President 30- Calvin Coolidge
August 2, 1923 – March 4, 1929
There is nothing worse than micromanagers who mask their motives as “coaching” or “mentoring”. If I needed a coach or a mentor, I would read books by the Dalai Lama or join a local kickball team. My boss at my first job out of college led me to Dilbert style insanity by asking for updates on emails, two minutes after they would reach my inbox. Oh my God, it still gives me the shivers. Though she doesn’t put it directly on paper, it seems President Calvin Coolidge drove Ms. Jaffray (the White House housekeeper) and her staff absolutely nuts. Coolidge or “Silent Cal” was indeed a man of few words and one really peculiar cat. Ms. Jaffray, gives us a list of his mannerisms in her “Secrets of the White House” (1927).
“He is a light eater. He rarely talks, or smiles. He seldom goes to the theater. He plays no games. He never touches liquor. [He] takes a nap every afternoon- and smokes cigars. These are the only two indulgences the President permits himself.”
There is a story of a young lady, who sat next to the President at dinner, and bet him she could get him to speak more than three words. He brilliantly replied, “You lose”. As mentioned, his lack of warmth was paired with a love of details and he spent significant time checking in around the household. Few decisions were made without his input and pennies were relentlessly pinched. His wife, Grace, was his complete opposite. She was gregarious, smiling, and eager to talk to all of her guests as she wasn’t getting too much chat with her husband. President Coolidge and Grace were called the “strangest couple that has ever occupied the White House” and if they had anything in common, other than their love of Chinese food, history hasn’t found it.
The couple hailed from Vermont and focused their menus on rustic New England cooking. The President actually ate very little but was a keen nibbler and kept Vermont pickles, nuts, and fruit close at hand. He insisted all meals were called supper (even breakfast). He requested his morning cereal was homemade at the White House, and spent time perfecting the recipe with the chefs (three parts whole wheat and one part rye- cooked underground). The recipes for his custard pie and corn muffins, which he ate in very small portions, had to be sent in from a favorite inn in Massachusetts when the cooks couldn’t get it quite right.
Grace Coolidge was completely enamored with Chinese food, thanks mostly to a Chinese steward who worked aboard the Presidential yacht, the Mayflower. The steward expanded their palate to great success and made dishes like the below chicken chop suey, chicken chow mein, and a veal curry staples in their home. The recipe was given to the First Lady on her departure from the White House and though she requested it in original Catonese form, ingredients like butter and white meat chicken tell a different story. The White House chickens came from a coop the President requested be built above Teddy R’s mint patch. Rumor has it the meat took on an interesting taste. Well, there aren’t really any life-changing tastes in this recipe. It is a pretty standard stir fry but can be jazzed up with some spice. Many give Nixon the credit for bringing Chinese food into the American consciousness but our interest was there before, just a bit bland.
Chicken Chop Suey from the Presidential Yacht, the Mayflower
Recipe Adapted from the original given to Grace Coolidge
Record by “The Presidential Cookbook” by Poppy Cannon
Chinese rice wine
Butter or Sesame oil
Sriarcha, to taste
Cut into very thin strips 2 cups each water chestnuts, celery, bamboo shoots, and Chinese beans. [Leave the bok choy leaves whole unless otherwise desired]. [Combine] with 2 pounds of white meat chicken, cut into very thin strips. Fry in butter in skillet [or 1 glug sesame oil]. After 3 minutes, pour 2 cups chicken stock over. Cook for a few minutes and season to taste with salt, pepper, [and Sriracha]. Add 2 Tablespoons soy sauce, 2 Tablespoons rice wine or sake, and 1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with a little water. Cook Briskly for 5 more minutes. Serve with rice. Serves 12
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