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Suzanne Struglinski, Deseret Morning News
A gingerbread replica of White House is part of the dessert display.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The White House will go through 20,000 Christmas cookies this year, but I would bet that most are not eaten.

They are the secret souvenirs of guests to prove that they attended a White House Christmas party, which is exactly what I did last Thursday.

Every so often, a perk comes along that makes working in Washington, D.C., worth the traffic, insane mortgage payments, confusing congressional hearings, politicians and constantly buzzing Blackberry.

Shortly before Thanksgiving, an invitation arrived from President Bush and first lady Laura Bush requesting the pleasure of my company to one of the 25 Christmas receptions and dinners the first family will host this year.

This is the media party where the Washington press corps, the White House press and media affairs folks share a few hours in Christmas or, ahem, holiday cheer.

Cooking and throwing parties are two of my favorite hobbies. So, you can only imagine my excitement as I stood in the East Room of the White House, staring at a perfectly crafted buffet line of gleaming silver serving pieces — including the biggest bowl of shrimp I have ever seen in my life — taper candles, flowers and china as tuxedo-wearing servers made empty plates from surrounding tables magically disappear. The whole atmosphere surpassed even Martha Stewart-perfect.

White House chef Cris Comerford and her staff feed more than 20,000 guests at the various receptions that ran through Tuesday. As a Washington journalist, I am not supposed to share my personal opinions on the Bush White House. But I think I am not breaking any rules to say Comerford's food is fantastic.

My husband, Wayne Broadfield, and I piled our plates with Comerford's homemade tamales with roasted poblanos and Vidalia onion with black beans and tomatillo sauce, as well as the crispy chicken-fried steak fingers with cheesy grits — dishes that pay homage to the Bushes' Texas roots.

Spearing a forkful of tamale with the two sauces on top of it was tricky but worth the effort. The chicken-fried steak bites had a great salty and fried flavor that made me forget I was eating in the White House. But looking at the napkin with the presidential seal on it as Wayne wiped gravy from his mouth snapped me back to where I was.

The roasted lamp chops with rosemary sea salt served with mission fig chutney and mint jelly were perfectly pink in the middle.

I have never met a piece of smoked salmon I didn't like, and the three-tiered display of the coral-colored rolls didn't disappoint. The "traditional garnitures," according to the official menu, included capers, diced red onions and other topping, along with potato pancakes.

Gigantic long-stemmed strawberries were the "I-am-being-good-and-eating-fruit" portion of the huge sweets table, which also included chocolate truffles, coconut cake, Brioche Bread Pudding, McIntosh Apple and Sun-Dried Cherry Cobbler.

The Log Cabin cake was the best. Made up of Chocolate Dolly Sin Cake and Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. Moist, creamy, chocolately, think of it as the best cake you've ever had and times it by five.

The dessert display, located in the State Dining room, is flanked by the traditional gigantic gingerbread replica of the White House, which this year includes 300 pounds of white chocolate. Sadly, you cannot eat a part of it, but there are piles of gingerbread cookies to make you feel better.

As the party wound down and guests were politely encouraged to head for the doors, the piles of official White House napkins dwindled. Cookies shaped like first pets Barney and Miss Beazely, along with wildlife-shaped cookies to honor the National Parks, were discreetly wrapped and hidden inside suit jacket pockets and tiny evening bags.

The party was something my husband and I won't forget. After all, we have a napkin full of cookies at home.

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