Thursday, April 19, 2018

Herbert Hoover's Mystery Cow

A lot of people know the story contained in W. P. Kinsella's book Shoeless Joe, either because they've read the book or have seen the movie based on it: Field of Dreams. A less-known but possibly even better book of Kinsella's is The Iowa Baseball Confederacy, about a man who devotes his life to proving (despite a lack of evidence or anyone else's recollection) that the Chicago Cubs played a bizarre exhibition game against a local Iowa team in 1908. I can relate to that guy, because I know of the existence of another Iowan thing that no one else remembers: a cow.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum just opened a new temporary exhibit about farming. One of the features is a fake cow that visitors can milk. Because my 6-year-old is a wee bit obsessed with cows right now (and because he also loves Iowa and Herbert Hoover), I'm definitely going to try to make it there.

But learning about this new exhibit also reminded me of another Hoover-cow experience, the one that has turned into a bit of a mystery.

Many, many years ago, just after graduating from high school, I set out with my mom on a long, meandering road trip from Ohio to California. Along the way we stopped at numerous roadside attractions and lots of museums, including presidential and presidential-ish sites.

After stops in Norwalk, Ohio; Terre Haute, Indiana (Eugene V. Debs' home); Michigan City, Indiana (no idea what we did there); Chicago (lots of things); and Galena, Illinois (Ulysses S. Grant's home); we finally headed into Iowa, where attractions like the Field of Dreams movie site awaited us. But our first stop was in West Branch for the Hoover Museum.

We went through the museum and then went outside to walk around the buildings that are part of the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site. I honestly don't remember much about the museum or the buildings, but what I remember very clearly is the cow.

There was a cow. It was along a path and behind a wooden fence. I don't recall there being any other animals, and I also don't recall there being any other people. It was kind of eerie. The cow was just hanging out, so I went over to it. It mooed at me and let me pet its nose. I'm pretty sure that was the first time I'd ever touched a cow (and, come to think of it, possibly the last).

There was definitely a cow.

We finished with the grounds, we went on to do lots of other things in Iowa and along the old Route 66, and I got to California and life went on.

I've been back to the Hoover site a few times now. When I first took my family, I recounted to my kids how I'd met a cow and hoped it was still there, but alas it wasn't.

So the other day when the Hoover Museum tweeted a picture of the fake cow, I asked them about the real cow that used to live there...but they have no recollection of its existence.

I have an excellent memory, but I started to wonder if maybe I'd seen the cow at a different presidential museum. We had gone to two others on the trip: Lyndon Johnson's and, I'm assuming, Eisenhower's. I say "assuming" because until a few months ago, I would have told you we'd gone to Truman's, but as I recently learned, we had not. The only other presidential museum along our route would have been Ike's. So it's possible the cow was there, and it's possible my memory isn't as good as I thought it was. But somewhere, there was a cow.

I eliminated the possibility of the LBJ museum because that was toward the end of our trip, and the cow was definitely earlier. The Eisenhower museum does appear to have a house on its grounds, and feasibly that's the one I remember seeing behind the cow. Could it have been an Eisenhower cow and not a Hoover cow? I asked the Ike Museum on social media, but they also don't remember a cow.

So now I don't know where the hell the cow was, but I know it existed, and I'm still pretty convinced it was at the Hoover Museum, but I'm leaving Ike open as a possibility.

If anyone else visited the Hoover or Eisenhower Museums in the mid-1990s and remembers there being a cow, please let me know. Or if you happen to work at the Hoover Library and Museum, Hoover National Historic Site, or Eisenhower Library and Museum and want to look into this more closely, I'd really appreciate it. Because it's driving me crazy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Win an Autographed Copy of "Hottest Heads of State"!

***Update! This contest is now closed. The winner is Brittany S.!***

A while back, I brought you a review of the hottest new book of the year: Hottest Heads of State. If you're not familiar with it, the book is essentially a teen-heartthrob-magazine of U. S. Presidents, but with actual information and a lot of humor. (It should be noted, though, that while it mimics a teen magazine, the book is intended for adults, not actual kids. One might think this designation would be obvious, but I was in Washington, D.C., shortly after the book was released and found it shelved in the children's section of a fairly major institution. I'm looking at you, National Museum of American History.)

If you like American history and you like laughing, Hottest Heads of State is the book for you! The review linked up above goes into more detail, so read it if you need more convincing. (And if you're too lazy to read the review, that might indicate you're also too lazy to read the book, but I'm not judging.)

I'm pleased to announce that I have a copy of Hottest Heads of State to give away to one lucky winner---and it's autographed by the authors, J.D. and Kate Dobson!

There are several ways to enter, as outlined below. If you don't want to take your chances on winning a book for free, you can pay money for one right now on Amazon. Again, not judging.

a Rafflecopter giveaway
The Fine Print/Terms and Conditions

1. This contest is open to humans age 18 or older who have a U.S. mailing address.
2. Members of my household and my immediate family are ineligible.
3. My cousin Christina is also ineligible because I already gave her a copy and she's not going to get another one out of me.
4. The contest runs from 12 a.m. Eastern April 4, 2018, to 12 a.m. Eastern April 11, 2018.
5. A winner will be chosen at random within 72 hours of the end of the contest and will be contacted based on information provided when entering. If the winner does not respond within 7 days, a new winner will be chosen.
6. The book will be mailed via USPS within a week of my receiving the winner's address. The book will probably be sent media class---it depends on how much postage is. Maybe the winner will luck out and I'll send it Priority.
7. I'm not responsible for the prize once it leaves my possession.
8. This contest is void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. Always wear sunscreen.
9. This autographed copy of Hottest Heads of State was provided to me by the authors for the purpose of this giveaway. I have not received compensation to run this giveaway or for my review.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Cooking with the Presidents: Chicken Pudding

When I saw that Mount Vernon had posted a Facebook video for something called "Chicken Pudding," my first thought was, "Ewww." But I gave the video a chance, and it quickly became apparent that chicken pudding isn't too much different from, say, a chicken pot pie or something along those lines.

Here, you can see for yourself. (I also give the recipe below if you don't want to watch the video.)

The main difference between this and the pot pie I've made in the past (besides the lack of crust or vegetables) is the addition of eggs...which is also what makes it a pudding, I suppose. I'm always in favor of extra protein, though, so I decided to make this for Presidents Day.

The video tells you pretty much all you need to know, except for the amount of broth. In the comments to the video, Mount Vernon specified about 1/2 cup. I decided to add a little dried thyme to the mixture, also, because it seemed like it needed something. And instead of roasting my own chicken on a spit, I picked up a rotisserie chicken at Ye Olde Jewel Osco, and I shredded it instead of cubing it.

Here's the recipe I wound up using:

Chicken Pudding

1 cooked chicken, shredded or cubed
1/2 c butter
1/2 c flour
1/2 c broth
2 c milk
4 eggs
salt, pepper, thyme to taste

Preheat your oven to 350

In a bowl, mix together the eggs and milk, and set aside.

Melt the butter in a large pan, then whisk in the flour. Cook for a couple minutes until it darkens a bit.

Whisk in the broth and incorporate it well.

Slowly add the milk/egg mixture and whisk well to combine. Add seasoning.

Remove from heat, add the chicken, then transfer to a pie plate. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes.


While I was making this, my daughter came into the kitchen to ask what smelled so good. I told her I was making a chicken pie because somehow that sounds more appealing than chicken pudding. She said she couldn't wait for dinner. I was glad she was enthusiastic because my last attempt at a Mount Vernon recipe hadn't gone too well.

The pudding emerged from the oven looking and smelling pretty appealing. I let it cool for about 20 minutes before cutting into it, since that's what I usually do with casseroles and whatnot to keep them from running. I'm not sure that was entirely necessary with this, though. It wound up being firm and not runny at all, probably thanks to all those eggs.

I wasn't sure whether I was supposed to scoop out the servings or slice them like a pie. I wound up doing a scoop-slice hybrid.

I served the pudding with biscuits and honey-glazed carrots. In retrospect I would have gone with a lighter, less sweet vegetable because the pudding was pretty dense, and the biscuits and honey just made everything heavier. It also looked kind of monochrome. Not to go all Iron Chef, but it needed something acidic.

That said, the pudding actually tasted pretty good, and my kids seemed to enjoy it a lot. In fact, they liked it so much that halfway through the meal I decided to tell them it was really called Chicken Pudding...and then they suddenly stopped eating. After moaning for a couple minutes about how gross that was, they resumed eating again, and they ate the leftovers the next night without complaint. (Surprisingly, the leftovers actually tasted a little better than the fresh-baked pudding/pie.)

This isn't a fancy dish, but it's a hearty one, and it's worth checking out if you want to make something George Washington might have eaten. (And trust me, there are a lot of things he would have eaten that sound---and probably taste---a lot less appealing than "chicken pudding.")