From the Corner of the Oval

THE BOOK:

UnknownBeck Dorey-Stein’s path to the White House was pretty arbitrary. She answered an ad for a stenographer on Craigslist, never dreaming that she’d actually get a return call. When she did, she  blew off her interview, because after so much rejection, she figured, what the heck. Finally, Bernice, the interviewer, emailed her to say that the job was at the White House. Well, that changed things! As a stenographer, Beck’s job was to follow the president around the country recording all of his public comments, and later transcribing them for the historic record. While this sounds pretty exciting, there was a lot of tedium involved and Beck kept focusing on the fact that she was essentially, just a typist, not anyone important. This is representative of her view of herself at that time in her life. In her mid-twenties, she had had a series of jobs, but not a career. In fact, what she really wanted to do was write, but she lacked confidence. The book gives a snapshot of what the president’s schedule was like, the hierarchy of staff, and a bit of insider gossip. Beck was so in awe of Obama that she became mute whenever he spoke directly to her. But during all her travels, she continued to record her thoughts and impressions, because that’s what she’d done all her life.

We also get a glimpse of Beck’s personal life, as she attempted to balance a boyfriend who was frequently absent from DC on the campaign trail, and her job, which put her on the road. The author really lets the reader in on her weaknesses, including her long term relationship with someone who clearly did not see her as a life’s mate, and who repeatedly hurt her, because she was unable to say no to him, even when yes allowed him to use her. I thought  it was brave to expose so much of her persoanl life in the interest of telling her story. Dorey-Stein has a unique voice that is consistent through the narrative, and in the end, I genuinely liked her.

THE BEAUTY:

When Obama traveled to particularly exotic locations like Jordan, Myanmar, or India his staff would arrange a visit to a culturally significant spot that was not on the itinerary. One such jaunt was to the Shwedagon Pagoda in Myanmar. The 2,500 year old pagoda which enshrines strands of Buddha’s hair and other holy relics is located west of the Royal Lake on 114 acres of Singuttara Hill in Yangon. It stands close to 110 meters tall, is covered with hundreds of gold plates and the top of the stupa is encrusted with 4531 diamonds. The Shwedagon Pagoda consists of hundreds of colorful temples, stupas, and statues.

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from http://www.shwedagonpagoda.com.mm

Barack_Obama_pours_water_over_Friday_Buddha
Barack Obama pours water over the left shoulder of the Friday Buddha during a tour of the Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon on November 19, 2012. Photo by Pete Souza.

THE FOOD:

One of POTUS’s staff drove an ’89 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, which was the car Beck’s family vacationed in. When she first rode in it, she was overcome with nostalgia and she and Jason shared stories of their youth: Jason growing up in Wisconsin, rolling buckeyes and guarding them from squirrels as he watched the balls of chocolate and peanut butter freeze in the snow. Perhaps because I so recently created a snickers drink, the idea of making peanut butter and chocolate candies resonated with me.

Easy Buckeye Recipe

2 C creamy peanut butter (not “natural” peanut butter)
½ C salted butter softened
2 T brown sugar, packed
1¼ tsp vanilla extract
3¼ C powdered sugar
12 oz dark chocolate melting wafers

Combine peanut butter and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat until well-combined.  
Add brown sugar and vanilla extract.  Stir well.

Gradually add powdered sugar until completely combined.  Scoop into tablespoon-sized balls and roll with the palms of your hand until smooth and round. If the dough is too sticky to roll, add more powdered sugar, a tablespoon at a time.

Place on wax-paper lined cookie sheet and freeze for 15-20 minutes. While peanut butter balls are chilling, prepare your chocolate according to package instructions.  Pour into a deep dish. Remove peanut butter balls from freezer, spear the top of each peanut butter ball with a toothpick and, holding the toothpick, dip each buckeye ball into the melted chocolate.
Return to cookie sheet and remove toothpick.  Use the pads of your fingers to smooth over the toothpick mark. Allow the chocolate to harden in the fridge before eating and enjoying. 
Buckeye balls are best kept refrigerated.

*Some people have commented that the addition of brown sugar makes the cookies taste a bit gritty, I have not personally found this to be the case but if you are worried about this you can leave the brown sugar out without adjusting any of the other ingredients

 

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