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Spouses treated to local food, scenery

By Susan Essoyan

LAST UPDATED: 2:11 a.m. HST, Nov 14, 2011

On a bluff beneath soaring cliffs with a panoramic view of Kaneohe Bay, first lady Michelle Obama showcased Hawaii's natural beauty as well as its bounty Sunday at a luncheon for the spouses of Pacific leaders at Kualoa Ranch.

She welcomed each of the first ladies and one "first man," individually, reaching out with both hands to clasp theirs, and posing for photos with the distinctive emerald cone of Mokoli‘i island rising in the distance and gentle waves rolling offshore in picture-perfect weather.

In opening remarks, Obama spoke of her fondness for Hawaii and said the islands make an ideal location for a gathering focused on Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.

"This state has a very special place in my heart," she said. "As many of you know, my husband was born and raised here. … Our family has the privilege of coming here, the burden," she added with a smile, "of coming back here every year. And that's really one of the reasons why I married Barack. When I realized that this is where we'd be spending the holidays, I said ‘Yes! I love you!'"

"Hawaii is an incredibly diverse place. It's home to people of all different cultures. There is a special spirit here, a spirit of openness and tolerance. And I have experienced it myself. I feel like this is my home away from home, a place where I feel welcome and open and optimistic.

"Folks here view their differences as strengths — not as weaknesses. And people of all different backgrounds live together and work together and seek to learn from each other. So in many ways, Hawaii is really the perfect place for this APEC summit."

Chef Ed Kenney of town restaurant told the guests he chose locally grown foods that reflect Hawaiian traditions, including fresh fish from Kaneohe Bay with a limu vinaigrette and pai ai, made of kalo. The meal included a salad of beets, arugula and Naked Cow Dairy feta with pistachio. It finished up with a Meyer lemon tart with fresh fruit.

"We hope it will connect you to this incredible place," Kenney said. He introduced two youths from MA‘O Organic Farms in Wai­anae, Kuuleilani Samson and Manny Miles, and credited them with harvesting 90 percent of the produce on the menu.

Obama wore a striking sleeveless yellow dress with red peonies and an angled hemline that draped to a point below her knees. Vietnam's first lady, Mai Thi Hanh, wore her national dress, an aquamarine tunic over long pants, while other guests wore dresses or pantsuits.

Along with Tim Mathieson, partner of the Australian prime minister, the other guests at the luncheon were first ladies Laureen Harper of Canada, Selina Tsang of Hong Kong, Kristiani Herawati of Indonesia, Kim Yoon-ok of South Korea, Datin Seri Rosmah Mansor of Malaysia, Lynda May Babao of Papua New Guinea, Nadine Heredia of Peru and Fang-Yui Lien of Taiwan. Maya Soetoro-Ng, the president's sister, who lives in Honolulu, also joined the party.

Kualoa Ranch President John Morgan said it was an honor to have such important guests come to call. Later that day the family-owned ranch dedicated a garden of native and endemic Hawaiian trees to the first lady.

"This is really wonderful," Morgan told reporters before the luncheon. "This is a world stage. To be able to showcase Hawaii through Kualoa Ranch is mind-boggling, actually."

The scenery at the 4,000-acre ranch ranges from the rugged Paliku cliffs to dense rain forest, deep valleys and tranquil waters and is a magnet for filmmakers. The working cattle ranch, bought from King Kamehameha III in 1850, has managed to thrive by offering a range of outdoor recreation and cultural activities in tune with its environment. Visitors may tour an 800-year-old Hawaiian fishpond, ride horseback, hike, take tours of movie sites or try hula, catamaran rides or all-terrain vehicle adventures.

The entertainment at the luncheon was the Honolulu Boy Choir — clad in blue aloha shirts, white pants and signature bare feet —who started with a Hawaiian oli. In a nod to the cowboys at the ranch, the group performed "Cowboy Hula," with dancers sporting bluejeans and red-and-white palaka shirts.

The choir sent the guests on their way with "One Song," by Marvin Hamlisch and Alan and Marilyn Bergman. It speaks of "one song of love, one song of peace" and calls on listeners to "imagine what tomorrow will bring if we all sing one song."

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