So: I went on a wonderful visit to the Capitol (thanks to this site for the picture) a while ago with colleagues, where we learned a lot about the current administration's perspectives on higher education. It was a cross between excruciatingly disappointing and exciting. As we walked along, up the hill to the Capitol, got our special VIP name tags, sat and listened, walked through the Capitol, part of me said "WOW. Look where I am." Among other things, the architecture was amazing (almost as amazing as the Pennsylvania Capitol in Harrisburg. . . ok, that was a little prejudiced). Another part of me, of course, was the cynic. As I walked along looking at all the amazing stuff, I thought "Wow. What a production." "Wow," I thought. "Why am I Impressed?" (And quietly, somewhere inside I asked: why am I saying wow to myself so much?) "What is this doing to my sense of politics? And the relation of politics qua power and politics qua ritual?" "Wow."
After all our seriousness (listening to beltway insiders on higher education), we went, perhaps obviously, to the gift shop. I had to give up my regular line "Could I have a receipt please? I just want to give the feds as little money at tax time as possible." As the cashier said to me, "All your money here goes directly to the feds!" I bought a few obvious things -- like a copy of the Constitution -- but I also bought something very self-indulgent: the 14th edition of "The Congressional Club Cookbook." It cost a big $45 (which I willingly gave to the feds?) and is brown with gold-like (would that be gilded?) title and a similarly gilt visual of the Congressional Club on the front. (In fact, it looks a little like a bible, with its gilt edged pages.) Hefty. And only today (about a month later) did I remove the plastic wrap and start perusing it. I feel just like I did that day at the Capitol -- a sort of embarrassed cynical patriotism wowzerism, a sort of "who was that that bought this thing?" and bit of "this is fun and I wonder if Julie Hyzy has one?"
So: did I know what the Congressional Club was when I bought this? No. Here's what I learned -- it was founded by an Act of Congress in 1908, and this 14th edition was published in 2005 and hence has a little paragraph at the outset by the spouse in chief at the time -- Laura Bush. Why the spouse in chief? Because the club is for spouses of the House and Senate, Cabinet and Supreme Court. (So, does that make Bill Clinton a member now?) Some web sites indicate it was once called the Congressional Wives Club and remains a female only organization. Hmmm. According to the book itself, the Club has been self-sustaining via the cookbook since 1927. Also, I note that the cookbook committee for this, the 14th edition, consists entirely of people introduced as MRS. (and their husband's name). Yes, their husbands' names may be known. But still. This was 2005? Am I living in an alternate reality?
So, what's actually in the book. Some lovely pictures, snippets of history (or gossip -- or both), and recipes -- appetizers, beverages, breads and sandwiches, eggs and cheese, salads, soups and stews, meats, poultry, seafood, casseroles, pasta and rice, vegetables, desserts, and dishes from around the world. The sections are divided by pictures and the forward from some earlier editions (hence the words of Grace Goodhue Coolidge; Lou Henry Hoover; Anna Eleanor Roosevelt; Elizabeth "Bess" Truman; Mary "Mamie" Eisenhower; Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy; Claudia "Lady Bird" Johnson; Patricia Ryan Nixon; Elizabeth Bloomer Ford; Rosalynn Smith Carter; Nancy Davis Reagan; Barbara Pierce Bush; Hillary Rodham Clinton; Laura Welch Bush).
On the recipes -- a real range of things. In fact, I think I might actually even cook from this. And I do not always say that. Lots of interesting Americana stuff -- baked corn, tuna casseroles, and mint juleps -- and some odd things like jello punch (yes, made with packets of jello). The use of frozen food seems odd to me -- but realistic, I guess? For example, there is a chicken divan that involves frozen broccoli, cream of chicken soup, and Miracle Whip. Hmmm. On the other end of the spectrum: a chocolate pecan torte that reads like a wonder not to mention an upside-down pear cardamon cake. And there are menus and recipes from donors, including some donor chefs. Not to mention the international segment -- with an eggplant cake from the wife of the Ambassador, Israel and a rhineland-style sauerbraten with raisin gravy from the Ambassador from Germany.
And yet, looking around at the book, I guess I am still wandering the Capitol. Oh wow. Yes but. What about the politics of it all? I am just not sure, even in the Obama generation (and certainly not in the era of this edition, provided with a forward by then-first-lady Laura Bush). Hmmm. I am just not sure about this sublimation nation. And, I wonder what the cookbook will be like if another edition emerges linked to the Obama era; certainly, Michelle Obama has been appearing in all sorts of food network contexts (revealing the secret ingredient on Iron Chef, for example, and in the words of assistant White House Chef on Top Chef, among other places; check out this youtube) pushing her food agenda for the US. I wonder if it will include challenging the monoculture of corn and related corporate agendas. . . . We'll see, right?
For visuals of the club, both older and more recent, click here. Or, you could try driving (or walking) by. Where is the Congressional Club? It is at the northeast corner of New Hampshire Avenue and U Street, NW in Washington, DC.
For a bit on this edition, try here.
But what about recipes? For one from Jackie Kennedy and the 6th edition of the book, click here. For an utterly baffling phenomenon from the 8th edition, try this site. For a cookie recipe adapted from the 12th edition, click here. Or go more retro, for an eggless meatloaf right here. And, just in case you have a real need to know what Spiro Agnew's favorite soup was, it came from an edition of this cookbook and you can find out what it was (and much much more) right here.
And don't forget, Obamafoodarama!