Friday, September 24, 2010

First Lady Presents UN Spouses With Gifts From The White House Kitchen Garden

White House vegetables as "a symbol of peace and friendship"...
Pocantico Hills, New York: The 31 international guests First Lady Michelle Obama welcomed to Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture didn't have the opportunity to visit the White House Kitchen Garden, because they'd spent their time in America in New York City, for the 65th General Assembly of the United Nations. But they got to bring home bounty from the most famous garden in America, when Mrs. Obama presented each with a hand-woven basket that contained a very special jar of pickled vegetables and a bag of Chamomile tea made with Kitchen Garden bounty.

>The luncheon menu, with links to all posts about the event is here.

A decorated soy candle, in a special box, created by an artisan located close to the White House, was also included in the basket. The East Wing described the lovely offering as "an assortment of gifts that reflect Mrs. Obama's 20 months in the White House."

"The White House Kitchen Garden, which provides the Obama family and White House guests with delicious fresh produce, is the central theme behind this year’s gift," read the text of the information handout about the gift, and it also noted that gifts to foreign dignitaries "is a time-honored tradition that helps transcend cultural barriers and offers a symbol of peace and friendship."  (Above:  guests gather in the courtyard after the luncheon with their gift baskets)

A brochure for Let's Move! was included in each gift basket, too. The baskets are quite large, as can be seen in the photograph, above, of some of the guests with their gifts, in the courtyard at Stone Barns after the luncheon. The men in suits are State Department staff and security.

The pickled vegetables & tea...
xecutive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses created the pickled vegetables and Chamomile tea, according to the East Wing. Yosses has become a huge enthusiast for the Kitchen Garden--he's featured in a White House video tour of the Kitchen Garden, and regularly leads the morning harvests. The pickled vegetables were packed into a jar etched with Mrs. Obama's signature, and Yosses used a special recipe with lemon verbena and other herbs to preserve Sun Gold tomatoes, okra, cucumbers, chocolate bell peppers, and carrots.

The jars were topped with original artwork from California artists Michael Cronan and Karin Hibma, who were inspired by a photo of Mrs. Obama tending to the Kitchen Garden with children and a wheelbarrow.

The Chamomile seeds were harvested for the first time this year from the Kitchen Garden, and the Chamomile tea Yosses created was accompanied by an off-white clay Tea Canister, hand-made by Virginia potter Catherine White. During the tour of Stone Barns, Mrs. Obama and her guests visited one of the herb gardens, and sipped Apple Mint tea, prepared gardenside by Blue Hill staffers.

The three-wick soy candle in the gift basket is an original design from the Chesapeake Bay Candle company, based in Rockville, Maryland. A relief on the side of the candle was inspired by a photograph of the frieze that hangs above the North Portico of the White House. It depicts an oak leaf and rose garland, America's national tree and flower, which symbolize strength and compassion. The candle was presented inside a custom-made box in a brilliant shade of shimmery sky blue, with a silver imprint of the White House on two sides, also designed by Chesapeake Bay Candle. Details on top of the box are taken from the frieze, and the lid is secured by a caramel-colored band, affixed to a decorative pewter medallion, which also has the oak and rose motif.

The basket itself was also handmade, by the family-owned Longaber Company in Ohio, and created from Maplewood harvested in the Midwest. Each basket was lined with canvas, and adorned with a nickel tag that read “Made Exclusively for Michelle Obama.”

Today's gift is not the first time Mrs. Obama has offered international visitors the treasures of her garden. Spouses of Heads of State at last year's Pittsburgh G-20 Summit received a special tea set with honey from the White House Beehive--but this gift is far more elaborate.

The handout from the White House about the diplomatic gift included statements from the artisans:

“We are honored to be invited by First Lady Michelle Obama to create a uniquely designed basket for this very special occasion,” said Tami Longaberger, CEO of the Longaberger Company. “As a family-owned, Ohio business we are very proud to provide this gift that reflects our American craftsmanship and heritage.”

“It was an honor to make tea canisters for the First Lady in a project that draws deserved attention to the local. I hope that the individual character of each canister speaks to the di- versity of the guests as they experience the resonances of the handmade object,” said Catherine White.

“It is a tremendous honor to be selected by First Lady Michelle Obama and her office to create a gift for her guests,” said Mei Xu, Creator and President of Chesapeake Bay Candle. “We sincerely hope the candle will be enjoyed by the first ladies and their families around the world and remind them of the genuine hospitality and warmth of our country and the American people. The candle also pays tribute to our First Lady’s love for nature and peace.”

“The excitement to work and collaborate on this project was indeed a pleasure and a privilege. Art, creativity, design, craftsmanship and attention to detail came thru every aspect of the process and we so enjoyed partaking in it, with the whole team. Being a part of something larger so much than oneself is always humbling and invigorating,” said Michael Patrick Cronan.

*Basket detail photos by Chuck Kennedy/White House; guest photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama