Calvin Coolidge Chili

Calvin Coolidge Chili

On our visit to Vermont, we headed south out of Stowe for a day trip to explore the Green Mountain State.  We drove down picturesque Route 7, passed the frequently photographed Liberty Farm site, and eventually landed in Plymouth Notch just before the town of Ludlow.  This little unincorporated community is the birthplace and early home to Calvin Coolidge, our 30th U.S. President.  The state historic site has preserved his home, the farm, barns, the church, the general store and post office as well as the still operational cheese factory named Plymouth Cheese.  The cheese factory profits were what the Coolidge family lived off of because the farming was miserable, the soil, as Cal noted was really a lime-kiln lot, and the area so remote, no access to the rails, it was impossible, especially in the harsh winters, to get fresh milk to buyers before it went bad so they resorted to cheese making.    Resourceful “Vermonners” (they don’t say the “t”) is the proud heritage of Coolidge’s going back for generations.  Below is the link to the Plymouth Artisan Cheese company if you care to order a wheel or two.  I sampled several varieties and liked the hand waxed blocks of Hunter the best.
This site is historical because was not only Coolidge born here,  he was also sworn into office here in the middle of the night by his dad, a notary public, because the sitting president, Harding, had died suddenly of an apparent heart attack while visiting San Francisco.  Grace Coolidge, his formidable and beautiful wife, cast her first vote (due to the recent passing of the women’s right to vote -19th amendment) in a Federal election on November 2, 1920 with her husband on the ballot for the Vice-President of the United coolidgeIn the photo above is Calvin Coolidge and Grace voting in Northampton in 1920.

In 1930, Calvin Coolidge reflected on women’s first decade of voting: “They are devoted, steadfast, sensible. They will not follow radical proposals, but will be influenced by moral values. Nothing can be safer for the commonwealth than the informed judgment of the mothers of the land.”
Calvin Coolidge Says October 13, 1930

While visiting the home site, we stopped for lunch in the only restaurant in Plymouth Notch.  It is called the Wilder House and while the manager and employees were grumpy Vermonners, the grub was good.  Don’t expect a friendly welcome but the food is prepared with love and care.  We sat at the counter and tried the chili with a side garden salad and it was one of the best meals we ate including some of our gourmet restaurant meals that cost a lot more.  Sometimes simple is better. We also split a maple cider donut which are baked and made with hard cider.  Here is a recipe to try.

The cook wasn’t in the mood to share her chili recipe but she smiled a bit when I guessed the secret ingredient was cinnamon and complimented her on her recipe.  I think this version below is very close and can’t wait for the temperatures to dip a bit in Texas for RM and I to try this version out.  We will call it Calvin Coolidge Chili in memory of our day spent traipsing about on his old homestead.  His grave is located here too along with a nice museum.  I purchased the biography, Coolidge, by Amity Shlaes, and read it on the plane ride back home and learned a few fresh kernels of 1920’s American history and gained a little more insight into the making of a true Vermonner.

Calvin Coolidge Chili

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons chopped canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 pounds ground beef chuck (you substitute turkey, bison, tofu crumbles or chicken too)
  • 3 cans (14.5 ounces each) diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1 bottle (12 ounces) mild lager beer – Vermonners love their Heady Topper
  • 2 cans (14.5 ounces each) kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
  • Oyster crackers (required)


  1. In a Dutch oven or large (5-quart) heavy pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onions and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 3 to 5 minutes.

  2. Add tomato paste, chili powder, chipotles, and cinnamon. Cook, stirring, until mixture has begun to brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Add beef, and cook, breaking it up with a spoon until no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

  3. Add tomatoes with their juice, beer, and beans. Bring to a boil, and reduce to a rapid simmer. Cook over medium heat until chili has thickened slightly and beans are tender, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle with cheese, if desired.

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Electra Havemeyer Webb

Electra was an eclectic woman.

We learned about Electra on our recent vacation to Vermont and a full day  (we arrived at 10 a.m. and left when it closed at 5 p.m.and still didn’t see it all) spent touring the Shelburne Museum grounds (40 acres) outside of Burlington.  Electra, the shining third daughter of the sugar king (Domino Sugar), Henry Havemeyer,  was born in 1888 and immediately started collecting dolls then moved on to paintings and then onto three-dimensional art (to the horror of her mother) including a 50-year odyssey of collecting American folk art.  She said she wanted to collect something that nobody else was collecting and boy, did she.  In her collection at Shelburne is a vast array of American folk sculpture — my own guilty pleasure as well If I could afford it.  She filled a tennis court building with cigar store figures, weather vanes and ship figureheads. When you are rich it is called collecting, when you are poor it is called hoarding.  It was called her “period of mass acquisition” by her family and friends. Electra started the museum in 1947 with consultation from the curator from Colonial Williamsburg.  She went about bringing abandoned buildings from elsewhere in New England to her property in Shelburne including a ship called the Ticonderoga in 1953. She hired engineers to move the massive steamboat over two miles of land to the current berth on the grounds of the museum.  In addition to collecting, she married a handsome polo player and they raised four children together.

Check out this clip for a good overview of the museum.

painting of Electra
That is Electra and her mother painted by Mary Cassatt that hung in the New York apartment.

The gardens are equally magnificent.  On our recent visit, the apple trees were loaded with fruit and their sharp, clean aroma followed us around all day adding to the experience. She grew McIntosh, Fugi, Gala, Cortland and Mcoun.

Don’t miss:

The Circus Building  —  a fanciful horseshoe-shaped structure designed to showcase the hand-carved miniature Arnold Circus Parade, which stretches nearly the full length of the building’s 518 feet. At the entrance is another remarkable display: the intricate, 3,500-piece miniature three-ring Kirk Bros. Circus.

The rare 80-foot-diameter Round Barn  — one of only two dozen built in the state – was constructed in East Passumpsic, Vermont in 1901. Round barns, designed for economy of labor, were first built by Massachusetts Shakers in 1826 and re-introduced by a national farm magazine in 1896.The Round Barn was moved to the Museum in 1985-86. The 9,000-pound upper segment of the silo was flown across the state by helicopter, while the remainder was dismantled and moved on flatbed trucks.

My absolute favorite was found in the Variety Unit!  The galleries house pewter, scrimshaw, glass, Staffordshire, mocha ware, Toby jugs, trivets, food molds, dolls, dollhouses, and automata. Variety Unit, so named because of the eclectic range of collections it exhibits. Variety Unit was built as a brick farmhouse about 1835 in Shelburne and is the only structure original to the Museum site.

weather vane

The only disappointment was the gift shop.  The only item I purchased was the book, To Collect In Earnest, a quick read about the life and work of Electra.  The rest of the items were so unimaginative compared to the museum collection that it left me wanting.  Ok, so I coveted.  But, I was also inspired creatively which is what vacations are all about.

Lifelong Learning

Lifelong Learning


The Library of Congress has books in 470 languages–Napoleon was afraid of cats — a porcupine is born with 30,000 quills –we are living in an age of information. Information has value, sometimes great value.  Information can save time and effort.  Information can even save your life.  The value of information, facts, data, and such, depends on what we make of it.  Abigail Adams put it perfectly more than 200 years ago.  “Learning is not attained by chance.  It must be sought with ardor and attended with diligence.”

On the morning of Thursday, November 5th, the Women’s Policy Forum is holding the Second Annual Emerging Issues Symposium:  Roadmap to the Future:  Health, Education, Policy and Business in 2030.  The keynote is Stephen L. Klineberg, Professor of Sociology at Rice University.  He is a well-respected demographer and a dynamic speaker who offers insights into the future of large metropolitan areas similar to our Fort Worth community.   In addition, there will be four breakout sessions for you to choose on hot topics important to many of us living and working in Tarrant County.  This morning of learning was planned and designed with the Tarrant County woman in mind and will be filled with current information to expand your knowledge base about important issues in  health, education, policy and business through a looking glass.

So don’t take a chance and miss this lifelong learning opportunity.  Reserve your spot by October 29th.  Consider inviting a friend and a colleague to sign up too.  Registration information can be found under the events tab at:

Poetry, Texas

Poetry, Texas

Poetry is a community just north of Terrell and east of Dallas.  The name was suggested by local merchant Maston Ussery, who said that the area in springtime reminded him of a poem. RM and I were invited for the week-end by our friends Chas and Anna who have just recently made their home in this rural community.  RM and Chas are fellow woodturners and the goal of the week-end was to cut down an oak tree on their property and salvage a large burl which woodturners covet for turning into beautiful and ornamental bowls.  I was along for the ride.  Our drive over from the Fort took us about an hour and half, made longer by an extensive stop at a Buc-cee’s – the king of convenience stores – located only in Texas.  We stopped at the one on I-20 in Terrell.  This was our first stop at a Buc-cee’s and we were in for a treat.  This store has everything “Texan” along with other unique items like “beaver nuggets” (not rodent droppings but buttery, corn puffs),  a wide variety of jerky including beef and turkey and massive and very clean restrooms ready to serve customers stopping for budget-priced gas at one of their 100 gas pumps. Yes, 100,  as everything is bigger in Texas.  And no 18 wheelers allowed. What is not to love?

This week-end our hosts introduced us to their new community including a steak cookout with their new neighbors across the road and also allowing us to join the monthly tradition of their Breakfast Club with several other couples living in Poetry.  These friends get together about every month for breakfast at one of their homes.  This week-end it was held on Sunday morning and we were treated to a spread that even Martha Stewart would have approved.  I will never forget the experience as we ate al fresco on a picture perfect morning at an outdoor table laden with scratch everything including cheesy and peppery scrambled eggs, biscuits  with gravy, jalapeno chicken poppers, sausage, champagne and rice pudding and cinnamon glazed donuts holes for dessert.  The hostess served pots of roasted pecan coffee and cream along with an unlimited supply of booze and bubbles.  She had lots of special touches, fresh flowers and succulents on the table,  including a gift of the movie, The Breakfast Club, for each couple wrapped in brown paper wrapping decorated with an armadillo motif. She made each of us feel welcomed and pampered.

Other highlights of the week-end include:

  • A short trip to a farmer’s market in Rockwall where I bought vine-ripened tomatoes, shelled East Texas peas and pickling cucumbers
  • Anna and I shopped at a locally owned store on the quaint Rockwall square that specialized in kitchen products — I think we stayed in there for over an hour checking out the large inventory and we both came away with a couple of bags of goodies
  • Long walks on country roads with Anna and her faithful companion, Domino, a miniature labradoodle
  • Reading a novel overlooking the two ponds on their property which I nicknamed Golden and Walden
  • Adventures with nature including stumbling over a rat snake and a near bite from a very hungry horse
  • Quiet mornings, no sirens and nightly views of the milky way
  • Watching the boys take down the tree and successfully get the burl on the lathe
  • New found Poetry friends who have tons of fun and an appreciation for the hospitality of our dear hosts and their new life that they will surely live out like an East Texas poem living in a place called home.

After arriving back in the Fort today, I am back in my kitchen inspired by our experience in Poetry.  I am cooking up a mess of peas to accompany some brisket we brought back from Poetry, along with pickled okra and heirloom tomatoes with basil pesto and cheese.  Here is my recipe for East Texas Peas:

Cut up some thick, peppery bacon and fry in a big pot.  Add at least one diced red onion and sweat them down with the bacon.  Rinse your mess of East Texas peas and then add to the bacon and the onions.  Cover with water, add salt and coarse ground pepper.  Cook it all together and simmer for at least 2 hours.  Add a fresh bay leaf and cook another 30 minutes tasting for salt and pepper.  You can add jalapeno relish or salsa if you like it spicy.

To peas, to pals, to Poetry.  Thanks Anna and Chas for a great week-end.


Comfort Foods

Comfort Foods

Egg and olive spread

When you feel a little blue, a little run down or nostalgic about the past, what foods come to mind? The term comfort food has been traced back at least to 1966, when the Palm Beach Post used it in a story: “Adults, when under severe emotional stress, turn to what could be called ‘comfort food’—food associated with the security of childhood, like mother’s poached egg or famous chicken soup.” Research shows that people who have positive family relationships are more likely to reach for reminders of those relationships in times of sadness—and often, those reminders come in the form of something edible. A grilled cheese sandwich can be a greasy, gooey, satisfying endeavor in its own right, but even more so if it features in my happy childhood memory.

Today, I made RM’s favorite comfort food for a hot, sunny day.  The tall glass of cold milk with ice and an egg and olive sandwich went down quickly after several hours of yard work and busting up concrete porch steps.  He introduced me to adding green olives to egg salad early in our marriage, I have to say the combo is delish.  The olives give a salty tang that is missing without it.  What are some of our other favorites on Ashland?

  • Grilled cheese sandwich with basil tomato soup
  • Poached eggs on buttered toast (first meal after illness or surgery).  My grandmother made this for me and it still provides comfort.
  • Tuna and cheese sandwich and baked beans – every Sunday night growing up in Kansas
  • Crunchy, not smooth, peanut butter and strawberry jam
  • French fries (hand cut and twice fried) with ketchup or do you spell it catsup (my mom spelled it this way)?
  • Garlic mashed potatoes with real butter
  • Chili (must have beans in it) with homemade cinnamon rolls especially during football season
  • Warm chocolate chip cookies  – C3’s are the bomb!
  • RM’s pizza, grilled on a Friday night for a tired wife

Below is our family recipe for egg and olive spread.  Just add all the ingredients together and mix gently.  Gets better in the the refrigerator after a couple of days.

  • 8 hard-boiled eggs chopped
  • diced refrigerator sweet and sour pickles (to taste)
  • 10-15 green olives (the big kind stuffed with pimento)
  • red onion diced (just a little for crunch)
  • a glob of mustard
  • two globs of mayonnaise
  • chopped fresh basil from the garden
  • salt and pepper

Serve on a bun or on slices of bread or with crackers.