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When I was a wee lad back in 1966 a local grocery store ran a promotion where for 19 cents you could purchase a glass figurine of a president of the United States. As a budding history nerd at the tender age of seven I was intrigued and I badgered my parents to get president Kennedy for me. To my delight my mother returned from the store one day with all of the figurines from Washington through Johnson except for Kennedy, which was in high demand at the time and on back order. He was added a few weeks later.

I have carried these figurines and the cheesy styrofoam stand around the state of Texas in a Wonder Bread wrapper for the better part of the past half century. They have spent most of their existence in a box in various attics. Nothing has broken or even chipped. Lord knows what is in that paint.┬áThe plan now is to obtain a shadow box with several shelves and properly display these fellows. It’s about time they get a proper home.

Thanks to this collection I could recite all of the presidents in order in my elementary school days. I began to gather trivia on many of them, which lead to deeper reading here and there and I eventually completed a B.A in History with an emphasis on American economic history many years later, perhaps because I stared at these guys for so many hours in my youth. Who knows how these things unfold??

Then there is the fun fashion aspect of the display. First, they are all the same height. James Madison at 5’4″ only dreamed that he could have been as tall as Thomas Jefferson standing next to him. Note that long neckties begin to show up about the time of Benjamin Harrison and then become a staple in the twentieth century. Who will break that trend? F.D.R. has his dashing cape (which he wore at the Yalta conference) but there is no wheelchair and his hair is ginger, not gray. Poor Calvin Coolidge is displayed with a hat that I was never sure went with the suit and was certainly not as grand as McKinley’s top hat. At least he is not wearing spats. But then, Calvin was never one for trendy fashion. Some are standing at attention, some are gesturing. Harry Truman seems to be pleading. Must have been when his approval poll numbers were in the 20’s.

I’m glad to have rediscovered them and I look forward to getting that shadow box display up on a wall. Stay tuned.

Full Greco-Roman revival styrofoam display.

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Madison, larger than life.

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Coolidge and his hat with a pleading Truman in the background.

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The Brits do this kind of stuff so damn well…

Last Friday I came into possession of a wonderful book by Edith and John Watts entitled Jesse’s Book of Creole and Deep South Recipes. The recipes look outstanding but equally intriguing are the glimpses that it offers of privileged life along the central gulf coast during the early to mid 20th century. Originally published in 1954, the book recounts many dishes served by Jesse, the family cook for nearly three decades, and makes note of a good number of famous people, like H.L. Mencken and Henry Luce, who had the opportunity and the privilege to enjoy them.

This book is a real gem and after reading through it for the last several days, I have decided to embrace the spirit of the time and prepare some of these recipes as instructed. While no doubt delicious, I am curious to see how they compare to more modern versions of the same dishes. Are the traditional versions as complex? Is the depth of flavor comparable? Or, are the modern versions just a bit too fussy for their own good? Some dishes, like fried shrimp, are pretty basic and do not qualify for comparison but others, particularly stews and gumbos are excellent candidates.

I still think of her as Helena Bonham Carter and me heart goes pitta-pat!

Debunking the Myth of Lady Jane Grey

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