WERE THE Reagans' breakfast eggs cooked perfectly this morning? Three minutes for him, four minutes for her. Was the orange juice freshly squeezed, the coffee decaffinated?
Used to catering to the whims of visiting heads of state, Blair House, the president's guest house, should have no trouble taking care of the President-elect and Mrs. Reagan during the transition. But all of the service lavished on the Reagans cannot conceal the worn carpeting, the threadbare curtains and bedspreads, the overaged heating system and some dreadfully decorated bedrooms upstairs.
When Nancy Reagan moved into the California governor's mansion in 1969 she was so distressed by its condition that the Reagans moved out and rented a house while the state built another. That should bode well for the house in which the president of the United States entertains visiting heads of state. Blair House is not exactly falling down, but it needs work, a point Nancy Reagan is likely to notice.
There is a lot with which to work. The house is filled with many valuable and handsome national treasures. According to Louise Ward, supervisor of the house for last nine years, the vault contains $135 million worth of silver, all of which is used when there are parties. The collection of china, flatware and crystal is extensive and extremely valuable. It includes a priceless and complete set of Lowestoft, most of it given by the Blair family along with the house. Even if the rugs are threadbare the dining table is always elegantly and richly appointed, the food on it American and homemade.
Mrs. Reagan had made her food likes and dislikes known to the Blair House staff. If she wants to become more involved in the entertaining they will do while they are there she has not only lavish appointments from which to entertain. One is in Blair House, the other in the Lee House. The two row houses, along with the one called Jackson Place, have 35 rooms and are known collectively as Blair House.
Mrs. Reagan has already entertained at Blair House. On the Reagans' first visit to the city after the election she had a lunch for Barbara Bush and several Senate wives. Carol Laxalt, Elizabeth Dole and Nancy Thurmond. The menu was prepared by the Blair House cook, Ruth Lewis, who can "make whatever they like as long as its American or continental." Lewis, who has worked at Blair House since 1968, became the head cook in 1975. She learned her trade working for Barnett caterers here in Washington and doesn't use recipes anymore. "I cook from my head, but I've written them down so other people can follow them," she explained in a recent interview.
Yesterday she made chicken salad with green grapes and served it with kiwis, cantaloupe, strawberries and apples for Mrs. Reagan's luncheon. Today Mrs. Reagan is entertaining at a small unofficial lunch and in keeping, more or less, with her preference for light foods Lewis is making chicken consomme, cold baked ham roll up, sweet potato souffle, asparagus with lemon butter, ambrosia and coffee. On Friday the President-elect is entertaining Senate Republican committee chairmen and they will have beef consomme, sauteed boneless breasts of chicken, rice pilaf, green beans almondine, hearts of palm salad, croissants, vanilla ice cream with creme de menthe sauce. Very All-American.
Also on the menu for the three-day visit is veal, one of Mrs. Reagan's favorite foods, in this case a combination of several traditional veal recipes: cutlets dipped in Parmesan cheese, egg and flour and suteed in oil with a mushroom sauce seasoned with shallots, garlic and sherry. There will be lots of fresh fruit for dessert, though Lewis' famous apple pie will also be served. And, of course, macaroni and cheese. By this time everyone knows that Ronald Reagan loves macaroni and cheese as much as he loves Jelly Bellies, a particular brand of jellybeans.
Eager to have whatever the first family-elect wants, Carol Benefield, who has been managing the house since September, has laid in a supply of Jelly Bellies as well as Gov. Reagan's favorite brand of bourbon, Old Fitzgerald 100 proof. She has also been seeking the Reagans' favorite wines for the wine cellar: their favorites are known to include 1974 Simi Cabernet Sauvigon, which sells for $16; Chateau Montelena, a chardonnay often served at Vice President Mondale's important dinners, which sells for between $9 and $11 and Jordan Winery Cabernet Sauvigon, 1976, which has been selling for between $8 and $12 retail. One restaurant in Washington has it on its wine list for $14, but another raised its price to $35 when it was announced that the president-elect had ordered four cases of it to celebrate his victory.
Breakfast each morning for the Reagans is some variation of a bran cereal, or Grapenuts with 2 percent low-fat milk, fruit, the orange juice, eggs, coffee. The Reagans don't use low-fat milk for health reasons but because, Nancy Reagan said, through her press secretary, "we happen to like skim milk," and decaffinated coffee because "coffee keeps us awake."
The Reagans are not likely to make any peculiar requests, but Blair House is ready if they do. The prime minister of India had to have his garlic juice every day, along with several whole cloves. There are a lot of requests for food which the guests are forbidden to eat in their own countries -- like bacon and sausages for Moslems. But for the most part foreign visitors want American food, and just about all of them want ice cream. Whenever Jordan's King Hussein is in residence Lewis has a standing order for a hamburger, French fries, catsup, sliced tomatoes and onions for a midnight snack.
Everything, with the exception of the ice cream and sliced bread, is made by Lewis and her assistants, two women who come in whenever someone is in residence or the house is being used for entertaining. The house is available for lunches, dinners and receptions to Cabinet heads who are conducting business with foreign visitors and to the chief of protocol, who has ultimate responsibility for the upkeep and management of the house.
Other than heads of state the house has had few overnight guests with the exception of Presidents Truman and Carter, since it was given to the government in 1942. Truman lived there because the White House was being restored. Carter was the first president-elect to use Blair House during the transition. And according to Carol Benefield, funds from the transition pay for the president-elect stay. This means that whatever the Reagans want won't have to come out of Blair House funds, which everyone connected with the house says are "insufficient." So if they choose veal instead of hamburger (which they have), out-of-season raspberries instead of plentiful pears, it's all right with the State Department.
Benefield was given $27,000 this fall to make some improvements, but that was hardly enough to solve the major problems which precipitated a negative report about the condition of the house in 1977. The report, prepared for the National Park Service, said there is not enough money available to maintain the place properly on a regular basis. In addition to the poor condition of carpets, upholstery and drapes, there is no inventory of the valuable furnishings in the house, and the library collection was described as being "in a serious state of deterioration." Overall, the report said provisions for maintaining the house are "unsatisfactory." Benefield couldn't agree more. "Just give me half a million and I'll fix this place up."
She may get it. The Reagans do not appear to be the kind of couple who want their foreign guests going home and commenting on the worn carpets and threadbare curtains.
Here are some of the Reagan's favorite dishes along with one for which Ruth Lewis is known. RUTH LEWIS' APPLE PIE (10 servings) 8 to 10 apples, peeled, cored and sliced (Jonathan preferred) 3/4 to 1 cup sugar 3/4 teaspoon cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/4 teaspoon mace 2 tablespoons flour Juice of 1 lemon 1/4 teaspoon lemon rind 4 tablespoons butter Crust: 2 cups flour 5 tablespoons water, mixed with 1 tablespoon white vinegar 3/4 cup solid shortening
Combine the sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, flour and mix with apples. Mix in lemon juice and rind. Let the apples sit overnight in this mixture (they will brown a little, but it makes them delicious). Arrange apples in prepared crust in concentric circles, arranging them to a pyramid in the center. Top with pieces of butter and cover with top crust. Flute edges; make several holes in the top so steam can escape. Bake at 450 degrees for 15 minutes; reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake another 30 minutes, until crust is golden brown. Remove from oven; rub butter over top crust. Cool pie on wire rack.
To make crust: Combine the flour with the shortening and blend until the mixture looks like beads. Stir in the water and mix to form dough. Roll out 2/3 for bottom crust to fit an 11-inch pie plate. Combine scraps with remaining dough and roll out for top crust. NANCY REAGAN'S VEAL STEW WITH RED WINE (4 servings) 1 1/2 pounds boneless veal or beef 6 slices bacon Flour 2 tablespoons bacon fat 12 small onions, peeled 1 1/2 cups consomme or stock 1/2 cup dry red wine
Cut meat into 12 chunks. Wrap each piece in 1/2 slice of bacon. Dredge meat lightly in flour. Heat fat in heavy skillet: add meat and peeled onions. Stir ingredients and permit to brown on all sides. Remove from pan. oPour off all fat except 1 tablespoon. Stir in 1 tablespoon flour; add consomme and red wine and stir until smooth. Return veal and onions to pan. Cover tightly and simmer for 1 1/2 to 2 hours until meat is very tender. NANCY REAGAN'S STUFFED LEMON DESSERT Lemons Lemon Sherbet Mint
Cut off bottom of lemon so it will stand firmly, then slice about 1/2 inch off the top and save this cap.
Scoop out lemon and save the juice for daiquiris to serve before luncheon.
Fill the lemon shells with the best lemon sherbet you can find. Place cap of lemon back on the top, plus a sprig of mint. Both recipes from the 1970 "Congressional Club Cookbook" NANCY REAGAN'S SWEET AND SOUR DRESSING FOR FRUIT SALAD 1/2 cup sugar 2 level tablespoons flour 1 teaspoon paprika 1/2 cup vinegar 1/2 teaspoon grated onion 1 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup oil 1 teaspoon celery seed soaked in 2 tablespoons water
Mix sugar, flour and paprika; stir in vinegar; heat until thick in a double boiler. Add onion and salt; cool. Add oil, a little at a time, while beating with rotary beater. Add drained celery seed. From "Christmas Recipes From the Christmas Seal People," a publication of the Lung Association of Southern Maryland RONALD REAGAN'S MACARONI AND CHEESE (6 to 8 servings) Hot cooked macaroni (1/2 pound uncooked) 1/2 pound cut-up, sharp cheddar cheese 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon pepper 1/2 pound ham, cut in chunks 2 cups milk Crushed crackers Butter
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place macaroni, cheese, salt, pepper and ham in layers in buttered casserole.Pour milk over all. Spread crackers over top. Dot with butter. Bake 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve hot. NANCY REAGAN'S VIENNA BARS (30 bars) 1 cup lightly salted butter or margarine, at room temperature 1 1/2 cups sugar 1/4 teaspoon salt Yolks of 2 large eggs 2 1/2 cups flour 1/2 cup red currant or red raspberry preserves Whites of 4 large eggs 2 cups finely chopped walnuts or almonds
Grease a 17-x-12-inch jelly-roll pan or large baking sheet. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl work butter and 1/2 cup of the sugar with a wooden spoon until creamy and well mixed; beat in salt and egg yolks. Add flour and start mixing; when mixture becomes hard to work, knead with fingers of one hand to make a smooth dough. Pat dough evenly into the bottom of prepared jelly-roll pan or pat into a rectangle of the same size on a baking sheet. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly browned. Remove from oven and spread with jelly. In a deep bowl beat egg whites with a rotary beater or electric mixer at high speed until stiff peaks hold when beater is lifted. Using a metal spoon or rubber spatula, fold in nuts and remaining 1 cup of sugar. Gently spread egg white mixture over jelly. Bake about 25 minutes, until browned. Remove from oven and place pan on a wire rack to cool 15 minutes. While still warm cut into bars. From the December, 1980 issue of Redbook