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."

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

William Henry Harrison, Castor Oil, and a Brief Constitutional Crisis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.