Eating Well: Washington, DC - #102

BURT WOLF: Washington D.C. -- It’s the most all-American of our cities. The town where we store our country's past and plan its future. The place to take a look at American food from Colonial farmers to capsule Commanders. We'll find out why George Washington never smiled in public. Take a look at the first American cookbook and discover the recipe for a soup that must be served by law in the U.S. Senate everyday. Join me, Burt Wolf, Eating Well in Washington D.C.

Washington was the first modern city designed from scratch to be the capital of the nation. In 1790, Congress authorized the newly elected president, George Washington, to select a site on the Potomac River for a federal city. Washington had done an enormous amount of travelling during his life and he was fed up with the idea of commuting to work, so he chose the nearest town to his own home, Alexandria, Virginia as a starting point for the capital. The President's official home, the White House, was placed on top of a small hill looking down a wide avenue with the houses of Congress on the other end. That way they could keep an eye on each other. Today most of the sights to see are concentrated in one area of the town, which makes it a great place to get in your walking. Three miles in forty five minutes four times each week could help reduce your need for federal medical assistance. Remember, you're paying for every part of this federal government, so you want to see it all. There's The Old Executive Office Building, where old executives are stored. The Washington Monument, a 555-foot obelisk pointing to the sky. A constant reminder of the direction of our national debt. The Lincoln Memorial for our 16th President and savior of the union. The Supreme Court: I wanted some of the justices to render an opinion on a few recipes, but they are so far behind on their regular work already that no distractions are being allowed. The Jefferson Memorial: now, most people think of Thomas Jefferson as the 3rd president of the United States, author of the Declaration of Independence and the first president to be inaugurated in Washington. But he was a very important fellow in the world of food too. He spent five years in France as our ambassador, during which period he came to love French cooking. He was the first president to import a French chef into the White House. He drew a design for a pasta making machine. And at the risk of being executed if he was caught, he smuggled home seed rice from Italy and was responsible for starting up our own rice industry. And then there's The Mall; no shopping, just some of the world's finest museums.

For me, the superstar of museums is the Smithsonian. In 1829, an Englishman named James Smithson died and left over half a million in gold to the U.S. Federal Government. He left that money with specific instructions: they had to build an institution that would advance and distribute knowledge. In those days a half a million dollars was big bucks. You could actually buy something. And the Federal Government, big surprise, did a good job spending it.

Today the Smithsonian runs over a dozen major facilities, including the world's most visited museum, the National Air & Space Museum. Over twelve million people come through here every year. Air & Space has the original wood and fabric plane that the Wright Brothers flew in 1903, the very first powered manned and controlled flight. They also have the Apollo 11 command module that brought back the first men to land on the moon. Amazing -- Apollo's trip to the moon came only 66 years after the Wright Brothers’ flight. But what about the story of food in flight? Well, in the beginning there was a great void. There was absolutely no meal service on the Wright Brothers flight -- no soft drinks, no snacks, not even a bag of peanuts. And the history of commercial aviation and food is very checkered. There have been some great meals and some terrible meals. I was recently served a breakfast on board a flight that had so much saturated fat and cholesterol, that I considered it an attack upon my life. The meal was much more dangerous than the flight. I can't imagine why they want to knock off a frequent flier like me; I spend a lot of money on airlines. There is, however, one organization that is very serious about its inflight food, and that's NASA. They served their first in-flight meal in 1962 and the passenger was John Glenn. 

When scientists began to study the problems that astronauts might face when they started eating in space, they were concerned that swallowing might be impossible. John Glenn was the first person to actually be able to answer that question. His food came in squeezeable packages and he was able to swallow. During the Gemini missions of the mid 60's, the food shifted into plastic containers. By the early 70's hot water was on board. With Skylab, astronauts began spending long periods of time in space; food became serious. They had the first dining room in space and the first dish was passed. During the Apollo/Soyuz mission in 1975, an important food event took place: a U.S. ship docked with a Russian ship. We gave them a sample of our meals, they gave us ticket number 4,783 on the Moscow supermarket food line. Just kidding -- they gave us soup in a tube. These days, when dinner is ready, you just float off into a spot of space and start eating. Most of the food is sticky enough so that you can eat it with a spoon, or use your spoon to shoot it into your mouth. A whole new set of table manners appears to be evolving. Eating in space has given new meaning to the phrase “light meals.” And it's the perfect environment if you want to play with your food. The diet for our astronauts is carefully monitored; they end up eating rather healthfully. Especially when you consider the fact that they are literally surrounded by starbursts and milky ways.

Mount Vernon, situated on the banks of the Potomac River, was the estate of George Washington. Most people think of him as the 1st President of the United States. He thought of himself as a gentleman farmer. George acquired Mount Vernon when he was twenty-two years old in 1754, and called it home until his death at the age of 67. Washington carefully planned the arrangement of the grounds. He constantly experimented with seeds and systems. He believed that agriculture was the most important art. Today the gardens include only those plant varieties that would have been found there during the 18th century. The estate has more than thirty acres of beautiful gardens and wooded grounds. To the side of the main building, connected by a covered walkway, is a separate structure for cooking. In those days almost all the major food preparation was done in its own out-building. 

The main reason was to avoid a fire breaking out in the family home. It also kept the house cooler during the summer months, and it kept the smells outside the home. Breakfast was about seven o'clock in the morning; the General usually liked to have mush cakes with honey and three cups of tea without cream. The main meal was three o'clock in the afternoon, there was a tea break around 6 PM with a light snack, and sometimes a light supper around nine o'clock. But George liked to go to bed around nine o'clock, so he usually skipped that meal. Nice eating pattern; he took in most of his calories early in the day, and that's very healthy. 

The cooking was done in this room, the open fireplace was the heat source. A number of different fires would be burning at the same time, each with a different type of wood, depending on the style of heat you wanted. You could turn the range up or down by increasing or decreasing the distance of the pot from the flame. A little trickier than turning the dial. Many pots had legs to hold them above the hot coals on the floor of the fireplace. Foods were grilled over the fire on metal grids called gridirons. If you look at the pattern, you can see the reason a football field is called a gridiron. A second room was dug into the ground to keep the air cooler. It was called a larder and used to store perishable foods for a few extra days. The General once compared his home to a well-resorted hotel because of the steady stream of visitors. He was a famous guy and people were very curious about him. Because of his reputation for hospitality, they would just pop in. And if you had a proper letter of introduction, you were welcome. Well, it's about two hundred years later and not much has changed. Contemporaries of Washington thought of him as a great man who did not speak very much in public and did not eat a great deal at his dinner parties. The problem was not his inability to carry on a great conversation or a good appetite. He was unhappy about showing what was in his mouth. Think about it, you never see him with his mouth open, not even for a smile. 

Poor George. Through most of his life he suffered with some kind of dental problem. He had periodontal disease, he had lots of serious toothaches, and he had false teeth that didn't fit very well. Contemporaries thought that his teeth might have been made of wood, but that was actually not the case. They were made of cow's teeth and teeth that had been carved from the tusks of hippopotami and elephants. Recently a group of scientists were taking a look at his dental history and they came to the conclusion that he may have lost his teeth because there wasn't enough calcium in his diet. These days we know that we need three portions of calcium in our diet every single day. Best way to get them: low-fat dairy products and calcium-fortified citrus juice.

Though George might have opened his mouth in astonishment, if he saw what was going on today in the city that bears his name, especially in this structure. This is the Capitol Building of the Federal Government of the United States of America. Home to the Senate, our senior house of the legislative branch. 

The United States Senate is a complex place and nobody is ever quite sure what's going on inside there. But whatever conflicts and confusion may exist, there is one thing you can count on. Every day in the United States Senate dining room, bean soup will be on the menu. Nobody knows exactly how it happened, but in the early days of this century, some senator slipped in a piece of legislation requiring that bean soup be served day after day after day.

As part of the Freedom of Information Act, the recipe has been declassified. 

Chef Walter Sednew at the Hay Adams Hotel starts by putting a quarter cup of vegetable oil into a pot. Then two cups of chopped onion, one cup of chopped celery, and a minced clove of garlic. Next five smoked ham hocks go in, two quarts of water and a pound of Michigan Navy Beans that have been soaked in water for eight hours. A little vinegar is added, ketchup (ah -- President Reagan's favorite vegetable), and a little thyme and two hours of simmering. Finally we put in two cups of diced potatoes and two cups of diced carrots and one cup of tomato juice. Thirty minutes of additional simmering, then the ham comes out and the soup is ready to serve.

The Library of Congress: it was originally established in 1800 to purchase books that members of the legislature might need to consult. It started out as a small reference collection, but like most things that originate in Washington D.C., it just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger. Today it has almost a hundred million items, including a tremendous collection of American cookbooks... cookbooks that tell the story of how the American family has been transformed from food producer to food consumer. Gone are the instructions to pick your vegetables early in the day because they will taste better. The Library has a great collection of what are called “charitable cookbooks.” They were originally developed during the Civil War by the Ladies’ Aid Societies to fund a particular charitable event. The idea of a charitable cookbook is an American invention. The first cookbook printed in America was produced in 1742 titled "The Complete Cook". Next came "The Frugal Housewife", and "The New Art of Cookery". But these were basically English cookbooks printed in America. The first truly American cookbook was published in 1796 and called "American Cookery". It was the first book to call for ingredients that were only available in the American colonies, and to use words like shortening, cookie and cole slaw. It called for pumpkin pie, and recommended the combination of turkey and cranberries. Where would we be on Thanksgiving without this book?

In 1828 Robert Roberts, a servant in the home of a Massachusetts Senator, published "The House Servant's Directory". It was the first commercially printed cookbook by an African- American. During the late 1800's most of our cookbooks came out of cooking schools. The people in these schools were divided into two groups. The first group were daughters of immigrant families who were learning how to cook in order to get a job. The second group were daughters of wealthy American families who were learning how to give orders to the first group. The most important book to come out of the schools was "Fanny Farmer’s Boston Cooking School Cookbook". It set the basic style for recipe presentation that we use today, and it was the first to really use precise measurements. It called for an eight ounce cup, instead of two handfuls. 

Today we publish thousands and thousands of new cookbooks every year. I always thought if you could read and had a driver's license, you were over-qualified to be a good cook. When you cook you just use eye and hand coordination; when you drive you've also got to use your feet. 

Well, as long as we have the ability to drive, lets zip across D.C. to the quaint neighborhood of Georgetown. In the heart of Georgetown, in a cozy three-story federal townhouse that feels like a private home is the 1789 Restaurant. 1789 was a big deal year in the history of Washington. It was the year that the Constitution of the United States was finally adopted, which marks it as the first year of our Federal Government. It was the year that Georgetown was incorporated as a village. And it was the year that George Washington was inaugurated as the first president of the U.S. Good year. Good restaurant too. Warm romantic atmosphere, decorated with period prints, antiques and fine reproductions. There's an old English Parliament clock that dates back to the time when the English parliament passed a tax on watches. 

A tax that was so unpopular that the pubs actually put in clocks to help their patrons avoid paying it. I wonder if there was anything that the government will not tax. (LAUGHS) I bet there isn't. Well one thing that is definitely not taxing, is the food at 1789. Chef Rick Steffan presents classic American food at its best. Example, their crab cakes. 

A cup of mayonnaise goes into a mixing bowl, or you can cut down on the calories here by using a low calorie mayonnaise or a cup of egg whites. Next an ounce of lemon juice, a teaspoon of ground dry ginger. Four teaspoons of Old Bay Seasoning, or a mixture of your own favorite herbs and spices. Quarter cup of chopped parsley and two tablespoons of chives. That gets mixed together. Then in go four cups of fresh lumped crab meat and four tablespoons of crushed oyster crackers. The mixture gets formed into three and a half ounce patties. A little vegetable oil is heated in a frying pan, the crab cakes go in and cook for three minutes on each side. When you're turning food in a pan like this, it's a good idea to tilt the oil to one side; that will help keep it from splattering. A little mustard sauce goes onto a serving dish, some chives, the crab cakes, potatoes and asparagus. 

Out of respect for President Bush, we skipped the broccoli. 

Just a few blocks from the White House, the Old Ebbett Grill was founded in 1856, and its regular guests included Presidents McKinley, Grant, Andrew Jackson, Cleveland, and Theodore Roosevelt. And it still draws a crowd of Capitol cronies. There's a Victorian quality to the main dining room, lots of antiques from the period, lots of natural wood and high ceilings, and a good breakfast menu. One of my favorite dishes is Chef Paul Mueller's apple pancakes.

A cup and a half of all-purpose flour and a pinch of salt go into a mixing bowl. And so do eight eggs. And a cup and a half of milk. I also tested this recipe with two egg whites for each whole egg called for and skim milk for the whole milk and it worked fine. In most recipes you can substitute skim milk for whole milk and egg whites for a whole yolk and save yourself a lot of fat. The batter goes into the refrigerator overnight to rest.

Next morning, a frying pan gets a little vegetable oil. As soon as it's hot, the batter is poured into the pan. It goes into a depth of about a half an inch. Then in go three Granny Smith Apples that have been peeled and sliced, a little sugar, a little cinnamon, a little nutmeg and into a 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for ten minutes. That's it! Nice sized portion. Share it with someone, thougt. Restaurants tend to be a bit over-generous with the amount of food in their servings. Friendly but filling, sharing or taking half home is the answer. Next we take a look at lunch at the Old Ebbitt. One of Chef Mueller's most popular dishes is a steak salad; here's how he does it. 

A dressing is made from a little mustard, Worcestershire sauce, chopped shallots, little vinegar and a cup of vegetable oil that is slowly whisked in. When the dressing is finished, it gets set aside for a few minutes. A flank steak that's been marinating in Italian dressing goes onto a grill. And the original homemade dressing is mixed with fresh greens, some chopped onion is added. Strips of carrots, cubes of cucumber, feta cheese and tomato slices. The salad goes onto a serving plate, the steak comes off the grill, it's sliced against the grain and placed onto the salad. Lots of complex carbohydrates in the salad, small portion of protein in the meat. Good balance.

The National Museum of Natural History was built in 1910 and houses the majority of the Smithsonian's objects. Almost a hundred and twenty million specimens. Things that tell the story of our planet from its very beginning. And when we come to the history of humans, much of the chronicle is about eating and drinking, which makes perfectly good sense. A person can't exist much more than a month without water and then food, which would make a pretty short history. So our first objective has always been “let's eat!” Dr. Gus Van Beek is the Curator Of Old World Archeology here, and a specialist on the subject.

BURT WOLF: What did people eat seven thousand years ago?

DR. VAN BEEK: Many of the same things that we eat today. In the near east, where I work, chick peas, lentils, onions, everyone loved onions and the ... and all the members of the onion garlic family. Garlic was highly prized. Shallots, all of these things were known. We also know that by that time many of the major animals had been domesticated, were being domesticated, the cow, probably the pig. And the opportunity to have food sources at your house instead of having to go out and hunt for them in the wilds, was a marvelous thing because you were assured a steady food supply.

BURT WOLF: I was fascinated by some of the things you have in the museum, I saw the amphora, the ancient jars that people use, and they always have a point on the bottom and I think, what a weird design, why isn't it flat the way our jars are?

DR. VAN BEEK: Because it's structurally stronger at the point. The evolution of this shape begins with a kind of triangular shape like this down to a point, to a cylindrical shape in the Roman period, and this is because in transport, it's much easier to carry physically a cylinder, a pipe- like shape, than it is a triangular shape.

BURT WOLF: Sometimes the shape of things in the past make more sense than we thought. True for containers of food and drink, and true for the places where people gather to do their eating and drinking.

The places where people come together can be divided into three categories. The first is your home, the second is the place where you work, and the third is a neighborhood hangout, where people from the area come together to talk, to reduce the tensions and stresses of daily life and just to be together. It can be a cafe or a coffee house, or a soda fountain. In Europe these places are very common and they weren't common in the United States until the middle of the century. 

In recent years however, very few real estate developers have included this type of gathering place in their plans. An exception is Clyde's of Reston just outside of Washington. From the beginning it was designed to be one of these “third places,” with a cast of regular neighborhood customers. One of the ways Chef Tom Mayer keeps those customers is by serving dishes that are associated with the warmth of Ma's home cooking. An example is his molded meatloaf. A cup of whole oats go into a mixing bowl, plus a cup and a quarter of honey and a cup of milk. That gets mixed together and left to rest for a few minutes while the oats soften. A little vegetable oil goes into a frying pan and three cups of chopped onions, a minced clove of garlic, a little salt and pepper and two minutes of cooking. The onion mixture goes into a bowl, five pounds of ground chuck and the oatmeal mixture. Finally a cup and a half of grated carrot. Then into an oiled bundt, or tubed baking pan. The pan goes onto a sheet to catch any spills, and then into a 375 degree oven for fifty minutes. The glaze is made from ketchup and a little dry mustard. When the meatloaf is cooked, it comes out of the oven, gets turned onto a pan, painted with the glaze, heated for ten minutes more to bake the glaze, sliced and served with mashed potatoes, green beans and mushroom gravy. They also bake their own desserts, including an amazing cookie developed by pastry Chef Kathleen Stevens. A cup of vegetable oil goes into a mixing bowl, eight ounces of melted unsweetened chocolate, two pounds of sugar, one tablespoon of salt, eight eggs and one pound of all purpose flour. Mix that together, then add in one and a half tablespoons of baking powder, one tablespoon of vanilla extract, and two cups each of chopped walnuts and chocolate chips. That mixture goes into a bowl. A plastic wrap cover goes on and it's into the refrigerator to chill out for an hour. Then out of the refrigerator and into golfball-size spheres. Roll the spheres through powdered sugar and onto a parchment covered baking sheet and into a 350 degree oven for twelve minutes. As the cookies bake they spread out and develop a crinkly crust. They are about the best-tasting cookies it has ever been my pleasure to try and eat in moderation. 

Each year the President of the United States pops into Congress to deliver his State of the Union Message. In theory at least, it's a description of what's going on in our country. But I'm interested in food; I want to know the State Of The Stomach. With everything that's happening here in Washington, in terms of food in its relationship to good health, you've got to wonder, is there still anything that is okay to eat? Well, in spite of what you may hear and read in the media, all things considered the food supply in the United States is quite safe. And there are lots of people working hard to make it even safer. You do, however, have to bear in mind that there are no good foods and no bad foods. There are just appropriate and inappropriate quantities. You can eat whatever you want to eat, only just eat a little bit of it. And eat as many different foods as you possibly can. That's the only way to make sure that you're getting all of the nutrients you need. Variety and moderation, those are the keys. And here are a couple of other things that we covered in Washington D.C. that you might want to remember. 

Exercise is very important for good health; check with your doctor, but a good basic minimum is walking three miles in forty five minutes, and doing that four times each week.

Follow the eating pattern of George Washington and take in most of your calories at breakfast and lunch. But unlike George, get the calcium you need. At least three servings a day. Eight ounces of a skim milk product counts as a good one. So does a glass of calcium fortified citrus juice. Beans are a good source of fiber. More fruits and vegetables, less saturated fat. Don't give up the foods you love; that can lead to bingeing. Take what you want, but reduce the quantities. As often as possible use skim milk for regular milk, and two egg whites for each whole egg. When restaurant portions are large, share them with someone or take half home for later. 

That's Eating Well in Washington; please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for something that tastes good and is good for you too. I'm Burt Wolf.