First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden gave the royal treatment to the military mothers, grandmothers and children gathered at the White House on Thursday afternoon for a Joining Forces Mother's Day Tea. The big surprise of the day was a visit from Prince Harry, a Captain in the Army Air Corps in the British Armed Forces, who knows a thing or two about both tea and military families.
"Well, surprise!" Mrs. Obama said to her guests as the Prince, wearing a dark suit, appeared beside her in the flower-bedecked East Room. Indeed, her guests were very surprised, and laughed and applauded.
"It is my honor to welcome Prince Harry to the White House today," Mrs. Obama said.
Clad in a floral-print silk dress by designer Prabal Gurung, Mrs. Obama explained that the Prince returned in January from his second deployment to Afghanistan, and was taking time out from a jam-packed agenda during a weeklong visit to the States to pay tribute to her guests.
"For the past few years he has focused on honoring the sacrifice and service of our veterans and military families," Mrs. Obama said.
"When he heard about this tea and all of you--he wanted to be here to personally thank you for your service."
The 28-year-old bachelor Royal arrived at the White House party after visiting the US Capitol, where he'd caused an outpouring of excitement on Twitter, and swooning among mobs of female staffers. His visit includes promoting the anti-landmine charity the HALO Trust, continuing the work of his deceased mother. (Above, the Prince applauds the moms)
The guests included active duty troops clad in uniform, veterans and military spouses from across the US, and Mrs. Patti Shinseki, wife of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, and Mrs. Lilibet Hagel, wife of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
Mrs. Obama hailed the gathering as "some of the most extraordinary moms in the country."
"You all help people soar. You help our country soar. You answer the call every single time," Mrs. Obama said.
The First Lady's guest interrupted their hosts with cheers and applause from seats at round tables for ten topped with pastel tablecloths and Clinton State China laden with an elaborate menu of sweet and savory treats, including finger sandwiches, intricately decorated cookies and mini cupcakes sprinkled with confetti, and "White House Garden" tea made with chamomile grown in Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden (more on the menu below).
"I hope that you know how much your country appreciates you," Mrs. Obama said.
"I hope that you know that people across America have your backs, from everyone here at the White House and the Department of Defense to CEOs of some of the largest companies in this country."
The First and Second Ladies launched Joining Forces in 2011 to support and honor military families and wounded warriors, and to help veterans and military spouses get educated and employed. Mrs. Obama said she hopes Joining Forces will be her legacy.
"The goal is that this is a forever proposition, that anyone who occupies the White House from now on will take this mission up as a primary focus of everything they do," Mrs. Obama said.
The First Lady also paid tribute to her own mother, Mrs. Marian Robinson, who lives with the First Family at the White House and made a rare public appearance for the fete. She "is my rock," Mrs. Obama said.
Noting that the party was early for Mother's Day, Mrs. Obama suggested the holiday should extend all the way through next Monday. She gave her guests strict orders to enjoy themselves, and encouraged them to ignore her childhood obesity campaign and indulge in the treats.
"Eat all you want...have all the cookies you want," Mrs. Obama said to appreciative laughter and applause.
"Today is the day to forget about Let's Move!. We’ve earned it, moms. We can have our cookies."
Prince Harry made no remarks, but later stood with Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden in the Blue Room next door, and greeted the families as they went through a receiving line.
A craft session for gifts...
Before enjoying the treats, the kids, clad in their Sunday best, visited the State Dining Room to make gift crafts with the White House chefs and floral designers. At the first table, Mrs. Obama and Prince Harry watched as Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses and Assistant Pastry Chef Susie Morrison helped the kids make jewelry from pastry dough (above).
At a table in the center of the room, Executive Chef Cris Comerford and her assistants helped the kids scoop baked vegetable chips into little bags tied with ribbons. At the third table, Mrs. Obama and the Prince watched as the kids wrapped ribbons around bouquets of roses and tulips at one table set up like a flower shop, with aluminum buckets filled with blooms, where Chief Floral Designer Laura Dowling was in charge.
The kids seemed entirely comfortable zipping around the State Dining Room though there was royalty in their midst. Prince Harry was seen miming a football throw as he chatted with one little boy, and he "oohed" and "aahed" just like the First and Second Ladies as he bent down to examine the kids' crafts.
After the craft session, the many gifts were packed into brightly colored bags to be presented to the moms and grandmoms.
The Tea menu...
Chef Comerford's party menu was an intricate and contemporary version of High Tea, and featured delights from Mrs. Obama's Kitchen Garden. The savory offerings included Corn Madeleines with jalapeno and cheese, Vegetable Spring Wraps in Jicama Paper, and Smoked Salmon with house-pickled red onion. (Above, the Clinton State China with a selection of savories)
Chef Yosses offered Mini Cupcakes sprinkled with sugar confetti, tiny Bonbons, and a series of intricately decorated Cookies, in the shape of flowers, hearts and high-heeled shoes with a dusting of sugar glitter.
A special trio of teas was offered, including White House Garden Tea, made with chamomile grown on the South Lawn.
A military harpist played as guests dipped into small white china pots placed on each table, filled with honey harvested from the White House beehive. Rose petals were scattered as decor. The butlers constantly replenished the treats and re-filled glasses. Tablecloths were pastels, and the guests dined on the Clinton State China, the only Presidential set that features an image of the White House rather than the Presidential eagle. It is cream with a gold border.
Floral arrangements changed from table to table, with some tables featuring low arrangements of yellow, cream and green blooms with ivy, including tulips, roses, and ranunculus in square vases. Other tables featured bright pink, magenta and purple blooms with ivy.
2013 Joining Forces Mother's Day Tea Menu
Pickled Red Onion and Creme Fraiche on Pumpernickel Toast
Smoked Chicken Salad
on Reggiano Puffs
with Jalapeno and Cheese
Watercress, Tomatoes, and Radishes
on Wheat Thin Bread
Vegetable Spring Wrap in Jicama Paper
with Red Wine Vinaigrette
Mini-Cupcakes with Confetti Garnish
Darjeeling Black Tea with Floral Notes
Strawberry And Peach Tea, Balanced with Citrus and Rose
"White House Garden"
Light, Herbal Blend Featuring Chamomile From The Kitchen Garden
Above, the First Lady, Prince Harry, Dr. Biden and a young guest enter the East Room.
*The transcript of Mrs. Obama and Dr. Biden's remarks.
*Photos by Brendan Hoffman/Prime for Obama Foodorama. White House video.