As Air Force One heads back to the U.S. after President Bush's meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, there was another side of the White House on display today. It involved chicken fried steak with white onion gravy, herb roasted lollipop lamb chops, asparagus in an aioli sauce and much more.
This marks the annual beginning of the holiday season at the White House. So the first lady brought along the chief florist, the greeting card decorators, the invitation designers and the chefs. The purpose: to introduce holiday themes and food, of course, to the members of the salivating press corps who were not on the trip. All this at 10:30 this morning.
There will be 25 White House holiday receptions this year and someone had to sample the food, so why not the media? Besides the items already mentioned were other entrees such as stuffed turkey breasts and sugar cured Virginia Ham. Desserts included chocolate truffles, Christmas log and red hat box mascarpone cake. The Christmas theme resonated along the State Floor corridors. A trio of Marine musicians played holiday music.
The decorations this year were inspired by the Red Room. The White House holiday program says: "It is difficult to imagine the gravity of Christmas 1941. Just a few weeks earlier Imperial Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States into the Second World War." And since the president's traditional lighting of the Christmas Tree was a possible air raid target, the Secret Service asked President Roosevelt to cancel the ceremony.
This being Washington, there was a compromise -- the tree lighting was moved to the south grounds. The Red Room is near the south balcony, where in 1941 President Roosevelt and visiting Winston Churchill addressed 15,000 people who had gathered in the darkness.
Today, first lady Laura Bush was asked what her message was to families of military personnel serving in Afghanistan and Iraq. She acknowledged that there was a big burden on their shoulders and said the nation was grateful for their service. "The families bear the deep burden of worry over the holidays and the American people stand with them."
Another season of contrasts...