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September 2011


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Nov. 24th, 2009

fall for restaurants


          photo by Focht.

On a beautiful, warm Saturday night recently, Len and I headed over to Old Town Alexandria for dinner at the Majestic Café. You may remember my mentioning that Mrs. Obama hosted a birthday dinner there for her mother, Marian Robinson, this past summer.

Of course we had to check it out. (This is my favorite kind of "blog homework.")

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Nov. 10th, 2009

fall for restaurants

jared and jama dish on alan wong's pineapple room

"Wong has always been able to take well-loved and highly recognizable dishes and put a spin on them, and nowhere is this talent more apparent than at The Pineapple Room." ~ Jo McGarry, Midweek.

    photo credit: Tina Yuen, PBN

Pictured above is internationally acclaimed chef and restaurateur Alan Wong, whose name is synonymous with the best of Hawai'i Regional Cuisine. Last month when we were on O'ahu, we treated ourselves and nine of our favorite relatives to dinner at The Pineapple Room, one of three restaurants Wong owns in Hawai'i.


Though I had dined before at his flagship restaurant in downtown Honolulu (an Obama favorite), and loved his creative dishes which blend different ethnic cooking styles, this was my first time at The Pineapple Room. 

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Nov. 4th, 2009

fall for restaurants

eating out with the obamas

Sampling a peach at Kroger's Supermarket in Bristol, VA (July 2009).

Do I dare to eat a peach?

Thanks to this man, I can proudly say, "Yes!"

Exactly one year ago today, the very first African American was elected President of the United States. On that day, the universe, and our consciousness, shifted (and my heart soared to the stars and beyond). A President born in Hawai'i? Surely now anything is possible.

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Sep. 17th, 2009

obama puppet

the obama muffin!

photo source: Obama Foodorama.

Sounds absolutely delicious to me: chock full of great Hawaiian-y ingredients like coconut, pineapple and macadamia nuts!

Wanted to point you to this great blog post about Carol McManus, owner of Espresso Love in Edgartown, Martha's Vineyard. Carol's Obama Muffin has been getting worldwide media attention ever since its debut in August, and the story of how a bankrupt single mother of five decided to open a small coffee/breakfast treats café on a strong hunch is indeed inspiring. Espresso Love is highly popular with the locals and many famous people have dropped in, like Robert DeNiro. "Are you lookin' at me, or my muffin?" ☺

I also loved reading about how she created a Presidential Muffin to honor the Clintons, who frequently summer on the Vineyard. After working on the Obama campaign, Carol simply had to create a special muffin just for him and Michelle. (The full recipe is included in the post.)

Carol recently published a très cool cookbook, Table Talk (Vineyard Stories, 2008). The focus is on encouraging families to eat together, and engaging children in the cooking process. A former academic teacher, Carol now gives cooking lessons to local seventh and eighth graders. The book is brimming with simple recipes, gorgeous photos of island life, and of course, interesting quotes and snippets.

I don't know about you, but I can't wait to bake those Obama muffins!

Click here to read all the 2009 Fall for Restaurants posts.

Feb. 12th, 2009

birthday bear

happy birthday, abe!

"My dream is of a place and a time where America will be seen as the last best hope of earth." ~ Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln with his son, Tad, as photographed by Matthew B. Brady (February, 1864)

Our greatest President is 200 years young today. 

Wherever he is, he's probably thrilled about who's occupying his former digs at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Lincoln would be especially pleased to see Malia and Sasha living there, since he was the first President to bring his own small children to live in the White House. 

Abe was an indulgent parent, who loved to wrestle with his sons. They provided much needed relief from the tensions of the war, sometimes throwing strawberries around at Cabinet meetings, climbing on furniture, and scattering papers.  

Strawberries? Hmmm. What else did our 16th President like to eat? He was our tallest at 6'4", so it seems he would have had a large appetite, but most historians disagree.

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Dec. 3rd, 2008

chef bear

today's menu: white house kitchens and dining rooms

~ This is the eighth (and final) in a series of posts about Presidential Food

White House State Dinner, 1888.

All this talk of Presidential Food has, of course, made me very hungry -- for JFK's fish chowder, Barack Obama's chili, Harry S. Truman's tuna noodle casserole, and Lincoln's fruit salad.

But it's also made me curious -- what does the White House kitchen actually look like? Is there more than one kitchen for such a large residence? Does the First Family have their own private kitchen, in case they want a midnight snack?

I toured the White House years ago, and I remember standing in a long line at the East Wing entrance, with the tour itself lasting only about five minutes. I was disappointed, because they didn't show the kitchen or any of the dining rooms, just a handful of public rooms on the first floor.

But recently I discovered the White House Museum! Squee!! I found it more interesting than the official virtual tours, because there are photos of how the rooms have evolved during the last 200 years, making it an invaluable resource for those interested in architecture, interior design, and the personal tastes of previous administrations.

Here's a peek into the tastiest rooms of the White House:

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Nov. 19th, 2008

chef bear

in good company

~ This is the seventh in a series of posts about Presidential Food

Important things can happen in a tavern.

Random, fun, history-making, world-changing important things.

Like resting from a long day of travel and savoring a good meal with friends, dancing the night away in the ballroom, or attending a musical or theatrical performance. While you're there, why not meet with other like-minded people to plan a revolution?

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Nov. 10th, 2008

chef bear

have a bite with barack

~ This is the sixth in a series of posts about Presidential Food

"Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are." ~ Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (lawyer, author, epicure)

         Shave ice of many flavors

Flanked by the ladies in Hawai'i this past summer.

Right about now, all five White House chefs are probably wondering what's going to be on the menu for the next four years.

Will they have to brush up on their Chicago pizza skills? Import bags of poi from Hawai'i? Or will they be asked to serve their culinary creations on green plates?

    Barack's Pizza Policy: vegetarian

Regular readers of this blog (all three of you) know that I'm a strong believer in the old adage, "you are what you eat." When it comes to food in the White House, each First Family has brought something distinct to the table -- not only with regard to what is served, but how it's served. There is nothing more revealing of personality than one's style of entertaining.

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Oct. 30th, 2008

chef bear

the incomparable mr. jefferson

~ This is the fifth in a series of posts about Presidential Food.

 Jefferson Miniature by John Trumbull

No President outshines Thomas Jefferson when it comes to
food and wine -- the appreciation, consumption, and cultivation of it were for him lifelong passions.

West Front and Garden, Monticello, by Jane Braddick Peticolas

An enlightened epicure, his table included Southern staples such as Virginia ham, black-eyed peas, corn, venison, sweet potatoes, and turnip greens, alongside the many French dishes he first tasted in Paris while serving as foreign minister for four years. He loved entertaining, and impressed his guests with "sinful feasts," featuring as many as a dozen desserts, including blanc mange, meringues, and macaroons.

Breakfast with the Madisons by G.B.McIntosh

He was a connoisseur of fine wines, and considered it, along with olive oil, to be a necessity of life. Four to six wines (imported by the barrel from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal) were served at his dinners. He was attentive and particular when it came to food preparation, and insisted on serving seasonal produce at its peak. Of course he grew everything on his estate, practicing a very scientific approach to horticulture.

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Oct. 28th, 2008

chef bear

dinner in camelot

~ This is the fourth in a series of posts about Presidential Food.

John F. Kennedy was a small eater, and often had to be coaxed with a bowl of his favorite clam or fish chowder. He once requested it three days in a row. Unlike his brother, Bobby, who liked "chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, served with chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce," JFK was an angel's food cake man all the way. With fresh whipped cream and fresh strawberries, of course.

He and Jackie were true patrons of the creative arts, often inviting authors, poets, musicians, and artists to White House gatherings. Jackie hired French chef Rene Verdon, who received the Chevalier de la Legion D'Honneur for his contribution to French cuisine. His recipe for Strawberries Romanoff and JFK's Favorite Clam Chowder can be found here.

An especially memorable State Dinner was prepared for Ayub Kahn, President of Pakistan. The magical evening began with a cruise down the Potomac aboard the presidential yacht (followed by PT boats to honor JFK's service in WWII) to Mount Vernon. Upon their arrival, guests were treated to mint juleps (George Washington's recipe). A candlelight house tour, parade of the Fife and Drum Corps (in Colonial costumes), and music by the National Symphony Orchestra delighted everyone.

Little did they realize the panic taking place behind the scenes, including vicious mosquitoes, a last-minute acoustical shell constructed so the orchestra could be heard, and the logistics of transporting all the food 12 miles from the White House kitchens.

Le Menu

July 11, 1961

Avocado and Crabmeat Mimosa
Haut-Brion Blanc 1958
Poulet Chasseur
Couronne de Riz Clamart
Moet et Chandon Imperial Brut 1955
Framboises a la Creme Chantilly
Petits Fours Sec
Demitasse and Liqueurs

Speaking of Poulet Chasseur, I made some last weekend. Easy, healthful and scrumptious, not requiring any exotic ingredients. I found the recipe in my Hammersmith Farm Cookbook, which I purchased when I visited the Newport, Rhode Island, "Summer White House" years ago. The Hammersmith Farm estate was owned by Jackie's stepfather, Hugh Auchincloss, Jr. -- a fascinating place if you haven't been, as are all the other gorgeous summer residences in Newport. (JFK and Jackie were married at Hammersmith in 1953.)

Enjoy this dish soon, whether or not your yacht is nearby.

A White House Recipe

Serves 4

Salt and pepper to taste
1 3-lb fryer, cut into 8 pieces
1/4 lb butter
2 T olive oil
1/2 lb raw mushrooms, sliced
3 shallots, finely chopped
1 cup chicken consomme
1 cup dry white wine
2 T brandy
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/2 tsp chopped tarragon

Salt and pepper the pieces of fowl and saute in butter and olive oil until golden brown. Take meat out of fat and saute mushrooms and shallots in same hot oil. When they begin to turn a golden color, pour in consomme, white wine and brandy. Let simmer, uncovered, to reduce liquid to about one third. Add tomato paste and tarragon and return chicken to the pan. Simmer, covered, until tender, about 30 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve the fowl with its own sauce. Sprinkle with parsley.

If you have an inkling for dessert, try Jackie's famous Creme Brulee.


~ from President Kennedy's Inaugural Address, January 20, 1961:

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe -- the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God.

We dare not forget today that we are the heirs of that first revolution. Let the word go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike; that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans -- born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage -- and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this Nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today at home and around the world.

Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.

Full text of address can be found here.

See all the Presidential Food posts here.

*Photos courtesy of the JFK Presidential Library

Oct. 20th, 2008

chef bear

reagan repast

~ This is the third in a series of posts about Presidential Food

 "You can tell a lot about a fellow's character by his way of eating jelly beans."  ~ Ronald Reagan


Weren't they a beautiful couple?

The Reagans brought elegance, glamour and a degree of formality to the White House. Over the course of 8 years, they supposedly entertained about 75,500 guests per year, including seven kings, three queens, thirteen princes, and seventy-seven prime ministers. Not to mention all those movie stars.

Private dinner for Prince Charles (1981), President's Dining Room

With the expertise of White House Executive Chef Henry Haller and Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier, Nancy orchestrated many, many finely tuned, exquisite private and official State Dinners, luncheons and teas.

Tea with Charles and Diana (1985)

The President had a sweet tooth, always taking a large serving of dessert, and then having seconds. He loved honey-baked apples and chocolate. Nancy took great pride in their "dessert dinners," constantly challenging the Chefs to create new dishes that were light (fruit oriented), sophisticated, and pleasing to the eye.

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Oct. 16th, 2008

chef bear

noshing with the notables

This is the second in a series of posts about Presidential Food.

When I was in school (Dark Ages), my impression of past Presidents was like this:

imposing, distant, monumental. Great men of great deeds, courageous leaders wearing powdered wigs, waistcoats, and stovepipe hats.

While I liked learning about legislation, wars, fireside chats, and alas, assassinations, something was always missing in the biographies I read: food -- the one thing that could have humanized the Presidents for me in an instant.

These days, there's no escaping all things presidential. But rather than let all the spit, venom and sting spoil my appetite, I've been overindulging in tasty tidbits, decidedly delicious dirt, and titillating tales of past Presidents and First Ladies. I love reading about Ronald Reagan's sweet tooth, that Eleanor Roosevelt once served King George VI and Queen Elizabeth hot dogs and baked beans for lunch, and that Abraham Lincoln had the smallest appetite of all our Presidents -- often eating only fruit salad and cheese and crackers for dinner, much to his wife's dismay.

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Oct. 14th, 2008

chef bear

you can't have your cookie and eat it too

~ This is the first in a series of posts about Presidential Food.

"If we work together, then everyone can eat our cookies," said Michelle to Cindy.

For the past four presidential elections, Family Circle magazine has asked its readers to vote for their favorite potential first lady cookie recipe in order to predict who will go to the White House. So far, the poll has been right every time.

Laura Bush won the last two bake-offs with her Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk and Texas Governor's Mansion Cowboy cookies, and before that, Hillary Rodham Clinton's Chocolate Chip recipe was the overwhelming favorite (see all recipes here).

So what's on the platter for 2008?


We've got Cindy McCain's Oatmeal Butterscotch battling against Michelle Obama's Shortbread. But alas, even a simple Cookie Bake-off has been tainted by the rigors of this rough and tough election.


Shortly after Cindy's recipe first appeared back in June, astute readers complained that it was identical to one on the Hershey's website. Angry cries of plagiarism echoed in kitchens across America, casting doubt on Cindy's integrity (she said she got the recipe from a friend).


At first I didn't see what all the fuss was about. Family Circle had asked for a favorite recipe, not an original one. The average person gets recipes all the time from friends and family, never really knowing the exact source. So, in theory, perhaps Cindy did get her recipe from a friend, who maybe got it from Hershey's or anywhere else. This happens all the time.

When it comes to recipes, I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.

But that was before I read about the fiasco in April, when several recipes labeled as supposed "family favorites" appeared on the McCain campaign website. These turned out to have been ganked from the Food Network by a McCain intern, and were removed after numerous complaints.

Yes, it's only a silly magazine poll, just a pleasant diversion designed to increase Family Circle's readership. I doubt many people actually believe Cindy spends her Sunday afternoons baking cookies for her family. Still, I can't help but wonder why she or her staff didn't bother to double check sources for her cookie recipe in the wake of the previous debacle. It's like they're thinking, "those dumb housewives who read the magazine won't know the difference." Way to go! Insult the very people you're trying to impress.

While Cindy got her hand caught in the cookie jar, Hillary Clinton has burned a batch or two. You may remember the flack she received right after Bill was elected governor of Arkansas, when she said she'd rather have a career than "stay at home and bake cookies." She conveniently changed her tune in the 1992 presidential election, touting her chocolate chip recipe and passing out cookies to the super delegates in hopes of getting the housewife vote. Still, after this year's historic campaign, she's left no doubt that she's one tough cookie.

I find it interesting how "political" cookies have become recently, how "vital" they are for a first lady's resume. They can be used to put down homemakers and stay-at-home mothers, implying that such people have no brains for "real" careers -- and yet a batch of cookies is quickly whipped up to garner votes. And who's to say just because someone doesn't bake cookies they don't have family values or are the epitome of wholesomeness?

As for Michelle, she claims she got her recipe from Malia and Sasha's godmother, freely admitting that she isn't one to spend a lot of time in the kitchen. It's shortbread jazzed up with Amaretto, orange and lemon zest, and samples appeared on all the pillows of Democratic Conventioneers staying at the Denver Marriott City Center back in August. A nice touch, and a personalized recipe that was properly credited. Not so much to ask.


Voting is over for now, and Family Circle will announce the winner on November 1st. The online tally presently shows Cindy McCain in the lead (yikes)! These votes will be combined with mail-ins solicited by the print magazine.

Meanwhile, why not check out Presidential Cookies* by Bev Young (Presidential Publications, 2005)? It contains favorite cookie recipes from all our presidents and first ladies, with fascinating anecdotes about dining in the White House. I'm anxious to test Martha Washington's jumbals, Mary Todd Lincoln's gingerbread men, Nancy Reagan's Vienna bars, and Eleanor Roosevelt's honey drops.


No competition or spin. Just some tasty history appropriate for the whole family. 

*For tempting photos and comments on all the presidential cookie recipes, visit this blog.

Come November, which way will the cookie crumble?

Egads, bring on the shortbread!!

See all the Presidential food posts here.


"Recipegate" was first reported by The Huffington Post, which has published several pieces on the subject.

Cookie Contest photos from the website, which includes Family Circle magazine.

Hillary cartoon from Creators Syndicate.

Sep. 11th, 2008


breakfast with george

Every morning at 7 a.m., George Washington ate three hoecakes and drank 3 cups of tea for breakfast.

It sounds a little meager for a man six feet tall, especially since he had a country to run.

Until two weeks ago, I didn't even know what a hoecake was. I'm guessing oodles of kids around the country are already on to George and his cakes, because they've read this cool book: George Washington's Breakfast, by Jean Fritz (Putnam, 1998).

            Cover illustration by Tomie Paola
                Interior illos by Paul Galdone
                For ages 7 and up, 48 pp.

Young George W. Allen shares Washington's name and birthday. Since he feels almost related to him, he wants to know everything he can about the father of our country. But one day at breakfast, George realizes he doesn't know what Washington ate every morning. So begins an enthusiastic, determined quest for the answer, which drives the plot and makes for a fun, engaging read.

Kids will immediately note George's dated use of a card catalog, but will admire his tenacity as he reads book after book, searching for the answer. They will also pick up some interesting facts about Washington as their anticipation steadily builds, so that by the time George finds out about the hoecakes, they'll be anxious to try them. 

The New York Times Book Review called George Washington's Breakfast "delightful," as it "combines history, biography, research, cooking, and a determined child." After eating the hoecakes, George felt even more related to Washington than ever before.

So what are they? A traditional Southern cornmeal pancake, originally cooked by field hands on the blade of a hoe over an open fire. Washington's hoecakes were probably cooked on a griddle in the oven, though, and he liked them slathered with butter and dripping with honey.

             GW's meals were cooked in this fireplace at Mt. Vernon

Of course I simply had to try making some of my own. I opted for this modernized recipe, which calls for milk instead of water, and unlike the gargantuan recipe posted at the Mt. Vernon website, uses baking powder rather than yeast.


They make a nice change from traditional flour-based pancakes, and are good with maple syrup, honey, or butter and jam. For a fluffier (albeit less authentic) hoecake, use 1 cup of flour plus 1 cup of cornmeal.

Make some this weekend -- it's your patriotic duty!

Here's a cute webpage showing some third and fourth graders enjoying hoecakes prepared by a library media specialist.


Washington was modest, courteous, and had flawless manners. He subscribed to the five-minute rule: all guests must be seated within five minutes of the dinner bell.

The Washingtons were among the first colonial Americans to acquire Wedgwood's cream-colored 'Queen's Ware,' and among the first to purchase porcelains brought back from Canton.

He also acquired the nation's first service of French porcelain to grace state dinners.

His farms (8,000 acres) were self sufficient, providing most of the meat and produce he needed to entertain his constant flow of guests.

He had dinner at 3, tea at 6 or 7, and retired by 9 p.m.

Regarding behavior at the dinner table, Washington wrote:

Make no shew of taking great Delight in your Victuals, Feed not with Greediness; cut your Bread with a Knife, lean not on the Table, neither find fault with what you Eat.

~ from Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.