Back by popular demand: Chicken-fried steak is on the White House holiday menu again this year.
The crispy steak fingers, served with creamed pan drippings, are just one item on a menu of treats from across America that will be sampled by an estimated 20,000 people at the White House this holiday season. The decorations, including 862 feet of garland, also reflect the nation from coast to coast to go with the theme, "Holiday in the National Parks."
"The national parks are represented all over the White House, from the east entrance, when you're greeted with Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from North Carolina," Mrs. Bush said Thursday during a preview tour of the decorations. "You walk on in, you see the fabulous gold leaves of the aspens from the Appalachian Trail. ... When you come upstairs in the Cross Hall, you're met with that very famous Statue of Liberty."
In a run-up to the National Park Service's centennial in 2016, there are paintings of Hopi Point in Arizona's Grand Canyon National Park and a waterfall rushing into the Virgin River in Utah's Zion National Park. Downstairs, a terra cotta model of Mount Rushmore sits under a portrait of former first lady Barbara Bush.
Photos that normally hang in the East Wing have been replaced with photos of presidents visiting national parks. There's President Eisenhower walking out of Lincoln's birthplace in Kentucky in 1954 and President Kennedy visiting the Liberty Bell in the 1960s.
The official White House Christmas Tree — an 18-foot Fraser fir grown in Laurel Springs, N.C. — is the centerpiece of the Blue Room. The tree is decorated with about 350 large round ornaments designed by artists at U.S. national parks, memorials, seashores, monuments and historic sights.
During the annual preview of the holiday decorations, members of the media were ushered into the State Dining Room where a vacuum cleaner was running, apparently doing a last-minute cleanup. A White House employee quickly snagged a strawberry that fell from a three-tiered tray.
"We started just after Labor Day and finished last night," said White House executive pastry chef Bill Yosses.
On the menu
There will be an estimated 60,000 people touring the White House during the holidays and about one-third of the visitors will be tasting the 20,000 Christmas cookies, 700 assorted holiday cakes, 600 pounds of asparagus and 320 gallons of eggnog.
Along with the chicken-fried steak, there are 10,000 tamales; cheeses from Vermont and New York; 1,000 pounds of steamed shrimp from the Gulf; fresh salmon from Maine; Virginia ham; Maryland crab cakes; lamb; cheesy grits; and orzo salad.
Still hungry? Desserts include cakes, truffles, bread pudding, cherry cobbler and iced cookies in the shape of animals and tree leaves found in the national parks.
At the far end of the State Dining Room sits the traditional gingerbread house, a replica of the White House built with gingerbread and more than 300 pounds of white chocolate.
"The animals who are around the base of the gingerbread are animals that you might see if you visit some of our national parks," Mrs. Bush said. "We have foxes and special sheep that we would see if we were in Alaska, bears, coyote."
She noted the miniature replicas of the Bushes' dogs Barney and Miss Beazley that are seated in a sleigh atop the White House. "Kitty will be joining them soon, as soon as Bill makes a kitty to go there," she said.