Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Barack Obama's Golf Match, an A-List Celebrity Fundraiser, and Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops

While President Obama's golf weekend with Tiger Woods made national headlines in 2011, his friendly round of golf with Bill Clinton also caused quite a stir. According to NPR, "the two teed off on a cloudy afternoon at Andrews Air Force Base outside Washington and finished up just over four hours later." Although the White House declined to say how the outing came about or what the scores were, a joint statement from their spokesmen said "the presidents enjoyed it." And although their scores may 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: Presidential Hackers, Duffers, and Cheaters, 14 of the last 17 presidents have been serious golfers and "how they played the game revealed a lot about their character." Dwight Eisenhower, for example, reportedly 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, according to van Natta, and the "Eisenhower Pine," located on the 17th hole, is named after him. Ike supposedly hit the tree so many times that, at a club meeting in 1956, he proposed that it be cut down. Not wanting to offend the president, the club’s chairman reportedly adjourned the meeting rather than reject the president's request.

John F. Kennedy was also a serious golfer but he reportdly didn't want to be seen playing because he wanted to contrast his image with Eisenhower’ s reputation of “golfing his way through the presidency.” Kennedy and his aides reportedly “made a lot of hay out of Ike's constant playing, and called him the ‘Duffer in Chief.’” But they tried to keep [JFK's] game secret.

In fact, Americans didn't really know that JFK loved golf until several months after he was in office. The reason they let the cat out of the bag, according to van Natta, was because of rumors about JFK’s other “extracurricular activities.” Pierre Salinger, JFK’s press secretary, had to say, "No, no, no. He's playing golf,” which was a lot better than the alternative.

As for Lyndon Johnson, van Natta says that he “really tore it up” on the golf course and “would take 300, sometimes 400 swings, to get around an 18-hole golf course...He just wanted the feel of one perfect shot, 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."

While Ronald Reagan only played the game about a dozen times while in office, he loved to putt around as evidenced by photographs of him putting in the Oval Office and on 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. (Now there's a good sports trivia question for you!)

As for Clinton, Van Natta, who played golf with the former president a few summers ago, said that Clinton "followed the rules for about a hole and a half. Then he...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 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 in the article 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."

While it's hard to know if Obama "just went with the flow" on the course with Bill Clinton, we do know that he attended a Black Caucus Dinner in Washington D.C. later in the evening, then flew to the West Coast where he pitched his Buffett Rule plan to tax millionaires to some A-List celebrities on Monday night during a fundraiser at the upscale Fig and Olive restaurant in West Hollywood.

According to, celebs on the guest list included Jack Black, Jamie Foxx, Danny DeVito, Eva Longoria, Quincy Jones, Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman, and Gina Gershon. Producer Jon Landau (Titanic and Avatar), producer/director Judd Apatow, producer/director Aaron Sorkin, and California. Governor Jerry Brown were also on hand for the festivities, where guests shelled out $17,900 each for dinner. So what kind of meal comes with such a whopping price tag? Well, according to

Fig & Olive's PR company remains tight-lipped about [Monday] night's fare, and the restaurant's employees are under strict confidentiality agreements. But this afternoon, we spoke to a guest who was more than happy to spill the beans, and reveal the $17,900 Obama dinner's secret ingredients.

According to the guest, the dinner had no printed menu, but the appetizer options included jamón ibérico and a fig Gorgonzola tartlet, while the entree options included: striped bass filet en papillote with zucchini, eggplant, fennel, tomato, thyme, scallion, and saffron, and 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 mighty fancy, but since most of us probably don't have a spare $17,900 to drop on a Monday night dinner, here's a more simple recipe for Grilled Rosemary Lamb Chops from

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.

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

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, Matt Lauer, and Dunkin' Donuts

In September, 2011, The Today Show's Matt Lauer sat down for an interview with Bill Clinton about the 2011 meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative that was about to get underway 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 some vegans and senior citizens, 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 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 article in the New York Times, that expense was just icing on the cake:

An hourlong investigation by the New York Times has found, in the ten 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 spend on doughnuts, but it's nothing compared to the amount of stock-market dough that Dunkin' Donuts made that year with its initial public offering. According to this 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.

Although it's not known if the Clintons bought any shares, Hillary could probably save a lot of dough during her 2016 campaign by baking some donuts at home with this recipe for Homemade Glazed Doughnuts from The Pioneer Woman.

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."