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From the beginning, Michelle Obama's kitchen garden has been an overachiever, churning out more peppers, parsley and eggplant than expected, and generating interest that — yes, really — crosses oceans.

Now, the first lady has added a 271-page book, American Grown: The Story of the White House Kitchen Garden and Gardens Across America, to her gardening resume, and Americans can read all about the planting misses that came with the hits, get tips on gardening at home and, she hopes, draw some inspiration that just might change their lives.

The book, released Tuesday by Crown Publishers, traces how a city kid from the South Side of Chicago who became a working mother and then a political spouse found herself fretting on that first planting day, March 20, 2009, about whether an L-shaped stretch of soil would prove fertile ground for a national conversation "about the food we eat, the lives we lead, and how all of that affects our children."

The book is chock full of colorful, glossy photos of luscious-looking vegetables. There are maps tracing the growth of the garden over the past three years, and stories about community gardens around the country. Even a how-to on creating a compost bin.

The book is divided into four sections marking the seasons, and includes a complement of recipes for each.

There are inside stories about planting travails that will ring true with any weekend gardener: pumpkins that wouldn't grow, cantaloupes that tasted blah, blackberry bushes that wouldn't play nice with the raspberry bushes and an invasion of cucumber beetles.

The first lady makes clear that schoolchildren, White House staff and volunteers — not her — do most of the hoeing and weeding.

The first lady plans to donate all the proceeds to the National Park Foundation. for programs that promote gardening and healthy eating, and to help care for the White House garden.

Corn Soup With Summer Vegetables

6 ears of corn, husks and silk removed

2 sprigs fresh thyme

Juice of 1/2 lemon (about 1 tablespoon)


Olive oil

Grilled vegetables of your choice: zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, mushrooms

Carefully cut kernels off cobs and set aside. Do not discard the cobs.

To make corn stock, place the cobs in a large stockpot. Add enough water to barely cover. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the water has a rich corn flavor. Strain the stock and discard the cobs and any solids. Set aside.

Reserve 3⁄4 cup of the kernels, then place the remaining in a blender. Puree until smooth. Pour the puree through a mesh strainer into a medium saucepan. Add the thyme and bring the soup to a gentle simmer over medium heat, stirring.

As the soup heats, the starch from the corn will begin to thicken the soup. Once the soup has thickened to the consistency of applesauce, about 3 to 4 minutes, add the lemon juice and the reserved corn stock a bit at a time until the soup reaches the desired thickness. You should have 4 to 6 cups of soup. Season with salt.

Heat a skillet over medium. Add enough olive oil to coat the bottom. When oil is hot, add the reserved kernels. Do not stir until the corn has a nice brown color. Stir the corn, then remove it from the heat.

Divide soup between bowls, then top each with some seared corn and any other grilled vegetables.

AMERICA'S VEGETABLE PATCH 06/07/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 7, 2012 11:11am]
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