Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Fit for a President

"I love to bring people into the oval office...and say, this is where I office."
George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States
With all the pomp and circumstance of an upcoming presidential innauguration on the brain, and the beginning media chatter about an Oval Office redecoration I thought it would be interesting to look back at the history of the Oval Office. I had intended this post to be about the oval office carpets, but the history of the office and its furnishings were just too interesting to ignore. Consider this a history lesson disguised as a design post.
When a new family enters the White House a redecorating effort begins immediately. Transition books are prepared by the chief usher and list available furnishings from the more than 40,000 pieces in the White House collection. Funds for other improvements and additions to the White House come from several sources.

The historic State Floor, with its iconic Blue, Green and Red Rooms, as well as the spaces off the lower Ground Floor Corridor, are public rooms overseen by the Committee for the Preservation of the White House. Additionally Congress has appropriated $1.6 million a year for the repair and restoration of the White House.
The top two floors are the private living quarters. $100,000 of the Congressional appropriation is allocated to maintain the family quarters every four years. Presidents and their families have often paid for things themselves. In addition, the White House Historical Association, a nonprofit educational institution, provides money for preservation. Income comes from two sources, they are a $34 million White House Endowment Trust, which is used to refurbish White House public rooms and conserve collections, and a $6 million White House Acquisition Trust, which is used to acquire fine and decorative arts for the permanent collection.
Until the 1970s, presidents changed little of the decor in the nation's most powerful office.

A shot from above of the oval office during a meeting. It gives a great persepective of the office, and of the carpet. This carpet was designed in part by Laura Bush and was made by Edward Fields of New York at a cost of $61,000 and paid for by private donations.

In 2005 the hardwood floors in the whitehouse were replaced with these alternating American White Oak and Walnut boards. The design mimics a previous wood floor in the office.

The rug featured during the Clinton presidency was made by Scott Group in Grand Rapids, Mich., and given by an anonymous donor. The value of the rug was $38,000. I've had the pleasure of commissioning custom rugs from Scott Group and have visited their work shop (factory does not do it justice). They do most things by hand and have a dedicated staff of artisans who've worked for them for many years.

This pale blue rug with a presidential seal in the middle was made by Hokanson of Houston; the $28,550 cost was paid for by private donations. I think that while the pale blue is certainly calming, a valuable design feature for the office of the leader of the free world, it really lacks the richness and detail of many of the other carpets. It looks a bit too much like cheap wall to wall.

President George H. W. Bush used the same walnut partner's desk he had used when he was vice president.

Here's a picture of President Reagan behind the Resolute Desk on the phone. You can see his terra-cotta colored carpet, with presidential seal and starburst design, a more muted version of the current Bush carpet. The rug was manufactured by Starck Carpet of New York at a cost of $49,625 and paid for by an anonymous donor.

A view of the Oval Office during Jimmy Carter's term in office. He used the Resloute Desk and his office featured a pale yellow rug with the presidential seal and blue and white rosettes.

Gerald Ford kept the Nixon decor.

President Nixon preferred a bold blue and gold color pallette (see the Gerald Ford photo in Technocolor!). The rug, again featuring the Presidential seal and an outside border of stars was otherwise unadorned
A view of LBJ's office including the bank of televisions to watch all the major networks.

Here is a photo of the redecorated LBJ office featuring a pale blue carpet similar to one used during the Truman and Eisenhower administrations. The furniture, besides the rocker, has a very 1960s feel.

A picture of the Johnson Oval Office taken in 1964, temporarily using the final Kennedy rug and curtains. The desk is LBJ's and was built for him by the Senate cabinet shop during his long tenure there.

A photo of the new Kennedy Oval Office taken in 1963 while the couple was visiting Dallas. Sadly the president never made it back to the office and it was dismantled after the assassination, before Mrs. Kennedy returned and LBJ took occupancy.

Here is a picture behind the desk in the Oval Office. The footrest under the desk was meant to help with the President's chronic back pain. Also notice the ashtrays on stands at the ends of the sofas, things have certainly changed.

A picture of JFK along with John and Caroline. This was not long after he moved into the White Hous and the office still features the Truman/Eisenhower carpet.

Here's a look at the decor of the office during President Eisenhower's administration. He largely maintained the decor from Truman's tenancy. The carpet utilized sculpting for the seal and border, though this is barely visible in the pictures.

Here is President Truman's office. Unlike many of the President's he must have taken a lot of meetings around the desk judging from the abundance of seating.

Here is a picture of FDR and his secretary in the newly constructed Oval Office. His desk seemed to have more on it than many of the other President's and he opted not to have the two chairs flanking the desk facing the windows (a bit odd in my opinion anyway, though the large desks may make this more comforable in person than in the pictures). The valances mimic those traditionally found in the Original Oval Office during many President's terms in office.

Here is a photo of the old Oval Office following a Christmas Eve fire in 1929.

Here is a picture of the old Oval Office during the Coolidge Presidency. I like the bookcases on either side of the desk, it suggests a well read person sits behind this desk.

A photo of the original Oval Office in 1923. The black ribbon on the chair memorializes President Harding.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Preparations

"Thanksgiving is a typically American holiday . . . its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers' holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production."
Ayn Rand (1905-1982)

I love Thanksgiving, it's really my favorite holiday, probably because it's just so food-centric. The groceries were bought yesterday, the table is set, tonight the table will be set, the turkey will start brining, the homemade cranberry sauce will be melding, a few pie crusts will be rolled out and frozen (my favorite do ahead trick) and bourbon maple ice cream will be setting in the deep freeze. I've only hosted a handful of Thanksgivings myself, but have always been an active participant wherever I've been. I'm looking forward to having it at home this year with just a few family and friends at the table.
To avoid the version of a Rockwell Thanksgiving pictured above in favor of the more common image GET STARTED TODAY! Doing things in advance of the big day is key to making it a laid back day culminating in a wonderful meal even the host/hostess can be truly thankful for.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Buen Apetito - Il Mulino, Las Vegas

I just got back from a trip to Las Vegas which was surprisingly enjoyable. Those who know me know that I'm not a fan of crowds, smoke, noise, gross excess...the very DNA of Sin City, but I must say that while there was all of that there were also bits of charm to be found.

My most enjoyable time was spent at Il Mulino in the Forum Shops at Caesars. This outpost of the famous restaurant in NYC was a bit of culinary perfection amid all the mediocre celebrity franchises.

My best friend, and conveniently enough, brother-in-law and I took a break from our wives and their parents to take a long lunch.

Upon entering Il Mulino at the top level of the mall next door to Tommy Bahama we found that we were transported to another place, forgetting that we were in a mall. The decor was elegant with a long bar and wine celllar flanking the entrance, tables covered in white linens impecably set with stemware, silver, and a single red rose in a simple vase. The lighting came from a great widow at the back of the restaurant with a view of the strip and a patio for dining al fresco and from a collection of gothic inspired chandaliers.

While we perused the menu we drank Peligrino and nibbled on delicious Parmiggiano Reggiano split out of a half wheel table side and fried zuccini with pepers.

We were tempted by an elaborate selection of special atinpasti, fish, pasta, and meat dishes to choose from in addition to the well edited menu of classics.

We ordered wine, the San Luigi Dolcetto di Dogliani, and two antipasti - the escargot with mushrooms and the buffalo mozzarella with proscutto and tomatoes.

Next came an amuse-Bouche of what they called bruschetta, but was really more of a panzanella as the bread was thoroughly soaked, and a single steamed mussel. The flavors were incredible, even if the preparation was a bit unorthodox.

While we were eating the bruschetta the bread basket arrived along with a plate of garlic bread. All the breads were excellent. At this point we were ready to order our pastas. I selected the lobster ravioli and my fried ordered the mushroom and black truffle ravioli.

Our antipasti arrived and were excellent. The escargot were as tender and flavorful as any I had ever eaten, and at an Italian restaurant no less, and the spicey tomoto sauce it was served with was sop-ably great. The winner though was the buffalo mozarella, it tasted of sweet cream and not salt and water like most, and had a soft but not squishy texture. I can honestly say it was the best mozarella either of us had ever eaten.

After a few minutes to enjoy more wine and conversation our pastas arrived. Two things struck us both the instant they arrived: 1) they were too large and 2) they were going to be world class. Upon first bite immediately followed by second bite we both nodded in agreement that we were not disappointed. We made our best efforts, but after 45 minutes or so of doing battle with the pasta I must confess that the pasta won, neither of us could finish.

We ordered an espresso and a coffee and turned down dessert only to be provided a complimentary dessert of berries with zabaglion and garnished with wafer rolls and a thin drizzle of caramel sauce. My expresso had a thick brown crema and a wonderful aroma.

We were also served glasses of limoncello served with a ladle out of a block of ice, this house recipe was excellent with no one element overpowering the bevearage as can often happen with too sweet, too alcoholic, or too bitter (from the pith of the lemon); I've never found too sour to be a problem.

Now we come to the most contentious issue in the reviews I've read of Il Mulino - the prices. Our bill was $300 before tip, and we felt that this was fair (it should be noted that the lunch and dinner prices are the same). The setting, the service, the food, and the beverage made this a fair value proposition. If you were inclined to save a few dollars on your meal an easy way would be to avoid the specials. Our appetizers were 150% of the cost of those on the menu and our pastas were approx. $50 each while those on the menu were in the $30s.
Our wine at $90 for a bottle was at the low end of the well edited list and was definitely NOT a bargain at 4x retail, though it was an excellent wine that paired well with all of our food. The mark-ups at the high end of the list were much closer to 2x retail making them the better value if you don't mind spending $200+ per bottle.

This was the best meal we had in Las Vegas and I definitely plan on going back, though I'm reluctant to recommend to those whose enjoyment of the meal may be dampened by the prices.

Il Mulino at Caesars Palace on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Shooting Match

"The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun." ~ P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)
The lodge at Blalock Lakes
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of spending a day out of the office at Blalock Lakes, a new hunting and equestrian community and club south of Atlanta. The weather was outstanding and competing against yourself and friends (old and new) on the sporting clay course was a great deal of fun. The facilities were exellent and the staff very friendly and helpful for a few of our first time shooters.
This type of outing has started to become more popular as the corporate golf outing has lost whatever draw it once had for all but the most dedicated golfer.
Here are a few pictures from our sporting day out in the woods. If you've never tried sporting clay shooting you're missing out. Give it a try and enjoy a bit of competition in the great outdoors.

The great room at the center of the lodge

A den with bar off to one side of the great room

A fire pit behind the lodge with a beautiful vew of the hills.

The rustic twig furniture on the back porch

The kitchen in the lodge

The practice range

One of the 12 stations on the course
I wish I could say I won, but using a borrowed gun my performance was only middle of the pack.
Note: No animals were hurt during this afternoon of shooting,
though a few shoulders were a bit sore.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Well Stocked Bar V

“I was brought up to believe that Scotch whisky would need a tax preference to survive in competition with Kentucky bourbon."
Hugo LaFayette Black, Supreme Court Justice 1937 to 1971

I selected this quote because it made me smile, not because I in any way agree. I feel about Scotch Whisky and Kentucky Bourbon as I imagine parents feel about their children. You love them both in something approximating equal quantities, but in very different ways based on their unique characteristics.

I’d like to focus this post on the selection of the “right” whiskey of the American variety for your bar.

A brief sidebar on whiskey vs whisky. The derivation of the word comes from Scottish Gaelic uisgebeatha and Irish usquebaugh, both meaning “water of life.” The word in its current form comes to America from colonial times; American and Irish whiskey uses this spelling while Scottish and Canadian whiskies retain the older form, "whisky."

The standard, and probably the first whiskey tasted by many of us, is the obligatory Jack Daniels. There is no shame in having a bottle of this on the bar, and in some circles it’s more than merely acceptable, it’s a badge of honor. I’ve toured the distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee and can assure you that they take the production of their product very seriously. If you and your guests would never consider imbibing whiskey without Coca Cola stick with good ‘ol Jack.

For those with more discriminating palettes and noses I might make a few suggestions. The first, though odd, has generally held true – purchase whiskeys whose names begin with the letter ‘B’. In order of my personal preference these are: Blantine’s, Booker’s, Basil Hayden, and Bulleit. The second is to avoid animals in the name or on the label (as is generally true for wine as well with a few notable exceptions); I am not generally a fan of: Buffalo Trace, the Wild Turkey line, or Eagle Rare. And finally read the labels, if they’re proud of the spirit they produce, and most are, they’ll tell you why it’s special whether it be single barrel, cask strength, a unique grain content, the barrel aging process, etc.

My personal preference, despite the aforementioned rules is 1792, with Blantine's a very close second by taste, but not by value.

For a bourbon tasting I would suggest ordering a glass neat with a cup of ice on the side at a good watering hole. Put 1-2 good sized cubes of ice in your glass and swirl it under your nose for a solid minute. If you are given a glass of terribly small, aerated ice, proceed to a nicer bar after downing the shot they just delivered. Once you’ve smelled, allowed a bit of the alcohol to evaporate (you broke some of the surface tension by adding the ice and by moving the spirit), and admired the color move on to the tasting. Take enough in your mouth to fully cover the front half of your palette. Let it sit there for a moment before allowing it to pass further back and down your throat. Take in a steady breath through a barely opened mouth and savor the finish. If you can pick out interesting flavors and aromas you have a worthwhile spirit, if not move on.

What are your favorite whisk(e)ys?


Wednesday, November 5, 2008

A Celebration

"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried." ~ Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

Today should be a day of celebration for all Americans. Whether your candidates won or lost we as Americans won as another election passed signaling the latest peaceful transfer of power. We should not take for granted that what we accomplish in voting booths in gymnasiums, libraries, and churches across America takes place with tanks and rifles in the streets of many nations.