Sunday, November 27, 2011

Today: President Hosts EU Summit & Luncheon

Global economy, counterterrorism, Iran...
President Obama will welcome the leaders of the European Union to a summit and luncheon at the White House today. At 11:45 AM, he will meet with European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, and High Council Representative Catherine Ashton in the Roosevelt Room. After, at 12:30 PM, the President will host "an EU summit lunch" in the Cabinet Room,.  Both are closed to press. (Above: José Manuel Barroso is at right of the President during the 2009 EU summit at the White House; former High Representative Javier Solana is at left)

The President and the EU leaders will discuss "the global economy; our efforts to strengthen economic ties and growth; our joint work to support democracy and prosperity in the European neighborhood, across the Middle East and North Africa, and in other regions; our continuing coordination on Iran; and our commitment to improved transatlantic law enforcement and counterterrorism cooperation," the White House said.

After the luncheon, at 1:40 PM in the Roosevelt Room, President Obama, European Council President Herman Van Rompuy, and European Commission President José Manuel Barroso will deliver statements to the press.

*Photo by Pete Souza/White House, taken on Nov. 3, 2009 in the Cabinet Room.
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First Lady To Keynote "Building A Healthier Future" Summit

Partnership for a Healthier America's two-day childhood obesity summit begins Tuesday; includes Great American Family Dinner Challenge...
First Lady Michelle Obama will give the keynote address on Wednesday morning at Partnership for a Healthier America's (PHA) Building a Healthier Future Summit. The two-day event in Washington, DC, is the first national summit hosted by the non-profit foundation established to further Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! campaign, and will bring together business and industry leaders with their nonprofit, academic, and government counterparts for panel meetings and discussions. It begins on Tuesday morning at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.

Mrs. Obama serves as honorary chair of PHA, which is led by Dr. James R. Gavin III. The foundation is responsible for organizing and managing the private-sector commitments the First Lady has garnered for the Let's Move! campaign, including the pledges from Walmart and other grocers to build stores in food deserts, and from national chain Darden Restaurants to revamp its menu offerings.

At the summit, "private sector leaders from all industries will be announcing new commitments while current PHA partners will be proving updates on their progress," according to organizers.

Honorary vice-chairs Mayor Cory Booker of Newark, NJ and former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, M.D., will both speak at the summit, as will Gavin.

Healthy cooking in the spotlight...
Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass is also a featured participant at the Summit. Kass will serve as the emcee for The Great American Family Dinner Challenge on Tuesday night, a cooking exhibition that will pit two teams of James Beard Award-winning chefs against each other to create a fabulous dinner on a Food Stamps budget. The chefs--Tom Colicchio and Maria Hines vs. Holly Smith and Ming Tsai--will have $10 of ingredients and just thirty minutes to dazzle the judges, who are two sets of "real" parents. (Kass, above)

A dinner on Tuesday night for all Summit attendees will be cooked by James Beard Award winners and nominees Floyd Cardoz, Koren Grieveson, Michel Nischan and Anne Quatrano.

Social media: PHA's website is here; a Facebook page for the summit is here; Twitter is @PHANews with the hashtag #PHASummit. Check out @LetsMove and for the First Lady's campaign.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/ObamaFoodorama
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Wednesday: First Lady Will Unveil 2011 White House Holiday Decorations

Military families invited for first viewing, holiday crafts...
On Wednesday, Nov. 30th, as she unveils the decorations for her third holiday season in the White House, First Lady Michelle Obama will welcome military families, including Gold Star and Blue Star parents, spouses and children, for the first viewing. At 1:30 PM, Mrs. Obama will deliver remarks in the East Room, and then she will host the children in the State Dining Room for a special holiday craft and treat session.

Executive Chef Cris Comerford and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses will demonstrate how to make edible holiday treats and decorations. White House Florist Laura Dowling will demonstrate holiday crafts. (Above: Mrs. Obama and Yosses making gingerbread cookies with kids during the 2010 holiday preview)

Yosses' annual Gingerbread replica of the White House will also be unveiled on Wednesday. Last year's white chocolate-covered extravaganza weighed 400 pounds, while the 2009 edition came in at 390 pounds. Both were created with honey from the White House Beehive, and featured marzipan miniatures of First Dog Bo, and the First Lady's Kitchen Garden. (Above: The 2009 White House Gingerbread House)

Two White House Christmas Trees will honor military families this year. Last Friday, Mrs. Obama was presented with the Official White House Christmas Tree, and the 19-foot-tall Balsam Fir, grown in Wisconsin, will be placed in the Blue Room, and decorated with a theme honoring Blue Star families. A special Gold Star Christmas tree decorated by Gold Star families will be displayed at the visitor’s entrance on the East Wing Landing. As many as 100,000 visitors will view the White House holiday decorations in the next month, according to an aide.

In 2009, Mrs. Obama's first holiday theme was "Reflect, Rejoice, Renew." In 2010, the theme was "Simple Gifts." Both themes were inspired in part by the First Lady's Kitchen Garden, and made liberal use of fruit and dried vegetables, woven among the more traditional greens.

*Top photo by Lawrence Jackson/White House; second by Eddie Gehman Kohan/
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Dinner with Barack: The Mini Movies

Obama Campaign releases five new videos from inside President's dinner with contest winners...
President Obama
this week announced the third "Dinner with Barack" contest to raise money for his 2012 re-election war chest. To build interest among donors, Obama for America released five new videos from inside the first contest dinner President Obama has completed, his meal on Oct. 27 at Liberty Tavern in Arlington, Virginia. The President's press pool was allowed into the dining room for less than one minute during the event for a rapid photo op, so the Campaign videos are the first extended look at what occurred as four "everyday Americans" broke bread with the Commander in Chief. The longest video is more than eight minutes long, and edited like a feature film. (Above, the President with from L Knight, Smith, Helbling, and Martinez).

The winners were Juanita Martinez, a retired teacher from Brighton, Colorado; Casey Helbling, a software entrepreneur and small-business owner from Minneapolis, Minn.; Ken Knight, a U.S. postal worker from Chandler, Arizona; and Wendi Smith, a retired professor and artist from Corydon, Indiana. Helbling is such a huge Obama supporter he named one of his children "Maxwell Barack," he revealed after the dinner. All had to sign documents agreeing to be used--without pay--in campaign materials. Each prize, taxable by the IRS, was valued at $1,075, and included air fare to DC and a one-night hotel stay for the guests. The prizes did not include make up and hair service for the winners, as they made their feature film debuts.

The dinner was just 70 minutes long; the guests declined the President's offer of dessert. The longest mini-movie, above, is titled "Dinner With Barack: Two Teachers, an Army Veteran, a Small Business Owner and The President." It's edited to build excitement, and shows the President's guests arriving in Washington and being wowed by the monuments, while discussing their thrill over the upcoming dinner with Mr. Obama. Then it transitions to the restaurant, and shows edited portions of the Presidential mealtime conversation. The other four videos are shorter vignettes of the table talk, edited by theme.

For the record, the President at dinner enjoyed the "Harpoon Caught Swordfish," which is regularly featured on The Liberty Tavern menu. It's served "Portuguese style," with white beans, sweet peppers, lamb sausage escarole, and Littleneck clam sauce ($22). He washed it down with iced tea, though his companions drank wine. Before this week's video releases, the four winners had previously dished about their dinner to various media outlets, as well as put out statements for Campaign HQ.

Above, in this 1:05-long clip, "Dinner With Barack: The Impact of My Father," the President is asked by one of his guests about the "negative impact" of not knowing his father, who left when he was a small child. It's the most moving of the videos.

"As I look back on my life, I only remember my father for one month of my whole life," President Obama said. "When I was ten."

His father, however, introduced him to all the things he became passionate about, the President said--among these basketball and jazz--and the absence made him realize how important it is to be a good father to daughters Malia and Sasha.

Above, in the 1:04-long "Dinner With Barack: A Typical Day," Mr. Obama discusses what might occur on any given day of the Presidency. The days are "packed," the President said, noting that he's "not a morning person." The last time he was awakened in the middle of the night for an emergency was for the Japan earthquake and tsunami, the President said, "probably around 3 in the morning."

"At 6:30, even if I'm really busy, I'll stop, go upstairs, and have dinner with the girls," the President said.

Above, in the 1:02-long "Dinner With Barack: Why Education Is important," the President and his guests discuss education issues, as the title implies.

Above, the final 52-second video is a teaser, billed as "Video Preview: Dinner with Barack." The President talks about the challenges of trick-or-treating in public with his daughters, now that he's Commander in Chief. Last time he "pulled it off," Mr. Obama said, was in 2007.

Other dinners...
The President will dine at a later date with four more donors from the Campaign's second contest, the "Dinner with Barack II" sweepstakes, held during fundraising quarter 3, July-September. The winners' names have not yet been released. In an interview in September, Campaign Deputy Press Secretary Katie Hogan told Obama Foodorama that there was no way to determine how many donors have actually given money in order to be entered in the dinner contests; she said that donations for the dinner contests were not specifically tracked, which seems hard to believe. Donors for the second and third contests were and are automatically entered into the dinner pool, but that was not the case for the first dinner contest. Entering the contests without donating is/was possible, too.

The third contest closes on December 31, and will have three winners, each of whom can bring a guest. The Campaign is already heavily promoting the third dinner contest, and this week sent a Thanksgiving e-mail to woo donors.

*Videos by OFA; photo by AP/Pool
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Roasting Obama Economic Policy

Combining Black Friday and its ongoing criticism of President Obama's economic policy, the widely read Zero Hedge has posted this bit of anti-Presidential food art. The "Rotisserie & BBQ Debt Oven" featuring President Obama's head on two turkeys was posted under the title "Walmart After Christmas Price Riot!"

The Obama image was part of a larger tableau contributed by "williambanzai7," and also included an image of Jon Corzine as a chef hawking lids, and Lloyd Blankfein hawking a "slice-o-matic."

*Image from Zero Hedge/williambanzai7
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Saturday, November 26, 2011

College Hoops & A Hot Dog

Cheering for First Brother-in-Law Craig Robinson's team, the President watches Oregon State Beavers beat Towson University Tigers...
It was a good post-Thanksgiving Saturday for the Hoops Lover in Chief: President Obama began the day with the news that the 149-day NBA lockout will end, played basketball with personal aide Reggie Love, then traveled to Maryland to watch as the Oregon State Beavers defeated the Towson University Tigers, 66-46. Oregon State, of course, is coached by First Lady Michelle Obama's brother Craig Robinson, and the entire First Family was on hand to witness the victory. President Obama enjoyed a hot dog and bottled water during the second half of the game, sitting beside his wife, who was clad in an orange sweater and black pants, in honor of Oregon State's team colors (above).

Obama daughters Malia and Sasha were also clad in team colors as the First Family entered the Towson basketball arena at 1:40 PM, to a standing ovation from the crowd. The Obamas shook hands with folks in the stands and took their courtside seats, opposite the Oregon State bench.
Before the tip-off, legendary actor-comedian Bill Murray, on hand for the game, stopped by to greet the First Couple (above).

As the Oregon State team was introduced, the President and Mrs. Obama smiled broadly and clapped a bit louder when Coach Robinson’s name was called out. The Oregon State hoopsters on Wednesday joined the First Family as they packed groceries at the Capital Area Food Bank, for a Thanksgiving community service event.

Earlier in the day, after playing basketball with personal aide Reggie Love at Fort McNair, President Obama was asked about the end of the NBA lockout.

The President gave a thumbs up and said, “Good deal.’’

At halftime, the Towson football team was introduced. The Tigers won the Colonial Athletic Association championship this season and are now competing in the FCS playoffs. The players posed for a photo with the President. Swarming around him, the team was warned they’d have to run laps if they didn’t give him some room.

By 4:02 PM, victory accomplished, the President and First Lady were airborne in Marine One, heading back to the White House from the Baltimore area. Daughters Malia and Sasha traveled separately, according to pool. Before heading to Maryland, the President and his daughters visited Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe in Washington, DC, for Small Business Saturday.

*Photos by AP/pool
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Small Business Saturday: President Obama Visits Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe

President buys books during early Christmas shopping outing...
To support "Small Business Saturday," President Obama this morning did some Christmas shopping, browsing the literary offerings at Washington, DC's Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe, accompanied by daughters Malia and Sasha. The popular bookstore and cafe, located in Dupont Circle, has been open since 1976.

"You doing some Christmas shopping? Not yet?" President Obama asked a boy named Alexander, whom he greeted by the bakery case (above, as Malia and Sasha look on).

"Well, we're starting early. This is Small Business Saturday. So we're out here supporting small business."

Father and daughters browsed the travel/writing section for a while, and left with an armload of childrens' books, but not before the President shook hands and chatted with fellow patrons. (Above: Browsing the stacks)

The event to encourage support of independently owned businesses was sponsored by some very large corporations: American Express, FedEx, Google, and Facebook, among others. Small businesses create one in three jobs in America, according to the Administration. The President arrived at 11:36 AM, and spent about 20 minutes with his daughters at the store.

The President began his Saturday with a rousing game of hoops in the gym at Ft. McNair, joined by personal aide Reggie Love, who will depart the White House by the end of the year.

"We're sad to see Reggie go," President Obama told his press pool, when queried. "But he's doing the right thing. He's going to finish his education and as you can see we're still getting a little basketball in."

The Presidential book purchases, according to the White House:

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - by Brian Selnick

Diary of a Whimpy Kid Cabin Fever - by Jeff Kinney

Tails - by Matthew Van Fleet

Descent into Chaos - by Ahmed Rashid

The Tiger's Wife - by Tea Obreht

The Phantom Tollbooth - by Norton Juster

The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao - by Junot Diaz

Zen Shorts - by Jon Muth

The President's motorcade was back at the White House by 11:57 AM.  In the afternoon, the First Family traveled to Towson University, to watch First Brother-in-Law Craig Robinson's Oregon State Beavers trump the Towson Tigers 66-46, in a hoops match up.

Info: Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe is at 1517 Conn. Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036. Phone: (202) 387-1400.

*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House; second by AP/pool
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Friday, November 25, 2011

O Christmas Tree: First Lady Michelle Obama Receives 2011 Official White House Tree

Wisconsin tree will be displayed in Blue Room, with decorations that honor military families...
The very busy Presidential winter holiday season officially kicked off this morning when First Lady Michelle Obama accepted delivery of the 2011 Official White House Christmas Tree. Joined by daughters Malia and Sasha and First Dog Bo, Mrs. Obama was presented with the 19-foot-tall Balsam Fir, grown in Wisconsin, during a brief ceremony by the North Portico. The tree will be the centerpiece of the White House Christmas decorating scheme, on display throughout the holidays in the Blue Room with a theme that honors Blue Star families.

The tree was delivered via horse-drawn wagon, with a top-hatted coachman in control of an impressive pair of Clydesdales, their necks bedecked with red ribbons and wreathes. A band of US Marine Corps horn players gave a rousing rendition of O Christmas Tree as Mrs. Obama and her daughters watched the tree arrive.

"Let's check it out," the First Lady said to the girls as they walked around the carriage, examining the tree. Bo scampered about, trotting between the horses and his mistress.

Mrs. Obama, her hair pulled back in a bun, kept the autumn chill at bay in a gray sweater, gray print skirt and knee-high gray boots. She chatted briefly with 2011 National Christmas Tree Association Grand Champion winners Sue and Tom Schroeder, who grew the tree on their farm, Schroeder’s Forevergreens, near Neshkoro, Wisconsin (above). The tree was planted eighteen years ago.

Mrs. Obama's inspection was purely ceremonial: White House Chief Horticulturalist Jim Adams and Superintendent of Grounds Dale Haney, who were on hand for today's presentation, traveled to Wisconsin to select the tree on Oct. 3rd. The Schroeders harvested it on Nov. 17th.

"What do you think? Does it get the thumbs up?" Mrs. Obama asked Malia and Sasha. They enthusiastically consented, and Mrs. Obama agreed.

"Thumbs up!" she said. "Bring 'er on in!"

100,000 people will see the dazzling tree...
The very tall tree will require the removal of the Blue Room chandelier as it is installed. It will be viewed by as many as 100,000 people during the holidays, according to a White House aide, between those who visit for regular tours and for the many festive receptions that will be held through Dec. 16. Social Secretary Jeremy Bernard, the mastermind for the upcoming events, was on hand for today's delivery ceremony. (Above: Carriage horse Abe, right, and Jay, delivered the tree last year, too)

The White House will be decorated by the floral department staff and a team of volunteers this weekend and through the beginning of next week. Mrs. Obama's decorating theme will be unveiled next Wednesday, Nov. 30. She will welcome military families as the first group of visitors to view the seasonal decor.

Schroeder’s Forevergreens is one of approximately 800 Christmas tree farms and lots nationwide that donate Christmas trees to the Christmas SPIRIT Foundations’ Trees for Troops program, according to the East Wing. (Above: Mrs. Obama, the girls, and Bo walk out to receive the tree)

"Trees for Troops has provided 84,000 full-sized farm-grown Christmas trees to troops and military families since it began in 2005 and this year’s goal is to deliver their 100,000th tree," the East Wing said.

Members of the National Christmas Tree Association have presented the official White House Christmas Tree for display in the Blue Room since 1966.

Last year's tree was grown in Pennsylvania. Read about it here.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama
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Bobby Flay's Favorite White House Moment

Slinging steaks with the President? Nope...
Celebrity chef Bobby Flay is one of the few White House guests chefs to actually cook with President Obama--they grilled steaks together on the South Lawn during a Father's Day picnic in 2009 (above). But going mano-a-mano over hot coals with the Eater in Chief was apparently all in a day's work for Flay, who says his favorite White House memory actually involves First Lady Michelle Obama. They had a special moment in 2010, when Flay visited the White House to harvest veggies from the Kitchen Garden for the White House episode of Iron Chef America.

"I got to take my daughter and my favorite moment was watching Michelle Obama and my daughter have a five-minute conversation about being 14. It was amazing," Flay told the Vancouver Sun.

"When we walked out of the White House, I said to my daughter, 'Sophie, just stop for a second. I want you to put this in a very special place because today will be a blur in your lifetime but I want you to remember this as a very special day in your life.' She was like, 'I know, Dad'."

Flay and Executive Chef Cris Comerford teamed up to beat Mario Batali and Emeril Lagasse on Iron Chef America. Their winning recipes included Sweet Potato Pie with Honey Meringue and Broccoli Soup.  (Above: Flay with Mrs. Obama, Comerford, and host Alton Brown)

*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House, second courtesy Food Network
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What If The Kitchen Garden Had Failed?

Never waste a crisis: Deputy Agriculture Secretary Kathleen Merrigan says that a South Lawn crop disaster might have been a good thing...

Washington Whispers reports that during a Monday event about sustainable farming held at the U.S. Archives, the Deputy Agriculture Secretary (l) discussed the possibility of First Lady Michelle Obama's Kitchen Garden failing:

"Merrigan, who manages the Agriculture Department's "Know your farmer, know your food" program, joked at an event last night that when Sam Kass, the assistant White House chef who tends the garden, expressed concern about the visibility of the first lady's garden and the chance that it might fail during the first year, she told him, "That would be great. ...Then people would understand the kinds of challenges that farmers face."

The Kitchen Garden is visible to the thousands of tourists who walk along the fence line of the South Lawn each month, and is kept in meticulous shape by the US Park Service, which manages the White House grounds. There's been no crop failure: The garden produced about 2,600 pounds of vegetables this year, according to the White House.

Merrigan, Washington Whispers pointed out, "has since applauded the First Lady's gardening success for setting an example for families on basic planting."

*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama
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President Obama has no public events scheduled today.  First Lady Obama will be presented with the 2011 Official White House Christmas Tree at 11:00 AM at the North Portico.
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Thursday, November 24, 2011

2011 Obama White House Thanksgiving Menu

First Family's feast includes turkey, ham, oyster & cornbread stuffing, five sides, and six kinds of pie...
President Obama and the First Family are celebrating Thanksgiving in the White House with a traditional menu starring turkey and six different kinds of pie, including Pumpkin Pie and Banana Cream Pie.  The Obamas will share their Thanksgiving with unidentified “friends, family and staff,” according to the White House.  The feast will be created with bounty from First Lady Obama's Kitchen Garden, according to assistant chef Sam Kass. Honey from the White House Beehive will also be used for the dishes. (Above: At Wednesday's Turkey Pardoning Ceremony, Malia pets Liberty as the President and Sasha look on)

"Like millions of Americans, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and I will spend the day eating great food, watching a little football, and reflecting on how truly lucky we truly are," President Obama said today.

In addition to turkey, the Thanksgiving table will be laden with ham, two kinds of stuffing, five side dishes including macaroni and cheese and green bean casserole, and dinner rolls. The show-stopping pies also include Apple, Cherry, Huckleberry, Sweet Potato, and Pumpkin. The President is a fanatic for pie, and Executive Pastry Chef Bill Yosses has said that Banana Cream Pie is his favorite.  Yosses' Apple Pie recipe is here.

2011 Obama Family White House Thanksgiving Menu


Cornbread Stuffing
Oyster Stuffing

Side Dishes
Sweet Potatoes
Mashed Potatoes
Green Bean Casserole
Macaroni and Cheese

Dinner Rolls

Apple Pie
Pumpkin Pie
Sweet Potato Pie
Banana Cream Pie
Cherry Pie
Huckleberry Pie

Like many Americans, the First Family enjoys the same Thanksgiving menu each year, and the 2011 menu is identical to the the 2010 menu the White House issued, as well as to the 2009 menu, minus the words "honey baked" in front of "ham."

In an annual Thanksgiving tradition, President Obama made calls to US military service members this morning, at around 9:00 AM ET from the Oval Office. The President's weekly address also thanked the troops, and today Mrs. Obama sent out an e-mail asking Americans to join the Joining Forces/USO "Thanks From Everywhere" campaign. (Above: The President made his calls to troops from the Oval Office)

On Wednesday morning, President Obama granted a Thanksgiving pardon to turkey Liberty and his alternate Peace during the annual White House ceremony. In the afternoon, the First Family packed holiday grocery bags at a local food bank.

President Obama's Thanksgiving address:

*Top photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama; second by Pete Souza/White House. National Turkey Federation Chairman Ricard Huisinga is in the Pardon Ceremony in the photo at top.
read more "2011 Obama White House Thanksgiving Menu"

Obama Makes Thanksgiving Calls To Troops

President calls 10 armed service members deployed in Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom...
In an annual Thanksgiving tradition, President Obama made calls to US military service members this morning, at around 9:00 AM ET from the Oval Office. (Above, in action)

According to the White House, “President Obama called 10 members of our armed services - two from each the Army, Air Force, Coast Guard, Marine Corps, and Navy - deployed in support of Operation New Dawn and Operation Enduring Freedom. The President thanked each of them for their service and sacrifice and wished them and their families a Happy Thanksgiving.”

The President's weekly address also thanked the troops, and today First Lady Michelle Obama sent out an e-mail asking Americans to join the Joining Forces/USO "Thanks From Everywhere" campaign.

On Wednesday morning, President Obama granted a Thanksgiving pardon to turkey Liberty and his alternate Peace during the annual White House ceremony. In the afternoon, the First Family packed holiday grocery bags at a local food bank.

*Photo by Pete Souza/White House
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First Lady Obama's 2011 Thanksgiving Message: Thank A Hero

Join the "Thanks From Everywhere" campaign...
Obama's Thanksgiving Address honored America's Armed Forces, and First Lady Michelle Obama is asking Americans to do the same.

Mrs. Obama sent an e-mail and video this morning from the White House, asking Americans to thank members of the military for their service. The messages will be added to the "Thank You From Everywhere" map created by the USO and Joining Forces, Mrs. Obama's campaign to support military families.

"I can't think of any better way to spend Thanksgiving than letting our servicemembers know how grateful we are for everything that they do," Mrs. Obama wrote. "So this year...We've partnered with the USO to create a program called Thanks From Everywhere."

In her video, Mrs. Obama calls Jessica Allen, the wife of a service member injured in combat in Afghanistan.

The text of the First Lady's e-mail:

Good morning,

Every Thanksgiving, Barack sits down to call some of our troops and thank them for their service.

When he tells me about these conversations, it always reminds me of how blessed we are to live in a country where men and women will stand up to protect our freedoms and preserve our way of life. And whenever I've had the chance to meet with these heroes and their families, I've always walked away inspired by their courage and in awe of their strength.

I can't think of any better way to spend Thanksgiving than letting our servicemembers know how grateful we are for everything that they do. So this year, we're making it easy to do just that.

We've partnered with the USO to create a program called Thanks From Everywhere. To get involved, simply visit and write a quick note that troops and veterans all over the world will be able to see.

Add your message to Thanks From Everywhere.

Your note will be added to a map with messages from people all over the country, showing our troops and their families just how much we appreciate their service and sacrifice.

If we all do our part, we'll help to build a wave of support to honor our veterans and their families -- and ensure they get the recognition they deserve this holiday season.

At a time when we are sitting down to share the blessings we've received this past year, please take a moment to be a part of this effort to thank America's heroes and their families.

Send a message to Thanks From Everywhere today:

Happy Thanksgiving,

Michelle Obama
read more "First Lady Obama's 2011 Thanksgiving Message: Thank A Hero"

President Obama's Thanksgiving Address

The First Family will celebrate Thanksgiving at the White House today. In his third annual Thanksgiving address, President Obama "wishes the American people a happy Thanksgiving -- and gives a special thanks to the brave men and women serving overseas and those giving back to their communities during the holidays." Transcript after the jump.

On Wednesday morning, President Obama granted a pardon to turkey Liberty and his alternate Peace during the annual White House ceremony. In the afternoon, the First Family packed holiday grocery bags at a local food bank.

The transcript:

From my family to yours, I’d like to wish you a happy Thanksgiving. Like millions of Americans, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and I will spend the day eating great food, watching a little football, and reflecting on how truly lucky we truly are.

As Americans, each of us has our own list of things and people to be thankful for. But there are some blessings we all share.

We’re especially grateful for the men and women who defend our country overseas. To all the service members eating Thanksgiving dinner far from your families: the American people are thinking of you today. And when you come home, we intend to make sure that we serve you as well as you’re serving America.

We’re also grateful for the Americans who are taking time out of their holiday to serve in soup kitchens and shelters, making sure their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. This sense of mutual responsibility – the idea that I am my brother’s keeper; that I am my sister’s keeper – has always been a part of what makes our country special. And it’s one of the reasons the Thanksgiving tradition has endured.

The very first Thanksgiving was a celebration of community during a time of great hardship, and we have followed that example ever since. Even when the fate of our union was far from certain – during a Civil War, two World Wars, a Great Depression – Americans drew strength from each other. They had faith that tomorrow would be better than today.

We’re grateful that they did. As we gather around the table, we pause to remember the pilgrims, pioneers, and patriots who helped make this country what it is. They faced impossible odds, and yet somehow, they persevered. Today, it’s our turn.

I know that for many of you, this Thanksgiving is more difficult than most. But no matter how tough things are right now, we still give thanks for that most American of blessings, the chance to determine our own destiny. The problems we face didn’t develop overnight, and we won’t solve them overnight. But we will solve them. All it takes is for each of us to do our part.

With all the partisanship and gridlock here in Washington, it’s easy to wonder if such unity is really possible. But think about what’s happening at this very moment: Americans from all walks of life are coming together as one people, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country.

If we keep that spirit alive, if we support each other, and look out for each other, and remember that we’re all in this together, then I know that we too will overcome the challenges of our time.

So today, I’m thankful to serve as your President and Commander-and-Chief. I’m thankful that my daughters get to grow up in this great country of ours. And I’m thankful for the chance to do my part, as together, we make tomorrow better than today.

Thanks, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

read more "President Obama's Thanksgiving Address"

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The First Family Visits Capital Area Food Bank For Thanksgiving Community Service

The Obamas work food distribution table, gift turkeys and White House M&Ms to surprised patrons...
On the chilly, drizzly eve of Thanksgiving, the First Family on Wednesday afternoon continued a longstanding tradition of holiday community service with a visit to Capital Area Food Bank in Northeast Washington, DC. President Obama, First Lady Obama, daughters Malia and Sasha and First Grandmother Marian Robinson chatted with patrons as they handed out recyclable green shopping bags full of holiday groceries to a crowd of excited visitors. (Above: The First Family in action)

"Happy Thanksgiving to you!" President Obama said repeatedly, and asked people their names and holiday plans.

The 4:30 PM outing came after a jocular turkey pardoning ceremony in the morning, where the President grinned his way through the annual reprieve for two lucky gobblers, Liberty and Peace. He was still filled with holiday spirit, and smiled, chatted and shook hands with the patrons who approached the long distribution table where he stood with his family, offering bags of baby carrots, grapes and apples from blue plastic tubs.

There was a special treat on offer, too: White House M&Ms were gifted to the delighted patrons, who were not informed that the Obama family would be at work. The special candy is in white boxes with a blue Presidential seal and President Obama's autograph.

The food bank donates 30 million pounds of food per year to those in need, according to the White House. Many of the patrons were regulars, according to pool, and surprised to see the First Family at work in the warehouse-style room, which was filled with stacked pallets and shelves of food boxes.

The President was clad casually in a dark blue shirt, the collar unbuttoned, and an unzipped jacket, and he admired a sharply dressed patron.

"Now that's a nice looking suit!" He told one man, who wore a beige pinstriped suit.

The First Lady wore a green and black dress with a maroon hooded sweatshirt. The girls had an outfit change from the morning's pardon ceremony, where their sparkling shoes had caught the attention of the press.

The White House said that members of the Oregon State basketball team were also at work during the hour the First Family visited. That, of course, is the team coached by Mrs. Obama's brother, Craig Robinson.

The President and Mrs. Obama donated two dressed turkeys to the food bank, given by Jaindl’s Turkey Farm in Orefield, Pennsylvania, the White House said.

The Obama Family Thanksgiving celebration on Thursday will be at the White House. Update: The menu. On Friday, the winter holidays begin, as Mrs. Obama is presented with the Official White House Christmas Tree during during a ceremony by the North Portico. Update: The presentation.

The motorcade left the Capital Area Food Bank at 5:17 pm and, after an uneventful ride, arrived at the White House at 5:28 pm.

*Top photo by Pete Souza/White House; other photos & Video by AP/pool
read more "The First Family Visits Capital Area Food Bank For Thanksgiving Community Service"

"Dinner with Barack," Thanksgiving Edition

Dinner with the President is the perfect holiday gift for family members, Obama Campaign advises...
Update, Nov. 27: Campaign releases 5 new videos from the first "Dinner with Barack"
As President Obama was pardoning the National Thanksgiving Turkey on Wednesday morning, his 2012 Campaign operation sent out an e-mail to supporters, urging donations for the newly launched "Dinner with Barack" contest, the third sweepstakes offering an intimate dinner with the Eater in Chief. It was timed for Thanksgiving and holiday gift giving: The latest enticement for donors is that each contest winner can bring a guest. "Who do you want to meet the President?" asked Rufus Gifford, National Finance Director. (Above: A new logo for the contest)

"As you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, look around the table and ask yourself: Who would you bring?" wrote Gifford. "It's hard to think of a better gift for your parent, spouse, child, or best friend than the chance to accompany you to dinner with President Obama."

The donation ask was $3. The assigned retail value of the prize package has jumped from $1,075 for the first dinner, to $1,600 for the current dinner, which includes airfare and a hotel stay. President Obama has completed one "Dinner with Barack" event with donors; he dined last month at a Virginia restaurant with the four winners of the first contest.

"I'd bring my mom" to the dinner, Gifford wrote. The contest closes on December 31.

The e-mail had the subject heading ""Who do you want to meet the President?"

The text:

Friend --

We just launched our next Dinner with Barack contest, and this time there's a big new twist: Each winner can invite a guest.

So as you celebrate Thanksgiving tomorrow, look around the table and ask yourself: Who would you bring?

It's hard to think of a better gift for your parent, spouse, child, or best friend than the chance to accompany you to dinner with President Obama.

To be automatically entered right now, make a donation of $3 or whatever you can today.

When you do, you'll be helping fund this campaign as we near a critical fundraising deadline at the end of the year -- just three days before voters in Iowa head to the caucus and the 2012 election formally kicks off.

President Obama wants to connect face to face with the people who are chipping in however they can to grow this campaign.

So this time we're asking the three people who win to bring along a guest: maybe your significant other, or the friend who first got you involved in this movement. I'd bring my mom.

Thanksgiving is a perfect time to start thinking about whom you'd pick.

So throw your hat in today with a gift of $3 -- and be automatically entered for Dinner with Barack:



Rufus Gifford
National Finance Director
Obama for America
read more ""Dinner with Barack," Thanksgiving Edition"

President Obama Grants Thanksgiving Pardon To Liberty And Peace...

Another Executive Action that doesn't require Congressional approval...
During a windy ceremony under the North Portico this morning, a smiling and jocular President Obama pardoned Liberty, the 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey. Daughters Malia and Sasha joined their father to watch the brief exercise of Executive Power. Richard Huisinga, National Turkey Federation chairman presented the lucky 45-lb, 19-week-old tom to President Obama.

"Tomorrow is one of the best days of the year to be an American...but it's also one of the worst days of the year to be a turkey," President Obama said.

"They don't have it so good," he added, and riffed on his "we can't wait" push to take action without waiting for Congress.

"Some of you may know that recently I’ve been taking a series of executive actions that don’t require Congressional approval," President Obama ,said to laughter. "Well, here’s another one. We can’t wait to pardon these turkeys. Literally."

"Otherwise they’d end up next to the mashed potatoes and stuffing."

Liberty's alternate, Peace, was also granted a pardon. Read more about the turkeys here.

*The transcript of the President's remarks.

*Top photo by Chuck Kennedy/White House
read more "President Obama Grants Thanksgiving Pardon To Liberty And Peace..."

Transcipt & Video: President Obama's Remarks, 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon

President Obama pardoned Liberty, a 45-lb, 19-week old turkey from Willmar Poultry Company in Willmar, Minnesota, during a morning ceremony under the North Portico. Liberty's alternate Peace was also pardoned but was not at the ceremony. Duaghters Malia and Sasha joined their father. Read more about the lucky gobblers and their FFA handlers. On the eve of their pardon, the turkeys stayed at the W hotel in Washington, DC.

The White House

Office of the Press Secretary
For Immediate Release November 23, 2011

Remarks by the President at the Pardoning
of the National Thanksgiving Turkey

North Portico

10:40 A.M. EST

THE PRESIDENT: Hello, everybody! Well, it is wonderful to see all of you here today. Happy Thanksgiving, and welcome to the White House.

Tomorrow is one of the best days of the year to be an American. It’s a day to count our blessings, spend time with the ones we love, and enjoy some good food and some great company. But it’s also one of the worst days of the year to be a turkey. (Laughter.) They don’t have it so good.

The rare exception, of course, are the two birds who’ve joined me today. Now, is Peace here, or just Liberty? Just Liberty is here, but Peace is back here somewhere. Some of you may know that recently I’ve been taking a series of executive actions that don’t require Congressional approval. (Laughter.) Well, here’s another one. We can’t wait to pardon these turkeys. (Laughter.) Literally. Otherwise they’d end up next to the mashed potatoes and stuffing.

I want to thank Richard Huisinga, the Chairman of the National Turkey Federation, and his wonderful family for donating this year’s turkey from his farm in Willmar, Minnesota. The turkey’s name is Liberty -- there he is -- and along with his understudy named Peace, he has the distinction of being the luckiest bird on the face of the Earth. Right now, he’s also probably one of the most confused. (Laughter.)

Liberty was chosen from a flock of about 30 other contestants for the honor of being here today. And for the first time in history, these two turkeys were raised by four students from nearby Willmar High School.

Now, I’m told that in order to prepare Liberty and Peace for their big day, the students exposed them to loud noises and flash bulbs so that they’d be ready to face the White House press corps. This is actually true. They also received the most important part of their media training, which involves learning how to gobble without really saying anything. (Laughter.)

So Liberty is ready for his turn in the spotlight. And after he finishes a round of cable hits and a few Sunday shows, he’s going to retire to a life of leisure at Mount Vernon -- the same place where George Washington spent his golden years.

And later today, Michelle, Malia, Sasha and I will also be taking two unnamed turkeys, who weren’t so lucky, to a local food bank here in D.C. that helps those in need. And I want to thank the folks at Jaindl’s Turkey Farm in Orefield, Pennsylvania, for donating these dressed birds for the third year in a row.

A great writer once called Thanksgiving the “one day that is ours … the one day that is purely American.”

When we gather around our tables tomorrow to share the fruits of our blessings, let’s remember what that means. Let’s be grateful for what we have. Let’s be mindful of those who have less. Let’s appreciate those who hold a special place in our lives, and make sure that they know it. And let’s think about those who can’t spend the holiday with their loved ones –- especially the members of our military serving overseas. I’d like to thank all our men and women in uniform and their families for their incredible service and devotion.

And that’s what being an American is all about. Even when times are tough, we look out for each other. We lift each other up. And we remind ourselves just how lucky we are here, together, in the greatest country on Earth.

So from our family to yours, I want to wish everybody a wonderful and happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

And now, since Liberty and Peace have been so patient, it is my privilege to grant them the official pardon. And I’m going to -- I’ve got to give them a little symbol. (Laughter.)

(The turkeys are pardoned.)

THE PRESIDENT: All right, you are hereby pardoned. (Laughter.) Give them a round of applause. (Applause.)

10:45 A.M. EST

*Top photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan, second by Chuck Kennedy/White House. National Turkey Federation chairman Richard Huisinga is with the President.
read more "Transcipt & Video: President Obama's Remarks, 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey Pardon"

Behind The Scenes At The Turkey Pardon...

It was a rainy and windy morning at the White House, and staff had to mop the North Portico before rolling President Obama's podium into place before he could pardon Liberty, the National Thanksgiving Turkey. This year is the second time the event took place under the North Portico, rather than in the Rose Garden, where it is traditionally held. The President's first Turkey Pardon, in 2009, was also under the North Portico.
read more "Behind The Scenes At The Turkey Pardon..."

Today: President Obama Will Pardon "Liberty," The 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey

After a night at the W hotel, the glorious Minnesota gobbler is ready to make history...
UPDATE, Nov. 23: Read about the perfect Pardon Ceremony
Liberty is the name of the 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey that President Obama will pardon at 10:30 AM this morning during a special ceremony under the North Portico at the White House, it can now be revealed. Ahead of his star turn in the decades-long White House tradition, started in 1947, the magnificent, 20-week-old, 45-lb Minnesota tom made his Washington debut on Tuesday afternoon, acting impressively regal--and calm--as he met the media and a handful of excited tourists in the rooftop lounge at the W, the tony Washington, DC hotel. (Above: Liberty looks out at the White House, before enjoying special W "gourmet" turkey chow)

With 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue glimmering in the foggy distance, the fine fellow strutted his stuff for close to an hour, joined by the four FFA (Future Farmers of America) teens who have raised him under the guidance of National Turkey Federation chairman Richard Huisinga, co-owner of Willmar Poultry Farms, in Willmar, Minnesota. That's where the tom was hatched on July 7th, into a special Presidential Flock with 34 companions. Liberty's alternate is Peace, and he also stayed at the W, and will be at the White House today. They're "hybrid broad-breasted white” turkeys.

This year marks the 64th anniversary of the Federation's National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation and Pardon.

Last week, a different tom from the Presidential Flock got a little feisty during a pardon ceremony with Minnesota's Governor Mark Dayton, flapping his wings and astonishing the gathered crowd in a momentary escape attempt. But Liberty was a model citizen during his Tuesday debut. The months of training the FFA students have poured into prepping him for the Pardon Ceremony have paid off: The glorious gobbler was immune to the noise and flash photography surrounding him as he met his enthusiastic public. Above, from left, the FFA students are Preston Asche, Brenna Ahlquist, Brianna Hoover, and Val Brown.

In addition to their care duties for the Presidential Flock, the teens spent weeks sitting in the two huge pens where the gobblers lived at Agforte farm, getting the toms used to human contact--as well as plenty of noise and lights.

"We played ringtones, and flashed cameras at them," said Hoover.

Led Zeppelin's song "Kashmir" got an especially big response from the toms, said Willmar's Jenn Baumgartner, who joined the kids as a chaperone.

The turkeys have very distinct personalities, said Brown.

"They're very smart, and curious. Some were more aggressive than others."

The toms were driven to DC in a special van that replicated their living quarters; their human counterparts flew.

Turkey room service? Yes, says the W...
Why was the turkey meet n' greet at the W hotel? Liberty stayed there ahead of his Presidential moment, of course. Yes, really: For the second year in a row, the W--which has both a good sense of humor and a strong devotion to US history--ensconced Liberty and Peace in a special room, from which furniture had been removed so they could spend the night in the lap of luxury. The National Thanksgiving Turkey Presentation and Pardon ceremony has gone on through 11 Administrations, a tradition started in 1947. The W was thrilled to host the turkeys, said Ed Baten, the W's General Manager. The hotel gets an incredible amount of publicity by playing up the "pampered poultry" angle.

During his media meet n' greet, Liberty dined on gourmet turkey chow, "specially prepared by the hotel chef," said Baten, with a blend or organic soy beans and cranberries. Minus a spa visit, the turkeys were afforded all the amenities that guests enjoy at the W, Baten said, and laughed when asked if the minibar in the birds' room was intact: No, the turkeys were not enjoying shots of Wild Turkey during their visit, Baten said.

The turkeys actually spend the night in a room that has been cleared of most furniture, with a special enclosure installed so they don't injure themselves. The floor is covered with straw and bedding. They eat their regular turkey chow, lest they get ill.

Today marks the 12th time a Minnesota turkey receives a Presidential pardon, something President Obama joked during last year's ceremony is "one of the most important duties that I carry out as President." Minnesota is the largest turkey producer in the US, thanks to the massive Willmar Poultry, which is responsible annually for 45 million of Minnesota's 47 million birds. (Above: President Obama pardoning Apple the turkey in 2010)

The company is a breeding operation, focusing for the last six decades on genetics, biotechnology, and vaccines, and is an affiliate company Life-Science Innovations. Its fast-growing, meaty birds are sold to farmers as day-old poults, who then raise them. The US produces 244 million turkeys a year; Willmar sells about 600,000 poults weekly. Americans will eat 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving Day. 2005 was the last year a Minnesota bird had the distinction of a Presidential pardon.

The Pardon ceremony is typically held in the Rose Garden, though in 2009 President Obama granted his first turkey pardon from beneath the safety of the North Portico, because it was raining. The historic "front porch" of the White House, the North Portico is where world leaders arrive to enter the halls of power. Today's ceremony will be under the North Portico, too: It's been raining for two days in DC. Liberty will no doubt perform just fine, inclement weather notwithstanding.

What happens to the rest of the Presidential Flock?
The remaining members of Willmar's Presidential Flock will be "processed" next week, and donated to a local food pantry in Willmar, said Steven H. Olson, Executive Director of the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association. They'll be providing sustenance for hundreds of families. The teens, after their months of close contact with the birds, are unperturbed by the prospect of bidding their companions farewell.

"It's part of the education element of the FFA program," said Olson. "These kids were raising food animals. That's something that's important for everyone: Knowing where your food comes from."

A life at Mount Vernon...
Knowing where your food is going is also important. After President Obama grants his pardon, Liberty and Peace will not be processed. The turkeys will live out their days in the nationally recognized livestock facility at Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens, the glorious, historically preserved farm/estate of the first American President, George Washington. The bird will be on display during the seasonal holiday program, Christmas At Mount Vernon, through Jan. 6, 2012. The historically preserved plantation estate is located in Virginia, about a half hour from the White House. The President's 2010 turkeys, Apple and his alternate Cider, were sent there last year, in a first for National Turkey duos. Previously, the birds were sent to be the Grand Marshals of the Disneyland Thanksgiving Parade.

Apple and Cider died last March, according to a Mount Vernon spokesman, living for less than a year after their Presidential pardon. Like Liberty and Peace, they were also "hybrid broad- breasted white" turkeys, and these birds are bred solely to be food animals, gaining weight fast and having a short life span. Liberty and Peace are expected to live no more than a year, according to a Willmar spokesman.

Related: Much more about the history of presidents and turkeys is in this post.

Update: The First Family visited Capital Area Food Bank on Wednesday afternoon to participate in a Thanksgiving community service event, helping pack holiday meals for the needy. The 2011 White House Thanksgiving menu is here.

*Photos by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama
read more "Today: President Obama Will Pardon "Liberty," The 2011 National Thanksgiving Turkey"

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Presidential Dining Deja Vu: Obama Announces Third "Dinner with Barack" Contest

Retail value of dinner with President has skyrocketed..and this time, the three winners can bring guests...
Update, Nov. 27: Campaign releases 5 new videos from the first "Dinner with Barack"
The global economy may be in hot water, but the value of dinner with President Obama has gone up. In an effort to raise funds for the 2012 re-election campaign, President Obama is for the third time raffling himself off as a dinner date, he announced today in an e-mail to supporters. While the President is a cheap date--dinner can be had for just a $3 donation--the assigned retail value of the prize package has jumped from $1,075 for the first dinner, to $1,600 for the current dinner, which includes airfare and a one-night hotel stay. As an extra enticement for supporters, the contest is now two-for-one: Each winner can bring a companion. (Above: The new logo for the new dinner sweepstakes)

"We're taking names for the next dinner starting now, and this time I want to add a new feature: If you win, you can bring a guest," President Obama wrote.

This time there will be three dinner winners, rather than four, for a total of six guests sharing a meal with the President. It's proved to be a popular fundraiser, but the phrase "we're taking names" sounds a bit Orwellian, doesn't it? As he notes in his e-mail, the President dined on October 27th at a Virginia restaurant with the four winners of the first contest. He has yet to dine with the four winners of the second sweepstakes, and the Campaign has not released their names. The current contest closes for entries on Dec. 31. The prize is taxable, and no donation is *actually* needed to enter the contest.

The e-mail had the subject heading "You and a guest".

The text:


A few Thursdays ago, I had dinner with four Americans named Ken, Casey, Juanita, and Wendi -- the winners of the campaign's first Dinner with Barack contest.

I loved getting to know each of them.

We're taking names for the next dinner starting now, and this time I want to add a new feature: If you win, you can bring a guest.

Chip in $3 or more today to be automatically entered to win a spot for you and a guest at the next dinner.

The folks who this election is all about tend to fall under the radar of the D.C. pundits and traditional news media.

They're people like Juanita, who helped put her three sons through college on a teacher's salary while saving what she could for retirement.

Like Ken, a single dad who stood by his mother as she fought insurance companies while battling two forms of cancer.

They're like Casey, whose three young kids may not yet appreciate what courage it took for their dad to take a chance and start his own business.

And Wendi, an artist and third-generation teacher who canvassed, marched, and phone banked in Indiana in 2008, the year her home state defied the traditional electoral map.

These people weren't just there for themselves -- they were representing you, this movement, and the folks I go to work for every day as president.

These dinners are important to me because I want to spend time whenever I can with the people who sent me here. They're proving wrong the conventional wisdom that says campaigns should cater to Washington lobbyists and powerful interests. And they're an important reminder that this movement -- and my presidency -- have never just been about me.

I'm proud that we're choosing to run the kind of campaign where a dinner like this isn't just possible, it's a regular thing. And next time, I don't just want to meet you -- I want to meet someone else in your life.

Donate $3 or more, and start thinking about who you'll invite to dinner:

Thanks for being part of this,


read more "Presidential Dining Deja Vu: Obama Announces Third "Dinner with Barack" Contest"

Video - Sam Kass Talks Thanksgiving Turkey: "I'm A Stuffing And Gravy Kind of Guy"

Thanksgiving is about family, friends, and guilt-free eating for the White House chef...
Sam Kass, Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, mixes personal and political food policy observations as he talks about the First Family's Thanksgiving plans, and First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign in a new interview with NBC's David Gregory. Thanksgiving, not surprisingly, is the favorite holiday for the White House assistant chef; it's "about being together and enjoying delicious food and being able to not worry about it and just eat and eat," Kass said.

The First Family shares the same feeling, said Kass.

"Thanksgiving is about celebration," Kass said. "About enjoying food and family and coming together...We just have fun and enjoy really traditional dishes that are being eaten all over the country."

Kass gives some cooking tips, too, revealing his secrets for perfect gravy and the ideal stuffing. Add nuts and cranberries, he advises, for ultimate deliciousness.

"I'm a stuffing and gravy kind of guy," he said.

The transcript:

GREGORY: I just want to start by pointing out I wouldn't normally wear a full suit here, in the kitchen, but a) this is the First Kitchen, and you're in your dress whites here, so I mean that’s formal --

KASS: You know, this, this is my nice coat --

GREGORY: So I do have to ask you as we look at the White -- is this, is this the whole White House kitchen? I mean is this where everything happens?

KASS: This is where all the magic happens. And it's pretty amazing; it is quite small, at least to me--

GREGORY: It is small. I mean I’m looking around -- I mean it's bigger than my kitchen but it's still small. So whether you're cooking for the first family, or whether you’re cooking for a state dinner, it all was staged out of here.

KASS: It's all staged out of here, and you know this is an historic building, right, so we can't change any walls.


KASS: But when this kitchen was built, state dinners were closer to thirty people, as opposed to say a hundred and fifty or even up to three hundred. So this is what we have to work with and Chef Comerford and the team makes it happen -- and it's an amazing thing to see.

GREGORY: Let me first talk about you, because it’s interesting: You can be in your chef whites, but you're also spending part of the day wearing your suit, as an advisor in the White House on a lot of these nutritional issues. I mean this is a unique role that you play.

KASS: It is. It is a unique role, and it's a real honor to be able to work with the First Lady and the broader team, and we're trying to improve the health and nutrition of the country particularly as it pertains to our youngest, our youngest kids, so it's been a great honor.

GREGORY: Well let's talk more about that in just a minute, but I do want to talk about what everybody's talking about, which is: over Thanksgiving, and the Thanksgiving meal, this first family in particular is so committed to nutrition on a national scale and certainly in their own home. Does that also pertain to Thanksgiving or is it as much of a celebration of historical eating as it is for most families?

KASS: Thanksgiving is about a celebration, and enjoying food and family and coming together and really enjoying that whole, that whole process. So we really, we just have fun and enjoy really traditional dishes, just like dishes that are being eaten all over the country -- and the same way that they've been eating in their family for, since long before they got here. So it's about fun and enjoyment.

GREGORY: And let me ask you more generally: I mean is Thanksgiving to you, is the Thanksgiving meal a celebration of American food? Is that how you view it?

KASS: Oh absolutely. I mean I think Thanksgiving, you know, it comes from a celebration of the harvest, right – as the original, from way back when -- and for us, being in the White House, you know we just had a great harvest with a bunch of kids from the area and the First Lady and we're going to be using some of that produce for the Thanksgiving dinner here. But it is about tradition, and it is about togetherness and eating as a family and celebrating all that we have to be thankful for. And I think that is at the core of it, and you know personally I'll say it's my favorite holiday for that very reason -- that it's just about being together and enjoying delicious food and being able to not worry about it and just eat and eat.

GREGORY: What, what particularly interests you as a chef at this stage and working here? What is it that excites you the most about food? I should say what kind of food excites you the most -- whether cooking it or thinking about it.

KASS: Right, well in dual roles I probably have a couple different answers for you on that. But I think in terms of the cooking and as a chef, what excites me every day is being able to go down to the first lady's garden and being able to cook out of that. I mean it's just such an honor, number one, but two, as a chef, it's the best way to cook. I mean I can go down and pick whatever looks the best and is the most ripe, and then bring it up here and be putting it on the plate in thirty minutes. And that's, there's just, that's just exciting -- every day – ‘cause there's always something new getting ready to be harvested in the garden, so that's just been great.

GREGORY: And that is a great model for a lot of people who can eat that way, but one of the challenges you face and the First Lady faces is that so many Americans are not in a position --

KASS: That’s right.

GREGORY: To, you know, go into their garden and cook that for dinner, because -- you talk about food deserts, where fresh fruit and vegetables is not available for families to cook, whereas fast food seems to be everywhere.

KASS: Right. You know, we talk about choice and choice being you know the essence of what the First Lady is trying to, trying to work on here. But for families that don’t have any fresh food in their -- or any kind of healthy food in their neighborhoods, the notion of choice just doesn’t mean anything to them. So we’re working very hard to try to ensure that all communities really have access to healthy and affordable food.

Just this past summer the First Lady had a major announcement with, with retailers both big and small to target their growth and expansion in fifteen hundred locations across the country in the next five years. According to the companies this would, this will impact 9.5 million people -- families who do not have access to healthy and affordable food -- by either building new stores of refurbishing old stores that don’t have food to make sure we’re bringing in healthy food to these stores. It’s going to have a transformative impact for these families and make it much easier for them to make those healthier choices for, for their kids.

GREGORY: You’ve also, we’ve talked about the food pyramid and how the government revises those guidelines. What should the dinner plate look like?

KASS: Right. The the ‘My Plate’ has just been this great breakthrough. And it’s something that the First Lady had always said – ‘We need to give simple tools that make sense, and that are applicable to people’s lives.’ And while the pyramid, you know, was great and had its, had its strengths, we don’t eat off pyramids, and being able to put this in a plate form provides a framework that we can just see what is what is a plate should look like. But it’s open to the interpretation of any chef, and I say that in the most broadest terms -- all parents are chefs right? They’re cooking every night for their families -- to interpret this in a way that is delicious and creative and makes sense to the cultures and traditions of any family or community. So that’s why this has been so exciting and the response has just been overwhelming, it’s been great.

GREGORY: And so the key to your plate is what? In terms of getting the best nutritional value for particularly young people.

KASS: Yeah and eating balanced meals essentially. If every, if everyday we’re eating basically balanced meals with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, some good protein, some dairy: Then you know then our kids are free to do what they want and not for parents to not worry about them. So, you know, as a kid goes to a pizza party or has a, you know, splurges on the weekends, it’s no big deal. It’s if where kids are eating in that manner day in and day out is when they start to run into trouble.

GREGORY: But typically, I mean even like the old food pyramid, you want to see a lot of green on that plate.

KASS: A lot of green, a lot of leafy greens, dark orange vegetables, some whole grains, we’re really on the way if we’re doing that.

GREGORY: I have to ask: My colleague Mika Brzezinski on Morning Joe has been so upset about the news in the past couple of weeks, that somehow Congress came to the agreement that pizza was a vegetable. Can you help me understand how this could possibly come to pass?

KASS: You're going to have to ask them for those, for the answer on that one. You know, we’re working really hard to try to make sure that their standards are reasonable and that schools can achieve them, but also that are supporting the health of kids. So that kind of decision I’m going to have to say, the Hill is where you’re going to get the answer for that.

GREGORY: What about what’s happening in schools? Where do you think is an appropriate place for government generally, and for the administration given the First Lady’s concern about this, to have the best possible impact on what children are eating in schools?

KASS: I would say, you know the First Lady’s said this a lot -- that government has a role to play here certainly. But most of the answers to the challenges we face when it comes to our kids’ health are going to come from the country -- from citizens and teachers, parents, community leaders, business leaders, and not really from from the government. We do have a role to play and I think schools is one of the places where it’s clear we have a responsibility to ensure that there are good standards that are based on science, that really help make sure our kids are getting the food that they need. You know we’ve done a lot.

The passage of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act that the First Lady championed along with leaders on the Hill and lots of people from around the country is is is doing a lot of that work. But the First Lady also is championing the Healthier U.S. School Challenge, which is a challenge that has very high standards around both what’s being served but also physical activity and nutrition education. We’re seeing incredible response to this all over the country -- schools are working so hard to on their own raise their owns standards and meet these really high benchmarks, and that has been amazing.

So we’re working to be supportive in any and every way we can, and it’s happening all over the country. Everywhere we go we run into a science teacher who has built a garden and is doing curriculum, or we run into a food service professional who’s just taken it on his or her back to just make some big changes and educate their kids about how to make a better choice even in the cafeteria line. Story after story like this. So it’s just been great.

GREGORY: And along with that, a big part of the campaign is Let's Move, and being active and for kids as well as grownups to be active, because any of us know who try to live a fit life that you've got to get the eating right but you’ve got to -- that level of activity has to always be there. One can't go without the other.

KASS: That's absolutely right. And you'll see in this next year we're going to really focus a lot on making sure our kids are getting the activity we need. Right now, you know, the average American child is in front of a screen for about seven hours a day. And so long as our kids are sitting in front of a screen for seven hours a day, we're going to have some real challenges in making sure that they're going to reach their adulthood, you know, in a healthy place. So we're going to really work to inspire the nation, to work with mayors and other key stakeholders to provide better access to play, better access to being physically active, both in schools but then also in the community. So we're going to work hard on that.

GREGORY: So let me ask you a few quick ones. On the topic of Thanksgiving, is there a standout food for you that you like to eat or cook or both?

KASS: I'm a stuffing and gravy kind of guy.

GREGORY: Oh there's the fitness right there.

KASS: Hey, come on, look it's Thanksgiving, right. We’ve got to enjoy ourselves, you’ve got to blow it out.

GREGORY: And what's the secret to your stuffing and gravy?

KASS: Oh, well I mean I keep my gravy real simple. You just take the drippings from the turkey, a little flour, some herbs, a little shallot, a little onion, you're good to go. I keep that really simple. But I love in stuffing, some cranberries, some nuts, like pecans, and any kind of herb you throw in there. And whatever you do, whether you go bread or you go rice, you'll be good to go.

GREGORY: We've talked about grains. Like some hot grains right now that are being used in cooking. You know, great for your families instead of cooking rice, you can cook your kids some other grains -- talk about em, what excited you?

KASS: There's lots of great options out there that are really affordable and we just need to learn you know, practice, to practice cooking with them, cause you know we haven't cooked with them a lot. Couscous can be made in five minutes -- whole wheat couscous is literally done in five minutes; it's available in most stores, it's very cheap. Cracked wheat -- also really delicious, easy to cook, it's great. Brown rice, we always, you know, I always try to cook with brown rice whenever possible.


KASS: There's also farro. Farro is a great grain, really good whole grain and lots of nutrients, lots of fiber, becoming more and more available. It's a really old grain, it's actually one of the world's oldest grains.

GREGORY: And you can make it like risotto.

KASS: Yeah, I make it like risotto all the time. Or you can cook it just like rice --there's lots of ways to use it. But we’re trying to, yeah, families are experimenting and coming up with new dishes all the time. It's really exciting.

GREGORY: What is a house standout, a White House favorite that you've cooked, you or the team have cooked?

KASS: Oh that’s, that's top secret information.

GREGORY: That's classified information?

KASS: There's no way I can disclose that. Oh a standout, I don't know, what's a standout? You know, we, to be quite honest with you, we just try to cook balanced meals, there always has to be a vegetable on the plate ,and it always has to get eaten -- that's for sure, that's non-negotiable. And we just try to keep balance, but we also make sure we're having fun. We have kids in this house and so you know, we throw them a bone every once and while, give ‘em something that's fun now and again--

GREGORY: Do you keep anything in the kitchen here for any late night snacks, or it's just like the leftover farro?

KASS: Yeah they’ve got to fend for themselves.

GREGORY: They’ve got to deal with that. What about when you really get to let loose? A state dinner, a time when you really want to be creative, what really gets your juices flowing as a chef and for that kind of setting?

KASS: Oh you know, look, it just depends on the season. I think a lot of times we really try to cook with what's the weather, what's the season like. So today it's cold and rainy, well you know that would be more exciting to get the soups, the squashes, we did, Chef Comerford did an amazing squash dish, squash soup, for the Korean state dinner that was made with squash from the garden. It was actually planned as a part of a three sister's garden, with the corned beans and squash that some young kids planted with us. So that was amazing. We got so excited about that. It's really fun to watch that whole process translate into a state dinner, I mean it's just been amazing.

GREGORY: Chef Kass, thank you very much.

KASS: It's been such a pleasure.

GREGORY: Happy Holidays.

KASS: To you as well.


*Photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama. NBC Video.
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