Cookbook politics: Democrats, Republicans in the kitchen
“NOT ONLY do I eat, I also am a Democrat,” wrote Frank Sinatra in an intro to 1960’s “Many Happy Returns: The Democrats’ Cook Book, or How to Cook a G.O.P. Goose” (the sales of which helped buy TV air time for candidates). “Not only should every Democrat own a copy of this book, but he should load up all his or her friends, and even smuggle some copies into Pasadena and other points where the enemy is strong and square.”
“Many Happy Returns” is one of the more entertaining of a long string of little-noticed ephemera of political campaigns -- the partisan cookbook, written by politicos and their supporters (wives, celebrities, members of the Glendale Republican Womens Study Club), pundits, humorist gourmets, or even a displaced White House chef -- and it even has a few workable recipes.
Maybe the cookbook helped secure JFK his narrow victory that year by pleasing happy squares with Jacqueline Kennedy’s recipe for crisp, light waffles (the secret is the egg whites). (It certainly won’t be Cindy McCain’s butterscotch oatmeal cookies that catapult Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain into the Oval Office in this election. Who cares whether she stole the recipe, which appears on the Family Circle magazine website -- they look like leaden lumps.)
In 1973’s “The Watergate Cookbook,” recipe titles indicate a period-appropriate cynicism -- there’s “McCord’s Clouded Consommé (which sounds delicious, with tomatoes, sherry, chives and cream), “Ehrlichman’s Cover Up Casserole and Mitchell’s Sitting Duck. It’s a refreshing read, compared with so many surviving Junior League-esque spiral-bound books -- decades of earnest collections of senators’ wives recipes for hot crab dip, easy chicken cacciatore and stuffed peppers.
Don’t think the tradition doesn’t continue. In recent years the cookie recipe has become some kind of litmus test for domestic bliss for political candidates. Hence, the McCain oatmeal cookies and Michelle Obama’s shortbread, one of a cadre of recipes in the “Obama Campaign Family Cookbook” posted on Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama’s website. (In 2004, Laura Bush’s oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies took on Teresa Heinz Kerry’s pumpkin spice cookies.)
But recipes might be beside the point in many political cookbooks.
Let’s eat, Mr. Kim Jong Il
THE POST- 9/11 world of political cookbooks brings this year’s “Cuisines of the Axis of Evil and Other Irritating States: A Dinner Party Approach to International Relations,” which author Chris Fair calls a “gustatory castigation” (of what the political and military affairs analyst outlines as President Bush’s foreign policy failures).
Among the chapters on North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Israel, India, Pakistan, Cuba, Burma, China and the U.S. are recipes for jap chai (sweet potato noodles with beef and vegetables), noon-o-paneer-o-sabzi (flat bread, cheese and fresh herbs) and margat bamya (okra and lamb stew).
In addition to recipes, Fair offers plenty of dinner conversation topics (in highlighted boxes throughout the text), such as whether senior Pakistani nuclear scientist Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood (who once put forth a method for determining the temperature of hell) discussed the technical aspects of aerial dispersion of biological and chemical warfare agents with Taliban officials. What better way, over dessert of firnee (rice pudding with nuts, dried fruit and saffron), to wrap up a meal?
The “axis of evil” theme has been a popular one for cookbooks. “The Axis of Evil Cookbook,” published last year, was written by British author Gill Partington, who, already familiar with the culinary inclinations of Bush (peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, cheese enchiladas) and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair (fish and chips, “fresh fettuccine garnished with an exotic sauce of olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes and capers”), set out to discover their adversaries’ tastes. The answers (with recipes) include mandoo (Korean dumplings), avocado and pineapple salad and halwar lamr (sugared dates).
This doesn’t sound like how a Republican would eat, according to “How to Eat Like a Republican or, Hold the Mayo, Muffy -- I’m Feeling Miracle Whipped Tonight” (2004), which, incidentally, does not include any recipes that call for that elitist ingredient arugula (the price of which has so concerned Obama).
There’s certainly no greenery in 1996 presidential nominee Robert “Bob” Dole’s whole wheat honey bread or in former Missouri Sen. John “Jack” Danforth’s chili, though the latter is chock full of tender chunks of top round and plenty of kidney beans, with just the right amount of heat from crushed red pepper flakes and chile powder. (Missouri Republicans make mean chili.)
In an introduction, “How to Eat Like a Republican” author Susanne Grayson Townsend, a former advertising executive and a Republican who decries Citarella (the New York gourmet food chain) and balsamic vinegar, writes: “Republicans are just like you and me, only with more Tabasco. They make meat loaf just like you and me, only with whiter bread crumbs. They eat sushi just like you and me -- no, wait, I take that back.”
IF ANYONE has to be alert to the food whims of Republicans or Democrats, it’s the White House chef. Just ask Walter Scheib, who co-wrote “White House Chef: Eleven Years, Two Presidents, One Kitchen,” published last year.
Scheib made porterhouse steak with béarnaise sauce, grilled arctic char with wild mushroom risotto and gingered pheasant consommé with chanterelle and sweet potato ravioli for the Clintons -- and for the current Bushes, huevos rancheros, pepita-crusted bison with poblano mashed potatoes, and Tex-Mex Chex (the snack mix that the president never traveled without).
Alas, the writing was on the wall: “Under the Bushes, we weren’t trying to do very much at the White House that was new,” Scheib writes. First lady Laura Bush wanted food that was “generous, flavorful, and identifiable.” (None of that French stuff.) In February 2005, Scheib was fired.
It’s a cautionary tale for the current White House chef (Cristeta Comerford). Know when to stock up on the oatmeal and butterscotch chips, or the arugula, depending.
The stories shaping California
Get up to speed with our Essential California newsletter, sent six days a week.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.