Everyday Reading - Fun Modern Motherhood with a Practical Spin

March 5, 2015

Upstairs at the White House: My Life With the First Ladies by J. B. West and Mary Lynn Kotz

A super interesting look at six first ladies from an insider's point of view
Back in November, a reader (hi, Sarah!) sent me a message via Goodreads and suggested I might enjoy Upstairs at the White House.

I am notoriously bad at reading things that other people have recommended, so I'm ridiculously proud of myself for actually reading this one.

It helped that it was a completely fascinating book.

Like most people, I'm totally interested in the U.S. Presidents and their lives, times, and families.

Starting with FDR, J.B. West works with the presidents through Richard Nixon, although he's only there for a few weeks with Nixon before his retirement date arrives. He is the Chief Usher and responsible for basically everything that goes on with the families, working mainly with the First Ladies. He helps arrange their schedules, host events, decorate the White House, and help manage the transitions between presidents.

There are so many interesting details, from the differing personalities of the first ladies to how the staff can be hard to manage because they are White House employees, not employees of the President, and they'll be there long after the President and his family depart. I loved that Mamie Eisenhower stayed in bed until noon every day and had all her meetings with the staff from her bed (although she did get up and do her hair and makeup before returning to her bed). It was so sweet to read about how much time and attention Jackie Kennedy spent with her children and keeping them out of the spotlight.

The big events at the White House changed, too, with the changes of presidents. Some presidents and their wives liked big formal events (the Eisenhowers!) and others liked smaller, more intimate gatherings (the Kennedys). And the behind the scenes of how food, alcohol, guest lists, and entertainment were handled was fascinating. Also, the time a ham disappeared from the kitchen and a staff member was accused of stealing it until they found the rotting bone behind the cabinets, where it'd been dragged away by rats off the kitchen counter, made me want to be a little ill.

There's a lot about how the budgeting and financing of the White House life works too, which was fascinating to me. JFK was always concerned that they didn't look as if they were spending way more money than other presidents. When Jackie Kennedy spent the redecoration budget (each term, there is about $50,000 given to spend on White House decor) in the first two weeks, she had to figure out other ways to fund her grand ambitions for the White House. Congress awarded an expense account for feeding the staff after Truman came into office and didn't have the personal fortune to fund it himself.

And, of course, life in the White House changed over the years. When West came in under FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt walked around D.C. on her own every day. Truman, living in Blair House while the White House was being restored, walked to and from his office unaccompanied until there was an assassination attempt and from then on, the president and his family were always followed by the Secret Service.

It's definitely not a tell-all kind of book, though. There's not a whisper about any infidelity even with presidents who are notorious for it (JFK, I'm looking at you), and he generally paints all the presidents and first ladies in a pretty flattering light. The most negative comment he ever makes is about Lyndon B. Johnson and how harsh he is with Lady Bird.

I read this in just a few days, and it reminded me how much I love American history and how I definitely want to read more. If you're at all interested in U.S. History, this is almost certainly a book you'll enjoy.

My mom and my sisters do a little family book club (this makes it sound way more official than it is. . . .we've done one book so far, ever. And it was a year ago), and it's my turn to pick next and we'll be doing this book.

 Digital copy checked out from my library

March 4, 2015

Bacon and Avocado Bagel Sandwiches

Bacon and Avocado Bagel Sandwiches. An amazing lunch or a delicious quick dinner.

When we made these for dinner a few weeks ago, I told Bart "I always feel like sandwiches are a cop-out dinner. But that's ridiculous because I love sandwiches."

Also, something about a bagel feels more exciting (mainly because I rarely buy bagels).

I'd seen an avocado and cream cheese bagel on Pinterest, but that seemed a little weak for a dinner.

Add some bacon, tomato and spinach? Now we're talking.

We had it with a green smoothie and everyone was happy.

Plus, we had enough of all the ingredients leftover to make another round for lunch the next day.

Bacon and Avocado Bagel Sandwiches. An amazing lunch or a delicious quick dinner.

Bacon and Avocado Bagel Sandwiches

Makes 2 bagel sandwich

2 plain bagels, toasted
4 ounces plain cream cheese
1 Tablespoon dried dill
8-10 baby spinach leaves
4-5 slices of cooked bacon
1 small tomato, sliced
1/2 avocado, sliced or mashed
1 Tablespoon mayo (optional)
Salt and Pepper


Mix the dill and cream cheese together (I do mine in my stand mixer). Spread on bottom half of the bagels. Press the spinach leaves into the cream cheese and then layer on the bacon, tomato and avocado. Spread the mayo (if using) on the top half of the bagels and sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

Ta-da! Dinner is served.

Bacon and Avocado Bagel Sandwiches. An amazing lunch or a delicious quick dinner.

March 3, 2015

Do Me a Flavor

The best foods around the country!


One of my favorite things about traveling and moving is trying new foods.

When we were in London, I really loved grocery shopping because it was so fun to see all sorts of products I'd never seen before. I could have easily spent hundreds of pounds each week trying everything out. (Okay, to be fair, I enjoyed BEING at the grocery store. I did not enjoy walking a mile there and then trying to get all my groceries plus two children home in a stroller. I am not made to be a city dweller, apparently).

The best foods around the country!

And when we travel, one of my first priorities is figuring out our eating agenda. Some of my strongest memories of the places we've traveled are of the food we've eaten.

When we stopped back in Texas in December, going to Tejis for butter chicken was the main thing on our agenda (aside from, you know, seeing friends and family).

When we went to Prague, it was a late-night stop for gelato at Angelato.

I'm pretty sure Bart can't think of our trip to San Francisco for our third anniversary without remembering the best salmon of his life at Triptych.

In Boston, we made a tour of hamburger joints all around the city over the course of the year we lived there (our favorite were probably the ones on Castle Island).

The best foods around the country!

The Amsterdam airport sold warm pain au chocolat for practically no money at all. I could have eaten three or four a day.

When my mom and I went to New Orleans when I was 14, we made a point of buying praline patties every time we saw one. It was not a bad idea.

In Houston, when Bart had work training there a few years ago, I had the best pizza of my life (short rib with fried egg and crispy onions) at Benjy's.

When I was pregnant with Ani, my mom and I went to Portland and we got ice cream four times in two days. I'm pretty sure Salt and Straw has some of the best ice cream of all time.

The best foods around the country!

One day in Seattle, while meandering around with Ella, I happened upon a little crepe stand and ordered a goat cheese/apple & fig jam/almond crepe that rivaled any crepe I've had here or in Europe.

Here in Durham, I've made it my personal mission to try as many places as possible while we live in the area. (My favorite has definitely been Dame's Chicken and Waffles).

The best foods around the country!

All of which is to say that food and location are inextricably linked in my mind. And that I love the concept of Lay's “Do Us A Flavor” contest where you can submit your idea for a new flavor based on a certain location.

Later this year, four finalists – representing flavorful cities and towns across the U.S. – will be fully developed and brought to store shelves and voted on by America.

If it were up to me? A Butter Chicken chip all the way. Because it's highly inconvenient for me to get to Teji's every time I want some butter chicken. Which is about four times a week.

(And you should totally submit your idea for a chip flavor (especially because there is a $1 million prize) and you should tell me about your favorite foods from where you've lived and traveled. Because someday I might visit those places and I always need more recommendations). For more information and official contest rules, you can visit www.DoUsAFlavor.com.

The best foods around the country!

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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