Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Give Andrew Jackson a Tattoo!

Now and then an article pops up about surprising people in history who have had tattoos. Always included on those lists are Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, and Teddy Roosevelt.

Supposedly Roosevelt had his family crest tattooed on his chest, Polk had a Chinese symbol meaning "eager," and Jackson had---I kid you not---a tomahawk inked on his upper thigh.

Now, I don't want to call bullshit on all of these, because they're...possible? I guess? Especially Roosevelt because I could totally see him having a tattoo. The problem is that I haven't actually been able to find any proof other than the same articles repeating the same "general knowledge" without actually giving any sources. I'm inclined to believe that TR did not, in fact, have a family crest on his chest, but I'm open to the possibility that he did. Except I really doubt it.

I am perfectly willing to go out on a limb and call BS on Polk having a Chinese symbol tattooed on him. What, did he have a small butterfly on his lower back, too? I'm trying to figure out a scenario in which this supposed tattoo would have happened. Oriental art has found some popularity here and there ever since America started trading with China, but not to the level that some mid-19th-century white dude would get a tattoo of a Chinese character. Polk's predecessor John Tyler was president during the ratification of the Treaty of Wanghia after the first Opium War, but I'm not aware of any significant dealings Polk had with China that might have inspired this "eager" tattoo in some way. (To be fair, I know very little about Polk's foreign affairs outside of the Mexican-American War and the annexation of various territories, so maybe he was really into China? But again, I doubt it. If any Polk scholars want to weigh in, please do.)

That brings us to Jackson. I love the idea of Jackson having a tattoo, but on his upper thigh? For real? And a tomahawk? That would be a pretty dickish move considering his track record, although I suppose in a way that's fitting for him.

I decided to go to the best source I could to get some answers about Andrew Jackson's tattoo: I emailed the people at The Hermitage. I asked if Jackson really (or likely) had a tattoo, or if this was all an urban legend.

Less than 24 hours later I received a response: "Unfortunately, there is no definitive proof that Jackson had a tattoo on his thigh. This story more than likely an urban legend that has grown in popularity over time."


Regardless, I thought it would be fun to give people the chance to ink a few tattoos on Old Hickory, so I present to you an Andrew Jackson template. I've provided the tomahawk; you provide the rest! You can download the PDF here or you can click on the jpeg up above.

Some tattoo ideas to get you started: a dreamcatcher, the Bank of the United States, a heart with "mom" written inside. The possibilities are endless! (And, yeah, I've covered up his ankles and wrists, which are prime tattoo locations. Sorry. I just thought the boots would be funny and I can't draw hands.)

If you tattoo Andrew Jackson, please snap a photo to share on my Facebook page or tag me on Twitter @MsPresidentress

Happy inking!

Monday, August 22, 2016

Musical Monday: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

I'm just going to say it: No one will ever have a catchier campaign song than William Henry Harrison.

I had known of the phrase forever, but I first heard the song Tippecanoe and Tyler Too years ago at a They Might Be Giants concert. For the longest time I thought they had written the song. (It wouldn't have been their first foray into presidential songs, as they had previously released a song about James K. Polk.) But at some point I discovered that the band merely covered what had really been Harrison's campaign song in the 1840 election. (The song was really titled Tip and Ty but came to be known by its popular refrain of "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.")

Here is TMBG's version, available on the album Future Soundtrack for America:

And here is a more traditional version:

I like They Might Be Giants' version more, but it's pretty true to the original.

"Tippecanoe" was William Henry Harrison's nickname, and Tyler, of course, refers to his running mate (and successor) John Tyler. The song is amazing not just because it will be stuck in your head for the rest of the week, but because it bolsters Harrison and Tyler while also denigrating Martin Van Buren, and what could be more fun than denigrating Martin Van Buren?

In addition to the addictive song, Harrison's campaign also incorporated the unique tactic of rolling giant balls from town to town. That's referenced in Tip and Ty's first verse: 

What's the cause of this commotion, motion, motion,
Our country through?
It is the ball a-rolling on

For Tippecanoe and Tyler too.
For Tippecanoe and Tyler too.
And with them we'll beat little Van, Van, Van,
Van is a used up man.
And with them we'll beat little Van.

Thus Harrison's campaign served as the origin of the phrase "Keep the ball rolling."

(If you watched Parks & Recreation, you might have seen the episode that featured one of those giant balls. In the episode, the ball actually represented one used in grandson Benjamin Harrison's campaign, but it was William Henry's run that started the practice.)

It's probably important to note that Harrison got the nickname "Tippecanoe" after a battle near the Tippecanoe river in which he defeated the Native American leader Tecumseh, who was trying to protect his land from white encroachment. That's not the greatest legacy by today's standards, but it sure worked for him at the time.

It's also important to note that while Harrison won the election, probably due in large part to his catchy tune and big balls, he died after a month in office, so all in all, it didn't do him much good.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Cooking with the Presidents: Washington/Lafayette Gingerbread

A few weeks ago I brought you a recipe for Dolley Madison's gingerbread. That bread was moist and aromatic, but not very gingery and kind of bland. I mentioned that I had two other presidential gingerbread recipes to try, so today I present the second one: a Washington/Lafayette delicacy. (Also, I'm realizing that I forgot what the third recipe is, so I'll need to look into that.)

My copy of The Presidents' Cookbook calls this "Martha Washington Gingerbread," which doesn't make sense because the accompanying story describes how George Washington's mom, Mary, made this for the Marquis de Lafayette when he visited her in 1784. I'm going to assume the title is a typo because it doesn't seem that Martha had anything to do with this one. (To confirm that this really is Mary's recipe we're dealing with, I found that Mount Vernon has a recipe for "Lafayette Gingerbread" that includes the orange zest Mary Washington used for Lafayette's treat.)

Anyway, the story in my cookbook says, "Legend has it that [Lafayette] was so impressed with the gingerbread and with Washington's mother in general that he explained, 'I have seen the only Roman matron of my day.' Some historians assume this was a compliment. From the rest of his comments we rather doubt it."

Then that's it. What!? What were the rest of his comments? What did he say about George Washington's mom? "I have seen the only Roman matron of my day. I came, I saw, I threw up in my mouth a little, am I right, guys?" I'll have to look it up.

The "recipe" included in my book says to take a gingerbread mix, but to add a teaspoon of instant coffee, a teaspoon of grated orange rind, and to use 1/2 c of orange juice in place of 1/2 c of water the mix will inevitably call for.

Sorry, but the same cookbook that expects me to butcher my own turtle wants me to use a boxed gingerbread mix? I don't think Mary Washington walked down to her local Ye Olde Grocery Store for a box of gingerbread mix, and she probably wasn't using Nescafé, either.

But the idea of using orange in gingerbread isn't new to me. For my daughter's second birthday she insisted on a "jujubed" cake (that's "gingerbread" for those of you not fluent in toddler) and at the time I had just gotten a fantastic book of bread machine recipes that included one for orange gingerbread. I made that recipe (in the oven, not the bread machine) and it was very good.

I decided to adapt that recipe rather than insult the memory of Lafayette and the Washingtons with a box of Betty Crocker. (In case anyone wants to know why I didn't just make the Mount Vernon recipe, it's because I didn't find it until my gingerbread was already in the oven. Also because their recipe is just an adaptation of someone else's anyway, since Mary's actual recipe seems to not exist.)

Without further ado, here is my recipe for
Washington/Lafayette Gingerbread

dry ingredients:
2 1/2 c flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp ginger
1 1/2 tsp instant coffee
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp cloves
3/4 tsp salt

wet ingredients:
4 tbsp butter, melted
1/2 c molasses
2 large eggs
1/2 c light brown sugar
1/2 c buttermilk
1/4 c orange juice
2 tsp baking soda dissolved in 1/4 c hot water
1 1/2 tsp orange zest

A couple notes here. The "recipe" from my Presidents' Cookbook said to use 1 tsp each of coffee and orange zest. I wound up with about 1 1/2 tsp of zest, so I used all of it, and I decided to increase the coffee by the same amount. Frankly, it seemed like a really small amount of coffee, even when
Waiting to be baked
increased, but I went with it. I should note that the Mount Vernon recipe doesn't say anything about coffee, so go figure.

To make the bread:

Preheat your oven to 350 and grease your pan. (I used a 9 x 9 glass baking dish.)

Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. Mix the wet ingredients in another bowl, then fold in the dry mixture. When combined, pour it into your cooking vessel and bake for about 40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

My copy of The Presidents' Cookbook says to serve the bread with applesauce or whipped cream. I opted for whipped cream because when given the choice between whipped cream and applesauce, who's going to pick applesauce? Mount Vernon's recipe suggests serving it with "fairy butter," which sounded delightful until I read that recipe: Basically you mix butter with sugar and orange-flower water (okay) and four hard-boiled egg yolks. I'll stick with the whipped cream.

So how did the Washington/Lafayette gingerbread taste? Amazing! My husband, kids, and I all gave it two thumbs up, and it's rare that we're all in agreement about a dessert. I gave some to our neighbors, and they texted me "Nailed it." (They had remained mum about the Dolley Madison gingerbread.) The bread is gingery and orangey...although I couldn't discern any coffee flavor at all, which wasn't a surprise. I think it would make more sense to either add more coffee or eliminate it all together. Since the Mount Vernon recipe doesn't include coffee, I'm inclined to simply remove it. I might play with it more in the future.
If you try it for yourself, let me know what you think in the comments here or on my Facebook page.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Donald Trump Refrigerator "Poetry"

Earlier today on Twitter, I commented that someone should use Donald Trump's favorite words to make one of those refrigerator poetry sets. Then I realized: Why not I?

Thus, the Donald Trump Magnetic "Poetry" was born, and you can download it for free! The set includes more than 100 words, including all of his favorite ones, like "huge," "tremendous," and "me."

To make your own set for hours of terrifying fun, download this PDF.

You'll need to print it out, of course. If you have magnetic printer sheets, that's best because they're... you know... magnetic. Otherwise you can print it on regular paper for constructing phrases on your desk or whatever.

Then you need to cut out the words, which seems daunting but really takes only a few minutes. I used an Xacto knife and my very favorite ruler (it has a non-slip back and there's a groove to protect your fingers) but you could use scissors, a paper slicer, whatever. There are grid lines to cut on, but you might want to trim a little closer on the single letters that are included: I, a, and s (for use at the end of most verbs or nouns.)

Then it's time to create your own xenophobic, misogynistic phrases!

Even though Trump seems to have a rather limited vocabulary, I'm already thinking of other words I could have included. If there are some you'd like to see, let me know and maybe I'll make a second version.

Update: I've made an expansion pack! I realized I forgot some very important words like "Obama," "bimbo," and "rapist." I also included some more prepositions and suffixes to give you more flexibility in constructing your masterpieces. Download the expansion pack here.

Feel free to share photos of your sentences (or fragments) on the Presidentress Facebook page.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Cooking with the Presidents: Dolley Madison's Gingerbread

If you don't already know, I'm a huge fan of a cake Dolley Madison used to make (well, with a few modifications). I had a hankering for something sweet yesterday and decided it was time to try out another presidential recipe. I perused through my copy of The Presidents Cookbook and was reminded once again how dramatically eating habits and tastes have changed. I mean, no offense to James Buchanan, but I have no interest in eating "Calf's Head Dressed as Terrapin."

Thankfully the dessert options tend to be far more appetizing, and although several recipes piqued my interest, I was once again drawn back to Dolley Madison. (In fact, the Madison section of the cookbook has several sweet recipes I'd like to try, which got me wondering if that's the reason Hostess created the "Dolly Madison Bakery" brand. In three minutes of googling, the best history I could find indicates that the bakery wanted to suggest their products were good enough to be served at the White House, but it doesn't specify why Dolly/Dolley in particular was chosen.)

Anyway, the recipe I decided to tackle was her gingerbread. According to the description, Dolley referred to it as the "Jefferson gingerbread," and she gave the recipe to Martha Washington to preserve, so this gingerbread's significance seems to span several presidents. Other First Ladies have used the same recipe, and apparently one chef made it for the Eisenhowers. I figured it must be good.

I didn't really make any modifications to this recipe, so here it is:

Dolley Madison's Soft Gingerbread

2 1/2 c. flour
4 tsp. ground ginger
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
1 c. molasses
1 c. hot water (divided)
2/3 c. fresh beef drippings or lard
1 1/4 tsp. baking soda

Before I get into the instructions, let's talk for a moment about this beef dripping/lard issue. I don't have any beef drippings on hand, nor have I ever. I do have lard (don't judge---I use it for making tortillas). I wasn't thrilled with the idea of dumping a bunch of lard into a dessert and considered substituting butter, but ultimately I decided to be "authentic" and go with the lard.

Also this recipe, like many old recipes, calls for dissolving the baking soda in hot water and adding it to the wet ingredients. I considered not doing that and just mixing the baking soda in with the dry ingredients like I usually do, but, again, I went for authenticity and did what the recipe said.

All right, so start by preheating the oven to 350, then mix the flour, ginger, and cinnamon in a bowl.

In another bowl, mix the molasses with your drippings or lard or whatever fat you're using.

Dissolve the baking soda in 1/4 c. hot water and add it to the molasses/fat.

Heat the remaining 3/4 c. water until it's almost boiling. Alternate adding the water and flour mixture to the molasses mixture, and stir until combined.

Pour into a greased baking dish (I used a 9 x 9 square) and bake about 30 minutes. You'll know it's done when a toothpick comes out clean. Or just by smell. Seriously, you'll know. (My cookbook joked that you should make this in the winter with the windows closed, because if you bake it with the windows open the whole neighborhood will come over. I was like, "Yeah, right," but house never smelled so amazing.)

It wasn't until I was already mixing the ingredients that I noticed the recipe calls for no sugar. (It actually does call for a dusting of powdered sugar for serving, but there's none in the recipe.) I checked another gingerbread recipe in the book and it didn't include sugar either, so...hey, whatever.

The verdict?

This gingerbread was extremely moist, although surprisingly not very gingery. The predominant flavor was molasses, which isn't a bad thing, just not what I was expecting. I didn't bother telling my sugar-loving family that there was no sugar in the recipe, and they didn't complain (although the dollop of whipped cream on top probably helped).

If I were to make this again I'd likely go a little lighter on the molasses, a little heavier on the ginger, and I'd add a bit of salt to help bring out the flavors.

I have at least two more presidential gingerbread recipes I want to try, so stay tuned. We'll see how they stack up.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Separated at Birth, part 14

Many years ago I kept a picture of John Kerry on my desk. Before you get weirded out, I didn't actually display the picture---it lived in a pile of other papers. And the only reason I had it at all was to collect photos of other people/things that look like him. Whenever I encountered a John Kerry doppelgnger, I'd print out a picture and tape it on. It got to be quite the collection.

Here are two people he looks like.

Andrew Jackson:

and the composer-guy from Sesame Street:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Book Review: Assassination! and Revolution! Lego-style

Today I bring you a review of two books that recount important events in American history using Legos. Since "Lego" is a registered trademark, the artist/author of the books uses the generic term "brick," as I will, too, henceforth.

Assassination! The Brick Chronicle Presents Attempts on the Lives of Twelve US Presidents, and Revolution! The Brick Chronicle of the American Revolution and the Inspiring Fight for Liberty and Equality that Shook the World, both by Brendan Powell Smith, are somewhat self-explanatory, especially given the long subtitles.

I expected the books to be rather irreverent. After all, these are Legos---er, toy building bricks we're talking about. But the books are actually quite serious. I mean, things can't be too serious when they're illustrated with little brick people and whatnot, but the books definitely don't feel like they're going for laughs. The overall tone is similar to that of any high school history textbook, just with better illustrations.

There is a lot of clever usage of bricks, and a surprising amount of detail. The only photo that struck me as truly odd was this picture of a doctor operating on William McKinley with what appears to be a croissant.
I think maybe the croissant is supposed to be McKinley's perforated stomach? I don't know. It has become my favorite photo of William McKinley, though.

I was impressed by the length of each book. Apparently I hadn't bothered looking at Amazon's Product Details because I was expecting thin paperbacks with a couple photos per assassination attempt/battle. Instead, I received hardcovers that are nearly 300 pages long. (The Assassination! book is now available in paperback.) Each book contains more than 400 photos, and I can't even imagine how long it must have taken to create each scene. (The same artist had previously done brick versions of Bible stories, which must have taken even longer. Maybe this is how I can monetize my 11-year-old's endless hours of Lego play.)

Each page generally contains two photos with corresponding paragraphs. You'd think that with only two paragraphs per page reading these would be a breeze, but that wasn't the case. The text is detailed and informative, but also quite dry. I love these topics, but I found my mind wandering constantly as I tried to pay attention. The dull text and intriguing photos made for a weird and not entirely pleasant juxtaposition, but the cool photos wound up outweighing the bland text, so overall the result was positive, I guess.

The last 120 pages of Revolution! are dedicated to the French Revolution, which was surprising, especially since that wasn't mentioned in the exceptionally long subtitle. To be honest, I haven't even read that part yet, though I did look at some of the pictures.

The books get mixed reviews on Amazon. The negative reviews are largely from parents who bought them for their children and were disappointed at the gore and adult content in the books. Part of me thought, "It's a book about assassinations! What did you expect?" (Sort of how I felt about people giving negative reviews to the "biography" of Millard Fillmore, whose cover featured a photo of Fillmore riding a unicorn.) But then I noticed that Amazon has the books listed as suitable for 10-13-year-olds, and that doesn't seem entirely appropriate, at least not without a hefty dose of parental involvement.

A man's entrails wrapped around a tree
The "gore," of course, is all represented in bricks, but even Lego blood can get a bit overwhelming, especially when it's splashing out of a president's head. There are also references to other issues that parents might not want their kids exposed to. In Assassination!, for example, there is a description of the Oneida Community, where Charles Guiteau (James Garfield's assassin) had lived, and how the community practiced open love that required men to learn to have sex without ejaculating. It also describes how the federal soldier who shot John Wilkes Booth had previously castrated himself with a knife. In Revolution!, there is a description of soldiers contracting venereal diseases from prostitutes in New York, and how one man was found murdered and castrated in a brothel.

So, no, probably not light, fun reading for young kids. On the other hand, if you're okay providing some parental guidance when if/necessary, these books could serve as an approachable way to learn about crucial pieces of American history.

For adults, like I said, they're not really engaging reads so they're probably not great for people who want to learn the details of these events. For weird history buffs who already know the stories and want to see them illustrated in a unique way, I think they're amazing. Assassination! and Revolution! would be excellent additions to any history fan's coffee-table-book collection.