Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Lucy Hayes and a Brief History of the Easter Egg Roll at the White Housel


Some historians claim that Dolley Madison originally suggested the idea of a public egg roll on White House grounds while others tell stories of egg-rolling parties dating back to Abraham Lincoln's administration. What is clear, however, is that, beginning in the 1870s, Washingtonians from all social levels celebrated Easter Monday on the west grounds of the U.S. Capitol where children rolled brilliantly dyed hard-boiled eggs down the terraced lawn.

This practice ended in 1876, however, when lawmakers complained that eggs shells were destroying the grass. To resolve this problem, a group of party-poopers in Congress passed the Turf Protection Act which banned egg rolls from Capital grounds, and President Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill into law later that year. Fortunately, the tradition was revived in 1878 when First Lady Lucy Hayes invited children of all ages to roll Easter eggs on the White House lawn, a tradition that has continued ever since.

According to this article in Time Magazine:

Some 53,000 people attended the egg roll in 1941...though in modern times the number is generally under 20,000. Calvin Coolidge's wife mingled through crowds while holding a pet raccoon named Rebecca, while Mrs. Warren G. Harding put on the uniform of her beloved Girl Scouts for the event.

Showcasing modern technology, Eleanor Roosevelt welcomed crowds and addressed listeners across the country via radio in 1933, while the Clinton administration proudly announced that 1998's egg roll would be the first broadcast on the Internet.


In 2016, the Obamas hosted the 138th annual White House Easter Egg Roll on Monday, March 28, when more than 35,000 people joined them on the South Lawn for games, stories, and, of course, the traditional egg roll.


And while the menu for this year's traditional White House Easter Brunch (if there is one!) hasn't been released, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that menu items in 2008 included Honey Baked Ham with Maple Mustard Sauce, Eggs Benedict, spinach salad, waffles, sauteed asparagus, biscuits and cheese grits.

If you'd like whip up some Eggs Benedict for your Easter brunch this Sunday, here's a simple and simply delicious recipe to try from the Food Network:


1 teaspoon vinegar
4 eggs
4 thin slices Canadian bacon
2 English muffins

Hollandaise sauce:

3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon hot water
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and hot
Salt and pepper
Paprika and chopped parsley

In large skillet, bring 2 inches of water and vinegar to a boil. Crack one egg into a glass. Reduce water to a simmer and pour egg into water. Add remaining eggs and cook for 4 minutes. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and drain. In a non-stick skillet heat the bacon until warm. Toast the English muffins until golden.

For sauce: Place yolks, water and lemon juice into blender. Blend for 1 minute. With blender running, pour butter through open hole of lid. Season with salt and pepper. To assemble: Top each muffin with bacon and a poached egg. Pour the warm sauce over and garnish with paprika and the chopped parsley.

FAST FACT: The Easter Egg Roll was held at the White House every year in the 20th century except during World War I, World War II, and the Truman Renovation of the White House, when it was moved to nearby locations or cancelled. Ronald Reagan was the first president to hide autographed eggs for children to find and Richard Nixon and First Lady Pat Nixon were the first to include the Easter Bunny in the festivities. Years earlier, First Lady Grace Coolidge made an appearance at the Easter Egg Roll in the 1920s with her pet racooon Rebecca!

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Last First Class Meal on the Titanic

On April 10, 1912, the RMS Titanic set sail from Southampton England on her maiden voyage to New York City. Known as the largest, most luxurious ocean liner ever built, its passengers were a mix of the world's wealthiest basking in opulent, first-class accommodations and poor hungry immigrants packed into steerage.

Four days into her journey, at 11:40 p.m. on April 14th, the Titanic struck an iceberg in the icy waters of the North Atlantic. One crew member later compared the sound of the collision to "the tearing of calico, nothing more." But the force of the impact tore apart faulty rivets along the hull, filling the ship's interior with some 39,000 tons of seawater before its sinking.

As the bow plunged deeper into the water, passengers frantically scrambled to the stern. Seventeen-year-old Jack Thayer witnessed the sinking from an overturned lifeboat. "We could see groups of the almost fifteen hundred people still aboard," he recalled, "clinging in clusters or bunches, like swarming bees; only to fall in masses, pairs or singly, as the great after part of the ship, two hundred and fifty feet of it, rose into the sky, till it reached a sixty-five or seventy degree angle."

Two hours and forty minutes after striking the iceberg, the last of the Titanic slid slowly beneath the dark surface of the water.


Of course, the sinking of the Titanic is the most famous maritime disaster in modern history and has been chronicled in countless books, novels, plays, TV shows, and movies. What isn't so well-known, however, is that the Titanic carried some of the most advanced culinary facilities afloat, with elegant dining saloons, outdoor cafes, and luxurious first-class dining rooms that rivaled the ritziest restaurants in Paris, London,and New York.

Although a huge staff worked round the clock to serve more than 6,000 meals each day, only two menus were recovered from the Titanic for the final night of its doomed voyage. One of them - the first-class menu - tells us that the meal began as it did every night, with hors d’ouevers and oysters, followed by Consommé Olga, Cream of Barley Soup and Poached Salmon garnished with cucumbers and Mousseline Sauce.

After this came Filet Mignons Lili, Saute of Chicken Lyonnaise, Lamb with Mint Sauce, Roast Duckling, and Sirloin of Beef with Chateau Potatoes, Creamed Carrots, Boiled Rice and Parmentier Potatoes. Then came Punch Romaine with Roast Squab and Cress followed by Cold Asparagus Vinaigrette, Pate de Foie Gras and Celery. If passengers had any room left for dessert, they could choose from such items as Waldorf Pudding, Peaches in Chartreuse Jelly, Chocolate and Vanilla Eclairs, and French Ice Cream.


Although it might be a bit macabre, some Titanic enthusiasts enjoy recreating the last meals on the ship, and Rick Archbold's The Last Dinner on the Titanic presents 50 recipes based on the dishes that appeared on its menus. One of the most delicious items from a first-class dinner menu is Chicken Lyonnaise. If you'd like to get a taste of what some first-class passengers ate on that fateful night, here's the recipe to try:

1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 tbsp chopped fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried)
1/2 tsp each salt and pepper
6 boneless chicken breasts
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/3 cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock
2 tsp tomato paste
Pinch granulated sugar

In sturdy plastic bag, shake together flour, 1 tbsp of the thyme (or 1 1/2
tsp if using dried), salt, and pepper. One at a time, dip chicken breasts
into egg, and then shake in flour mixture. In large deep skillet, heat 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Place chicken in pan, skin side down. Cook, turning once, for 10 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from skillet and place in 225-degree F oven.

Reduce heat to medium; add remaining oil. Stir in onions, garlic and remaining thyme; cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until onions are translucent. Increase heat to medium-high and continue to cook onions, stirring often, for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add wine to pan; cook, stirring to scrape up any brown bits, for about 1 minute of until reduced by half. Stir in stock, tomato paste, and sugar. Boil for 2 minutes or until beginning to thicken. Return chicken to pan, turning to coat, and cook for 5 minutes or until juices from chicken run clear.

FAST FACT: In the wake of the disaster, King George sent a cablegram to President William Howard Taft, which read: "The Queen and I are anxious to assure you and the American nation of the great sorrow which we experienced at the terrible loss of life that has occurred among the American citizens, as well as among my own subjects, by the foundering of the Titanic. Our two countries are so intimately allied by ties of friendship and brotherhood that any mis fortunes which affect the one must necessarily affect the other, and on the present terrible occasion they are both equally sufferers."

In response, Taft sadly wrote, "In the presence of the appalling disaster to the Titanic the people of the two countries are brought into community of grief through their common bereavement. The American people share in the sorrow of their kinsmen beyond the sea. On behalf of my countrymen I thank you for your sympathetic message. "WILLIAM H. TAFT."

Friday, April 5, 2019

Warren Harding, Prohibition and Finger Foods

Although kind and well-liked, Warren Harding is often ranked as the worst president in American history and he even admitted that the job was beyond him. Some observers say that his "claim to infamy rests on spectacular ineptitude captured in his own pathetic words: I am not fit for this office and should never have been here.'" Aware of his limitations, Harding appointed some highly intelligent and capable men to his cabinet, including Charles Evans Hughes as Secretary of State and Herbert Hoover as Secretary of Commerce.

Unfortunately, Harding also surrounded himself with an "unpleasant group of dishonest cheats," who came to be known as the Ohio Gang. According to historians at the Miller Center:

Warren’s close friend and political manager, Harry Daugherty, whom he named attorney general, was one of the worst - and one of the slickest. He survived impeachment attempts by Congress and two indictments for defrauding the government in the disposal of alien property confiscated by his office from German nationals. Another schemer, Albert Fall, Secretary of the Interior, secretly allowed private oil companies to tap the Teapot Dome oil reserve in Wyoming and the Elk Hills oil reserve in California in return for least $300,000 paid to him in bribes.



Whether Harding was aware of his advisors' crimes is uncertain. What is certain, however, is that he played card games and drank whiskey with his advisors upstairs at the White House in private defiance of Prohibition.

Describing the scene at one of Harding's card games that she encountered, Alice Roosevelt, daughter of Teddy Roosevelt, wrote: "the air heavy with tobacco smoke, trays with bottles containing every imaginable brand of whiskey, cards and poker chips ready at hand – a general atmosphere of waistcoat unbuttoned, feet on the desk, and spittoons alongside."

Meanwhile, as Harding was downing whiskey with his advisors at the White House, millions of Americans were drinking at secret taverns and bars called speakeasies, a term used to describe an establishment that sold illegal alcoholic beverages.

According to The Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink:

In order to gain entrance, you had to speak in a low voice through a small opening in the back door and tell the attendant inside who it was who sent you to the place. The term itself...may derive from the English "Speak-softly-shop," an underworld term for a smuggler's house where one might get liquor cheaply, its usage in this sense having been traced back to 1823.

But with the onset of Prohibition, speakeasies sprang up overnight, sometimes in shabby sections of town, but often in the best neighborhoods, and many of these establishments were actually fine restaurants in their own right. New York's "21" club was a speakeasy during this period and had two bars, a dance floor, an orchestra, and dining rooms on two floors...French diplomat Paul Morande, visiting New York in 1925, reported his experience at a speakeasy: "the food is almost always poor, the service deplorable."



It was during this period (referred to today as the Roaring Twenties) that the custom of throwing cocktail parties at home also became popular. The rise of cocktail parties, in turn, inspired the development of finger foods, which worked well for tipsy guests who jiggled Gin Fizzes, Whiskey Smashes, and other popular cocktails while mingling with others in loud, crowded rooms.

Some popular finger foods of the era include Lobster Canapés, Crabmeat Cocktails, Stuffed Deviled Eggs, Caviar Rolls, Oyster Toast, and Savory Cheese Balls. For his part, Harding often served Bratwurst Rolls and Frankfurts with Saurkrauet at his cocktail parties at the White House.

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

1/4 cup butter
2 medium onions, sliced into thin rings
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
3 to 4 (12-ounce) cans beer
8 bratwurst links
8 small, crusty hoagie rolls
whole-grain mustard
dill pickle spears

Prepare the grill for a medium-hot fire. Place the butter in a medium disposable foil roasting pan. Place the pan on the grill rack and cook until the butter melts. Add the onions and garlic (if using). Cook until softened, three to five minutes. Add the beer and bring to a simmer. Place the pan on the low heat zone and keep the onion mixture warm.

Place the bratwurst on the grill rack. Grill, turning occasionally, until evenly charred, four to five minutes. Transfer the bratwurst to the onion mixture and let stand until ready to serve. With tongs, place the bratwurst in the rolls. Serve with the onions, mustard, and pickles.

FOOD FACT: Some mass-manufactured foods introduced during the Roaring Twenties include the Baby Ruth Bar, Wonder Bread, Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hostess Snack Cakes, Kool-Aid, Peter Pan Peanut Butter, and Velveeta!