Thursday, August 27, 2015

Shaker Apple Pie

All right, so this isn't a presidential recipe per se, but a while back I posted a recipe for a Dolley Madison cake that called for rosewater as an ingredient. Intrigued by the idea of rosewater usage back in the day, I did some research and found that it was a common flavoring in sweets back then as vanilla wasn't yet a thing.

I also learned that the Shakers, a religious utopian community best known for their furniture, were also known for making high-quality rosewater. This further intrigued me because I'm from Shaker Heights, Ohio, a city named for a Shaker community that used to reside there (but was long gone by the time the modern-day city was incorporated). I also learned that the Shakers made an apple pie with rosewater, and I love pie. I mean seriously, I love pie.

It was only a matter of time, then, before I made a rosewater-apple pie of my own.

In true Shaker fashion, the recipe is very simple. Google Shaker rosewater apple pie and you'll find
tons of recipes, but most of them are exactly the same. You'll need:

Tart apples (I used 6 Granny Smiths)

2/3 c. sugar (I used a bit less because I like keeping it tart)

1 tbsp heavy cream (I used half-and-half because I didn't have any cream, and neither did my corner drugstore)

1 tbsp rosewater

You'll also need two pie crusts, of course. I cheated and used Pillsbury because, as much as I love to bake and as much as I love pie, I hate rolling things out.

Preheat oven to 350.

Core, peel, and slice the apples and dump into a large bowl.

Add the sugar, cream, and rosewater, and mix together.

Pour the mixture into the bottom crust, top with the top crust, and seal and crimp the edges. Slice a few vents into the top. I brushed a bit of cream (okay, half-and-half) on the top crust before venting.

Bake about 50 minutes. (You might want to set the pie on a foil-lined baking sheet to catch any spills.) Cool, slice, and enjoy.

What does this pie taste like? It tastes like a garden. Like a lovely English garden or something.

If you have a hankering for a traditional, cinnamon-laden, thick and hearty apple pie, you might be disappointed. Instead, this pie is light and delicate. The word that kept running through my head as I ate it was, "Delightful. Delightful. Delightful." This isn't a pie you'd serve at Thanksgiving (I mean, you can. I don't want to stop anyone from eating pie at Thanksgiving--or ever), but if you're having an elegant outdoor tea party in June...oh my god, make this pie. Or anytime. Even at Thanksgiving. Like I said: eat pie.

I'm actually going to recommend against topping it with whipped cream like I did. My 6-year-old said the whipped cream made the rosewater flavor disappear, and I agree. The flavor is so delicate that the whipped cream sort of overwhelmed it. But the whipped cream would melt at the tea party anyway.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Presidentress' Night at the Museum

The Presidentress Family decided to end the summer with a bang, by visiting South Bend, Indiana.

South Bend had not been on my extensive and mostly unvisited list of destinations for this summer, but my dad (you'll remember him from the Barry Bostwick debacle) was there a couple weeks ago and raved about its Studebaker museum. He said that besides old cars, they had an exhibit about Lincoln's death, carriages that belonged to several presidents, plus an exhibit about the All-American Girl's Professional Baseball League. It definitely sounded like something I needed to see, so I moved South Bend to the top of my list.

The visit was...interesting. (If you want to learn about presidential carriages, keep reading. If you want to get to the part where we wind up trapped in the museum, scroll down under the terrible photo of us "dressed" as female baseball players.)

First, I screwed up. We got off to a late start because we didn't even decide to go to South Bend until after our late breakfast. Even so, and even after stopping for lunch, I figured we'd make it by 2:30, giving us plenty of time to take in the museum before it closed at 5:00. Except I forgot that most of Indiana---including South Bend, apparently---is in the Eastern time zone, meaning we lost an hour on the way and didn't really arrive until 3:30.

I also didn't know that the museum was actually two museums in the same building. The cars and presidential carriages were in one museum; the baseball stuff was in the other. That meant I had to decide whether to just see one museum (and if so, which?), or pay extra for both. The guy at the admission desk said people usually need an hour and a half just for one museum, but we could get through each one in 45 minutes if we didn't stop to read everything. With three kids in tow, I figured we'd be lucky if we got to read anything, so we opted for both.

We motored (see what I did there?) over to the Studebaker side first. I'd like to tell you all about the history of the Studebaker company and all their many innovative vehicles, but since we were short on time and not allowed to read anything, I skimmed and skipped over most of the descriptions. There were some cool things, though. Trust me.

The exhibit on Lincoln's death mainly consisted of blown-up photographs and masks of his face (i.e., stuff I've seen before), but there were some less-common artifacts, like John Wilkes Booth's ticket stub to Ford's Theater.

The pièce de résistance, of course, was a carriage that Lincoln took to the theater that fateful night. The carriage was later painted over several times, but restoration work has brought back its original color and Lincoln's initials on the side.

Just a few steps away were three carriages belonging to other presidents: Ulysses S. Grant, Benjamin Harrison, and William McKinley. As far as carriages go, they look like pretty much any other: black and...carriagey. McKinley's is distinctive not in style, but in the fact that he took it to the train station in Canton, Ohio, where he caught the train that took him to the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, where he met his doom. Yes, the Studebaker museum has two carriages that presidents rode to their deaths!

After looking at some cars, we scurried over to the history museum. We started with an exhibit about transportation on the first floor, then went down to the basement to see the more-local stuff and the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League exhibit.

We took this awful photo (Mr. Presidentressor said that he looks like a corpse from one of those Victorian death photos where they prop up dead people and pose them in normal situations). Then we wandered through the rest of the exhibits.

At one point I looked at my phone and saw it was 4:40, meaning we had 20 minutes left. I was fairly sure we were toward the end, so I felt confident we would make it. Around that same time, my 6-year-old told me she couldn't wait to step through the "time portal." She was pointing at a tunnel-like entrance into the next room, and I decided she was my favorite child of the day.

Anyway, about five minutes later, just as Anna had finally stepped into the time portal, we were suddenly plunged into darkness. Anna freaked out, wondering if she really had gone into a portal. The 11-year-old, who doesn't handle change well, started freaking out, and the 3-year-old was MIA.

Mr. Presidentressor and I activated the flashlights on our phones and located all the kids. We also realized the museum was very quiet, indicating we were the only people in the basement. I checked my phone again, wondering if somehow it was already 5:00, but saw that it was only 4:46. We assumed there was a power outage.

I wasn't sure if it would be quicker to go back the way we had come or to continue the way we had been heading. Feeling adventurous, we plunged into the unknown, through the time portal. I'm not entirely sure what was in that next room since it was completely black, but my flashlight/phone did pass over a few old-fashioned baby carriages, which are some of the most horrifying things one can find in a strange, dark room.

The next couple rooms contained other items randomly illuminated by my phone, including a plow and an old-fashioned bathtub. I'm sure there were tons of other things, too, but we didn't get to enjoy them. Because we couldn't see.

We finally made it back to the baseball room. But, in true horror-movie fashion, there was no way out. Seriously, the stairs we had come down were gone. The only way out appeared to be an elevator but we didn't attempt to use it because, remember, we thought the museum had lost power. I looked around in confusion, then remembered that the first thing I had seen upon coming down the stairs was that cut-out-photo-thing. I looked opposite it and saw a set of solid double doors, closed tight. I gave one a push and luckily it opened.

When we got upstairs, Mr. Presidentressor asked if there had been a power outage. One of the employees nonchalantly said, "No, the lights are on a timer and sometimes they go off early."

We thought that was a pretty lame answer. I confirmed with him that the museum doesn't close until 5, and he said yes but kind of shrugged it off and said our tickets were good for the next day, too, if we wanted to come back. We told him we were only in town for the afternoon. He offered to have someone turn the lights back on, but by that point it was almost 5:00, plus we now had three terrified kids to deal with, so we decided to pass.

I'm not sure I buy his explanation about the timer. If that's really the case, they should probably set it for a time well after closing so they can, you know, make sure no one is trapped in the building. It's more likely someone was too lazy to check the basement before closing up. Or maybe we can blame it on the ghost of William McKinley.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Babe Lincoln

It's never too early to start planning for Halloween, and thanks to a bout of insomnia the other night, that's exactly what I'm doing.

I couldn't sleep, so naturally I turned to the internet. One thing led to another and I found myself reading one of my favorite blogs, which I've mentioned here before: Hottest Heads of State. They have a post called "Head of State Halloween Costumes." Although there are some fantastic ideas to be found in that post, my real inspiration came from a product they linked to: a Sexy Abraham Lincoln Costume.

We've all noticed this growing and rather disgusting trend in women's Halloween costumes. A woman can't be a nurse; she has to be a sexy nurse. She can't be a cupcake; she has to be a sexy cupcake. She can't be a nuclear physicist; she has to be a sexy nuclear physicist. Following that logic, any costume a woman wears should be a sexy one, and Sexy Lincoln delivers.

When I clicked over to the costume, I was ecstatic for a split second...until I noticed that the online catalog "selling" the costume is actually another humor site run by the same people who run Hottest Heads of State. In other words, I can't really buy the costume because it doesn't exist. (Side note: if you're looking to procrastinate at work today, spend some time browsing Air Splurge.)

I don't give up that easily, though. I googled "sexy abraham lincoln costume" because I don't use the shift key when googling, and I found that some people have already done the Sexy Lincoln thing. There's this woman (second one down) who dressed as "Baberaham Lincoln," and these people who dressed as Sexy Abraham Lincoln and Hot Wilkes Booth. Have people no shame?

But yeah, I'm totally dressing as Babe Lincoln this year, even though it has just occurred to me that it might not be the most appropriate or comfortable costume to wear while taking my kids trick-or-treating, especially if we have near-negative windchills like last year. It's a sacrifice I'll make for my country, though.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review: "The President's Daughter"

As I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to dedicate a post to my thoughts on Nan Britton's book, The President's Daughter. If you're just joining us, Nan Britton was a young lady who claimed to have had an affair and a child with Warren G. Harding. Harding and his wife were both dead by the time Britton's tell-all memoir came out, so obviously neither was available for comment.

For nearly 100 years, people were left to wonder and debate whether Britton's claims were true. Did Harding really father a child with a woman 30 years his junior? Was Britton just an obsessed fan, looking to get rich or possibly tarnish Harding's reputation?

Britton did not succeed in staking her (or her daughter's) claim to a portion of Harding's estate. Instead, she inadvertently contributed to the nosedive his legacy took after his death. The Teapot Dome scandal---which he was not involved in---rocked his administration. Britton's book and rumors of other affairs and White House orgies painted a picture of a lecherous adulterer. Someone wrote a book suggesting that Harding's death was actually a murder committed by his wife, who was jealous and upset about his transgressions. And there was a persistent rumor that Harding had "Negro blood" in him, which was quite an undesirable claim at the time.

Many people believed Britton's story to be true because it seemed to fit with the image Harding was posthumously developing. Many others---including the Harding family---dismissed her accounts as falsehood. For one, Harding was thought to be sterile due to a case of the mumps. He had no (known) biological children. Also working against Britton was the fact that, in an attempt to protect Harding, she had destroyed all letters and evidence that pointed to their affair. The only documents she could produce were of the professional variety.

The book was considered quite risqué for the time, and there were attempts to have it banned as pornography. It's pretty tame by today's standards, but back then it was considered scandalous. Really, the steamiest line is, "I experienced sweet thrills from just having Mr. Harding's hands upon the outside of my nightdress."

The Plot
So let's talk about the book. I won't go into all the details---this isn't some short pamphlet; it's nearly 500 pages long---but I'll touch on the main points. Even so, the synopsis is pretty long so feel free to scroll down to the "My Conclusion" section if you want.

Britton and Harding both hailed from Marion, Ohio. Harding was the editor of Marion's newspaper, and Nan's father sometimes contributed pieces, so the families knew each other although they don't seem to have been particularly close. Nan developed a crush on Harding when she was 14 and he was running for a senate seat. She taped newspaper photos of him on her wall, the same way girls today might tape up photos of Marco Rubio. (I kid---but I don't know any current teen heartthrobs.)

Britton didn't keep her crush a secret. EVERYONE knew: her parents, her teachers (one of whom happened to be Warren's sister, and who would become a close friend), other kids at school, even Warren Harding himself. At the time he probably thought it was cute. Maybe he was a little flattered. I don't know.

Nan got a wee bit obsessive. Besides taking advantage of opportunities to meet Harding, she would also hang out in a doorway across the street from his newspaper office so she could catch glimpses of him. Her parents didn't know about the stalking, but they were a little concerned about the crush. Her mom tried to make Harding seem unappealing by saying things like, "I saw Mr. Harding standing at such-and-such a place, chewing tobacco!" (Which reminds me a lot of the time my dad ruined my crush on Barry Bostwick by convincing me he was really Ronald Reagan.) But where my dad succeeded, Nan's mom failed. Nothing could sway her.

Britton's family moved away from Marion in 1915, and Nan continued to move around after that, finding secretarial jobs in Cleveland, Chicago, and eventually New York. It was from New York that she first wrote to Harding, hoping he could help her secure a job. He wrote back, and although it was a professional letter, the kind he would send to any constituent or acquaintance, that correspondence is what set their affair in motion. The two met with each other the next time he was in New York, and he took her up to the bridal chamber of the Manhattan hotel. They didn't consummate their relationship at that point, but they did kiss. I guess it helped that Harding had been aware of Nan's intense crush on him. He already knew it was a sure thing.

They maintained their relationship for the rest of Harding's life. Harding would make trips to New York to see Nan, and she would sometimes make her way to Washington. (Their daughter was likely conceived in his senate chamber.)

When Britton found out she was pregnant, she discussed it with Harding, who seemed both thrilled and trepidatious. He bought her some "Dr. Humphrey's No. 11 tablets," which were supposed to induce abortion, but she didn't take them and he seemed okay with that. Ultimately he was supportive of her decision to keep the baby.

A single mother keeping a baby was a much more difficult undertaking then than it is today. Britton had to leave her job and rented a room in New Jersey under the guise of being the pregnant bride of a deployed soldier. She had the baby, Elizabeth Ann, then left the baby in the care of a nurse in New Jersey while she went to Chicago to stay with her sister to find someone to take care of the baby there. Harding was supportive of Britton---emotionally and financially---during this time.

The next couple years are a bit of a whirlwind. Nan and the baby moved a lot, and not always together. When she first moved to Chicago, she placed Elizabeth Ann in the home of a woman who watched her 24/7, but for obvious reasons that wasn't an ideal set-up. Eventually Britton and Harding decided it would be best for Nan's sister Elizabeth to adopt baby Elizabeth Ann. Although this provided a secure environment for Elizabeth Ann, it also created a lot of tension between Nan and her brother-in-law. Nan's sister was content to let Nan act like the baby's mother, while the brother-in-law didn't appreciate the interference. Britton wound up moving back to New York, where she could get a better job, and left Elizabeth Ann with her adoptive parents.

In June of 1923, Harding left for a trip to Alaska and the west coast, and Britton sailed to Europe. Within a few weeks, Harding was dead. Devastated, Nan borrowed money to return to America early. She had hoped that Harding would have left a will or some kind of fund for their daughter, but he hadn't.

Britton became determined to regain custody of Elizabeth Ann, but that would require enough money that she could support them both. When a wealthy man she called Captain Neilsen proposed to her, she let him know that she would marry him only if he would help her get her daughter back. He agreed, they got married, and Elizabeth Ann came to live with them, but it soon became apparent that Neilsen was actually destitute himself and had lied about his wealth. Britton divorced him and did her best to raise Elizabeth Ann on her own. (The girl was sent back and forth between Nan in New York and her sister in Chicago a few more times---I lost track after a while.)

At some point, the financial support from friends and the physical help of Nan's mother weren't enough, and Britton knew she needed to discuss this issue with Harding's family, who until that point knew nothing about the affair. Nan first approached Harding's sister, the one who had been her teacher and who had become a friend. Harding's sister was shocked but seemed to believe Nan, and sent monetary support when she could. At first she was willing to help her get the support of other family members, but her support faded after Harding's brother interviewed Nan and determined she was lying.

A man Britton referred to as Tim Slade was a secret service agent and a confidant of Harding's who knew about the affair and had acted as an intermediary between the two. He also tried to help at first, even suggesting he could ask friends of Harding's to start a fund. Nan tried using that potential public exposure as leverage with the Hardings, but that failed as well.

Left with no other recourse, Britton wrote her book. The book did secure some income for her, but it also left her highly scrutinized. She was labeled a loose woman, a harlot, a liar. Someone wrote another book in rebuttal of hers, and she sued for libel. Unable to produce any proof of her claims of the affair, she lost the suit and wound up withdrawing from society.

My Conclusion
I read the book with a strange mix of sympathy and annoyance. Nan came off as a well meaning young woman, but she was also unbelievably obsessive about Harding. It sort of reminded me of how obsessive Harding seemed in the letters he wrote to Carrie Phillips, so maybe in that way they were a good match.

Britton also appeared very materialistic. When Harding would send her money, she would indulge in new dresses, coats, handbags, etc. Her focus on those things made me question her motives.

The amount of detail in the book made it feel believable, but I wondered if maybe she had taken encounters with other people and substituted Harding into the memories instead. A few things seem unrealistic. For example, Britton and Harding went out in public together. They dined together in the Biltmore hotel after Teddy Roosevelt's funeral and Nan heard a woman say, "There goes Harding!" The woman turned out to be a friend of his. It might not have been a smart move for a man in his position to be seen with his mistress, especially at such a high-profile event. On the other hand, this was the same guy who continued to write intimate letters to and rendezvous with Carrie Phillips after he knew she was under surveillance.

Ultimately, there were some seemingly insignificant parts of the book that convinced me Britton was lying. As I mentioned, she destroyed all personal letters that pointed to the affair, but she kept the few formal, non-incriminating ones. She also kept a rather generically-autographed photo he had signed for her, and one he signed for her sister. It was the strange gushing over these comparatively mundane correspondences that made me doubtful. I mean, if you have a crush on a celebrity and they write a letter or sign a photo with a personal autograph? Sure, be crazy excited about it! But when you already have that celebrity's love-child, haven't you moved beyond getting excited about an autograph?

But, now we know that I (and many others) were wrong. Britton wasn't lying about Harding being her daughter's father. Perhaps her excitement over those few remaining letters and photos stemmed more from the fact that they were all she had left to prove she had ever had contact with him beyond the few encounters in Marion when she was a child. Perhaps the excitement was added or exaggerated by an editor or ghost writer who might have had a hand in the manuscript. Or perhaps the excitement really did fit with her tendency to go a little nuts over him.

There could be other explanations. Perhaps Britton and Harding's affair was not as lengthy or involved as she claims. Maybe they had a one-night stand. Maybe he didn't know about the child and never sent money. Who knows? But Britton's veracity about her daughter's paternity makes me inclined to believe the rest of her story.

Read it for yourself and see what you think.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

The President's Daughter IS The President's Daughter!

I know I've written a lot about Warren G. Harding lately, and as much as I'd like to mix things up, we actually have breaking news about him, so it needs to be discussed.

For nearly a century, mystery has surrounded Harding and the question of whether or not he fathered a child with Nan Britton, a woman who wrote a tell-all book about their supposed affair shortly after Harding died. Although many people doubted Britton's claims, the book did a great deal to tarnish Harding's reputation and helped brand him as a womanizer.

I also wrote a while ago about a book that examined love letters Harding wrote to his known mistress, Carrie Phillips. James Robenalt, the author of that book, did discuss Nan Britton's claims and came to the conclusion that her story probably was not true.

I wanted to judge for myself, so I read Britton's book shortly before I visited Harding's home in Ohio. I, too, came to the conclusion that Britton was probably lying although for some reason I kind of wanted to believe her.

When I visited Harding's home, I discussed the issue with my tour guide. He said that Elizabeth Ann (daughter of Nan Britton and allegedly Harding) didn't believe her mother's claims and said the two became estranged over it. He said that since there would probably never be DNA testing (family members didn't want to undergo it), we'd likely never know the answer. We both kind of shrugged, and I figured it would remain a mystery I could ruminate over for the rest of my life.

Now, though, it looks like the mystery has been solved, and with surprising results. Members of Harding's and Britton's families have undergone DNA testing, and the results show that, indeed, Elizabeth Ann was the daughter of Warren G. Harding.

I'm absolutely tingling with excitement (one of the few who is, I'm sure), although I'm a little sad the mystery is gone.

I had been planning to write about The President's Daughter at some point, and I still will, although this new knowledge will take the post in a different direction. (Update: Here's the review!)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Separated at Birth, part 8

Another one featuring a presidential candidate, it's Ted Cruz and Grandpa Munster:

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sassy Julia Tyler

When I was in Ohio a few weeks ago, I decided to make a stop at the National First Ladies' Library in Canton, just down the street from William McKinley's memorial (more on that in another post).

I signed up for a tour, which consisted of a brief movie and a temporary exhibit in the library, then a trip a few buildings away to a home that Ida and William McKinley had lived in. While I was waiting for my tour to begin, I texted my friend that I hoped we didn't have to go around and name our favorite First Lady because I didn't really have one. My friend texted back, "Eleanor Roosevelt," and yes, of course that's the right answer. She's the Abraham Lincoln of First Ladies for good reason, but she's also the obvious choice and I like to shake things up a bit. The problem is that although I know about several other First Ladies, I don't love any of them (other than Eleanor).

Luckily the tour didn't involve any ice-breaking activities. 

The movie and exhibit were about "Forgotten First Ladies." I found this weird because it seems like almost all of the First Ladies are "forgotten" ones. Even those who aren't forgotten are often remembered more because of their association with their husbands (Martha Washington, Mary Todd Lincoln) than for their own contributions. Who else does the general public know? There's Dolley Madison, who earned her spot in the collective memory by saving artwork during the War of 1812; Eleanor Roosevelt, who was an activist and was amazing in her own right; and Jackie O, who was glamorous and tragic. And Hillary, for obvious reasons. But at this point even the most recent former First Lady (Laura Bush, remember?) has fallen out of the public consciousness. 

Anyway, I guess the museum decided to focus on the really-really forgotten First Ladies, like Anna Harrison and Margaret Taylor. Remember them? No. Honestly, a couple weeks after viewing the museum and exhibit...I hardly remember anything about the 14 women they highlighted. Except Julia Tyler.

Dedicated readers might remember that Julia Tyler is the one who insisted on being referred to as "Mrs. Presidentress," which was one of the inspirations for naming this blog. That's not the only cool thing about her, though.

Apparently she was very attractive, which isn't notable in itself, but as a young lady she humiliated her family by posing as the model for a hand-drawn advertisement. The ad was for a dry-goods store and was not at all risqué, but at the time modeling was not considered a respectable profession, so the family sent Julia and her sister off to Europe for a few months while their embarrassment subsided.

Julia's family was well connected, and upon the girls' return from Europe they hobnobbed with Washington politicians. Julia claimed that a married congressman, Millard Fillmore, had flirted with her. But that was nothing compared to how smitten President John Tyler would become. Tyler was married when he met Julia, but his wife was paralyzed due to a stroke and she would die shortly thereafter. Julia and her family became close friends with Tyler's family, and just five months after his wife died, John asked Julia to marry him. She turned him down---several times---before finally accepting after her father was killed when part of a boat exploded.

Julia was 30 years younger than John Tyler, but that doesn't mean he dominated the relationship. She liked to sleep in, and Tyler would bring her breakfast in bed, leading Julia's mother to worry that she was being too hard on the older man. That's right: The president of the United States took time out of his day to serve his lazy wife breakfast in bed.

Julia also took an active role in politics, which was unusual in the 1840s. John Tyler was a strong proponent of the annexation of Texas, and Julia lobbied politicians to support the cause. She once met with anti-annexationist Henry Clay, and they obviously didn't see eye-to-eye. Clay told her he'd rather be right than be president. Julia responded, "Sir, my husband is both." Zing!

It's important to point out that John Tyler was one of the strongest pro-slavery presidents the country ever had, and he favored the annexation of Texas as a means to preserve and bolster the institution. So I can't say that I admire Julia's position, but I sure admire her pluck.

She's not one I'll soon forget.