President 37: Richard Nixon
January 20, 1969 – August 9, 1974
Ah, the drunk dial. Classic. For many of us, the frequency of leaving awkward 2 am messages subsides after college graduation. Some brave souls; however, continue the tradition into adulthood. That is why it is essential you have that one friend who takes your phone and firmly tells you that you will regret telling your ex you love him in the morning. For Nixon that friend was Kissinger and many of those calls were to China.
A stiff drink was an equal companion to “Tricky Dick” Nixon in good times and bad. A connoisseur of fine wines, it was rumored that during many dinner parties, White House staff were instructed to serve him the very best whilst saving a mediocre alternative for his guests. I would never have noticed as long as they kept it coming. Servers wrapped the wine in a napkin to be discreet. On his famed 1972 trip to China, Nixon met his match in Moutai, white lightening style liquor made of fermented sorghum. As the Chinese described the liquor’s ability to cure wounds and demonstrated how it easily caught fire, the President felt its effects after numerous toasts. In a visit two years later, Kissinger told Deng Xiaoping, “I think if we drink enough Moutai we can solve anything.” Well nothing solved the inevitable demise of the presidency when the Watergate tapes surfaced, many of which included Nixon slurring his words.
The Nixon’s eating habits were West Coast healthy. For breakfast, the President started with a cup (or multiple cups) of coffee and a grapefruit, as both he and Mrs Nixon were figure conscious. Lunches were mostly leafy nutrient-packed salads or gazpacho that you might find at the spa. In the middle of their fruit and veggie plates was often a giant dollop of cottage cheese. Rumor has it that President Nixon actually enjoyed ketchup mixed in his cottage cheese, a trend we can all be thankful did not catch on. The Nixons were also fond of avocados (or alligator pears as they are sometimes called), which reminded them of their California home. They are found in many of their official recipes. As we have had far too many Nixon cocktails to consider a salad this week, let’s go for a California burger option. Dinner was always served at 6pm and was basic hearty American fare. When a diet was not in play, a burger was the President’s second favorite cheat meal. His first was Pat’s meatloaf, a half-beef half-pork recipe that resembles Mrs. Truman’s version we made weeks ago. Spaghetti and meatballs was also at the top of the list.
Burgers were a family business. Nixon’s brother, Don, owned a chain of burger joints in California, aptly named Nixon Burger. Don borrowed a chunk of change from Howard Hughes to keep the restaurants afloat in 1956 (when Nixon was VP under Eisenhower), instigating some questions about defense contracts Hughes was awarded shortly thereafter. Seems like the President didn’t event trust Don and his brother’s phone was one of those tapped during the Watergate scandal. I have included the official, and extremely basic, White House burger recipe below. I have made additions to the original, which was crafted by White House Chef Henry Haller. These burgers were served to Sammy Davis Jr. on his visit to the Nixon White House and to guests of the biggest event hosted during their administration, a picnic for 4,000 staff and their families on the lawn.
The Nixon Cocktail – created at the London Savoy Hotel in 1969 for Nixon’s visit. My changes are in italics.
1 part bourbon whiskey
1 part sloe gin
2 dashes peach bitters
1 Tbsp. peach puree
2 springs mint
Fresh peach, grilled, to garnish
The original recipe is served on the rocks. As I added the puree, I also used a shaker and added mint. The result was a summery cocktail, still strong, but more light in flavor for those hot summer nights.
White House All- American Burger (serves 1)
Adapted from The White House Family Cookbook, by White House Executive Chef Henry Haller
My changes are noted in italics.
5 to 6 ounces freshly ground lean chuck
1 pinch of salt
1 pinch of ground pepper
1 tsp Worchester sauce
Sprinkle of garlic powder
Sprinkle of Italian seasoning
Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Form meat into a large, thick patty
Season with salt and pepper.
In a cast-iron skillet, heat oil until very hot: sauté beef patty until brown on both sides. Do not overcook (no more than 5 minutes for medium rare).
Drain on paper towels
Serve at once on a lightly toasted hamburger bun, plain or with a choice of condiments- classics include catshup, mustard, relish, and lettuce leaves, and sliced tomato, onion, and pickle. Burgers can also be topped with bacon (not crisp), chili (beanless), guacamole, and a variety of cheeses including blue, cheddar, jack or the traditional American slices. Chopped onions mixed with the ground beef can also help to moisten the meat and enhance the flavor of the meat.
If serving with guacamole, serve with arugula and a fried egg.