friday feast: keeping cool with calvin coolidge and his wife’s crunchy cookies

Since moving to Virginia, I’ve become quite the Presidential buff. It’s easy to do since eight Presidents were born here, and I bump into fascinating history wherever I turn.

That’s why I get excited whenever a new children’s book comes out profiling a single President, or, as in the case of Marilyn Singer’s fabulous new poetry collection, all 43 of them.

In Rutherford B., Who Was He?, Marilyn introduces our fearless leaders in chronological order via succinct, thought-provoking poems, blending critical facts, historical references and fascinating human interest tidbits.

All but eight (grouped together for spirited discourse) are featured in single poems. With just a few masterful strokes, she highlights the subject’s claim to fame and illuminates character and personality, so we can better understand the why’s and wherefore’s. She does not shy away from foibles, failings, controversy or scandal, and I love the sense of continuity from one administration to the next, giving us a broad sweep of Presidential history from Washington to Obama.

Paired with John Hendrix’s witty, exuberant caricatures and crackerjack hand-drawn typography, these verses pulse with verve and vigor — a showcase of poetic forms (a Nixon reverso!) with clever, innovative rhymes that truly bring our Presidents to life.

Today, for your crunchable enjoyment, I’m serving up Marilyn’s poem about our 30th President, Calvin Coolidge, with a plate of his wife Grace’s Icebox Cookies on the side.

Interesting that a man known as “Silent Cal” led us through most of the Roaring Twenties, a decidedly loud time of dynamic social and cultural change, materialism, excess and partying to the max. He was popular while in office, but opinions are now divided about his legacy. “Though Coolidge was certainly not solely responsible for the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the Great Depression that followed, his policies helped lead to these.”

 

CALVIN COOLIDGE
(Republican, 1923-1929)

 

Speculation! People scrambling

to invest — a kind of gambling.

It was easy to get credit — spending soared.

They called him Silent Cal,

while the twenties roared.

 

More autos on the highway.

More airplanes on the flyways.

With radio and movies, who was bored?

They kept cool with Mr. Coolidge,

while the twenties roared.

 

Though there was Prohibition,

people had less inhibition

at speakeasies, where the drinks and music poured.

Lots of fun, lots of cash

(till the Stock Market Crash).

Calvin Coolidge stayed at home and snored.

They say he left the White House still adored

while the Roaring Twenties . . .  roared.

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♥ Chew on This ♥

In his short bio from the book’s back matter, we learn that Coolidge got his nickname because he disliked making small talk at social events. Grace was just the opposite — a congenial, vivacious hostess.

What about food? Coolidge loved chicken and apple pie, and loved to steal a snack from a White House storeroom that contained pickles, jams and jellies. Alice Roosevelt supposedly said he looked like “he’d been weaned on a pickle.”

Grace supported the Girl Scouts in their early days of cookie sales.

While Vice President to Warren G. Harding, reticent, dour Cal always ate alone in one corner of the Senate Dining Room. Just as frugal with his time as his words, he ate his breakfast of wheat and rye porridge while having his hair cut and/or his scalp massaged with Vaseline.

In order to cut costs, he reduced the meat served at State Dinners, and in fact conducted more meetings at breakfast because it was cheaper than serving lunch or dinner. I do like that he hosted “alphabetical breakfasts,” inviting about 12 guests at a time according to their last names. The menu? Always sausage, bacon, eggs, buckwheat pancakes, corn muffins, grapefruit, toast and coffee.🙂

Grace perfecting her pie crust.

What about the lively Grace? Apparently not a great cook at the beginning of their marriage, but she eventually came into her own and endured a lot of ribbing from her husband along the way. When she baked biscuits, Cal would stomp the ground to mimic the sound of it falling to the floor. Her tough pie crusts prompted him to ask friends, “Don’t you think the road commissioner would be willing to pay my wife something for her recipe for pie crust?”

Cheeky Cal! Wonder if he appreciated Grace for her Icebox Cookies — seemingly the perfect treat for someone whose election slogan was “Keeping Cool with Calvin Coolidge.” These easy-to-make brown sugar delights should be chilled overnight before baking to bring out their full flavor. Brrrrrr and Yum!

Grace Coolidge’s Icebox Cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 2 cups brown sugar
  • 3-1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup chopped nuts
  • 2 eggs, well beaten

Cream butter and sugar. Sift flour, soda and salt three times.

Add nuts, eggs, and flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix all thoroughly and pack into mold (long narrow bread pan), or roll into logs and wrap in wax paper. Chill overnight in refrigerator.

Unmold (or unwrap), and slice very thin. Bake in moderate oven, 350 degrees F, on ungreased cookie sheet for 10-12 minutes.

*Adapted from “Mrs. Coolidge’s Icebox Cookies” in Politics & Pot Roast by Sarah Hood Salomon (Bright Sky Press, 2006).

*   *   *

RUTHERFORD B., WHO WAS HE?: Poems About Our Presidents
written by Marilyn Singer
illustrated by John Hendrix
published by Disney-Hyperion, 2013
Poetry Picture Book for ages 6+, 56 pp.
*Includes Author’s Note about the Presidency, short bios with quotes, and bibliography.
**2014 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Honor Award Winner

***Check out the official book trailer to see more of John Hendrix’s amazing illustrations, which have the flavor of old timey political cartoons:

*   *   *

poetryfriday180The lovely Elizabeth Steinglass is hosting today’s Roundup. Don’t be overly frugal or too silent — take her at least two dozen cookies and an apple pie, and recite at least 10 poems aloud from among those being shared in the blogosphere this week. Once you’ve done this, you may take a 2-3 hour afternoon nap just like Cal did. Still wondering why he called every meal “supper” though.

“Fill er up!”
“Gonna take these Republican cookies for a ride.”

REMINDER:

Still time to enter the giveaway to win a signed copy of Maira Kalman’s Thomas Jefferson: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Everything. Leave a comment at this post no later than midnight (EDT) Sunday, May 18, 2014.

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wkendcookingiconThis post is also being linked to Beth Fish Read’s Weekend Cooking, where all are invited to share their food-related posts. Put on your aprons and bibs, and come join the fun!

 

 

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Copyright © 2014 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

58 thoughts on “friday feast: keeping cool with calvin coolidge and his wife’s crunchy cookies

  1. I love that picture of Grace with a cookie and those teddy bear biscuit deliverers. Great post, Jama.

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    1. Thanks, Catherine. I love a First Lady who likes cookies! She really does look like she’s enjoying that bite, doesn’t she?

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    1. This is a great collection — the poems are short but meaty and Marilyn has pulled off quite the coup capturing the essence of each President — both policy and personality — in so few words. Don’t know whether you’re familiar with John Hendrix’s art, but it’s awesome!

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      1. My library doesn’t have this (yet?), but I looked at a number of other Marilyn Singer books, and was quite impressed, especially with her forwards and backwards poems!

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      2. Yes, Marilyn invented the “reverso.” We awarded her first book of reversos, MIRROR, MIRROR, a Cybils Award several years ago. She’s an extremely versatile poet who’s published oodles of great books.

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  2. That photo of Grace eating a Girl Scout cookie! Love her expression🙂 My son (who entered the U.S. History Bee) has opinions about all the presidents. He seems to know who they all ran against! Fun book & charming illustrations.

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    1. It’s definitely a standout among Presidential compendiums. Just ordered a cookbook full of Presidential cookies. Best kind of research.🙂

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  3. I am a fan of Marilyn Singer’s, but I didn’t know about that book. I’m so glad to know of it–thank you! I love how she not only gave a sense of Coolidge, but of the time period. Your photos are very fun, too. And now I’m hungry for milk and cookies!

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    1. It’s amazing that in these short poems, she’s able to encapsulate a term of office, place it in historical context, and give us a sense of the character/personality of that particular President. We sometimes also see what issues were passed on to succeeding Presidents, which gives us a broader perspective of accomplishments or failures.

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  4. Jama – you have made my day! I LOVE books about our presidents and both the illustrations and poems look wonderful, BUT even better, it’s Marilyn Singer! She is the author of one of my all-time FAVORITE children’s picture books (which I happily own – a gift from my fabulous mom): “It’s Hard to Read a Map with a Beagle on your Lap.” Sadly, I believe it’s out of print. I will be buying Rutherford B. for my collection. Thank you for this fantastic review – as always. xo Samantha

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    1. Good to know you’re a big Marilyn Singer fan — I’m not familiar with her beagle PB — now I’m very curious since it’s one of your all-time favorites. Will check the library for it.

      Enjoy Rutherford B!

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  5. She’d have to have teased him back, or whomped him on the head with her rolling pin. I like the idea of the politicos getting up early and getting something accomplished at breakfast. Early to bed, early to rise . . . Thanks for such a fun post. You are a treat!

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  6. Love that last picture, Jama – Yes! Take them for a long ride!!! And I love the new collection, too. This would be a wonderful way to survey the Presidents – much better than boring textbooks.

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    1. I’m all in favor of sparking interest in nonfiction subjects via poetry. We’re lucky to have so many talented poets doing just that these days.

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  7. Those cookies look wonderful. I’m trying to stay away from sweet treats, but I may have to rethink that decision!

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  8. I agree! You always have the bestest posts!! I love the art in this book (great video!) and love learning about our presidents. Now I need to make some cookies.

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  9. You had me at ‘hand-drawn typography’ – who does that??! Apparently, Hendrix does. We should have a politics/economics reading theme soon, so we can gorge on books about presidents and state leaders. And just look at those icebox cookies, yum! Now I have to look for dessert.🙂

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  10. Hi, Jama. I’m a huge fan of Marilyn’s work. What a great topic for a book of poems! And who could say “no” to a Nixon reverso — a perfect match of poetic form and president.

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