Monday, June 24, 2013

Thomas Jefferson's Favorite Pet

So did you know that in the fall of 1772, when Thomas Jefferson was newly married and had a one-month old child, he purchased a family pet. "For five shillings he bought a mockingbird...the first in a procession of singing birds that would always be part of Jefferson's household."

Of all the mockingbirds that Jefferson purchased, his favorite was reportedly a little songbird named Dick. In The First Forty Years of Washington Society, Margaret Bayard Smith, a prominent Washington socialite who was frequently invited to dine at the President's House, noted that Jefferson "cherished this bird with peculiar fondness, not only for its melodious powers, but for its uncommon intelligence and affectionate disposition, of which qualities he gave surprising instances." According to Mrs. Smith, this unsually intelligent little bird

was the constant companion of [Jefferson's] solitary and studious hours. Whenever he was alone he opened the cage and let the bird fly about the room. After flitting for a while from one object to another, it would alight on his table and regale him with its sweetest notes...Often when he retired to his chamber, it would hop up the stairs after him, and while he took his siesta, would sit on his couch and pour forth its melodious strains.

So what in the world does this have to do with presidential history and food? Well, not a whole lot, except that Jefferson was reportedly so fond of Dick that he would often let it "perch on his shoulder and take its food from his lips!"

Although Jefferson didn't leave records of the type of foods he usually fed to his little pet, experts say that mockingbirds generally feed on insects, wild fruit, weeds, and seeds. During the spring and summer, "caterpillars, grasshoppers, ants, bees, and other insects make up most of their diet," and, during the wintertime, they primarily eat vegetable matter. Because of their insect-eating habits, most people consider mockingbirds "more helpful than harmful," and no one can dispute the fact that these birds "truly sing for their supper," something that Jefferson took great delight in throughout most of his extraordinary life!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

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

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

According to historians at the National Park Service:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 3, 2013

Bill Clinton Healthy Chicken Enchiladas


According to an article in the Dining & Wine section of the New York Times, Bill Clinton has somehow become "an arbiter of international fine dining, conferring a sort of informal Michelin star just by showing up." And, if you travel enough, according to the article, "you will eventually hear a tip that goes something like: 'When you’re in Madrid, try Casa Lucio. Bill Clinton ate there with the King of Spain.' Or “Check out Le Pont de la Tour in London. Bill Clinton loves it.'"

So how, exactly, did Mr. Clinton, whose name still conjures up silly memories of Saturday Night Live skits involving greasy cheeseburgers and fries become known as “earth's No. 1 restaurant maven” overseas? Well...New York Times reporter David Segal explained it this way:

It’s widely (and correctly) assumed that he has good connections everywhere he visits, so he’s unlikely to wind up at a dud. More than most celebrities, he seems like a person who appreciates good food, and before he had heart surgery, he was known for his wide-ranging appetite.

And when Mr. Clinton visits a restaurant, everybody in the room knows it. Douglas Band, an aide who frequently travels with Mr. Clinton...says his boss introduces himself to every diner, as well as every waiter and every kitchen staff member. He will always pose for photographs and sign guest books [and someone] from his staff will send a thank-you note a few days later...

It’s also true that Mr. Clinton’s patronage in the United States has provided P.R. boosts for places like Il Mulino in Manhattan and Georgia Brown’s in Washington...But when it comes to Bill Clinton and overseas restaurants, the upside is on a far greater scale. Managers and owners from Beijing to Iceland and points between say an appearance by Mr. Clinton can be transformational, launching an obscure restaurant to fame...


These days, Mr. Clinton follows a mostly vegetarian diet, and during his recent, post-presidential travels abroad, he reportedly dined on such healthful menu items as Miso Barley Soup, Black Bean Burritos, and Cauliflower Potato Curry. Of course, it has also been said that he's particularly fond of chicken enchiladas, and so it's not surprising that a healthful recipe for this dish appears in The Clinton Presidential Center Cookbook.

If you'd like to whip up some Bill Clinton's Favorite Chicken Enchiladas for dinner tonight, here's the simple and healthy recipe to try:

2 (4 oz) cans chopped green chillies, drained
1 garlic clove, minced
cooking oil
1 (28 oz) can tomatoes
2 cups chopped onion
2 tsps salt, divided
tsp oregano
3 cups shredded, cooked chicken
2 cups sour cream
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
cup cooking oil
15 corn or flour tortillas

In a large skillet over a medium-high heat, sauté the chillies and garlic in a small amount of oil. Drain the tomatoes, reserving cup of liquid. Break up tomatoes and add to skillet. Add the onion, 1 tsp salt, oregano, and reserved liquid. Simmer, uncovered, until thickened (about 30 minutes).

Remove from heat, transfer to a bowl and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, sour cream, cheese, and remaining salt. In the same skillet over a medium-high heat, heat cup oil. Dip the tortillas in the oil until they become limp and drain well on paper towels. Fill tortillas with the chicken mixture; roll up and arrange side by side, seam side down, in a 9x13x2-inch baking dish. Pour tomato mixture over the enchiladas. Bake at 350°F for 20 minutes.

FOOD FACT: The Clinton Presidential Center Cookbook contains 250 recipes from the former president's lifelong friends, family members, celebrities, and White House staff and cabinet members. Some of the tasty and homey regional recipes include Muhammad Ali's Favorite Bread Pudding, Al and Tipper Gore's Tennessee Tarts, Bono's Black Velvet, Sophia Loren's Penne Alla Puttanesca, James Carville’s Jambalaya, Mary Steenburgen’s Garlic Cheese Grits, and Barbra Streisand’s Southern Lemon Icebox Pie!