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

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

So did you know that the Teddy Bear was created and named 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!

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, Veganism, and Dunkin' Donuts

Early Monday morning, NBC's Today Show co-host Matt Lauer sat down for a brief interview with Bill Clinton about the 2011 Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative which gets underway today 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 many senior citizens, physicians and die-hard vegans, 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 appetite and 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 New York Times report, that expense was just icing on the cake:

An hourlong investigation by the New York Times has found, in the 10 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 be spending on doughnuts, but nothing compared to the amount of stock-market dough that Dunkin' Donuts made in late July with its initial public offering. According to a July 27 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.

The company's new market value of more than $3.5 billion is still significantly smaller than rivals McDonald's Corp and Starbucks Corp but the Dunkin' Donuts chain has a devoted U.S. following and plenty of room for domestic growth, particularly on the West Coast. The chain, whose advertising slogan is "America Runs on Dunkin'," has set a 20-year target for 15,000 U.S. stores -- more than Starbucks' 11,000 and up from about 6,800 currently.

Although you'll have to wait for future reports to find out if the Clintons bought any shares, you can make this recipe for Homemade Glazed Doughnuts from The Pioneer Woman if you're in the mood for some doughnuts this week!

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:

Today we're living in a shanty
Today we're scrounging for a meal

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

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."