Monday, November 25, 2019

A Brief History of the White House Turkey Pardon, from Abraham Lincoln to Barack Obama


As it often is with political history, there are competing claims as to when the presidential tradition of "pardoning" a Thanksgiving Day holiday turkey began. Some say it dates back to the 1860s, when Abraham Lincoln's young son Tad begged his dad to spare the life of a wild turkey named "Jack" that had been sent to the Lincolns to be part of their Christmas dinner.

Others claim that the tradition began during Harry Truman's administration. Although it's true that the National Turkey Federation has been providing holiday turkeys to the White House since 1947, when Truman was in office, there's no evidence to prove that this story is true. This is what the Truman Library offered on the issue:

The Truman Library has received many requests over the years for information confirming the story that President Truman "pardoned" a Thanksgiving turkey in 1947, thus initiating a Presidential tradition that continues to this day.

The Library's staff has found no documents, speeches, newspaper clippings, photographs, or other contemporary records in our holdings which refer to Truman pardoning a turkey that he received as a gift in 1947, or at any other time during his Presidency. Truman sometimes indicated to reporters that the turkeys he received were destined for the family dinner table. In any event, the Library has been unable to determine when the tradition of pardoning the turkey actually began.


While President John F. Kennedy spared a turkey's life on November 19, 1963, just days before his assassination, he didn't use the word "pardon." Instead, the bird had a sign hanging around its neck that read, "GOOD EATING, MR. PRESIDENT!", which prompted Kennedy to quip, "Let's just keep him."

The first president to actually use the word "pardon" in reference to a holiday turkey was reportedly Ronald Reagan, who deflected questions in 1987 about pardoning Oliver North in the Iran-Contra affair by joking that he would also pardon a turkey named "Charlie," who was already heading to a local petting zoo.


Which brings us to President George H.W. Bush, who was apparently the first president to intentionally "pardon" a turkey. At the National Turkey Presentation Ceremony in 1989, Bush light-heartedly remarked: "Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone's dinner table, not this guy - he's granted a Presidential pardon as of right now - and allow him to live out his days on a children's farm not far from here."

Although it's difficult to confirm exactly when this White House tradition began, we do know where some of the more recently pardoned turkeys have been sent after receiving their presidential reprieves. From 1989 until 2004, the fortunate fowls were sent to live out their natural lives at Frying Pan Farm in Virginia.

The venue changed in 2005, however, when Disneyland was celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. That year, a lucky turkey named "Marshmallow," and his alternate, "Yam," were taken by police escort to the airport and then flown first class to California. According to the Associated Press:

Marshmallow became the Grand Marshal of Disneyland's Thanksgiving parade, and the sign above his float read "The Happiest Turkey on Earth." The turkeys then retired to a coop at the park's Big Thunder Ranch, where three of the pardoned birds...still live. Florida's Disney World got the birds from 2007, when they arrived on a United Airlines flight that was renamed "Turkey One."

In 2010, the venue changed yet again. Instead of being sent to Disneyland, the 21-week-old turkey that President Obama pardoned was sent to live out the rest of his life at George Washington's Mount Vernon Estate in Virginia. Upon its arrival at Mount Vernon, it was reportedly "be driven to his pen in a horse-drawn carriage and be greeted with a trumpet fanfare."


A spokeswoman for Mount Vernon said that it was appropriate that the turkey go to Washington's home since he was the first president to issue a Thanksgiving Proclamation, and he raised wild turkeys at Mount Vernon.

Although she didn't say how the Washington's preferred to serve their Thanksgiving birds, the Mount Vernon Inn offers a daily lunch menu that includes a "Colonial Turkey Pye" which is described as "a turkey stew served with mixed vegetables and topped with a homemade buttermilk biscuit."

While it might be difficult to obtain a copy of that particular recipe, you can try this quick and simple recipe for Turkey Pot Pie if you need something to do with your leftover turkey this Thanksgiving or this one from Pillsubry.com:


1 sheet frozen puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 (11-ounce) cans condensed Cheddar cheese soup
2 (10 3/4-ounce) cans cream of celery soup
1 large turkey skinned, cooked, boned and cubed
2 medium onions, diced
2 cup cooked butternut squash, diced
2 cup cranberries
Salt and pepper

Preheat to 350 degrees F. To make the crust, dust surface with flour. Cut 1 sheet of frozen puff pastry into 1-inch strips, 8 inches long.
On a large cookie sheet, weave strips into a lattice large enough to cover each pot pie. Mix egg and milk together and brush onto each lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes.

Dough will rise and turn light golden brown. Set aside. In a large saucepan heat the soups. Stir in turkey, onion, squash, cranberries, salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a boil. In an oven-proof dish, fill with mixture and top with the pre-cooked lattice square. Bake for 5 minutes until bubbly and puff pastry is deep golden brown.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Golfer-in-Chief: Barack Obama, Tiger Woods, and Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops


While Donald Trump's round of golf with Tiger Woods this year made national headlines, Tiger's round with Barack Obama in 2013 also caused quite a stir. Although scores 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, 14 of the last 17 presidents have been serious golfers and how they played the game reveals a lot about their character. Dwight Eisenhower 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 and the Eisenhower Pine, once located on the 17th hole, was named after him. Ike hit the tree so many times that, at a club meeting in 1956, he proposed that the tree be cut down. Not wanting to offend the president, the club’s chairman adjourned the meeting rather than reject the request.

John F. Kennedy was a serious golfer but didn't want to be seen playing because he wanted to contrast his image with Ike’s reputation of “golfing his way through the presidency.” JFK and his aides reportedly made a lot of hay out of Ike's constant playing, and dubbed him "Duffer in Chief.”


As for LBJ, van Natta says that he “really tore it up” on the course and would take 300, sometimes 400 swings, in a round. "He just wanted the feel of one perfect shot," van Natta notes, "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."

Ronald Reagan only played the game about a dozen times while in office, but he loved putting around the Oval Office and aboard 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.


As for Clinton, Van Natta says he "followed the rules for about a hole and a half. Then...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 Barack 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 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."


And while it's hard to know if Donald Trump chose to just "go with the flow" with Tiger Woods last year, we do know that Obama attended a Black Caucus Dinner in Washington D.C. after his match with #MacDaddySanta, then flew to California for a fundraiser at the ritzy Fig and Olive restaurant in West Hollywood.

According to obamafoodroma.com, celebrity guests included Jack Black, Jamie Foxx, Danny DeVito, and Quincy Jones. Judd Apatow and Aaron Sorkin were also on hand for the festivities, where guests reportedly shelled out a whopping $17,900 each for dinner.

So what kind of meal comes with such a price tag? Well, one guest revealed that appetizer options included:

jamón ibérico and a fig Gorgonzola tartlet, while entree options included striped bass filet en papillote with zucchini, eggplant, fennel, tomato, thyme, scallion, and saffron 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 delish, but since most of us don't have a spare $18k to drop on dinner, here's a fabulous and more affordable 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.

Monday, November 4, 2019

Watergate and Richard Nixon Family-Style Meatloaf


Around 2:30 a.m. on June 17, 1972, five men, one of whom was a former employee of the CIA, were arrested in what authorities would later describe as "an enormous plot to bug the offices of the Democratic National Committee" at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C.

It was an election year, and, as the investigation into the break-in unfolded, a pattern of unlawful activites within President Richard Nixon's administration was uncovered by the press. Together, these federal crimes and misdeeds would become known as "the Watergate scandal" and lead to Nixon's resignation from the Office of the Presidency on August 9, 1974.

On his final day in office, Nixon reportedly awoke at 7:00 a.m. after "a fitful night." After a light breakfast, Nixon signed a one-sentence Letter of Resignation and said an emotional goodbye to his staff. Shortly after 9:00 a.m. he entered the East Room and made a brief Farewell Address to an overflow crowd of White House staff and Cabinet members. He then joined Gerald Ford for a short walk across the South Lawn to a helicopter that would whisk him away into history.


The previous evening, Nixon had delivered a televised Resignation Address to the nation. After acknowledging that he had lost the support of Congress and saying, "I have never been a quitter," Nixon said:

To leave office before my term is completed is abhorent to every instinct in my body. But as President I must put the interests of America first. America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad.

To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.

Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office. As I recall the high hopes for America with which we began this second term, I feel a great sadness that I will not be here in this office working on your behalf to achieve those hopes in the next 2 1/2 years.


It doesn't take too much investigative work to uncover records of what Nixon ate for breakfast on his final day in office, as it has been reported that it consisted of a small plate of cottage cheese with sliced pineapple and a glass of milk.


White House Chef Henry Haller later revealed that, at breakfast, Nixon "liked fresh fruit, wheat germ with nondairy creamer and coffee." At dinner, Nixon enjoyed Sirloin Steak, cooked medium-rare and lightly seasoned; Chicken Cordon Blue; and more simple dishes like Spaghetti and Meatballs. He was also fond of his wife Patricia's Family-Style Meatloaf. According to Haller:

Meat loaf appeared about once a month on the family dinner menus. As soon as the public became aware of this fact, the White House was inundated with inquires for the recipe that so pleased the presidential palate. To ease my burden, Mrs. Nixon's meat loaf recipe was printed on White House stationery to be sent in response to the thousands of requests for it.

If you'd like to get a taste of Pat Nixon's Meatloaf at your next family dinner, here's a recipe to try here and here's the original recipe from The White House Cookbook by Henry Haller:


2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onions
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 slices white bead
1 cup milk
2 pounds lean ground beef
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
2 tablespoons tomato puree
2 tablespoons bread crumbs

Grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. Melt butter in a saute pan, add garlic and saute until just golden. Let cool. Dice bread and soak it in milk. In a large mixing bowl, mix ground beef by hand with sauteed onions and garlic and bread pieces. Add eggs, salt, pepper, parsley, thyme and marjoram and mix by hand in a circular motion.

Turn this mixture into the prepared baking pan and pat into a loaf shape, leaving at least one inch of space around the edges to allow fat to run off. Brush the top with the tomato puree and sprinkle with bread crumbs. Refrigerate for 1 hour to allow the flavors to penetrate and to firm up the loaf.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Bake meatloaf for 1 hour, or until meat is cooked through. Pour off accumulated fat while baking and after meat is cooked. Let stand on wire rack for five minutes before slicing.


FAST FACT: A year and a half before Nixon resigned, an entirely different calamity unfolded in Washington. This time, it didn't involve illegal break-ins and phone taps but...pigeons! It all began the day before Nixon's second inaugural parade when attempts were made to clear pigeons from Pennsylvania Avenue. Upon Nixon's request, the inaugural committeee spent $13,000 to smear tree branches with a chemical repellent called “Roost No More” which was supposed to drive the bothersome birds away by making their feet itch. Sadly, many of the pigeons ate the stuff and keeled over, leaving the parade route littered with "dead and dying birds which had to be hurriedly swept away.” Doh!