Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One For Collectors: Michelle Obama's 'Better Homes and Gardens' Issue Available Today

Let's Move! feature: First Lady talks bee fear, food hijinks with brother "Greg," White House weight gain...
UPDATE: On "Today" show, Executive Chef Cris Comerford demos the recipes created by the magazine
First Lady Michelle Obama's historic August issue of Better Homes and Gardens magazine went on sale today across the US; she is the first public figure in more than four decades to grace the cover of the popular title, which "reaches close to" 40 million readers, according to the publisher. Mrs. Obama has nine glorious pages, including four double-truck spreads with photos of a kids' picnic she hosted beside her Kitchen Garden in May. The Let's Move!-centered feature, titled "Growing Strong," includes kid-friendly recipes and gardening tips, and Mrs. Obama reveals private details about her family's food issues. Some of these tidbits--and how they occur in the story--make the magazine even more of a collectors' item.

Apiphobia?: The Beehive causes a First Family problem...
Mrs. Obama has a Beehive located close to her Kitchen Garden, the first to ever be on the White House grounds. Established in 2009, the hive is strapped to its base so it doesn't blow over when President Obama arrives and departs on the South Lawn in Marine One. The hive has produced plenty of honey, which is used for everything from diplomatic gifts to making White House homebrewed beer and dishes for State Dinners. (Above: Chief Beekeeper Charlie Brandts doing repairs this spring)

But there was an issue with the hive early on, Mrs. Obama tells BHG, which had nothing to do with putting a new structure on the historic White House grounds. It was more personal: Daughter Malia, now 13, is petrified of bees. BHG notes that Mrs. Obama's "two year effort" to promote healthy eating and gardening has had "laudable successes" and "unanticipated side effects." The lone side effect noted:

The First Lady faced vocal opposition at home (daughter Malia "was not happy about the fact that we were going to have a beehive--she's terrified of bees").

BHG doesn't follow up on how or if Malia came to terms with the Beehive, which is too bad; it's a piece of historic news that Mrs. Obama somehow overcame her child's protest to give the very important pollinators a home beside her garden. The East Wing declined to say if Malia's bee terror persists, or if she has come to accept the interlopers colonizing her back yard.

"We generally defer to what the First Lady would like to say about her family but don’t offer additional details," Mrs. Obama's Press Secretary, Hannah August, told Obama Foodorama, when asked how the situation was resolved.

Parents with bee-fearing children might have benefited from some advice on how to get their own reluctant little gardeners into bee territory. Mrs. Obama has stratospheric goals for vegetable gardens to be planted across the US--10,000 new gardens under the Let's Move Faith and Communities sub-initiative, and more under the Let's Move Museums and Gardens sub-initiative, in addition to encouraging school gardens. An online BHG component includes plans for a 4 x 12-foot version of the White House Kitchen Garden. (Above: the kids who join Mrs. Obama in the magazine are members of the Gardening Club at DC's Harriet Tubman Elementary School)

Mrs. Obama's foodie hijinks with what's-his-name...
The First Lady's feature includes gorgeous food styling for the picnic, but the text was not scrupulously edited. As Mrs. Obama recounts her parents' strict approach to meals when she was a child in Chicago--you ate what you were served, she says--her only brother, Craig Robinson, is named in the magazine as Greg. The mishap comes in a quote by the First Lady on page 83:

"You had to eat your vegetables," Mrs. Obama says. But the future First Lady was not always a member of the clean plate club. "My brother Greg and I, we have our stories about scooping the lima beans onto the floor and then coming back and cleaning them up," she says, laughing at the memory.

An autographed copy of the issue, thanks to the added element of the misnaming of Robinson, will likely fetch a good price on the Obama memorabilia market in the future. Misnaming aside, it's fun to think of America's biggest vegetable advocate plotting with her brother on how to get rid of lima beans. Robinson, by the way, is now the basketball coach at Oregon State, and his teen-aged children, Leslie and Avery, accompanied Mrs. Obama on her recent trip to Africa.

The First Lady's Presidential weight gain...
America's media outlets last week engaged in a long debate over Mrs. Obama's burger run to DC eatery Shake Shack, which caused a firestorm after it was noted that the meal had 1,700 calories. The BHG feature includes the information that Mrs. Obama gained weight after she moved into 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue; BHG notes that "ironically" Mrs. Obama's "more constricted life" in the White House "has made it harder to follow her own advice about staying on the move," adding that "she was surprised that her body had changed."

"I became more sedentary," she admits. "I realized that some clothes were getting tighter," she says. "I didn't know what was going on."

But the problem was solved:

She has increased her time at the gym, and now banters with her husband--"I always tease him I'm in better shape than he is." She laughs. "I can do longer workouts. He's the President."

There are more family details: Malia and her younger sister Sasha, 10, read nutrition labels, Mrs. Obama says. And they refuse to eat at certain fast food outlets, but the First Lady declines to name these:

"They started reading labels and looking at sugar content and really thinking about what they were eating," she says. "They stopped wanting to go to certain fast-food places."

To coincide with the release of the print edition, BHG has created 13 "veggie-rich" recipes inspired by Mrs. Obama that now appear in its online edition, and a free downloadable cookbook (this requires registration with the website). The online component includes an interview with Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives Sam Kass, as well as a photo gallery of the White House Kitchen Garden, featuring photos by Obama Foodorama's Eddie Gehman Kohan. The First Lady's Kitchen Garden picnic photo spread has been running in the online edition of the magazine since June, minus the interview that appears in the print edition. The publisher has also just launched “Veggie Love,” a kids' cookbook app for the iPad and iPhone, featuring 50 recipes, which is available on iTunes for $.99.

UPDATE, July 22: Executive Chef Cristeta Comerford visited NBC's Today show to demonstrate recipes from Mrs. Obama's feature. The recipes are here. The video:

*Photos courtesy of Meredith; Brandts photo by Eddie Gehman Kohan/Obama Foodorama

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