do know where some of the more recently pardoned turkeys have been sent after receiving their presidential reprieves. From 1989 until 2004, the fortunate fowls were sent to live out their natural lives at Frying Pan Farm in Virginia.

The venue changed in 2005, however, when Disneyland was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. That year, a lucky turkey named "Marshmallow," and his alternate, "Yam," were taken by police escort to the airport and then flown first class to California. According to the Associated Press:

Marshmallow became the Grand Marshal of Disneyland's Thanksgiving parade, and the sign above his float read "The Happiest Turkey on Earth." The turkeys then retired to a coop at the park's Big Thunder Ranch, where three of the pardoned birds...still live. Florida's Disney World got the birds from 2007, when they arrived on a United Airlines flight that was renamed "Turkey One."

This year, the venue will change yet again. Instead of being sent to Disneyland, the 21-week-old turkey that President Obama will pardon this Wednesday will be sent to live out the rest of his life at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia. Upon its arrival at Mount Vernon, he will reportedly "be driven to his pen in a horse-drawn carriage and be greeted with a trumpet fanfare."

A spokeswoman for Mount Vernon said that it's appropriate that the turkey will go to Washington's home since he was the first president to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation, and the Washingtons also raised and ate wild turkeys at Mount Vernon.

Although the spokeswoman didn't say how the Washington's preferred to serve their Thanksgiving birds, the Mount Vernon Inn does offer a daily lunch menu that includes a "Colonial Turkey Pye" which is described as "a turkey stew served with mixed vegetables and topped with a homemade buttermilk biscuit."

While it might be difficult to obtain a copy of that particular recipe, you can try this quick and simple recipe for Turkey Pot Pie if you need something to do with your leftover turkey this Thanksgiving:

1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 (11-ounce) cans condensed Cheddar cheese soup
2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of celery soup
1 large turkey skinned, cooked, boned and cubed
2 medium onions, diced
2 cup cooked butternut squash, diced
2 cup cranberries
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. To make the crust, dust surface with flour. Cut 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry into 1-inch strips, 8 inches long. On a large cookie sheet, weave strips into a lattice large enough to cover each pot pie. Mix egg and milk together and brush onto each lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes. Dough will rise and turn light golden brown. Set aside until ready to assemble pies. In a large saucepan heat the soups. Stir in turkey, onion, squash, cranberries, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. In an oven-proof dish, fill with mixture and top with the pre-cooked lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes until bubbly and puff pastry is deep golden brown.

FAST FACT: According to recent news reports, two turkeys boarded a United Airlines flight dubbed "Turkey One" departing from San Francisco to Washington D.C. last Friday. The birds were named Apple and Cider by California schoolchildren "who submitted 200 suggestions to the White House." The gobblers reportedly checked into "a private room at the W Hotel in Washington - carpeted in wood chips - and will feast on room-service corn feed until National Turkey Federation CEO...Yubert Envia delivers the plump 40-pounders to the Rose Garden," where President Obama will offer his official pardon the day before Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 15, 2010

George Bush's Top-Secret Thanksgiving Dinner

Traveling under extraordinary secrecy to ensure his safety, President George W. Bush made a surprise Thanksgiving visit to American troops in Baghdad in November of 2003. According to a USA Today news report, Bush “shared a holiday dinner with U.S. troops in a military mess hall at Baghdad International Airport."

Wearing a grey army jacket and with his eyes reportedly wet with tears, Bush strode out as about six hundred American soldiers leapt to their feet and cheered. In his remarks, the president said:

Thank you for inviting me to dinner...I can't think of a finer group of folks to have Thanksgiving dinner with than you all. We're proud of you. Today, Americans are gathering with their loved ones to give thanks for the many blessings in our lives. And this year we are especially thankful for the courage and the sacrifice of those who defend us, the men and women of the United States military...

You're engaged in a difficult mission. Those who attack our coalition forces and kill innocent Iraqis are testing our will. They hope we will run. We did not charge hundreds of miles into the heart of Iraq, pay a bitter cost in casualties, defeat a brutal dictator and liberate 25 million people only to retreat before a band of thugs and assassins...

On this Thanksgiving, our nation remembers the men and women of our military, your friends and comrades who paid the ultimate price for our security and freedom. We ask for God's blessings on their families, their loved ones and their friends, and we pray for your safety and your strength, as you continue to defend America and to spread freedom.

Each one of you has answered a great call...You live by a code of honor, of service to your nation, with the safety and the security of your fellow citizens. Our military is full of the finest people on the face of the earth. I'm proud to be your commander in chief. I bring greetings from America. May God bless you all.


To the troops great surprise, President Bush then stood in a chow line and dished out sweet potatoes and corn for Thanksgiving dinner and posed with a huge platter of turkey.

Because of security concerns, Air Force One had landed in Baghdad with its lights dimmed and window shades closed to minimize chances of it being made a target. And news of the top-secret trip wasn’t made public until after Air Force One was back in the air, heading back to the United States.

Of course, earlier that week, President Bush had pardoned the national Thanksgiving turkey at the White House, marking the 56th anniversary of the annual event. Apart from some gobbling while the president spoke, the lucky turkey, according to CNN, “was generally well behaved during the Rose Garden ceremony."

Once again referring to the courage of American troops, President Bush, standing next to the relieved turkey, said:

It speaks well for America that one of our most important holidays is set aside for sharing and appreciating our blessings...This year, as in other times in our history, we can be especially grateful for the courage and faithfulness of those who defend us.

The same holds true today, as always.

FAST FACT: George W. Bush wasn't the first American president to visit troops on the front-line on Thanksgiving Day. His father, George H.W. Bush, visited U.S. troops at a desert outpost in Saudi Arabia on Thanksgiving Day in 1990.

To read an excerpt from my new book from Simon and Schuster click here

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

John F. Kennedy's Inaugural Luncheon

Fifty years ago this week, John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon in one of the closest and most dramatic presidential elections in American history. Two and a half months later, on January 20, 1961, Kennedy was sworn in as the first Roman Catholic president of the United States and delivered his Inaugural address on the terrace of the East Portico of the U.S. Capital. In his eloquent address, Kennedy said:

...Fellow citizens, we observe today not a victory of party, but a celebration of freedom – symbolizing an end, as well as a beginning – signifying renewal, as well as change. For I have sworn before you and Almighty God the same solemn oath our forebears prescribed nearly a century and three quarters ago...

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans – born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage – and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

This much we pledge – and more.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man...


After delivering his address, Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline were escorted to the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the U.S. Capitol for the traditional inaugural luncheon. According to Senate historians, the menu items included cream of tomato soup with crushed popcorn; deviled crab meat imperial; New England boiled stuffed lobster with drawn butter; prime Texas ribs of beef au jus; string beans amandine and broiled tomatoes with grapefruit and avocado sections with poppyseed dressing.

Although the traditional inaugural luncheon at the Capital dates back to 1897 when the Senate Committee on Arrangements hosted a luncheon for President McKinley and several other guests, it didn't begin in its current form until 1953 when President Eisenhower, his wife, and fifty other guests dined on creamed chicken, baked ham, and potato puffs in the Old Senate Chamber.

Since then, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies has organized a luncheon celebration at fourteen Presidential Inaugurations. Often featuring cuisine reflecting the home states of the new President and Vice President, as well as the theme of the Inauguration, the luncheon program includes speeches, gift presentations, and toasts to the new administration.

FOOD FACT: According to historians, President Kennedy preferred orange juice, poached eggs on toast, crisp broiled bacon, milk and coffee at breakfast. For lunch, he enjoyed all kinds of soup, especially New England Fish Chowder. As for dinner, there were no particular favorites, although it has been said that liked lamb chops, steak, turkey, baked beans and mashed potatoes. He also enjoyed corn muffins, and, for dessert, if he had any, it would likely be something prepared with chocolate. Biographers say that Kennedy was a light eater and often had to be reminded that it was dinner time because "politics always took preference over food."

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Franklin Roosevelt's Royal Hot Dog Diplomacy


When Franklin D. Roosevelt invited England’s King George VI for a visit to the United States in June of 1939, the significance of the invitation reportedly did not go unnoticed. Ever since America declared its independence from England in 1776, "the United States and Great Britain had oftentimes experienced tense relations, but Roosevelt's invitation carried great significance in the history of Anglo-American relations, not only because of their colonial past, but more importantly, because it signified the dawn of a new era in American and British cooperation.”

With Europe on the brink of war, Roosevelt realized the need to forge closer ties between the two democracies and he reportedly “planned every minute detail of the visit to ensure the King’s success in winning over the sympathy and support of the American people." His efforts apparently paid off. According to historians at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

Americans heartily welcomed England's royalty with thunderous applause and adulation when the King and Queen arrived in Washington on June 8, 1939. Crowds lined the streets for a chance to glimpse the King and Queen as they traveled throughout the city. In Washington, the couple was treated to all the formalities one would expect from a State Visit. There was an afternoon reception at the British Embassy, followed by a formal evening of dining and musical entertainment at the White House.

On their second day, the King and Queen took in the sights of DC as they boarded the presidential yacht and sailed up the Potomac River to George Washington's Mount Vernon and to Arlington Cemetery to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. After two days in Washington, the...royal couple accompanied the Roosevelts to their home in Hyde Park, New York [where]...they enjoyed the simpler things in life. In contrast to the formal State Dinner at the White House, dinner at the Roosevelt's home...was described to the press as a casual dinner between the two families.


Even more informal was the following day's event - an old-fashioned, American-style picnic which included the following menu items: Virginia Ham, Smoked Turkey, Cranberry Jelly, Green Salad, Sodas, Beer and...Hot Dogs! The next day, news of the picnic made the front page of the New York Times, under the headline, “KING TRIES HOT DOG AND ASKS FOR MORE.” While the King reportedly ate his hot dog by hand like an American, the Queen daintily cut hers with a knife and fork.


Although the royal visit was surely the high point of the Roosevelt's 1939 social season, the president and the king also discussed the dire political and military situation developing in Europe.

Equally important to Roosevelt, however, was that the visit "changed the perceptions of the American people, which in turn allowed him to do more for Britain. When England declared war on Germany three months later, Americans, due in no small part to the King and Queen's visit, sympathized with England's plight. Britons were no longer strangers or the evil colonial rulers from the past but familiar friends and relatives with whom Americans could identify."

For their part, the Royal Couple was deeply appreciative of the Roosevelt’s efforts and of the outpouring of support from the American people. In a letter to Mrs. Roosevelt, the Queen later wrote:

I must tell you how moved I have been by the many charming, sympathetic, and understanding letters which I have received from kind people in the United States. Quite poor people have enclosed little sums of money to be used for our wounded, our sailors, or mine sweepers. It really has helped us, to feel such warmth of human kindness and goodness, for we still believe truly that humanity is overall.

Sometimes, during the last terrible months, we have felt rather lonely in our fight against evil things, but I can honestly say that our hearts have been lightened by the knowledge that friends in America understand what we are fighting for. We look back with such great pleasure to those lovely days we spent with you last June. We often talk of them, and of your & the President's welcome & hospitality. The picnic was great fun, and our children were so thrilled with the descriptions of the Indian singing & marvelous clothes - not to mention the hot dogs!



Although the picnic appeared to be a casual affair, much fuss had been made in advance of it. Almost a month before the event, Eleanor Roosevelt expressed concern about it in her newspaper column called "My Day." In an entry dated May 25, 1939, she wrote: Oh dear, oh dear, so many people are worried that the dignity of our country will be imperiled by inviting Royalty to a picnic, particularly a hot dog picnic! My mother-in-law has sent me a letter which begs that she control me in some way...Let me assure you, dear readers, that if it is hot there will be no hot dogs, and even if it is cool there will be plenty of other food, and the elder members of the family and the more important guests will be served with due formality.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Halloween Parties at the White House

To celebrate their first Halloween at White House last year, First Lady Michelle Obama got into the spirit by dressing as a leopard, with furry ears, dramatic cat like eyes, and a spotted orange-and-black animal print top. For his part, President Obama played it safe, dressing as, well, “a middle-aged dad, with a black cardigan, checkered shirt and sensible brown slacks.”

According to the Washington Post, about 2,600 trick-or-treaters from local schools “swooped, skulked and pitter-pattered their way through the front drive of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, stopping at the North Portico to get their treat: a plastic baggy containing White House M&Ms, an orange sugar cookie in the shape of the residence, and clumps of [dried] apricots, apples and papayas.”

Meanwhile, wandering around in front of the orange-lit White House were hundreds of odd creatures, including musicians dressed as skeletons, walking trees, Star Wars characters, and dancers dressed as red and gold butterflies inside giant bubbles.

Before casually chatting with the trick-or-treaters, President Obama and the First Lady hosted a Halloween reception for military families in the East Room of the White House. In his brief welcoming remarks, the president acknowledged the many sacrifices made by military families and said, “'We are so grateful to you. Especially now, a lot of the times, you guys are separated. It's tough. The spouses who are at home are serving just as much as folks who are deployed. So we are just so thrilled that you guys could be here.”

Of course, this wasn't the first Halloween event held at the White House. Known for her playful personality, Mamie Eisenhower hosted a Halloween party for the wives of White House staff members. Described as “the most interesting party ever given in the dignified setting of the White House,” it included “skeletons hanging from the State Dining Room chandeliers and witches on broomsticks riding over the white tablecloth.”

In more recent years, Richard Nixon’s daughter Tricia hosted a Halloween party for underprivileged children while the Fords and Carters welcomed trick-or-treaters from charitable organizations like UNICEF. And, in 1989, President George Bush and his wife Barbara treated 500 local school children to a Halloween party, where they loaded them up with treats and taught them about the dangers of drugs.

FAST FACT: Although know one knows exactly how the Obamas plan to celebrate Halloween this year, we do know that the holiday had its beginnings in an ancient, pre-Christian Celtic festival of the dead. According to historians at the Library of Congress, “the wearing of costumes and roaming from door-to-door demanding treats can be traced to the Celtic period and the first few centuries of the Christian era, when it was thought that the souls of the dead were out and around, along with fairies, witches, and demons. Offerings of food and drink were left out to placate them. As the centuries wore on, people began dressing like these dreadful creatures, performing antics in exchange for food and drink." This practice is called mumming, from which the modern-day practice of trick-or-treating evolved. To this day, witches, ghosts, and skeleton figures are among the favorite disguises worn by children each Halloween!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ulysses S. Grant's Twenty-Nine Course Banquets

"The inauguration of Ulysses S. Grant in 1869 did more than usher into the Presidency an honored war hero," according to historian Poppy Cannon, it launched an era of opulence in the White House "the United States had not seen before and has seldom seen since."

Culinarily speaking, however, Grant’s first few months in office could hardly be described as extravagant. When the 46-year-old military hero moved into the White House, he brought with him a quartermaster from his army days to serve as cook. To her credit, Grant’s wife Julia refrained from complaining at first, but when it became clear that the "chef" viewed the White House dining room as little more than “an enlarged mess hall,” she replaced him with an Italian steward named Valentino Melah, who had catered for some of the finest hotels in the United States and "specialized in opulent banquents."

Describing a particular twenty-nine course State Banquet at the Grant White House, Emily Edson Briggs, a Washington newspaper columnist, wrote:

In the beginning of the feast, fruit, flowers, and sweetmeats grace the tables, while bread and butter only give a Spartan simplicity to the "first course," which is composed of a French vegetables oul, and according to the description by those who have tasted it, no soup, foreign or domestic, has ever been known to equal it.

The ambrosial soup is followed by a French croquet of meat...The third "course" of the dinner is composed of a fillet of beef, flanked on each side by potatoes the size of a walnut, with plenty of mushrooms to keep them company. The next course is...made up entirely of luscious leg of partridges, and baptized by a French name entirely beyond my comprehension.

It will readily be seen that a full description of the twenty-nine courses would be altogether too much for the healthy columns of a newspaper to bear, so we pass to the dessert...[which] is inaugurated by...a rice pudding [that] would make our grandmothers clap their hands with joy. After the rice pudding, canned peaches, pears, and quinces are served. Then follow confectionery, nuts, ice-cream, coffee, and chocolate...


Although President Grant enjoyed partaking in such opulent banquets, he retained a taste for more basic fare, no doubt shaped by his old soldier's days. One of his favorite breakfasts reportedly consisted of "broiled Spanish mackerel and steak, fried apples with bacon, buckwheat cakes, and a cup of strong black coffee."

At lunch and dinner, he enjoyed such simple meals as roast beef with wheat bread and boiled hominy. And for dessert, historians tell us that "nothing ever pleased President Grant as much as simple rice pudding."

Although Grant's favorite recipe for Rice Pudding may have been lost to posterity, you can try this delicious recipe from simplyrecipes.com which is great to serve at breakfast or as a light dessert:

2 1/2 cups of whole milk
1/3 cup of uncooked short grain white rice
Pinch of salt
1 egg
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 cup raisins

In a medium-sized saucepan, bring the milk, rice and salt to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer until the rice is tender, about 20-25 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together egg and brown sugar until well mixed. Add a half cup of the hot rice mixture to the egg mixture, a tablespoon at a time, vigorously whisking to incorporate.

Add egg mixture back into the saucepan of rice and milk and stir, on low heat, for 10minutes or so, until thickened. Be careful not to have the mixture come to a boil at this point. Stir in the vanilla. Remove from heat and stir in the raisins and cinnamon. Serve warm or cold and enjoy!

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Gerald Ford, the Watergate Scandal, and Golden Brown Waffles with Strawberries and Cream

At approximately12:05 p.m. on August 9, 1974, only moments after Richard Nixon officially resigned from the Office of the Presidency, Gerald Ford took the Oath of Office and delivered his first presidential remarks in the East Room of the White House.

After pledging to be "the President of all the people" and reaffirming his belief that "honesty is always the best policy in the end," Ford turned his attention to the Watergate scandal and said:

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over. Our Constitution works; our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men. Here the people rule. But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

As we bind up the internal wounds of Watergate, more painful and more poisonous than those of foreign wars, let us restore the golden rule to our political process, and let brotherly love purge our hearts of suspicion and of hate.

In the beginning, I asked you to pray for me. Before closing, I ask again your prayers, for Richard Nixon and for his family. May our former President, who brought peace to millions, find it for himself. May God bless and comfort his wonderful wife and daughters, whose love and loyalty will forever be a shining legacy to all who bear the lonely burdens of the White House.


For the next four weeks, the new president enjoyed a high approval rating, partly because the Fords appeared to be such a normal, middle-class American family. Upon moving into the White House, Ford’s teenage daughter Susan vowed to never throw away her blue jeans. His wife Betty was down-to-earth and had a good sense of humor. And President Ford was even photographed "showing off his English-muffin-making skills" in the Family Kitchen at the White House.

Recalling Ford's fondness for English muffins and his other favorite breakfast foods, White House Chef Henry Haller wrote:

President Ford had a healthy appetite and simple tastes. For breakfast, the President usually consumed an energy rich, high carbohydrate meal that included freshly squeezed orange juice, a piece of fresh fruit such as melon, one or two toasted English muffins with margarine and jam, and hot tea.

Sunday breakfast was always a special meal in the Ford's home, however, with the President's favorite: Golden Brown Waffles served with "the works" - strawberries and sour cream.


If you'd like to make some of President Ford's favorite Golden Brown Waffles with Strawberries and Sour Cream for your next Sunday breakfast, here is the original recipe from The White House Family Cookbook by Henry Haller:

1 1/4 cups cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 1/2 cups milk, room temperature
1/2 teaspooon vaniall extract
3 egg yolks
5 tabllespoons melted butter
3 egg whites room tempertaure
1 pint fresh strawberrries, lightly dusted with sugar
1 pint sour cream

Into a large mixing bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Using the back of a wooden spoon, make a deep well in the center of the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, combine milk, vanialla, egg yolks, and melted butter. Pour rapidly into the center of the dry ingredients and combine quickly, using a whisk.

In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into batter.
Transfer batter to a pitcher for easy pouring. Heat a waffle iron to medium temperature. Pour in batter until grid is two-thirds full. Close the lid of the waffle iron and bake for 4 minutes or until steam stops emerging and waffle is golden brown. Remove gently. Repeat baking process to make five more waffles. Serve hot, accompanied by bowls of sweetened strawberries and sour cream.

FAST FACT: Although President Ford initially enjoyed high approval ratings, the mood of the nation changed dramatically on September 8, 1974, when he granted Richard Nixon a full pardon for all federal crimes he had "committed or may have committed" in the White House. The response was “a tidal wave of criticism” which all but assured Ford’s defeat to Jimmy Carter in the election of 1976. But, as time passed, critics began to see that Ford’s pardon was both noble and necessary to help the nation heal. In 1999, Bill Clinton conferred on Ford the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor. Ford also received the Congressional Gold Medal and was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award in 2001.

Credit: President Gerald R. Ford, Oil on Canvas by Everett Raymond Kinstler, National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Warren Harding, the Roaring Twenties, and the Development of Finger Foods

Although kind and well-liked, Warren Harding is often ranked as the worst president in American history, and even he admitted to close friends that "the job was beyond him." Aware of his limitations, Harding appointed some very capable and intelligent men to his cabinet, including Charles Evans Hughes as secretary of state and Herbert Hoover as secretary of commerce.

Unfortunatley, 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 loved to play card games and drink whiskey with them 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 President Harding was downing whiskey with his advisors at the White House, millions of ordinary Americans were drinking at secret taverns and bars called speakeasies, a popular term during Prohibition used to describe an establishment that sold illegal alcoholic beverages. According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink:

In order to gain entrance to [a speakeasy], 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 in America, 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 for the first time in 1925, reported his experience at a speakeasy: "the food is almost always poor, the service deplorable."


It was during this period (often 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, Shrimp and Crabmeat Cocktails, Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Caviar Rolls, Oyster Toast, and Savory Cheese Balls. For his part, President Harding reportedly liked to serve Bratwurst Rolls and Frankfurts with Saurkraut at his many cocktail parties at the White House.

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

1/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, sliced into thin rings
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped (optional)
3 to 4 (12-ounce) cans cheap 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 pickle spears.

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

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Woodrow Wilson, Prohibition, and the Boston Molasses Disaster of 1919

At 12:40 p.m. on January 15, 1919, in Boston’s Industrial North End, a fifty-five foot high steel storage tank containing more than two million gallons of molasses exploded, unleashing an immense wave of thick, viscous goo that swept through the city streets as fast as 35 miles per hour.

The wave – initially thirty feet high, according to some bystanders – exerted enough force “to break the girders of the adjacent Boston Elevated Railway's Atlantic Avenue structure and lift a train off its tracks.” The force of the blast and the ensuing tsunami also overturned dozens of cars and trucks in its path and "demolished several nearby buildings, including a fire station which was crushed by a huge chunk of the steel tank."

Witnesses later stated that, as the tank collapsed, there was a loud rumbling sound, like a machine gun, and that “the ground shook as if a train were passing by.” In his book, Black Tide, Stephen Puleo described the disaster this way:

Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage. Here and there struggled a form — whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was…Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings — men and women — suffered likewise.

The next morning, the Boston Evening Globe ran a front-page story based on eyewitness accounts taken on that terrible day:

Fragments of the great tank were thrown into the air, buildings in the neighborhood began to crumple up as though the underpinnings had been pulled away from under them, and scores of people in the various buildings were buried in the ruins, some dead and others badly injured.

In all, more than 150 people were injured and 21 children and adults were killed, mostly by crushing or asphyxiation. Fueled by the intense anti-immigrant sentiments that swept through the United States during the post-World War I Red Scare, owners of the distillery tried to pin the disaster on Italian anarchists, claiming that they had bombed the tank because they knew that the molasses was intended to be fermented to produce ethyl alcohol, a key component in the manufacturing of munitions at the time.

Although the exact cause of the disaster was never determined, no evidence of sabotage was ever found and experts generally attributed it to unseasonably warm temperatures combined with structural defects and poor maintenance of the tank.

So what does this have to do with President Woodrow Wilson and food? Well, by coincidence, the day after the disaster, Congress ratified the 18th Amendment of the United States Constitution, which prohibited the manufacture, sale, and distribution of intoxicating liquors. With Prohibition looming on the horizon, rumors began to circulate which held that the tank had been overfilled to enable the owners of the distillery to produce as much rum as quickly as possible before the law took effect.

This claim was later proven untrue due to the fact that the distillery didn't make rum and specialized instead in the production of industrial alcohol, which was exempt from the state prohibition laws in effect at the time, and would later be exempted from the Volstead Act, which was passed by Congress on October 27, 1919 over President Wilson's veto.

Regardless of the cause, more than one hundred lawsuits were filed against the owners of the tank, and litigation dragged on for six years, during which 3,000 witnesses testified. In the end, the court ruled for the plaintiffs and ordered the company to pay nearly a million dollars in damages - a "bittersweet victory for survivors of one of the strangest disasters in American history."

FOOD FACT: Molasses was once used in the United States as the primary sweetener in cooking and baking. According to the Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink, New England colonists also used molasses "as an ingredient in brewing birch beer and molasses beer and in distilling rum." In the early 1700s, "rum made in New England became an essential element in a highly profitable Triangular Trade across the Atlantic. The colonists exported rum to West Africa in trade for slaves; the ships brought the slaves from Africa to the French West Indies, trading them for more molasses and sugar; these products were then shipped to New England to make more rum....When the cost of refined sugar dropped at the end of the nineteenth century...molasses lost its role as an important sweetener in the American diet."

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Barack Obama and the "Controversy" over Chicken Fingers in the White House Bowling Alley

So did you know that there is a one-lane bowling alley at the White House? According to the White House Museum website, bowling lanes were first built on the ground floor of the West Wing in 1947 as a birthday gift for President Harry Truman in "the location of what is the present-day Situation Room."

During the Eisenhower administration, the bowling lanes were moved to the Old Executive Office Building "to make way for a mimeograph room." Ten years later, friends of Richard Nixon , an avid bowler, paid for a new one-lane alley to be built in the White House in an underground area below the driveway leading to the North Portico.

Since then, many presidents and politicians have surely thrown a strike or two in the bowling alley, but perhaps no one has enjoyed this perk of living in the White House more than the presidents' children and grandchildren.

According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, President George Bush and his wife Barbara were enjoying a big family dinner shortly after moving into the White House when the First Lady realized that her twin granddaughters, Jenna and Barbara, were not at the table. Turning to the butler, Mrs. Bush asked if he happened to know where they were, to which he replied, "In the bowling alley, waiting to be served."

Not fully amused, the First Lady ordered the girls back to the family quarters by "sending word that Bush grandchildren do not eat in the bowling alley, they eat with the family in the dining room." She also light-heartedly warned the White House staff to "beware of young charm artists."

But much bigger and more sinister "scandals" involving the White House bowling alley arose late last year. According to new reports, things got a little tense during a White House Press Briefing in October of 2009 when CBS correspondent Chip Reid questioned White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs about a Washington Times story "that accused the White House of selling access to the bowling alley," among other things.

Following up on a question posed by a CNN reporter, Reid asked Gibbs if the Obama administration would release the names of donors who were given special access to White House advisors and "perks like the bowling alley.” Gibbs caustically responded by noting that the administration would indeed be releasing "the names of everyone who visited the White House, with whom they met, and for what time period."

Still not satisfied, Reid pressed the bowling alley issue further, at which point Gibbs finally defused the spat with humor, and flatly shot back, "I can report to you that [my son] Ethan Gibbs, with the bumpers down, bowled a couple of games while eating some chicken fingers.”

Now, most of you probably haven't had the chance to bowl a couple of games at the White House while eating chicken fingers, but you can make this healthy recipe for Crispy Chicken Fingers before knocking down a few pins at your local bowling alley.

1 1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut across into 1-inch pieces
1/2 cup lowfat buttermilk
Cooking spray
4 cups whole-grain corn cereal
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the chicken and buttermilk in a shallow dish. Cover and chill for 15 minutes. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray. Put the cereal in a sealed plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin. Transfer the crumbs to a shallow dish.

Season the chicken with the salt and a few grinds of pepper. Dip each piece of chicken in the cereal to fully coat and arrange on the baking sheet. Bake until cooked through, about 8 minutes. Leave the chicken on the baking sheet to cool slightly. Serve warm with ketchup or honey mustard sauce.

Credit: The White House Basement Bowling Alley in the 1980s, White House Museum .

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Barack Obama, the White House Family Theatre, and Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

The private Family Theater at the White House is occasionally used by the president to rehearse major speeches, like the State of the Union address each January, but much more often it is where the First Family can watch just about any movie they please, "often sent direct from Hollywood before its release."

According to an adapted article from the Guardian Unlimited posted on the White House Museum website, many presidents have enjoyed private screenings of their favorite films in this luxurious theatre that features four large arm chairs and forty red upholstered seats. This is what the article reveals about some of the presidents' favorite flicks:

Dwight Eisenhower was obsessed with westerns...One of his particular favorites was the Gary Cooper film High Noon, but he would watch almost anything about cowboys...Because of his chronic back pain, John Kennedy's aides installed his favorite rocking chair in the middle of the front row. Later on, he had an orthopedic bed set up in the cinema, so he could watch propped up on pillows...

Richard Nixon saw most of his movies with the same person, his golfing and drinking buddy, Charles "Bebe" Rebozo, who came to the White House theatre 150 times...Their favorites, alongside Patton, were old-fashioned escapist musicals such as the ultra-patriotic Yankee Doodle Dandy, with James Cagney.

Starting with All the President's Men - about the Watergate scandal that ultimately brought him to office — Jimmy Carter held 480 screenings at the White House over four years...The devout Baptist started off insisting that only family films be shown, but eventually relented and became the first president to watch an X-rated film at the family theatre: Midnight Cowboy...

Ronald Reagan watched very few films at the White House. He and Nancy watched most of their movies on their weekends at Camp David, preferring Jimmy Stewart movies, High Noon (the president's favorite), and, on special occasions such as the president's birthday, his own films.

Bill Clinton also loved High Noon, but his taste in movies mirrored the style of his presidency. It ranged from the earnest and complex — Schindler's List and American Beauty were among his favorites — to simple and earthy, like the Naked Gun movies.

George Bush is a fan of the Austin Powers series and has been known to raise his little finger to his lips in imitation of the characters Dr Evil and Mini-Me. [After] the September 11 attacks, however, his viewing [became] more somber. In early 2002, after the worst of the fighting was over in Afghanistan and plans were being hatched to invade Iraq, President Bush watched more war movies, like We Were Soldiers, about Vietnam, and Ridley Scott's soldier's-eye view of Mogadishu in 1993, Black Hawk Down.


Like his predecessors, President Obama occasionally rehearses speeches in the Family Theatre and has enjoyed star-studded, pre-release screenings of such Hollywood blockbusters as Julie & Julia (with stars Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci in attendance) and Slumdog Millionaire, as well as the recent HBO miniseries "The Pacific," with executive producers Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks in attendance.

An avid sports fan, the president also hosted a Super Bowl party last year in the Family Theatre, where he and his guests tried out special 3D effects as they watched the Pittsburgh Steelers narrowly defeat the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 27-23. And when it came time for Super Bowl snacks, the president rolled up his sleeves and personally served Oatmeal Raisin cookies to his invited friends and guests.

Although that particular White House recipe is difficult to obtain, you can try this one from Martha Stewart if you'd like to serve some Healthy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies at your next Family Movie Night or other fun social gathering:

1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup packed dark-brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
1/2 cup dried currants or raisins

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk together flours and baking powder; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, sugar, egg, and vanilla. Add flour mixture, and stir to combine; mix in oats and currants.

Using two tablespoons of dough per cookie, roll into balls; place on two baking sheets lined with parchment paper, 1 1/2 inches apart. Bake until lightly browned, 15to 17 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Cool 5 minutes on sheets, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container at room temperature, up to 5 days.

FAST FACT: According to the White House Museum website, the Family Theatre "was converted in 1942 from a long cloakroom when the current East Wing building was constructed." Since then, some presidents have considered it to be the greatest perk of living in the White House, including Bill Clinton, who remarked, "The best perk out in the White House is not Air Force One or Camp David or anything else. It’s the wonderful movie theater I get here, because people send me these movies all the time.”

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Michelle Obama, Taylor Swift, and the President's Active Lifestyle Award

On September 8, 2010, Michelle Obama and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced that the First Lady’s Let’s Move! Campaign and NFL PLAY 60 are teaming up to fight childhood obesity and help kids lead healthier, more active lives.

The announcement was made at Woldenberg Park in New Orleans during the NFL PLAY 60 Youth Football Festival, part of the NFL’s celebration to kick off the 2010 season. After her remarks, the First Lady took part in football drills, along with students from a local elementary school and former NFL players. Lending support on the sidelines was pop star Taylor Swift decked out in a patriotic blue and white polka dotted sundress.


Earlier in the day, Mrs. Obama gave a speech in which she encouraged kids to “Play 60” and join her in competing for the President’s Active Lifestyle Award. To earn an award, children need to "engage in physical activity for 60 minutes every day, five days a week, for six weeks." And to show everyone just how much fun it can be, Mrs. Obama sportingly pledged to work toward earning her own award. This is what she said:

I’m going to do it. And I want kids across the country to join me. Actually, I want all you all to join me. Don't just leave it on the kids. I want you all to join me. So in a couple weeks -- I'm not sure when it’s going to start -- starting soon, I'm going to be recording my progress online, so if I start falling behind, I want everyone to be checking on me and make sure that I'm not slacking. Send me emails to shame me into staying on track. So I’m excited about it, and I think it’s something that’s very doable. And the thing is, is that if your kids see you doing it -- your grandparents, uncles, teachers -- they’re going to be engaged.

At the launch of the Let's Move! campaign, President Barack Obama signed a Presidential Memorandum creating "the first ever Task Force on Childhood Obesity to conduct a review of every single program and policy relating to child nutrition and physical activity."

According to the Let's Move! website, the Task Force’s recommendation focuses on the four pillars of the First Lady's campaign: empowering parents and caregivers; providing healthy food in schools; improving access to healthy, affordable foods; and increasing physical activity. Of course, the First Lady also emphasizes healthy, organic foods at the White House, as most visibly demonstrated by the Obama's kitchen garden, the first at the White House since the Roosevelt's Victory Garden during World War II.

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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Elegant Arthur's Many Late Night Feasts at the White House

As president, Chester Arthur hosted many elegant state dinners and often stayed up socializing with his guests as late as two or three o’clock in the morning. Biographers say that he also liked to take his friends on midnight tours of the White House. Because of his nocturnal ways, Arthur was often late to his morning meetings and his habitual tardiness led one critic to say, “President Arthur never did today what he could put off until tomorrow.”

Sadly, President Arthur died a year and a half after leaving office. Most historians agree that he died from kidney disease, although, at the time, many people believed that his decadent lifestyle contributed to his illness. Describing his culinary habits, one commentator observed:

Arthur’s illness is largely due to his life in the White House. He lived too high, exercised too little, and kept too late hours. He did not breakfast much before ten o’clock and his dinners did not begin until nine or ten in the evening. He often sat at the table until after midnight, where, though he was not a glutton, he consumed fine wines and terrapin and other rich food...President Arthur rode horseback for a time, but in spite of his doctor’s advice, he discontinued this, and grew heavier and heavier from lack of exercise...

Although no one knows exactly what caused President Arthur's illness, we do know that he was a true gourmet and relished such delicacies as mutton chops with a glass of claret or expensive champagne. An avid fisherman, he was also particularly fond of Terrapin Steak, which he preferred to serve with rich side dishes like fried Macaroni Pie with Oysters.

If President Arthur were here with us today, he surely would have also liked this rich and delicious recipe for Seafood Linguine with Mussels and Oysters from the Food Network's ever-energetic Emeril Lagasse:

2 tablespoons, plus 1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 pound linguine
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 sliced red jalapenos
3/4 pound medium shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tablespoon Essence, divided, recipe follows
1 cup small diced onion
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 cups canned tomato sauce
2 tablespoons tomato paste
12 littleneck clams, scrubbed
1/2 pound mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
1/2 pound calamari, bodies diced into rings, with the tentacles
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, optional

Bring a large 1-gallon pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons of the salt to the pot and place the pasta in it. Cook, stirring occasionally, until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and then transfer pasta to a large bowl and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss to coat the pasta well, then set aside.

As the pasta cooks, set a 14-inch saute pan over medium-high heat and add the remaining olive oil. Once hot add the red jalapenos. Season the shrimp with 2 teaspoons of the Essence, add the shrimp to the pan and cook for 1 minute. Turn the shrimp over and cook another minute. Remove the shrimp from the pan and set aside as you prepare the sauce.

Place the onions in the pan and cook until wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the red pepper flakes and saute briefly before adding the tomato sauce and tomato paste. Cook the sauce briefly, then add the clams to the pan. Cover the pan and cook the clams for 1 minute, remove the lid, add the mussels to the pan and replace the cover.

Cook the mussels for 2 minutes, remove the lid and season the calamari with the remaining 1 teaspoon of Essence before adding them to the pan along with the seared shrimp and the pasta. Continue to cook the pasta, tossing to blend the pasta with the sauce, and season with the remaining 1 1/4 teaspoons of the salt, about 2 minutes. Garnish the pasta with the chopped parsley and cheese and serve.

FAST FACT: Nicknamed "Elegant Arthur" for his fastidious ways, President Arthur reportedly owned more than eighty suits and often changed his pants several times each day!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pauline Wayne, the Last White House Dairy Cow

So did you know that President William Howard Taft kept a Holstein dairy cow named Pauline Wayne on the White House lawn? For two years, Pauline dutifully supplied President Taft and his family with fresh milk every day.

Shortly before Taft left office in 1913, Pauline was shipped back to her former owner in Wisconsin. After that, pasteurized milk replaced raw milk at the White House. A New York Times article dated February 2, 1913 announced the departure of Taft's beloved cow:

Pauline Wayne, President Taft’s famous Holstein cow, will follow him into retirement March 4. The president today called in Senator Walter Stephenson of Wisconsin, who two years ago took Pauline to the White House, and gave her back to her former owner. Pauline has not been in the best of health in several months.

President Taft believes that if she is taken back to Wisconsin and put on Senator Stephenson’s farm again, her youthful vigor will revive. The Senator was glad to recover Pauline, as she had supplied milk to the family of the President for two years, and he thought she would add dignity to his herd.


After leaving office, Taft served as a professor at Yale Law School until President Warren Harding appointed him Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. To Taft, the appointment was his greatest honor. So much so that, years later, he wrote, “I don't remember that I ever was President.”

FOOD FACT: A French scientist named Louis Pasteur discovered pasteurization in the 1860s. During his many experiments, Pasteur discovered that when you heat a food to a high enough temperature, the heat will kill certain (but not all) bacteria. Raw milk can be pasteurized by heating it to 145 degrees F for about thirty minutes. In the years prior to pasteurization, many lethal diseases were transmitted through raw or contaminated milk. One particularly sad example is that of Abraham Lincoln, whose mother died when he was "in his tenth year" after she drank milk from a dairy cow that had grazed on White Snakeroot, a very poisonous plant.