Thursday, December 22, 2011

James Buchanan Snickerdoodles

Presiding over the nation during a time of great strife, James Buchanan is the only president who never had a wife. And while he dined mighty fine at his many White House parties, biographers say that James retained a childhood taste for Scrapple, Confederate Pudding, and sweet Pennsylvania Dutch-German cookies called Apees.

Snickerdoodles are another traditional Dutch-German cookie that are covered with cinnamon and sugar and baked in the shape of a snail. Some historians say that their fanciful name comes from the German term schnecke knödel which can be translated as “snail dumpling.” Others say that “snicker” comes from the Dutch word snekrad or the German word schnecke, both of which refer to a small, snail-like shape.

Although no one knows who came up with their name, we do know that these sweet little sugar cookies have been popular in Buchanan's native state of Pennsylvania for centuries. If you'd like to whip up a batch of snickerdoodles this holiday season, here is a recipe to try from Emeril Lagasse:

For the topping:

3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the cookie dough:

3 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a small bowl, stir together the sugar and cinnamon and set aside. To make the cookie dough, stir together the dry ingredients. In a bowl with a paddle attachment, cream the butter. Add the sugar and continue to mix, then add the eggs, corn syrup, and vanilla, and mix thoroughly. Add the dry ingredients and mix until blended. Chill dough 1 hour if it's sticky or difficult to handle.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll balls of dough about the size of a walnut then roll in the cinnamon sugar to coat. Place on an ungreased sheet pan 2 1/2 inches apart. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes until puffed up and the surface is slightly cracked. Let cool on the sheet a few minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool.

FOOD FACT: At Buchanan’s inaugural reception in 1857, more than 5,000 guests reportedly dined on "eight rounds of beef, seventy-five hams, sixty saddles of mutton, four saddles of venison, four hundred gallons of oysters, five quarts of jellies," twelve hundred quarts of ice cream, and more than $3,000 was spent on the wines - an astronimical figure at the time. But this was just a hint of the culinary excesses to come, and, during his four years in office, Buchanan’s annual $25,000 presidential salary wasn’t always enough to cover his tabs and he often had to pay for his extravagant "bachelor" parties at the White House out of his own pocket!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Benjamin Harrison, a Holiday Dinner, and the First Decorated Christmas Tree at the White House

Benjamin Harrison’s presidency began with a dramatic, three-day centennial commemoration of George Washington’s inauguration as the first president of the United States. The festivities began on April 28, 1889 with a reception in the White House, followed by a reenactment of George Washington’s crossing of New York Harbor by barge under a fuselage of gun salutes and fireworks. The evening was capped with a lavish banquet, featuring thirteen wines and thirteen toasts in honor of the original thirteen colonies.

Despite the initial fanfare, Harrison and his family dined rather modestly during their four years in the White House, and it has been said that their Christmas dinner was about as unpretentious as the family itself. According to culinary historian Poppy Cannon:

The dinner began with Blue Point oysters on the half shell, followed by consomme a la Royale, chicken in patty shells, and then the piece de resistance, stuffed roast turkey, cranberry jelly, Duchess potatoes and braised celery. Then came terrapin a la Maryland, lettuce salad with French drssing, and assorted desserts: minced pie, American plum pudding, tutti fruitti ice cream. For those still hungry, ladyfingers, Carlsbad wafers, and macaroons were passed, followed by fruit and coffee...

But of all White House holiday traditions, the Harrison's are perhaps most well-known for setting up the first decorated Christmas tree in the White House. According to White House historians, it was on the morning of December 25, 1889 that President Harrison "gathered his family around the first indoor White House Christmas tree. It stood in the upstairs oval room, branches adorned with lit candles. First Lady Caroline Harrison, an artist, helped decorate the tree."

As our nation's First Lady, Mrs. Harrison set the stage for what would eventually become a White House holiday tradition. But not all First Families after the Harrisons set up Christmas trees in the White House. First Lady Grace Coolidge did in the 1920s; however, it was First Lady "Lou" Henry Hoover who started the custom in 1929 when she oversaw the decoration of the first "official" tree. Since then, the honor of trimming the main White House Christmas tree has belonged to the First Ladies. According to the White House Historical Association:

In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the official White House Christmas tree. She decorated a tree placed in the oval Blue Room with ornamental toys, birds and angels modeled after Petr Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite" ballet. Mrs. Kennedy reused these ornaments in 1962 for her children's theme tree. Set up in the North Entrance, this festive tree also featured brightly wrapped packages, candy canes, gingerbread cookies and straw ornaments made by disabled or senior citizen craftspeople throughout the United States.

The Lyndon B. Johnson Administration began during a time of great uncertainty. In November 1963, the assassination of President Kennedy had stunned America. New First Lady Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson certainly felt a desire to help the nation heal. She chose comforting and nostalgic holiday decor during her White House years. Her 1965 and 1966 Blue Room Christmas trees were decorated in an early American theme. They featured thousands of small traditional ornaments, including nuts, fruit, popcorn, dried seedpods, gingerbread cookies and wood roses from Hawaii...

Handmade crafts set the theme for First Lady Betty Ford's 1974 Blue Room tree. Emphasizing thrift and recycling, Mrs. Ford used ornaments made by Appalachian women and senior citizen groups. Swags lined with patchwork encircled the tree. She kept this quaint feel in 1975 for her "old-fashioned children's Christmas" theme. Experts from Colonial Williamsburg adapted paper snowflakes, acorns, dried fruits, pinecones, vegetables, straw, cookies and yarn into ornaments...


This year, the White House theme for the 2011 holiday season is "Shine, Give, Share," which offers "an opportunity to pay tribute to our troops, veterans, and their families throughout the White House." The official tour features 37 Christmas trees (30 are natural trees and 7 are made from paper, felt or aluminum) and a gingerbread model of the White House made of 400 pounds of gingerbread, white chocolate, and marzipan. But the centerpiece is the official Christmas tree which honors our men and women in uniform and "features holiday cards created by military children."

According to whitehouse.gov, the cards were collected from United States military installations around the world...Medals, badges, and patches from all of the military branches are displayed on ornaments, historic military images are displayed with volunteer-made pinecone frames, and ribbons inspired by the Armed Forces colors represent the brave women and men who protect our Nation and defend our freedom."

FOOD FACT: The White House holiday décor this year also includes "a bounty of Bos!" With a playful nod to the First Dog, the tour route features five "Bo topiaries made from various materials like felt (35 yards of wool felt used), buttons (318 buttons in total), pom poms (750 pom poms used), and candy (12 marshmallows and 1,911 pieces of licorice).

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Dolley Madison Fresh Raspberry Flummery

So did you know that Dolley Madison had an insatiable sweet tooth and was particularly fond of such treats as Macaroons, Cinnamon Cakes, Gingerbread, Cranberry Sherbet and ice cream?

Flummery was another popular ninteeenth century dish that Dolley reportedly served at her many festive social gatherings at the White House. According to an article in the New York Times, dictionary writers are not kind to flummery and this “innocent pudding” is often described by lexicographers as a “bland custard” or “a sort of pap,” while Webster’s asserts that an alternative meaning of flummery is “something insipid or not worth having.”

Food historians say that the modern origins of flummery can be traced to a seventeenth century Welsh specialty prepared with oatmeal and boiled until dense. As this "goopy dish" lost popularity over the years, cooks gave the name flummery to those puddings that were “firmed up with almonds and gelatin.”

By the time flummery made its way to the United States, it had been transformed into a "pure, delicately-set fruit stew." If you’d like to whip up some flummery for your next dinner party or large social gathering, here is a simple recipe to try from the New York Times Magazine:

1 quart fresh raspberries
1 cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water or milk
Juice of half a lemon
Heavy cream, for serving

Combine the berries, sugar and ½ cup hot water in a saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring, until the mixture is liquid. Strain the pulp through a fine sieve. Return the strained liquid to a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Meanwhile, blend the cornstarch with the cold water or milk. Stir this into the boiling berry liquid. Add the lemon juice. Simmer for 1 minute. Serve with heavy cream and enjoy!

FOOD FACT: Famous for hosting elegant dinner parties and receptions, Dolley Madison’s name became associated with fine dining and entertaining. In the early nineteenth century, food companies and advertisers began using her name to suggest that any woman could entertain as well as she did. Some of the food companies named after her were The Dolly Madison Bakery and Dolly Madison Ice Cream. There was even a Dolly Madison Popcorn. And Dolly Madison snacking cakes are still widely available today!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

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

Published late last year, George W. 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 political issues to review, it's not surprising that Mr. Bush didn't spend much time discussing 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. Here is a video of Obama's remarks:

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 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!

Monday, December 12, 2011

George Washington's Ice House at Mount Vernon and Strawberry Ice Cream Baked in Warm Pastry

So did you know that one of George Washington’s favorite desserts was ice cream? In fact, he liked this soft, creamy treat so much that he had an ice house constructed near his Mount Vernon home so that he and his family could eat ice cream often.

Historians say that Washington’s icehouse was located on a riverbank about 75 yards from the Potomac. To store ice, Washington’s slaves had to use chisels and axes to pull large chunks of ice from the frozen river during the wintertime and then haul them to the icehouse where they were stacked in layers and stored for use throughout the spring and summer.

Before constructing his ice house, Washington sought advice from his friend and fellow patriot Robert Morris, who had an ice house at his home at 6th & Market Streets in Philadelphia. In a letter to Washington, Morris provided a

Friday, December 9, 2011

James Monroe, the Long Winter at Valley Forge, and Virginia 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 long winter at Valley Forge? Among the patriots encamped there 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,

Friday, December 2, 2011

Martin Van Buren, the Election of 1840, and the "Regal Splendor" of the Presidential Palace

Having witnessed the chaos of Andrew Jackson’s "levees" first hand, Martin Van Buren prohibited all food or 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 rinsed his fingers after a night of fine dining.

Shortly before the election of 1840, Charles Ogle, a Whig Congressman from Pennsylvania, rose to speak in the House of Representatives and launched into a

Thursday, December 1, 2011

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 may have used. Although her recipe has been lost to posterity, this one from the Food Network is simple to prepare and great 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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Elizabeth Monroe Baked Apple Charlotte

From all accounts, the dinner parties hosted by James and Elizabeth Monroe were very formal affairs. Large dinners had an especially “cold air,” according to novelist James Fenimore Cooper, who was frequently invited to dine at the Monroe White House. Describing a particular dinner, Cooper wrote:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Great Depression, and the Thanksiving Day Date-Change Fiasco

So did you know that in 1939 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt decided to move the Thanksgiving Day holiday forward by a week? Rather than allow it to fall on its traditional date, the last Thursday of November, Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring that the holiday would instead be celebrated one week earlier.

Why did he make such a seemingly random decision in the midst of the Great Depression? Well, his reasons were rooted in economic concerns and he hoped that by moving Thanksgiving forward it would bolster the struggling economy by extending the Christmas shopping season by a week. According to the Wall Street Journal:

There were five Thursdays in November that year, which meant that Thanksgiving would fall on the 30th. That left just 20 shopping days till Christmas. By moving the holiday up a week to Nov. 23, Roosevelt hoped to give the economy a lift by allowing shoppers more time to make their holiday purchases and —so his theory went—spend more money.

In an informal news conference in August announcing his decision, FDR offered a little tutorial on the history of the holiday. Thanksgiving was not a national holiday, he noted, meaning that it was not set by federal law. According to custom, it was up to the president to pick the date every year. It was not until 1863, when Abraham Lincoln ordered Thanksgiving to be celebrated on the last Thursday in November, that that date became generally accepted, Roosevelt explained. To make sure that reporters got his point, he added that there was nothing sacred about the date...


Just as he had done with his controversial "Court Packing" plan of 1937, Roosevelt had badly misjudged public opinion. Outraged protests began in Plymouth, Massachussetts, the place of the "first Thanksgiving" in 1621, but quickly spread to other circles, including, most notably, the competitive and highly lucrative world of collegiate sports.

PRESIDENT SHOCKS FOOTBALL COACHES: Many Games are Upset by Thanksgiving Plan, read a banner headline in the New York Times. And even in the staunchly Democratic state of Arkansas, the football coach of Little Ouachita College threatened: 'We'll vote the Republican ticket if he interferes with our football.'"

Of course, some college coaches and athletic directors were more diplomatic when it came to questioning the president. In a letter to the president's secretary, Philip Badger, Chairman of the University Board of Athletic Control at New York University wrote:

My dear Mr. Secretary:

I am wondering if you are at liberty at this time to supply me with any information over and above what has appeared in the public press to date regarding the plan of the President to proclaim November 23 as Thanksgiving Day this year instead of November 30.

Over a period of years it has been customary for my institution to play its annual football game with Fordham University at the Yankee Stadium here at New York University on Thanksgiving Day...As you probably know, it has become necessary to frame football schedules three to five years in advance, and for both 1939 and 1940 we had arranged to play our annual football game with Fordham on Thanksgiving Day, with the belief that such day would fall upon the fourth Thursday in November.

Please understand that all of us interested in the administration of intercollegiate athletics realize that there are considerations and problems before the country for solution which are far more important than the schedule problems of intercollegiate athletics. However, some of us are confronted with the problem of readjusting the date of any football contest affected by the President's proposal.


Outside of the world of collegiate sports, public opinion also ran heavily against Roosevelt's Thanksgiving Day plan, as evidenced by a national Gallup poll which found that 62% of Americans surveyed disapproved of the date change. And, as public opposition grew, some state governors reportedly "took matters into their own hands and defied the Presidential Proclamation."

According to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum:

Some governors declared November 30th as Thanksgiving. And so, depending upon where one lived, Thanksgiving was celebrated on the 23rd and the 30th. This was worse than changing the date in the first place because families that lived in states such as New York did not have the same day off as family members in states such as Connecticut! [And so] family and friends were unable to celebrate the holiday together.

By 1941, most retailers also disapproved of Roosevelt's plan, and even the federal government conceded that the date change had not resulted in any boost in sales. And so, on December 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed Joint Resolution 41 making Thanksgiving a national holiday and mandating that it be observed on the fourth Thursday in November of each year.

FAST FACT: According to the Library of Congress, when "Abraham Lincoln was president in 1863, he proclaimed the last Thursday of November to be our national Thanksgiving Day. In 1865, Thanksgiving was celebrated the first Thursday of November, because of a proclamation by President Andrew Johnson, and, in 1869, President Ulysses S. Grant chose the third Thursday for Thanksgiving Day. In all other years, until 1939, Thanksgiving was celebrated as Lincoln had designated, the last Thursday in November."

Monday, November 7, 2011

James Monroe, Mississippi Steamboatin' and "Food Piled High on a Long Linen Cloth"

So did you know that James Monroe was the first president to ride and possibly dine on a steamboat? By the 1820s, steamboats were in use on most of the major rivers, canals, and waterways in the United States.

Historians say that the steamboat completely revolutionized shipping. For the first time in history, people "didn't have to rely on unpredictable currents and winds and could travel to any port at any time." Plantation owners in the southern states of Mississippi, Missouri, and Louisiana, for example, could cheaply and easily ship cargoes of sugar, cotton, and other goods upriver on the Mississippi rather than send it around the tip of Florida and up the Eastern seaboard as they had previously done.

Steamboats also provided a luxurious way for wealthy passengers to travel. In Mississippi Steamboatin’, Herbert Quick described the palatial setting and abundance of food served on later steamboats:

The palatial setting of later steamboats attracted pleasure-seekers and wealthy travelers...More comfortable than their 'settin' rooms,' more ornate than their prim and uncomfortable parlors...they saw the steamboat's cabin as a bewilderingly beautiful palace. The...glistening cut-glass chandeliers; the soft oil paintings on every stateroom door; the thick carpets that transformed walking into a royal march; the steaming foods piled high on the long linen cloth in the dining room, with attentive waiters standing at the traveler's elbow, waiting with more food, and gaily colored desserts in the offing - neither homes nor hotels...were ever like this.

Between 1814 (three years before Monroe took office) and 1834, steamboat arrivals in New Orleans increased from 20 to 1,200 each year. For the next half century, steamboats were the main transporter of American goods, and tiny river towns grew into thriving cities “when steamboats began to make regular stops at their docks.”

FAST FACT: If you've ever watched steam rise from a cup of hot chocolate or coffee, you might think that a steamboat is propelled by steam. That makes sense, but that isn't exactly how a steamboat works. In a steamboat's engine, wood or other fuel is burned to heat water in a boiler, and the steam that rises from the water is forced through small spaces (piston cylinders) to increase the speed at which it escapes, similar to the release of a valve on a pressure-cooker. The concentrated steam then hits and moves a paddlewheel which, in turn, propels the steamboat through water!

Credit: James Monroe, oil on canvas by Gilbert Stuart (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

James Madison, the Potomac Oyster Wars, and the Constitutional Convention

So you probably know that James Madison was one of the drafters of the Constitution and later helped spearhead the drive for the Bill of Rights, but what you might not know is that he also played a major role in negotiating an end to the Potomac Oysters Wars which indirectly helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention. This is how the story briefly goes:

In the seventeenth century, watermen in Maryland and Virginia battled over ownership rights to the Potomac River. Maryland traced its rights to a 1632 charter from King Charles I which included the river. At the same time, Virginia laid its claims to the river to an earlier charter from King James I and a 1688 patent from King James II, both of which also included the river.

In 1776, after more than a century of conflict, Virginia ceded ownership of the river but reserved the right to “the free navigation and use of the rivers Potowmack and Pocomoke." Maryland rejected this reservation and quickly passed a resolution asserting total control over the Potomac. After the Revolution, battles over the river intensified between watermen from both states.

To resolve this problem, leaders from Maryland and Virginia appointed two groups of commissioners which, at the invitation of George Washington, met at Mount Vernon in May of 1785. James Madison led the Virginia contingent and Samuel Chase led the Maryland delegation. Their discussions led to the Compact of 1785, which allowed oystermen from both states free use the river.

Peace prevailed until the supply of oysters began to dwindle, at which point Maryland re-imposed harvesting restrictions. Virginia retaliated by closing the mouth of the Chesapeake and watermen from both states engaged in bloody gun battles which lasted, with periodic breaks, for more than a century.

Today, these battles are known as the Potomac Oyster Wars. They are important in their own right, but they have a larger historical significance because they revealed one of the main weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation, which was that the federal government didn't have the power to control commerce among the states, a setup that was creating constant chaos and conflict.

With this problem in mind, Madison and the others who convened at Mt. Vernon in May of 1785 agreed to meet the following year at Annapolis to discuss the need for a stronger federal government. Not many delegates showed up and so they agreed to convene the following May in Philadelphia, which is, of course, where the Constitution was drafted.

And so NOW you know how James Madison and a little bivalve from the Potomac helped pave the way to the Constitutional Convention!

FACT: Under the Articles of Confederation, the federal government didn't have the power to raise its own army, regulate commerce between the states, or coin money for the country. To pass a law, Congress needed the approval of nine out of the 13 states, and in order to amend the Articles it needed the approval of all 13 states, which made it nearly impossible to get anything done! The Articles also didn't provide for an Executive or Judicial branch so there was no separation of powers.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Halloween Parties at the White House

To celebrate their first Halloween in the White House in 2009, First Lady Michelle Obama got in the spirit by dressing as a leopard, replete with furry ears, dramatic cat-like eyes and a spotted orange-and-black animal print top while 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.

After casually chatting with the trick-or-treaters, the President and the First Lady hosted a 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 celebration held at the White House. Known for her playful personality, Mamie Eisenhower hosted a Halloween party for the wives White House staff members. Described as “the most interesting party ever given in the dignified setting of the White House,” it reportedly 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 carnival for underprivileged school children in the D.C. area while the Fords and Carters welcomed trick-or-treaters from charitable organizations like UNICEF. And to mark their first Halloween in the White House, George Bush and his wife Barbara staged an Anti-Drug Youth Rally for 500 local school children on the South Lawn of the White House, where they loaded the youngsters up with treats and spoke to them about the dangers of illegal drugs.

FAST FACT: Although no one knows exactly how the Obamas plan to celebrate Halloween this year, we do know that the origins of Halloween likely lie in the ancient pagan Celtic festival of Samhain. 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."

Monday, October 17, 2011

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the Election of 1944, and "Feeding Fala"

On November 10, 1940, a cute black Scottish terrier puppy arrived at the White House as a gift for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his family. At first, the dog’s name was "Big Boy," but the president soon renamed him “Murray the Outlaw of Falahill” after a distant Scottish ancestor.

One of the most famous presidential pets, Fala, as he was nicknamed, went just about everywhere with the President and quickly became part of his public image. In her Pulitzer-Prize-winning biography, No Ordinary Time, presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin wrote:

Fala accompanied the president everywhere, eating his meals in Roosevelt's study, sleeping in a chair at the foot of his bed. Within a few weeks of his arrival, the puppy was sent to the hospital with a serious intestinal disturbance. He had discovered the White House kitchen, and everyone was feeding him. When he came home, Roosevelt issued a stern order to the entire White House staff: "Not even one crumb will be fed to Fala except by the President." From then on, Fala was in perfect health.

While being pampered at the White House and traveling with Roosevelt, Fala had the good fortune to meet many famous political leaders, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Mexican President Manuel Camacho.

Thrust as he was into the national spotlight, it’s perhaps not surprising that Fala became embroiled in a political controversy during the presidential campaign of 1944. You see, earlier that year, Fala had faithfully accompanied his master on a diplomatic trip to the Aleutian Islands. Shortly after the president returned home, a rumor began circulating that Fala was accidentally left on one of the islands and that the Navy had to send a destroyer back to retrieve him.

Capitalizing on this rumor, Republicans accused Roosevelt of spending millions of taxpayers' dollars in the effort to get his dog back. Responding sharply but light-heartedly to these and other accusations, FDR delivered his famous “Fala Speech” at a campaign dinner in Washington D.C., before the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Chauffeurs, Warehousemen and Helpers of America. These are some of the humorous remarks that President Roosevelt made that evening:

These Republican leaders have not been content with attacks on me, or my wife, or on my sons. No, not content with that, they now include my little dog, Fala. Well, of course, I don't resent attacks, and my family doesn't resent attacks — but Fala does resent them.

You know, Fala is Scotch, and being a Scottie, as soon as he learned that the Republican fiction writers in Congress and out had concocted a story that I'd left him behind on an Aleutian island and had sent a destroyer back to find him — at a cost to the taxpayers of two or three, or eight or 20 million dollars — his Scotch soul was furious.

He has not been the same dog since. I am accustomed to hearing malicious falsehoods about myself — such as that old, worm-eaten chestnut that I have represented myself as indispensable. But I think I have a right to resent, to object, to libelous statements about my dog.


Sadly, less than a year after he delivered that speech, President Roosevelt died. In her autobiography, Roosevelt's wife Eleanor described her recollections of Fala's reaction to his master's untimley death:

his legs straightened out, his ears pricked up and I knew that he expected to see his master coming down the drive as he had come so many times. Later, when we were living in the cottage, Fala always lay near the dining-room door where he could watch both entrances just as he did when his master was there...Fala accepted me after my husband's death, but I was just someone to put up with until the master should return.

FAST FACT: Fred D. Fair was Roosevelt’s porter on the Ferdinand Magellan, the presidential Pullman rail car. In a Washington Post article, Mr. Fair recalled his memories of the president's beloved dog in a letter titled "Feeding Fala": I served him his meals, made his bed. We would serve the president highballs before dinner. Before the meal, I would fix Fala's food. He would never go into the dining room until you called him. We'd serve him in there. But you couldn't serve Fala yourself, oh no. You had to hand it to the president, and he'd feed Fala out of his hand. Many times, I remember dignitaries and other important folks waiting for their supper until Mr. Roosevelt finished feeding Fala."

Monday, October 10, 2011

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


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 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 seemed to be 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 whip up 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 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 1976 election. 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. Ford also received the Congressional Gold Medal and was awarded the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award in 2001.

Friday, October 7, 2011

George Bush and the Politics of Broccoli

At an outdoor press conference in 1990, President George Bush told reporters, "I do not like broccoli and I haven't liked it since I was a little kid and my mother made me eat it and I'm President of the United States and I'm not going to eat any more broccoli."

Needless to say, broccoli growers got a little “steamed” by the president’s comment. Within a week, broccoli growers in California had shipped ten thousand pounds of the flowery, green vegetable to the White House where it was donated to a local food bank to help feed the needy.

Ten years later, in February of 2001, President George W. Bush proved that "blood is thicker than diplomacy" at a news conference during a visit with Mexico's newly elected president Vicente Fox, whose family owns a large broccoli farm in Mexico. According to a news report, President Bush was asked by a reporter for his opinion of broccoli. After briefly hesitatating, he reportedly flashed a "thumb's down" sign and said, "Make it cauliflower."

So 41 and 43 are clearly not fond of broccoli, but if they try this simple and simply delicious recipe for Parmesan Roasted Broccoli from Ina Garten they might just change their minds!

4 to 5 pounds broccoli
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
Good olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves (about 12 leaves)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the broccoli florets from the thick stalks, leaving an inch or two of stalk attached to the florets, discarding the rest of the stalks. Cut the larger pieces through the base of the head with a small knife, pulling the florets apart. You should have about 8 cups of florets.

Place the broccoli florets on a sheet pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Toss the garlic on the broccoli and drizzle with 5 tablespoons olive oil. Sprinkle with the salt and pepper. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until crisp-tender and the tips of some of the florets are browned. Remove broccoli from the oven and immediately toss with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, the lemon zest, lemon juice, pine nuts, Parmesan, and basil. Serve hot and enjoy!

Credit: Oil Portrait of George Herbert Walker Bush by Herbert Abrams, White House Historical Assocation (White House Collection)

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Theodore Roosevelt, Muckrakers, and the "Monarchical Manners" of the White House

In keeping with the progressive, muckraking nature of the times, a journalist for Harper's Weekly complained about "the monarchical manners" of the White House during Theodore Roosevelt's administration.

In particular, the journalist alleged that "since Mr. Roosevelt became President there have been witnessed behind the White House doors an exclusiveness, a rigor of etiquette, and a display of swords and gold braid such as no one of his predecessors ever dreamed of...The atmosphere of the White House, once democratic and free, has become tainted with the manners of monarchy."

Similar criticisms were expressed in a June 1906 Washington Post column in which Roosevelt was condemned for indulging in extravagant dining practices at the White House. Responding to the allegations, a spokesman for the president sent a letter to the Post which appeared the next day:

When anyone endeavors to create a widespread impression that the President and his family sit down to a four or five course breakfast, a six or seven course luncheon, and a ten-course dinner, the President feels that a denial is not inappropriate. Instead of a breakfast consisting of oranges, cantaloupes, cereals, eggs, bacon, lamb chops, hot cakes, and waffles, President Roosevelt insists that the regular White House breakfast consists of hard boiled eggs, rolls, and coffee.

Instead of a luncheon of such delicious viands as Little Neck clams, stuffed olives, celery, consommé of chicken, fish sauté, eggs a la turque, Spring lamb, new string beans, asparagus, mashed potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, strawberries and ice cream, President Roosevelt declares that when alone he always contents himself with a bowl of bread and milk.

When Mrs. Roosevelt or the children are present, the luncheon consists of cold meat, tea, cantaloupe in season, and bread. Instead of a ten-course dinner, the President declares that nine times out of ten a three-course dinner is served, and the other time a two-course dinner.


Despite the muckrakers' monarchical allegations, Roosevelt's reputation inside the White House was that of a simple family man. Ike Hoover served in the White House for forty-two years, eventually serving as Chief Usher in charge of day-to-day operations. In his memoirs, published in 1934, Hoover provided insight into the Roosevelt family’s daily dining habits:

The entire family [sat] down [for] breakfast at eight o'clock. After breakfast the President spent an hour or so in his study, perhaps reading, while Mrs. Roosevelt arranged the details of the day's program. The President went to his office at nine-thirty or ten o'clock, and Mrs. Roosevelt for a walk or shopping...All returned just about in time for lunch. Those famous lunches!

Something indeed was wrong when there were not two or more guests for this meal. To prepare properly for a certain number was almost a physical impossibility, for notice was continually coming from the office that someone had been invited at the last minute, and many times the family and guests had to wait until the table was made larger before they could be seated. The place was really a transient boardinghouse, and how every one got enough to eat was the wonder of the household...


Although Hoover didn't mention what particular dishes were served at those famous Roosevelt luncheons, researchers tell us that TR's diet consisted of "quite a bit of game from hunting expeditions" and that he was also fond of Southern Fried Chicken with White Gravy and Grits. If you'd like to whip up some Southern Fried Chicken for your next family luncheon or dinner this week, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from Paula Dean:

3 eggs
1/3 cup water
About 1 cup hot red pepper sauce
2 cups self-rising flour
1 teaspoon pepper
House seasoning, recipe follows
1 (1 to 2 pound) chicken, cut into pieces
Oil, for frying, preferably peanut oil

In a medium size bowl, beat the eggs with the water. Add enough hot sauce so the egg mixture is bright orange. In another bowl, combine the flour and pepper. Season the chicken with the house seasoning. Dip the seasoned chicken in the egg, and then coat well in the flour mixture. Heat the oil to 350 degrees F in a deep pot. Do not fill the pot more than 1/2 full with oil. Fry the chicken in the oil until brown and crisp. Dark meat takes longer then white meat. It should take dark meat about 13 to 14 minutes, white meat around 8 to 10 minutes.

FAST FACT: As for the Roosevelt's evenings, Hoover noted that "it was more to the liking of the family to spend a quiet evening in the library, either playing cards or reading the current magazines. The whole family were fiends when it came to reading. No newspapers. Never a moment was allowed to go to waste; from the oldest to the youngest they always had a book or a magazine before them. The President...would just devour a book and it was no uncommon thing for him to go entirely through three or four volumes in the course of an evening. Likewise we frequently saw one of the children stretched out on the floor flat on his stomach eating a piece of candy and with his face buried deep in a book."

Monday, October 3, 2011

"Ike Runs the Country, I Turn the Pork Chops"

During the 1952 presidential campaign, Dwight Eisenhower's wife Mamie was by his side every step of the way, delighting crowds with her quick wit and natural charm. Campaign songs were written about her and colorful buttons and posters proclaimed, “I LIKE IKE, BUT I LOVE MAMIE.”

Biographers say that one reason Mamie was so popular as First Lady was that she shared the country’s interests and middle-class values. She watched soap operas, played board games, and reportedly encouraged White House cooks to use boxed cake mixes and Jell-O.

Even her personal tastes reflected those of the nation. She was a fan of such hit shows as “I Love Lucy” and "The Milton Berle Show" and let it be known that she and Ike liked to take their dinner on trays while watching TV in the private family quarters at the White House.

As First Lady, Mamie was proud of her role as a traditional housewife, and was famously quoted as saying, “Ike runs the country, I turn the pork chops.” But Mamie did occasionally break with tradition in her entertaining as First Lady. According to White House historians, she regularly decorated the State Dining Room each holiday season with Halloween skeletons, witches, jack-o-lanterns, St. Patrick's Day leprechauns and green ribbons.

The Eisenhowers also entertained more royalty and heads-of-state than most previous administrations. Among their guests were the emperor of Ethiopia; the presidents of Panama, Haiti, Turkey, Italy, and Ireland; the rulers of Greece, Nepal, and Denmark, as well as Nikita Khrushchev and Winston Churchill.

The highlight of the 1957 social season, however, was undoubtedly the round of festivities celebrating Queen Elizabeth II’s first trip to Washington, D.C., after she became Queen of England. In addition to hosting reciprocal state dinners and exchanging diplomatic gifts, the president and the queen also shared recipes through the mail.

Yet for all its glamour and excitement, the Queen’s visit came at a difficult time for Eisenhower. In September of 1957, racial tensions over desegregation had exploded in violence in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then came news in early October that the Soviet Union had orbited the first space satellite (Sputnick), causing many Americans to fear that the United States was losing both the "space race" and the Cold War.

Nevertheless, the Eisenhowers’ charismatic personalities and traditional middle-class values allowed them to maintain the affection and approval of an overwhelming majority of Americans throughout the 1950s and into their retirement.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Barack Obama's Golf Match, an A-List Celebrity Fundraiser, and Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops

While President Obama's golf weekend with Tiger Woods made national headlines in 2011, his friendly round of golf with Bill Clinton also caused quite a stir. According to NPR, "the two teed off on a cloudy afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington and finished up just over four hours later." Although the White House declined to say how the outing came about or what the scores were, a joint statement from their spokesmen said "the presidents enjoyed it." And although their scores may remain Top Secret, what's not so secret is that many American presidents have been avid golfers.

According to Don van Natta’s First Off the Tee: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters, 14 of the last 17 presidents have been serious golfers and "how they played the game revealed a lot about their character." Dwight Eisenhower, for example, reportedly played more than 800 times during his eight years in office and had a putting green installed on the south lawn of the White House.

A member of Augusta National Golf Club, Ike broke 80 on a dozen occasions, according to van Natta, and the "Eisenhower Pine," located on the 17th hole, is named after him. Ike supposedly hit the tree so many times that, at a club meeting in 1956, he proposed that it be cut down. Not wanting to offend the president, the club’s chairman reportedly adjourned the meeting rather than reject the president's request.

John F. Kennedy was also a serious golfer but he reportdly didn't want to be seen playing because he wanted to contrast his image with Eisenhower’ s reputation of “golfing his way through the presidency.” Kennedy and his aides reportedly “made a lot of hay out of Ike's constant playing, and called him the ‘Duffer in Chief.’” But they tried to keep [JFK's] game secret.

In fact, Americans didn't really know that JFK loved golf until several months after he was in office. The reason they let the cat out of the bag, according to van Natta, was because of rumors about JFK’s other “extracurricular activities.” Pierre Salinger, JFK’s press secretary, had to say, "No, no, no. He's playing golf,” which was a lot better than the alternative.

As for Lyndon Johnson, van Natta says that he “really tore it up” on the golf course and “would take 300, sometimes 400 swings, to get around an 18-hole golf course...He just wanted the feel of one perfect shot, and if it took 400 swings to do it, he was going to do it. He was the president and nobody was going to get in his way."

While Ronald Reagan only played the game about a dozen times while in office, he loved to putt around as evidenced by photographs of him putting in the Oval Office and on Air Force One. But nowhere does golf run deeper than in the Bush family bloodline.

George H.W. Bush's maternal grandfather, George Herbert Walker, served as president of the United States Golf Association in 1920. A single-digit handicapper, he donated the Walker Cup, the trophy awarded to the winning team in the biennial matches between leading amateur golfers from the U.S. and Great Britain/Ireland. And 41’s father, Senator Prescott S. Bush, was a scratch golfer who served as president of the USGA in 1935. (Now there's a good sports trivia question for you!)

As for Clinton, Van Natta, who played golf with the former president a few summers ago, said that Clinton "followed the rules for about a hole and a half. Then he...started taking these do-over shots, gimme putts and, at the end of the 18 holes, it took him about 200 swings to score an 82."

And as for Obama, an article in Time magazine notes that he took up golf “as a relaxing alternative to basketball...but now that his game is out of the closet, it is clear that he duffs in much the same way that he tries to govern.” Wellington Wilson, Obama’s longtime golf buddy, was quoted in the article as saying, “You can really tell a person's personality by the way he plays golf. He just goes with the flow. Not too high. Not too low."

While it's hard to know if Obama "just went with the flow" on the course with Bill Clinton, we do know that he attended a Black Caucus Dinner in Washington D.C. later in the evening, then flew to the West Coast where he pitched his Buffett Rule plan to tax millionaires to some A-List celebrities on Monday night during a fundraiser at the upscale Fig and Olive restaurant in West Hollywood.

According to obamafoodroma.com, celebs on the guest list included Jack Black, Jamie Foxx, Danny DeVito, Eva Longoria, Quincy Jones, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, and Gina Gershon. Producer Jon Landau (Titanic and Avatar), producer/director Judd Apatow, producer/director Aaron Sorkin, and California. Governor Jerry Brown were also on hand for the festivities, where guests shelled out $17,900 each for dinner. So what kind of meal comes with such a whopping price tag? Well, according to laweekly.com:

Fig & Olive's PR company remains tight-lipped about [Monday] night's fare, and the restaurant's employees are under strict confidentiality agreements. But this afternoon, we spoke to a guest who was more than happy to spill the beans, and reveal the $17,900 Obama dinner's secret ingredients.

According to the guest, the dinner had no printed menu, but the appetizer options included jamón ibérico and a fig Gorgonzola tartlet, while the entree options included: striped bass filet en papillote with zucchini, eggplant, fennel, tomato, thyme, scallion, and saffron, and served with Arbequina olive oil mashed potato & chives; free range organic chicken breast with grilled zucchini, eggplant, heirloom tomato, cipollini onion, roasted fig, Parmesan polenta, and marinated red bell pepper; and rosemary lamb chops, grilled then smoked a la minute with Herbs de Provence, goat cheese, and chive gnocchi.


Sounds mighty fancy, but since most of us probably don't have a spare $17,900 to drop on a Monday night dinner, here's a more simple recipe for Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops from epicurious.com:

3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary or 3 teaspoons dried
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 1-inch-thick loin lamb chops, fat trimmed

Mix first 6 ingredients in small bowl. Place lamb chops in single layer in 13x9x2-inch glass dish. Pour marinade over. cover with foil and refrigerate 4 hours, turning lamb chops occasionally.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat). When coals turn white, drain chips, if using, and scatter over coals. When chips begin to smoke, season lamb with salt and pepper and place on grill. Cover; grill shops to desired doneness, basting often with marinade, about 4 minutes per side for medium-rare. Transfer to platter and serve.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

John Quincy Adams Johnny Cake

Although John Quincy Adams spent much of his youth traveling with his father overseas, he never expressed much interest in any of Europe’s many fine cuisines, but family members said that he was "excessively fond” of fruit and could often be seen plucking fresh pears, plums and cherries from local orchard trees when they blossomed each spring.

Like his mother and father, John also retained a childhood taste for the simple foods his New England youth, like Boston Baked Beans, Seafood Chowder and Indian Pudding. He may have also enjoyed Baptist Cakes. Back in those days, these little bits of deep-fried bread dough were popular throughout New England, but their name changed from state to state. Connecticut residents reportedly called them "Holy Pokes" but they were known as "Huff Puffs" along Maine’s rocky coast!

Johnny Cake was another popular nineteenth century treat. Some historians say that the name derives from Journey Cake, a "small, hard biscuit that was easily carried in a pocket on a long trip." Johnny Cake was often served at clambakes. Even more popular at breakfast or as a dessert, they were usually served with butter and molasses or maple syrup.

If you'd like to whip up a batch of Johnny Cake today, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from whatsoookingamerica.com

1 cup white cornmeal
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
1/2 cup milk
Bacon drippings

In a medium bowl, place cornmeal and salt. In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring water to a rapid boil; remove from heat. With the saucepan in one hand, let the boiling water dribble onto the cornmeal while stirring constantly with the other hand. Then stir the milk into the mixture (it will be fairly thick, but not runny).

Generously grease a large, heavy frying pan (I like to use my cast-iron frying pan) with the bacon drippings and heat. When pan is hot, drop the batter by spoonfuls. Flatten the batter with a spatula to a thickness of approximately 1/4 inch. Fry until golden brown, turn, and brown on the other side (adding more bacon drippings as needed). Serve hot with butter, maple syrup, or applesauce.

FAST FACT: At the age of ten, John Quincy embarked on "an incredible European adventure" that prepared him for his later political career. In 1777, John Adams was sent as a convoy to Europe and John Quincy went with him. Sailing from Boston, father and son spent the next seven years living in Paris, the Netherlands, St. Petersburg, and England. After returning to the United States, John Quincy enrolled at Harvard and completed his studies in two years!

Friday, September 23, 2011

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


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!


So that's how Roosevelt's name became associated with a bear. But the story doesn't end there because when a political cartoonist named Clifford Berryman read reports about the incident, he decided to lightheartedly lampoon it. 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 cute cuddly 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 Theodore Roosevelt, a political cartoonist and a Brooklyn candy shop owner led to the invention of the Teddy Bear!

Now...I'm guessing that you probably don't want to feast on juicy bear steaks like those that Roosevelt and his fellow hunters surely enjoyed, but you might like to try these cute Teddy Bear Cupcakes that are a snap to make and 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.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bill Clinton, Matt Lauer, and Dunkin' Donuts


In September, 2011, The Today Show's Matt Lauer sat down for an interview with Bill Clinton about the 2011 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative that was about to get underway in New York.

Near the end of the segment, Lauer got more personal and asked the former president about his healthy new vegan lifestyle. "Thirty seconds to end on a lighter note," Lauer said. "When you were president, you were known for your appetite. Man, you loved the doughnuts, the junk food, anything southern fried. Now we sit here and you've just turned 65, you've had a quadruple bypass and you're a vegan. Does that suck?"

Although Lauer's comments no doubt steamed some vegans and senior citizens, Clinton took it in characteristic stride. “Who’d of thought it?” he laughed. “No, no, you know, when you get older your appetites change and abate and you're more interested in having another good day so I'd like to have as many good days as possible and this seems to be the best way to get it."

Of course, the former president was once famous for his love of McDonalds and Dunkin Donuts, but what's not so well-known is that Hillary Clinton reportedly spent $1,200 of campaign funds to splurge on Dunkin' Donuts during her 2008 presidential campaign. But, according to this article in the New York Times, that expense was just icing on the cake:

An hourlong investigation by the New York Times has found, in the ten months ending in January, that the Clinton campaign reported expenditures of $1,884.83 at Dunkin’ Donuts in New Hampshire and Florida (which she won) and in Virginia (which she didn’t), and $504.02 at Krispy Kreme stores in South Carolina (which she also lost)...

Her bakery bills totaled $5,950.53 (at Dunkin’ prices, about 12,000 doughnuts). Andrea Rowell, assistant manager at the Dunkin’ Donuts in Concord, N.H., where the campaign spent $273 one day last month, said the workers ordered coffee, too. “It wasn’t just doughnuts,” she said.


Now, that's a lot of dough to spend on doughnuts, but it's nothing compared to the amount of stock-market dough that Dunkin' Donuts made that year with its initial public offering. According to this Reuters news report:

Investors eagerly bought the shares of Dunkin' Donuts parent Dunkin' Brands Group Inc sending them up as much as 56 percent on their first day of trading on Wednesday. The stock gained almost 47 percent to close at $27.85 after hitting an session high of $29.62 during its first day of Nasdaq trading.

Although it's not known if the Clintons bought any shares, Hillary could probably save a lot of dough during her 2016 campaign by baking some donuts at home with this recipe for Homemade Glazed Doughnuts from The Pioneer Woman.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

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

So did you know that there's 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 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 reportedly asked if he knew 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 political "scandals" involving the White House bowling alley arose in October of 2009. According to new reports, things got a little tense during a White House Press Briefing 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."

Not satisfied, Reid pressed the bowling alley issue further, at which point Gibbs, defusing the spat with humor, quipped, "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, while most of you probably haven't had the chance to bowl a few games at the White House while eating chicken fingers, you can make this tasty 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. To read an excerpt from my new book click here

Monday, September 12, 2011

Herbert Hoover, "A Chicken in Every Pot" and the Great Depression

During the Great Depression, many Americans couldn't afford to pay their mortgages and lost everything they owned. Suddenly homeless, millions of American families had no choice but to find shelter in shanty towns, or Hoovervilles, which sprang up throughout the United States in the early 1930s.

In the popular musical Annie, which takes place in a Hooverville beneath the 59th Street Bridge in New York City, there is a song called “We'd Like to Thank You, Herbert Hoover." In it, the chorus blames President Hoover for all the hardships they are forced to endure as a result of the Great Depression. Maybe you've heard the lyrics:

[ALL]
Today we're living in a shanty
Today we're scrounging for a meal

[SOPHIE]
Today I'm stealing coal for fires
Who knew I could steal?...

[ALL]
We'd like to thank you: Herber Hoover
For really showing us the way
We'd like to thank you: Herbert Hoover
You made us what we are today...

In ev'ry pt he said "a chicken"
But Herbert Hoover he forgot
Not only don't we have the chicken
We ain't got the pot!


During the Election of 1928, Hoover never actually uttered the phrase “a chicken in every pot and two automobiles in every back yard,” but the Republican Party ran ads suggesting that this was what Americans could expect if he was elected.

As far as modern campaign slogans go, "A Chicken in Every Pot" sounds rather modest. But "the words rang hollow during the Great Depression that blighted Hoover's presidency and shook the economic foundations" of the nation to the core. As one observer remarked, "daily bread and shoes without holes were hard enough to come by, let alone stewing chickens and automobiles."

Nevertheless, while millions of American families were scrounging for food in the streets, President Hoover and his wife Lou were entertaining on a scale not seen at the White House in years. According to historian Poppy Cannon, "The watchword had been economy while the Coolidges lived at the White House. Now it was elegance...Mrs. Hoover never questioned the amount of food consumed or its cost. Her only requirement was that it be of the best quality, well cooked and well served.”

Needless to say, this infuriated many struggling Americans, and, in the Election of 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won in a landslide, ushering in decades of Democratic dominance in presidential elections. Meanwhile, Hoover left the White House in disgrace, "having incurred the public's wrath for failing to lift the nation out of the Great Depression."

Monday, August 29, 2011

Hasty Pudding and the French and Indian War

So did you know that Hasty Pudding is mentioned in a verse in the patriotic song YANKEE DOODLE DANDY? A popular British song, its origins can be traced to the French and Indian War. It was later adopted in the United States and is the state anthem of Connecticut today. Maybe you remember the lyrics:

Yankee Doodle went to town
A-riding on a pony
Stuck a feather in his cap
And called it macaroni'

Yankee Doodle keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy

Fath'r and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Gooding
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty puddin'


Part of the Seven Years War between France and England, the French and Indian War was fought in North America between 1754 and 1763. The name of the war refers to the two main enemies of the British: the Royal French forces and the various American Indian tribes allied with them.

Heavily outnumbered and outgunned by the British, the French and Indian forces “collapsed in a massive defeat” in Quebec in 1759, and, in less than a year, the British controlled most of the North American frontier.

Although victorious, the war plunged Britain deeply into debt, which King George III sought to pay off by imposing taxes on sugar, coffee, wine, rum, tea, and other imports to the colonies. These taxes, along with other increasingly oppressive measures, united the colonists in opposition and set them down the path toward the Revolutionary War.

Now...Hasty Pudding most certainly wasn't a standard wartime ration, but, by the early eighteenth century, it was a common dish in England and the colonies, with its origins reaching back to the various pottages of the Middle Ages. According to the Oxford Companion to Food and Drink:

Hasty pudding, the simplest of all puddings, if it can be called a pudding at all, for it is no more than a porridge of flour and milk. Such a pudding should be made in little more time than it took to boil the milk, and it has no doubt been a popular emergency dish since the Middle Ages, if not earlier.

Sweetened, flavoured with spice or rosewater, and dotted with butter, hasty pudding can be quite palatable; and in fact in the 18th and 19th centuries in England it was esteemed as a delicacy...In the far north of England, and in Scotland, at least as early as the 18th century, the name came to be applied to a plain porridge of oats and barley, made with water as often as milk. In Victorian England...Hasty pudding was sometimes made with oatmeal, or with sago or tapioca. Milk was always used.


While recipes vary considerably, most early American versions were known as Indian Pudding because it was typically prepared with ground Indian maize and sweetened with maple sugar or molasses. If you'd like to whip up a batch of this classic American dish, here's a simple recipe to try from simplyrecipes.com:

6 cups of milk
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup molasses
3 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of cinnamon
1 teaspoon of nutmeg

Scald the milk and butter in a large double boiler. Or heat the milk and butter for 5 or 6 minutes on high heat in the microwave, until it is boiling, then transfer it to a pot on the stove. Keep hot on medium heat. Preheat oven to 250°F. In a separate bowl, mix cornmeal, flour, and salt; stir in molasses. Thin the mixture with about 1/2 cup of scalded milk, then gradually add the mixture back to the large pot of scalded milk. Cook, stirring until thickened.

Temper the eggs by slowly adding a half cup of the hot milk cornmeal mixture to the beaten eggs, whisking constantly. Add the egg mixture back in with the hot milk cornmeal mixture, stir to combine. Stir in sugar and spices, until smooth.

At this point, if the mixture is clumpy, you can run it through a blender to smooth it out. Pour into a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish. Bake for 2 hours at 250°F. Allow the pudding to cool about an hour. It should be reheated to warm temperature if it has been chilled. Serve with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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