Amelia Saltsman is the author of The Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook and a frequent guest on Good Food.
My Pop-up Lunch with Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, and Barbara Boxer
by Amelia Saltsman
The invitation to Wednesday’s event appeared in my inbox three weeks ago like some tease for the next Ludo Bites—Lunch with the First Lady and Barbara Boxer in Los Angeles, RSVP now. No clue as to location or time. Like other desperate Dems, I’m frantic for victory, a huge fan of these strong women, and curious: What’s on the menu when the First Lady of healthy school lunches and edible gardens comes to town? I clicked.
There were no further details until Tuesday, 24 hours before the event, when I learned a) Dr. Jill Biden was coming too, making this a great-lady trifecta, b) the vast canvas of Los Angeles I was willing to traverse to attend had narrowed to one convenient and fabulous Westside location, and c) the doors would open at 10:15 and close at 11:15, period. Plus of course, there were instructions about security and what we could bring—cameras and cellphones okay, large bags, not.
The event turned out to be a mostly ladies, smallish (250 guests) garden party at the Pacific Palisades home of television mogul Steven Bochco and Dayna Bochco. Powerhouse and looky-loo guests alike were atwitter with anticipation (but I was so excited, I forgot to tweet) as we waited in the driveway to be searched and scanned on this brilliantly sunny morning. All I can say is may Barbara Boxer have as much good fortune at the polls next week as the caterers did on this day of good weather.
L.A. liberals were out in force: attorney Gloria Allred; Hollywood giants Burt Bacharach, lyricist Marilyn Bergman, CAA founder Fred Spektor and his wife, clothing designer Nancy Heller, Larry and Magda Hagman; Julia Louis Dreyfus and Ed Begley, Jr; local authors April Smith, Hope Edelman, and Elizabeth Berman; and scads of glamorous young women on various NRDC committees. There were a number of well-behaved children who skipped school for this civics lesson. Barbara Boxer worked the crowd like a grandma welcoming friends to a Bar Mitzvah.
Not surprisingly with this administration’s emphasis on healthy eating, I met dedicated food activists: Wendy James, president of the environmental strategy firm, Better World Group, who is starting a community garden at a Burbank high-risk school, and Elaine Boland, who teaches nutrition and healthy cooking to military wives in San Diego.
But let’s talk food. By 11am, we were helping ourselves to a self-serve buffet catered by Along Came Mary. There were multiple stations of cold poached salmon with zesty lime sauce and roasted chicken breast with cranberry-orange jus; couscous with carrots and cranberries; two kinds of lettuce salads laden with pomegranate and pumpkin seeds, roasted cherry tomatoes, apples, and walnuts; and platters of roasted turnips, carrots, parsnips, sweet potatoes, and red beets, the one root veg Mrs. Obama says the President refuses to eat (I’d like a chance at solving that problem). Bread choices included great slabs of multi-grain bread. In other words, it was an autumn meal full of antioxidants, omega-threes, and fiber. The dessert platters of cookies, tartlets, and fruit at each table remained pretty much untouched, but that may have had more to do with fitting into fabulous outfits than a show of support for the White House message.
At 11:30, the music group Heart performed a short set. By noon, the natives were getting restless. At 12:20, with a smattering of secret service in place, Barbara Boxer, got up to reassure us that Michelle and Dr. Jill had indeed arrived and to ask us to “talk amongst ourselves” while the first ladies took pictures with the VIPS (umm, who would that be in that crowd?). At 12:45, all agents in their dark suits and darker glasses in position, the official program began.
The message to this mostly industry audience was succinct: GOTV—get out the vote. This is the single most important task in this mid-term election. Barbara Boxer chastised secret corporate donors who’ve given millions for anti-voting advertisements, made light of those bad hair day commercials, and paid tribute to her immigrant mother, who was so proud of having gained the right to vote that she kept her certificate of naturalization carefully preserved in Saran Wrap.
Mrs. Obama in person comes across as a sassy best friend who has the polish of a powerful preacher. It’s a pretty heady mix. She immediately zeroed in on the children in the audience: “Are you eating your vegetables?” The First Lady exhorted everyone to “vote early. Find those people who are disappointed we haven’t done everything on our list in the first a year and a half in office and shake them up. Voting once in 2008 isn’t enough. It takes time to effect real change, and we’ve come too far to turn back now.”
And English professor Jill Biden, stunning in a powder blue sleeveless sheath, gave us our homework: call ten people, email ten more people, and bring ten people to the polls. Dr. Biden, does this blog count for extra credit?
Everyone, whatever your beliefs are, it’s important to vote.