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Eat Like a Commander-in-Chief: 15 President-Approved Recipes

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istock (pancakes) / getty images (washington)

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to eat like a president? So did Poppy Cannon. The food editor at Ladies Home Journal and author of The Can Opener Cookbook was inspired to write a presidential cookbook by her friend Eleanor Roosevelt; she even dedicated the tome, The Presidents’ Cookbook: Practical Recipes from George Washington to the Present, to the former First Lady. Published in 1968, the book, co-written with Patricia Brooks, includes not just recipes, but everything you could ever want to know about how chief executives up to Lyndon B. Johnson entertained. Here are 15 recipes, updated by Cannon for modern chefs, that will help you eat like a commander in chief this Presidents Day.

1. INDIAN HOE CAKES // GEORGE WASHINGTON

Hoe cakes—which were baked on a hoe in an open hearth—were among our first president’s favorite foods. Washington typically ate three small hoe cakes for breakfast with tea and honey. This recipe will serve 4 to 6 people.

INGREDIENTS
Water-ground white cornmeal
Salt
Melted lard or other shortening
Boiling water

DIRECTIONS
“Combine the cornmeal (1 cup) with ½ teaspoon of salt. Add 1 tablespoon lard or shortening and enough boiling water to make dough that is solid enough to hold a shape. Form the dough into 2 thin oblong cakes and place them in a hot, well-greased heavy pan (not a hoe today). Bake in a preheated moderately hot (375°F) oven for about 25 minutes. Serve the cakes hot.”

2. DUTCH WAFFLES // THOMAS JEFFERSON

The widely-traveled Jefferson was a big fan of foreign foods. (And wine: In his eight years as president, he spent nearly $11,000 on it, according to Cannon.) He couldn't bear to live without the delicious European dishes he'd gotten used to, so when Jefferson returned stateside after his role as minister to France ended in 1789, he brought recipes back with him. He also brought back a waffle iron, which he had purchased after eating the tasty treats for the first time in Holland. This recipe, which makes six waffles, “is Jefferson’s but has been updated,” Cannon writes.

INGREDIENTS
Eggs
Heavy cream
Salt
Baking powder
All-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS
“Separate 3 eggs and beat the yolks vigorously. Add 1 cup cream, beating all the time. Sift together 1 cup flour, ¼ teaspoon salt, and 4 teaspoons baking powder. Add to the egg-cream mixture and beat altogether with an electric or rotary beater. Beat until smooth. In a small bowl beat the egg whites until stiff and dry, fold them into the batter, and put into the refrigerator 30 minutes or longer. Preheat waffle iron and bake waffles until lightly browned and crisp. Serve piping hot with butter, maple syrup, sour cream, or honey.”

3. FLOATING ISLAND // ANDREW JACKSON

Andrew Jackson’s most infamous White House party dish was, without a doubt, the 1400-pound block of cheese that was served at his last public reception. (The damage from the event was so bad, according to Cannon, that cheese was crushed into the carpet and curtains and smeared on the walls of the White House. The next president, Martin van Buren, secured $27,000 from Congress in part to clean up the mess, Cannon says.) At other occasions, Jackson might have served a dish called the Floating Island. Variations of this dessert were popular all over the South; this recipe, which serves 8 to 10, comes from the kitchen of Jackson’s Tennessee home, the Hermitage.

INGREDIENTS
Sponge cake
Blanched almonds
Sherry
Plain boiled custard
Almond or vanilla flavoring
Whipped cream
Currant jelly

DIRECTIONS
“Cover the bottom of a large bowl with sponge cake, either whole or broken into pieces. Sprinkle 1 cup chopped blanched almond over the cake. Then sprinkle 1 tablespoon sherry over all. Take 1 quart Boiled Custard, flavored with almond or vanilla flavoring, and pour it over the top of the bowl. Then top with a generous amount of whipped cream and dab bits of currant jelly on the whipped cream. Serve directly from the bowl.”

4. PICKLED OYSTERS // MARTIN VAN BUREN

According to Cannon, our eighth president was fond of oysters prepared pretty much any way (especially raw with wine, which is how he once served them to Aaron Burr). This dish would have been served as an appetizer.

INGREDIENTS
Raw oysters
Bay leaves
Red-pepper pod
Salt
Peppercorns
Whole cloves
Mace
Whole allspice
Cider vinegar
Lemon

DIRECTIONS
“Cook 1 gallon shucked raw oysters in their own liquor until the edges begin to curl. Drain them, but save the liquor. Rinse the oysters in cold water and pat them dry. Put them aside. Add 2 bay leaves, 1 red-pepper pod, 2 teaspoons salt, 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns, and 1 teaspoon each whole cloves, mace, and allspice to the oyster liquor. Measure the liquor and add the same amount of cider vinegar. Bring the mixture to a boil, then add 1 sliced lemon. Pour the mixture over the oysters. Pack in hot sterilized jars. Seal.”

5. SPICED CRABAPPLES // ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Cannon notes that historians have claimed that our 16th president was indifferent to food. Lincoln's bodyguard said he was a "hearty eater," though, and Honest Abe did have a few favorite dishes, including apples. According to Cannon, this dish—which wasn’t a dessert, but a side—was a Lincoln favorite.

INGREDIENTS
Crabapples
Vinegar
Sugar
Cloves, mace, cinnamon

DIRECTIONS
“Peel and cut in half 9 pounds crabapples. Place in a large kettle with 1 pint vinegar, 4 pounds sugar, 1 teaspoon whole cloves, 3 or 4 sticks of cinnamon, and a dash of mace. Boil about ½ hour, removing before apples become too soft. Put in sterilized jars and seal or, if you plan to use shortly, chill in the refrigerator.”

6. RICE PUDDING MELAH // ULYSSES S. GRANT

Grant was a big fan of rice pudding, and would often request it when the family dined. According to Cannon, the Grants’ steward, Melah, tried to inventively vary the dish, which sometimes showed up on the menu at official functions. 

INGREDIENTS
Rice
Milk
Butter
Eggs
Sugar
Almonds
Cinnamon and nutmeg

DIRECTIONS
“Measure ¾ cup long-grain rice into a saucepan. Add 1½ quarts milk and simmer very slowly until the rice is soft. Add 3 tablespoons butter, remove from heat, and cool. Meanwhile, beat 5 eggs well and stir them into the rice mixture. Add ½ cup sugar and mix carefully. Pour the mixture into a large greased baking pan and add ½ cup slivered almonds, mixing them gently into the pan. Bake in a medium-warm (325°F) oven until custard sets. Remove from the oven, sprinkle a mixture of cinnamon and nutmeg over the top and serve. Delicious either warm or chilled.”

7. RHODE ISLAND EELS // CHESTER ARTHUR

During Arthur's time as president, "His Accidency" (so-called because he became commander-in-chief after James Garfield's assassination) had, on average, one formal dinner a week. These meals had fewer courses than his predecessors enjoyed but more guests (Grant would entertain up to 36 people; Arthur upped attendance to 54). More than anything, Arthur enjoyed inviting a few close friends to dinner and having conversation until late in the night. This dish—which Cannon notes Arthur was “particularly keen on”—was sometimes served with coleslaw.

INGREDIENTS
Eels
Cornmeal
Egg
Lard or salad oil

DIRECTIONS
“Cut the eels into pieces. Dip them into batter made of cornmeal and egg. The batter should be moist, so add just a little meal at a time. Preheat a deep skillet with lard or oil in it until very hot. Drop eel pieces in, one at a time, brown quickly, and turn. Remove and drain on absorbent paper. Serve hot.”

8. CORN SOUP // BENJAMIN HARRISON

To keep up with all of the demands that holding events at the White House entailed, Harrison hired a steward who had worked for many fancy hotels and at least one prince. But when they weren't entertaining, the Harrisons were fans of much simpler fare. Cannon writes that they were "a soup-loving family." This recipe, "a special favorite," serves 4 to 6.

INGREDIENTS
Grated corn
Onions
Milk
Flour
Butter
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
“Cut enough fresh corn from the cob to make 2 cups. Boil this in boiling salted water very briefly—2 or 3 minutes. Add 2 sliced onions to 1 quart whole milk in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Slowly add the milk, a few spoonfuls at a time, to a roux made from 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons butter. Stir the mixture until smooth, add salt and pepper to taste. Then add the drained corn kernels. Simmer over a low fire for 10 to 12 minutes, but do not boil.”

9. HOT LOBSTER SALAD // WILLIAM MCKINLEY

This dish, popular in the Victorian era, was served at the McKinleys’ silver wedding anniversary party. (According to Cannon, the two-day event was thrown to prove that Ida McKinley, an epileptic, could withstand the rigors of social entertaining at the White House.)

INGREDIENTS
Lobsters
Salt
Red Pepper
Truffles
Madeira
Egg yolks
Light cream

DIRECTIONS
“Boil 2 large lobsters and split them open. Pick all the meat from the shells and cut it into 1-inch lengths, as much the same size as possible. Put the lobster meat in a saucepan on high heat, adding a dash of salt, ½ teaspoon red pepper, and 2 medium-size truffles cut into small pieces. Cook 5 minutes, stirring often to keep from burning. Add ⅓ cup Madeira and continue cooking until ½ the wine disappears. Beat 3 egg yolks with ½ pint cream until light. Add to the lobster, stir until it thickens. Pour the lobster mixture into a hot bowl and serve piping hot. Good on toast triangles.”

10. STUFFED CUCUMBERS // THEODORE ROOSEVELT

Like the Harrisons, the Roosevelts much preferred simple food to the fancy stuff. They were "a comfortably affluent family who could eat what they liked," Cannon writes. "What they liked happened to be simple ... good simplicity in hearty helpings." At home at Sagamore Hill, the Roosevelts dined on cucumbers from their family garden in many variations. This recipe serves six.

INGREDIENTS
Cucumbers
Tomato
Apples
Celery
Walnuts
Mayonnaise
Chili sauce
Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS
“Cut 4 young but large cucumbers into 12 cup-shaped pieces. Scoop out the insides. Skin 3 tomatoes by placing them in boiling water for just a moment. Scoop out their insides as well. Chop 2 apples, ½ pound celery, ½ pound walnuts, and the tomato shells. Mix well and add 2 tablespoons mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon chili sauce, and ½ tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, with salt and pepper to taste. Mix well and stuff the cucumbers with this mixture. Top the cucumber with a dash of mayonnaise (or sour cream, if you prefer). Finely chopped walnuts may be sprinkled on top of the mayonnaise if you like.”

11. PEACH SALAD // WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT

It might seem counterintuitive for a guy who was so rotund that it was rumored he got stuck in a bathtub, but Taft was fond of salads. This particular dish, Cannon writes, “was held in high esteem.”

INGREDIENTS
Peach
Lettuce
White grapes
Cream cheese

DIRECTIONS
“Place ½ canned or fresh peach on a lettuce bed. Fill the cavity with washed white grapes. Make a ball of cream cheese as the topping.”

12. CURRY OF VEAL // CALVIN COOLIDGE

Silent Cal often served this dish with mango chutney at luncheons and on trips down the Potomac in the presidential yacht. This recipe will serve four.

INGREDIENTS
Veal
Egg
Salt, pepper
Butter
Curry powder
Flour
Chicken stock or beef stock
Cream

DIRECTIONS
“Chop 1 pound lean veal very fine; add 1 beaten egg and salt and pepper to taste. Roll in small balls and fry in deep fat for a few minutes, until brown. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in skillet, blend in 3 tablespoons curry powder and 2 tablespoons flour and cook until slightly browned. Carefully blend in 4 cups chicken or beef stock, stirring until thickened. Drop veal balls into skillet, stirring carefully to avoid breaking. Just before serving, add ¼ cup cream. Serve on rice.”

13. EGG TIMBALES // HERBERT HOOVER

Hoover loved this dish so much that, according to Cannon, he often asked for seconds. This recipe serves six.

INGREDIENTS
Rich milk
Eggs
Salt, pepper
Paprika
Tomato or cheese sauce
Cooked rice

DIRECTIONS
“Scald 1 cup rich milk and pour it over 3 slightly beaten eggs. Add salt, pepper, and paprika to taste. Pour the mixture into timbale molds or custard cups and place them in a pan of hot water. Bake in a slow (325°F) oven for 20 minutes. Serve in a ring on a warm platter, bordered with cooked rice and with a bowl of cheese or tomato sauce in the center.”

14. CHAFING DISH SCRAMBLED EGGS // FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT

Eleanor herself would make these eggs, which were served at Roosevelt Sunday dinners, using a silver chafing dish. Though seemingly basic, Cannon proclaimed the eggs “superior.” This recipe will make enough for three servings.

INGREDIENTS
Butter
Eggs
Cream
Salt

DIRECTIONS
“Melt 1 tablespoon butter in pan. Stir in 6 eggs lightly beaten with 3 tablespoons cream. Add ½ teaspoon salt and cook and stir gently until softly firm.”

15. OLD-FASHIONED BEEF STEW FOR 60 // DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER

Eisenhower liked to cook simple dishes, and beef stew was a specialty. According to Cannon, “although he had help from the staff in preparing the vegetables, he was there in the kitchen in his favored apron, stirring, tasting, seasoning” when he made this dish. (He also had a pared down version of the recipe that he prepared for smaller get-togethers.)

INGREDIENTS
Beef cut for stew
Beef stock
Small Irish potatoes
Small carrots
White onions
Fresh tomatoes
Bouquet garni
Flour
Salt, pepper

DIRECTIONS
“Stew 20 pounds beef in 3 gallons beef stock until partially tender, about 2½ hours. Season and add 8 pounds peeled potatoes, 6 bunches scraped carrots, 5 pounds peeled onions, 15 quartered tomatoes, and a bouquet garni (bay leaf, parsley, garlic, thyme tied in a cheesecloth bag). When vegetables are tender, strain off 2 gallons of stock and thicken with enough flour to make a medium-thick sauce. Remove cheesecloth bag, add thickened gravy to the meat and vegetables, season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for another half hour.”

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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