Thursday, July 12, 2012

Book Review: American Grown

Some may regard Michelle Obama's new book with weary cynicism for its oh-so-conveniently timed release. But if you can manage to set aside any misgivings you may have for the pandering nature of America's electoral process, you'll find your efforts well worth it. The release date may be politically motivated but the content of American Grown is both charming and relevant. It details not only the First Lady's (and friends') work creating and maintaining the White House garden, but also the history of the White House's relationship to agriculture, community garden efforts across America, and Michelle Obama's campaign, Let's Move, that encourages kids to get out of the house and exercise.

These topics are of course especially relevant given the problems associated with the American diet. I think the last major study I saw stated that by weight, the U.S. made up 33% of the world population, while in numbers we comprise only 5%. American Grown hearkens back to a time when the U.S.'s food culture wasn't primarily made up of things like cheeseburger-flavored potato chips and doritos shell tacos (which sound disgusting, by the way, and no one can convince me otherwise). It includes tips for planting your own garden, whether you live in the city or the suburbs. The chefs of the White House also provide a handful of recipes to help you get started eating healthily. I tried a couple of them out.

First was the corn soup with grilled vegetables. To create this, you first cut the kernels off of corn (if anyone has any tips for how to get the kernels not to go everywhere, I'm all ears) and boil the cobs to make a corn stock.

Then, you puree the kernels and cook the puree in a saucepan. After a while, the kernels will gelatinize. This happens when the starch in the corn absorbs water and swells. The mixture thickens, and then you can add stock to thin it out. I added a little too much, and since for whatever reason you weren't supposed to let it boil (it's NOT primarily a cookbook) the final product wasn't dense enough to support the grilled vegetables.

However, it still tasted good. The combination of corn and thyme in particular was delicious.

The macaroni and cheese with cauliflower puree turned out better and was easier to make—a good dish for a weekday evening.

And as if the pictures of children gardening and fruits and vegetables weren't cute enough, the First Dog, Bo, shows up occasionally. His main duties in life are apparently (when he's not investigating the White House garden) sitting for pictures and being groomed.

But hey, he does his job well.

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